Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy New Year--Again! (Plus Giveaway) by Pamela Sherwood

Horse Sculpture in park in Zhejiang Province, China, photo by Jakub Halun
After a year in which Christmas and New Year's blew in and out like a tropical storm (at least in my house), it's something of a relief to have a "do-over" on the latter.  Chinese New Year just happens to fall on January 31, so Gung Hay Fat Choy, everyone! Happy Year of the Horse!

Like so many Chinese festivals, the New Year is a lunar celebration, meaning that it tends to fall between late January and mid-February. So if your birthday occurs before the Chinese New Year, you are still a child of the previous year, associated with that zodiac sign, regardless of what the Gregorian calendar says.  (By the way, 2013 was the Year of the Snake, and I was once informed with great earnestness by a Chinese storekeeper helping me shop for a dinner party that "The Horse follows upon the tail of the Snake"--a suitably portentous-sounding phrase!)

Those born in the Year of the Horse are considered to be charming, intelligent, strong-willed, dominant, and accustomed to having their own way. Sounds like a classic alpha, whether male or female! However, as Wood is the prevalent of the five Chinese elements in 2014, children born in this year will supposedly be more reasonable and less impatient than, say, Fire Horses.

Whatever the zodiac animal who predominates, Chinese New Year offers its own traditions, customs, and rituals. For example, it's common to clean house in the days leading up to the New Year, to sweep the bad luck out the door, so the good luck can enter. It's also recommended that, if one is getting a haircut, it should be done before the end of the old year, because hair and good fortune are said to be linked. (Don't ask me to explain that one!)

Nian costume, photo by Drhaggis
Another Chinese New Year's ritual that remains close to my heart is the Lion Dance, which I used to watch as a child visiting Chinatown during the holiday. Legend has it that the Nian, a fearsome beast who lives under the sea or in the mountains, would come out of hiding during the New Year and frighten people, especially children, but it could be driven away with loud noises and the color red.

The Lion Dance enacts some of that legend, with drums and firecrackers providing the former, while the latter is represented by red lanterns, red scrolls, and red robes worn by dancers (those who aren't operating the lion costume from within). Lions with horns are generally considered to be Nians (and traditionally fought with), while hornless Lions dance to drive away bad spirits and are rewarded for their efforts with gifts of fruit, vegetables, and money (in little red envelopes--a pleasant sight for anyone observing the holiday!)

When I was a kid, I used to mistake those shaggy-headed lions with their gaping, flapping mouths for dragons. I later learned that dragons were operated by far more people underneath, and the costume was held aloft on poles, rather than operated by the dancer's hands and feet. But a troupe of lion dancers is still a very impressive sight, whether gamboling, prowling, or rearing aloft to snatch the storekeepers' offerings that dangled from the doorways. And while I haven't made the trek down to Chinatown recently (having become less fond of crowds and explosions over the years), the distinctive drum beat of the dance has become rooted permanently in my aural memory: once heard, never forgotten.
Lion Dance Troupe by Chinatown Gate in Seattle, Washington, photo by Joe Mabel

Wishing everyone, East and West, a happy and prosperous New Year! And in honor of the holiday, I'm giving away signed copies of both of my books, Waltz with a Stranger and A Song at Twilight, to one commenter until midnight, PST, February 2 (yup, Groundhog Day). Please leave your email address if you would like to enter the giveaway.





Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's All In The Details...

by Julie Ann Walker

Authors build worlds...

Sounds quite grand, doesn't it?  And in a way, it is.  Because no matter the genre, be it historical, paranormal, contemporary, whatever, when an author sits down to put a story on paper, a world gets created.  A world that starts in the author's mind and ends in the reader's.  And really great authors give us worlds rich with detail, dripping with delicious tidbits, rife with the fascinating minutia that makes their world, that specific world, just that much more compelling.

Now I don't claim to be a great author.  But I am striving every gosh-darned day to become one.  The problem?  I hate research.  (It's too much like studying, which I tended to avoid like the Bubonic Plague, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and a brain-eating mob of zombies all rolled into one.)  So the question becomes, if I can't sit in front of my PC doing hours of investigation - and, by the way, I totally salute and am completely envious of those author who can - how the heck do I discover the rich details, the delicious tidbits, and the fascinating minutia needed to make my stories... ahem... pop?

And the answer?  Well, I just need to live it.

So when a new romantic suspense series set in the Florida Keys blazed into my frontal lobe - don't worry, Black Knights Inc. fans, there's so much more motorcycles and mayhem to come - I knew I needed to pack my bags and head south.  And after a few weeks of sand and sun, here are the things I've learned about the Keys that I never would have uncovered sitting in my office chair...

Number one:  There are lizards EVERYWHERE!
Fat brown lizard...

Slim gray lizard...

Fat brown lizard "doing it" with slim gray lizard...


Number two:  Scooters are the preferred mode of transportation.  And no one looks cool riding one.
Mr. Walker in all his scooter-riding glory!


Number three:  Float planes are an excellent way to island-hop. If you don't mind an occasional bumpy landing. 
Yes, that's me riding co-pilot.  Everyone on-board survived.  Barely.

Float plane parked on the beach at the Dry Tortugas.


Number four:  Every morning I'm awakened by the throaty call of one of these little bastards.  Chickens are to Key West what pigeons are to Chicago.
Coq au Vin, anyone?  Anyone?

Number five:  Sunsets on the Keys are like snowflakes, each one is unique.
Orange and yellow...

Pink and purple...

Blue and yellow...


So, there you have it, folks.  And now you'll have to tune in come 2015 to find out how all these little details arrive on the page in my brand-spanking-new series!  Oh, I can't wait!




ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. She is prone to spouting movie quotes and song lyrics, and prefers impromptu travel over the scheduled kind. You can find her on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission. For more information, please visit www.julieannwalker.com or follow her on Facebook, www.facebook.com/jawalkerauthor, and Twitter, @JAWalkerAuthor.







Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cold Winter Nights by Victoria Roberts

How many of us are tired of this scene? Cold days, cold nights, what's a girl to do?

These sub zero temperatures are just what I need because when the temperature is above twenty degrees, I have a tendency to feel guilty that I should be doing something other than curling up with my laptop in front of the fire. Yet, I long for the days of walking on the beach with sand between my toes.

This weather is far from desirable, but the cold winter nights are a writer's paradise. Love scenes in front of a raging fire. Being stranded in a deserted cabin to shield your loved one from a storm. A Highlander removing his kilt as a makeshift blanket. Och, aye. What was I saying? Oh, yes. The weather can definitely inspire an author.

But sometimes we're fortunate enough when an idea comes out of nowhere. I love those! In my latest novel, To Wed a Wicked Highlander, this was a scene I created in order to torture Lady Sybella MacKenzie. And yes, I had a strong desire to bathe after this one. I was kind enough to leave out the bug scene in the excerpt below. lol

* * *

In the middle of the night, she walked through the darkened halls in her bare feet dressed in nothing more than a nightrail and a blanket. She shivered, but it wasn’t from the cold. The pit was where her father threw the most unsavory of men…until they died. Their faint screams could sometimes be heard from the kitchens. Perhaps her father only had the men escort her to frighten her. Of course, that was it because her sire would never treat her this way. He couldn’t. She was his daughter. The daughter of the MacKenzie laird. A lady.

Sybella quickly pushed back the thought when they descended the cold, damp stairs. The smell overwhelmed her senses, reeking of bodily excrement and making her gag. The guard reached down and lifted the gate from the floor while the other lowered a ladder. They forced her to climb down.

She took one step and tears welled in her eyes. “Please donna do this. I beg ye.”

“We donna question our laird’s command. Please climb down, m’lady.”

With no choice but to descend into the devil’s dungeon, she reached the bottom and the men lifted the ladder. The gate locked over her head and she was embraced by darkness. Muck of unknown origin squeezed between her toes and when she tried to step, she slid and fell into something thick and wet.

She screamed.

The hole was dark and foreboding, and she felt a wretchedness she’d never known before. A raw and primitive grief overwhelmed her. She pulled herself to her feet, and when she slid again on the slimy floor, she sat down.

Sybella felt something move on her lap. She reached down and grabbed a ball of wiry fur, whipping it away from her body. Dear God, her father left her alone with the rats. She gulped hard, hot tears slipping down her cheeks. Perhaps Mary or Colin would hear her.

“Please help me! Please help me! I’m here! I’m here!” she screamed. “Mary! Colin! Help me! Let me out!” When she heard no response, she bellowed, “Mo mhallachd ort!” My curse on you!

When cursing her father didn’t work, Sybella’s tears choked her. Her throat was raw from her screams of terror, her teeth chattered, and her body trembled. A sensation of intense sickness and desolation swept over her.

She jumped.

“Where is the stone, Sybella?” Her father’s voice echoed from above. “Tell me where ’tis and I’ll lower the ladder.”

“Cha leig thu leas.” Don’t bother.


Temptation in a Kilt  2012 RT Reviewers' Choice nominee

X Marks the Scot     2013 RT Reviewers' Choice nominee

To Wed a Wicked Highlander  RT Book Reviews and Night Owl TOP PICK 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Inside a Writer's Brain

by M.L. Buchman
(If I could read a calendar, I'd have posted this on the correct day to begin with. As I said, Inside a Writer's Brain. Sigh.)

How's that for a scary, scary concept? Yes, there are actually things that do occur in writer's brains, and, also yes, not all of them are surreal, just most of them. So, for the last month or so I've been focusing on just what is going on in there. And have come up with two answers.

First, for fans of my Night Stalkers military romantic suspense series, I have written a "Special Features" edition. Just like on a DVD, it's includes features on:
  • The real-life Night Stalkers of the U.S. Army's 160th SOAR
  • Looking into how a series concept is born.
  • In-depth review of the process and cool facts behind:
    • The first four full-length Night Stalkers novels
    • The three Holiday short novels so far
    • And the bonus feature short story
  • The Christmas Ghost short story itself: Ghost of Willow's Past
  • Coming Attraction Previews from:
    • the spin-off series Firehawk!, Pure Heat (May 1)
    • the next Night Stalkers novel, Light Up the Night (Aug 1)
It was fun to write and, I'm told, funny and interesting to read. I do also look at story structure craft:




On the other side of my brain, there is a class I have taught many times on how you-the-publisher can work with you-the-author. I collaborated with my sister, also named M.L. Buchman, who is a nationally-known digital archivist and one of the country's leading tintype photographers. We had a blast together looking at ways for:


Yes, we cover the standard goals and time management tricks, but the main focus is how we mis-communicate with our inner artist to create writer's/artist's block and how we can change that communication to create success.

If you want the inside scoop on the Night Stalkers or are wondering how to control your own art for success, these should be fun places to begin.


It was very educational for me to step briefly outside of my art and look at the process behind the scenes. I'm constantly fascinated by the world around me, and I do so enjoy sharing what I find.

Hope you want to come play. And if you want to stay on the art side, well, just stay tuned, I have a very exciting fiction lineup planned throughout the year. Up next: on April 1, yes, on the Fool's Day, I'll be double releasing the last two titles of my contemporary romance series "Angelo's Hearth" set in Seattle (books 4 & 5).

Writing just has to be the best job in the world. It's so much phunn!

There are two whole books covering what I love about my art, what do you love about yours?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sexual Objectification of Men in Romance-land: Part 2


Okay, so in the last post we covered the fact that YES, we romance readers definitely objectify men sexually...but that it isn't really a bad thing as I believe it supports gender equality....oh, and I threw in some hot eye candy as well. How did I forget that?

Now where was I... I need caffeine.

Oh yeah, today's post is how we do it better.

Point One: We lust after men with a variety of  appearances whereas the media seems to objectify on one type of woman.

I think they have serial numbers instead of souls.



Here's a pic of some lucky lady with a group of cover models.
Something for everyone here. I call dibs on the one with the long hair.

Point Two: We also care about the guy's personality and accomplishments. When all the guys are lusting after  (insert starlet name here), do they really care about what she does or how she feels about, well, anything? Now when romance fans are discussing books, you'll here things like: "Oooh that cover's yummy. Is it any good?" "Not really, the hero was an asshole/ moron. Try (insert title). The hero was hot...and sweet/ brave/smart/funny."

Point Three:  We welcome baggage. The media always bitches about women having "too much baggage." I dislike a drama queen as much as the next person, but it seems "baggage" has become a blanket term covering everything from life experience, to emotion, to even the slightest hint of a personality. It's like they want women to be cyborgs.

Resistance is Futile

In romanceland we embrace heroes who'd been abused as children, heroes who've been emotionally traumatized by some other bitch (who hopefully gets what she deserves later in the story), heroes who've been physically tortured, etc.

Final point and summary: Although we lust after a hot romance hero, we also see him as a human being, with unique virtues and flaws. Romance heroes, as well as men in general, are all individual human beings. It makes the concept of falling in love (and lust) always fresh and exciting, no matter how many books we read.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sexual Objectification of Men in Romance-land, Part 1

Face it, we totally do it.

A few prime examples:

Mmmm....


Rawr!


Oh my!
And it's not just the covers. Hop on twitter and follow a few romance readers and/ or writers and you'll hear all sorts of talk that probably trumps what one would hear in a men's locker room... I think. Really, I have no clue, but trust me, we get all kinds of dirty. :)

As for categories of preferred novels, we in romance-land totally navigate by the type of guy. Cowboys, Navy Seals, Vampires, Dukes, even firemen. There's categories of um...certain videos for men that are organized in a similar manner.

See, sexual objectification all the way.

And I don't think it's a necessarily a bad thing. First off, I think it speaks highly for gender equality. For years, many women have protested against the rampant sexual objectification of women in the media. The feminists point the blame at our patriarchal society. I think that's not completely accurate. I think much of sexual objectification comes from the fact that humans are sexual beings. Now...with the majority of the objectification being of women by men...yeah, there's a point there.

But....I believe that many in society have been doing their part to level the playing field, with the romance genre leading the fray...and scoring points. I have a theory that the infamous volleyball scene in Top Gun was truly intended to be targeted for women, despite the homo-erotic accusations it receives. I think someone in the film crew walked by a display of NYT bestselling romance novels adorned with topless Fabio and thought, "Hey, the ladies like their eye candy, too! Let's throw em a bone and maybe we'll do better in the box office?"

Friday, January 24, 2014

Love was on the beach...

Do you remember how you hated to go see Great Aunt Gert and Uncle Harry after they'd come home from a vacation? Remember how you had to sit through a whole album of boring pictures and you wished she'd hurry up and bring out the cinnamon rolls so you didn't have to look at any more?

Well...to those of you who remember a movie called Ground Hog Day, you get to experience Great Aunt Gert and Uncle Harry all over again. Only this time it's what happens when the Browns take one group of their grandkids to Florida for Christmas break.


Cinnamon rolls first...
and now the evening we arrived...there was an ice storm going on in Oklahoma so we were glad to see something like this!

Everything was beautiful! Quiet, serene and just the right atmosphere to get a rewrite done! I'd write a little while and then go stand on the deck, smell the salty air and listen to the waves rolling in.
Then the kids arrived. Eleven of them crammed into a twelve passenger van with all their luggage!
 
Granddaughter Isabella came prepared to take pictures, not knowing there was a big surprise in store for her! So the next morning we took kids and cameras to the beach.
Yes, that's really her hair and yes, it is natural and those are not contacts but really the color of her eyes.
And more!
And still more!
And some with boyfriend, Zane!
And more!
 
When she turned around he was on one knee with a gorgeous diamond ring in his hand.
She said yes!
And we all sighed.
But that wasn't the end of
the pictures that lovely day.
She's showin' a little sass with that rock on her hand!
And Granddaughter, Trisha, and her boyfriend, Preston are definitely
putting some more love in the air.
So is Daughter, Amy, and SIL, Todd.
Then the whole family had to get in on the engagement day pictures.
And the guys had to have a Captain Morgan picture (since this is the Morgan, Inc. family)
And the girls had to jump for joy....
 
Thanks for letting me share our vacation. I have more if you are interested. Mr. B took about 500 shots that day. I do understand if you need to dust and clean out that hall closet, though. Please have another cinnamon roll and get on back to your house cleaning or maybe you'd rather read a book.
 
Where did you go on your last vacation? Did you get to read any wonderful books? What book has really stood out to you lately?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Broader View by Editor Deb Werksman


For a while now I’ve been feeling like I want the authors in the romance community to understand Sourcebooks as a whole in addition to knowing our romance imprint Casablanca.

There are enormous advantages here for authors who write in more than one category (for example, we have romance authors who also write women’s fiction, YA authors who also write romance, reference and non-fiction authors who are pitching us fiction manuscripts, authors from every category who want to write children’s books, and more like that).

In addition, because we sell to every channel—mass market, libraries, bookstores, online retailers, etc.—opportunities abound across every category we publish.

Our digital initiatives include agile publishing models, direct-to-consumer sales and marketing and an education program that starts with college selection and goes all the way through first year college experience.

Because of all our experiments, in so many different areas, our CEO Dominique Raccah, who many of you know, speaks at venues ranging from Digital Book World to the Frankfurt Book Fair. She/we won 3 entrepreneurial/book industry awards last year.

Below is a gorgeous display of great things that happened at Sourcebooks in 2013.

A number of years ago we looked at the uncertainty of the future of books, and we decided we didn’t want to sit around and wait for the future to happen, we want to have a say in how it gets created. As it turns out, that’s pretty fun hard work.

We love you, our authors, we are slaves to your books, and to those of you who are not with us yet, we can’t wait to see what you’re up to and talk to you about being your publishing home.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pictures From Our Backyard by C.H. Admirand

I was so surprised to receive a camera for Christmas this year, especially since I didn't ask for one, but the biggest surprise was that I had to learn how to use it! LOL ;)

At any given moment, there are songs playing in my head. Things that people say, or things I see as I go through my day change the station and the song. ;) When I opened up the box the camera was in, Paul Simon started singing--yep, that's right, it's a Nikon Camera ;)

I'm definitely an amateur as far as the pics go, but here are a few of the birds that visited our backyard feeders since Christmas. We do have favorites, that we love to see. I love the Red-Bellied Woodpecker (which oddly enough has a bright red patch on the back of his head and only has a red haze on his belly in the Springtime, think twitterpated) 


 
 
  
The Gray Squirrel ... Jameson's favorite animal to chase. Unfortunately, he has caught a few. ;( But the Vet keeps reminding us that he is part Terrier and that's what is in his nature. Our Beagles never caught anything, neither did Ginger, our German Shepherd Rottweiler Mix, so this to totally new for us.

 And our favorite, the black squirrel, this is the first time we've had one in our yard for more than a day. The first time we saw one up close was at the Bronx Zoo years ago when our kids were little. His face is actually smaller and softer than the larger Gray Squirrel... see?



Male and female Cardinals ...

 

 
 Male House Finches- a close relative to the Purple Finches

 
 
 And with the warm weather a Cowbird - they usually arrive with the Red-Winged Blackbirds ;)


A BlueJay in the early morning sunlight...

 A Male Goldfinch ...

 Female Snowbird - aka the Junko...

 And the Male Junko
 The Male Starling ...


 And for the first time ever in our yard ... a Thrasher!

 The Mourning Dove - which I love to listen to


 And on Christmas Day, we had a furry visitor beneath the grill... Isn't he precious? Believe it or not, he did fit through the chainlink fence!

 
 

 The Chipping Sparrow


The Titmouse

 And the Female Downy Woodpecker
 

And one of my favorites... the Black-Capped Chickadee!






And one of my DH's favorites the Rufus-Sided Towhee...
 

Thanks for letting me share just a bit of the wonderful birdlife that exists in our backyard!

Now I've got to get back to the RITA books I have to read ;)


Happy Reading!
C.H.