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Monday, November 26, 2012

INTERVIEW and Giveaway: Laurie Larsen


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Laurie will be awarding promo items to random commenters at every stop, and the choice of a basic Nook or Kindle to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour (US/CANADA ONLY). Click on the tour banner to see the other tours on the stop.


Long and Short Reviews welcomes Laurie Larsen, who's visiting with us today as part of her blog tour for Keeper by Surprise. Please leave a comment—if Laurie gets ten comments, she'll give away a paperback copy of her last book, Inner Diva. If less than ten comments, one winner will receive a mini-gift pack of Laurie Larsen promo items. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

In Laurie's new work, Keeper by Surprise, the first scenes that came to her were vivid dreams that the hero, Keith, wakes up from. They were memories of incidents in his childhood.

"It was an amazing experience that only happens rarely for authors: I was literally transcribing a vivid scene directly from my imagination through the keyboard to the page. I was simply along for the ride," she told me. "It was a gift, from someone, from somewhere. I have no idea why those scenes hit me or where they came from, but they are some of the best writing I’ve ever done because they needed very little editing. When I first 'transcribed' them, I thought, 'What is this? What is this story going to be?' I had to start with these dream sequence/memories, then construct the story of the novel around them. When I recognized them as memories, and not present day for Keith, I was able to understand a lot more about my character and what challenges he faces every day."

Laurie is currently working on an inspirational romance called Roadtrip to Redemption, the story of a middle-aged, newly divorced woman named Leslie who is facing a mighty lonely summer. Her divorce was finalized, her daughter goes to Paris on a fashion internship; she’s a teacher and the last day of school is behind her. No one needs her anymore. What on earth will she do? She prays about it and inspiration hits her: hit the road, no destination in mind! She does exactly that, and finds that when she places herself in God’s hands, willing to do his work, he will use her for amazing things. God uses her unique skills to help others in need. And along the way, she meets the man she could just fall in love with again. What started out looking like the worst summer in her life, turns out to be one of the most positive and memorable.

In August of 1998, Laurie, the mother of two busy boys, found herself in a very busy, stressful day job. She had a business trip to Atlanta, where she gave presentations on Thursday, Friday, Monday, and Tuesday.

"The weekend was almost a mini-vacation! Just me, all by myself in a luxurious hotel room, on expense account, with two heavenly days all to myself. I used the touristy materials in my hotel room to map out a day of sightseeing, and off I went," she said. "One of my first stops was the Margaret Mitchell House. Margaret lived in a boarding house during about 8 of the 10 years that she was writing Gone with the Wind. Inside her apartment, she had a picture window in her tiny living room. A folding chair and a TV tray faced the window, a black manual typewriter sitting on the tray. As she generated chapters, she’d put each one in a manila envelope and stack them on the shelf of the picture window. When she wasn’t writing, she’d place a bath towel over the typewriter and the stacks of envelopes, hiding them from view. For almost a decade, Margaret continued working on her novel. Throughout that time, life happened: she got a job, she got married, she broke an ankle, she had all kinds of illnesses. She kept writing. They’d have guests over and they’d point to the blob in the corner under the towel, 'What’s that, Margaret?' And she’d answer, 'Oh nothing, it’s horrible.' They’d press her and she’d say, 'In a moment of weakness I decided to write a novel.' She never had any faith in it. She did it because she loved Civil War era history. Standing in that house that day, listening to her story, inspired me. I was just like Margaret. I was someone who loved not history in particular, but writing. I’d always loved writing, I’d just never written a book. I had ideas, I just never had time. But guess what, Margaret didn’t really have time either. All we have is our ideas, our desire to write and our determination to make it happen. If Margaret had decided she was too busy, or the time wasn’t right, look what American literary treasure we would’ve missed out on. Something spoke to me that summer day in Atlanta. I cancelled the rest of my sightseeing, went back to the hotel and wrote the rest of the weekend. I wrote on the airplane on the way home, and I never stopped. Literally, NEVER. That manuscript I began that day turned out to be my first published novel, Whispers of the Heart. That book made me a published author and changed my life forever. It’s why I included in the Dedication page: 'To M.M.M.: my inspiration.'"

In the last fourteen years, she's written nine books.

"Some years it’s harder than others, but most years I’ll complete a book," she explained.

Her busy boys are now twenty-one and seventeen, and Laurie said they were "completely awesome."

"They’re so opposite of each other in appearance, personality, ambition, and talents. But they’re both the joys of my life and I cherish the moments we have together," she explained.

I asked her about the remainder of her family.

"A loving and fun lab/border collie mix named Gracie. We adopted her 9 years ago when she was 2 and I can’t remember life without her. She is a people pleaser, always smiling and wagging and wanting to make you happy. And my husband -- we’ve been together half my life now! We’ve accomplished so much together, building a great life together, raising our boys and remembering the important things."

Finally I asked, "Who is your favorite author and why?"

"My favorite author is Pat Conroy. He’s a wonderful southern epic writer who wrote such classics as The Great Santini, Beach Music, and The Prince of Tides. I’ve mentioned in internet interviews many times that he’s my favorite author, maybe with a hope that he’ll actually read it someday. He’s my favorite author because of how his writing affects me. His stories resonate with me. I love everything he’s ever written. In addition to his novels, he’s written non-fiction memoirs of his life and childhood, he’s written a cookbook with stories accompanying every recipe. He’s written articles for magazines and newspapers and forewords to other people’s books. He’s a leading expert on military childhoods and the effect on those children as adults. And he’s a spokesperson (at times, an unwelcome spokesperson) for his college alma mater, The Citadel in Charleston, SC. A few years ago, I received a particularly brutal critique of my novel Inner Diva when it was in a pre-published state. The critiquer was most likely correct in everything she pointed out, she just used absolutely no tact or gentleness in her delivery. I was devastated. I contemplated giving up writing entirely. Maybe I had no talent. Maybe this business was too rough for me. Maybe I’d never publish another book. So I put my own writing aside for about four months and instead, I pulled out Pat Conroy’s work. I started with a self-published book he wrote in college, then the memoir he wrote after he got fired from his first job out of college. I read them all again, consecutively in the order he wrote them. And I let his words bathe my soul like they always do. I laughed at all my favorite parts, and I cried at all the usual spots. I love this man for how his words and emotions affect me over and over again. When I’d finished all his books, I sent him an email explaining what they meant to me, and in one of the thrills of my life, he wrote back a day later. He gave me words of encouragement to keep 'facing my own tsunami.' He claimed that each of his books nearly broke his spirit, casting him in self-doubt, convinced that he didn’t have the talent to write another word. He assured me that this is common for writers. I can’t tell you what it meant to me. And after his most recently published novel, South of Broad, I wrote to him again telling him how much I enjoyed it and again, he thrilled me with a response."

About the Author: Laurie Larsen is the EPIC Award-winning author of Preacher Man, Best Spiritual Romance of 2010. To date, she has published seven books in the romance and women’s fiction genres, including one Young Adult romance. Keeper by Surprise is her latest release. She lives in the Midwest with a strenuous day job, a husband of more than two decades, two amazing sons and Gracie the Wonder Dog. To keep up with Laurie and her books, visit her at , on Twitter or Facebook.
Life changes forever for Keith Hanson when his parents’ will declares him guardian over his three younger siblings. His new responsibilities are challenging, but he’s even less prepared to fall in love with Lisa Carle, a social worker with a devastating secret.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Author Interview and Giveaway: Toni Noel


Long and Short Reviews welcomes Toni Noel, whose latest book Rising Above, has just been released this month. Also released this month is To Feel Again and the print version of Toni's very first published work, Law Breakers and Love Makers.

To Feel Again is actually the first book that Toni ever wrote. When she was in school, she loved to do research and write term papers. She didn't know how to write fiction, however, and had no story ideas floating around in her head. She raised her family (four daughters), completed a business degree, and launched her career.

"Then one of those daughters introduced me to the escape from reality possible while reading a good romance novel and I was hooked. I finally had my next goal firmly in mind: retire and write romance," she told me. "When the owner shut down our company I did retire, but soon realized I didn't know how to write what I wanted to write, so I enrolled in a creative writing class at a local community college. Half-way through the class one rainy afternoon scenes for a novel to write flooded my mind. I sat down at the computer to make notes and soon had written two full chapters. Needless to say that first novel, To Feel Again, went through countless revisions as I perfected my craft. The MS eventually found a permanent home under the guest bed and I started a new novel. Last spring I again loaded the file onto my computer, polished it some more and submitted it to my publisher, Desert Breeze, who offered me a contract. To Feel Again will release on November 11th."

Currently Toni is working on a book, Homeward Bound, she sold on proposal—and faces a fast-approaching deadline. It's about a stager hired by a wealthy but disillusioned businessman to assure the successful sale of his estate. The stager is a product of foster homes and longs for a home of her own.

"I know how the story will end, I just have to find time to write it," she said. "Social media is both a blessing and a curse. I find myself faced with too many deadlines -- commitments to promote my other releases -- that take up far too much of my writing time."

Toni usually gets an idea for a story setting and a character's name follows shortly after. And, she finds inspiration for her stories everywhere--To Feel Again is set on a rapidly flowing creek in the eastern Sierras, a place she often camps. Fairy Dusted was inspired by a network newscast.

Then, because she's analytical and needs a clear roadmap of character arcs leading straight to the resolution before she starts, she plots her books, depending on the fifty scenes method of plotting. She'll make notes for those scenes on sticky notes and arrange them on a story board so she can see where the turning points fall and can picture the satisfying conclusion.

"It doesn't take all that much time, and the results make it all worthwhile," she assured me. "Before the temptations of social media, I could write a first draft from those stickies in six weeks."

All of Toni's novels are centered in the home—with many being inspired by a dwelling that intrigued her. She also loves reading books about finding safe havens for the heart, so it's not surprising that she loves to write them as well.

"Whether a boarded-up brick mansion or an old Victorian farm house, these houses shelter stories just waiting to be told, and I love telling them," she explained.

When she was small, for a while she wanted to follow in Shirley Temple's footsteps, but writing won out.

"In college I planned to major in journalism, minor in P.E. and teach while I wrote fiction. Falling in love changed my plans," she admitted. "My fiancé was already teaching P.E. and wanted me to stay home and raise our children, which I did until the last one left for college. By then computers fascinated me. I wanted to learn to program them and earned a business degree in Information Systems with special emphasis in Systems Analysis. This knowledge and my experience in accounting helped me land a position as senior accountant for an R&D company under contract to build underwater vehicles. Thanks to my classes in data base management and a working knowledge of software conversions I became the system manager of the accounting department software, prepared W-2's and W-4's electronically and supervised the conversion of the company payroll to direct deposit, then gladly walked away from those stressful duties to write romance."

"If you could do it over again," I asked Toni, "what would you do differently on your road to getting published?"

"You've probably already guessed the answer: start writing sooner. I lost so many good years of writing because I thought I had to wait to start writing. Actually I did join a critique group when my youngest was still in diapers, even submitted a humorous article to Writer's Digest Magazine, unaware their publication did not publish humor. Unable to see then that my writing was not ready for publication, I became discouraged, and wasted thirty more years when I should have been submitting, piling up rejection letters, learning from the experience and honing my craft. I repeat, if you have the urge to write, just do it. Practice makes perfect. Even born writers learn what works and what doesn't through rejection."

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

"Don't wait to start writing. Beginning writers have so much to learn. Enroll in on-line classes. Join RWA and a critique group. Write something every day. Like a concert pianist, a writer has to practice for many long hours learning to get things right. I went away to college planning to minor in journalism and support my writing habit by teaching. I met my future husband the first week on campus and by the next weekend we had decided to get married in the spring. During the next forty-five years I could have been perfecting my craft as well as raising my children, returning to college to complete my degree, then working eight to five, I should have been taking writing classes, too. There is so much a writer needs to learn. Start learning today."

Leave a comment for a chance to win a Kindle download of Rising Above.

About the Author:
Toni Noel's love of books started in early childhood, when her mother first read The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew to her. She helped start church libraries in two rural Tennessee towns and appeared before the City Planning Commission and the San Diego City Council to urge a site be purchased. As the neighborhood spokesman for the new library, the City Councilman for her district invited her to turn the second shovel of dirt at the groundbreaking for the new library. Toni's fondest dream, to see one of her safe-haven-for-the-heart novels available for checkout there may soon be fulfilled. In November Desert Breeze Publishing will release in print the author's first published eBook Law Breakers and Love Makers.

You can hang out with Toni here:

And download her books here:
Or here:
Or from your favorite eBook store.

When modern-day tomboy Wilda Stone is blown back through time to 1874, her hot air balloon crashes above the Owens Valley. Stoic undercover agent Hal Grantham comes to her rescue, promising to take her to the silver mining town of Cerro Gordo. A severe sand storm keeps him from keeping his promise and forces them to seek shelter overnight in a cave, compromising her reputation and forcing Hal into a marriage of convenience.

Wilda is a misfit in Cerro Gordo, too, where their turbulent marriage is filled with adventures, adjustments, and above all else, loving. Then a diphtheria epidemicsweeps through the silver mining town. This same disease felled Hal's first wife and child, so to guarantee Wilda a long life Hal secretly repairs her balloon, and then sends her back to her own time, shattering Wilda's heart. Is her love for her terse husband strong enough to bring this headstrong Caltrans flagperson safely back to Hal's time?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012



Long and Short Reviews welcomes Cynthia Gail, whose latest book Winter's Magic is out. Winter's Magic was originally called Raising the Bar, because of the opening scene in the book; however, when Cynthia decided to create a series, she decided to change the title so all four books in the series would tie together in a theme. She uses all four seasons in the Music City Hearts series, plus key words that connect with the heart of each book. She's currently working on the fourth book in which the antagonist from Winter's Magic redeems herself.

"I’m an optimist at heart and couldn’t help but want to save her," Cynthia explained. "I think my readers will fall in love with Lauren the way they do Beth, Sara and Jenny."

She also has a stand-alone book she's almost finished with.

Cynthia used to stay up late at night reading—it was her "me" time.

"One morning, as I dozed on and off between hitting the snooze button on the alarm, the start of a story popped into my head. I ignored it, but it popped into my head again the next day with a little more detail," she said. "Eventually I started writing instead of reading at night. I had no idea if I could actually finish a book. I didn’t even know how long a real book should be. When I finished my first manuscript, it came in around 60,000 words and the second book had started forming in my head already."

This was in 2009 and she didn't tell anyone, not even her husband, for about a year. By then she had two and a half books written, with no idea what she was doing or what to do with the stories she'd created.

"My best friend introduced me to Trish Milburn, an award-winning author who writes for several publishers, including Harlequin. She edited my very first manuscript and didn’t throw it in the trash. That gave me hope. Then she connected me with RWA and our local chapter. Once I joined, started taking classes, and reading books on the craft, I felt like I could call myself a writer," Cynthia said.

She started her first book as a pantser, but she's learned to plot with a 16-point outline, goal/conflict diagram, and character biography. Her stories still take on a life of their own as she writes, so she constantly updating the outline accordingly. But she definitely knows where the path is going to lead from the very beginning.

First, she starts with an idea for a "first meet." She's always thinking about unique ways two people can run into each other and find that instant spark.

"Then I come up with reasons why that spark might not be enough or why it could ‘never work’. Once I’ve narrowed down initial complications, I dig deeper and build a history for each character that creates a series of bigger conflicts and larger consequences, until I can identify something that is virtually insurmountable," she explained. "The first half of the plot is building the relationship so that complications can be revealed, causing obstacles along the way, followed by a fence to climb, ultimately having the hero/heroine face a brick wall. The second half of the plot is finding a way around/through/over that brick wall to discover a happy ending."

Her characters are the heart of the book, she told me—it's their characteristics that the reader falls in love with and their flaws that you love them for overcoming.

Cynthia does most of her writing while sitting in her favorite lounger or recliner—on a small laptop that she uses exclusively for writing and online marketing. She has to write in silence so her brain can concentrate—however, she can edit and revise with the TV on. She tries to balance the two so she can enjoy Sunday afternoon football or her favorite sitcoms with the family.

"What do you like to do when you are not writing?" I asked.

"My son has played football and baseball since he was in grade school, keeping us busy almost year around. We have great neighbors and love to cook out or spend time on the lake in the summer. I play bunco and of course, I love to read."

She reads both print and ebook—she loves her Sony Reader; she bought her first one several years ago when she was traveling with her day job. She still loves the feel of a book in her hand, however, and browsing the shelves of a bookstore.

"How do you keep your writing different from all the others that write in this particular genre?" I wondered.

"When I write, I try to simply write as me. I think there’s a subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, distinction that comes out in a writer’s voice if we don’t limit ourselves to formality, if we don’t hold back from our inner personalities."

Cynthia's actual name is Cynthia Gail Woody Brannam—she's always loved the name Cynthia, but her family called her 'Cindy.' When she was trying to think of a pen name, it just felt right for her to use a variation of her own name.

I asked her to tell us about her family.

"I’ve been married for 22 years to my high school sweetheart. We have an 18-year-old son, who just started college, and three dogs: Daisey and Larry are basset hounds – Biscuit is a puggle. We’re die-hard University of Kentucky fans (any sport). We follow Pittsburg Steeler & Tennessee Titan football and LA Dodger baseball."

About the Author:
Home is where you hang your hat. A native Missourian, my family relocated twice during my teenage years, taking me from a high school freshman class of over 1,200 students to living in a small town in Kentucky with a total population of less than 1,000.

Home is where your heart is. Despite the culture shock and challenges of those shy, teenage years, I met my true love in that tiny town and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to experience a community where everyone waves, calls you by name, and treats you like family.

My husband and I now live in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee with our teenage son and three dogs. Life is busy, but when I have free time, I love to read. A math/science girl at heart and a retail analyst by trade, I never thought I’d be writing romance. But one day, a story popped into my head and I had to write it down. The fantasy, escape, and wonder of just reading multiplied by ten-fold and I couldn’t stop my fingers from typing my own fairy tales.

Owner of La Bella Vita, a five-star day spa nestled in the affluent suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee, Beth Sergeant knows her elite clientele first hand. She attended their private schools. She was even engaged, although briefly, to one of their most recognized bachelors. But she never fit in to their social-elite world.

After losing his parents to a car accident at a young age, Nick Chester was raised by his grandfather, the wealthiest man in Nashville. When he chooses to socialize, he has a never-ending list of exclusive events and beautiful women vying for his attention. Yet he never lets himself forget that everyone has an agenda.

Beth can’t resist Nick’s charm and accepts an invitation to dinner, despite her deep-seated insecurities. She proves she’s nothing like other women Nick's dated and learns to trust him in return. But just as the last of their resistance crumbles and true love is within reach, challenges from Nick's past threaten to destroy everything and force Beth to reveal her most guarded secret.