Guest Author: Janis Susan May & Giveaway!

I’m truly honored to have a very special person on the blog today – romantic suspense author, Janis Susan May.  Janis is such an interesting person and has so many accomplishments to her name, that I barely know where to begin.  She’s been writing romance novels for years, and in 1980 she was one of the founding members of the Romance Writers of America, now one of the biggest and most prestigious writing organizations in the world.  Whew!

In the intervening years, Janis has lead a fascinating life.  She’s traveled all over the globe, spending much of that time in the Middle East, where she indulged in her “deep and abiding love of Egyptology.”  Her Naval officer husband even proposed to her on a moonlit night near the pyramids of Giza–sounds like Janis’ life belongs in a romance novel!

Janis now writes for Harlequin’s digital first imprint, Carina Press, and she has a new romantic suspense novel coming out in less than two weeks.  She’s here today to tell us all about it.  Take it away, Janis!

A Single Candle in an Upper Window

I confess.

I love the old-style Gothic romances. You know the kind I mean – mostly published in the late 60s and 70s, the cover was almost universally dark, with a great brooding castle or manor house set out in the middle of a foreboding landscape. In the foreground there was a pretty young thing, usually in something voluminous and ruffly, running for her life and sending a terror-stricken glance back over her shoulder. The big castle/manor house is totally dark, save for one brilliantly lit window high up under the eaves.

Even at the time I could appreciate that the covers were more than slightly ludicrous – I mean, the ruffly voluminous thing was obviously supposed to be nightwear, but who could get to sleep inside all that pouffy yardage? Not only that, if she wanted to get away, isn’t it silly to run like mad while you’re looking over your shoulder? That’s more likely to send you sprawling down on your face than help you escape.

There’s no accounting for true love, though. Some of the stories were wonderful, more were monuments to words-by-the-foot predictability, some were unabashed dreck, and I read them all. Some of them I still do. Through several moves and cleaning out my late mother’s home, I got rid of thousands of books, but my beloved Gothics stayed around.

Good or bad, the stories were basically simple – a young woman pretty much alone in the world takes a position – governess or companion were the most popular – in a big, creepy house. There is a varied cast of characters, usually including the brooding, misunderstood master of the house and a nice young handsome man. Sometimes the nice young handsome man was the villain, but most of the time no matter how badly he was misunderstood the dark master was the hero – almost an archetype of the tortured hero. The heroine is invariably plunged into the mysteries of the past and nearly suffers death before the villainy is uncovered, the truth revealed and sunshine and light reign thereafter.

While drenched in heart-palpitating romance, the stories – at least the ones I loved – were always squeaky clean, with nothing more than clasped hands, touching sighs or the occasional chaste kiss.

At the time of first reading, during those long-ago days, I supposed I liked them because they represented a promise. I was young and reasonably pretty. I wanted adventure and true romance. If it happened to that (generally) air-headed fruitcake of a heroine who followed an anonymous note into the dark cellars at midnight after three people had been mysteriously killed, what could I – smarter and blessed with a caring family – expect?

Yes, I have always been among the reality challenged. Don’t ask me about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

However… now I am no longer young and hope I am a great deal wiser than the innocent young woman I used to be, and I still love these old Gothic stories of love and danger.

Perhaps it is because they represent a time in my life that was incredibly happy, or perhaps it is because the good ones, the ones that I have kept and continue to reread, the ones with plausible stories and good characterization, are simply the best of what is admittedly a wildly uneven genre. Or perhaps it is that they, in the main, are more human in scale and pacing than most anything you can find today. While they are exciting and have a deep mystery, there is no gratuitous gore or horror or sex. Everything is kept to a sedate, mannerly pace one can enjoy reading instead of the exhausting (and more often than not boring) bang-bang-bang unending chase/machine gun tempo of more recent romantic suspenses where one can hardly draw breath between one crisis and another.

I have said for years what a pity it is no one writes that kind of story any more. Fortunately, I can’t say that any more, because I have just published a modern Gothic called INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS.

True, there is no pretty young thing tearing madly across a darkened lawn on the cover, but there is a wondrous creepy old house. I guess Carina Press metaphorically paid the electric bill, because in my cover house every window is blazing with light – and it’s still creepy.

It’s funny – I never cared much for high fantasy and certainly never intended to write any, but… In INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS the heroine Aurora has come to Merrywood, the estate of her late father’s friend, to attend a convention honoring her late father’s books. She never knew her father and was raised with little or no knowledge of him. He wrote a series of high fantasy novels that have spawned a rabid fandom, intellectual debate and a series of conventions. He also committed suicide in front of her when she was barely three years old.

Things at the convention go wildly awry; first of all, Aurora’s former love shows up, intending to write a book about her father – the very thing that broke them up in the first place. Aurora begins having strange dreams where she is taking part in ceremonies her father wrote about. His friend, her host, and his colleagues are annoyingly possessive of her. The conventioneers regard her as a-not-quite-human icon, the essence of the books come to life. And she is not the only being from the books come to life; creatures from the books begin to appear, creatures that appear to be real and not just costumed conventioneers. Aurora realizes that not only her sanity, but her very life may be in danger… but by then it is too late to leave.

During editorial conferences (some call them editorial combat) with my wonderful editor Mallory Braus, we both found that the idea of a snippet of one of Aurora’s father’s books at the beginning of each chapter would set the mood of that chapter wonderfully. I had wanted to do this from the beginning, but had not mentioned it because (1) I didn’t think it would sell and (2) I had no idea of or inclination towards writing high fantasy. However, with Mallory’s enthusiastic urging I tried, and was astonished when the varied stories of the non-human creatures of my imaginary world flowed easily from my fingertips. So easily, in fact, that some of these chapter head ‘snippets’ were two and three pages long!

After a lot of internal debate – and urging from both Mallory and my trusted beta readers to go ahead and write the seven book series – I agreed to rein in the snippets to a reasonable length instead of eliminating them. However, the idea of taking on the series – seven books!!! – is a bit daunting. I am much more comfortable with my good old-fashioned Gothics. As I should be. After all, one most intelligent and perspicacious reviewer said I was the obvious successor to Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt!

I’d like to know your opinion. INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS is being released by Carina Press on March 12, so let me hear what you think. (And keep an eye out for my new Gothic, THE CURSE OF THE EXILE, which is very nearly complete – Scotland, an ancient family curse, two handsome brothers, a ghost who isn’t one, revenge, greed and a female librarian in a crumbling castle during the mid-19th century…What’s not to like? Hopefully some nice publisher will buy it!)

Vanessa, here.  Janis, I can’t wait to read this book, because I also loved those old Gothic romances–Victoria Holt was one of my favorite authors, as was Mary Stewart.  I’m so glad you’re revitalizing this wonderful genre!

Well, readers, you heard the lady.  What do you think?  Do you like Gothic romances as much as we do?  What are some of your favorites?  One of mine was Mistress of Mellyn, which is pictured above–which ones do you remember?

And don’t forget to stop by Janis’ website for details on all her books, and to read an excerpt.

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!

Guest Author: Angela Benson & Giveaway!

My guest author today is an incredibly interesting, talented, and accomplished woman.  She’s Angela Benson, and she’s an award winning author of both contemporary romance and faith-inspired fiction.  Angela has published twelve novels, two novellas, and a nonfiction writing book, all for top-notch publishers.  Her books have appeared on national and regional bestseller lists, and she’s won a number of awards, including the Romantic Times Award for Best Multicultural Romance, and she was also a finalist for the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award in Multicultural Romance.  On top of that, she was also nominated for the prestigious RITA Award, sponsored by the Romance Writers of America.

Wow!  That is one heck of a writing pedigree, isn’t it?

Angela’s writing creds are certainly distinguished, but the other parts of her life are equally impressive.  She majored in both math and industrial engineering, and holds two Masters Degrees AND a Ph.D. in instructional technology from the University of Georgia.  Angela is currently an associate professor of educational technology at the University of Alabama.  My goodness—when does the woman even find time to write books?!

Like many romance writers with established careers, Angela is moving into digital publishing.  Three of her previously published, out of print books are now available as e-books.  The Way Home and The Nicest Guy in America were originally published with Pinnacle Arabesque, both to great reviews.

The Way Home was an RT Reviewers Choice winner, and was also a finalist for the prestigious Holt Medallion.  Here’s what the Literary Times had to say about it:

“A realistic, romantic tale of regaining lost love! Ms. Benson writes from the heart and it is reflected in her characters. Readers will be thrilled with Angela Benson’s newest love story!”

Here’s the blurb for The Way Home:

Marlena Rhodes returns to her hometown of Gaines for a visit only to discover that the past she left behind is still fresh in her memory. As a successful attorney in Washington, D.C., Marlena has made a name for herself and the wealthy black society people of Gaines are clamoring to meet her. They may be dazzled by her name and her reputation, but deep down Marlena is still Josie Rhodes’ daughter and Josie hadn’t been accepted by most of the people in Gaines. When she comes face-to-face with her ex-love, Marlena remembers why she loved Winston Taylor so much and why she’d said goodbye . . .

Doesn’t that sound like a great read?  To check out an excerpt of The Way Home, take a hop to Angela’s website.  While you’re there, you can also read the blurb, excerpt, and reviews for her other book, The Nicest Guy in America.

And just in time for Christmas, Angela has a holiday novella called Friend and Lover.

Here’s the review for the novella from RT Book Reviews:

Angela Benson’s “Friend and Lover” is a hilarious, sensual romp of friends turning into lovers. Reed Lewis has loved his best friend, Paige Taylor, for years. In a determined effort to make his New Year’s dreams come true, Reed pulls out all the stops. Paige tries to fight her attraction to Reed, but when he brings in his secret weapon-his 80-year-old, 5-foot-nothing, 80-pound grandmother named Big Momma-she loses her heart to the incorrigible grandmother/grandson duo.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  Stop by Angela’s website to get all the details and to read an excerpt of Friend and Lover.

For my readers today, Angela is donating a copy of The Way Home.  Since Angela’s just released a Christmas novella, let’s talk about the holidays.  What’s your favorite thing about the holiday season—family, food, or all those fabulous books you’re going to get as presents!  One person who comments will win a copy of Angela’s book.

Guest Author: Marilyn Brant & Giveaway!

I’m very happy to have one of my writing pals on the blog today.  She’s acclaimed women’s fiction author, Marilyn Brant.  Marilyn has spent most of her life immersed in the written word.  She’s a former teacher, a library staff member, freelance magazine writer, and national book reviewer.  It’s no wonder, then, that she writes award-wining books that are witty, smart, and totally engaging.

Marilyn burst onto the scene with her debut book, According to Jane, which won the prestigious Golden Heart Award from the Romance Writers of America.

Take a gander at the blurb for this book:

It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet “tsk” of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the trauma of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go, but Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.

Still, everyone has something to learn about love — perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond all she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending…

Seriously, doesn’t that sound great?  Readers can certainly see why reviewers called Marilyn’s debut smart and wildly inventive.  Marilyn’s second book, Friday Mornings at Nine, was a Doubleday Book Club & Book-of-the-Month Club Featured Alternate Selection for October 2010.  Wow!  Impressive, eh?

And here’s what NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Simone Elkeles had to say about Marilyn’s books:

“Reading a Marilyn Brant book is like eating a piece of rich chocolate – it gets you excited, it’s deliciously satisfying, and it leaves a smile on your face after you’ve finished it!”

Marilyn’s fans are eagerly anticipating her next book, A Summer in Europe, which will be released by Kensington Publishing on November 29.

This book has already been picked as a Literary Guild & Rhapsody Book Club Featured Alternate Selection for December 2011.  How cool is that?

Here’s the blurb for A Summer In Europe:

On her 30th birthday, Gwendolyn Reese receives and unexpected present from her widowed Aunt Bea: a grand tour of Europe in the company of Bea’s Sudoku and Mahjongg Club. The prospect isn’t entirely appealing. But when the gift she is expecting — an engagement ring from her boyfriend — doesn’t materialize, Gwen decides to go.

At first, Gwen approaches the trip as if it’s the math homework she assigns her students, diligently checking monuments off her must-see list. But amid the bougainvillea and beauty of southern Italy, something changes. Gwen begins to live in the moment — skipping down stone staircases in Capri, running her fingers over a glacier in view of the Matterhorn, racing through the Louvre and taste-testing pastries, wine and gelato. Reveling in every new experience — especially her attraction to a charismatic British physics professor — Gwen discovers that the ancient wonders around her are nothing compared to the renaissance unfolding within…

A Summer in Europe has already been getting fantastic reviews, which you can check out on Marilyn’s website.  If you like beautiful, warm stories with lots of wit and heart, I think you’ll really love Marilyn’s books.  And by the way, while you’re visiting Marilyn’s website, check out her ebooks – two really fun romantic comedies.

For my readers today, Marilyn has graciously donated a copy of A Summer in Europe.  Since the book takes place in Europe, let’s talk about that.  If there was only one country you could visit on that wonderful continent, which one would it be, and why?  One person who comments will win a copy of Marilyn’s book!




Guest Author: Dana Marton & Giveaway!

Frequent visitors to my blog know I love romantic suspense, which often vies with historical romance as my favorite genre.  So I’m really pleased to be featuring the wonderful Dana Marton on the blog today.  Dana writes fast-paced, action-adventure romances for Harlequin Intrigue.  Her books get great reviews, she’s finaled in many contests—including in the Rita Awards of the Romance Writers of America—and she’s won the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence.

Here’s what Noveltalk had to say about Dana’s books:

I have read nearly every book Dana Marton has ever written and I am amazed by her superb stories that just keep getting better and better with each book she writes. I have not been able to put down any one of her books until I have finished them in a matter of hours. Her stories intrigue me!

RT Book Reviews has consistently given Dana great reviews, including a Top Pick for Sheik Protector, which RT called “action-filled and riveting.”

I don’t know about you, but I love me a good sheik story—especially one with suspense and danger—and Dana is a master at writing these kinds of books.  Make sure you check out her Books page to get a full listing of her books, including those with her sexy sheiks!

In addition to her Intrigues for Harlequin, Dana has three new digital novellas she’s recently released, all part of her Agents Under Fire series.  The first in the series Guardian Agent.

Here’s the blurb for Guardian Agent:

When Gabe Cannon’s commando team is tasked with bringing down a rogue solider, he doesn’t expect to come face-to-face with the target’s sister at the showdown instead of the man himself.

Jasmine is trying to lead the team away from her injured brother. Recognizing one of the hunters as her teenage crush is definitely a shock to her system. To save her family, she must convince Gabe that her brother was framed. But can she stop from falling in love with him all over again?

Sexy commandos and first crushes—count me in!

The second book in the series is Avenging Agent, and the third book, Warrior Agent, was just released this month.

Here’s the blurb for Warrior Agent:

Troy Hill has been tirelessly working for months to bring down a corrupt congressman. When the man’s goons capture him and lock him up, he knows they can’t afford to leave him alive. His only chance at escape is the congressman’s new security guard, Claire Montgomery. He expects he’ll have to either manipulate her into setting him free or kill her. He doesn’t expect to fall in love with her.

You can’t go wrong with a story that New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery calls “action packed and breathtakingly romantic!”  If you haven’t ever read any of Dana’s books, these novellas are the perfect opportunity to try them out.

For my readers today, Dana will be giving away copies of her novellas.  Since we’re talking about suspense books, let’s stick with that.  Who are some of your favorite suspense or thriller authors?  Do you like Karen Rose or Brenda Novak, or do you go more for the thriller type book by someone like Lee Child or John Grisham?  Inquiring minds want to know!  Three people who comment will each win one of Dana’s fab novellas.