Wednesday, February 29, 2012

REV UP WEDNESDAY - A weekly booster shot for inspiration... Catching up with JESSICA E. SUBJECT

Hello world,

Today, I'm posting this on the fly because we're going through THE BIG MOVE which, trust me, is hell with a two year old in tow :D. Plus, we've downsized in square footage so I get to decide what to get rid of while packing. One thing that is definitely going to stay is my enormous collection of books - even if I have to stuff them under my mattress! Lol.

Speaking of books, Jessica E. Subject is my guest today. Jessica is a bubbly lady who I met through other author friends and who I look forward to getting to know better. She writes hot romance with amazing, complex plots in a futuristic setting. I believe that her world building skills, from what I've read, are phenomenal. I think that this is definitely one of Jessica's strengths. If you love really, really good sci-fi romance and don't mind the sizzling heat, you need to check out Jessica's work.

So here goes...


How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing with the hopes of publication for almost four years now. I started just after my youngest child was born.

When did you decide that you wanted to write for a living (that "aha" moment)?

When the story I wrote for my daughter took a surprise twist and became a novel, and then a series. LOL

What did your family say when you told them you wanted to be a writer?

Some passed it off as just a hobby, and still do. Ever since I signed my first contract, most support me 100%.

What is your preferred genre both for reading and writing?

I love most subgenres of romance, and write mostly science fiction romance, but I also read young adult, thrillers, mystery/suspense, and more.

Did you start by writing full time or did you have a day job?
I was on maternity leave when I started, but I do have a day job now.

Did you take any writing courses or did you just sit and write a book?

When I started, I hadn’t taken any courses, but since then, I’ve taken many online courses including some from the RWA (Romance Writers of America). And I pay attention to what each of my editors highlights in my work.

Did/do you have a crit group or mentor to guide you?

The amazing Lorna Suzuki was the first person to suggest I join a critique group. Through her, I met my first critique partner, and she’s still one of my CPs today. I also joined a local critique group. As none of the members wrote romance, I left them after a year, and have three other CPs whom I trust completely. I love that they all pick out different aspects of my stories, and couldn’t ask for better friends and mentors.

Do you use a/several pseudonym(s) and if so, why did you choose to have one/them?

No, I write under my own name. It’s just easier for me, one less confusion.

How long did it take you to make your first sale? What was your first thought when you did?
Did you sell the first story or novel you wrote?


I started writing in October 2008, and made my first sale in May 2010. I was super excited, but had to hold it all in as my kids were asleep when I opened the email. I think I cried instead. LOL It was not the first story I wrote, but it was my first submission.

How many drafts did you write of your first novel before you felt you got it right? What about now - do you still write several drafts of a story?

My first novel went through 20-30 drafts. I’m serious. And even then, it was rejected when I first submitted it. I’m rewriting the rest of the series, and I cringe looking back at my lack of skills.

And yes, I still write several drafts, but definitely not as many. After I’ve finished a story, I’ll read it over myself, and then send it to my critique partners. After their feedback, I’ll revise again, and then send out at least once more for beta reading before submitting.

Do you read industry or writing related blogs? If so, can you share some useful links?

I used to read a lot more industry blogs when I first started, but I find I don’t have as much time. I do still read author blogs though. When I’m editing, the one blog I ALWAYS refer to is The Bookshelf Muse. A great resource for helping you show rather than tell.

Another great one for erotic romance authors is: http://home.epix.net/~jlferri/intro.html.
If you’re just starting out, check out Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog. It has great advice no matter which road to publication you decide to take.

Did you get an agent first or did you submit directly to publishers?

I submitted directly to my publishers.

Did you ever get rejected? If so, how did you handle it?

Yes, when I finally did decide to submit my novel, I received a revise and resubmit, but then it was rejected. I was upset, but one of my CPs didn’t let me wallow in self-pity. She told me to submit it elsewhere, and I did.

What, in your opinion, do agents/publishers look for in a new author in the current market? Is it all to do with talent or with trends?

I think talent appeals to agents and publishers more than trends, but if they don’t feel there is a market for your work, they won’t contract it. But another agent/publisher may feel differently.

What do you think of the changes going on in the book industry (e.g., e-books vs. print books, and big publishers getting involved in digital publishing)? Where do you see the industry going?

I like to speculate about the future when it comes to writing fiction, but not in a business sense. Obviously, the market is heading towards more digital publishing, but where that leaves print books, I really don’t know.

Do you think writers should consider self-publishing?

Yes, and no. I think self-publishing is a great venture for authors who want to publish their backlists. It’s a great way to revive books that aren’t available anymore from the publishers. For new authors, I think one has to be very careful, do their research, and be prepared to spend time and money before jumping into this avenue. I’ve read some fabulous self-published stories, and I’m not against it, but I don’t think it’s for everyone.

How do you feel about so many bookstores closing across the US? Do you think this trend is similar in other countries?

I don’t live in the US, so I don’t see it as much. I buy books from bookstores, online bookstores, and ebook retailers and publishers, depending on availability. I think in order for traditional bookstores to survive, they have to corner a niche market, or change with the times and offer customers more.

Are your books available in print or in digital format?

As of right now, my books are only available in digital format, but I’m hoping some of them will soon be released in print.

What advice do you think aspiring authors should heed today?

Have your work critiqued, and I don’t mean by Aunt Mabel. Find a critique group or organization to submit your work to. But don’t be discouraged by their comments. Learn from them. Because if you think their words are harsh, rejections and/or edits are far worse.

What are you working on now?

I’m busy rewriting the second book in my Mark of the Stars series. Yes, rewriting. I can admit my writing sucked back then, but I’ve learned a lot, and I plough on. I have a couple other smaller projects as well, but no news to share yet.

What is/are your favourite book(s)? Do you read only books from the genre you write in?

I always hate to answer this question, as I don’t want to eliminate any of the awesome books I’ve read. I have a bunch of series I’m following by DL Jackson, Gini Koch, Lorna Suzuki, Rebecca Royce, Zee Monodee, and many others. And no, only two (well, three) of the authors above have sci-fi romance series that I’ve read. The others are paranormal and fantasy, but I do read many other genres as well.

Do you read when you are plotting or writing a story?

Yes, the only time I’m not reading is when I’m busy with edits. I can’t concentrate on a book knowing edits are waiting for me.

What book inspired you to write romance (or whatever genre you write in)?

I’ve read more from Nora Roberts than any other author, so I would have to say she is a huge influence in terms of romance. The sci-fi aspect come more from the movies I watch and my overactive imagination.

What hero/heroine/character was the most fun or challenging to write for you?

Katrina, introduced in The Zurian Child, would have to be the most challenging. She was the first character to invade my mind, and I had to get her story just so. All of my characters can be fun at times, even the antagonists, but Adrian and Dare, heroes from two different stories were probably the most fun. They have very distinctive personalities, and are hard-wired men.

How do you juggle work, writing, chores and family/personal life? Do you have a secret to time management that you want to share with readers?

I’m not sure how I juggle it, but I live for quiet time every day. And I write everything down. That’s only a bad thing if I can’t find the paper I wrote it on.

Do you have a ritual that you follow when it comes to writing?

No, I don’t have time for a ritual. If I find a spare moment to write, I go for it before the moment is gone.

Where do you see yourself, career-wise, in 5 years time?

I’m not sure. I hope to have all of the series I’m working on now, finished and published, and be working on more. LOL

What's your website URL?

http://jessicasubject.com

Are you on Facebook?

Yes, here is my fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-E-Subject-author/205759796126370

How do you connect with readers?

Through Facebook (above), Twitter (https://twitter.com/#!/jsubject), Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4959083.Jessica_E_Subject)), my website/blog (above), and the Backward Momentum blog: http://backwardmomentum.blogspot.com/

Latest and upcoming releases:

Never Gonna Let You Go is my most recent release.
The Zurian Child releases March 24, 2012 from Silver Publishing.
And An Unexpected Return is coming soon to Decadent Publishing.


Never Gonna Let You Go:

Caught in a tangle of lies, Calla Jacobs must sort through the truth to discover where she truly belongs. A biologist for Planet Core, she finds herself ensnared in a web of deceit. Sent to Airondelle, she must work with a team to prepare the newly discovered planet for colonists from Earth. But the mission does not go as she expected. Her former lover, Erik Edwards, shuns her, sending Calla into the arms of Melina Holloway, their commander, for the attention she craves and more. A confrontation among the trio leaves her with a broken heart, and fleeing from the two people she trusted most.

Attempting to break free from the lies that bind her, she discovers Planet Core has deceived everyone. And when she returns to Earth, Calla learns just how far Planet Core’s control reaches.


Available from Decadent Publishing and other ebook retailers.
Buy Link here: http://www.markofthestars.com/wp/?page_id=7889
Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/I8hN8O4bVo4

Excerpt:

Melina stood up. “Well, I guess we’re done for tonight.”

Instead of packing up the Jeeps and heading back to camp, they lingered, staring at each other in the moonlight. Calla didn’t want to move. She fixated on her commander’s mouth. What would it feel like?

Before she realized what was happening, Melina pressed her lips to Calla’s. Holloway’s hand met the small of her back, drawing her in closer. Calla sensed the woman’s hunger, but pulled away, surprised by her commander’s actions and still ashamed of her body’s rush of desire.

“Holloway, this isn’t allowed. You of all people should know that.”

Melina strolled around behind her, keeping her hands on Calla’s shoulders, and kneaded the knots across her back. “No one needs to know. It’s just the two of us out here.”

Calla moaned as her commander’s thumbs dug deep, releasing her stress from the mission and Erik’s attitude. The massage was the precise touch she needed. “That feels so good.”

Melina swept Calla’s hair from her shoulders and kissed her neck, turning the massage into something sensual. “I have much more planned for you.”

“Holloway, I’ve never ….”

“Been with a woman?” Melina spun her around. Tilting her head, she gazed into her eyes, brushing a thumb across her lips. “There’s a first time for everything.”

About Jessica:

Jessica Subject started writing to encourage her daughter to read. Now she writes to keep herself grounded. Although she reads many genres, she enjoys writing Science Fiction Romance the most and believes everyone in the universe deserves a happily ever after. She lives Southwestern Ontario, Canada with her husband and two kids and loves to hear from anyone who has enjoyed her stories.

Website/Blog: http://www.markofthestars.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/jsubject
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-E-Subject-author/205759796126370
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4959083.Jessica_E_Subject
Google +: https://plus.google.com/100079570422204018357/posts


~ Natalie ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love... and a little Mystery.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

REV UP WEDNESDAY - A weekly booster shot for inspiration... Catching up with KATRINA STRAUSS

Hello world,

I met Katrina in what seems like another lifetime, although not so long ago, when I had just started writing and she was already shining. Katrina was the first author I met personally who bowled me over with her writing, and with the way she expresses the depth of emotion between her characters. While I went on to learn the craft, she came into her own with erotic romance and yaoi-inspired stories. I wasn't familiar with the genre until Katrina started writing it. Personally, I was already in love with her style after reading her wonderful and heartbreaking, Efflorescence, and some other stories that are presently out-of-print.

Katrina is also grade A on the personal front. She's one of those people you can always count on if you want honest and real. Her writing journey is interesting, and she relates it in detail in this interview. This is some amazing feedback, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it... as I enjoy knowing the wonderful Kitty, as her friends call her.

It's time to let Kitty do the talking now... but please - pay attention to the last paragraph. Kitty's giving away a free copy from her backlist to a lucky winner!

---------


How long have you been writing?

I wrote and illustrated my first story when I was six-years-old. In my rousing adventure, The Cute Little Pig, main character Pinky ran away from the farm to live in the forest. I decided, then and there, to be a published author someday. I finally realized that dream three decades later with my 2006 release, captor/prisoner fantasy Eldritch Legacy 1: Secrets Revealed. I dare say I’ve moved on to more mature subject matter since Pinky the runaway pig.

What did your family say when you told them you wanted to be a writer?

My mother thought The Cute Little Pig was brilliant and promptly submitted it to a round of children’s book publishers. Thus, at the tender age of six, I learned to gracefully accept rejection letters. My father advised me to get a “real job” if I wanted to pay the bills. Now, he brags that his daughter is a writer, even if he’s not allowed to read my racy romances.

My husband initially expressed misgivings over my writing career, especially one built on erotica. He warmed to the idea after that first decent royalty check came in!

What is your preferred genre both for reading and writing?

I write erotic romance. I originally wrote M/F and ménage, but then switched to the M/M side. I prefer dark romance with BDSM elements, but have a few sweet stories in the bunch. My characters always get their Happily Ever After, even if they take a thorny, twisted path getting there!

As for reading, I admire my peers but mainly read outside of the genre to recharge the brain cells. Not to say my peers don’t stimulate my mind! Writers like Amanda Young, KZ Snow, or Rowan McBride leave me in awe and wondering “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?” but let’s put it this way -- I love pizza, but when I worked at a pizza restaurant, the last thing I wanted for dinner when I got home was more pizza!

I see that you've really found a niche in yaoi - what prompted you to take this path?

I’d read and enjoyed a few slash and M/M stories, but overall preferred M/F. Then my interest in anime, manga, and bishounen (pretty anime boys) led to yaoi. Something about this illustrated Japanese brand of homoerotica clicked for me. I devoured translated works by Yamane Ayano, Haruka Minami, and Miyamoto Kano, to name a few. I was intrigued not only by the genre, but the mangaka behind it -- daring Japanese women who write and illustrate hot, sexy man-on-man action, often in graphic detail! I was hooked.

Around the time I was discovering yaoi, I penned a private slash fic featuring two straight males from my Eldritch Legacy books. (You know you’re bored when you slash your own damned characters…) I was surprised at how much I enjoyed writing it, and even more when author Alisha Steele read it, liked it, and suggested I write M/M. I wasn’t sure I had anything new to offer the genre, but then discovered fellow e-book authors like Jet Mykles, Michael Barnette, and Barb Sheridan were writing yaoi-inspired prose, complete with illustrated covers by yaoi-friendly artists like PL Nunn and Anne Cain. I thought of combining certain yaoi tropes, most notably the seme/uke (top/bottom) dynamic, with the Dominance/submission themes I’d explored in the Eldritch books. I knocked out an opening chapter, and the Blue Ruin series was born.


Do you see yourself going back to writing heterosexual romances?

I’m working on a het story right now, actually -- an M/F/M, even, so my heroine is enjoying all sorts of hetero activity!

So let's go back to the beginning - did you start by writing full time or did you have a day job?

I always made time for writing, sewing, or photography in between parenting and work. It wasn’t until I started staying at home with my youngest child, however, that I could focus on writing full-time. I freely admit it wouldn’t be feasible if not for my husband’s “real job”, though I’ve paid the bills a few times when he’s been laid off or between contracts.

Did you take any writing courses or did you just sit and write a book? Did/do you have a crit group or mentor to guide you?

Outside of high school English class, I’m not formally educated as a writer. During my twenties, I submitted short stories to magazines, but kept getting rejected with no explanation as to why. Acquaintances insisted I was good enough for publication, but didn’t offer valid input outside of basic grammar corrections.

It wasn’t until my fanfiction days that I received detailed advice and critique. My betas included newspaper columnist/author Violet LeVoit, Rhiannon Rhodes who now owns Dark Roast Press, as well as Adrianne Brennan and Kayleigh Jamison who’ve since been published, too. Together, they broke me of those little habits that screamed “Amateur!” (And yes, I wrote fanfic…a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. That’s a hint about which fandom.)
Kayleigh was also my first editor on Secrets Revealed. She ran me through the ringer, although it wasn’t until my second novel that her advice truly sank in as far as trimming the fat and getting to the meat of the story. I’ve also found Stephen King’s On Writing to be the one really useful “how to” book on the craft.

Do you use a/several pseudonym(s) and if so, why did you choose to have one/them?

I use a pseudonym for a few reasons. My real name is very unusual -- I was born in 1970, if that gives you any idea! It’s difficult for people to spell and pronounce, so from a marketing standpoint, I did the opposite of most writers and devised something more “normal” than my given name! I also prefer a bit of anonymity, given the, ahem, steamy nature of my work. (Though if I wrote polite books about gardening or birdwatching, I’d still use a pen name!)

Did you sell the first story or novel you wrote?

My first story, no, nor the next several after. My first novel, yes. (At least, my first intentional novel. One of my fanfics accidentally grew to novel length; of course I couldn’t publish it, but I learned I had the discipline to produce novel length work.)

How many drafts did you write of your first novel before you felt you got it right? What about now - do you still write several drafts of a story?

I ran Secrets Revealed through four drafts, probably more if you count the micro-edits in between. I “officially” run a manuscript through three drafts, although sometimes my final read-through equals a fourth draft if I’m feeling picky. I also tend to micro-edit with what I jokingly call “draft 1.5”, “draft 2.75”, etc.

Do you read industry or writing related blogs? If so, can you share some useful links?

I used to follow several, but found the cliquishness, drama, and snark rather disheartening. (Not to mention time-consuming!) I’ve narrowed down to a few that I find truly worthwhile and helpful.

Neil Gaiman offers valuable insights into the daily life of a writer:
http://journal.neilgaiman.com/

Agent Rachelle Gardner shares some wonderful industry perspective:
http://www.rachellegardner.com/

Emily Veinglory post links and stats specific to erotic romance and e-publishing:
http://www.eroticromancepublishers.com/

Val Kovalin shares “how to” tips in her popular series of articles:
http://obsidianbookshelf.blogspot.com/p/all-articles-list.html

I highly suggest beginning authors check out JA Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, especially his archived posts:
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

Did you get an agent first or did you submit directly to publishers?

I’ve always submitted directly to publishers, but then e-pub offers a more open playing field than traditional avenues. I did try for an agent after I had a few publications under my belt, and made it past the query process before my partial was rejected. It’s interesting to note several agents are now spearheading their own e-publishing companies, including the agent who rejected my story!

What, in your opinion, do agents/publishers look for in a new author in the current market? Is it all to do with talent or with trends?

I can only speak for erotic romance. Based on what I’ve personally observed, I think e-publishers look for that winning combination of plot, romance, and sex, coupled with an ability to write. The romance element in particular relies on a certain formula defined by reader expectations. (Even authors like me who twist formula are still playing on tried-and-true tropes.) If an author manages to juggle all of the above while tapping into current audience trends – it could be M/M shifters one week, M/F/M ménage the next -- their stories will certainly be more attractive to a market-savvy editor or agent.

What do you think of the changes going on in the book industry (e.g., e-books vs. print books, and big publishers getting involved in digital publishing)? Where do you see the industry going?

The first e-book adopter I knew is my geek husband. I remember him reading books on his PDA back in ’98 or ’99. I asked him why on earth anyone would read digital when they could just, you know, read a book! He told me e-books were the future. I told him I’d never go for it. Little did I know I’d write for e-publishers some day, or that I’d spend those first few years of publication making the same arguments as my husband. (At the same time, my husband was surprised when romance readers, not the tech set, pushed the demand for digital.)

Regarding the big publishers’ late arrival to the scene -- part of me smirks and asks “What took you so long? Ellora’s Cave, Loose Id and Samhain are waaay ahead of you guys!” Yet I can take pride in saying I’m on board with two of the three publishers that paved the path to the future. I can be proud that my readers were some of the early adopters who helped push e-books until the big names had no choice but to take note and join the party.

How do you feel about so many bookstores closing across the US? Do you think this trend is similar in other countries?

It’s a double-edged sword for me. As an e-book author, I’m happy to see digital publishing has finally gained acceptance. On the other hand, I still enjoy browsing bookstores and libraries. I feel bad for friends who are now unemployed due to store closings, while it’s painful to see my local library struggling to stay afloat. Then again, I used to enjoy browsing the record shop and video store, but the first is now a vague memory while the latter has given way to my new Netflix account. I still indulge in music and movies, I’ve just found a different way to do so. Everything is going digital, and books are no exception. Ultimately, I hope readers continue reading, whatever their preferred format.

As for other countries, I don’t know the exact situation with brick-and-mortar stores, but I do hear from many readers outside the US who rely on digital for authors and genres otherwise unavailable to them. One reader lives in China, another in Kuwait, and they’ve both told me of how they work around firewalls to purchase my books. I’m certainly happy digital publishing has opened up a world of reading to these particular ladies!

Are your books available in print or in digital format?

My entire catalog is available in e-book. Sonoran Heat and Windswept can also be found in print. Five years ago, I could barely convince readers to try e-books in general, let alone my e-books! Now, my digital sales totally outrank my print numbers.

What advice do you think aspiring authors should heed today?

From the creative/private end: Write with no fear and the blinders off – it’s called a “rough draft” for a reason! But when it comes time to fix it, fix it. Learn to accept constructive critique. Know your genre. Research the heck out of publishers, study submission guidelines, narrow down to a short list, then start at the TOP of that list, not the bottom.

On the promotion/public side: Get to know your prospective audience. Build a web presence. Most importantly, build that web presence without flaming everyone and alienating your prospective audience! The send button takes only a second to hit, but the delete button is never fast enough and screencaps last forever.

What is your last release about?

That would be A Forfeit Owed, the M/F/M I mentioned earlier. It’s the fourth Eldritch Legacy book, although chronologically takes place between books 1 and 2. It picks up 25 years after the events of Secrets Revealed and depicts how Inga’s sons, Trystan and Darius, fall for the same heroine. In turn, my heroine Korinne falls for both of them. Should she choose? Why bother when she can have both! Problem is, the Eldritch brothers don’t want to share, making for some sexy conflict. This one’s taken me a bit longer to write than usual, but I’m about ¾ through the final draft and should have it off to my very patient editor soon.


What book inspired you to write romance?

I can’t cite one specific title. My grandmother was an avid reader of old school “bodice rippers” and stacked them throughout her house. I’m not exaggerating – she owned countless Avons, Harlequins, Mills & Boon, by the likes of Rosemary Rogers, Barbara Cartland, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss…you know, the good stuff! My mother strictly forbade me to touch them, informing me “Your grandmother reads trash!” Naturally, my curiosity was piqued! I sneaked peeks whenever I could and discovered one reader’s “trash” is another’s treasure. Sure, the sexual content proved educational for a ten-year-old, but I was equally captivated by dashing heroes, feisty heroines, vivid settings, and oh, what dramatic storylines! I never thought I’d write romance, but years later, when I sat down to draft Secrets Revealed, I realized just how influential Grandma’s “trash” had been.

What is/are your favourite book(s)? Do you read only books from the genre you write in?

Show me a writer, and I’ll show you someone who was a bookworm first. Wow, where to start? After warping my young psyche with Grandma’s books, I read everyone from the Bronte sisters to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. My father loaned me Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire when I was thirteen, and then wondered why I started wearing all-black and dating boys in eyeliner a few years later.

Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series (along with Grandma’s books) was a primary influence behind the Eldritch Legacy. Nora Robert’s In Death series (which she writes under JD Robb) is one of the non-yaoi inspirations behind Blue Ruin. (Yes, the very het happenings between Eve and Roarke fueled the M/M fires of Derek and Blue. Now you know.)

I touched earlier on how I mostly read outside of my genre. I’ve been on a YA kick lately. I’d say it offers me a break from the very adult themes I write, but today’s YA is decidedly more “sophisticated” than the brand I grew up with! My favorite series right now are Michael Grant’s Gone and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games. Both present dark, grim dystopias while providing riveting, addictive reads!

Do you read when you are plotting or writing a story?

It depends. When I’m in creative/production mode, it helps to fuel the output with input. If I’m penning a historical, I turn to books and movies set in the same time period to better grasp the fashions, language, etc. There are times, however, when I truly need to shut out all influences and immerse myself in my own world; otherwise, I grow distracted, intimidated, or worried I’ll inadvertently copy. During edits/revisions, I’m in critique mode, so at that point I avoid other writers lest I stop enjoying their story and start dissecting every other sentence. Nothing pulls me out of a story more than mentally redlining a published book!

What hero/heroine/character was the most fun or challenging to write for you?

My favorite is Derek of Blue Ruin. He’s the modern Alpha male -- slender but strong, patient but stern. He can fix your computer, throw a punch, drive a Porsche, and wield a riding crop, all without getting one sexy, silken hair out of place. As the series has progressed, I’ve delved deeper into his dysfunctional childhood, and some of that’s been hard to write, but I love peeling the onion layers of such a complex character. And did I mention the sexy, silken hair?

How do you juggle work, writing, chores and family/personal life? Do you have a secret to time management that you want to share with readers?

There are days where life flows so smoothly – the house is clean, the table is set with a home-cooked dinner from scratch, and all is well and serene. Then there are ones where I wing it by the seat of my pants – the house is a wreck, we eat delivery in front of the TV, and I thank the gods above for caffeine and chocolate!

I do follow a certain if somewhat flexible schedule, even on the most hectic days – I drive my youngest son to and from school almost daily, a small luxury I cherish as much as he does. That leaves a work day of about 8 am to 3 pm. Aside from sporadic yoga workouts, mornings are usually devoted to e-mail, blogs, and promo. I write from late morning to early afternoon, working around my older kids, errands, chores, Google requests from my Net-less mother, etc. I aim for 1200 words a day, but may eke out 300 in a very frustrating two hours…or churn out 1500 in an amazing half hour! If I’m on a roll, or facing a deadline, I’ll squeeze in work between school pick-up and dinner.

I used to write in the evening, but my husband and kids pointed out that if I had a “real job”, I’d come home at a set time and leave work at work. I resisted at first, arguing the Muse doesn’t punch a time clock, but I had to concede, they had a point. So unless I’m up against a crushing deadline, I relax and hang out with the family during the evening.

Do you have a ritual that you follow when it comes to writing?

I open a bottle of Coke, fire up the computer, and see what happens next. How’s that for a ritual? I used to hit shuffle on iTunes and keep it running all day in the background, but have found it distracting lately.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I started a garden two years ago and find it’s a good way to get off the computer and step outside. I go through yoga and fitness stages. (I really need to stick with those…) I enjoy cooking, reading, and watching entirely too much anime. I used to sew a lot and still dabble in it when a kid needs a costume or something mended. Due to the economy, I’ve rediscovered couponing and free samples -- I’m not an extreme couponer, but I’ve worked some sweet deals!

Share something that few people know about you.

I watched my junior high burn down. Thankfully, we were all evacuated minutes before the century-old building was engulfed in flames. No, I did not set the fire. I was one of those nerds who liked school!

Where do you see yourself, careerwise, in 5 years time?

Um, let me dust off my crystal ball… I know where I want to be. I want to be a bestselling author who can legitimately call what I do a career. I hope to branch out into different genres with other story ideas, like the YA bouncing around in my head, or the steampunk epic that will require a cabin stay. I’d also love to see some of my stories in comic format and on the big screen. I wouldn’t mind a Jacuzzi, either.

What's your website URL?

My author site is at: http://www.katrinastrauss.com

My blog is at: http://katrina-strauss.blogspot.com/

Are you on Facebook?

Isn’t everybody? Find my author profile at:
http://www.facebook.com/katrinastrauss.author

You can also “Like” my reader fan page at:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Readers-of-Katrina-Strauss/122933872724

How do you connect with readers?

Readers are always welcome to chat with me at my blog or Facebook. I’m also available via Twitter at http://twitter.com/katrinastrauss or e-mail at katrina.strauss AT gmail DOT com.

About Katrina:

Katrina Strauss has been a military brat, goth girl, pizza chef, and pinup photographer, but so far nothing that would land her in jail. As an author, she pays homage to the timeless genre of romance with her own modern, spicy twist. From steamy romance to BDSM kink, her stories are all about finding that special someone. A Texan by birthright with the accent to prove it, she currently lives with her family near St. Louis, Missouri.

Latest Releases:

Available from Amber Allure -- Sonoran Heat

Newly single, Tony sees a chance for a fresh start with 21-year-old Josh, but worries chasing a man half his age will lead to heartache. It’s hard to resist when Josh intrigues Tony on an intellectual level -- and fires the landscaper's libido hotter than the Arizona desert they call home.

Digital art student by day, Josh waits tables at night, but his true dream is to paint. When he falls for Tony, he starts rethinking his goals and how the sexy older man might fit into them. But Tony’s recovering from a failed relationship, one that lasted nearly as long as Josh has been alive, and Josh must prove that in spite of age and inexperience, his feelings are sincere.

As the desert nights heat up, Tony and Josh explore possibilities both in and out of the bedroom, but when each man faces a difficult choice, they must decide on the future. Whether that future is together, or separate, is a matter of reason versus the heart.

Read an excerpt from Sonoran Heat at:

http://www.amberquill.com/AmberAllure/SonoranHeat.html

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Available from Loose Id – Eldritch Legacy 4: A Forfeit Owed

As the daughter of a disowned noble, Korinne has few options. Taken in by wealthy relatives, she finds life among nobility is far from glamorous. Forced to wait on her cousins hand and foot, she wishes fairy godmothers were more than the stuff of childhood tales.

When Korinne visits the royal palace, she finds herself wooed by not one but two handsome princes. As the battle for her hand leads to sensual encounters beyond her wildest dreams, Korinne discovers that fairy tales can come true -- but at what price?

Born third in line to the throne, Trystan is a sensitive poet with a penchant for mischief. Favored by his mother but at odds with his father, the young prince struggles with a heritage he never asked for. Locked in an ongoing game of forfeits with his brother, Crown Prince Darius, Trystan is determined to one up his opponent in their battle of wit versus brawn.

The brothers secretly bid on Korinne as their next challenge. Trystan will do whatever it takes to best Darius, even if it means sharing the prize in the short-term. But when Trystan truly falls for Korinne, the biggest forfeit at stake is his heart.

Excerpt is at:

http://www.loose-id.com/excerpt.aspx?ID=1546

And purchase link is at:

http://www.loose-id.com/Eldritch-Legacy-A-Forfeit-Owed.aspx

---------

Thanks, Angela, for having me on your blog today! I hope visitors enjoy my answers to your very thoughtful questions. I’ll be happy to answer any other questions in comments. In fact, one lucky commenter will receive one of my backlist titles of their choice, so don’t be shy! I’ll pick a winner one week from today’s post date and let Angela know who it is. Good luck!

~ Natalie ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love... and a little Mystery.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

REV UP WEDNESDAY - A weekly booster shot for inspiration... Catching up with NYT BESTSELLING AUTHOR, SHELLI STEVENS

Hello world,

I'm excited to host today's REV UP WEDNESDAY guest, NYT bestselling author Shelli Stevens! Shelli's down to earth and honest about her experiences. It took her all of 11 years to get where she is today, and 6 years before she was published. "Overnight success" - what's that? Apart from what Shelli shared in this interview, I also enjoyed reading the FAQs page on her website - it gives you a little more insight into the author's thinking. With 31 published books under her belt, Shelli has a lot to say. But the wonderful thing is, she can now support herself with her writing - through hard work, determination, and goal-setting, she is in a place she loves, pursuing her dreams.


And now, here's Shelli...

How long have you been writing?

I've been writing probably since I was about twelve. I became serious about writing, getting published about eleven years ago.

When did you decide that you wanted to write for a living (that "aha" moment)?

About eleven years ago I decided I wanted to write and try to publish. I wasn't really looking at it to make a living. Because the motto in the industry is 'don't quit your day job!', because it's not all bonbons and six figure paychecks. It takes a long time to be able to quit your day job. I'm fortunate to be able to support myself on my writing now, but it didn't happen overnight.

What did your family say when you told them you wanted to be a writer?

I'm not married, but my parents/brothers didn't think much of it. Thought it was cool I was trying. I was working full time when I first started out.

What is your preferred genre both for reading and writing?

I think it varies. I love to read early historicals (medieval and such). I don't write them though. Writing, I love contemporaries, but have also delved into paranormal now with my first release in the spring.

Did you start by writing full time or did you have a day job?

I had a day job. I'm a single mom and couldn't quit my job. After I had my daughter I was unemployed and when I became published my checks were nowhere near enough to survive on.

Did you take any writing courses or did you just sit and write a book?

I think I took creative writing in high school, but don't remember much. I really just wrote my first book, joined the RWA and realized I had no idea what I was doing. I mean, I literally had no idea how to even format it (paragraphs, chapters, etc). I opened a Word doc and tried to make it look like a book.

Did/do you have a crit group or mentor to guide you?

Yes! I got a critique group who helped me realize bi-polar, nymphomaniac heroines don't sell well. And there's this thing called POV (Point of View). And over the years I've been fortunate to have the friendship/informal mentorship of Cherry Adair. Now we're in a plotting group together.

Do you use a/several pseudonym(s) and if so, why did you choose to have one/them?

I use just this one at the moment, I chose it because it was fun and fit who I am.

How long did it take you to make your first sale? What was your first thought when you did?

It took me about six years. I was a little worried, but resolved. I sold to an e-publisher when it was considered a sell out or where the people with no talent went. But I built a readership that way, one that put me on the NYT list. I would hope today I have the respect from those who once doubted me.

Did you sell the first story or novel you wrote?

Not initially, but later down the road I did. In fact it's called Foreign Affair and being re-released at Samhain in February!

How many drafts did you write of your first novel before you felt you got it right? What about now - do you still write several drafts of a story?

I wrote several, several drafts of that book. I couldn't tell you how many, honestly. Probably five? Now I write one or two drafts. I really just write a book and go back and fix the parts that don't work.

Do you read industry or writing related blogs? If so, can you share some useful links?

Honestly, very rarely. Some seem so negative and snarky, I just find it kind of a downer. And I'd rather be inspired. The one blog I visit (when I remember) is Jane Porter. I love her honesty and how much heart she has. She was part of my local chapter for awhile and I think she's just fabulous.

Did you get an agent first or did you submit directly to publishers?

I was shopping for an agent when I had an offer from the publisher I'd submitted it to. So I signed with Laura Bradford, who'd already shown interest and had been considering me with another project.

If you signed with an agent, how did you go about the process of finding your agent/publisher?

I basically researched. Talked to people about their publishers/agents. Found out who might be a good fit for me.

Did you ever get rejected? If so, how did you handle it?

Yes, I've been rejected many times. Rejection happens. I think everyone gets rejected at least once. Even if you sell and go for years with lots of success, some day down the road you'll probably get the dreaded R. You deal with it with some tears, chats with friends, chocolate/wine/fill in the blank with your favorite vice. And then you keep going.


What, in your opinion, do agents/publishers look for in a new author in the current market? Is it all to do with talent or with trends?

I think it's a combination of both, but they definitely want a book that will sell and is marketable. You can have the most awesome book ever, but if they don't have an audience for it and it's difficult to find a market for it, you may not sell it.

What do you think of the changes going on in the book industry (e.g., e-books vs. print books, and big publishers getting involved in digital publishing)? Where do you see the industry going?

Well, for years I've said the trend is digital books, and it seems to be going that way more so with every passing day. I really couldn't even begin to guess what's next...

Do you think writers should consider self-publishing?

I have nothing against self-publishing and have self-pubbed a couple books. That being said, it's a lot of work. Especially if you're starting out with no previously published books. I have an advantage because I have a readership that may go looking for my books and find my self-pubbed ones. If you're brand new, you need to develop a platform and work hard to get your name out there. Plus you're paying for a cover, and editing (hopefully!), and formatting fun. It's a lot of work. But you're keeping the profit in your pocket.

How do you feel about so many bookstores closing across the US? Do you think this trend is similar in other countries?

I think it's very sad and quite scary. Who doesn't love a bookstore? The smell? The ambience? The world is changing though. Technology is changing. I think writers need to figure out how to change with it, and readers are ultimately guiding that change.

Are your books available in print or in digital format?

While all of my books are in digital format, some are in print as well. Though most of my readers tend to be the ebook readers.

What advice do you think aspiring authors should heed today?

Finish a book and then start a new one. Keep writing basically as you submit. And develop tough skin and good writer friends who'll help you through the rejections.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a follow up to Negligee Behavior. Sebastian's book!

What is/are your favourite book(s)? Do you read only books from the genre you write in?

I read all kinds of genres. Love historicals. I couldn't say I have an ultimate favorite book. There's too many to pick from.

Do you read when you are plotting or writing a story?

I do, though sometimes it's a different genre. I love historical and will read those quite often if I'm writing a contemporary.

What book inspired you to write romance (or whatever genre you write in)?

It wasn't any certain one, it was just all the romance novels I grew up reading. I wanted to write my own. Though my first book I wrote as a tween was like a cross between Sweet Valley High and a Harlequin Presents :P


What hero/heroine/character was the most fun or challenging to write for you?

Sebastian is a challenge right now. Because in Negligee Behavior he's flirty and off the wall. But with his own book, I have to delve into the emotional side of him, and he's not all laughter and charm. Plus, I need to make sure I'm writing his British side accurately.

How do you juggle work, writing, chores and family/personal life? Do you have a secret to time management that you want to share with readers?

Sometimes it's harder to manage (summers). But usually I write when my child is in school. Or at night when she's sleeping. My secret is having a daily word count goal and meeting it. It can vary depending on the deadline (or lack there of). If you're making a daily word count, the book WILL get written.

Do you have a ritual that you follow when it comes to writing?

Not at all. Just write. Most of the time my rule is 'minimum 1k words a day'. I can do more than that, but I need at least that.

Where do you see yourself, careerwise, in 5 years time?

Hopefully in a quite stable writing career, with a loyal fan base, maybe writing for a few different publishers, and maybe under a couple of pen names.

What's your website URL?

www.shellistevens.com

Are you on Facebook?

https://www.facebook.com/shelli.stevens

How do you connect with readers?

I'm on Twitter and Facebook a lot and love to interact with people!


About Shelli:

Shelli is a New York Times Bestselling Author who read her first romance novel when she snatched it off her mother’s bookshelf at the age of eleven. One taste and she was forever hooked. It wasn’t until many years later that she decided to pursue writing stories of her own. By then she acknowledged the voices in her head didn’t make her crazy, they made her a writer.

Shelli currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she writes various genres of romance. She’s a compulsive volunteer, and has been known to spontaneously burst into song.


Here's an excerpt from my latest release, Seducing Allie:

“This is ridiculous!” She stared out at the blur of trees as they sped down a deserted road. “Where are we going?”

“Away,” he answered ambiguously.

“Away,” she mimicked him. “We’re going away? What the hell kind of answer is that?”

“The only answer you’re getting right now. And watch your mouth. I know your mom taught you better.”

“Didn’t your mom teach you that kidnapping is a felony?” she shot back and slapped the window again.

“If you break my window it’s going to seriously piss me off, Allie.”

“Well, guess what? I’m already pissed.” Slap. Her hand connected with the glass again and again. “Maybe you should have taken that into account when you abducted me, Clint.”

She nearly fell out of her seat as he swerved the car to the side of the road.

Was he going to let her go? Leave her stuck on some random back road? Hell, she didn’t care, she’d hike her way back to her car if she had to.

He climbed out of the vehicle and came around her side, wrenching open the door.

“Get out.”

Relief flooded through her. He was letting her go. Finally. She scooted out the door, making the jump down to the ground and smoothing her dress back down her thighs.

“Well, it’s about time you came to your senses—oh!”

He jerked her hard against him, both of her wrists in one of his massive hands.

“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear,” he murmured, his gaze full of determination and something else…something hot. Something that sent a jolt of heat straight from her stomach to between her legs.

Her pulse quickened and she dragged in a shuddering breath, tugging at her hands.

“Have you gone completely insane?” she whispered.

“Maybe.” His lips twisted, his gaze roving over her face. “Or maybe I’m just willing to go to any lengths to make sure you don’t break up Kenneth’s wedding.”

“I’m not…” She ran her tongue over her suddenly dry lips. “Wait, Kenneth’s wedding isn’t until next week.”

“Exactly. And that means we’ll have one whole week to catch up, kitten.”

Clint watched her eyes widen with shock and he almost felt sorry for her—almost. Except he’d warned her multiple times and she needed to be stopped.

Taking her out of the equation had been an idea he’d been playing with since she’d threatened to show up at the house this morning. And the more he thought about it, the better the idea had seemed.

He’d been ready, sitting in his SUV parked down the street and drinking coffee, waiting to see if she really had the balls to show up again. Not really thinking she would, but somewhat excited when she did.

“Clint, you can’t do this,” she choked, her body beginning to tremble. “This is kidnapping!”

“Yeah, you said that already.”

“You can’t take me away for a week!” She tugged at her wrists again, and he tightened his hold. “Oh my God. You’ve gone loony, Clint. You’re—argh!”

Her knee connected with his shin and he winced, pushing her back against his SUV.

“Stop it,” he said, irritated now. He tried not to think about how soft her body was against him and how her breasts pressed against his chest. “I’m not the one trying to break up a wedding.”

Her eyes flashed with frustration and fury. “You can’t play God, Clint.”

“And neither will you, Allie. Even if I have to see to it.”

She lowered her gaze and he watched her small pink tongue sweep across her lush mouth again. He bit back a groan. Man, she looked sexy when she did that. And she did it a lot.

“Okay,” her tone calmed significantly. “You’re right. Of course you’re right. Why don’t you just take me back to my car and I’ll just drive home. Deal?”

His chest shook with laughter and he shook his head. How stupid did she think he was? Did she honestly think she could pull out that docile act to convince him she’d changed her mind? He knew her way too well for that.

“No deal. I can’t take that risk. I don’t trust you any further than I can spit, kitten.”

“Stop calling me kitten,” she yelled and tried to—oh hell no she didn’t—knee him in the groin.

He pressed his body harder against her, making sure she couldn’t move. She glared at him, her mouth drawn tight and her breasts rising and falling with each breath she jerked in.

“Besides,” he continued softly, and gave her a slow smile. “A week together means we can take up where we left off last night.”

“If you think I would ever go to bed with you after—”

“I don’t think, I know, Allie. And I’m pretty sure you know it too.”

He reached out and ran a finger down the side of her soft cheek, and she sucked in a swift breath. He watched the heat flicker in her eyes and knew she could—and probably would—deny it until she was blue in the face, but Allison wanted him.

“I repeat. You’re loony.”

He laughed again. “I will bring you back here, but not until Ashley and Ken have exchanged their vows.”

“That’s not until next week,” she said again in a rush. “I have to be at work.”

“No, you don’t, teachers have summers off.” He watched her eyes round with shock.

What, did she think he’d forgotten about the teaching job at a private school Kenneth had gotten her a couple years ago? Whether she was the most qualified candidate or not, just the recommendation from a Williams’ family member—and money donated—was enough to guarantee her the position.

His thumb slid inward to stroke over her bottom lip. Her body trembled in the response. God, he wanted her.

“You have no right to do this to me, Clint. None. You’re being a total jerk. This is just—”

He pulled his thumb away and replaced it with his mouth. Crushing his lips down on hers in a kiss to stop her tirade, and because he couldn’t resist her any longer.

Her angry gasp parted her lips enough to let him slide is tongue into the moist cavern of her mouth. He tasted her. Warm, succulent and the spicy taste of cinnamon gum.

She struggled against him, each twist of her body brushed her breasts into contact with his chest. He slowed the kiss, rubbing his tongue against hers. The friction had his dick pulsing against his jeans and he ground himself against her stomach.

The fight in her seemed to disappear and she went slack in his arms. Her small moan sent a jolt of triumph through him and he released her wrists so he could grab her ass.

The swell of her bottom spilled over into his palms, and he squeezed the soft flesh, pulling her harder against him.

Allison. God he wanted her. Had been wanting her for so many years now. He was tempted to take her here on the side of the damn road.

Crack. The sound reached him before the sting of her palm glancing across his cheek.

She wrenched her mouth away from his, and glared up at him, her gaze both hot and skittish.

His fingers dug into her ass cheeks and his jaw clenched. Okay, maybe you deserved that. Taking a deep breath, he counted to ten.

“You know what, Allie?”

“You’re going to come to your senses and let me go?” she suggested with tight sarcasm.

“Oh, hell no, I’m gonna keep you.” He slid one hand up her back and pushed her close, until her tight nipples rubbed against his chest. “And I think we’re going to have a lot of fun together this week.”
Shelli's upcoming releases:

My upcoming releases are Foreign Affair and Savage Hunger. Foreign Affair was the first book I wrote that I mentioned above. It's a bit of Americans falling in love while traveling Europe. A lot of fun, a little lie. Love the cover for it. Savage Hunger is my first big paranormal (shifters)! There's no cover yet.


~ Natalie ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love.

Monday, February 13, 2012

KICK START MONDAY: Contests & More - with CATHY YARDLEY

Today's KICK START MONDAY GUEST is eclectic author, Cathy Yardley.


A self-professed geekgirl and out of the closet foodie (oh, love this!), her publishers include Red Dress Ink, St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books, Signet, Harlequin Blaze and Avon Red. She's written romantic comedies, sexy tales, novellas, and even a non-fiction book. Two adjectives to describe her books: sexy and fun. She loves the San Diego Comic Con, was part of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, bakes her own bread, and will answer any question about obscure movies or character actors without breaking a sweat. In short, an all-around Renaissance woman!

Definitely one author to take note of.

And, Cathy's giving away two books! See how below in her guest post...


What’s on your bucket list?

When I started writing my romance trilogy The Player’s Club for Harlequin Blaze, I told my editor “it’s like Fight Club meets The Dead Poet’s Society: good looking guys, secret society, and a live-like-you-were-dying bucket list.” She gave me the green light, and then I got to have some real fun… thinking up the challenges.

In the name of research, I asked everyone I knew: what would you do, if you had a month to live, and very generous friends?

Travel was a big one. Paris, London, Machu Picchu, the Grand Canyon. (One enterprising person said he’d “roller skate on the Great Wall of China!”) Some said tackling things they’d always been afraid of – skydiving, for example, was popular. Or doing the things they’d always meant to do, like write a screenplay, or paint a mural.

The other question I asked: what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

That’s where things really got exciting. I got vision quests, a naked jump in a hotel pool, making out with a stranger on New Year’s. Running with the bulls. To be specific, running with the bulls next to Dennis Rodman.


So for my contest, I’d like you to say what you’d do if you had a month to live… or, if you’re brave enough, what the most exciting thing you’ve ever done was. Random drawing will get you the first two books of the Player’s Club trilogy. Let’s see what you’ve got! :) (Drawing will take place on the 20th Feb).

THE PLAYER’S CLUB: SCOTT

The Pledge: Scott Farrell, recovering Boring Guy.
The Goal: Membership in an ultrasecret consortium of urban adventurers.
The Conditions: Select three insane challenges. Tell no one. Survive.
The Complication: Amanda Wheeler, sexy girl next door.

Scott never mentioned The Player's Club, but Amanda's onto him. She'll keep quiet and help him get in…if he'll nominate her for membership. It's a dirty little deal that launches the normally nice neighbors into a world of skydiving, burlesque—and adrenaline-soaked sex that gets better every single time.

Not everyone's happy about the new recruits, however. And initiation may be a lot tougher than either of them expected….

EXCERPT:

What are they doing out there?

Scott peered into the darkness. It was three o'clock in the morning on a Saturday. Most of his little neighborhood was sleeping.

Scott had been wrestling with insomnia for the past three months, which was how he noticed the strange goings-on at the closed Chinese grocery store across the street. Men had been showing up for the past hour, and disappearing into the alley. The funny thing was, none of them looked like criminals—unless thugs were starting to wear suits and ties.

There was definitely something strange going on.

He craned his neck, trying to get a better view, but the angle from his window didn't give him a lot of options. He considered going down to the street. But what if they were criminals, and they decided they didn't want some Good Samaritan type snooping?

No, he needed to observe a little more. From a distance.

Abruptly, he realized the perfect vantage point, and without a moment's hesitation he left his apartment.

Padding out into the hallway in bare feet, he opened the window and climbed out carefully onto the fire escape.

Now, almost the whole street was in clear view. It'd be better if I were just a little higher, he thought, then glanced at the fire escape stairs. The metal felt cold under his heels as he climbed up as quietly as he could. It was June, but it was San Francisco—which meant it was brisk, with wisps of fog licking at him. He regretted not throwing a shirt on, wearing only a thin pair of sweatpants.

There were only a few men going into the alley now: stragglers, from the look of it. He barely made out one man ribbing another one as they disappeared into the darkness. He squinted. One of them looked like…was he wearing a tux?

Who were these guys?

"Nice night."

Scott spun around. There was a woman standing in the open window behind him, wearing a large T-shirt with the slogan Well-behaved Women Rarely Make History. She was also holding a golf club like she meant business, which was at odds with the casual greeting she'd given him.

Scott cleared his throat. "I'll bet you're wondering why I'm out here," he said in a low voice.
Her full lips quirked with amusement. "It did cross my mind."

"There's something going on across the street," he said. "I was awake, and I noticed a bunch of people going into that alley."

"Really?" She took a step closer, but didn't let go of the golf club. "I don't see anybody."

Oh, great, she thinks I'm a perv, some kind of Peeping Tom. Scott winced. "I swear, there were a bunch of guys going into that alleyway."

"Why didn't you call the police?"

Scott felt embarrassment wash over him. "They didn't look like criminals," he answered.

"So you're saying, basically, that curiosity got you out on my fire escape at three o'clock in the morning?"

"When you put it that way," Scott said ruefully, "it sounds pretty dumb."

"You said it, not me."

Scott frowned, taking her in. She was maybe five foot six, with a thin build—her T-shirt billowed around her like a ghost. In the pale moonlight, he could only tell that her hair color was light, the length barely brushing her shoulders. She looked like a kid.

"You know, you should have called the police," he scolded.

Her eyebrows went up, and the golf club went down. "I'm sorry?"

"I outweigh you by, what, sixty pounds?" He sized her up, realizing just how bad the situation could have been, were it anyone but him. "I could have taken that golf club from you. You shouldn't try to be brave in a situation like this. If a strange guy is on your fire escape, you lock yourself in your bathroom and call the cops."

"Oh, that's rich," she said, her laugh tinkling musically. "I'm being chastised by my potential burglar on personal safety and home security."

"I'm serious."

"You didn't look like a criminal," she echoed, and she sent him a wide smile. "The golf club was just in case I was mistaken. Should I call the police now? Or would you like to come in? You look a little chilly."

It was pretty cold. And the guys were nowhere to be seen. "Well, under the circumstances…but this really isn't a good idea, either," he pointed out as he clumsily clambered in through the window.

"Why not?"

"You don't know me."

"Of course I do," she said. "You're Scott Ferrell. Apartment 3D."

"Uh…well, yes," he admitted, momentarily nonplussed.

"We met once, when I moved in," she said. "About six months ago. I bumped into you and your girlfriend."

"She's not my girlfriend," Scott said automatically, then sighed. That response was getting to be knee-jerk. "That is, she's not anymore. I'm sorry. I don't remember your name."

"Amanda," she replied, putting down her weapon and holding out her hand. "Amanda Wheeler. Nice to meet you. Again."

He shook her hand, finally laughing. "This has got to be one of the weirdest introductions."
"Reintroduction," she interrupted, with that quicksilver grin.

"Sorry, yes, re introductions, I've ever had." She was cute, in a girl-next-door kind of way. Which was funny, considering she technically was the girl next door, in a manner of speaking. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, then glanced out the window. "I'm telling you, there really was something weird going on across the street."

"I believe you," she said, and thankfully it sounded as though she did. "Were you just planning on hanging out on the fire escape until the strange men came back?"

Scott rubbed his jaw. "Honestly, my thinking hadn't gone quite that far."

"I'll bet, or you would've grabbed a jacket."

He crossed his arms in front of him, then grinned when she giggled again.

"Would you like a cup of tea? Coffee?" She winked at him. "Hot cocoa?"

Definitely cute. "At the risk of ruining my masculine reputation even further, I'll take the hot chocolate."

"You can even have marshmallows," she said. "Don't worry. I won't tell anyone."

As she disappeared into the kitchen, he surveyed his surroundings. The light from the kitchen splashed out into the living room, revealing large windows—including the one he'd climbed into—and hardwood floors. The couch looked very comfortable, and the flat-screen television looked large, surrounded by piles of DVDs. There were also a multitude of books stacked haphazardly in built-in cherry bookshelves. The living room was cozy, comfortable and inviting.

Much like its owner.

After several minutes, Amanda returned with two mugs…and a robe, belted primly at the waist, much to his disappointment. He felt his own bare-chested state keenly. He took the mug, taking a sip gingerly so he wouldn't burn his tongue. "This is fantastic," he said.

She smiled. "The trick is to make it on the stovetop," she said. "Microwave just isn't the same. So, have the guys come back?"

"Not that I've seen," Scott said, deflated. He took another sip, savoring the rich, creamy, chocolate concoction. "What else is in this?"

"Nutmeg," she replied, with a slight shrug. "It's my own blend. I used to own a chocolate shop. Just sold it recently, actually."

He happened to be glancing out the window as she made her statement. "Look! There they are!"
The two of them huddled by the window, peering out. Like a colony of army ants, men streamed out of the alleyway, making the buzzing noise of people trying to be quiet and failing miserably. There were several loudly whispered mutters of "shh" and "shut up!" heard, and laughter, as the crowd dispersed and went their separate ways.

"It's almost four," Amanda said. "What are they doing?"

"I have no idea," Scott said, watching as a limo drove by and picked up several of the group. "Now do you see why I was out on the fire escape?"

She laughed, and it warmed him more than the hot chocolate. "I wasn't really complaining that you were out there," she replied, looking down at her mug. Then she looked back at him, smiling shyly.

He stared at her. Was that a come-on? After all, here he was, in her living room, in the middle of the night. In just sweatpants. And she was just wearing a T-shirt and a robe, from the looks of it. It could definitely be an invitation.

Of course, he had just invaded her place on the strangest of rationales. She could just be what she looked like: a sweet kid who was being neighborly.

He shook his head, handing her mug back. "I owe you," he said. "Thanks for the cocoa. And for not calling the cops. Although next time."

"I'll be dialing them from the bathroom," she said. "Still, I don't think I could convince myself that you were a burglar. You're too."

"Too what?" he prompted, but didn't need her to answer. He got a feeling he knew the answer.
Nice. She was going to say "nice."

He paused, his ex-girlfriend's words echoing in his head as if she'd just said them that night, and not three months ago.

Scott, I can't possibly be in a relationship with you. You're too nice. You're too sweet. You're boring.

"Telling me to protect myself was really…sweet," she stammered. "You just don't seem like the burglar/ rapist type. I watch enough Criminal Minds to know."

"Thanks," he said, then started to go out the window.

"You know, you can use the door."

"Oh. Right," he said, feeling like a complete idiot.


ABOUT CATHY:

After years in the corporate world, Cathy Yardley managed to tunnel her way out of her cubicle with a spoon she’d stolen from the break room. She now writes urban fantasy and romance, and celebrates her freedom from the cube farm in an undisclosed location somewhere near Seattle, WA.


~ Natalie ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

REV UP WEDNESDAY - A weekly booster shot for inspiration... Catching up with JOANNA WAUGH

Hello world,

This week's REV UP WEDNESDAY guest is an author who wrote one of my favorite books - Joanna Waugh. As she herself states, Joanna's website is a "treasure trove" of information about the Regency era. I see it as an invaluable resource for my writing. It is evident that two passions burn bright in Joanna's heart - writing and history. Her Regency set novel, Blind Fortune, features one of the most interesting heroines I've ever encountered, and the relationship between her and the hero is so tangible, so heartwarming, so real... they truly are a couple to remember.

Joanna has overcome many hurdles, both personally and professionally, but she proves that one can keep a dream alive no matter the circumstances. We really can carve out the life we desire for ourselves, just by hanging in there. Worldly commitments come and go, but our desires remain, waiting for us to pursue them. I totally agree with her. Thank you for visiting my world, Joanna. It's truly a pleasure.

Oh, and I can't forget...

Joanna is giving away a print copy of BLIND FORTUNE to a lucky commenter! Feel free to ask Joanna anything you wish - and leave your email address with your comment. The winner will announced on the 15th February.

And now, here's a little insight into her journey...


How long have you been writing?

All my life! As a child I was asthmatic so I spent a lot of time indoors, alone. Reading became a way for me to travel beyond the four walls of my bedroom. Writing my own stories was a natural outgrowth of this isolation.

In my early twenties, I took a break from fiction to do some feature writing for my employer’s newsletter. In my forties I got involved in politics and wrote op eds and white papers and feature articles for specialty magazines and newspapers. That lasted into my fifties. Then one morning I woke up with a full blown three book story idea and I was back to writing fiction!

When did you decide that you wanted to write for a living (that "aha" moment)?

Hmmm. Writing for a living— I think that’s a bit of a misnomer. Most authors don’t earn enough from their books to support themselves. In fact, I would caution new authors not to get starry eyed over the prospect of big bucks. That isn’t to say it can’t happen, but for the majority of us, what we earn from our book sales can only be termed as supplemental income. You’ve heard the saying “don’t quit your day job?” It applies to writing.

What did your family say when you told them you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, so as far as my family is concerned, I’ve always been a writer. My mom is my biggest fan and always has been. When my first book was released, I swear she was as excited as I was!

What is your preferred genre both for reading and writing?

Regency romance. My second favorite reading genre is paranormal—vampires and weres. The setting can be contemporary or historical, it doesn’t matter. But my first love is Regency.

Did you start by writing full time or did you have a day job?

I worked for the local gas and electric company for thirty-six years. I started out as an officer worker but by the time I retired, I was installing electric meters – the first woman in the company to qualify as a journeyman electric meterman. (Yes, they called me a “meterman.” It’s a male dominated field. I didn’t care what how they labeled me as long as my paycheck was the same as the men’s.) When I got the chance to retire at age fifty-five, I jumped at it. I’d paid my dues caring for my disabled husband, raising my son and keeping a roof over our heads. It was time for me to pursue my dream — writing.

Did you take any writing courses or did you just sit and write a book?

After a one year stint at a Chicago commercial art school, I went to work at the utility company. It wasn’t until a couple decades later that I took some writing courses at the local university. But in the 1970s, a group of writers in Westport, Connecticut created the Famous Writers School. The correspondence course cost $700, which was a lot of money for someone earning $1.30 an hour. Yet despite the controversy concerning the school (Wikipedia has an article about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famous_Writers_School), I did learn a lot about writing. The most important lesson was not to take criticism personally.

Did/do you have a crit group or mentor to guide you?

I belong to a fantastic critique group of ten women. Formerly, we were a Romance Writers of America chapter. We’ve been together so long, it feels like family. Half of our members are published and the rest are on the brink. What is wonderful about these women is that their criticism comes from a real understanding of my writing. I can count on them to tell me the truth. They want me to succeed as much as I do, and vice versa.

How long did it take you to make your first sale? What was your first thought when you did?

I returned to writing romance fiction in the late 1990s. BLIND FORTUNE was published in ebook format in 2008, so it took about ten years. My first thought upon publication? At last, hallelujah, at last!

Did you sell the first story or novel you wrote?

Heavens no! I wish I had the stories and novels I wrote as a child and teenager. A few years back, I reconnected with my British pen pal. He’d kept a manuscript I sent him during the heyday of the Beatles. It was a treat to read it again and remember the girl I was.

When I returned to romance fiction in the 1990s, the first book I wrote had a nautical theme. But when I joined the local RWA chapter, I quickly learned the difference between a story with romantic elements and romance fiction. My book was not a romance. After three attempts to edit it into one, I gave up and started BLIND FORTUNE.

How many drafts did you write of your first novel before you felt you got it right? What about now - do you still write several drafts of a story?

This is a hard question to answer because I don’t write a first draft per se. I’m a control freak so I have to know the entire story before I even begin. I write linearly; I can’t hop around. And every chapter has to be editor-ready before I move on to the next. This process makes for very slow writing and I certainly don’t recommend it. But it works for me!

Did you get an agent first or did you submit directly to publishers?

Everything I’ve accomplished professionally, I’ve accomplished on my own. I did have an agent for a while but we agreed to part. Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m not as “hungry” as younger authors. I’m content with where I am in my career. I’ll never be a New York Times Best Seller nor do I want to be. I enjoy the process of writing as much as seeing my work in print. That might sound as though I write for a hobby, which isn’t true. I work every day, whether it’s on my blog or website, an interview like this or on a new book. Writing is fundamental to me. It always has been and always will be.

If you signed with an agent, how did you go about the process of finding your agent/publisher?


I entered a partial of BLIND FORTUNE in a writing contest conducted by RWA’s Beau Monde chapter. I finaled in the contest and my entry was judged by an agent who made some suggestions about how to improve the story. I did those changes and sent the full to her. She offered to represent me.

Did you ever get rejected? If so, how did you handle it?

You bet I’ve been rejected! Lots of times. The important thing to remember is that the submission process is a subjective one. All kinds of things come into play when editors read your manuscript. After all, they’re people too. Rule #1 in the writing business: don’t take criticism personally. Rejection is not a statement about you or your ability to write. Editors can’t take chances on books they think won’t earn enough money to pay for the cost of producing them. BLIND FORTUNE, was rejected by every major print house in New York because editors said their customers didn’t want to read about a blind heroine. Fortunately I found a home for the book at Cerridwen Press, now Ellora’s Cave’s Blush line.

What, in your opinion, do agents/publishers look for in a new author in the current market? Is it all to do with talent or with trends?

Frankly, it’s all about money. In this economic climate, it’s harder than ever for new authors to break into print. The New York publishers are sticking with their already contracted authors and taking few risks on new ones. (I’ve found it ironic that editors say they’re looking for fresh voices when their employers are reprinting books written in the 1990s.) But there’s been an explosion in the popularity of ebooks, which has created a fantastic opportunity for authors. Especially given that New York print houses regularly peruse the reputable epubs. I know of two published authors that editors from NY approached and offered to look at anything they cared to submit.

What do you think of the changes going on in the book industry (e.g., e-books vs. print books, and big publishers getting involved in digital publishing)? Where do you see the industry going?

There will always be a place for print books, but the electronic trend will eventually dominate. It’s just too convenient and the profit margin is too great. Sure there are still publication costs with electronic books, but they’re much lower than print publication. That translates into cheaper books for readers and higher earnings for authors and publishers.

Do you think writers should consider self-publishing?

Because of the costs associated with self-publishing, I think it works best for authors who already have a loyal following. Once a book is published, an author has to devote a lot of time and effort to promotion. That’s where a publisher comes in. The more help they can give with advertising, interviews, reviews, etc…the more time an author has to write the next book.
Then there’s the issue of editing. A reputable publisher provides this service. And, let’s face it, even the best writer needs another set of eyes when it comes to polishing their work. An author who self-publishes must decide whether to hire an editor—which is more money out of pocket—or not. Unfortunately, many of them choose not to and the quality of their book suffers for it.

How do you feel about so many bookstores closing across the US?

It’s a direct result of the trend toward digital publication. And, sad to say, it’s likely to get worse. The same goes for public libraries. It won’t happen overnight but as more and more books become available electronically, the less there will be a need for brick and mortar structures.

I once dreamed of having an English library. You know, with dark paneled walls and floor to ceilin shelves you have to access with a rolling ladder. Today I have that library but it exists on the internet and in the memory of the laptop on which I am currently typing. Anything I want to know, all the information in the world, is literally at my fingertips.

Are your books available in print or in digital format?

BLIND FORTUNE is available in print and all forms of digital format. It can be purchased on the Ellora’s Cave website, at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc…

What advice do you think aspiring authors should heed today?

It’s okay to follow the trends, but write what’s in your heart. You will find a home for the book if you work hard enough. I’ve watched so many authors bounce around genres trying to find the magic bullet to success until they’re so discouraged they just give up. Write what pleases you as a reader.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing a Regency paranormal set in 1816 along the border between England and Scotland. My hero accidentally sets loose a 6th century pagan king from a well. The spirit follows him home and starts wreaking havoc with the heroine.

Do you read when you are plotting or writing a story?

Absolutely. A lot of authors claim that reading their genre while working on a book interferes with their voice and creativity. I find just the opposite. If I’m stuck, I can get the juices flowing by reading my favorite Regency authors. They reenergize me.

What book inspired you to write romance (or whatever genre you write in)?

My mother belonged to Book of the Month Club and I grew up reading the likes of Mary Stewart and Daphne du Maurier. By junior high I was sneaking into the grown up section of the public library. I couldn’t borrow the books so I’d sit and read all day, every Saturday. When I was in grade school, our local Kroger store had a special promotion on YA biographies of famous Americans—George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton. Every week, mom added another book to my library. Through those biographies I fell in love with American history. But it was when Disney introduced the Swamp Fox series on its weekly television show that I got hooked on the American Revolution. And because America’s history is tied closely to Britain’s, my interest gravitated toward English history. I fell in love with the Regency which I discovered Georgette Heyer.

How do you juggle work, writing, chores and family/personal life? Do you have a secret to time management that you want to share with readers?

I’m retired so my time is my own. None of my family lives close by, but I do have friends — most of them retired as well — that I stay in touch with. I really sympathize with young writers. They have day jobs and families and all kinds of pressures on their time. Especially women. Their writing often has to be put on the back burner for several years. My advice is to hang in there. If writing is an integral part of you, you will find a way.

Do you have a ritual that you follow when it comes to writing?

I’m up every day by 7AM. I make a pot of coffee and, mug in hand, go over my email and work on Facebook, my blog, my website and book promotion. By 8AM I’m ready to get down to work. I write until 1-2PM, at which time I break for the day. I live alone and maintain my own home so there’s lots of chores! After dinner, I curl up with a book and read until bedtime unless I’m getting together with family or friends. It isn’t uncommon for me to go a whole week without leaving the house. Just as I did when I was a child, I have a habit of getting lost in my own world.

Where do you see yourself, careerwise, in 5 years time?

God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be right here doing what I’m doing. As far as I’m concerned, it don’t get any better than this!

What's your website URL?

http://www.JoannaWaugh.com

Are you on Facebook?

https://www.facebook.com/JoannaWaugh.Author

I also have a fan page at
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Joanna-Waugh/61580545752

How do you connect with readers?

I stay in touch mostly via Facebook. It’s a wonderful medium! I also belong to several yahoo groups. My website is a treasure trove of Regency research links and information which keeps me connected with readers as well.

About Joanna:

Joanna Waugh lives near the Indiana Dunes on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. When not writing, she collects Russian nesting dolls and antique nautical prints.


About BLIND FORTUNE:

They say love is blind, but Lady Fortuna Morley doesn’t believe it. Sightless since birth, she can think of only one reason a gentleman would wed her—for the dowry and three thousand a year her father will provide. She’s in London the spring of 1814 to launch her younger cousin into society, but prefers living quietly in the country with her music. The last thing Fortuna wishes is to cross swords with the arrogant Marquess of Granville.

Charles Lowden, Lord Granville, has decided to take a wife. The bride he’s chosen is thirteen years his junior, but meets all criteria. What he won’t abide is interference from the girl’s impertinent cousin, the outspoken and opinionated Lady Fortuna Morley. The woman is determined to thwart the match. Charles is just as determined to charm Fortuna out of her disdain for him.

What neither expects in the ensuing battle of wills is to fall in love.




~ Natalie ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love.

Monday, February 06, 2012

KICK START MONDAY: Contests & More - with DIANNE HARTSOCK

Today, I welcome the beautiful Dianne Hartsock to Kick Start Monday. The lady has an amazing smile, don't you think? It's such a pleasure to have her! Dianne navigates the challenging world of a female who writes m/m romance. She will make you laugh and nod your head in understanding in one fell swoop... you'll see what I'm talking about when you read her blog post below :). Of course, don't forget to look out for the contest - Kick Start Monday is always the day for fantastic giveaways!


Dianne lives in the beautiful Willamette Valley of Oregon with her incredibly patient husband, who puts up with the endless hours she spends hunched over the keyboard letting her characters play.

Currently, Dianne works as a floral designer in a locally-owned gift shop. Which she says is the perfect job for her. When not writing, she can express herself through the rich colors and textures of flowers and foliage.

I let Dianne do the "writing" now...

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Good morning, Natalie!

Thank you so much for having me on you lovely site today. Hello everyone! *hugs* I’d like to kick-start your Monday by sharing the importance of researching a story. Being a happily married, mostly straight woman, I run into my share of challenges writing m/m erotic romances. But one of my more interesting hurdles was that phenomenon known as kissing. Think about it! That mouth that only half an hour ago was chewing on a medium rare steak now wants to attach to yours and thrust a wine flavored tongue down your throat. How can that in any way be appealing? Yet somehow it is!

Then there’s that bristly stubble. Last summer my brother and his partner spent a week with us, and being on vacation, neither shaved. I was intrigued! What would it be like for a man to kiss another man with five o’clock shadow? Would it bother him as much as it does me?

Yes, it was time for research, something every writer has to indulge in now and again. Unfortunately, being married like I am, there was only one man I could experiment on and not get into a world of hurt. I started with him clean shaven. Yumm… My husband’s lips are deliciously soft right after he shaves. I touched my tongue to his top lip. What was the texture like? Was it warm or cold?

I nibbled the fuller bottom one. What was the difference between them? I slipped my tongue into the sweetness behind them. How could I describe the electric current that flashed through me all the way down to my toes when our tongues met? How long would I be able to tease him before he rolled me under him and had his way?

I tried the procedure again when his stubble grew. When did it start to feel like sandpaper against my skin? At what point did it change to a soft down, erotically ticklish? Did my readers even care?

You see, to make a story sound authentic, sometimes the research has to be painstaking and intensive, going back to the start over and over until you can draw the reader into the scene with you, experiencing the amazing sensations right along with the characters.

Which brings me to my contest for the day! My m/m romances are full of beautiful men and fabulous kissing. I’m offering a PDF copy of the third story in my ‘Shelton’ series to a commenter who tells me, not their most romantic kiss, but the worst kiss they’ve ever experienced! The worst kiss I’ve ever had, unfortunately, was my very first one. It took place in the backseat of a friend’s car by a man I’d just met. He was drunk off his butt and tasted of sour beer. I still shudder when I think of it.

CONTEST: So what’s your story? Tell me for a chance to win an e-copy of Shelton's Choice, and happy Monday!

Dianne Hartsock
Blog: http://diannehartsock.wordpress.com/
FB: http://www.facebook.com/diannehartsock
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/diannehartsock
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4850270.Dianne_Hartsock


Shelton’s Choice

Published by Breathless Press: http://www.breathlesspress.com/sheltons-choice

After a year of bliss with Nevil, Shelton is offered the promotion he's been working toward at the bank. Unfortunately the new position is in another state, and Nevil doesn't want to move. As tension mounts between them, Shelton is given another challenge in the form of a besotted coworker. Torn between the pressures at work and at home, Shelton has to choose his future. That is, until Nevil takes the decision out of his hands.

Excerpt:

"Have you told him yet?"

"Hmm?” Shelton murmured, reluctant to put down the book he was reading. Only a few pages remained to the thriller, and he still hadn't a clue as to who the killer would turn out to be.
"Have you told your tall, dark, and wickedly handsome boyfriend that you're leaving?"

Shelton shot the man at his elbow an irritated glance. "What do you want, Ted?" He noticed the coffee shop was filling up and hoped his coworker wouldn't take the vacant chair at his table.

Ted Pringle was personable enough, even attractive in a light blond, pansy blue-eyed way. He was also a gossip though and lived to stir up trouble in and out of the office.

Ted threw up his hands. "Hey, I was only asking! We go in a few months and—"

"Leave me alone." Shelton turned back to the book, skimming the page to find his place. Ted touched his arm, and Shelton spun on him but swallowed his angry words. Ted's attention wasn't on him. The man looked across the room, a smile of triumph on his lips.

Shelton followed his gaze and his heart jumped then settled into a delighted patter. Nevil stood in the doorway of the coffee shop, scanning the tables with his beautiful turquoise eyes.

Wickedly handsome? Damn right he was. Even after a year together, Nevil's smile still had the power to melt his bones and leave him weak with want.

He waved the book as Nevil spotted him. A curious look passed over Nevil's face as he approached the table, and Shelton remembered Ted's hand on his arm. He pulled free, and Ted chuckled, his breath warm in Shelton's ear as he bent down, whispering, "Don't forget to tell him."

Shelton growled, then forgot all about Ted as Nevil, his eyes dancing with mischief, stopped at the table.

"What are you doing here? Sit down," Shelton babbled, feeling the warmth of a blush in his cheeks as Nevil glanced at Ted's retreating back.

"Okay, but only for a minute. I have a surprise for you, and I've already wasted enough time finding you. Off work early?" Nevil took the empty chair at Shelton's nod and leaned across the table. A teasing smile covered his face. "I may have to blindfold you."

Heat swept through Shelton at the ardent look in Nevil's eyes. God, he wanted Nevil to take him right there at the table. He agonized under the constraint of public opinion that kept him from kissing Nevil's smiling lips.

Nevil settled back into his chair. "Who was that?" he asked, nodding into the crowd at the coffee bar.

"Just that annoying prick from Accounts I told you about."

"Gossiping Ted? What did he say? I wanted to smack his pretty face for standing so close to you."

"I'm sure he wanted to make you jealous as if he ever could. So, about this blindfold…"

Nevil smiled and licked his lips, his look provocative. "You'll see," he teased and rose to his feet. "Come on, love, before I change my mind."

Shelton hurried after him as Nevil wove his way through the boisterous lunch crowd to the front entrance. His heart fluttered when Nevil opened the door of the car for him and kissed his cheek as he climbed into the Prius at the curb. Nevil rarely displayed his affection in public, a sure sign he felt as aroused as Shelton. Shelton remained silent as Nevil drove through the afternoon traffic, his body tingling in anticipation of their lovemaking.

"What about this blindfold?" he asked, becoming slightly breathless at the thought. Nevil could be so creative.

"That's for later, my dear, when I have you alone and enthralled."

Shelton snorted and enjoyed Nevil's easy laughter. Grateful to be Nevil's friend as well as his lover, Shelton's spirits soared. His days were filled with laughter and comradeship. He thrust Ted's stinging reminder from his mind. He'd keep that discussion for another day and take this precious time with Nevil.

He sat up in the bucket seat as Nevil skirted the city and took one of the smaller highways toward the mountains. "Where are we going?"

"You'll see. We put the last nail in Bill Stanton's place this morning, two weeks ahead of schedule, and Barker gave us the weekend off, with a bonus." Nevil patted his pocket.

"It's only Thursday."

Nevil waved it off. "I'm sure you'll come down with a cold or something by morning. Live a little, Shelton! The bank won't fall apart without you tomorrow. I want to celebrate."

Shelton leaned back in his seat. Who was he to argue, especially when Nevil's gaze raked over him with the promise of passion in his beautiful eyes? The highway ascended steadily up into the mountains and Nevil turned off along a narrow road, then onto a private driveway. Shelton whistled appreciatively when they pulled up to a modern glass and redwood sided bungalow snug against the lake.

"It's beautiful," he said in admiration, recalling the blueprints for the house on Nevil's desk last winter.

"The Gordans haven't moved in yet and lent it to me for the weekend."

"But why?"

Nevil turned off the engine and moved closer to Shelton. "I told them it was my first-year anniversary with the man I love."

Shelton reached out and cupped the back of Nevil's head, pulling him closer for a kiss. So delicious. He never tired of the taste of this man in his arms. Nevil pressed against him, and the heat of his body ignited Shelton, the scent of Nevil's skin filling him with the longing to run his tongue over every inch of Nevil’s body.


~ Natalie ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love.