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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cindy's Christmas Wish by Donna Dawson

She harnessed the Percherons with deft hands just as she had done a hundred times before. Leading them from the warm barn Cindy sucked in a breath of the cold winter air. She looked to the skies as large flakes swam around her. It will make for a beautiful sleigh ride, she thought. Hitching the two horses to the shaft of the antique reproduction she tried hard to ignore the four couples waiting to crowd into the sleigh and snuggle beneath the bear fur lap robes. As she swung up to the driver’s bench and hunkered down into her fleece coat, the guests pulled themselves into the sleigh. And then she called out a command.


She listened to the romantic banter behind her and a wry smile crossed her lips. Cindy had never been content to let her heart fall for just anyone. She had built a wall of high standards. She sighed as she reflected. Seeing so many of her friends tumble into relationships only to fall back out of them with a hard thump had made her more than cautious.

She ran through her mental list as the clop of the horses’ hooves set a steady rhythm. Their gait was punctuated by the soft jingle of the harness bells and the laughter and conversation from her guests.

He had to be a man of integrity, someone who loved horses—maybe someone in the industry. She really didn’t care about financial success. She almost snorted at that thought. She wouldn’t be in the horse industry if she did. But she did want a man who wasn’t afraid to work hard and who didn’t have issues with her working just as hard in a job that wasn’t always the safest.

Cindy looked at the rolling backs of her two Percherons. Dolly and Sally. Those dinner plate hooves could land quite a punch if the mares wanted to deliver one. But she loved them and they’d always been good for her. She wanted a man who understood that. And it wouldn’t hurt if he was tall and cute either. She sighed then as another burst of laughter erupted from the sleigh’s occupants. She had no doubt that her high standards were the reason why she would likely spend another Christmas alone.

Clucking her tongue, Cindy urged the team into their bone-jarring trot and allowed the sleigh to whisper along the trail through the falling lace curtain of snow. The hour passed and she drew the team up alongside the barn to a chorus of cheers and applause. Another batch of satisfied customers, she thought as she waited for them to climb from their warm perches.

Across the barnyard two men stood and watched. She smiled and lifted her hand in a salute to them. Her boss, Avery Carrie and his son, Clinton. Avery owned the business but he had spoken of retirement. He treated Cindy like a daughter. Clinton was taller than Avery but had the same square-hinged jaw. He had been visiting the ranch often over the past year and she couldn’t help but admire the way he dove into the daily routine whenever he did show up. She smiled again at the not-so-subtle hint Avery had thrown her way a few months back—that she and Clinton would make a nice couple. All fine and well, but she wasn’t into begging for a man. And she got the impression that Clinton would decide for himself who he would ‘connect with’.

The two men waited until the couples had slipped into their vehicles before they approached Cindy. She continued to remain on her bench, reins held in gloved hands.

“Where’s the next batch of guests, Avery?”

The old man wore an innocent smile but his eyes held mischief. “I put it off for an hour. Do you mind taking me and Clinton for a tour? It’s been a long time, and I just think we’d enjoy it.”

She nodded as a strange feeling passed through her stomach. It wasn’t the first time he’d tried to put her close to Clinton. Did she really mind? Her standards flitted through her mind and she pushed them away, not wanting to compare them with the man who was now watching her with thoughtful eyes.

They laughed and chatted through the hour’s ride and she enjoyed the body warmth that came with having a man parked on either side of her. And then it was over and she felt a strange emptiness when the two stepped off the sleigh. Avery waved his thanks and began his peculiar hitched-step across the barnyard but Clinton lingered.

He reached over and rested a hand on Dolly’s hip, stroking the thick fur of the closest Percheron and Cindy could see that he clearly liked the animal. Turning to her, he spoke and she shivered at the rich tones of his soft voice.

“Next week is Christmas. Do you have any plans?”

Cindy shook her head. She could just imagine what was coming next. My dad wants you to come for dinner. It would be just like Avery—and Clinton was far too polite to complain. The thought suddenly hit her that what she had hoped for in a man—the list of standards she had piled to the roof of her mind—now stood before her. That realization sucked the wind from her and she sat there in the gaping silence. And then his deep voice filled the air once again.

“I haven’t asked Dad yet, but I’d like you to come have dinner with us. I think he’d be thrilled. I know I would.” Deep green eyes stared up at her and for the first time Cindy saw what she had, for so long, hoped for. This holiday season would not be spent alone. This year she would get her Christmas wish and share the day with the man of her dreams.

About the Author: Donna Dawson is a creative writing instructor at a local college in Ontario, Canada and an award winning writer. She writes romance, mystery, suspense and thriller novels. Her books Fires of Fury (Awe-struck books), Redeemed, The Adam & Eve Project and Vengeance (Word Alive Press) can be found at

Author Interview: Jennifer Johnson

The Long and the Short of It is very pleased to have Jennifer Johnson with us today. Jennifer's newest book, The Clergy Affair, available now from The Wild Rose Press.

Jennifer has been writing since she was an early teen, carrying around notebooks with her stories in them. The first story she remembers writing took place at a beach camp, and another early story also took place at the beach. Obviously, the beach inspired her with her early fiction. She asks, however, that we don't tell her mother-in-law.

"She keeps trying to drag me there, and I don't want to go," she explained. "The beach is a romantic place unless you go with your small children. As a mother, I worry too much about every possible danger from the drowning to getting lost to cutting one's foot on a broken shell."

When Jennifer is writing, normally a scene or image comes to her first and she creates the characters around that scene. For The Clergy Affair, she had a scene in mind of a bride-to-be weeping in a darkened sanctuary. It became the opening scene of the book.

Her next book to be released will be Holding Out for a Hero from Respendence Publishing in April 2010.

"It's about a woman who falls in love with a homeless man. It has strong comedic elements, like my other two books, and it is in first person. I'm quite excited about it!" she told me. "I'm, also, writing a sequel to The Clergy Affair. The main character is Amy Mann, Lon's daughter. Lon was a memorable secondary character from The Clergy Affair. He was too good not to do something else with."

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

"I sent in my first completed manuscript to a major publisher and got a rejection letter. A friend called me and left a message on the answering machine, and she said, 'You write for God.' She was referring to my call as a minister and the sermons which I write and preach. That was when I realized I was a writer, and even if I was never published, that was okay, because I was writing for the best audience there was."

Jennifer has three completed novels and asserts there's no way she can pick a favorite.

"How can you ask me that?!" she cried. "They're all my babies! What kind of mother would I be if I had a favorite?!"

She did admit that there are times during the editing process you can hardly stand to read the manuscript one more time.

"By the time it's published and you see it in print, you've had enough time away from it that it's fresh again."

Her husband frequently catches her reading one of her books and will quirk an eyebrow and ask, "Don't you know how it ends already?"

"He doesn't quite understand why I keep reading the book," she said. "But this was my dream. I'm holding it in my hands. I can't help it. And I don't mean only being a published author, I mean my life in general-my job, my calling, my family, my faith.

"In the movie Broadcast News, William Hurt asks, 'What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?' The other guy-Albert Brooks, I think-says, 'You keep it to yourself.' See, I know that feeling of my life exceeding my dreams, and I can't keep it to myself. It's too wonderful. And it seems more real when I can share it with someone else, and they can celebrate with me what a wonderful life. Not the Jimmy Stewart-ready-to-jump-off-a-bridge-until-Clarence-Angel-shows-him-so-Clarence-can-get-those-wings kind of Wonderful Life. But the realization that this is my life, and it is pretty wonderful, and yes, I do realize it."

The hardest part about writing a book, for Jennifer, is finding the time to write.

"Between my job and my family, it is very difficult to carve out writing time," she told me. "At times I experience insomnia so I write from about two to four in the morning, but lately I've been sleeping so well that the dark o'clock hours haven't been available."

And, from time to time she suffers from writers' block.

"I've hear house cleaning cures it, but I've never been that desperate to find out," she admitted, adding that raking leaves, going for walks, brainstorming with a critique partner, or working on another story also helps.

On a personal note, I asked, "You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?"

"Ugh! I don't want to dredge up any bad memories even to erase them. I'd rather think about cheesecake. Yuummm!"

Along with being a cheesecake lover, Jennifer is very much a Coke girl.

"I've been to the World of Coca Cola in Atlanta, and I lament the fact that most restaurants where I now live mainly carry Pepsi products," she said. "In the deep south where I'm from, pop is called 'Coke' no matter if it's Pepsi, RC, or Sprite.

"Here's a funny story. On a field trip in elementary school, we toured the Coca Cola bottling plant in my hometown. We posed hypothetical questions to the tour guide about the four people who knew the secret Coke recipe. What if they all were in the same plane, and it crashed? What if they were all kidnapped? What if one got amnesia, one had a stroke, and two died in unrelated accidents? Our teacher lambasted us for the absurd questions and forbade us from asking any more questions. I included this memory in Holding Out for a Hero. I'm hoping the editor lets me keep it in there."

Some things you may not know about Jennifer:

Shirley, the dog she and her family had for fourteen years, died recently, and Jennifer's not yet ready to get another one.

She sometimes brushes her teeth in the car—while she drives.

A saying she uses a lot is "This is the life!" and it's also the name of her blog.

She's never eaten a crayon, but from time to time she does sniff them. "I got the idea from Randy Pausch's book The Last Lecture," she explained. "It reminds me of my childhood—go ahead and try it."

If she could know the future, she would like to know the numbers to a big lottery. "I'd like the opportunity to demonstrate that winning a bunch of money wouldn't ruin my life."

Jennifer not only cries at movies. When I asked her if she did, she replied, "Oh, please. I cry at commercials. Need a crying buddy? Call me."

You can keep up with Jennifer on her blog,

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Keena Kincaid

Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this week at Long and Short Reviews. Today is my last day to blog here, and I’ll be answering questions posted earlier. But feel free to still leave comments and ask questions. I’ll be here all day, and will draw winners’ names around 6:30 p.m.

OK, onto your questions:

Q. I’m curious since it sounds as if when you started ANAM CARA, you weren’t planning on a sequel. But that five-year gap… How much work did you have to develop those interim backstories? Do you have pages in a binder somewhere telling each of their journeys? –Amy

A. Once I opened myself up to writing this story, I knew exactly how Aedan and Tess had spent the intervening years, but I didn’t write it down. I’ve found that if I keep it all in my head, it’s more accessible when I write.

What was tough, as always, was weaving the past into the present so that I reveal what happened without resorting to a flashback (I hate flashbacks). I’m sure readers will let me know if I succeeded or not.

Q. I’d love to hear what kind of planning goes into creating a sequel or series. Do you have a notebook to keep things straight? -- CJ

I always keep a book journal to write down thoughts, phrases and scenes when I’m not at the computer, but with this series, I discovered I needed quick references to key dates, people, etc.

The Druids of Duncarnoch world is rich with secondary characters, many with their own backstory. So, not only did I have to go back to ANAM CARA and mark key events for all these people, but I also had to fill in the missing five years for them to keep myself straight.

I put together a timeline to keep track of what happened when. It’s a simple spreadsheet that uses only four columns: year and month, date, event, i.e. Tess Aedan meet, day of week. I kept a printout by my computer and referred to it as needed.

Q. How (do) you redeem characters that in earlier stories might have been, as you said, “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Do you ever struggle to make them sympathetic and worthy of reader sympathy and redemption, having made them so bad in the first round? – Kris

A. Oh, yes. Redeeming Aedan was a challenge. So much so that I may never do it again. LOL!

In ANAM CARA, Aedan was the catalyst that set the story in motion and kept it moving. Bran had a vision of Aedan dead, so he kidnapped him from the priory. They travel to Carlisle where Bran thinks his younger brother will be safe, and Bran risks his relationship with the heroine to protect Aedan.

Through it all, Aedan is angry, selfish and mostly unappreciative. He was 17, which explains part of it, but it’s also who he is. Having grown up without family or protection, he entered the story boiling with anger and resentment. My critique partner said, “he’s interesting, but not exactly likable.”

However, because redemption is a process, I realized that I needed something in Chapter One to hint at the man Aedan could become. Otherwise, readers wouldn’t care about his journey. So I gave him a nephew, Daz, to care for. From the start, Aedan had a way with animals and children, so I pulled that out to show his protective and loving side. He is very different with Daz than with anyone else, except for Tess.

And between you and me, I love the scenes with Aedan and Daz. There’s genuine love there, and an unbreakable bond.

Q. Will there be a sequel to TIES THAT BIND? Do you think that having done an unintended sequel, now you'll be on the lookout for that potential in every book you write? – Diane

A. Yes, there’s a sequel to TIES THAT BIND. ENTHRALLED, in edits right now, tells Dyllis’ story (Bran and Aedan’s younger sister who was mentioned in ANAM CARA). It’s also a direct continuation of the external conflict of TIES, picking up the story about a month later as the treasonous plot against King Henry II continues to play out.

And now that I can look back on the three books, I realize that even though I didn’t plan a series, my muse did. There are snippets in ANAM CARA that play out in TIES and ENTHRALLED.

I hope I don’t look for a sequel in every book I write. I like stand-alone stories. But this book has taught me to trust my muse, so I will.

Q. How do you motivate yourself to write when you just don't feel like it? Is it any different now that you’re published than when you were pre-published? -- Rebecca

A. For the most part, I can write on demand. I spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor and I learned the first week on the job that I would never again have the luxury of waiting until inspiration struck. Sometimes I got inspired, most of the time I didn’t. That training serves me well as a novelist.

Unfortunately, forcing myself to write gets words on the page doesn’t always mean I produce quality work. But I’ve found that as long as I get it down on the page, no matter how awful, I can move forward. It just means I’ll spend more time revising that particular section than I will others.

For me, the difference between being published and unpublished is the number of people affected if I miss a deadline. Once again, my job is to sit down and write—and if I don’t, this career will crash and burn around my ankles. That is very motivating.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Keena Kincaid

TIES THAT BIND: Tess’ Challenge, Aedan’s Choice

Aedan is a man who denies himself nothing. He’s spent five years in the king’s court, drowning himself in wine, women and song. His gifts have brought him power, wealth and the promise of a wife and land in France.

Sent north to investigate rumors of treason, Aedan discovers someone is murdering monks and stealing saints’ relics. All clues point to his cousin’s husband, Richard, the Earl of Carlisle.

Aedan knows that nothing is what it seems, and Tess’ presence in Carlisle only reminds him of what he wants, but cannot have.

Despite the way he calls to her, Tess refuses to rekindle her relationship with Aedan. She knows his reputation, knows he still misuses his gifts, and knows if she lets him get too close, he could destroy her life.

But her resolve falters when her uncle promises her hand to a man she despises and Aedan’s kiss reawakens her heart. But she refuses to be used:

“You say I am no longer the girl you knew,” Tess said, “but neither are you the boy I loved.”

Her voice was soft as silk, yet twined around him until Aedan could barely move.

“You are restless for a reason. You have as much magic as your brother, if not more. Yet everyone erroneously calls you the lesser of the Ap Owen brothers. You wield power like a master swordsman, yet allow the king to treat you like an errand boy. You have a harp tattooed on your back and hum evensong when you think no one listens. You walk between worlds, as if you are at home in both, but belong to neither.”

“I belong to you.”

“Do not say that.” She stepped away from his touch. “To claim me, you would have to give up your magic.”

“You cannot ask that of me.”

“I know, which is why I do not.”

No demand. No ultimatum. Just her line in the sand stated with a calmness that men like her uncle mistook for complacency. In reality, she was as immovable as the mountains, and he liked that as much as her yielding heat and eager passion.

Could he give up his—He wheeled away from his own thoughts. Domestic, unmagical bliss was not what he wanted.

Will Aedan renounce his magic to win Tess' heart anew or will he choose magic over love?

Keena Kincaid, the author of three historical romance novels with The Wild Rose Press, is blogging all week to celebrate the release of TIES THAT BIND, the second of her Druids of Duncarnoch series. On Friday, she’ll answer your questions about her characters, her books and herself. Everyone who submits a comment or a question will be entered into a drawing for one of five prizes: a 25 percent off coupon to The Wild Rose Press bookstore (2); a copy of TIES THAT BIND (2) and a set ANAM CARA and TIES THAT BIND (1).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Keena Kincaid

TIES THAT BIND: Then and Now

TIES THAT BIND is a reunion story. Tess and Aedan first meet when he and his elder brother come to The Knight’s End, an alehouse run by Tess’ mother. Aedan’s feelings for Tess are genuine, but he’s 17. He doesn’t think about consequences, and his inability to use his druidic gifts with any moral restraint dooms the relationship before it begins in ANAM CARA.

Lifting her chin, Tess invited him to kiss her again, and he fell into the warmth of her mouth and the exhilarating slide of her desire against his. He shifted her, pulling her against his erection, nearly shattering with the effort not to explode then and there. She was all soft heat and sharp curves, not lush, not yet, but he could feel what she would become, could sense the passion that would sieve from her very skin once she overcame her uncertainty and awkwardness.

They fell. He groped for a handhold, found air, then her waist. She sank onto him, slanting her mouth over his, tasting him, claiming him. The weight of her stretched along his body. She hesitated, her uncertainty a sudden chasm between them. Without thought, he reached out with his mind, bridged her doubts and pulled her across.

Rolling her in his need, he poured what little knowledge he had into her. He shifted, pinned her beneath him and drew up her gown. She tilted her chin upward and arched her back, sending him to the edge of sensation where pain and pleasure blended. With clumsy and awkward movements, he loosened his breeches, feeling the air, then her skin with painful keenness.

When he confesses that he “bridged her doubts” and what that means, Tess leaves, furious and no longer able to trust him. But emotions linger—for both of them. When they meet again in TIES THAT BIND:

She dizzied him.

Tension raced over his skin, and Aedan tightened his grip on the reins. For a wild moment, he thought her a vision born of road weariness and regret. Then her energy skimmed his skin and everything else—the castle, the guards, even Daz’s excited observations—fell into nothingness. Tess was almost close enough to touch, as vibrant and fresh as winter air.

And just as cold.

Tess’ reaction:

Five years were dramatic on him, yet she could find no obvious place to point and say, this is new. Instead, the differences lay in what he was not. He no longer looked like a beggar boy, forever needing to fill the hollows and sharp angles of his body with food. A fine dusting of dark hair edged his jaw, obscuring the smooth, sharp chin that served counterpoint to the wild curls escaping the leather tie at his nape.

His clothes were no cleaner than his companions’ garments, but the costly Bruges cloth and tailoring left the impression he rode with peasantry. The simplicity of cut and lack of adornments only emphasized the lean muscles beneath the softened wool.

As if sensing her scrutiny, he looked down. Dark gray-blue eyes widened. They, too, looked different than she remembered.


His voice startled her. Even it had changed, slightly deeper and heavier, stronger. A man’s voice. Tension sparked, charging the air with the feel of a summer storm. At Bridswell, she’d seen the frantic rush of seabirds trying to escape the charging waves of a sudden squall, and like one of those doomed birds, her heart beat in frantic panic, outmatched.

If her uncle complicated her life, Aedan could destroy it.

Tomorrow: Tess’ Challenge, Aedan’s Choice

Keena Kincaid, the author of three historical romance novels with The Wild Rose Press, is blogging all week to celebrate the release of TIES THAT BIND, the second of her Druids of Duncarnoch series. On Friday, she’ll answer your questions about her characters, her books and herself. Everyone who submits a comment or a question will be entered into a drawing for one of five prizes: a 25 percent off coupon to The Wild Rose Press bookstore (2); a copy of TIES THAT BIND (2) and a set ANAM CARA and TIES THAT BIND (1).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Keena Kincaid

Meet Tess from TIES THAT BIND: the immovable heroine who resists Aedan’s unstoppable force

Tess, Lady of Bridswell, is independent, intelligent and brave, capable of taking care of herself and anyone she loves. But she isn’t a kick-ass heroine. She doesn’t carry a sword, take on the bad guys or sway court politics. Instead, she is a quiet, strong woman who does what she must without a lot of drama.

Like Aedan, Tess started as a secondary character in ANAM CARA. When I wrote TIES THAT BIND, I had to not only grow Tess up, but also fully flesh out her character. To understand the steps required to make Tess her own person, you need to know a little bit about her mother, Liza, and me, the writer.

I don't write spunky heroines. They are strong and stubborn and a little bit harsh, but life has battered the hippie-like optimism that heroines need to be spunky.

Tess’ mother is determined, unyielding and capable, as well as domineering, stubborn, and controlling. Tess learned early the futility of direct confrontation. So instead of being the wild, rolling water that creates new channels, she became the defiant rock in the middle of the stream. And because she's quieter, more easy-going on the surface, others assume she is acquiescent to their ever-lasting regret.

Unlike Aedan who lived the five years between stories drenched in wine, women and song, Tess spent that time keeping secrets, experiencing loss and living with heart-eroding sorrow. Few notice the gradual change, but to Aedan in TIES THAT BIND, it’s vivid.

"You are wisp-thin and pale as a cloud," he said.

Tess’ heart jolted, fiercely hammering against her chest. She should run, push him away and race to wherever it was she would be safe and free of men.

"You barely feel solid."

She closed her eyes and shivered when his fingers touched her neck, skimmed her collarbone, stopped at her ribs. Internal heat followed the trail, and then pooled deep and low, making her feel as if she would boil away if he didn’t stop.

"You feel cordoned-off, nay, hidden." He spoke softly, as if to himself. He bent closer, his breath a whispering invitation against her mouth.


He drew away just far enough to allow her to breathe. His hand fell away, but her skin still burned where he had touched her.

Tomorrow: TIES THAT BIND: Then and Now

Keena Kincaid, the author of three historical romance novels with The Wild Rose Press, is blogging all week to celebrate the release of TIES THAT BIND, the second of her Druids of Duncarnoch series. On Friday, she’ll answer your questions about her characters, her books and herself. Everyone who submits a comment or a question will be entered into a drawing for one of five prizes: a 25 percent off coupon to The Wild Rose Press bookstore (2); a copy of TIES THAT BIND (2) and a set ANAM CARA and TIES THAT BIND (1).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Keena Kincaid

Meet Aedan ap Owen from TIES THAT BIND: Mad, bad and dangerous to know (with apologies to Lord Byron)

When I first started working on ANAM CARA, the prequel to TIES THAT BIND, Aedan wasn’t part of the story. Then one day he popped into a scene, complaining about the heat and the stink. After I got over my surprise that the hero had a younger brother, I decided Aedan would be accused of murder and sent to the dungeon, which would force the hero to stay in Carlisle long enough to fall in love with the heroine.

Silly me. That is so not how the story went.

Aedan not only refused to follow my plot, but also talked his way into being a major character. Nor would he let “The End” be the end. Instead, he began stalking me, demanding I write his story. In his opinion, I left his reputation in tatters at the close of ANAM CARA. And I needed to fix that.

As a descendant of druids, one of his magical abilities is the gift of words. He can talk anyone into anything—including this author.

Having been left in a monastery by his father (most likely sold to the canons), Aedan learned early how to get what he needed to survive, and then to get what he wanted. By the time we meet him, manipulating others is so ingrained into his nature he never once considers the moral implications.

He also is minstrel born. Music is both his curse and his salvation. He must play, but when he does, his regrets, hopes, joys, sorrows and anger are reflected in the music for anyone to hear. Fortunately, most people don’t pay close enough attention to understand what they hear.

Here's an excerpt of Aedan and his music from ANAM CARA:

As he waited in the lesser hall for his audience with the king, Aedan fumbled through the fingering of the chalumeau, setting his mind to the notes rather than his fate. Worry faded to the background as he concentrated on recreating the song that had almost pulled him from this world.

The tune idled in his mind, the sound pitch perfect in his imagining. He tested the reeds of the small pipe, blowing softly as he sought and found notes to match the ones in his head. He picked his way from note to note, until he'd replicated the song. It had been fuller, richer, more complex than his instrument could manage, but it was the beginning of his first composition.

Sitting on the floor, knees bent, he experimented with the pitch of the melody. He added a trill, surged toward the crescendo and slowed the beat to the rhythm of a dirge. With growing confidence, he played the tune again, adding his own swoops and flourishes until it swirled and dust motes danced like fairies at midsummer's twilight.

A shadow fell over him. The notes soured and faded as he looked up. Everything inside him went soft. "I wondered when I would see you." He let a corner of his mouth crook into a grin and swallowed nervously. Tess' answering smile was a façade, but he pretended not to notice.

TIES THAT BIND isn't the easiest book I've ever written, but it's one of my favorites. I loved the challenge of taking a self-centered character who always gets what he wants, thwarting him at every turn, and then using the power of love to make him a better man.

Tomorrow: Meet Tess from TIES THAT BIND: the immovable heroine who resists Aedan’s unstoppable force

Keena Kincaid, the author of three historical romance novels with The Wild Rose Press, is blogging all week to celebrate the release of TIES THAT BIND, the second of her Druids of Duncarnoch series. On Friday, she’ll answer your questions about her characters, her books and herself. Everyone who submits a comment or a question will be entered into a drawing for one of five prizes: a 25 percent off coupon to The Wild Rose Press bookstore (2); a copy of TIES THAT BIND (2) and a set ANAM CARA and TIES THAT BIND (1).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

One Sweet Cookie by Angelica Hart and Zi

The air snapped with cold; enormous faux candy canes bracketed the city streets along with various wreaths of garland while a festive din dominated in snatches of chatter that could be overheard yet not understood. Jeffrey Bains' jovial step mirrored the sentiment all around him. It was the season that spontaneously stirred, and he anticipated it with the zeal and delight of a child despite his thirty-some odd years. Once the turkey crowned the dining table at Thanksgiving until that baby New Year let out a squeal, Jeffrey was well-bitten. But why? Or perhaps more appropriately phased, ready to bite. It was cookie time!

Only during the holidays did Jeffrey let go of his rigorous dietary routine. Why? The sojourn to find, yes, the perfect, most decadent, aromatic, Santa-pleasing, tummy-satiating Christmas cookie. Friends, especially his bright, inventive, young accounting apprentice Eric, understood cookies replaced something deeper. That deeper something Jeffrey missed around the holidays more than at any other time was a family.

He was the last of his linage and oft filled his time volunteering in every capacity possible. Giving back to his community was either subterfuge or displacement to hide his loneliness, but as good as he felt, service to humanity didn't trump children, siblings, parents, or... His perpetual smile never revealed the secret ache of longing to find the her, the she, the one. But many knew, and many tried the ole set-up game. He heard do I have a girl for you to the point of cringing. Jeffrey was good-natured about it, despite not having bad-date insurance, but after so many ill-timed, ill-suited, ill-looking, ill-gotten, ill-fated dates, most friends eventually savored the bitter taste of discouragement.

Eric walked with his boss to the parking lot after work and suddenly announced, "I know where the best... the best Christmas Cookie can be found."

"No way! I've eaten cookies before you knew what milk on Santa's beard looked like."

"Seriously." Eric's voice reflected sincerity. "I've heard about this place from my dad's Uncle Sal twice removed."


"He worked for a bakery and ate so many cookies, he was removed, hired again and, yes, once more removed."

"Ah, a connoisseur."

"Go to Maria's Christmas Café by eight o'clock tomorrow morning, talk to the owner and ask for One Sweet Cookie." Eric slapped his shoulder.

Jeffrey scrutinized Eric for no one was ever serious about his seasonal cookie obsession. Alas, maybe, he found in this young apprentice, a comrade-- one who understood man did not live by over-iced cake alone.

The next morning, Jeffrey arrived at the café early, identified the owner by her nametag, made eye contact and repeated what Eric had instructed.

Eyes bright as sugar sprinkles, she pointed to a counter stool. "You wait right here," she said with a twinkly wink.

About to order coffee to go with the anticipatory treat, he was distracted by a woman with outlandishly wild, near black, curly hair, a delicate expression and a decisively lilting laugh oddly prompted by a nearby rambunctious child tripping and then splattering a chocolate éclair on her expensive looking winter-white skirt. "You're good," she said, righting the little girl, anticipating concern.

The young one looked at the ruined skirt and lost chocolate and custard treat, forlornly. "Sorry."

"Awwww, thank you, Sweetie," the woman said and handed the child her over-sized oatmeal raisin cookie. "My skirt ate your treat; you might as well eat its cookie." She jostled the fabric and growled.

The child giggled and dashed back to an unaware mother.

Jeffrey handed the fetching lady who wafted of cinnamon a wad of napkins, wishing he was of the handkerchief generation, more gallant, but it was flu season so maybe not. "You took that well," he said, noticing her seasonal red high heels, ankle bracelet set below shapely calves and a skirt a tad hiked, triggering the rakish boy.

One corner of her mouth rose and with fluffy tones she said, "Skirts can be cleaned!" Then she hesitated. "But that cookie was my favorite."

"Buy you another?"

"No... No... Okay."

They both laughed, and neither knew why.

"Although," she continued while waiting in line with him, "that could have been the one."

"The one what?"

"The best Christmas cookie of the season. It had a nice delicate scent, not too much cinnamon, and it was the perfect size, big enough to fill but not stuff. I might not find another like it."

Astonished to meet another cookie bon vivant, he grilled her about cookies, unable to help himself, and her responses were quick, intelligent, a woman of cookie cunning. Attractive, charming, adaptable, and cookie sensitive. Yes, she stole his imagination and for one brief fleeting moment, dare he hope that this woman was the her, the she, the one?

"Jeffrey Bain," he finally introduced himself.

She tilted her head. "Eric's boss?"

"You know Eric?"

"He's my cousin, twice removed."

"From the bakery?"

"No, that's Uncle Sal. This is his sister Maria's café."

Jeffrey now understood Eric's previous serious look, now identified as one of stealth; he admired that.

"Eric spoke of you." Her eyes held admiration. "The good guy... is handsome." She swung her shoulder in that way all women have opening to him.

His modesty and humility eclipsed her doting. That red hue of unexpected embarrassment on a strong man was charming. He glowed with a meaningful purpose and adoration for life and its abundance. She held out her hand, and he folded it in his own; warmth unlike that he had ever known engulfed him. It wasn't the heat of just sensuality but of budding romance. "And I'd like to get to know you... ummm... What is your name?"

She smiled that smile of fantasy and magic. "Cookie."

About the Author: Creative synergy sizzled when the authors formed a literary partnership They meet every week day, working to take readers to new places and worlds, help them suspend reality. Together they have eighteen book publications, EPPIE finalist for three books, Cecil Whig award, Hob-Nob Reader's Choice Award, written over 500 shorts. website:

Author Interview: Sandra Kay

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to have Sandra Kay, whose debut novel, Heart of Stone, was released this year. Not only is it her first published book; it's the first book she ever wrote. Even though she had received rejection letters, after putting it away for awhile and concentrating on other projects, she pulled it out again, revamped it, and submitted it to The Wild Rose Press.

I asked her to tell us a little about Heart of Stone.

"I wanted to write a series, so came up with the idea of a cattle ranch owned by 4 siblings—3 brothers and 1 sister. Heart of Stone is about Stone Brandon. Books to follow in the series are: Cady’s Chance about Stone’s sister, Cady. Tyler’s Love about Tyler Brandon. And the last book is about the baby of the family, Jefferson Brandon. No title for that one, yet."

HEART OF STONE is a contemporary romance taking place in the Hill Country of Texas. It is a story of love and betrayal, with elements that will resonate with today’s readers.

Stone Brandon, betrayed in the cruelest of ways by his ex-fiancée, has erected a wall around his heart. He vows that he’ll never fall in love again. Instead, he spends his time working to expand and modernize the family ranch, Brandon Cattle Company.

Amber Wilson, alone and pregnant with twins, answers an ad for a bookkeeper at the Brandon Ranch. She only has a fuzzy memory of the night she conceived, but the faint images keep her from wanting to know more. Rape is too horrible to contemplate. Besides, things like that happen to other people, not her. No man will get close enough to hurt her again.

Can love be found amid the tangle of distrust and betrayal? That’s the question Stone and Amber have to come to terms with. Will either of them be able to put the past behind them, and take a chance on love again? Stone sees his own lost dreams in her rounded belly, but he admires and respects this young woman, who is strong enough to carry her baby to term and determined to raise the child alone.

He wants to help her, so a platonic marriage seems like the logical answer for both of them—that is until he realizes that a marriage in name only with Amber is a hell of his own making. Slowly, his heart melts. Just as slowly, Amber begins to trust.

Two extraordinary people, Amber and Stone begin the journey of healing old wounds and opening their hearts to new love. They both learn the true meaning of love and commitment. They learn to put the past behind them, and face the uncertainties of the future together.

Sandra told me one reason she writes romance is that, quite simply, she's a romantic.

"I love the idea of romance," she said. "I love being in love. I’m fascinated by men. Growing up in a family of girls (my dad died when I was 8, so it was my mom and 2 sisters) I never had the experience of watching interaction with a man. I didn’t even have brothers to tease me, so didn’t know what to make of little boys. Now, I notice masculine traits. Even the mundane—reaching in a back pocket for a wallet—can be sexy when done by the right man! "

Especially when those men are dressed in tight Wranglers and Stetsons. There's a reason Sandra writes contemporary westerns.

She also used writing as a form of therapy after her three brain aneurysm surgeries.

"My head consists of titanium clips, coils, surgical glue, saline bags blocking the carotid artery on the left side, and a metal plate on each side of my head. So far I’ve made it through airport security okay, but I carry a medical card in my wallet just in case!" she said. "After the surgeries, the psycho-analysis showed that I had 'word seach' difficulty (finding the correct word for what I wanted to say). A friend suggested that we write a romance book as a form of therapy. We did, and enjoyed so many moments of laughter and fun. She eventually dropped out, but I persevered. I have to give her a lot of credit for my success!"

One of the books Sandra's working on—Tomorrow's Promise—takes place in southern California during wildfire season.

"Since I had to evacuate during our last fire, I have some experience with the choking air and dark skies filled with smoke and ash," she said. "Also, the eerie glow in the sky, and the way a fire jumps from spot to spot depending on where the wind blows the embers. Tomorrow’s Promise is about a young couple who are involved in a fiery car accident in Texas. Samantha Blake is now in southern California where she has had the best reconstructive surgery. Still, when she looks in the mirror, she sees scars. Jake Markey spent time in jail for DUI, but now he’s out and searching for his wife, Samantha. Can he convince her to trust him again?"

Sandra told me she has a very cute blonde Pomeranian.

"Actually, we acquired him because he was a gift to my grandson from his paternal grandparents," she explained. "Since my daughter and her children live with us, the dog lives with us. If any of you know Pomeranians, you know they aren’t really the dog for a rough and tumble boy, so my husband and I have fallen in love with 'Teddy.' He looked like a teddy bear when a puppy, so that’s what my grandson named him. Teddy is cute, loveable, cuddly, and a great watch dog. He is, also, a major pain in the neck because he barks so much! I’m still trying to train him to stop when we say 'it’s okay.' Sometimes I feel like a prisoner in my own home, because whenever the door bell rings, Teddy goes crazy—barking and running to the door. It’s so bad I can’t even hear what the person at the door is saying. Very embarrassing! Any dog owners out there have suggestions for me? I’d welcome them."

I asked, "What is your strangest habit?"

"Life strikes me as funny! Sometimes I laugh inappropriately, because I see humor in situations that others might find more serious or politically incorrect. As an example: When you leave our neighborhood, you have to turn onto a fairly busy street. Often, I’ll see women pushing baby strollers down this street, and it always struck me as dangerous. When the city repaved the street, they put in a bicycle lane. While driving with my daughter, I just commented off the top of my head, 'Oh look, a stroller lane!' I thought it was hilarious. She thought it was definitely not PC."

Finally, I wondered what advice Sandra has for an aspiring writer.

"Keep writing and don’t give up," she replied. "Take classes. Join writing groups. Have a critique partner or group. Don’t be afraid to submit to editors. And, don’t let rejection letters destroy you."

You can keep up with Sandra on her blog,

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Jennifer Shirk

Forgivable Flaws

Reading some of my old rejected pathetic manuscripts—did I mention pathetic?—has lead to me do some thinking about heroes in romances.

Readers want their romance heroes to be moral and smart. Heroes should be gorgeous—or at the very least sexy. Readers want a strong hero with just enough of a soft inner side only visible to the heroine. And of course, for me, my hero HAS to make me laugh.

Tall order, huh?

Well, along with all those characteristics, mostly every writing book will tell you that flawed characters are good to have, too. They’re more real. Easier to identify with. Less boring.

Of course there is a fine line that you can accidentally cross with your reader.

I’m wondering if I might have crossed that line recently. You see, I have a problem hero. I don’t know why but for some reason in the small cramped crazy portion of my mind, I thought it would be interesting to have my hero smoke. Yes, he’s a smoker and it’s a contemporary romance.

Do I smoke? No way.

Does my hubby smoke? Not a chance.

So why did I do that? Well, my hero is his own man, for sure, but for all the rough and toughness of him, I wanted this to be his secret vice. His weakness that he is trying to give up, but cannot…until he has a reason to give up cigarettes. Namely, the heroine of my story.

(PS. This is in no way a major plot point, but rather, something subtle I wanted to write into my story.)

As I keep mulling over my story, I wonder if having my hero smoke is a huge “turnoff” to romance readers? Yes, it makes him real. But does this ruin the fantasy of what a hero is by giving him that particular kind of imperfection?

I’m curious to know: in this day and age—is having your hero smoke a huge no no in a romance book? Or is it a forgivable flaw?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Jennifer Shirk

Inspiration all Around

When I wrote The Role of a Lifetime, I started with one simple scene in my head. It came to me when I was at the playground with my daughter. There were kids going down this big tube slide and one of the mothers was having trouble showing her two year old how to slide down and not to be frightened. So she put her legs in (trying to demonstrate), then quickly turned to me and said, “Watch me get stuck.”

Well, I laughed, and then I thought it’d be even funnier if a father got stuck in the slide. Even funnier if he was single father, trying to “show off” to a woman. Even funnier if he wasn’t a father but a single man, with a large ego, trying to “show off” and got stuck in a slide. Even funnier if—uh, well, you get the idea.

Anyway, that simple encounter stuck with me—no pun intended. So I decided to work with it. I got out my handy GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) book and began to play “what if” and then finally came up with Ben Capshaw, my hero. And the rest wrote itself. (Sort of)

With my book Georgie on His Mind (that will be out October 2010), it started with a scene as well. I was inspired by a funny story told to me by a friend that reminded me of that movie Never Been Kissed. So when I went home that night, I immediately wrote a scene where the hero finds out his best friend’s sister had never been kissed before and she wanted him to enlighten her on the experience. I loved that scene so much and always looked at it for motivation with my characters. But I made Georgie a little less innocent in the end, and unfortunately that funny scene never made it into the first draft. Boo-hoo.

Do you write? What comes first for you? Character, scene, or something else entirely?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Jennifer Shirk

What’s so funny?

I love to read books that make me laugh out loud—or at the very least chuckle.

I've been thinking about this topic for a while and really have no clear cut path to what is funny or how to write it. I think I’m personally a comedy writer's best audience because I will most likely laugh at anything. Especially stupid stuff.

For example: You use the word "Speedo" in a sentence and I'm going to laugh. There. I told you I laugh at stupid stuff. Speedo is a word that just strikes me as funny. But I understand that the majority of people out there thinking, “Jennifer is one strange dudette”.

So what is universally funny? I don't know. But I've come up with at least two things that I always enjoy when I read humor.

1) In romance--or any genre, really--I think I appreciate witty and snappy dialogue the most. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a master at that. (In my humble opinion) She can get her hero and heroine in a conversation that's so funny, you want to read it over and over to keep the laughter coming. Witty metaphors can probably get lumped into this category, as well. Nothing can get me to picture something funnier than a unique description to show me how funny the situation is in my mind.

2) I like embarrassing moments for a character, too. That's something I enjoy in real life as well. It's sheer hilarity. Situations where we want to crawl under a rock and die are ones we can relate to. We can picture ourselves in the moment perfectly. Nothing is as funny to me as when I see someone uncomfortable or put in an embarrassing situation. Of course, it's not funny for the person at the time who's undergoing the circumstance, but eventually they do see the humor in it. (Even if it's years later. )**cough cough**

I'm sure there's some things that I missed, but those are the things that pop into my mind when I read comedy.

When you read comedy, what strikes you as funny?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Jennifer Shirk

Healthy Routines

Let’s face it. Writing is a sedentary job. And the less active you are…

well, the more likely you are to put on excess weight. It’s true! Don’t believe me? Go ahead at look yourself. You’ve probably been sitting on it all this time without even realizing.

That’s how it crept up on me.

A few months ago I noticed what I affectionately dubbed as “writer’s spread”. **shudder** Fortunately, I am not a writer to take this revelation, uh, sitting down, so to speak. So I immediately changed my daily routine to combat the spread and to get myself in better shape in general. If you’re not feeling physically well, chances are you’re not going to feel mentally as well, also. Here’s what I’m doing now:

* I made more time for the gym. Yep. In fact four times a week, I am there.

* I started running. Well, okay, more like light jogging. Regardless, I’m getting my heart rate up more and now I’m doing two miles three times a week.

* I’m drinking MUCH more water and less diet soda and coffee. Did you know that a mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a printed page?

The point is I realized how important it is to pay myself first. No, I don’t pay myself monetarily. But I do pay myself by taking care of my body better and by leaving enough time in the morning (or afternoon) for prayer and reflection, too.

I knew I was on to something when I saw a TV show on cool places to work. Most of them had gyms for their employees. (And daycare and afternoon tea, but that’s beside the point) What I figured was that I have the ability to make the best possible work place for myself and my body. And I started doing it.

I feel a lot better, but I also noticed that my writing time has not suffered—especially since my energy level is much higher. So far it’s been a win win.

Do you have a healthy writing routine?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Jennifer Shirk

Unexpected Directions

When I first started writing, I had some pretty high hopes of becoming the next Nora Roberts.

(Don’t look at me like that! What beginning writer didn’t want to be the next Nora?)

I read all her books voraciously. So when I finished my first own romance book, I really thought I had managed to emulate her in every way.

Then…my first chance to showcase my stuff appeared. My local library was having author Ann Kelleher come and do a writing workshop. I was a newbie writer, so I enthusiastically gobbled up all she had to say on writing and trying to get published. I’d learned so much!

On the last day, she asked for volunteers to bring in samples of their writing for a critique. I was psyched! I had not found any critique partners yet—nor had ANYONE else read my work—so I was anxious to hear what others would think.

The last day of the workshop, I brought in my first chapter grasped in my sweaty little fingers and anxiously handed it over to be read. As Ms. Kelleher read it, she smiled and nodded. (Good signs, I thought) But I also heard muffled chuckles from the other readers. (Not good signs, I thought)

So when she finished, I looked at her expectantly. She said, “It’s really good. You got the Chick-lit voice down pat.” Then she proceeded to tell me how I could make my manuscript better. Yeah, well, unfortunately, I missed half of what she said because I was too preoccupied by her chick-lit comment.

Chick-lit? I thought. (I barely knew what chick-lit even meant) My story isn’t Chick-lit. It’s a Tender Romance!

Huh. Obviously, I was not the next Nora. I went home that night with my tail tucked between my legs, devastated that I was so far off base with what I thought my writing was. But as I learned more about the craft, I realized that it was actually a good thing I had my own voice and style. In fact, I learned to embrace my humorous tone and switched my focus from trying to write like Nora to trying to write like…well, me. And when I did that, I found I enjoyed writing more. It came more naturally. I soon found some crit partners who agreed and gave me positive feedback.

I don’t write Chick-lit but it is kind of funny—no pun intended—that I’ve switched to writing Romantic Comedy instead of the romantic dramas I thought I should write. Who knew? But I’m very grateful for that accidental steering I got. It opened my eyes to a whole new sub genre of romance I might not have found on my own.

What about you? Are you writing in the genre you thought you’d be writing in?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My Faire Romance by Gayle Sharpe

“Good day to ye, yon buxom wench!” the voice boomed above the entrance gate. I laughed, shielding my eyes against the bright glare of the sun to see the guards in the tower grinning down at me. “Welcome to the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire!”

“You do look rather buxom today, Lexi,” TJ said to me as we passed under the gate. The sun caught the auburn bits of his curly dark hair and created a halo around him. My secret angel.

I adjusted the tie of my bodice, hoping to hide my blush. “Anyone wearing one of these things would look buxom. Even you.”

TJ laughed and flung his arm around my shoulders in a friendly gesture, guiding me through the throngs of performers gathered at the faire’s entrance. Even his smallest touch sent a thrill through me and my heart reaching for wings, but I couldn’t tell him. Instead, I stayed silent and focused on some belly dancers, bells jingling at their hips as they swayed in time to the drummer. It was my first time at the medieval faire, and TJ had been determined I not miss it.

Knights in blue lined up to welcome us, telling us when King Arthur would be at the chessboard. Several women wearing bodices so snug they could rest a drink on their… uh… goods made googly eyes at TJ. Dust swirling in the air mixed with the strains of violins, flutes, and drums, and voices of vendors hawking their wares carried over the excited chatter of the people taking in the world set around them.

“Where to first, Lexi?” TJ asked as he looked at the entertainment schedule.

There were too many choices for me to make a decision. “You tell me. You’re the expert.”

“Then let’s go see the Singing Wenches,” he said, guiding me in the direction of the show. We hadn’t gotten far before a woman in blue plaid stepped into our path, and we stopped to listen to her street performance.

“Could ye help me with a wee bit of a problem, good gentles?” asked the woman. She held a feather pen above some leather-bound papers.

“Sure,” TJ said.

“My name is Killian, and I am in love,” she said with a hint of a Scottish brogue. “But the man with whom I am in love dinna know. I’m hoping to recite some verse to tell him, only I’m at a loss for words. Perhaps ye could help me fill them in?”

“Of course,” I said, eager to listen to this sage woman. She spoke to me; how had she known I had wanted to tell TJ what was in my heart, but never had the courage or strength to do it?

“I need a noun,” Killian said.

We supplied Killian with the words she needed, and listened as she recited the medieval love “poem” back to us. With each word, my skin tingled and a fire burned within me. I had been waiting for a sign, and Killian was it. I didn’t think I could win TJ’s heart by telling him he was dearer to me than any radish, like in Killian’s made-up verse, but I knew I needed to tell him something.

Done with her act, Killian set her brown eyes on me as TJ took a few steps away. He paused when he noticed I wasn’t walking with him. “You alright, Lex?”

Killian raised her brows as if giving me a mental nudge. I opened my mouth. I love you, my mind told him. When I’m with you, my world sings. I want to be with you. “I’m fine,” I said, hushing the voice that longed to show TJ my true feelings and fighting the physical pain of my wretched emotions.

“The Singing Wenches show starts in five minutes.”

I swallowed the lump forming in my throat and put on a smile as Killian frowned at me. I looked around desperately for a reason to stay and talk with her and latched on to the booth next to me selling wooden swords and shields. “I’ll catch up. I want to look at these for my nephew.”

“I’ll save you a seat,” he said and followed a hip-swaying, tightly bodiced brunette to a performance tent.

“Tell him,” the soft Scottish burr said. Killian stood next to me as TJ walked away. “The man must be blind if he dinna know how much ye love him. I could tell within ten seconds of talking to ye.”

“But what if he doesn’t feel the same way?” My voice pleaded for Killian to understand. I didn’t care that I had just met this woman. She was now my lifeline.

“But what if he does?”

She was right. I knew she was right.

“Tell him,” she urged. “Okay. I will.” I gave her a brave smile before I metaphorically squared my shoulders and set off to make myself a vulnerable mess.

The wenches were loud and bawdy, and TJ laughed at the silly songs they sang. I laughed, too, but my mind wasn’t on the show. When it was over, I didn’t stand up as the rest of the crowd left the tent.

“TJ,” I gulped.

“Alexandra,” he returned, caressing my full name across his tongue and I had to look away before I spoke again.

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

He straddled the bench next to me and took my hand, his finger caressing my palm. Shots of warmth spread through my entire being. A knowing smile played on his lips and in that moment, I knew that he knew. My feelings no longer terrified me.

“Then tell me,” he whispered.

About the Author: Gayle Sharpe is a displaced Yankee living in North Central Florida. She’s worked as a computer lab operator, a hostess for birthday parties at an arcade, as a lingerie saleslady, in a costume shop for Halloween, and as a technical writer. Gayle has participated in the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire for several years. She’s thrilled that The Long and the Short Review is publishing "My Faire Love Story" and hopes the woman who provided the inspiration for Lexi recognizes herself and has the courage to take a chance on love.

Author Interview: Helen Scott Taylor

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Helen Scott Taylor with us. Helen is here to talk a little about the second book in her Magic Knot Fairies series that began with her debut novel The Magic Knot.

She told me, "I’ve received some lovely emails from people who’ve read The Magic Knot. I get a lovely rush of pleasure every time I read that someone has enjoyed my book. That makes all the hard work worthwhile."

Her newest book, The Phoenix Charm, will be released on December 29th. I asked her to tell us a little about it.

"It's the second book in my contemporary fantasy romance series," she said. "It’s set in England and Wales in a world based on Celtic mythology. In this book, the hero Michael has to visit the Welsh Fairy King who rules the Underworld to rescue his baby nephew."

She also has a new novella, "The Feast of Beauty," that will be included in The Mammoth Book of Irish Romance, due out January 26, 2010.

Helen is staying busy writing the third story in the Magic Knot Fairies series called The Ruby Kiss. It will be Nightshade's story (for those familiar with this series, Nightshade is the vampiric character with wings) and is scheduled for release on December 28, 2010.

She also reading The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance. Helen has been invited to write a novella for inclusion in the second Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance and wanted to check out the stories.

"There are some great reads in the book," she said, "and I'm really enjoying it."

"What inspired you to start writing?" I wondered.

"I started writing because I had a dream one night that I should. I know this sounds like something out of a novel, but it is absolutely true. Up until that dream, I hadn’t even thought of writing. Maybe it was my subconscious telling me to write, or it could have been my guardian angel giving me a wakeup call."

Helen dabbled a little in writing starting in 2001, but didn't consider herself a writer until she seriously started taking classes in 2003 to learn the craft. She completed her first full-length novel.

"This book was a short contemporary and it is now languishing on my computer hard drive," she told me. "But I learned heaps while writing that book."

Along with writing, Helen also runs a business, and her desk serves as the key point for both of these activities. She described it as "very cluttered."

"Periodically I tidy the desk, but I am just untidy and it only takes a few days to get into a mess again," she admitted. "My husband’s desk is next to mine and his is tidy."

She likes to take care of her office work and writing related jobs like email and promo in the morning, then she writes in the afternoon and evening.

"I'm a night bird," she told me, "and my brain doesn't fire up until after lunch. I work best late in the day when everyone else in my family has gone to bed."

When she's not writing, she enjoys walking. Even that becomes writing related, though, because she plots in her head as she walks. Her favorite pastime, however, is reading.

"My tastes are eclectic," she said. "I like reading books that are very different from my own. At the moment, I'm reading a lot of Harlequin Presents and Little Black Dress."

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

"I brainstorm titles and they can come from just about anywhere. Sometimes titles come out of my research for the story before I start writing, other times they come to me as I’m writing the story. I’ve been lucky that so far my editor has accepted all my titles."

On a personal note, Helen admitted that she use to hate how she looked in pictures.

"My daughter took a photography course when she was younger," she explained. "She took so many photos of me that she cured me. I think age has also made me more philosophical about my looks."

I wondered, "When you looked in the mirror this morning, what was the first thing you thought?"

"I don’t remember looking in the mirror," she said. "I must have done so because I brushed my hair—or I think I did. I’m so focused on what is going on inside my head that I don’t think about my appearance much, especially when I’m writing a first draft and my head is occupied with creating the story."

If Helen could wish for anything, it would be that her cat would live as long as Helen did.

"She is getting old and I dread the day I lose her," she told me. "She is my constant companion and the inspiration for the cat character Tamsy in The Phoenix Charm. I wish I had a spiritual connection with my cat as my heroine does with Tamsy."

Some random things about Helen:

A saying she uses a lot: "If you have the choice of being right or being kind, then be kind."

She must have eaten a crayon when she was little, but she doesn't remember. Her mom did tell her that once she swallowed a marble.

She often cries at movies. "It's always the happy bits that get to me," she shared.

She thinks scientists should invent self-cleaning domestic appliances, because she hates cleaning.

She only drinks Diet Coke, because she doesn't like Pepsi or regular Coke.

Finally, I asked her, "What do you want to know about the future?"

"I'd love to know that both my kids live happy successful lives. That would cut down on my stress over them now."

You can keep up with Helen on her website,

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Spotlight: Pamela Ridley

Top Ten Reasons to buy Another Memory by Pamela Ridley

Buy Another Memory because…

#10 you don’t have to leave home to purchase it:

Black Expressions



Barnes and Noble

#9 romance novels seasoned with suspense is your kind of entertainment

#8 you accept that lines between this world and the next can blur

#7 you relate to how life can steal every wisp of joy, and yet the human spirit will not relinquish hope

#6 older woman/younger man liaisons are a recipe for drama not to be missed

#5 our elders teach us to celebrate life with their own brand of humor and style

#4 mother/daughter and father/son reunions are fraught with challenge

#3 you enjoy figuring out which possessive controlling personality turns homicidal

#2 making peace with the past is a prerequisite to moving forward

#1 moving forward will allow Another Memory to occupy a heart, (and a bookshelf)

Buy Another Memory today!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday Spotlight: Pamela Ridley

Righting Writing Insecurity or Color Me Green

Since I began writing consistently fourteen years ago, many blessings have come my way. The good folks at Genesis Press paid me (not a whole lot, mind you, and rarely on time) but paid me for the privilege of printing a novel I wrote and then they encouraged stores to sell it. They’ve done that three times in the past four years. Dream come true? Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. Being published has got to be the first rung on a writer’s ladder to success.

Nevertheless, sometimes when I’m checking out various book sites, or participating on Facebook, or reading posts on a couple of discussion groups I subscribe to, I learn that someone who began writing around the same time I did has “blown up.” If you don’t recognize the vernacular, it means she or he has gained (gasp!) the notoriety that I so sorely want. They have it. I don’t—not yet anyway. I instantly feel “less than” and that sucks.

Perhaps they have signed with a big name publisher, or have gathered accolades via awards or contest wins. I read briefly then click away needing to suppress my feelings of inadequacy as I struggle to prevent them from morphing into jealousy, resentment, and despair.

Am I the only sick one out here or can any of my fellow writers relate??

“Are my cohorts who have 'arrived' more talented?” I ask myself. Some are, some aren’t; some are equally talented or less so.

“Are they more driven?” Probably. They probably work harder sustaining an Internet presence, or by going to conventions, or by associating with people who are in a position to help them get noticed. Some, no doubt, have advanced degrees in SMO (Social Media Optimization). I’m not anti-networking, I’m just generally more comfortable in a small circle of writing buddies and close friends. But, I’m trying to reach out more.

“Are my cohorts luckier?” Could be. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for being in the right place and knowing the right people and last but never least, having a good or sell-able (if not great) product. I’m convinced that these are the three ingredients that magically convert into luck.

God bless these writers who forge ahead. Because my negative feelings are always temporary, I sincerely wish them continued success. I plan to stick around long enough to learn from them.

Did I mention that Black Expressions picked up Another Memory? I’m encouraged by that. Maybe I’m on the second rung on that ladder to success.

Luckily for me, there are always “what if” situations in my head that need to be sorted out into stories, so I’m going to write regardless of which rung I land on. What about you?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wednesday Spotlight: Pamela Ridley

Whispering mediums and all that jazz

I recently picked up a book by James Van Praagh called Ghosts Among Us. He says, “Death refers only to the end of the physical body.” I agree. Therefore, after death there’s a spirit and a soul that has been disembodied and could conceivably end up in a myriad of places. Maya, a character in Another Memory, is such a spirit. She dies in an airplane crash as an infant, but reappears four years later to comfort her distraught mother. I take some ghostly literary license in that Maya comes back not as a baby, but as the four-year-old she would have been.

From Van Praagh’s book, I learned that Maya is not an earthbound spirit. Such spirits are often troubled and have a hard time communicating, hence they start mischief. Maya is not troubled and doesn’t play pranks. She comes to earth, but travels back and forth to other, non-earthly planes. She fits Van Praagh’s definition of a healing guide. “…this guide assists us with healing energies, helping to promote healing and well-being in our emotional, mental, and physical bodies. We do not need to ask for our guide’s assistance because it knows when we need help.”

While I believe that spirits can make themselves known, I generally keep my psychic and physical distance (unless, of course, I’m writing a book that has a ghostly spirit as a character) because I don’t want them to mess with me. Could be that a “ghost” isn’t a helpful, angelic spirit, like Maya, but a messenger from the dark side. Are you scared yet?

How’s your sixth sense working these days?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday Spotlight: Pamela Ridley

The stresses of writing can drive one to eat, or who put crumbs on my keyboard??

Oh my! Do you find yourself reaching for culinary delights as you tackle your plot problems? If you do, chances are you’re like me and have a tendency to turn to food to help solve real life as well as story problems. Not to hang out my nonexistent shingle, but, come on, you know I speak the truth.

Well, how does one explain this unnatural relationship with food?

In my case, eating makes me feel good. So does writing, but writing is stressful. It’s not necessarily stressful in a bad way, but stressful in that my heart and feelings get involved as emotions are triggered. Regardless of whether the writing is going well or not so well, food often calls to me.

Food comforts and mitigates my stress level. It doesn’t matter if I have a productive writing day, or if I end up having to confront an uncooperative circumstance in real life or in the virtual life of a story, I want food to be my ally.

Food says, “Wow, you’re awesome, Pam.” Or it says, “Don’t fret. You and me together, we can do this thing!”

Food is a trickster pretending to be a friend. Don’t trust it. It’s in cahoots with the trillion dollar weight management industry that wants you and me under its thumb trying the next diet, appetite suppressant or exercise program.

What’s the solution?

Here are five concrete actions to take:

-Drink water, lots and lots of it

-Put your computer in a room that’s off limits to food (Yes, I know this is a tough one.)

-Use time walking rather than chewing to plot your next move on the pages of your WIP or call someone and talk it out

-If need be, organizations like Food Addicts in Recovery can help

-Write to me and we’ll commiserate

Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday Spotlight: Pamela Ridley

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, or would it?

All writers, I assume, have a process for the selection of character names. This is how I do it. I have the story situation and a theme I’m writing toward in mind. I then “audition” characters to play the part. In Another Memory, my protagonist is fighting for a real life, rather than a shadow life where all she does is go through the motions.

For this story I needed someone tough, but also soft on the inside. In a word, she needed to be vulnerable. So what’s a good name for someone like that? I thought of the actor Forest Whitaker. He’s a big man, but comes across as sensitive. Whitaker; that will be my character’s last name, I decided.

For a first name I thought the character needed something not too heavy or serious because her life was serious enough. I didn’t want an Elizabeth, Millicent, Cynthia, or Monique. All perfectly fine names, but they didn’t speak to me although their shortened versions could have possibly worked. So, okay. What are some choices around me…family or perhaps a name that I randomly pick from a newspaper or magazine?

Hmm. I have a cousin named Chelly. The “chell” like “shell” part worked in the sense of a coat of armor, yet the “ly” gave it a softness like an upturned curlicue, which suggests hope of good things to come.

Did I look up Chelly to see what it meant? No, to be honest, I usually do at some point, but I didn’t. So, I’ll do it now at my favorite place to look up name meanings…

Here are three of the characteristics listed:

· The name of Chelly creates a very versatile and creative nature.

· You are quick-minded and have the freedom of expression to mix easily with people.

· Although you appear positive, you inwardly lack self-confidence and will-power.

Those characteristics work well with how I needed the Chelly in my story to approach life. That site is nice, but even if Chelly meant something totally adverse to my vision of her, I probably would have used the name anyway.

What did others think of my name choice? Well, one writing buddy in particular wondered, “If it’s pronounced Chelly with an /sh/ sound, why not save the reader a moment of confusion and spell it Shelly?” Valid point except I felt Chelly was a fairly common spelling and I’ve never met a Chelly who pronounces her name with a /ch/ as in chair. Have you? Besides, the reader gets to decide how she or he reads a character name in her or his head anyway, no matter what the writer intended. And finally, Chelly is how my cousin spells her name. I did run it by my cousin though, on the off chance she would read the book and take issue with it.

Voila! Chelly Whitaker is my protagonist’s name.

What are your thoughts on selecting character names?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanks Given by Sherry Gloag

The rain slapped against the windscreen, challenging the wipers to clear the glass long enough for Alex to see her way forward. "The plane trip from hell" didn’t begin to describe her flight from Heathrow to the States, and now this. She’d checked her map and turned off the highway onto what amounted to little more than a dirt track. One that emulated a trampoline, throwing what the man behind the counter of the hire firm called, ‘a neat little European compact, ideal for a lady’, all over the rutted surface. Surely her journey could only improve.

Apparently not.

The raging storm muffled the bang when the front tire blew. The steering wheel jerked to her right, hurling the car into the centre of the road, confirming the worst. The air inside the vehicle turned blue as she grappled to control the car.

Thank God Americans drove on the wrong side of the road. In this case a deserted road. Instinctively she brought the car to a slithering halt and tried to release her fear-locked fingers from the steering wheel. Failing, she gave up and rested her forehead on them instead waiting for the shaking to stop. The curtain of rain and falling dusk masked her surroundings. No way would oncoming traffic see her vehicle slewed across the road until it was too late. She had to move it. How much room did she have? She didn’t fancy ending up in either ditches edging the road. O.K. She’d have to get out and check, but first, she’d ring her brother-on-law, Luke Marino, so he and her nieces wouldn’t worry. He once judged her on her modeling career. Shallow, frivolous and a useless specimen of humanity, so this latest calamity would only add to his conviction. And yet…

They’d met when he’d filled in when one of the regular photographers couldn’t make the shoot, and he'd not hidden his disdain. Why then had he asked her out for a drink afterwards? His broad shoulders, lean hips and tightly muscled body sent shivers up her spine every time she saw him and soon they became a couple. He filled her thoughts, and like a fool she’d dreamt of happy-ever-after. And then he’d met her twin, Alice. Before she could say ‘Boo-to-a-goose’, Alice had a ring on his finger and they’d left for America within a week of meeting.

Now, for the first time since her sister’s funeral, three years ago, she’d agreed to return to their ranch for their Thanksgiving holiday.

No signal! She stuffed her fist into her mouth to prevent a scream of frustration. With exaggerated care she returned her phone to her bag before wrenching the driver’s door open and stepping into the torrential rain. She popped the trunk and gazed in horror at the empty space. No tyre! In the deepening dark, her fingers searched for a nut or bolt that could hold a spare tyre beneath the trunk.


Several European cars cradled their spare wheels beneath the car body. No way would she grovel about in the rain and dirt to confirm her suspicions. Loudly, and without censorship, she damned the man who designed the car. No woman would tolerate a design that turned reaching for a spare wheel into a life-threatening operation.

Increasing winds drove the icy rain through her clothing and chilled her skin. Stalking to the verge she estimated the space for turning the car. She reckoned she’d travelled one of the four miles along this track. Could she risk trying to drive on the front rim of the car? The steering would be shot to hell. At least the car had power steering! Did she dare risk it, or stay here with the car? Darkness fell while she pondered her options.

“Why isn’t Aunty Alex here yet?” Trudi asked for the hundredth time, and Luke wished he had the answer. He’d checked the airport, confirmed she’d picked up her rental car and left over three hours ago. Rain slammed against the windows, the wind keened around the building and the dark concealed the view outside.

Mandy joined her sister on his lap, and cupped his face in her tiny hand. “I want Aun’ie Allie.”

“So do I, sweetheart. So do I.” He wrapped his arms around his children and rested his chin on their soft golden curls.

He’d tried her cell phone.


He’d checked with the police. No accidents reported in his vicinity. Did that mean…what? His fingers tunneled through his dark hair.

Since he’d brought Alice, the wrong twin, to the ranch, six years ago, she’d never stopped moaning. The isolation gave her the creeps; she wanted kids. He gave her two. They were noisy, dirty and a nuisance; she wanted out of the marriage. He negotiated total parental rights, and Alice smiled sweetly before disappearing from their lives. A week later Jim, the local Sherriff, informed Luke of his wife’s death in a head-on-car-collision.

He’d waited two years before inviting Alex to join them for Thanksgiving. Last year she declined, using work as an excuse. This year… This year she was somewhere out there in the teaming rain and the dark.


He had to go to her. Had to find her. Until he did, his soul would never rest, never be whole again. He called his foreman and asked his wife to stay with his girls.

Luke edged his truck through the muddy water swilling across the access road to the house. The curtain of rain obscured her vehicle until he almost ran into it. His headlights shone on the flat tyre, but failed to reveal any sign of the driver. Fear drove him from his truck to the car, and relief buckled his knees when he saw her curled up on the back seat.

He yanked her door open, hauled her from the car and wrapped her in his arms, and vowed never to let her go again.

This was the best ever Thanksgiving holiday of his life.

About the Author: Sherry Gloag enjoys reading and and aspiring writer of contemporary romances, because she like stories with a happy ending. She lives in the East of England, where, like those who may enjoy watching the 'Changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace', she enjoys watching the changing of the seasons in the countryside.

Author Interview: Jenna Bayley Burke

The Long and the Short of It: LASR is pleased to have Jenna Bayley Burke with us, who also writes erotic romance under the pseudonym of Jenna Allen. She's the author of novels from Mills & Boon, Samhain, and Black Lyon. Her short stories are available from Wild Rose Press and Freya's Bower. Jenna Allen's novellas are from Phaze. Her newest book, Pride and Passion will be released in March from Samhain.

She's a brave woman and currently working on Shattered Expectations during the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). You can keep up with her progress (as well as other things going on in her life) on her blog.

This isn't the first time Jenna's done NaNoWriMo.

"I was half way through writing Compromising Positions when I heard about NaNoWriMo," she told me. "National Novel Writers Month mandates that you start a brand new story to participate in the race to write a novel in a month…so I set Compromising Positions aside and wrote Just One Spark (a 2006 release from Mills & Boon Modern). Coming back to the story was hard after living with other characters for a month, but the story is better for what I learned by finishing the other novel."

Jenna told me that, when she's writing, she usually comes up with a scenario first, then her mind runs through several characters before settling on who would work best in the set-up. She can't start writing, however, until she knows her characters.

"Compromising Positions started with a CNN segment," she shared. "Par for the Course was a magazine article…but Her Cinderella Complex was the heroine, Heather. She wants to be the Cinderella of her own story, and I got that. Coming up with the characters first meant I could layer in any element I wanted…like the mock wedding, swimming pool, yacht, and private island."

Jenna told me she has to have a working title she likes before she can write a book. started out as Breaking His Rules, then became Working It Out, then morphed into Sensational Sex before finally settling on the final title.

CNN was mocking a sexy exercise class. "I thought it would be a great backdrop for a romance novel. At the time, I’d never finished a book," she told me. "I started over a dozen before the first one that saw The End. It took me a while to find the characters and play with stereotypes until I knew I’d have to finish the story because I cared too much about Sophie and David to leave them in the lurch. They so desperately needed one another to bring out the best in them, to show the other what they deserved from life and love…if they were real to anyone but me I’d thank them for that gift. They taught me the easiest way to finish a story is to truly fall in love with your characters and care what happens to them."

It takes Jenna a while to get into what she calls "the writing head space," so if she's forced to write in short bursts, it can feel like she's blocked. But, if she has a few solid hours to write, she's fine again and the words flow. Those days can be hard to find, especially with three children—two in school and a baby. She used to be able to write for an hour and a half in the afternoon and an hour and a half after the boys were in bed. Now that Grace, her baby girl, is around—her writing schedule is sporadic at best. "Someday I’ll get back up to my old pace," she said.

On a personal note, I asked Jenna if she hated how she looked in pictures (I always do!)

"Omigawsh, yes. I had a baby last year, so I don’t look like ‘me’. It’s awful. Whenever I’m asked for a picture for promo stuff I cringe. Do you think it’s cheating if I buy an art photo from a stock photo site and claim it’s me? Drat, I thought so."

She wanted to be Danielle Steel when she grew up, she shared with me. "My mom is a huge fan and buys all her books in hardcover because she can’t wait for paperback to get her latest fix. I wanted to tell stories like that, that people couldn’t wait for and counted on. Plus, as a kid the idea of having a bunch of kids and writing sounded heavenly. Now I wonder how many nannies she had to help her out."

Because her boys are school age, she finds herself using the phrase "use your words" a lot. "Of course," she said, "I find I use it a lot in critiques as well."

She considers herself a morning person—as long as she's slept, that is. With a baby in the house again, that doesn't always happen. And, she's very much a multi-tasker. "I have three kids, a dog, a husband with career aspirations that blow my mind, I manage to write novels and I don’t have a maid," she explained. "Some days, I wish I didn’t multi-task, then maybe the husband would spring for a cleaning service..."

"What is one thing scientists should invent?" I asked.

"Easy weight management. Diet chocolate. Feeling rested after two hours sleep. Diapers that change themselves. Training wheels that lift and lower based on how the kid is balancing on his big boy bike," she said. "Oh, right. You asked for one."

Finally, I asked Jenna what advice she would give to a writer who was just starting out.

"Write," she said. "It’s too easy to get caught up in taking every class and learning every ‘rule’ out there. Writing teaches you more than any class you can take."

You can keep up with Jenna on her blog,