Saturday, July 31, 2010

The BIG Awards Ceremony!

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

Tonight's the night! Saturday night of RWA's National Conference is the BIG awards ceremony! This is the ceremony where romance writers honor their own with the Rita and Golden Heart awards, our industry's equivalent of the Oscars, Emmys, or Grammys.

As you know, the Banditas were all finalists in the 2006 Golden Heart contest. That is where we "found" each other, and so this award has a very special place in all our hearts! In case you didn't know, the Golden Heart contest recognizes outstanding unpublished romance manuscripts in ten different categories. Up to 1200 entries are judged by members of RWA and are narrowed down to around 100 finalists. Editors from acquiring romance publishers judge the final round, and winners receive a beautiful pendant.

This year, our Bandita KJ Howe is a finalist in the Contemporary Series Suspense/Adventure category. KJ is a fantastic writer and we are all pulling for her to be the BIG WINNER in her category tonight!

Did you know the Rita award was named for RWA's first president Rita Clay Estrada? (Be sure to file that away for future trivia contests.) This award is for outstanding published romance novels and novellas and the contest has twelve categories. Once again, approximately 1200 entries are narrowed by judges to about 100 finalists. Winners receive a beautiful statuette much like an Oscar or Emmy.

This year A Not-So-Perfect Past by our Bandita Beth Andrews is a Rita finalist in the Contemporary Series Romance category. So many of us Banditas and BBs LOVED Nina and Dillon's story and we will all be hoping that our Wonder-Beth will be the first Bandita to bring home the lovely Rita statue!

There are many wonderful writers and books up for Golden Heart and Rita awards this year. By this time tomorrow, it will all be over and the winners will be announced. We'll get to see all the fabulous pictures and share the triumphs. But they are ALL WINNERS just to have been finalists!

Awards are so much fun! We all deserve to win one once in awhile. For instance, Posh, Jo-Mama, and I, along with Lars, Marcus, Zach, and Paolo all deserve a "Holding-Down-The -Fort" award! What about you? What kind of award would you create and who would win it?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Campouts and Sleepovers

by Jo Robertson

My daughter emailed me the other weekend with this note:

Hey, do you wanna know what my kids are doing? Sleeping on the trampoline!! I remember how FUN that was as a kid. At OTHER people’s houses of course, since we never had one. It was so exciting!

Their cousins are spending the night, for a total of five children, but kids these days have NO idea how to have a sleepover.

Corinna, eleven, said, “Hey Mom. Did you charge the DVD player so we could watch movies?”

I said, “Hell no!” Actually I didn’t say Hell but you get the idea.

I told them they have no idea how to do a camp out. First, they need to get some flashlights and junk food. Then they start telling stories until someone is scared and wants to come in.

This story got me thinking about sleepovers and campouts.

What do you think? Along with 16mm projectors, eight tracks, and dial telephones, have kids lost the simple meaning of camping out and sleeping over at a friend’s?

What’s your favorite campout memory?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Meanwhile, Back at the Lair...

posted by Aunty Cindy, Jo-Mama, and Posh

'Twas the week of RWA National conference and the Lair felt eerily empty with that preternatural quiet that could mean nefarious plots were afoot...


A lone figure descended a back staircase, headed for the kitchen, a full tray in his hands and a look of consternation on his handsome face.

"Sorry, Lars," Paolo said, as he slid the tray of food onto the counter behind a beefy, Scandinavian hunk who was washing pots and pans, "Aunty Cindy turned thumbs down. She said your Swedish surprise is more of a shock, and not in a good way. According to her, the only one who will eat it is Ermingarde the Dragon."

Lars gave a long suffering sigh. "Then why did you bring it back to the kitchen instead of taking it to the dragon's turret?"

"Well, because... er, um, you know..." Red stained Paolo's high cheek bones, lending him an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp.

He was interrupted by Marcus, in full gladitorial regalia, checking in from his security sweep. "You simply must get over your fear of that over-grown lizard, Paolo. Just because she singed your trousers that one time is no excuse. A little mano-a-mano wrestling match with her should do the trick."

As the hapless Paolo choked over the thought of wrestling the dragon, Marcus and Lars exchanged knowing winks over his head.

"I'll take it up there," Marcus conceded with a good-natured shove. "Zach is there right now, mucking out her weir and I'm sure he would welcome the help."

"Zach got left behind too?" Paolo asked, clearly startled that the captain of the hockey hunks was not on vacation with the rest of the staff. "I mean, I understand why I was, since I'm the newest cabana boy, and I heard you gladiators used some kind of lottery system, but..."

"He said something about taking one for the team," Marcus explained, when the beeping of Lars's phone interrupted him.

"It's a text message from Sven," Lars exclaimed. "Bad enough that he left me a fifteen page color-coded flow chart about how to manage his kitchen, but he checks in every two hours." He peered at the screen then chuckled. "He sent a photo. Seems he and the gladiators went to the Magic Kingdom."

Paolo and Marcus leaned in for a look.

"What is that they are holding?" Marcus asked around guffaws.

"Looks like mouse ears," replied an astounded Paolo. "With feathers? Did somebody finally pluck that confounded rooster?"

"Boys!" Posh said sternly, striding into the kitchen sporting a fearsome scowl and snatching the phone from Lars. "It's no good looking at the pictures now. You'll just be even more sullen and sulky than you have been and you'll be even less use in the kitchen, though that's hard to imagine."

Posh gazed at the downcast faces and her expression softened. "We're all completely bummed about being left behind. What we need to do is think of a distraction."

"Distraction?" Paolo asked. "What could make us forget everyone even for a minute?"

"I'm glad you asked," Jo Mama said in her most teacherly voice, entering from the hallway. "I've made up a plan."

Posh arched an eyebrow. "Like a lesson plan?"

"Oh, no!" Aunty Cindy huffed, descending the stairs in a swirling, embroidered dress she picked up on her jaunt to Turkey. (Posh had thought it was a wedding dress for a young woman, but Aunty would neither confirm nor deny.) "I have had quite enough learning for one lifetime, thank you very much. No more lesson plans, Jo Mama!"

Jo held up her hand, commanding silence as all the best teachers do. She pulled a hitherto-unseen chalkboard from the butler's pantry. "Everyone calm down. I've studied our dilemma and, using ratiocination - "

"Lord, there she goes with the big words again." Posh rolled her eyes in an alarming circle.

" - Okay, then, using logic," she shot a sharp look at Posh, "I have discerned the only viable solution to our lack of entertainment - "

"And aching loneliness," Aunty Cindy said, head buried deep in the fridge as she searched for anything edible. "Don't forget the loneliness!"

"That, too," Jo sighed. "I actually thought there would be less drama with everyone gone," she muttered. "Maybe I should have taken a few days off myself."

"Well don't keep us in suspense, Jo Mama," Posh said, pushing Aunty Cindy out of the fridge. "You tell us what the plan is and I'll whip us up some supper. Real supper, not that so-called Swedish surprise."

She began pulling things out of the fridge and Aunty Cindy's eyes widened. "What are you making, Posh?"

"Never you mind, missy. Just listen to Jo Mama and prepare to be dazzled."

"As I was saying," Jo said, a hint of impatience coloring her normally professional delivery, "we need a plan that utilizes the resources we have available."

"You mean them?" Aunty Cindy eyed the boys dubiously.

"Us?" the guys asked, looking just as wary.

"Not them," Posh said, chopping onions and potatoes while a large iron skillet heated on the stove. "Our beloved Bandita Buddies!"

"Exactly," Jo beamed. "Our Buddies. Since we are temporarily without our resident bartenders, 14 of our storytellers and a passel of cabana boys, we need our precious Bandita Buddies to keep our spirits up."

"Meanwhile," Aunty said, flinging her arms about in a (melo)dramatic fashion, "I will lead the boys to the shrine of Mary I had built in the first floor of the cellar. I was so inspired by the Higgins House, built where Mary lived when she was in Ephesus, that I had one built. I'm sure the boys and I can drum up some help from the Blessed Virgin..."

Jo Mama rolled her eyes and Posh smirked. "If Aunty Cindy is the spiritual leader today, you KNOW we're in trouble!"

So, Bandita Buddies, you are ON! We need you desperately. Please tell us about your favorite thing to do when you find yourself suddenly, inexplicably and definitively ALONE.

Can't recall the last time that actually happened? Dream a little dream for us! Books? Bubble baths? Movies where you don't have to share your popcorn? What is your favorite alone-time pursuit? Or would you just like to come hang out with us and see what Posh is cooking? Do tell!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Great Website Tour

by Suzanne

As many of you know I recently sold my book The Surrender Of Lacy Morgan to Ellora's Cave. While waiting for the release date, I'm busy doing things like working on the next book and trying to form a web presence so people will have a place to find out about the book. (My yelling it from the mountain tops aside!)

So I've hired a young IT web designer to develop a webpage for me. She's smart and has a background in both art and design, so I'm looking forward to collaborating with her on this. One of the things she's asked me to do is review other romance authors' websites and see what details I like or want in mine and what font I'd like to showcase in the title and page bullets.

No problem. Right? I'm a woman and a romance reader. I won't mind shopping through the sites.

Do you know how many romance sites there are?!?! I stopped counting at 1500! And I was like in the P's. But undaunted, I started clicking each and everyone open.

Here's what I discovered:

1) There are a multitude of genres and combinations of what authors can write if they choose more than one.

2) Some authors like subtle colors, while others like deep, dark colors and still others choose rather wild, vibrant combinations. (My eyes are not happy with some of the neon color combos!)

3) Some authors have highly professional looking home pages, while others look as if they were done at home with a template from the 80's. And others have fancy gizmos like flash movies and scrolling banners, hearts and flowers.

4) Some work....some don't. Some just plain need to be removed because the host site is no longer in use and the reader can't access the author's webpage at all. (But that'a a whole other discussion.)

So, since many of the Bandits are in Orlando for the National Romance Writer's conference, moi included, I thought I'd keep y'all busy with a little tour to see what sites I found that I thought "worked". Keep in mind the Bandits don't do snark, so no "didn't work" sites are listed...and there have to be 2000 or more sites all together, so I picked only a handful or two to share!

First, let's get my definition of what a good website should do:


So, here's my first example, and it's our Anna Campbell's:
What I like about Anna's is the prominent cover of her newest book, in this case My Reckless Surrender. You don't have to look for what she's selling. She wants you to buy her newest book and features it. Also, the color and style of the site tells you it's historical but with a dark edgy feel. Anna writes Regency noir books. You know what you're getting when you look at this site.

Here's my friend Jane Graves site:
Can you tell what Jane writes from this home page? Yep, contemporary romances. The colors are bold and eye catching, Izzy her cat adds the element of fun you can find in Jane's books. Jane has her name and newest release, Black Ties and Lullabies prominently showcased. And her photo also gives you that friendly, fun and welcoming feel you get from her books. By the way, Jane's site was created and designed by Jane, herself. Not something I'd recommend for the average author to attempt, but Jane has mad computer skills so it works for her.

Next up is our Bandita Joan Kayse:
What is great about Joan's is the banner. Such nice eye candy! You know Joan writes about sexy Romans's and that her website and work are historicals. Since she's waiting for a very smart editor to snatch up her great Roman-era books, this site is important because it advertises Joan and her works to potential editors, agents and future fans!

Here's my critique partner, Jo Davis' site:
Jo currently has two sub genres of romance to advertise. Her website does that successfully. Her name is front and center. You can't miss the books either!  The newest firefighter story, Line Of Fire, is larger than the others, which are flashing slowly beside it. The two on the right are her erotic romantic suspenses, the latest, I Spy A Wicked Sin. And the side columns with the sexy men let you know you're in for a sexy good read should you click on the books and order them.

**A side note here. Please note that while there are lots of great critical reviews for Jo's books, they're on the lower half of the page that you have to scroll down to get to. On my tour I noticed many authors putting these at the top or crowding them into the top sidesbars. Remember Suz's rule #1...SELL THE BOOK. The books should always be first! Rule #4 DON'T HURT MY EYES clutter hurts as much as neon!**

Let's look at Bandita Susan Sey's new site:
First thing you see is it's light and clean feeling. A contemporary font announces it's Susan's site. Her picture is cute and tells you she's fun. Her brand spanking new book, Money, Honey, is right there for the reader to see and who could resist not looking for what story this great cover holds? The critics' comments and reviews are in the lower part of the scroll, (see the above side note). Great job, Susan!

Here's Geri Krotow's site:
I don't personally know Geri and haven't YET read her books. But her site grabbed my attention and I think it really works for her. Why? See the colors and style of her banner? Now look at the colors of the SuperRomance book she has displayed. She took the colors from the book, muted them slightly and inverted them, mirror imaging what she's selling. Her name is very visible, as is her picture, and the font is contemporary. Great marketing. Does it work? I intend to buy this book just from the website!

Bandita Trish Milburn addresses a double genre with her site:
You know Trish writes both contemporary romance and YA romances. She chose to let the browsing reader know this by showing both her adult and YA inner selves on the front page. Her books, The Family Man and Winter Longing, the newest for each subgenre, are on the opening page, not at the top, but not too far down with the scroll! Trish lets her readers know what she's tweeting about in the side bar, but the look and feel of this isn't too cluttered and encourages all her readers to participate in both her subgenres!

**another side note. Clutter. My daughters are artists and one of the things they learned in art classes and design classes was the importance of negative space on both the art piece and the viewer's eyes. You want to focus the viewer on the important parts...the author's name and the book to be purchased. Negative space will help with this. Watch the clutter, folks!**

Diann Mills is another new author to me:
Her site is unique and I think it works because of the theme. There's an oldfashioned map as the background. The personal pictures Diann uses suggests the theme of travel and adventure. Her opening letter and by line talk about adventure. And while her book covers are smaller than those I've shown you on other sites, they're visible at the bottom and it's fun to see them light up as you scroll across them. Think I'll be checking them out, too!

Let's look at Bandita Jeanne Adams updated site:
First, it's beautiful. The colors are bold, the images sexy and those big guns...well, can we say, BOOM any louder? This is romantic supense, and not much black, a color seen on lots of the suspense pages. Nice use of negative space, great showcase of her newest release, Deadly Little Secrets. Jeanne...A+!

Here's a brand new Bandita site:
Inara's debut release Delacroix Academey. The Candidates is a suspenseful YA paranormal book. Doesn't this opening page give you that feeling AND make you want to see what the book and series is all about? I'm betting many a young adult reader and probably their mother will, too! We Bandits can't wait for THIS book to hit the stands!

Author Cathy McDavid's site: caught my eye.
Cathy writes for Harlequin American. Her site says American in a big bold way! The colors are red, white and blue, but so are the Harlequin American books! She's got American symbols and sexy images in the banner pictures. Her name is very easy to find, and with a short scroll, there is her newest release. Great job, Cathy!

**And yet another side note. Scrolls. Don't make me work. I might be a reader who is browsing for new books or authors during my 15 minute break at work. Don't make me have to scroll down the home page to find stuff. A home page shouldn't scroll much. No longer than one quick swipe of my finger on the mouse. I'm a big girl, I can click on the page buttons if I want to read all the other stuff you want on your site. And those pages can be longer. Rule #1 SELL THE BOOK.** (Can I get an "amen sister!" on these side notes, y'all?!?)

Okay, I've shown you some of what I like. Now it's your turn!

Take a look at the RWA list @
and let me know who you think has a great site and why. Also, maybe you can help me. I'm looking for the following things to give as examples to my IT girl:

1. Sexy, but not porno sexy
2. Western, but no cows please
3. Strong font.
4. Great design or colors

Please copy and paste your favorite URL's in the comments so I can take a look. Tell me why you like it. Why you think it works. What you think will work for me. No negative ones, please! Remember, Bandits don't do snark! 

At this point, I'll take all the help I can get, even from that dang rooster!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Things I Sneak

by Susan Sey

Like many of you, I'm in Orlando this week at the RWA convention. Which means, of course, that I'm really at Disney. Without my kids. Or, heck, without my husband. The last time we were here, my husband spent the days attending a conference while I schlepped a 10 month old and a 4 yo around the parks with my parents.

It was wonderful, honestly. My youngest actually learned to walk here. She took her first steps across the hotel room to my dad. You can't buy moments like that, people. It was a great trip.

However, when the opportunity arose to come to Orlando all by myself, I jumped at it. Not that I don't love my kids, my husband or my parents, but as a stay at home mom, I don't often indulge myself.

And by indulge, I mean consider my own needs first.

Normally, I'm always thinking about, packing for and anticipating the needs of others. I have sweaters, snacks, water bottles & sunscreen at the ready. I make sure the car is full of gas. I make sure the piano books are ready to go come lesson time. Who rounds up all the library books? I do.

So going to Disney? By myself?

Yes, please. But I'm not telling the kids about it until I get home. Why? Because part of the self-indulgence is not listening to them whine about not coming. Another little treat for me--yay!

It got me thinking, though, about other things I do that are completely self-indulgent. That I sort of hide from my kids. Here, in no particular order, they are:

1) TV.

We're pretty strict about screentime for the kids around here but that's because I'm a total junkie. I don't watch often, but when I do, I'm addicted. I have to wait until shows have their run, then I get the whole thing on DVD & so I can binge after the kids are asleep. My husband & I slammed all 7 (8?) seasons of the Sopranos between July 4 & Labor Day one year. It was some committed TV watching, let me tell you.

2) Poor nutrition.

I'm a huge fan of popcorn for dinner. Apple pie for breakfast. Pretzels, Diet Coke & a romance novel are my version of the holy trinity. I enjoy ice cream as a meal every so often. I try to model healthy eating for my kids but sometimes...sometimes....I feed them their healthy dinner, put 'em to bed & eat popcorn.

3) Procrastination.

I also try to model good work habits for the kids. Homework gets done first, THEN we play. But sometimes, oh sometimes pressure is the only thing that sparks the muse. Sometimes I have to wait until the situation is desperate then fling myself into a blissful all-nighter. I actually enjoy it. There's a high that comes with performing under pressure. It's not a habit I want my kids to pick up, but well, there you have it.

How about you? What do you hide or sneak? A piece of yourself that's out of line with your usual habits & mind set but that you indulge every so often? Don't be shy--fess up! I'm off at Disney today, so the Lair's quiet. You might get away with it....

Monday, July 26, 2010

Greenwich - Ahoy!

by Anna Sugden

Most of you know about the Romance Writers of America and the Romance Writers of Australia, but did you know there is a romance writers organisation in England too? It's called the Romance Novelists Association.

This year, is the 50th anniversary of the RNA and their annual conference was held in the gorgeous surroundings of the Old Royal Naval College. This is the same Greenwich as in G.M.T. (Greenwich Mean Time) and you can see the clock at the nearby Greenwich Observatory. It's also home to the National Maritime Museum - a must for all you historical fans.

Illustrious surroundings for us all to talk about our favourite thing - romance novels! And, a wonderful opportunity to meet up with old friends, many of whom you'll recognise from their visits to the Lair!

This was my first visit to an RNA conference and, being a Bandita, you know I couldn't resist taking along a familiar companion (thanks, Becke!). The pesky Golden Rooster was otherwise occupied, but his little English cousin was available.

Naturally, he soon lost his shyness and managed to charm all the women there! (Seen right with RNA buddy Gemma)

Here he is with the fantabulous Brit Pack - Julie Cohen, Anna Louise Lucia, Brigid Coady and moi.

He managed to nestle in between Lair favourite, Kate Walker and her husband Steven Wade.

Chatting up the delightful Nicola Cornick.

Posing with the fabulous Janet Mullany (Miranda Neville managed to escape the picture-taking!)

Snuggling up to lovely Mills & Boon editor, Lucy Gilmour.

And, the coup de grace, he even managed to convince the wonderful Katie Fforde to have her picture taken with him. (notice Joanna Trollope sneaking into the background on the left!)

Clearly, the young chook had a ball. (I did too *g*)

The only problem is my little feathered friend doesn't have a name!

Over to the Bandita Buddies! Can you come up with a suitable name for him?

I will send a prize package to the person who comes up with the best name - The RNA 50th anniversary conference bag containing a Janice Lynn Medical Romance "The Doctor's Meant-to-be Marriage", a pen, a mini bar of Greene & Black's chocolate, a selection of bookmarks - including a much-sought-after Romance Bandits bookmark signed by me - a heart-shaped photo-frame ornament and a pair of golden rooster ear-rings.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How Cool Can I Get?

By Kate

Who's going to Orlando for the RWA conference next week? I am!

I've heard it's humid. And hot.

Like, "I'M MELTING!" hot.

I'm not sure I'm ready for that. Are you?

For most of July, the rest of the country has been sweltering while here in Southern California it's been in the low 70's all month. So, as you can imagine, the thought of me spending all next week in sultry Florida (see? I'm being nice and not calling it oppressively stifling!) is ... daunting.

I'm scared. I admit it. Look at me! This hair doesn't handle frizz well at all!

So in anticipation of attending the RWA national convention in Orlando next week, I've been looking into ways to be cool. I mean, not hot. Er, you know what I mean.

I'm packing a fan. My friends don't believe me, but it's true. I have one that folds, like this one. I think it'll pack nicely in my suitcase.

Just looking at this fellow makes me feel good. I want to be that cool!

That's one way to stay cool -- and I'm looking for more.

I'll be using this fan pen to sign books at the big Literacy book signing on Wednesday, July 28. Isn't it cool? It's got a little battery inside to keep the fan running and it works really well. Be sure to stop by and check it out. You can be cool, too!

I've heard there's an Ice Cream Fountain restaurant inside the conference hotel. I might just stay in there all week long. This is a really good idea, don't you think? Eating ice cream should keep me cool, right? Y'all are welcome to join me!

How do you all beat the heat? I really am a wimp when it comes to heat and humidity, so any help or suggestions you can give me is greatly appreciated! I'll give a $15 Amazon gift certificate to one random commenter who can help me stay cool!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bandit Booty!

Thank you to all for commenting while I was on my cruise! The internet connection on the ship was terrible so I couldn't get on that day and interact with you!

The winner of The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance is....


Lois, please send me an email with your address and I'll get that in the mail as quickly as I can -- christie @ christiekelley . com

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thriller: 100 Must Reads

by KJ Howe

Looking for an intellectual and entertaining read this summer? Why not try Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, a collection of essays written by current bestselling thriller authors on the best reads of the thriller genre, spanning over 35 decades!

The collection includes classics like James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice and Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. You'll also find favorites by Frederick Forsyth, Peter Benchley, Clive Cussler, Robin Cook, and Ken Follett, to name a few. There are some fascinating and unusual essays, like Lee Child writing about the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, dating back to 1500 B.C. and William Bernhardt writing about Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

The insights offered by the authors off an incredible journey of the thriller genre. After enjoying this fabulous compilation, I was considering what novels would make Romance: 100 Must Reads. I'd love to hear your suggestions about which books should be included!!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Tracy Wolff shifting into the Lair

hosted by Donna MacMeans

I have a real treat for you today! Tracy Wolff, writing as Tessa Adams, is joining us for the day. Tracy writes something for everyone, from Silhouette Superromance, to yummy single title paranormals to young adult novels. (whew!) Today, we're featuring Dark Embers, her Dragon-shifting paranormal from NAL. Check out the fabulous cover and back cover blurb:

King Dylan MacLeod is one of the last pure-bred dragon shapeshifters in existence—and ruler of a dying race, the Dragonstar clan. It falls to him to protect his people—and their ancient magic. He has one more duty: to provide an heir.

Like all dragons, Dylan can only procreate with his destined mate—for whom he’s searched for five hundred years. His dark, rampant sexual appetite has earned him quite the reputation, all in the pursuit of his one true match.

But his search is delayed when a deadly disease sweeps through the Dragonstars, and Dylan must venture to the human world to find a cure. He tracks down renowned biochemist Phoebe Quillum, never imagining the beautiful scientist will be the mate he’s been seeking for centuries. But no sooner do they meet then Phoebe and Dylan are besieged by an obsessive, overpowering sexual desire.

Their passion turns to something truer—and they know in their souls and bodies that they’re in too deep to get out. And when Phoebe is kidnapped by Dylan’s oldest enemy, he must risk everything to reclaim the only woman he’s ever loved, or his clan will be wiped out forever.

So welcome, Tessa! So glad you could join us here today.

First of all, Donna, I’d like to thank you so much for having me here today. I love your blog and am so excited that you’ve let me be a small part of it.

We're excited to have you. Shapeshifting novels are hot right now. What inspired you to chose a dragon shapeshifter?

When my editor first approached me about writing a sexy paranormal series, right away I knew I wanted to write a shifter series. And since I’ve been fascinated by dragons since I was a young girl (I always thought they were so much more interesting than the prince who came to rescue the damsel in distress) it just made sens

e to try my hand and writing them. Thankfully, my editor loved the concept and Dylan and the Dragonstar clan of modern day New Mexico were born.

You also have a Superromance coming out as well, can you tell us about that?

My July Superromance, Beginning with Their Baby, is a follow-up to my June 2009 story, From Friend to Father. Though I wrote The Christmas Present, my Rita nominated book, in between the two, I got so much reader mail asking about Matt that I couldn’t resist giving him his own story. I paired super-serious Matt with fun-loving, capricious Camille and then watched the sparks fly. And, boy, do they fly. The third book in the trilogy, Unguarded, features Matt’s sister, Rhiannon, and hits the shelves in December of this year.

I have enough difficulty writing for one house. What’s it like writing for two publishing houses?

I actually write for three publishing houses now. I’m at Harlequin, New American Library (Penguin) and I have two young adult novels coming out from Walker Books in 2011. Actually, I really enjoy writing three very different things for three different publishers. I’m a very eclectic reader, and always have been, and writing for three houses gives me a chance to explore the many different story ideas in my head. Plus, I learn something new about my writing from each book I write and each editor I write for. The challenging, and exciting, part is taking what I learn from one house and using it to the best of my ability with another book for another house.

Here in the lair, we love call stories. For our writer/readers, can you tell us about your path to publication?

This is usually when I start to dodge the question, because I was incredibly blessed on my path to publication. I’ve known my whole life that I wanted to be a writer, and spent my entire college career training for this fact (I have an MFA in creative

writing and a Ph.D in American Literature) but it wasn’t until we moved to Texas four years ago that I really had the chance to pursue my dream (between school, work, and my children I didn’t have much time or energy left to actually write). My husband and I agreed that I would quit work for a year and spend my time writing. If at the end of the year, I was nowhere, then I would go back to trying to fit my writing in between a full-time job and a family.

The first thing I did, was get online and find out about RWA. It was May, so I signed up to go to their national conference, where I didn’t know one other soul. But I went, found out that Harlequin was running two contests—one for their new Everlasting Love line and one for their Blaze line. I already had an idea for the Everlasting Love story, so I went home and wrote that first chapter. I submitted it to the contest and wrote the Blaze chapter as well, submitting it to that contest.

The Blaze contest announced first, and I was thrilled the day I received the phone call from Blaze editor, Kathryn Lye, telling me I had placed in the contest and that they were requesting a full of my novel, Picture Me. I’d written the whole thing while I waited to hear about the contest, so it was ready to go in the mail the day after I got the news.

About a month later, I heard from Paula Eykelhof at Everlasting Love, that I had placed in that contest as well. They, also, requested the full manuscript of my second novel, The Turn for Home.

As I waited to hear from Kathryn and Paula regarding the status of my submissions, I had a premature baby and spent the next months dealing with his medical issues and running from one doctor to another. But right about the time that things had finally leveled off for him and his pediatrician pronounced him in very good health, I got the call from Beverly Sotolov at Everlasting Love, telling me they wanted to publish my book, The Turn for Home.

Talk about excited!!!!!!!! I actually cried when she told me, a fact she was very proud of as I was her very first crier. As I revised the book and anxiously awaited its publication, I finally heard from Kathryn, who was passing on Picture Me, as she didn’t feel the heroine was a Blaze heroine. Of course, she was right. She gave me a number of suggestions on how to change the book to make it more Single Title friendly, many of which I took, so that when I signed with my fabulous agent a few months later, and she asked if I had any books laying around under the bed, I was able to answer, “Why, yes, I do …”

Within three weeks, she had sold Picture Me, which I was now calling Full Exposure, to NAL in a two book erotic suspense contract. At the same time, Harlequin was closing down the Everlasting Love line and moving many of the book purchased for it over to Superromance. What this meant, for The Turn for Home, was an extensive revision to make it more Superromance friendly, and it finally became my very first novel, published in November 2008, as A Christmas Wedding. It was followed in January 2009 by Full Exposure. The rest is history …

Tessa, you make me dizzy just reading about your journey. So many simultaneous releases! Anything new on the horizon?

Yes, actually, I have a lot of stuff going on in 2011. As I mentioned above, I have a new young adult paranormal coming out in March 2011, called Tempest Rising. It is the story of a young girl named Tempest, who is the daughter of a professional surfer and a mermaid. As her 17th birthday approaches, she must make a choice between staying human or becoming mermaid. She expects to stay human, but then things are taken out of her control when she is forced to face down an evil unlike any she has ever experienced.

Due out in the same month, is Hidden Embers, the second book in my dragon shifter series, about Quinn, Dylan’s right hand man and the clan’s best healer. Later in the year I will also have my next Superromances coming out, as well as the YA book my writing partners and I just sold, called The International Kissing Club, about four girls from small town Texas who, for various reasons, become foreign exchange students. Determined to find themselves, and kiss as many foreign guys as possible, they form a Facebook page to keep track of the points they earn from their many kissing adventures … only things go from fun to complicated in the blink of an eye.

Those sound like fun. Can you give us a sneak peek into Dark Embers?


He’d failed. Again.

Locked inside his head, tormented by shades of what might have been, Dylan MacLeod stepped into the night and closed the heavy, wooden door behind him.

He paused for a moment, sucked in a deep breath full of heat and sand and misery. Told himself it was no big deal. Part of him even believed it.

After four hundred and seventy years, he was damn good at lying to himself.

Shoving away from the small house with the cactus garden and the stone swimming pool in the front yard, he walked the deserted street rapidly. It was three a.m., and his only company was a scorpion or two. The desert was quiet, the night solemn.

And he had failed again.

With each step he took, his conscience grew heavier.

With each footfall, his heart grew colder, until he was once again at that place without hope. It was where he usually existed, where he’d spent the last century, mired in guilt and rage and a fear he refused to admit.

That he was here now was his own fault. It had been stupid, even for a moment, to truly believe that she might have been the one.

Agitation made him walk faster, until his boots were pounding the pavement in rhythm with his too-quick pulse. Self-disgust made him shut down inside, until all he could think of was the night.

The stars.

The moon shining brilliantly over the desert.

At least until his jeans sagged around his ass.

With a muttered curse, Dylan yanked the faded denim back into place. Slid the button through the tab, jerked up the zipper.

What did it say about him that this latest encounter had left him so desperate to get away that he hadn’t stayed long enough even to get his clothes on properly? Worse, he hadn’t bothered to say good-bye to Eve . . . Eva? Eden?

For a brief moment, he struggled to remember her name, what she looked like. Then let it go, as it mattered less than nothing. It wasn’t like he’d be seeing her again. Within moments of slipping inside her, he’d figured out that she wasn’t the one—none of the signs were there.

No instant connection between them, as his clan mates so often spoke about.

No burning as the tattoo around his arm shifted to reflect the presence of his mate.

No searing pain as a part of her soul arrowed into his.

Nothing but a mediocre orgasm that had barely given his powers a pulse. Before she’d rolled off him, he’d been plotting his escape. And by the time the shower had kicked on in the bathroom, he’d been halfway to the front door.

God, he was a fucked-up bastard. Cold as ice, despite the fire that raged within him. Hot as flame, despite the glacier that had taken up residence in his stomach. Was it any wonder, then, that he couldn’t find her?

He didn’t deserve her.

His laugh, when it came, was anything but humorous. That had to be the understatement of the year. The decade. The new millennium, and probably the old one, as well. Why else would it have taken him this long to do what everyone else managed in the first two centuries of their existence? Why else would he be doomed to failure night after night, encounter after encounter? He had screwed up generations ago, and now he and his clan were paying the cosmic price. Big time.

His boots ate up the streets in the sleepy little town, as he struggled to put distance between himself and his latest sexual escapade. Wind whipped around him, played with the tails of his shirt, caressed his bare chest. But Dylan didn’t bother buttoning up. What was the point, when he was headed right back to the bar to find yet another female shifter interested in taking it off?

Hope sprang eternal.

As he walked, he scanned the desert around him. Checked out every brush of the wind against cactus; narrowed his eyes at the rustle behind a random pile of heavy rocks. Then shook his head as a low, deep howl split the air next to him. A lonely coyote was the least of his problems.

If someone had told him four hundred years ago that he would be here, in this place, he would have laughed at them. If they’d told him he would grow tired of night after night of hot, anonymous sex, he would have told them they were insane. But youth was like that—arrogant, seemingly invincible, convinced the world was for the taking. Or at least that’s how his youth had been.

He’d spent centuries gorging on women, taking them each and every way he could. Glutting himself on their scent and taste and feel, until his powers reached staggering heights. Devouring whatever they gave him with a grin and a wink and a softly whispered “Thank you.”

He had plenty of time, he’d told his father when the man had advised him to settle down. He was trying to find the right woman, he’d promised his mother when she’d fretted about the future. And then, from one heartbeat to the next, everything had changed.

His brother had been murdered. His parents had died soon after. He’d been crowned king. And just that suddenly, his people, his legacy, were without an heir. Bad enough that the second son was now the king. That he couldn’t find a mate, couldn’t deliver on his family’s legacy, was a nightmare.

There were others—his sister, his niece—who could take his place if he fell. But it wouldn’t be the same. The line of succession, which had remained in his family for more than three thousand years, would fall with him.

One more fuckup from a man who had never wanted to be king in the first place.

Dylan shoved the thought away—what he wanted didn’t play into things anymore. What was best for his people did. And what was best for them now was that he provide them an heir.

He should already have done so, should already have guaranteed his people’s survival through this millennia and into the next. God knew he had tried—for nearly four hundred years, he had tried. And he had failed.

No mate meant no heir.

No mate meant night after night of anonymous sex as he searched for her.

No mate meant a dwindling in his powers that was not just devastating, but downright dangerous—for himself and his people.

His was a precarious state of events for any centuries-old dragon, but for him it was an out-and-out disaster—particularly considering the state his clan was in.

Not that an heir would solve all the problems, but it would solve the most pressing—including the fact that it had been far too many years since a young dragon had been born to Dragonstar.

Far too long since they’d had something to celebrate.

His cell phone vibrated in his pocket, and for one brief second Dylan considered ignoring it. The day had been dismal enough—any more bad news and he might just take flight and never return. The idea was far more inviting than it should have been, far more compelling than it had ever been before.

In the end, he grabbed his phone and flipped it open. Barked “Hello” in a voice he knew was far from welcoming. He was king of the Dragonstar clan, and as such could never be unavailable to his people. That didn’t mean he had to like it—especially tonight.

“Dylan, come quick.”

A shot of uneasiness worked its way down his spine at the panic in his best friend’s—and second- in-command’s—voice. As a rule, nothing fazed Gabe.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Marta. She’s—” Gabe’s voice broke. “She’s sick.”

His stomach plummeted to his boots. “Are you sure?”

His brother-in-law’s voice was hoarse. “I’m sure. I tried to deny the symptoms, to ignore them, but that’s not possible anymore. I don’t think—” His voice broke again. “I don’t think she’s going to make it through this.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Dylan was already running, his boots echoing in the deserted street as he stripped his shirt from his body. He didn’t bother with the pants or boots; they would take too long. Just blurred his image as he started to shift.

Pain—red-hot and intense—as bones broke, reshaped, grew longer.

Pleasure—acute and all-consuming—as he became what he was meant to be.

He ignored both sensations; concentrated instead on making it through the change. One more second. Two. And then he was in the air, his wings spread wide as he soared through the star-bright sky.

Not Marta, not Marta, not Marta. The simple phrase was a mantra in his head as he sped toward his lieutenant’s house, making sure to stay invisible, despite the panic racing through him. So many of his friends, so many of his clan, had been taken from him in the last years. He couldn’t stand to lose his sister—Gabe’s wife—too.

Please, God, not his baby sister, too.

But when he landed in Gabe’s yard, he knew his prayers had, once again, gone unanswered. He could smell the blood from outside the house, could hear his sister’s nonsensical mutterings through the walls of dense stone.

Marta was bleeding out.


Probably already paralyzed.

If her illness followed the same pattern all the others had, she would be dead before the next moonrise. And there was nothing he could do about it.

Inside him, the power sputtered to life, surged through him. The need to heal, to fix, to do what he was destined to do. But he’d tried it so many times before on so many of his clan members, and each time, he had failed. This disease was an enemy he didn’t know how to fight.

Rage and anguish welled within him, crushing his lungs and twisting his spine into hard knots. Throwing back his head, Dylan roared with all his pent-up fury—then went inside to watch his baby sister die.

I'm always on the lookout for a good paranormal author. Who are some of your favorites? A few of mine are Patricia Briggs, Christine Feehan, Nalini Singh and Marjorie M. Liu. I'll choose a winner for a copy of Dark Embers from the comments.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Synergy and Geekdom

posted by Nancy

As everyone who has ever watched a sports show (or read or written about one or just gone through a spelling bee in second grade) knows by now, there is no "i" in "team." I'm really tired of hearing this. It has become a cliché.

However, sayings often become clichés because they contain kernels of truth. So does this one. The obvious kernel is that teams succeed because the members subordinate the desire for individual glory to the good of the group. This appears increasingly untrue in the NBA, but that's not what this blog is about. It's about what I got from being part of a team.

Y'all know I have a weakness for teams--Legion of Super-Heroes, Justice League of America, Smallville, Brockmann's SEALs, Dee Davis's A-Tac, Laura Anne Gilman's PUPI. I love groups that meld into families while serving a greater good. Plus reading about hunky guys, brave women, and deeds of valor never hurts.

Teams have been on my mind lately because I just finished Nora Roberts' masterful and totally engrossing Sign of 7 trilogy. The heroes are three boys born at almost the same time on the same day who have been lifelong friends, brothers at heart, and whose innocent camping trip and blood brothers ritual on their tenth birthday unleashes an ancient evil on their town. For seven days every seven years, a big part of the town goes mad, and these three battle to contain the damage.

Two of the heroines are friends who've known each other since college and come to investigate the paranormal upheaval due to recur that year. The third is a woman who's mysteriously drawn to the town. They find friendship, love, and surprising blood kindship as the madness starts early and the danger escalates, building to a showdown that will determine their fates, those of the men they love, and that of the town.

What makes this trilogy so good is, first and foremost, the writing, for which I don't think Nora gets enough credit. She writes love scenes that are intensely emotional without being graphic. Her dialogue reflects the way people talk. Yes, she slips in and out of POV, sometimes for as little as a paragraph, but the important thing, I think, is that the shifts don't feel like head-hopping. They're smooth, not jerky. Of course I also love all her science fiction and comic book references. (I'm currently reading Tribute, in which the hero writes and illustrates graphic novels--how perfect for me is that?) The plot arc escalates masterfully over the three books.

These books deliver a special punch, though, because of the way she draws on folklore, numerology, and metaphysics, giving them her own spin, to add layers and resonance to the world and the problem in a way that is just bloody brilliant. The first book, in particular, is not only scary but look-over-your-shoulder-at-shadows creepy. I gave serious thought to waking the dh up at 3 a.m. to escort me to the bathroom though I ultimately decided to woman up and deal, not wake him up because I'd been reading a scary book. It is definitely a romance, but it tips the hat to some horror conventions.

As a reader, I found myself completely engaged, unable to stop reading even though I'm not normally much for scary books. My heart was breaking as we went into the last chapters of the last book, The Pagan Stone, and I had to see what happened, whether she was really going to pull out an HEA or this marvelous hero would die. As a writer, I got taken to school. The way she set up that ending, kept the suspense and the doubt and the dread growing, was masterful. She also inspired me to hit the library and see what I could find that would give more depth to my own paranormal.

In the process of fighting this curse, these six people become not only lovers and friends but a team, a fact that becomes heartbreakingly clear in the last book. Some of the things I love about the characters in these books and the other teams I mentioned, obviously, are their solidarity, their mutual support, and their affection for each other, even with full knowledge of each other's flaws. Who wouldn't want to be part of a group like that? But I also love the way their individual skills mesh, the way they not only give to but take and learn from each other, the way they appreciate and defer to each other's particular talents.

All of this led me to look back at the years when I was part of a team, officially designated as such. I was even the captain my senior year. No, I don't mean the pep band, though I found out, not long before graduation, that pep band was officially a varsity team sport (no letter, though, alas). I was on my college debate team, fighting with words, sparring over ideas, and I loved it. I stayed involved, traveling to tournaments as a judge for our school when I could (every team is expected to provide one, but you never judge your own squad), for two or three years after graduation.

While a fair number of people participated, there was always a nucleus of people who traveled most of the time. My junior year, it was my partner, Maria, and me in novice and Mark and Gordon in varsity. My senior year, it was mainly Maria and me. After I graduated, though, there were Bobby, Brian and Marvin. I have no genetic brothers, but these guys were the next best thing--and an invaluable resource on questions about dealing with their gender, bluntly honest because they trusted me not to quote them and they knew I trusted them to help.

Working on things together created a synergy of ideas and personalities and sparked things none of us could have come up with alone. We would go to rounds during the day, watch each other's schedules, try to grab each other if we knew something about a team our comrades were facing, and then pool ideas and argue strategy over dinner and in the motel at night. On campus, we'd wander into the debate room, toss arguments around, dig into government studies and congressional hearings (talk about dry reading--sand practically filtered out of the pages!), and look for new angles on that year's topic. Geek heaven. While all that geekiness was going on, though, I was learning some important life lessons.

For example, don't let stereotypes suck you in. At a tournament at The Citadel (which was then all male and provided cute uniformed cadets as timekeepers for the rounds), Maria and I discovered that we were to face a female team known to dress in form-fitting clothing. One of them actually wore a skin-tight top that had a big, red rose directly over her left, er, bust. We dressed in business attire, as our guy teammates dressed in suits. Worse, our judge for that round was listed (name changed) as "Jones, Naval Academy." Great, we thought. Just great. We're screwed before we walk in the room.

Oh, ye of little faith! I especially should've known better, as the daughter of a hospitalman chief and a WAVE. Anyhow, we walked into the room, set our stuff down, and turned to greet the judge. And Ensign SUSAN Jones, USN, gave us a courteous smile and a nod. Just like that, we were back to the merits. As we probably would've been anyway, I can say with a more mature perspective. Back then, though, we had the geek girl insecurity common when expecting to face off against sexpots in front of a guy.

I also learned that when you get clobbered, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. Intercollegiate debate, at least in those days, involved putting out as much info as possible in the time allotted for each speech. The faster you could talk--and enunciate, so the judge could understand you--the better. We were pretty good at it. Then, one day, "pretty good" ran into "light speed," and it was game over before we even got to rebuttals. I couldn't write fast enough to take notes, let alone reply to everything they said, nor could my temporary partner.

I remember sitting there afterward, dazed, knowing we had another round in 15 minutes, trying to get the synapses firing, and just getting fog. Eventually, however, a realization penetrated the fog, that if we didn't get it together, we were going under a steamroller again, regardless of whether the other team was even decent. If you don't get any arguments out, you're guaranteed to lose. Somehow we shook it off and went on, and we finished with a decent record even though we didn't make the elimination rounds. We were the only team from our school there, so we had no one to buck us up. I'd never been so glad to climb back in the college station wagon and head home. But it was a valuable lesson. Some people are not just better than you but way better, and you have to learn to deal with that.

I also learned to focus when fighting. It's about the issue. It's not about you. Or about him/her. Winning arguments address the merits, not the perceived or even actual personal defects of the opponent. You shake hands with the other team when you finish the round, just as opposing lawyers shake hands at the end of a trial, because, again, it's not personal.

I have to say guys are generally better about this than women, though there are plenty of exceptions on both sides. With guys, you can be blunt because they are, and you don't have to dance around what you mean and think of the 17 ways someone might decide you were actually being personally insulting so you can phrase your comment to avoid that. You can slam right back at a guy with as many reasons as you like about why his idea won't work, you can get up in his face when he gets in yours and harden your voice like his, and he'll respect you for it. Might use the B word behind your back if you're a woman, but he'll respect you.

Women, as a rule, not so much. Many women take any disagreement personally and then turn it into a personal feud. I'm happy to say most of the women I know are not like this. The banditas, in particular, are a joy to work on problems with--lots of respect for the opinions of others, openness to different ideas, trust that everyone's focus is the group, not her own ego, and unwavering willingness to let the one most skilled or experienced at whatever run with it.

I also learned, I hope, to be a good winner as well as a good loser. In my novice year, the varsity teams told us we could gripe all we wanted in the car going home (and we all did), but we'd better not say a single bitter word or cast a single angry glance on the tournament grounds. We should congratulate people who had beaten us or had finished higher than we had. Making friends on other teams who might give you a tip or appreciate one from you was more important than indulging your disgruntlement. We did make friends, other teams of amiable people we were glad to see and who were glad to see us, to hang out at meals, maybe have a beer, and help each other out unless or until we met across a lectern.

At my first big tournament, they announced the speech competition results before the debate ones. These were events like oral interpretation, impromptu speaking, dramatic interp, and so on. People in these events, guys and girls, had a tendency to squeal and jump up and down--not just a couple of times or for a few seconds but on and on and on--and hug their entire squad before going up to get their trophies (which were often tacky, though that tournament gave beautiful silver bowls to the winners). One of the guys informed Maria and me that we had better not ever do that because such behavior was obnoxious and winners should have a little dignity.

Like I said, blunt. But well intentioned. And when we learned, a few minutes later, that we had won the novice division, we were too blown away, too shocked, to squeal, anyway.

I'm not sure weeping your way through a thank-you speech, as I did at the Maggies, counts as having dignity. It doesn't meet my standards, quite, but I did hold it together enough to get the actual words out. And I did not jump up and down and squeal, hug all my friends in the room, or hold up the proceedings. Yet writing this makes me wonder what my old teammates would've said. One of them would probably have come out with some variant of "Jesus, Ms. Northcott!" ("Jesus, you people!" being one of his favorite statements to make in disgust at an argument) But, aside from doubting he cares much about romance as a genre, I think he would've been happy for me because a win is a win is a win.

Maria and I have stayed close over the years. I mostly lost touch with the guys but have recently reconnected with some of them over Facebook and the internet. Yet the affection I felt for them all has endured, as I hope theirs for me has. Meanwhile, I've been lucky. I found another team, one that won't graduate and split apart, the Romance Bandits. I can't wait to see the ones who're coming to Orlando and, together, drink a toast to the ones who aren't.

When I graduated from high school, my wonderful Latin teacher wrote in my yearbook, "tibi splendet focus," which translates as "my hearthstone shines for you" or, more prosaically, her door was always open. As mine always will be to my former teammates. And to my current ones, the Romance Bandits.

I'm giving away a mystery package of books I'll be picking up at RWA next week (hence the mystery) and a copy of Blood Brothers. So tell us one or all of the following--have you ever been part of a team? Do you have a surrogate brother or sister, a tight bond formed by choice rather than blood? Is there someone you've lost touch with but would immediately welcome?