Smart Girls Read Romance -- so do the bestselling and award-winning Authors who write this blog.
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Monday, May 30, 2016

Setting As A Character by Suzanne Rossi

Hi, everyone.

I just want to take a moment to wish you all a wonderful Memorial Day and say thank you to the men and women in our armed forces. You do a great job and I appreciate it.

The two things that drive a good book are characters the reader can relate to and like, along with a plot that takes us on a journey around each and every bend of the story. Some authors are character oriented, adjusting the plot to fit the characters' actions. Occasionally, characters take on a life of their own and go with it. Not much the author can do except follow. Other writers structure the plot so that the characters must act and react to the situation. Both are effective, although as authors we must make sure one doesn't overtake the other. A great plot with weak characters is as unsatisfying as great characters following a weak plot line.

But there's one other thing that can drive both--the setting. Believe it or not, the setting of a story can project both elements of character and plot.

For instance, in my first book, Along Came Quinn, I set most of the story in Guatemala. I took a city girl, hooked her up with an adventurer (yes, opposites attract), and off they go to Central America to search for lost treasure. If this sounds a lot like Romancing the Stone, it is. I love that movie, and while my story is similar, it does have a nice plot twist.

At any rate, back to the setting. Have I ever been to Guatemala? No, and I'm not likely to go anytime soon. If you are going to use an exotic place but have never been there, then do extensive research. Find out the political atmosphere, tourist spots, food, rural life, the weather, the language(s) spoken, the customs of the people, and the flora and fauna. I'll bet I had close to fifty pages of notes in a folder by the time I finished. I used, perhaps, two pages in the story.

In Nearly Departed, I invented a dilapidated Antebellum mansion as the catalyst to bring my hero and heroine together. I set the story in Northern Mississippi, a locale I know. The house became as much of a character as Cybil and Max, not to mention the ghosts inhabiting it.

My book, Deadly Inheritance, was set on a Caribbean island that I imagined as a cross between Jamaica and Barbados. I used the size, food, and location of Jamaica, but since I had vacationed one year in Barbados, I utilized the physical features and the people. It was a blend that worked well. I had one reader tell me they felt like they were there the whole time. Always a good thing to hear.

At one point in time, I worked first as a dealer of blackjack and roulette, then later as a floor supervisor at a casino in Tunica, Mississippi. It became the setting for Death is the Pits. I brought my personal knowledge of how casinos are run (as opposed to should be run--there was a difference), the gamblers I have known, and how the games are played to this story. Adding a couple of bodies along the way was just plain fun.

For The Good Twin, I adopted my brother-in-law's lake house in North Central Illinois as one of the houses in the book. I'm not sure if it was really a character, but the ambiance was what I wanted to achieve. The real lake area works well as my fictional one for the suspense of prowlers in the woods, and intruders by water.

So, the next time you pick up a book, pay attention to the setting. Do you feel like you're there with the characters? Is it a place you might like to visit? Can you identify with it in some way--your hometown, your favorite relative's home or city, or where you currently live? If so, then the author has done his or her job.

Before I let you go, I want to celebrate by sharing with you the blurb and cover of my next book, Killer Conference. It's the second book of a series I call The Snoop Group. Book #1 was A Novel Death. I don't have a release date yet, but will let you know when I do.

"Anne Jamieson and her critique partners are once again thrown into murder and mayhem while attending a writers conference. Anne starts to believe she is a dead body magnet when she finds obnoxious agent, Carmella Radcliff, stabbed to death in the ladies room. This brings Detective Gil Collins onto the scene. Anne was hoping for a relationship when he was the lead detective on an earlier case she helped investigate, but lies and secrets drove them apart. The Snoop Group as they have named themselves, decide to assist again, but then, a second agent is killed. The conference offers a long line of suspects and motives. Was it the best-selling author? A disgruntled editor? An angry agent? An attendee whose work was rejected? Or someone else? Time is running out and the conference will only last so long. Amid the commotion, can Gil and Anne rekindle the spark from months ago before the murderer claims Anne as a third victim?"

One more thing. May marks my first anniversary as a member of this blog team. I want to thank Caroline Clemmons for inviting me to join such wonderful authors. I've loved participating and look forward to a long relationship with them and the readers of Smart Girls Read Romance.

Thanks to all, and I'll see you again next month.

Suzanne Rossi

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Lizard Lady in YA Fantasy Curse of the Moon

My May release, Curse of the Moon (Book 2, the Secret Warrior Series) is a YA fantasy/paranormal (with romance) set present-day in our Virginia Mountains. Native American and mountain people lore, my love of herbs, colonial America, and wild imagination are part of the inspiration behind the Secret Warrior Series. Shawnee warrior/wolf shifters, witches, a warlock, the Star People, and other shifters and creatures run through the series and this story. I'm also being praised by reviewers for my wacky sense of humor. Can't think why. :) 

The lizard shifting witch in Curse of the Moon is drawn from mountain people lore about an old woman who basks in the moonlight as a large lizard. They call her the Lizard Lady. According to the tale, she’s been spotted not far from where we live on a farm in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. I first heard about the Lizard Lady from late valley historian and author, John Heatwole, who interviewed elderly valley and mountain folk and recorded their accounts in his book, Shenandoah Voices. He also had a radio show, and that’s the very first time I heard about The Lizard Lady. She caught my imagination, but it’s taken me about twenty years to bring her to life. What a fun character to write. 

I named her Lilith Dubois, and she lives in a ramshackle old house back in the hollow in the mountains. Not only is she a lizard shifter in the moonlight, she’s a witch with memorizing eyes. If you gaze into their green depths, she can put a spell on you that only she can break. This sort of enchantress is called a gorgon. Bad things happen if you look into their eyes. Tough not to do.

The old mountain home that inspired Lilith's house is one my hubby likes to photograph. (Many locals know the place.) He's captured it in spring, summer, and fall. His autumn pic is my favorite and perfect for the story because it takes place in fall.

Story Blurb for Curse of the Moon:

The bad news? Morgan Daniel’s wolf is out of control. The good news? There’s a treatment. She just has to get a potion from a lizard shifter witch--without looking into the witch’s eyes. Easy, right? But when the witch puts a spell on her younger brother, Morgan has to do the witch's bidding to save him. 

Fortunately Morgan isn’t alone. She has Jackson to lean on, a few witches coming into their powers, a secret warlock, and the always mysterious Chief Okema. What could possibly go wrong?

***For fun: If you had a super power, what would it be?

Like the Secret Warrior Series on FB: 

Curse of the Moon (Book 2, The Secret Warrior Series) is available at all online booksellers. At Amazon:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Calm Before Life's Storm by Vonnie Davis

I feel like I've been biding my time, as my mother used to say. I'm working on two books and a novella right now, but I'm also sitting back...waiting for a series of events to begin. Tomorrow, I turn 68 and I have no clue how that can be happening. I was just 39 a couple of months ago.

June 1st, we travel to Maryland for my grandson's high school graduation. He's graduating top of his class and going to MIT in the fall. He has two nicknames: Shooby-Doobie-Do and Nerd. He wears both proudly. I'll also get to see both of my sons and my 2 other grandchildren.

June 8th, we're flying to Columbus, Ohio to attend my granddaughter's wedding. She just graduated from college with a double major. I'll get to see the remaining 3 of my 6 grandchildren. What a huge "Grandma-fix" that will be. They're all grown, busy, and so often out of touch.

June 21st, my publisher is putting my first paranormal book on sale for .99 for a limited time, hoping to generate interest in my name for release of book one of my new contemporary series. So, I'll need to push both the sale and my upcoming release--HER SURVIVOR, Black Eagle Ops, Book One. Promo is such a chore for me. I'd sooner have a root canal.

July 11th, I have cataract surgery. Good-bye foggy vision!!!

July 19th, HER SURVIVOR releases and I'll be hosting a book release party on Facebook. Let's hope I can see what I'm posting.

In the days between all these happenings--joyful though most of them may be--I'll be kissing the computer keys with my fingertips, trying to meet deadlines. Oh, and edits. Let's not forget the rounds of edits that will roll in from time to time. I love the writing process, my soul yearns for it. Meeting those deadlines? I can't say I have a whole lot of affection for those. In fact, I'm usually 4 or 5 days late. Thank goodness my editor at Random House is so good to me.

If you enjoy a bit of whimsy, a touch of paranormal, and an aging pink-haired hippie who does a wee bit of comical meddling, you might enjoy my Highlander Beloved Series. Book one will be on sale from June 21st until July 2nd.

To my great surprise, book two of the series, A HIGHLANDER'S PASSION, was a finalist in the HOLT Medallion contest this spring.


Buy link for Book Two--A HIGHLANDER'S PASSION


Tuesday, May 24, 2016


The other night, a news program did a story about children and old technology. By old, I mean the stuff we Baby Boomers grew up with. They were mystified by a rotary dial phone and thought a typewriter sent messages. Well, I'm mystified by my smart t.v. so I suppose we're even.

When I was a kid, I spent a couple of weeks each summer with my dad's mother in a very rural part of East Texas. She lived in a two room house with no running water. Laundry was taken down the hill to her well and boiled in a black cauldron, then hung on a barbed wire fence. Her chickens were free range before anyone knew what that was. Going to the outhouse was a challenge because a pair of geese lived in the tall grass nearby and would attack anyone on the path.

My play house was under some old oak trees. Boards and bricks served as shelves where I stocked canned goods (empty vegetable cans) and dined with imaginary friends. The best days were spent picking blackberries for cobbler.I couldn't go too far into the woods because there was a moonshiner's still somewhere nearby. Fortunately, the patch was within site of the house. 

These memories came to me while working on my story about a young woman in the Colorado Territory. Trying to figure out how the family wash got done in the middle of winter, how to keep food on the table and learning to survive made me realize how brave our ancestors truly were. 

Old photographs from the 1800's tend to show people dressed in their Sunday best, grimly staring into the camera. Now, I understand life back then wasn't for sissies. I'm in no way comparing myself to hardy souls who came before me, but I think I have a better appreciation of their grit, determination and fortitude.

Meanwhile, I learned about canning food, entertaining myself and chasing fireflies. Everyday life wasn't easy, but I can't remember anyone complaining. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

the MacGuffin or is that McGuffin?

A MacGuffin (McGuffin) is one of those things that appears in a story underlying the plot. It is a term to capture an element of fiction and talked about more where it comes to films. If I didn't describe as you've heard, it is also much disagreed about regarding what it means to the story.

Some claim Alfred Hitchcock coined the word. He defined it as the object around which the plot revolves but which the audience doesn't really care about. George Lucas disagreed and said, "the audience should care about it almost as much as the dueling heroes and villains on-screen." Another filmmaker, Yves Lavandier claimed it was what motivates the villain even more than the hero. So, in the Maltese Falcon, the MacGuffin is what drives the characters' actions and yet ends up insignificant.

Does every story need one, of which the writer consciously knows-- or will there be one whether the writer knows or not--

When I first heard about MacGuffins, I had already written quite a few books-- without thinking of whether I used one. As I looked back at each plot, I saw they had one-- or was that more than one? It happened in the writing-- because I needed something that would make the actions of the characters be logical.

MacGuffins became of renewed interest to me in the series I am currently working on since it is romance, suspense, and paranormal. Ordinary people are thrust into adventures, but the reason for what they do has to be believable to the reader. The stories, with no cliffhangers and each romance complete, must hang together. A carefully considered MacGuffin is what I saw as the answer, and it led me, as I laid out their basic plots, to find the MacGuffin in each

Romances didn't show up in any of the articles I read on  MacGuffins, but I see them as prime examples of how it works to add depth to a story. The MacGuffin for a romance won't be finding a one true love-- because it's at the heart of that genre. So the MacGuffin has to be the 'other' thing that drives the hero and heroine, but in the end, didn't matter as much as they thought. It keeps the action going long enough for them to realize what they truly want.

What I am considering now if there might be one MacGuffin for all five books...

Friday, May 20, 2016

Yesterday and Today - How #Writing Has Changed

By Sandy Nachlinger

A while back I purchased Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham for my Kindle. It’s a great story, written 100 years ago but with universal themes that have stood the test of time. But as I was reading, I couldn’t help but notice all the modern “rules” that the author had broken. Writing sure has changed over the years! Here are some examples.

Modern Rule: Don’t open your story with the weather.
Maugham:  The day broke gray and dull. The clouds hung heavily, and there was a rawness in the air that suggested snow.
My comment: I think this rule came about in response to the cliché: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Modern Rule: Use “said” in dialogue and avoid other verbs, such as injected, cajoled, implored, etc.
Maugham: “Oh, don’t take him away yet,” she moaned.
My comment: Stephen King advocates the use of “said” and avoidance of other verbs. I’ll admit it’s distracting when characters expound, wheedle, extol, aver, bellow, and so on.  

Modern Rule: Don’t use adverbs that end in LY, especially in dialogue.
Maugham:  (All of these quotes are from one scene)
"Well, we're not in America," said Philip frigidly.
"You don't know him," said Philip hotly.
"You do talk rot," he said crossly.
My comment: This is another Stephen King “no-no.” Even Mark Twain said, "If you see an adverb, kill it." 

Modern Rule: Avoid long, run-on sentences.
Maugham: It looked as though Saturday were naturally indicated for Philip, but Mary Ann said she couldn’t keep the fire up on Saturday night: what with all the cooking on Sunday, having to make pastry and she didn’t know what all, she did not feel up to giving the boy his bath on Saturday night; and it was quite clear that he could not bath [sic] himself.
My comment: We do need to let the reader breathe, don’t we?

Modern Rule: Include lots of white space.
Maugham: (I’ll do everyone a favor and just say that one paragraph in particular spanned more than four screens on my Kindle.)

In spite of all this flagrant rule breaking, Maugham’s story was enjoyable. I can’t help but wonder, however, what future generations will consider good writing. 

Learn more about my books HERE

Monday, May 16, 2016

Wildflowers in the Country by Joan Reeves @JoanReeves

Prolific Bitterweed offers a yellow carpet.
I spent the weekend at our house in the country, working in the yard. Trimming shrubbery, removing winter kill, and laying out some new flower beds.

I also spent a good bit of time admiring the 3 varieties of lantana--red/orange, lavender/yellow, and purple--in my yard that are already blooming madly and trying to take over the entire flower beds where they're planted.

Also blooming are the fields of wildflowers around us.The photo to the left was taken from my front yard, looking south. This wildflower richness is just part of the Texas landscape in the spring and summer.

Texas Wildflowers

Beginning in late February, depending on the weather, Texas is awash in color as the wildflowers begin their annual show.

Just about everyone has heard of Bluebonnets (Lupinas havardii), lovely pink Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa), and even orange Indian Paintbrush (Castilljra purpurea), sometimes called Prairie Paintbrush or Prairie Fire, but there are so many more flowers that bloom along roadways and in fields from early spring through summer.

Depending on where in Texas you travel, you'll see many different varieties of wildflowers. In East Texas, you'll find masses of Red Clover, but rarely outside that area. Bluebonnets abound from Houston to Dallas and westward. The Hill Country is covered with them, and thousands throng to view the beautiful display.

Back at the Ranch

The Bluebonnets have faded, and the Indian Paintbrush are going away too, replaced by pink Evening Primrose and sunny yellow Brown-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta). These carpet the sides of the road leading to my house in the country. Occasionally, you'll see the tiny brilliant purple blooms of Trailing Four-O-Clocks (Allionia incarnata), the small pink blooms of Sea-Purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum), and other small samplings that produce a blur of red, violet, pink, and blue as I drive past.

The happy pink Primrose has a brilliant yellow center (tons of pollen) that causes many to call them Buttercups. They're not Buttercups though. The buttercup is actually a solid yellow flower. So cheerful yellow and happy pink blossoms claim the attention now.

Color Parade

As the weeks pass, other wildflowers will join in the color parade. At our place, the Bitterweed (Helenium sp.), bright yellow flowers whose greenery has a pungent odor when crushed, have gone to seed. Soon, Bluebells (Eustoma grandiflorum) will sprout. This delicate blue flower with the perfume-like aroma is the flower for which Bluebell Creamery is named. Once the bluebell grew prolifically in the fields around Brenham, Texas. They don't seem as common now, and many people don't know what they are.

Bull Nettle with showy blooms atop tall stalks are nice to look at, but we try to eradicate them when they pop up. The spines on their stalks and leaves can rip your skin up if you brush against them.

Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella are the biggest addition to the carpet of color on the back of our property. Many now call this Mexican Hat, but my husband's grandmother called these orange, yellow, and brown showy flowers Mexican Sombrero.

If you'd like to know more about Texas Wildflowers and see photos of the different varieties, visit Texas Highways Wildflowers and Gary Regner Photography Texas Wildflower Index.

For Your Consideration

I'm currently writing Book 3 in my Texas One-Night Stands series. Why not check out the previous books for some laughter and romance? Book 1 is The Trouble With Love.  Available at most ebook sellers.

Hang on to your Stetson as the fun and games begin in this contemporary romance that's sexy and funny and hotter than a bowl of Texas chili!

To catch a thief, small town deputy Susannah Quinn and FBI Special Agent D. E. Hogan (just call me Hogan) pose as husband and wife and go undercover. Unfortunately, Susannah and Hogan have already been undercover--in a bed at the Houston hotel where they first met.

For her part, Susannah wishes her lapse in judgment would take a flying leap and land on Jupiter. Hogan, on the other hand, wants to get the contrary deputy back in his bed, but the complications caused by family--his and hers--pretty much guarantee that's never going to happen.

Throw in an over-the-hill Romeo and his lady love, a single mom determined to have her own love affair, and the charm of a small Texas town, and you get a story with heart and soul and passion--lots of passion.

Can Susannah and Hogan, two mismatched lovers doing everything in their power to avoid falling in love, catch a thief and recover stolen jewels? The clock is ticking. They have only seven days--and nights--to complete their assignment and resist the sweet siren call of desire.

Post Script

I’d be delighted if you’d follow me on 1 or all of these, and I'll happily follow you back: Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Triple delighted if you sign up for WordPlay, my email list/newsletter for readers, so I can give you a free book.

Saturday, May 14, 2016


I always try to create interesting situations and circumstances for the characters in my stories. In my newest endeavor, THE HORSEMAN, Book #3 of The Sons of Texas trilogy, I’ve created a situation where a character has been crippled by multiple surgeries after a rattlesnake bite.

Not just any old snake, but a RATTLESNAKE. Thus, I’ve been researching rattlesnake bites. And after researching them, I’m even more scared of them than before. Rattlesnake bites are different from other snake bites.
On the Internet, there are personal stories from victims. One of the most hair-raising is from a 13-year-old boy who was bitten on the hand. Another is by a 50-year-old female backpacker in an area where she hikes several times a week.

Both of these accounts will get your attention and put you on the lookout for venomous creatures.

So what happens if one strikes you? Here is a web site with good information about what to do.

Rattlesnake venom contains toxins that damage tissue, destroy blood cells, skin tissues and cause internal hemorrhaging. It can also immobilize the nervous system which can affect and even stop breathing. In reality, a snake bite kit isn’t really a good solution. You need to get to an emergency room fast.

The experts tell you that rattlesnakes are solitary creatures. They strike when startled or when they feel threatened. That’s good information, but if one is resting under a bush and you don’t know it and walk past it—as was the case with the 50-year-old woman—I guess that’s enough for it to feel threatened. 

The experts also say rattlesnake bites are rare. I grew up in West Texas, have
lived in Texas most of my life and I’ve never known anyone personally who was bitten. I’ve run across a couple of people who’ve been bitten by copperheads, but apparently those bites aren’t the same as rattlesnake bites.

Those same experts also say that there are very few deaths in the USA from snakebites. But me? If one bit me, I would probably die from a heart attack.

It’s the time of year when everyone wants to be outside working in the yard or the garden. Just be careful out there.

Meanwhile,  I'm  working  away  coming  up  with  a  way  my   heroine  in  THE HORSEMAN, the beautiful Dallas Ann Carol, is going to go on with her life after this trauma. And how our hero, handsome and rich  Troy Rattigan,  is  going  to find her courageous and irresistible.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Romancing Real Life by Paty Jager

Thirty-seven years ago today I married a man who swept me off my feet, and yet, most would wonder why. He’s your typical male. Forgets important dates if they aren’t related to haying or calving, shaves when his beard itches, does, thankfully, shower every night, but will sometimes put the dirty outer clothes back on the next day saying he’s saving me wash.(which is a romantic gesture from his way of thinking) He doesn’t cook, barbecue, or do dishes or the laundry. In fact, the biggest thing he does in the house is walk a dirty cup to the sink. He’s slowly learning to use the microwave when I’m gone.

But he makes me laugh and does do some sweet things now and then. Buying me a hay baler for Christmas wasn’t so sweet, but when he brought me a bunch of hand-picked wildflowers it melted my heart. There are days he does little things that remind me of why I fell for him all those years ago. And those are the traits I bestow on my heroes in my books.

Years ago when I became published in romance I asked, my then out of school, daughters if they wanted to read my books. They both responded, “I don’t want to know what you and Dad do.”  I quickly told them, what was in the books had nothing to do with Dad and I. Romance books are written mostly for women by women and therefore they are the fantasies of the writers, giving men the stamina, playfulness, and romantic gestures women would like in a man. After my daughters married they understood what I was talking about. ;)

That’s not to say there aren’t men out there who fulfill a woman’s romantic needs completely, but face it, most men don’t have that romantic quality most women dreamed of as girls. And that’s where romance books come into the picture. You can read about men who do the things you wish your man would do. It helps fulfill a part of that romantic need. The same as watching a romantic movie. It gives your heart and soul a bit of “Awe, that was sweet” and gives you hope. (My husband prefers Hallmark movies over shoot-em up blood and gore- bonus for me!)

I had never dreamed of marrying as a girl. I was an independent child and teenager and didn’t want a man telling me what do to like my father did. He demanded I be first chair in band, I had straight A’s, and I go into the medical field after school. I wanted the Arts. Music, art, writing. I spent one year in school for a medical profession and kicked loose of my father’s demands. Living on my own, I was enjoying doing things I wanted to do. Then one night at an Under-Twenty-One club, in walked my husband. We met that night and six months later we were talking forever. Two years later we married. 

Just like in romance books, when the right person comes along, there isn’t anything in this universe that can keep them apart. Love reigns supreme! 

Right now you can get my Halsey Homecoming trilogy plus the Christmas novella as an ebook box set for $.99!! Sale ends May 14th.


Three historical western romance books and a novella featuring characters from the Halsey Brothers Series.
Laying Claim
Jeremy Duncan heads into the Yukon Territory by dog team in the middle of a blizzard to keep Clara Bixbee, a strong-willed, business-minded, beauty, alive.
Staking Claim
Colin Healy, an American who has inherited an English estate, and Livie Leatherby, an imposter trying to save her family, find themselves marked for death as they travel by steam ship and railroad to find safety with the Halsey family.

Claiming a Heart
Donny Kimball’s loss of sight didn’t blind his heart. It can see far more than his eyes ever could. His heart tells him Callie MacPherson needs him as much as he needs her. If only he can convince her of that before they both get killed in the Pendleton tunnels.

A Husband for Christmas
Final Novella in the Halsey Homecoming and Halsey Brothers Series
Shayla Halsey wanted to be home for Christmas, but never imagined her travels would include spending the night in a brooding stranger’s cabin. Snowballing events cause her to look inside herself and recognize maybe it wasn’t being home she wanted as much as it was to have a home.