Guest Author: Mardi Ballou & Giveaway!

Please join me in welcoming Mardi Ballou to the blog!  Mardi writes fun and very sizzling sensual romance.  She’s published with a number of publishers, including Samhain and Ellora’s Cave, and she’s also indie published.  You can check out all her books–she’s got a lot of them–on her website.

I’m turning to blog over to Mardi, so she can tell us what’s going on in her writing world.

Love’s Lessons Learned

 In homage to Maeve Binchy, a beautiful writer, R.I.P.

Just back from the RWA National conference in Anaheim and my head is still spinning. Talk about ground-breaking, earth-shaking changes! It’s actually a great time to be a writer, with opportunities in both traditional and independent publishing opening up. Having been traditionally pubbed for several years, I’m glad to have the indie option now too. Of course this new world is full of new challenges. I feel as if I’m joining my peers at the entry point of a steep learning curve. Being a long-time student and teacher, having something to learn is familiar turf.

Like me, the heroes in my hot contemporary series Teach Him Tonight also have lessons to learn. Unlike me, they need to have their awareness raised on that score. Luckily for them, each finds a determined lady willing to provide vital lessons in love.

Photo Finish, the first book in the series, tells the story of two San Francisco lawyers who start out on opposite sides professionally and privately:

Ambitious attorney Cassandra Harrell is primed to battle her hot, hunky opposing counsel Alex DeLuca—a.k.a. Alexander the Great—in the courtroom. Though she fantasizes about getting him into her bedroom, she’s determined to avoid this bad boy distraction and focus on her career.

Alex spots the author photo on the back cover of a steamy romance and recognizes Cassandra. Who knew the desirable but icy lawyer had such a fascinating sensuous side? When he teases her about the book at a deposition, she furiously denies any connection.

Her sister K.C. wrote the book and, for a prank, used Cassandra’s photo. Outraged at Alex for embarrassing her in front of clients, Cassandra plots a revenge lesson. This teacher comes out on top until her student raises the stakes—and the heat.

Though Cassandra is a lawyer, she also becomes a very effective teacher. Alex shows up with more than an apple for teacher. In the best of all possible outcomes, both teacher and student learn their lessons very well.

Businesswoman Brenda has a huge challenge teaching Keith, her long-time love, in Emergency Ex, the second book in the Teach Him Tonight series:

“Love is the emotional chocolate of the universe.” Actually, successful chocolatier Brenda Lockheart deals with the sweet brown confection lots better than she does with love. For years she’s been in love with Keith Tarrant, her best friend with benefits. As her thirtieth birthday approaches, hot lovemaking and intense friendship no longer satisfy her. It’s time to make a commitment or say good-bye. Keith goes along at first, and she’s hopeful. But as her birthday gets closer, her relationship with Keith hits snags.

Keith loves Brenda and can’t bear to lose her, but he’s got lots of unresolved baggage and a history of being less than she deserves. Though he’ll try to get over his issues in time to make her birthday special, when a new roadblock arises, he’s out of his depth. Can Keith man up and commit to Brenda in time? Or will their relationship crumble and turn her into one more of his many exes?

For a while it seems Brenda’s thirtieth birthday celebration will coincide with her final farewell to Keith. Just when all appears to be lost, an important light bulb turns on for Keith.

K.C., who’s Cassandra’s sister and an enthusiastic customer for Brenda’s chocolates, gets her own story in my current work-in-progress, After Class. K.C., a best-selling author, actually starts off being the student:

K.C. Corrigan’s latest book hits all the major best-seller lists. Victory feels especially sweet when she gets a congratulatory call from Todd Marek, the hot teacher whose writing class she flunked.

Todd considered K.C. a sexy, talented writer—except she put too much romance in her writing. He gave her a failing grade and refused to send her work on to the agent who sponsors the writing program. Now that she’s a huge success, Todd has to convince K.C. to sign with the agent or he’ll lose his job. Todd is not big on eating crow.

Being a best seller, K.C. has lots of new “friends.” She doesn’t need any more aggro from the teacher who flunked her yet keeps showing up in her romantic fantasies. Much as she’d love to teach the teacher lessons in romance, Todd’s the slowest of learners—at first. Luckily K.C. is the queen of persistence—and love.

I’d love reader feedback and reviews on the Teach Him Tonight books. Photo Finish  and Emergency Ex are currently available at Amazon and soon to be available at other sites. After Class will be released in early autumn. Please check my website, for updates.

I hope all your lessons are happy ones!


Thanks so much, Mardi!  I love that your stories revolve around lessons learned.  Readers, Mardi is graciously giving away one of her books today.  For my readers in the U.S., you can win a copy of either Ripe and Ready or Better with Age, both Ellora’s Cave anthologies.

For my readers outside the U.S., you can win a copy of one of Mardi’s e-books, which you can check out on her website.

So, let’s talk about heroes and lessons learned.  What lesson do you like your heroes to learn from their heroines, and how painful should it be?  One person who comments will win either the anthology or one of the Mardi’s digital books.



Guest Author: Lex Valentine & Giveaway!

I have the perfect guest blogger for the day after Valentine’s Day – erotic romance author Lex Valentine.  Lex is an award winning, multi-published author, a member of Romance Writers of America, and she’s also active in several RWA chapters including her local OCC chapter. Her publishers include: Ellora’s Cave, Pink Petal Books, MLR Press, Liquid Silver Books and Cobblestone Press. She is published in both ebook and print.

I asked Lex to write a special Valentine’s blog for today and she’s done just that, with an interesting story about how her latest book took an unexpected twist.

For an author with a name like Valentine, you’d think I’d do something special for Valentine’s Day. Well, this year, I did. I wrote my first ever Valentine’s love story. Originally, I’d planned for a story of two people who meet in college and became friends. The girl is pretty and popular and the guy is a big lumbering bear who stumbles over his own feet. After years of them each thinking they weren’t the other’s type, the girl does something outrageous on Valentine’s Day in an effort to see if there’s any chance for her at all with this guy.

Now, me being me, the person for whom nothing ever works out as planned, of course this book did not turn out the way it should have. Did it follow the plot I outlined? Er, pretty much. But the girl refused to stay a girl. And thus, Kissing Joan Collins was born.

You don’t have to be a reader of gay romances to read this blog post. It’s not exactly about the Valentine’s Day romance I wrote. It’s more about how my writing process and two incorrigible characters sabotaged my plot. You see, sometimes there are forces at work that even an author cannot turn to her will.

Kissing Joan Collins was a working title. It was about the plot device and I figured at some point in the writing, the real title would come to me. It never did because the story took on a life of its own the instant I stopped trying to make it a contemporary het romance.

I had my plot written down. I had my characters written down. I had my main scenes mapped out in my head. But the scenes wouldn’t commit themselves to paper. I sat and stared at the blank Word screen night after night. Finally, one Saturday, I stopped struggling with this story and took a nap. While I slept, I dreamed. In the dream one of the key scenes came to life.

Logan Moore (the stumble over his feet hero) comes home and hears someone in his bathroom. Then he remembers his best friend Chase is there visiting. He has a moment of heart stopping fantasy about Chase and then the bathroom door opens and something more than a fantasy comes out. It’s Chase dressed as Joan Collins in Dynasty. For the space of several heartbeats, Logan can’t think who the woman is except that the costume is amazing. A skin tight dress that lovingly cups the butt cheeks of the woman before him, a woman who turns her back to him and obligingly bends over to grab her ankles, showing off the perfection of her ass and thighs.

I bolted awake because in my dream Chase is not a woman, but a man.

The story pretty much wrote itself after I made the change. It literally flew from my fingertips. Chase became, as Logan describes him, the most perfect gay man ever. He’s beautiful, masculine, athletic, popular and confident. Everything that Logan is not. Logan takes one look at him and can’t look away. He stares like a deer caught in headlights. His stare does not go unnoticed. Chase catches him staring and the two begin a friendship that leads to them being college roommates and best friends for a dozen years.

For Chase, Logan is everything he ever dreamed of. He’s tall (6’4”) and although he’s a little clumsy as a freshman, he grows out of that. He’s smart and funny and completely unaware of his charm and beauty. He has no idea that on the day they met, when Chase found him staring, that his sweet, guileless personality turned Chase into a babbling idiot who fell in love for the first and last time in his life. I sure didn’t see this part of the plot in this exact way when I first wrote it and Chase was a girl!

For twelve years, the two of them continue as best friends, each hiding from the other how they really feel. Chase never has a serious relationship and Logan dreads the day his friend falls in love. In Logan’s case, he has a series of failed relationships with men who cheat on him, never knowing that Chase longs to show him what it would be like to be with someone who worships the ground he walks on.  In the original incarnation of my plot, Logan is the one who never has a serious relationship and Chase is the one with the failed relationships. I actually like it better that the character who is seen as most confident, really isn’t.

Finally, when the two have been separated for a year because Chase moved away for work, Logan confesses to his brother that he’s always loved Chase.  His brother, who’s known for twelve years that Chase loves Logan, helps set up a Valentine’s Day Logan will never forget. The original plot had Chase asking Logan’s twin siblings for assistance and they’re reluctant because they think Chase is going to break their brother’s heart. This version is funnier because Jeremy and Julia (the twins) are actually pretty snarky about these two finally getting their butts in gear and getting together.

Logan’s sister has a Valentine’s Day masquerade party where the theme is couples. Chase, deciding he needs to shake Logan out of his comfort zone, buys a dress and plans to go to the party as Joan Collins. In the skin tight dress, Chase sets Logan’s libido on fire. Logan can’t stop looking at him and neither can anyone else. Every man who ogles Chase’s behind in the dress comes up against Logan’s primal growls of possession. In the original version, this wasn’t nearly as amusing.

The two end up back at Logan’s condo confessing their love for each other. Chase has arranged for a Valentine’s Day surprise of champagne, chocolates, roses and a ring box. He’s determined to make Logan his forever. A night of incredible passion, punctuated by confessions and explanations, ensues. The original plot grated on me a little because Chase the girl just never seemed like she’d do the whole romance thing.

Logan is shocked by the depth of love Chase shows him. The man he thought was only out for a good time turns out to be a man who wouldn’t compromise. All Chase’s years without a relationship were because the only man he wanted a relationship with didn’t want him. Chase shows Logan that beneath his handsome outgoing exterior is a man who will beg and plead for Logan to love him in return. See, in the original plot this was all turned around and Logan’s the begger which worked but not nearly as well as it works to have the most perfect gay man ever be the one whose confidence is shot to hell.

In the morning, Logan awakens with doubts based on his own feelings of inadequacy around Chase. He goes for a run, leaving Chase sleeping. When he returns, he faces a Chase he’s never seen before, a man pale faced and frightened of losing the only man he’s ever loved. The M/F version of the plot was just happy happy joy joy. This whole angst angle was missing. I just slapped the HEA on it and called it a novella. The end result, even though it’s no longer M/F, is much more satisfying to me. I wanted a memorable Valentine’s Day story and boy, is it!

Of course they work things out. Of course there’s some snarky humor. But the bottom line of the story is that sometimes things aren’t what they seem and sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone in order to reap amazing rewards. I know it felt as if I stepped out of my writer’s comfort zone with this story even though I have written gay rom before.

Normally, I don’t do much snark and I’ve never had a cross dresser in any of my stories. I’m not sure why this story decided to be a gay rom, but as my first Valentine’s Day story, I’m not unhappy with the love story itself. It’s a feel good love story, a true Valentine’s Day treat. But it sure wouldn’t write itself when the woman in the Joan Collins outfit was a woman. And honestly, I don’t think it matters whether this is a gay romance or a het romance. After all, love is love, isn’t it?

Vanessa, here.  Thanks, Lex, for sharing your Valentine’s story with us.  And, yes.  Love is love, and that is truly the message of Valentine’s Day.  Readers, you can check out all of Lex’s books on her website, and also be sure to pop over to her blog.

For my readers today, Lex will be giving away one of her books.  Just tell me about your favorite Valentine’s Day experience – a personal one that happened to you or someone close to you.  One person will win a copy of one of Lex’s sexy books!