Friday, March 24, 2017

What lies Behind the Mask of Johnson’s next novel?

Henry III said, “If I were not King of France, I would choose to be a citizen of Venice.”

He wasn’t alone in his admiration. Venice, Italy has whispered its inspirational promises to mankind for centuries. Its charms have proved the catalyst for art, music, literature, and pleasure from lowly artists to pedestaled kings.

Everything from its romantically-arched windows overlooking bobbing gondolas, to its gargoyle-shaped doorknobs, speaks of its uniqueness. There are sights and sounds particular to Venice: bells’ flat gonging, water lapping against boats, hand carts thumping across the walkways on the way to a seven-centuries-old market, pigeons’ cooing right before their riotous fluttering as tourists pour contents from seed sacks into their eager palms, Byzantium architecture, blown-glass chandeliers, standing gondoliers steering their crafts effortlessly through dark water, shops with window fronts advertising hand-crafted shoes or carnival masks.

I first visited in 2005 with a friend since high school. Nacicchetti—and drank wine from the region with names like Prosecco—which we recognized—and the lesser known to us at the time—Soave and Valpolicella—in enotecas and osterias. Everything was strangely delicious and the art and sculpture was so beautifully moving we could barely digest the richness that makes Venice one of the world’s top travel destinations.
turally, we took the clich├ęd gondola tour. We ate squid and other small bites—

One day, as we strolled through the Rialto Market and its surrounding shops, a water ambulance careened through the canal, a big cross emblazoned on its side. The image sent roots deeper than those of simple memory.

Who was the occupant requiring medical attention?
What had happened?
Where were they from and where were they headed?
Why had this been necessary?

A new story forged from this wonderment; one which culminated inBehind the Mask, a suspense-filled romance novel with Venice as its backdrop.

My intention is to bring Venice’s full flavor to the reader as the journey is set into motion between characters who might never have met without this one event which required an ambulance. There is, of course, a mystery to be solved and lovers to bring together—my own Bridge of Sighs.

Renee Johnson is the author of Herald Angels, Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food. She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and two very spoiled German shepherds named Hansel and Gretel.

Renee Canter Johnson 

Available to day at all major online retailers

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I have been to see the dragon’s skin…

… and this is what it looks like.

Where I live, the Earth is a mellow creature. It doesn’t move beneath my feet or spew into the sky or break open very often. Folk here are focused more on the sky and the changeable—sometimes wicked—weather it brings us. We never doubt the solidity of the ground we’ve built our lives upon because it so rarely fails us.

We shouldn’t be so trusting.

The Earth is a living, breathing entity … a dragon, if you will. And that is never more evident than where this dragon is daily making itself new. On the island of Hawaii, the Big Island, the ground swells, it puffs poisonous, sulfurous smoke from open red sores and hundreds of bottomless cracks. It disgorges slow-moving lava fields that surround and torch homes, highways, and fields. It creeps downhill to fill a once-beautiful cove with 20-30 feet of solid black rock, rippled like skin.

The Earth lives here, and the people live with it, and

We think of dragons as mythical creatures, armor-plated and breathing fire. I think of them as having skin like this, and sleeping—ever so restlessly—beneath our feet.

Helen C. Johannes is the author of BLOODSTONE, a fantasy romance in which dragons do indeed sleep beneath the earth, and their petrified blood possesses magical power.
nature takes hold of the rock—very quickly, it seems, finding footholds for pollen and seedlings in seams filled with windblown dust. Dragon skin is fertile, apparently, or the islands built by these forces wouldn’t be so lush.

Helen C. Johannes

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Crazy Things Happen When You Write Steamy Romance By Stacy Gold

I recently became a published contemporary romance author. Okay, a published, contemporary erotic romance author. As soon as my first short story, ‘Just Friends’, came out, I let everyone know: friends, family, acquaintances, social media followers and random strangers. I expected the mix of funny looks, genuine excitement, and rave reviews I’ve received.

What I didn’t expect was how writing a book with explicit—but not particularly kinky—sex scenes would shift my personal universe. Especially since most of my friends and family knew what I was writing beforehand. Some even critiqued early drafts for me.

Still, their reactions after reading my officially published work have been fascinating…
At my launch party, I received congratulations cards, a lovely succulent in a pretty pot, a bouquet, and many bottles of wine. I also received a realistically rendered, double-ended, pink silicone sex toy with ‘Just Friends’ and my launch date inscribed in black marker on the side. Very thoughtful. It makes a nice conversation piece on the mantle.

One of my male friends questioned me about the specifics of powder skiing. In great detail. I think it was a mix of genuine curiosity, and a desire to let me know he read my book without talking about the sex. Or the emotions. Or the transformation of the characters. Or their relatability. Or the myriad of other things making up this story that most men avoid in their reading material.

The other night, the initial discussion over dinner with a few other couples revolved around the best words to use for male sexual anatomy. We were at a local restaurant, and not being all that quiet. I can’t help but wonder what the others diners thought, and whether they prefer the d-word or the c-word.

Not that I minded. I’m fine talking about sex. Always have been, even loudly in public places. It’s just, most other people aren’t. Or they weren’t. Until now.

Here are five wonderful and crazy things I’ve discovered:

1) My very conservative Aunt is not as conservative as I thought.

2) My guy friends are so supportive, even they read my book—and most have no idea what to say about it other than it’s very well written. Or they really enjoyed the skiing.

3) My husband likes me spending my days thinking and writing about attraction, sex, love and happily ever after.

4) I have the most wonderful, supportive friends and family ever. Not that I didn’t already know, but it’s good to be reminded.

5) I’ve given people a free pass to have frank sexual conversations with me anytime, anywhere. Which is a useful and appreciated, since I always need more fodder for my books.

What’s the one question you would ask an author of steamy romance? Does knowing someone writes about sex make you more likely to discuss sex with them?

Please do let me know in the comments below.

Stacy Gold
Adventires in Love and the Great Outdoors

Monday, March 20, 2017

unique Australian animals by Kate Loveday

Australia is a diverse country, with amazing wildlife. Amongst these the platypus is one of the most unique. It is one of the most unusual creatures in the world. It has a paddle-shaped tail like a beaver; a sleek, furry body like an otter; and a flat bill and webbed feet like a duck. In fact, the first time a platypus was brought from Australia to Britain, people couldn't believe that it was a real animal. They thought that a trickster had sewn two animals together, according to the BBC.

I have had the good fortune to see a one of these rare creatures. Not in a sanctuary or a zoo. In the wild. Swimming in the Broken River, in the Eungella National Park, Central Queensland. The National Park is in the Eungella Range, 50 miles west of Mackay. With husband Peter we had been spending a week in the Pioneer Valley below, on our way to Far North Queensland for the winter, staying in the Finch Hatton Caravan Park.

We had come here with the hope of seeing the shy and mainly nocturnal platypus in its natural habitat. So here we were before dusk standing in the viewing area on the bridge over the river at Broken River.

We had taken up our positions an hour earlier, waiting patiently and scanning the river for any signs of activity.
“Watch for bubbles on the surface of the water,” said the Ranger. “The platypus dives to the bottom for food and strains it through his bill. Then he comes to the surface to eat it. He’s only there for a few seconds and then he dives down searching for more, so you have to watch carefully. And it won’t happen until the sunlight is off the water.”

Accordingly we had been scanning the shady areas of water carefully.
We had a few false alarms as we saw tortoises swimming below us, and insects on the surface giving the appearance of bubbles.

Peter trained his binoculars upriver and suddenly there it was, many yards upstream. Creating wide ripples as it dived, it was clearly visible, and we watched its progress as it swam towards us and passed under the bridge. It was larger than we had expected at about twenty three inches long, and we saw its distinctive bill, the tail, and dark brown fur clearly. It was truly an exciting event to see this creature in its natural environment.

Apart from platypus spotting the Eungella National Park has many other attractions. It boasts the largest continuous stretch of rainforest in Australia. The winding road from Eungella to Broken River is lined on both sides with vegetation and walks and lookouts lead off from the road.

At the top of the winding road is the historic Eungella Chalet. With tables, chairs and umbrellas set out on lawns in front of the Chalet it is a pleasant spot to sit awhile and admire the view over the Pioneer Valley 700 metres below. A patchwork of green and brown fields interspersed with trees and the odd building and fringed by mountains makes this a spectacular view.
If you decide to visit Queensland the Pioneer Valley is the perfect place to spend a few days of your holiday. There are plenty of things to see and do.
If you are adventurous you may like to try hang-gliding. A hang-gliding ramp at the edge of the lawn provides a take off point for hang-gliding enthusiasts, both local and otherwise. Australian championships have been held here and competitors have been known to glide as far as the town of Pinnacle, twelve miles down in the valley below.

If you come I hope you enjoy it as much as we have. And I hope you spot a platypus.

Kate Loveday

Friday, March 10, 2017

Women's Hearts - Finding Truth in Fiction

Have you ever found yourself in a novel? Do you read to imagine yourself the heroine…or do you read because you are her…possessor of the deeper angst and motivations ready to find their way out in shared dilemmas and dreams, such as these…

Denying cannot be conjured where it isn’t, nor can it be successfully repressed: “Caging a heart – it couldn’t be done. Not a heart in full blossom of passion. Stopping a roaring river would be easier, or harnessing a violent hurricane with bare hands.” From “Love on a Train.”

Losing dreams to reality, when is it right to let them go and when is it wrong:
“Lana strained to see herself in the cracked mirror that leaned against the wall near Grandma’s cot. ‘You think your dress works good for a bride?’ Lana eyed the dress her grandmother was giving her, faded gray fabric with only a hint of white where tiny daisies had once been.
‘You’re going to be a wife, not a bride…’ Grandma muttered around her mouthful of pins, her needle and thread weaving in and out of the gathered waist. ‘Get silly notions about being a bride out of your head.’” From “Asked For.”

Being close to him, but not close enough:
“‘I miss you too,’ I answered, my cheek flat against his chest, my eyes staring across the room at a poster of Cincinnati’s baseball team. I did miss him but not in the way he thought. Even when he was near I still missed him, missed him in the lonely place he should be in my soul.” From “Mine to Tell.”

Longing for a true hero who knows what he wants, and it’s you:
“I had Regina on my horse in a second, seated in my saddle. I reached in front of her, grabbed the saddle’s horn, and sailed up behind her. ‘Let’s go. And this time, I’ll do the holding on.’ And I did, with both arms around the tiny woman I never intended to let go of.” From soon to be released “The Lady’s Arrangement.”

If an author is writing what he or she knows, they are writing your path. The pleasure is to escape to that path, or even escape from it as characters sort through what we sometimes can’t unravel. So, read. And enjoy. And when the pages reflect what you’ve always known, clasp the book close to your heart when you’re finished, and say, “amen.”

Colleen L Donnelly

Monday, February 27, 2017

Fun and news! with Abby Gordon

Absolutely gorgeous day - I've got the doors and windows WIDE open for the fresh air and breeze. Cats are in heaven - chittering as they run from window to window (using me as a launching pad on occasion) and generally exhausting themselves so I figure they'll crash in a little bit.
I've a light Italian meatball soup simmering in the crock-pot and have wheat bread dough rising to make rolls this evening.

With this spring-like weather, I feel like I should be doing my spring cleaning, but I'm restraining myself. Mother Nature has a warped sense of humor, so I'll wait. Sort of. I moved the sub-zero parka and the winter boots from the entryway coat rack to the hall closet. And did a scrubbing of the walls. Not full out spring-weekend effort, but enough where I feel like I satisfied my spring fever itch.

I'm in full writing mode - two scenes to do for IM4 - one VERY hot and steamy - Jake let's loose on Tina and ties her up, and she's loving every minute of it - and the 'here's why Allura has been doing what she's doing' - ooo, the men are NOT happy. And then there's Barden - who has a crisis of confidence. The next three for the Interstellar Matchmaker series are bubbling about in my mind - Bessie's brother, Adam, Copper Fire's police chief, does something he's NEVER done before and secrets come out of the fire. For six and seven, two of Tina's older brothers literally dance their women off their feet, but... let's just say true love's course is never smooth! And the eighth - you like time travel with a Wizard of Oz twist? Allura's last matchmaking effort sends an Andersson back to the fifties.

Annnnd, I've received a few emails about my first series - unnamed, any ideas? - and I've gone back to it - Possessing Penny should be ready for Angela, my amazingly patient editor and incredible cover artist - in a couple weeks. Plus, Claiming Claire with the menage of Claire, Paul and David and a bit of a mystery. And, in a future book - something I've never done - using people I know as secondary characters - with their permission and their input - talk about scene stealers though! I think you'll love them as much as I do though. More on that in the future.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tough Truth About Reviews by Cj Fosdick

Reviews are to books what “Consumer Reports” is to electronics. A book can live or die by review buzz—whether written or by word of mouth. Reviews are important for new releases, especially important for debut authors. Authors understand this; readers not so much.

     With my debut novel, The Accidental Wife, I didn’t know about marketing early for pre-orders or even that an ARC was an Advanced Review Copy. Blogging, tweeting, street teams and book tours were foreign terms and interviews were something you did only when asked—after your success was validated. Trolling for reviews and endorsements was something extroverts did, and swapping reviews was almost as uncomfortable as paying for them. It took a year of discovery and networking with other authors to learn the truth.

      For my earliest reviews, I trusted my most important Beta readers—both of whom were experienced writers and editors. I was married to one, but had lost touch with the other —a colleague who co-produced a Minnesota anthology with me thirty years ago. After reading my finished manuscript, both Betas gave me the equivalent of five star reviews.

     Could I trust them to be impartial? Hubby—not so much. More to lose there, according to his POV (point of view). Also, his left brain talent at IBM had him editing technical manuals; He never even read a time-travel historical romance, though he does love history and suspense and epic storylines in movies. Plus, he is great at editing grammatical errors and relentlessly honest in the larger picture.

     My old colleague labeled me a “helluva writer” and admitted she laughed and cried while reading The Accidental Wife. Known for her encyclopedic mind and creative fantasy, she had poems and two published books of her own: Minnesota Trivia and Growing Wings. It had been years since we touched base after she moved to another state, but I trusted Laurel Winter and loved the review she offered.

     I warmed up to inviting others to read and review IF they liked the book, but I hesitated to ask other family members to even read it. Particularly my 80 year old stepmom and my daughters, as I worried about their reaction to the sex scenes WildRose Press rated “spicy.” All were fine with the sex, but my stepmom said she did not believe in time travel. Still, she got a print copy accepted in her local library in Wisconsin. Sometimes nepotism has a silver lining.

  Though my short stories and articles were published for decades, many people knew me only as a horse trainer. Discovery and Acceptance precede sales which precede reviews. Fishing for reviews for a novel was going to be hard for a new “minnow” suddenly swimming in an ocean of writers all hoping to hook readers. Harder still for a technophobe inept at posting in Facebook and new to Twitter, Goodreads, and other social media apps and opportunities.

     I celebrated my debut by ordering “Novel CJ”—a vanity license plate for my car, then spent months of self-education, embellishing my website, writing a newsletter titled “Accidental Connections,” even distributing business cards and stocking up on print copies to sell. At a Historic Home Ec Club appearance, I laughed when an elderly member asked if I thought sex sold more books. (I side-tracked her with my cookies.) Both Accidental books have scenes involving historic cookie recipes. Armed with recipe cards and baked samples, the cookies were always a hit at subsequent Book Club appearances. I also donated a dozen copies to my local library for their book club program, reasoning discovery is more important than sales, then followed through by giving away as many debut books as I sold.

Whichever way a copy found a new reader, I couldn’t count on an instant review. Busy people took longer to read and when I ginned up the courage to ASK for a review, I sometimes got an intimidated deer in the headlights response: “You want ME to write a review?” Some readers felt unqualified to write one, some didn’t know where to post or how to navigate online. Eventually, I plugged little cards into all the print copies I sold, explaining the importance of reviews and listing the link sites. I even sent a “click list” to one reader who told me her grandchildren might be able to show her how to add a review on Amazon.

     There are three other review sources, aside from betas, family and friends:
1. Unsolicited reviews, also termed “organic.”
2. Paid Reviews.
3. Swapped Reviews.

Every writer is happy to collect unsolicited reviews, especially if they are three to five stars. Paid reviews vary in cost and value, along with results. The WildRose Press publisher warns against them.

If time is money, swapping reviews also has a cost factor beyond the fact that Amazon and other sites frown on them. I thought swapping was an inexpensive way to add reviews, even though I read as deliberately as I write. My editing eye zeroes in on errors, and faulty research. Knowing first-hand how much work the writer invests, however, I always find something affirming, and try to suppress the niggling dishonesty that gives four or five stars to a review that merits less. Isn’t it tacitly understood that getting five stars means giving the same in a swap? Wouldn’t it be less of a head game if we gave a STARLESS critique? It might increase the number of reviews with no risk to writer or reviewer, especially if they share a connection!

     Recently, I was asked by a fan to endorse her friend’s Indie fiction book for her cover. This helps to sell the book if the endorsement normally comes from a successful writer or celebrity. I was flattered into reluctantly agreeing, telling myself this was only to save a fan. It turned out the first 67 pages were an info dump. Dialog was stilted, with hundreds of he said/she said dialog tags, even with two people conversing. Supporting characters were more sympathetic than the main characters, and the ending drifted. I affirmed that she had an editor, and asked her if she truly wanted my honest opinion. Her editor also worked with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and since Watergate, Bob has written eighteen non-fiction books. Okaaay. I emailed my notes anyway, with suggestions. For three days of work, I received NO RESPONSE back. File that under A valuable lesson learned…on so many levels!

  Endorsements and good reviews aside, ultimate best sellers—even those by well-known beloved writers seldom hit the mark with everyone. If you are counting reviews, even bad ones can be a plus. Think about the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James, which hauled in more than 60,000 reviews over the last six years Over 30% of them earned 1 to 3 stars, with even the five star reviews holding some objection. Lower ratings usually indicate disregard for subject matter or writing skill. But Fifty Shades got people talking, saved a publishing house and planted erotic books firmly into the mainstream. True then, some best sellers are the gift of public curiosity—niche readers who take a chance on a book outside their favorite genre because it has an intriguing hook and a lot of buzz. Refute the idea that only good reviews pay off. Mixed reviews mean a broader reader base penning those cherished unsolicited reviews.

     With The Accidental Stranger—the new sequel to my debut book—I’m working the review game smarter, investing more marketing time...and money while still conceding that reviews come easier to veteran writers with devoted fans and a broad base that may take years to cultivate. Unless, of course, I come up with a novel hook that flutters through demographics like a contagious flu.

     My favorite series author, Diana Gabaldon, has sold 26 million books in more than 40 countries. Outlander, her first book published in 1991, has accumulated over 22,000 Amazon reviews, with only 7% of them pulling one or two stars. I met Diana twice at HNS Writer Conferences. She has said in interviews that she won fans “ten at a time,” until she caught on. Inarguably, she may have the largest fan base of any popular author today. She is my social proof and inspiration. We both love character-driven time-travel with multi-genres in the mix. My dearest fantasy is asking her for…an endorsement!

Cj Fosdick--would LOVE reviews of her new release, The Accidental Stranger