Friday, July 30, 2010

Bitches Be Crazy

Meg Benjamin's post this week, Ugly Guys Need Not Apply, has gotten me thinking about our requirements for a heroine. There is much greater latitude in what is acceptable not only in appearance, but in personality. Heroines can be older, younger, curvier, skinnier... as well as being needy, whiny, and TSTL (too stupid to live). But I've rarely seen a romance novel leading lady who was a bitch for part of the story. In urban fantasy, sure, but romance? I can't think of one.

In "classic" romance, the man can be a total jackass, taking advantage of the heroine, treating her like garbage, and somehow redeeming himself. Even the super-Alpha-males of modern romance can get away with some pretty awful behavior, but as long as he makes up for it, all seems to be forgiven. In general, the horrible relationship mistakes made by the heroines are mild. But why?

One possibility is gender profiling. In our society, women may have power, yes, but as soon as they develop a no-crap-taken mindset, they are denigrated and often labeled as being too masculine for their own good. The way our media portrays powerful women usually perpetuates this stereotype by characterizing them as man-haters or too independent to need or want a man--which is considered a negative trait.

Another possibility is that romance readers prefer the weaker, needier heroine because part of the genre's allure is seeing the big, strong hero save her. Whether it is from evil super-soldiers or an abusive step-father, this trope is appealing. We read fiction to escape, to vicariously live our fantasies. But just because a woman is strong, just because she was a bitch for part of the story, does not mean she's any less deserving of a happy ending.

Have you read any books with atypically bold heroines? And what is your least favorite heroine characteristic?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - Facts about Sex

1. During 30 minutes of active sex, the average person burns approximately 200 calories.

2. Having sex at least once per week can lower a man’s risk of heart disease by 30%, stroke by 50%, and diabetes by 40%. It has also been shown that men with an active sex life are more likely to live past 80 years. (Are you reading this, honey?)

3. Sex Relieves Stress. A big health benefit of sex is lower blood pressure and overall stress reduction, according to researchers from Scotland

4. Sex Boosts Immunity. Good sexual health may mean better physical health. Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections.

5. Sex Reduces Pain. As the hormone oxytocin surges, endorphins increase, and pain declines. So if your headache, arthritis pain, or PMS symptoms seem to improve after sex, you can thank those higher oxytocin levels.

6. Sex Reduces Prostate Cancer. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that frequent ejaculations, 21 or more a month, were linked to lower prostate cancer risk in older men, as well, compared with less frequent ejaculations of four to seven monthly. (Are you reading this honey?)

7. Sex Helps You Sleep Better. The oxytocin released during orgasm also promotes sleep, according to research. And getting enough sleep has been linked with a host of other good things, such as maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure.

8. The average size of an erect penis measures between 5 and 6 inches, while the average size of a flaccid penis is about 3.5 inches.

9. Use of the condom was first noted in published literature in the early 1500s. The device was originally made of linen, and historians believe the legendary lover Casanova used linen condoms.

10. Just a decade ago, only 25% of women reported experiencing orgasm as a result of intercourse. In recent years, this number has risen to about 45%. In contrast, over 80% of women report experiencing orgasm though oral sex.

11. The vibrator, a common sex toy for women, was originally designed in the nineteenth century as a medication to combat the anxiety-related symptoms of “hysteria” (now known as menstruation).

12. Approximately 70% of people in the U.S. admit to fantasizing about group sex at some point in their life, and more than 50% of those people actually follow through.

13. Many of the ingredients in chocolate are proven to cause arousal similar in effect to sexual foreplay. In fact, some experts believe chocolate may be even more effective than foreplay for sexual arousal.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

All Carrots are the Same in the Dark

Like that title? It’s a line of dialogue I “borrowed” from a German soap and “repurposed”. Two practices I'm very much in favor of. Words are meant to be played with, after all. They're meant to be strung together like Pop-It Beads, taken apart and used again. However, there are times when our glib reusing of words goes a little too far.
I recently read the second book in a new erotic/paranormal/LGBT series—and lord knows we don't have enough of them, IMO. I thought it showed promise. Now, I’m not so sure. Book 2 featured a sizable subplot involving the main characters from Book 1. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, in fact it’s one of my favorite things about writing series, the chance to go back and revisit couples whose HEAs are still WIP.
Since, as I mentioned, this is an erotic series, I can especially understand why the author might have felt the need to bring in additional characters. For reasons which I can’t go into without giving away too much of the story, the main characters in Book 2 really can't get together until close to the end of the book. Obviously, she had to show somebody having sex during the first 7/8s of the book—right? And, yeah. Been there, done that too.

However, I'm really kind of fuming at this point because as I was reading the final love scene between the subplot characters it began to sound familiar. Really familiar. Almost as though I’d read this same, exact scene somewhere before…
I know what some of you are probably thinking, at this point. Aren’t most sex scenes simply replays of other scenes you’ve read or written or watched before? Isn’t it all just a matter of sticking Tab A into Slot B?  Or, in other words, aren’t all carrots the same in the dark?
See what I just did? See how I changed that same string of words from dialogue to title to cogent point?  Keep that in mind as we go forward.
Let’s get back to the question, whose answer, by the way, is no. I, and most of the authors I know, work really hard to make sure that we don’t just blatantly repeat things; that we make each scene, and each character as unique as possible. We make an ongoing effort not to replay the same relationships in book after book, not to use (or overuse) the same words, to make sure our descriptions are fresh and different and new.
And, yes, part of the reason for that is because we’d be bored out or our minds writing the same story or the same characters or—god forbid—the same sex over and over and over again. But mostly we do it out of respect for the characters, the story, our readers and the craft of writing itself.
But getting back to my story...
At first, I thought it was accidental. Perhaps the author of this once seemingly promising series had  been distracted and didn’t even realize she was using a lot of the same words to describe her characters and their actions. I even tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe she was doing it on purpose (albeit clumsily) to really hammer home the point that these characters were still the same people who’d been having sex in Book 1.
After a couple of pages, however, I realized it was more than that. She'd virtually lifted an entire scene from the first book and dumped it into the second book with only minor changes.  There were identical descriptions, identical bits of dialogue, whole paragraphs that had been copied verbatim. This continued throughout the otherwise decent, fairly lengthy and supposedly pivotal scene.
And, no, in case you’re wondering, this was not a flashback either. That’s something else I’ve done and it’s another practice I favor. Revisiting scenes from previous books, reminding readers about scenes they may have loved reading as much as you loved writing them—that's all good. But this… This was something different. I don’t even know what to call it. Laziness? Carelessness? Egregious disrespect?
Maybe she thought she could get away with it; that we wouldn’t care because it was just sex, and isn’t it all the same anyway? Maybe she was working on a deadline or had a word count she needed to meet and nothing else was coming to mind. Clearly her editor didn’t seem to mind. And, yes, same editor for both books. I checked. I get curious like that!
As a reader, however, it left me feeling frustrated and confused; wondering which scene had been the “real” scene and which was the counterfeit?  It was the literary equivalent of breaking the fourth wall, or like cutting the strings that had kept my disbelief suspended. I could no longer think of those characters as even the tiniest bit real or view their relationship as anything like authentic.

I feel as though I've been cheated out of something that could have been wonderful. And I think  the author cheated herself as well. I'm sure I'll approach every new book she writes with trepidation (if at all) wondering when’s the next time the fictional world she's created—with no small amount of skill, incidentally—will suddenly, and for no good reason, come crashing down around me.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guest Blogger Victoria Allen - Live In Critique Partners

My husband and I are in the process of moving to a new home. So what does that have to do with writing? In this case, a lot, at least for me. We’re not just moving into a single house by ourselves, but into a large home with our eldest son and his family. While the blending of three generations is going to be an adjustment, what I’m most looking forward to is having live-in critique partners. You see, my son and his wife are both writers. My d-i-l has a poetry blog and has had some articles and stories published, plus has worked as an editor for several children’s books through a local publisher and has a degree in creative writing. My son has three on-line cartoons plus a website called “Gloaming Gap” where we write “twitter” serial paranormal stories. Plus he has a background in editing. Both are extremely literary.

I can’t wait. We’ve often held lengthy discussions about writing. Brainstormed different ideas for books and stories. Critiqued and edited each other’s works. And collaborated on stories. Now, instead of having to wait for them to be online or calling or otherwise trying to get in touch with each other about a writing issue, we will now be under the same roof (okay, in separate areas, but still under the same roof!).

Yes, there are going to be a lot of issues with the upcoming move and we are working through “rules” and privacy and all the things that go with such a big change, but all of us are looking forward to being able to work closely with other writers who “get” it.

Oh, and one of the issues we’re dealing with is what will be our collective library. Because we are also voracious readers (plus I work at a new/used bookstore!). We are trying to figure out where in the new house, all those books will go! (Which is doubly funny since I swore off buying any more books until after the move, and then promptly broke my rule buy purchasing two books yesterday – one of the hazards of working at a bookstore!)

And while all this is going on, my editors at Captiva Press (who are being extremely patient) are working on my next story that will be coming out. So my next month is completely filled with moving, editing, deadlines, and still finding time to work on new stories. My current story, “The Chosen” will shortly have both a prequel (Heartmates) and a sequel (Building Love). All three are erotic short stories. Keep an eye on Captiva for them and more.

Never a dull moment.

If you’ve a mind, check out our websites: – if you like your fantasy warm – if you like it steaming hot – paranormal short stories for the twitter in all of us – for a funny online weekly comic

Vicky Burkholder has twenty years experience as a writer and editor (actually, more than that, but that would be giving away her age.). As such, she has worked for magazines, newspapers, government organizations, epublishers, and private clients. Her editing experience includes the editing of forty-three novels, more than two hundred technical manuals, and as an award winning newsletter editor for the local Romance Writers of America group.

Her own writing spans the fantasy, science fiction, paranormal and romance lines (in addition to boring policy and procedures manuals for private and government organizations) as well as articles for the local newspaper and RWA newsletters. Her fantasy novel, Akashan'te, and futuristic, Prime Time, both recieved four star reviews from Romantic Times Magazine. She writes as both Vicky Burkholder (YA and warm adult novels) and Victoria Allen (erotic works).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ugly Guys Need Not Apply

A couple of years ago, I had a WIP with a tall, skinny hero. The heroine, who wasn’t initially taken with him, said he looked like Ichabod Crane. One beta reader reacted very strongly to that. In fact, she told me flat out that she refused to read a book where the hero was ugly, and she was certain most other romance readers felt exactly the same way.

Now I’m pretty sure I could find books that would refute that idea (think of all those “so ugly he’s handsome” heroes, or the ones with the crooked smiles or the slightly scary demeanor), but it did make me think. Do romance heroes have to be built like Ryan Reynolds with faces to match? How much leeway are we willing to give them before they just won’t work for most readers? And are we more flexible with heroines than with heroes?

For example, I’m always hearing readers say they want plus-size heroines, or at least heroines who aren’t model-slim cover girls. But how do we feel about the slightly overweight hero? Will we give guys as much of a break as we give women, or do we expect them to do a better job of keeping in shape?

What about the hero-as-klutz? The klutzy heroine is well-established, but do we feel the same way about the klutzy hero? Can the hero break things and not be able to fix them? If his car gives out on a back road, can he be clueless or is he expected to whip out that mag wrench and get to work?

And then there’s the whole uncomfortable topic of money. Culturally, we expect men to get out there and make a living. So how do we feel about the hero who’s broke? Or the hero who hasn’t been successful in life? Will we give those guys a chance, or do we want the hero to be the requisite billionaire-in-hiding?

Of course, those of us in the business of creating heroes can always fall back on personal tastes. I’m tall myself, so I have a thing for tall heroes (all the Toleffsons are well over six feet). I’m also not averse to chest hair, so I made the Toleffson brothers semi-hairy (although some readers found that sort of icky). But I admit, my heroes will probably stay tall and ripped (although thinning hair might be a possibility). And although I could do klutziness, I probably couldn’t do a guy who was a complete failure professionally. Personally, I find competence really sexy!

Still, I think it might be interesting to explore some of the pathways we sometimes don’t let heroes trod. I remember a chat with some of the Naughty Nine where we were doing a little brainstorming. In the course of the discussion, someone floated the idea that the hero was a whiz at cards. It struck me then that it might be more interesting if he wasn’t. If, for example, the heroine was very good, but the hero just couldn’t get the hang of it. Of course, Preston Sturges already tried that in his movie The Lady Eve—the results were hilarious (“Oh,” Barbara Stanwyck, the card-sharp, trills, “you do card tricks!”), but not very romantic. Still, it might be fun to try.

So what do you think? Can heroes challenge romance conventions? And how much will we put up with before we decide a guy isn’t a hero after all? Can we have ugly heroes or fat heroes or clumsy heroes or failed heroes? Or do they all have to be perfect guys who fall for the sometimes very imperfect heroine?

Friday, July 23, 2010

How Do You Take Your Reviews?

I don’t write book reviews. As an author, I’m uncomfortable publicly reviewing other authors’ work. But I read a lot of book reviews, and sometimes (depending on the genre and the reviewer), a book review will influence whether I decide to read a book or not.

Romance reviews, and romance review sites, usually come in one of two flavors – sweet or snarky. To name just a few: Romantic Times, Coffee Time Romance, and Bitten By Books are sweet – and by sweet, I don’t necessarily mean that they never give negative reviews, just that their reviews aren’t snarky, sarcastic, or unkind. Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Dear Author, and Mrs. Giggles lean to snark.

I’ve been thinking about the issue lately because a book review panel at RomCon, held in Denver at the beginning of July, generated a lot of talk. You can read Smart Bitch Sarah’s impressions of the panel, and the opinions of the SBTB community, here. (Note: SBTB comment threads, where I hang out a lot, can get very snarky. And funny as hell.)

A lot of authors, and a lot of readers, are uncomfortable with snark. Personally, I love snarky book reviews as long as they’re genuinely funny and stick to the actual story. Other than that, I see no reason why a reviewer shouldn’t write a review in any manner in which s/he sees fit.

Some people in the romance community – both authors and readers – feel that reviewers have an obligation to be considerate of an author’s feelings. As someone at RomCon put it, reviewers should remember that a book is the author’s “baby.” Someone else suggested that every review should include at least one positive comment about a book, because writing a book is hard work, and the author’s efforts should be appreciated.

I couldn’t disagree more. Not about the fact that authors work hard to write their books, of course – most do. (Come on, we all can think of authors who don’t seem to put much effort into their stories, and other authors who seem to write the same damn story over and over, changing only the names and physical descriptions of the characters). But here’s the thing – authors work hard to write their books because that’s their job. An author’s book isn’t a baby – it’s a product, and the author is asking people to spend money on it. People whose hobby or job is to review that product have a right to give their honest opinion about it, and people contemplating purchasing that product have a right to expect honesty in those reviews.

Sometimes a review is badly written. Sometimes a reviewer seems to be reviewing an entirely different book – maybe the book they thought the author should’ve written, instead of the one that was actually published. I’ve actually seen a negative review of a novella based solely on the fact that the book was too…short. Sometimes a reviewer has an axe to grind with the author. This happens a lot when Famous Author A reviews Famous Author B. These reviews are fun to read. I tend not to feel too badly for Famous Authors when they get bad reviews. They’re famous, they’re rich, boo frickety hoo. (That was snarky, wasn’t it?)

Sometimes the reviewer is a failed or frustrated author himself, and the review just seems to ooze with jealousy and bitterness. Sometimes the reviewer is a pretentious twit more intent on demonstrating her own supposed wit and learning than actually discussing the book. This phenomenon is usually found in the New York Times, the Times (of London) Literary Supplement or the Guardian, so it’s not really relevant to romance reviews.

And ultimately, of course, all taste is subjective. No matter how many books Famous Author A sells, or how many Bookers or Pulitzers or Nobel Prizes he’s won, there will be people who think he sucks, just as there are people who don’t like Citizen Kane and others who think Hudson Hawke wasn’t that bad.

None of that matters. A reviewer has an obligation to the people reading her review, but she has none at all to the author. When an author writes a book, she does so – or should do so – in the full knowledge that if it sees the light of publication, anyone who wants to write about it or talk about it or tweet about it is free to do so. It’s very, very scary, and it’s part of the job.

I can understand an author’s dismay when she gets an unfair, ill informed, or dumbass review (several of the NNN’s have suffered this recently). But, again, it’s part of the job. Writing isn’t for sissies. Besides – and I don’t think this is a controversial idea – there are some genuinely awful romance novels out there. There are genuinely awful books in every genre out there, and there always have been. No one expects a reviewer to include at least one positive comment about a mystery if they don’t like it, and no one expects a reviewer to give a spy thriller an A for effort.

I don’t think the “above all, be nice” attitude does the romance genre any favors. Romance already suffers from numerous false stereotypes. Way too many people don’t think romance authors are “real” writers. Suggesting that reviewers should always be considerate of the romance author’s feelings just reinforces that stereotype.

I feel the same way about romance blogs, where the discussions can get heated and the comments downright mean. It’s not pleasant, and I tend to avoid the really nasty threads, but such is life on the Internet. Romance readers are vehement about the books they like and the books they hate, and they have a right to express their opinions however they want.

That’s why I was appalled when Romance Writers of America refused to renew Jane Litte's membership. Jane can be extremely caustic, as anyone who’s followed her #RomFail on Twitter can attest. But RWA’s excommunication looked prissy and petty, and it reinforced the author-as-diva stereotype of romance writers. I was even more appalled at the readers who approved of RWA’s action. Whether you like Jane’s style or not, she’s a passionate and articulate defender and promoter of the romance genre. She gives a lot of valuable exposure to authors, and the Dear Author commenters buy a lot of books. Kicking her out because sometimes she’s “mean” is absurd.

One of the commenters on the SBTB thread quoted above said, “I can’t believe that in 2010 women are still trying to shame and manipulate each other with “nice”. It holds back the genre, and frankly it holds us back as people. Instead of “nice” let’s try “honest” for a while and see where that gets us.”

I think it's a good idea. What do you think?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Edge Explains the Afterlife

Welcome to the afterlife, where men are men and the angels are fallen...

My newest book, Edge of Heaven released on Tuesday. It's an irreverent look at life...well, after life. And it features two hot guys, stuck in limbo, trying to find a little heaven.

Edge of Heaven can be purchased through Loose Id at:

Here's the blurb:

It was a reckless act of passion that ended Edge’s life and left his soul in limbo—literally. Now, he’s stuck here. While most of the other angels-in-training move quickly up the celestial ladder, Edge knows it can never be that simple for him. He’s dealing with issues that are a lot more complicated than a simple lack of closure.  
While Edge doesn’t know for sure what it will take to get him into heaven, there is one thing he’s certain won’t help—his latest assignment guiding angel-baby Matteo Matinucci while the newbie find his wings.
But twenty-something Mattie—sexy, beautiful, recently departed and openly gay—could turn out to be the answer to all of Edge’s prayers, as well as the fulfillment of all his fantasies, even the hot, sweaty, secret ones he’s never confided to anyone.   
Instead of a traditional excerpt, I thought I'd let Edge explain some facets of life in the afterlife...

How do I describe this place in a way you’ll understand? Being in limbo… Well, it’s a lot like being booked for an indefinite stay at a very exclusive executive retreat. Sure, it’s posh, it’s peaceful, it’s pleasant. It’s just about anything you want it to be, within limits. But there’s a reason why heaven’s called heaven and limbo…is not.
It’s all just a little too bland here, a little too remote. There’s this sense of being isolated, of being out of touch that you never quite get used to. Just like you can never completely lose the feeling that you’ve been cut off from something pretty damn important. Even if you’re not quite certain what that something is.
It might take you a while to notice that last part, though. If you’re a new arrival in limbo, I can guarantee you the first thought in your mind is not gonna be, How can I keep busy? Stay long enough, however, and that’ll change. Time doesn’t exactly pass here in what I like to call never-never land -- it just is. But all the same, with nothing but your own sorry thoughts to occupy your mind, eternity has a way of weighing on your spirits after a while. To say nothing of the way all that peacefulness gets to wearing on your nerves.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of tasks we angels are called upon to perform -- from the very simple, such as finding lost keys or arranging for an open parking space, to the more profound. Keeping vigil in hospitals and at deathbeds. Riding shotgun in emergency vehicles. Providing comfort for the grieving and protection for those in danger.
While we’re generally happy to be of service in any way we can, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some jobs we prefer more than others and some assignments we’d just as soon they give someone else. Pulling the kind of duty I’m stuck with now, just one step removed from babysitting and a big, fat goose egg on the adrenaline-pumping scale -- it irks. I can’t help thinking my talents could be better utilized doing something else, and not to put too fine a point on it or anything, it’s a bit of a time waster. I can’t see how holding the hand of yet another fledgling angel is ever gonna help me move ahead.
Not that there’s anything ordinary about this particular fledgling. He’s like a shiny new penny in a pocketful of change. Bright. Untarnished. Makes me wonder how he ended up in limbo at all.
Angels tend to be pretty easy on the eyes in general, one of the perks, I guess, but even so, this is one good-looking kid. Broad shoulders -- even I can’t help but notice those. He’s slim and fit and decently muscled. He’s got dark blond hair, sun streaked, maybe a little too long, and gold-hued skin with just a dusting of hair along his forearms and on his legs.
Even if the way he’s dressed -- in shorts and a loose tank top, like maybe he just got done playing beach volleyball when he died -- wasn’t a tip-off, I still would’ve known from his skin color alone that he must have spent a good part of his time on Earth outdoors. That healthy a glow was never a gift from the tanning-bed gods.
While we’re on the subject of appearances, let me say something about clothes. We’re angels, all right? We’re not ghosts. We’re not stuck in the same clothes we were wearing when we died. We put on our pants one leg at a time just like anybody else.
When we’re on assignment back on Earth, we dress to fit in. When we’re here, we dress however we like. Usually, that means wearing the kind of clothes we felt most comfortable wearing in life. In my case that’d be jeans, a T-shirt, leather jacket, and a pair of boots -- nicely broken in. But we get all types here, and like I said, no one ever thinks too much about it.
Angels don’t age. Have I mentioned that already?
For the most part, we all look pretty much like we did when we were alive, maybe a little bit better, with any design flaws corrected, any damage repaired. The usual default age for angels is twenty-nine. If you died at fifty, you’ll look twenty-nine here. If you died at ninety, you’ll still look twenty-nine. If you see one of us looking much younger that that, we’re likely here as the result of some kind of tragedy -- accident, misadventure, malfeasance, stupidity.

I can learn everything I need to know in the Hall of Records.
Okay, quit laughing.
Yes, it exists, and yes, that’s its name. There’s a reason clichés become clichés, all right? It’s a place, vaguely hall-like, where the records are kept. What else you gonna call it?
You can find pretty much anything you need to know there, about anyone, alive or dead. But “need to know,” that’s one of the primo criteria for entry. A burning desire for truth and justice will also get you in the door. Idle curiosity won’t.

I have to admit it is an impressive sight -- especially at first glance -- with its vaulted ceiling, its terrazzo floor, the gleaming alabaster shelves, and heavy leather-bound tomes. The atmosphere is hushed, solemn -- a cross between a cathedral, a mausoleum, and that first breathless pause right after a ball is hit so sweetly you just know it’s going to be a home run.
 “Time doesn’t really exist,” I say, cleverly sidestepping the question. “And good and bad -- those are also illusions.”
“I see.” Matt’s brow crinkles up. He looks around curiously. “So what is this place, anyway, Hindu hell?”
“What? Hell? No, it’s not hell, and…why Hindu?”
“Okay, Buddhist maybe. Same basic philosophy, isn’t it? Nothing you see is real. It’s all illusion, and everything’s the same: good and bad, pleasure and pain, action and inaction, blue and green.”
I blink at that last part. Now he’s got my attention. He’s nuts, but he’s got my attention. “Uh…blue and green?”
A smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. “Well, yeah, you know, cause that’s how the world looks, right? From a distance?”
I don’t want to do it, but I can’t help laughing. “Cute, pal. But I’m pretty sure the Divine Miss M’s no Buddhist.”

Let me explain one of the more interesting aspects of existence here. Space in never-never land tends to follow the same laws that govern time. In other words, it doesn’t really exist either. Everything you need is generally right where you need it, which is usually right where you are too. Makes things pretty interesting, upon occasion, particularly when the thing in question is not an it but a who. But that’s beside the point.
The process of getting where you want to go is not quite as automatic as gravity. It requires a certain amount of involvement on your part, but as is the case with many other critical skills -- riding a bike, learning to swim, walking through walls -- it’s not so easy to explain. It’s effortless once you know how to do it, impossible until you do. It’s less click your heels together and wish, more leap and the net will appear.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you there aren’t ghosts. They’re the real lost souls, the ones who never properly recover from the shock of their deaths. They don’t know who or what -- or even where -- they are. They have no hope. That’s the major difference between us and them. No matter how close to impossible our situation may appear to be, everyone here in limbo knows there’s at least a chance we can someday move on. At least, we believe that’s the way things work. How could it not? What kind of benevolent deity would tempt us with the possibility of a heaven that exists forever out of reach?

There’s an ambulance speeding through the streets of Los Angeles. I’m in the back, offering comfort to the worried young mother. She can’t see me, which is the case more often than not. People only see us when we need them to -- which is a lot less often than you might think. You’d be surprised at how much we can accomplish without ever making our presence known.
The reason for our reticence is simple. It’s the message that’s important -- not the messenger. I didn’t always understand that as well as I do now. In the past, I’d have been more focused on me. On what I was going to do next. On how I was going to handle things.
Tonight I realize it’s all about them: the pale redhead with the worried blue eyes and her daughter. The little girl has suffered a seizure brought on by a high fever. She’s unconscious now. Her eyes are closed, and her golden lashes lie too still atop her rosy cheeks. I lay a cool, healing hand on her brow to ease her discomfort. I clasp her mother’s hand and whisper silently, “It will be okay.”
It will always be okay, no matter what. That’s something else I’m finally realizing. Everything -- even this -- is part of some perfect divine plan. We just don’t always see it for what it is.
And yes, I said we. It’s like I keep trying to tell you -- none of us is perfect. None of us knows everything. We’re all just muddling along, doing the best we can.
As soon as we arrive at the hospital in Santa Monica, the little girl is whisked away. Her mother is occupied for a time with filling out forms and answering questions, but then she’s left alone -- with a clipboard and a new set of forms. That’s when the fear really hits her. That’s when I decide to take physical shape. She just needs someone to talk to -- a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on. She just needs to know she’s not alone. It’s the same thing we all need, really.

This place -- limbo -- it means borderland. The ancients believed it existed on the outskirts of hell. Personally, I always thought they’d got that wrong. I figured it for the edge of heaven instead. Right now I’m kind of rethinking my stand on the subject.
The never-never land might not actually be heaven, but it sure isn’t the other place either. But if I have to spend an eternity staring into Mattie’s trusting brown eyes, knowing all the while that I’ve betrayed him and don’t deserve his trust…I guess I might just as well be in hell after all.

Mattie’s eyes light up when he sees me. “You’re back.”
He’s still in our room, right where I left him, making me wonder again about the passage of time here. To me, it feels like I’ve been gone for most of a day, maybe longer. Did it seem that long to him too? And has he been lying here, sprawled naked across the bed -- waiting for me -- all the while? Or does it seem to him that only minutes have passed?
I hope it’s the latter, and I hope that when he’s gone and I’m all alone, I’ll still be able to find my way here if I want to and that the days will feel like minutes and the years will feel like days.
Not that it will matter, I suppose. Because they’ll all add up eventually -- empty and endless -- and the weight will surely crush me.

“I fibbed a little,” I tell him. “When I was talking to them. I let them think you were already up in heaven watching over them all. So unless you want to make a liar out of me, you pretty much have to go now, don’t you?”
“Is that true?” His eyes light up. I think I’ve finally piqued his interest. “I mean what you just said. Could I really do that? I mean if I were in heaven, could I watch over people and see what they’re up to…stuff like that?”
I shrug. “Well, I haven’t been, so I can’t really say for certain, but it’s what I’ve always heard.” The top-echelon angels who pass through here now and then have always implied as much -- the thrones and dominions and whatnot. Of course, that could just apply to them for all I know, and they’re as different from us as the proverbial chalk and cheese.

I avert my eyes as I speak, because I know what happens next -- what always happens when one of us ascends. They glow with an unbearable brightness, so filled with light it hurts to look at them. By the time the light fades and you can see again…they’re gone, leaving nothing behind but a faint scent of roses. I have a strong suspicion I’m going to hate that particular fragrance from now on.
I need to take another deep breath and steel myself before continuing. I’m pleased that my voice remains steady as I say, “It’s been an honor knowing you, Matteo Matinucci, but it’s time for you to move on now, angel. It’s time for you to go home.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I'm a reader, too

Every Wednesday I blog about what I'm reading at my own blog. I don't really review books, just give an impression. If I love the book I will say so, but if I hate it...I won't. This is the "reader" me, but I'm also an author.

Recently the "reader" me has been increasingly frustrated by the publishing industry. Since I bought my Sony Reader, my favourite place to buy books has been the Sony Store. It's just so easy and seamless to buy and download. However, in recent months, every time I go there - the books I want are not available in Canada. Just today I checked to see if newest releases by some of my favourite authors were available (Sweet Temptation by Maya Banks, The Homecoming by JoAnn Ross, Black Magic by Cherry Adair) and also Jennifer Weiner's Fly Away Home - I could not purchase any of these books. So I went to another favourite romance ebook site. Those books aren't even there.

I understand that ebooks retail sites are working with publishers on the agency model issue but in the meantime- as a reader, I'm frustrated.

And then to make things even more frustrating, I resort to going to the brick and mortar bookstore. Don't get me wrong - I love the bookstore. I still like paper books, too, and I will purchase them from time to time because if I don't, there won't be any more bookstores to go sit and drink Starbuck's coffee and peruse books and magazines.

The last three trips to the bookstore I have left empty handed. Me, who used to drop $100 easy every time I went. I wander up and down the aisles and I can't find anything that appeals to me. I've always considered this bookstore to have a great romance section - but man, all there is is freaky deaky sci fi futuristic vampire werewolf stuff. (No offence to my fellow authors who write paranormal, but it's not my first pick to read.) Where's all the straight contemporary, ones with some sexy heat? Where are the romantic suspense (and I mean ROMANTIC suspense, not a book full of shooting and killing and exploding). They don't even have new releases like the ones listed above! The one time I in desperation made a purchase, it was a new-to-me author whose book had gotten a good review at a major review site, and I paid $18 for it - and I hated it. At least with an ebook, the price is generally lower so you can make those risky purchases with...well...less risk.

From an author perspective I've heard the trends - that contemporary romance is in a slump, that romantic suspense is a hard sell to publishers right now. And now as a reader I'm seeing it in the bookstores - there's nothing I want to read.

In tough economic times with large publishers having financial problems - how do they expect to increase sales if readers can't get thier books? Or can't get the books they want to read? I know I'll be getting my books at places like the publishers we all write for here at the Naughty Nine.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Guest Blogger Kaily Hart - How "Safe" Do You Like Your Sex?

My heroines might be many things (misguided, judgmental, sassy, arrogant, demanding, etc.), but they’re never dumb. As such, I find I can’t write a heroine who doesn’t think about practicing safe sex in the context of a contemporary erotic romance. OK, I have written stories where it’s been forgotten in the heat of the moment, but the fact that there’s some level of realization and perhaps apprehension, is still addressing it in an indirect way. Historicals I think can get away with leaving it out entirely, depending on the time period. Paranormals, urban fantasy, even science fiction are also able to avoid it perhaps because certain diseases have been eradicated or the characters are immune or there’s some other unique element that makes it obsolete. In contemporary romance though, it’s pretty hard to ignore, at least for me. If I read a contemporary romance and it’s not mentioned at all, I can’t help think ‘yeah, but what about…’. Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t me preaching anything in my books and the practice of safe sex is not emphasized in my stories at all. In this day and age, ‘taking care of business’ is just part of modern sex. Is it not? Sometimes it’s as basic as ‘he sheathed himself quickly’ or some reference to him taking care of the condom afterwards (while she gets to check out his tight butt LOL). It’s not a big deal and I don’t make it out to be, but I do worry about how this is perceived by readers.
Would the preference be for this to be left out of books completely? It is expected that it be addressed in some fashion? Is it OK if it’s consistent with the story and characters or does it just pull you out of the story too much?
So, tell me. How ‘safe’ do YOU like your sex (in books, of course)?

Picture This
Ellora’s Cave – June 29, 2010

Desperate and young, Jillian Moore did something she knew would one day come back to bite her in the ass. She’d posed nude. For money. Years later, and on the fast track to a successful career, she’s still haunted by her mistake. She can’t help but wonder when her past will catch up with her.
Samuel Steele is not short on female attention, but the women who warm his bed pale in comparison to the fantasy he’s created of the seductive temptress in the painting hanging prominently in his bedroom. A fantasy that has ruined his once satisfying sex life. When he discovers that her exact likeness works in his building—for him—things get…interesting.
Copyright KAILY HART, 2010
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
“Well, thank you for your time and for the information. It was very helpful.”
Jillian put the phone down a little harder than she’d intended. It slammed back into the cradle with a sharp crack that more than matched her mood.
It’d been sold, again, three months earlier. Private auction, anonymous bidder and there was no way for her to find out who’d bought it. All she knew for sure was that it’d been a man. It figured. Damn, she’d been close this time. Not that she would have been able to afford to make even one bid herself. It had opened at fifteen thousand and after some fast and furious bidding had finally gone for a cool seventy-five thousand—dollars. Jeez, she’d probably be paying off her student loans for another twenty years and some guy had dropped seventy-five grand on a picture?
Jillian sighed. She wasn’t even sure what she’d do if she could uncover the identity of the new owner. She’d kept telling herself she’d be able to buy it one day once she got established. She’d planned on it, she’d counted on it. It was why she’d tried her damndest to keep track of it for the past ten years. Her only hope now was that it would sit in some private collection, gathering dust and never see the light of day. Yeah, right. She’d never, ever been that lucky. All those years ago, who would have thought? Deep down though she’d known and it had plagued her ever since. When she least expected it, it was going to come back and bite her on the ass. She just knew it.
* * * * *
“Sam? Man, are you even listening to me?”
Sam couldn’t tear his eyes off her. The dark luster of her hair, the curve of her cheek, something about the shape of her body. It just now occurred to him, but he’d seen her around the building before. He’d noticed her legs he remembered, appreciated the toned lengths, the shapely calves and too easily imagined how they’d look wrapped around his waist or up around her ears. And her mouth. God, the things he’d thought about her mouth.
How could I have forgotten that?
As soon as the thought formed he knew the answer. He had a strict hands-off rule at work that he’d never broken, not even in his head. Until her. He’d made himself forget.
He watched her mouth curve into a smile and his dick twitched in immediate response. Something flared low and sharp in his gut. It was a sensation he didn’t think he’d ever felt before, at least without some form of specific and intentional stimulation.
“Who’s that?” he demanded.
He heard rather than saw Duncan’s puzzlement. He motioned across the expanse of the elegant lobby. “The woman there. Slim, dark hair, black suit. Talking to the blonde.”
“I thought you didn’t fuck around with the staff?”
Sam’s balls tightened in a rush. The explicit image he got was shocking. Not just because it was of her—on her knees in front of him while he fucked her from behind—but because he hadn’t been able to censor it, or control his body’s reaction to it. Sam shot him a glare. He was in no mood to be trifled with.
Duncan cleared his throat. “Ah, sorry, I think her name’s Jennifer, something like that. She works in Finance. Or maybe it’s Legal.”
“Jillian?” he managed to choke out. “Could her name be Jillian?”
“I…maybe. Why?”
“Last time I checked you were head of Human Resources, Duncan.”
“Jesus, Sam, we have over four thousand employees, two thousand in this building alone. I can’t personally keep track of all of them. I haven’t worked with her directly. She’s probably—”
“Find out. I want her file on my desk in ten minutes.”
“What’s got into you?”
Sam took a deep breath. “Schedule a meeting with her.”
“A meeting?”
“Yeah, with me.”
“You don’t know where she works or what she does in your company, but you want a meeting with her? Why?”
Sam felt the impatience he’d tried to contain roar through him. He wasn’t used to having his orders questioned and he sure as hell wasn’t used to explaining himself to anyone.
“Because I’m the fucking boss and I said so.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

Into The Woods

I love camping. Always have, from the time I was a kid tent-camping with my family. Our favorite family vacation was boat-camping in the San Juan islands, when we'd stuff everything we needed in our little 15-foot open bow boat and head out to an itty-bitty island that barely made the maps, which consisted of two campsites, two pit toilets, and a bunch of trails to explore.

Today, I camp with my own family, though we don't rough it quite so much. Our pop up trailer has all the comforts of home, after a fashion, including light and heat and refrigeration and heated mattresses. (Okay, that would be *more* than the comforts of home, since I don't have a heated mattress.)

I'm a fan of hotels, too, and private bathrooms and room service and not having sand everywhere despite my best efforts. But there's something about camping that seems to bring us together in a really cool way. We spend time together without electronics to take attention away. We hike and explore and take pictures and goof around. And we find common ground, which is so important as the kids get older. Last year, we were sitting in our pop-up late one evening, all of us reading, the heater keeping the night chill at bay. It was one of my favorite memories from the summer.

So I'm off to finish packing. Wish me luck!

Do you have a favorite summer activity or family vacation memory? When it comes to going on holiday, do you prefer roughing it, pampering yourself, or something in between?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Christmas in July

Several of us were hanging out at the NNN virtual hot tub the other evening...

...drinking wine, as we're sometimes wont to do, when the talk turned to Christmas gifts--what we'd each like to receive, what we'd like to give each other, you get the idea. But then that darn waiter of ours came by with another round and distracted us...

...and now we can't remember which gift was for which author. But perhaps you can help. Just match these five bottles of wine to these authors: Meg Benjamin, PG Forte, Kinsey Holley, Kelly Jamieson, Skylar Kade. Then send us your answers at:

The winner will get to choose a book from either Kelly's or PG's backlist or a print copy of one of the first two books in Meg's Konigsburg series, Venus in Blue Jeans or Wedding Bell Blues.

Good luck and Merry Christmas!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

My mom is mentioned on Twitter...

and she's thrilled! :) Seriously, she wants to know every time someone says something. The reason for this 15 minutes of fame is that she accompanied me to Rom Con. As did my daughter. They laughingly referred to themselves as my entourage… and they were awesome! They hung out, put up with me, encouraged me, and told everyone they met about me! In fact, my mom was in a fan chat with Julia Quinn and ended up passing my bookmarks out to the entire room! (sorry, Julia!) At the book signing I had—not exaggerating—six people say “oh, I met your mom this morning!” LOL My mom is, needless to say, an extrovert who is an avid romance fan and was on cloud 9. It was great.

Then there was my daughter, Finicky. She came into this for three reasons: 1. four days without her brother 2. a chance to see the mountains 3. the Hard Rock Café. She left having decided that romance isn’t all bad—especially when they write about fairies, wizards and shape-shifters. She met tons of authors and asked them all lots of questions, loved the book store and… okay, the Hard Rock and the mountains were still pretty great for her!

Here are the other things I loved about Rom Con!

Top 10 Things I Loved About Rom Con

1. Having readers come up and love on me! Seriously, OMG…
2. Meeting my editor Lindsey and brainstorming!
3. Meeting Meg Benjamin (I’ve only ever met two of the Naughty Nine in person—Kate Davies and Meg—but I feel like I’ve been friends with them all for years! :))
4. Having Wonder Mom and Finicky with me
5. Confirmation that my crazy-writer-ways are not that crazy (at least not with this crowd)
6. That I was at the first ever event!
7. Being able to follow every single post on a Twitter thread and for once know what all referred to *G*
8. Confirming that I write for the best publisher around
9. Meeting Ashleigh Raine, Tina Trevaskis, Crissy Brashear, Carolyn Crane, Leanne Banks, Melissa Mayhue, and on and on and on…
10. Sitting next to Julia Quinn when someone told her they’d never read any of her books… then being able to tell her I’ve read every one of them three times *G*

This is actually my third romance conference but my first as a published writer… and I’m hooked! Now I just have to get the rest of the Naughty Nine to one conference all at once and people will be Twittering about that for weeks!

oh, and did I mention I have a cover for my upcoming release (September)??? No? Well, here take a look...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - Thirteen Greatest Love Songs You’ve Never Heard Of

I love Americana music, which is big in Texas and a few other places but not exactly a sensation across the nation. One of the things I love about it is its eclectic nature. So, here are some love songs with videos that you’ve probably never heard of but might like to hear.

1. Moment Of Forever. Kris Kristofferson from a great “lost” album of the same name. His voice is pretty much gone, but listen to the words.

2. Lovin’ You Again. Emmylou Harris. A heartbreaking song about a woman who’s about to take her worthless lover back again even though she knows it won’t last and he won’t clean up his act.

3. Goodnight Moon. Jack Ingram. Lovely melancholy road song.

4. Melinda. James McMurtry. Not somebody you’d think of as singing love songs, but a great, rocking anthem with the usual fantastic guitar work

5. Smarter Than the Devil. Trish Murphy. “You’re smarter than the devil, you’re the devil in me.” Yowza!

6. I Never Cared For You. Willie Nelson. Willie’s got lots of love songs, but I wanted one you’d never heard of, so here’s an odd little gem from Teatro. There’s a long intro, that’s actually a separate cut on the album. Emmylou sings backup.

7. Cornbread. Band of Heathens. Okay, your obligatory double entendre song. Believe me you’ll be howling by the end. Plus Band of Heathens has three, (count ‘em, three) hot lead singers.

8. Don’t Take It For Granted. The Belleville Outfit. Typical tricky rhythm and fantastic instrumentals from this little-known group that ought to be a sensation by now.

9. Sea of Heartbreak. Roseanne Cash. An old song, wonderfully done. Bruce Springsteen sings harmony.

10. Dancing Barefoot. Alison Moorer does Patti Smith. Hypnotic and gorgeous.

11. All Just To Get To You. Joe Ely rocks. If you listen carefully on the original, you can hear Bruce Springsteen on backup. Here Joe’s accompanied by Joel Guzman, accordionist extraordinaire.

12. Sparkle and Shine. Steve Earle. Surprisingly sweet song from someone who's usually a lot crankier.

13. Not Enough. Emmylou Harris. Another heartbreaker from Emmylou, a woman bidding farewell to her dead lover. If your eyes don’t mist up, you’re not listening.

And now the songs I wanted to include but couldn’t find on YouTube—all can be found on Amazon and/or iTunes: Robert Earl Keen, “Still Without You,” Trish Murphy, “Blue Tattoo,” Terri Hendrix, “Long Ride Home,” Steve Earle, “I Remember You,” James McMurtry, “Dusty Pages,” Lyle Lovett, "Walk Through the Bottomland."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What are you watching?

The one thing about summer that drives me crazy, aside from bugs (and the earwigs this year are insane) is that I don't get to watch my favorite shows. No Glee, House, Smallville, Grey's Anatomy, Lost (whimper).

But something that makes it a little more bearable is Big Brother. Reality shows aren't usually my thing, but with the exception of the very first season, I've watched Big Brother every summer. It appeals to my inner drama queen and leaves me eager for Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings. The Stud (a.k.a my husband) and I watch it together and laugh at things like Meow-Meow. You'd have to be watching this season to get it. :) Unfortunately the Stud broke two ribs last week working on our deck, so I can't even mock any of the houseguests (Meow-Meow, seriously?) or he starts to laugh and ends up hurting himself.

So what about you guys? Any other Big Brother fans out there or other favorites shows you love that are only on this time of year? Or if you're not watching tv much, what are you reading? I'm always looking to add to my TBR.

And just to keep things interesting, leave a comment by Friday, July 16th, and I'll enter you to win an ebook from my backlist.

**Congrats to Loretta! You won the download from my backlist. E-mail me at sydneyATsydneysomersDOTcom to claim your prize. Thanks to everyone who entered. Loved reading all the comments.