Smart Girls Read Romance -- so do the bestselling and award-winning Authors who write this blog.
Join them as they dish about Books, Romance, Love, and Life.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hitting the Wall by Suzanne Rossi

Hello, everyone.

We all get to that point when we just can't seem to get our acts together and finish something we've started. The craft project, the sweater sitting there half-knitted, planting those containers of flowers in the garden, and yes, finishing that book. The first few chapters roll out like magic. The plot hums, the characters ooze charm and have room to grow, the setting sparkles. And then--BAM! Nothing. Everything new written is deleted because it just plain stinks.

It's happening to me now. I'm seven chapters into my fourth book in the Snoop Group series and the work has ground to a halt. It's not exactly writer's block--I know how I want the story to go, but I can't whip up the enthusiasm to write it. I should write every day, but find a dozen excuses to mess around on Facebook and Twitter or watch old movies. I write in spurts. Very little motivation. This is not the first time I've experienced The Wall.

My first four books were all published in 2010. Granted most of them were already written. All I did was spruce them up and submit. Book three, A Tangled Web, was written at the request of my editor who wanted to see a sequel to the first, Along Came Quinn. She liked the idea of the villainess becoming the heroine. So did I. There I was, a new author, editing two books and writing one at the same time. I put in a lot of long hours and hard work, but finally got it done. My enthusiasm level was high.

Then while working on Hear No Evil, that nasty wall appeared. For four long months I leafed through the excuse book (we all have one) and found ways to avoid writing. It wasn't until 2012 that the novel was finally published.

I have this habit of starting two or three books at once and alternating writing on them. If I get stuck on a plot or with a character, I can switch to something else for a while until things work themselves out. My next three books were done this way. Now, alternating can keep my mind active, but it also has its drawbacks. I didn't use any type of plotting charts or such for Deadly Inheritance. I just wrote. As a result, I ended up with a bloated, repetitive story. I spent months editing prior to submission. It was a nightmare. And even though I swore I'd never do that again, I still do it to a certain extent. I make a list of what has to happen and consult it often. Some items make it into the book, others don't.

After my experience of 2010, I found myself repeating history in 2015. I once again had four books released last year. I struggle to write new material. The Wall is once again in front of me. A good portion of the wall is constructed of distractions. My husband recently retired, and while he tries to blend into the house and not bother me during the morning hours, I still know he's there. We also have the house up for sale, so my time is often interrupted with showings, not to mention the stress of negotiating contracts--two of which have failed due to buyers getting cold feet. Grrr.

So, today I am making a firm promise to myself. I will move my computer from the dining table--where the view out the windows is gorgeous, but the boats going past are a major league distraction. I can also see the TV clearly. (Not good, but I can't tell my husband not to turn it on. It's his house, too.) I'll go back into the office area, close the door, and try to focus. I don't care if it is anti-social, I've got to do it. I have too many ideas for new books floating in my head. I need to regain my determination and discipline.

Oh, and by the way, I did manage to come up with a title for that fourth Snoop Group book--Killer Instinct.

Here's hoping your walls aren't too high or well-constructed. If you're facing The Wall, step back, take a deep breath, and call on your determination and discipline.

Have a great day!


Monday, June 27, 2016

My Not So Secret Garden

After a hard winter, and vexing spring, June has been a joy to the senses. Such a delight to dash outside any time the pure gold light beckons. I never know what I'll find to photograph, a new hobby for me. I'm using my cell phone, haven't advanced to an actual camera yet. The garden is alive with butterflies, bees, bumbles, birds, and fireflies (tough to capture pics of those tantalizing glimmers) in addition to the plants. Extra time in the garden is good for the spirit, so I'm out the door the instant it summons. 

The double apricot hollyhocks I photographed below are blooming on the only plant that survived the winter from the many seedlings I started last spring and nurtured all summer. Endless watering during the long dry spell...and all gone, but this one remaining hollyhock is glorious. I will save seed from it and try again for more. 

The poppies are exquisite, like butterflies fluttering in the breeze...their silken petals fabric for sumptuous gowns. If such whimsy were possible. Maybe for the fairies. 

The many pollinators visiting the garden also love poppies. 

"One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides." ~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show

(Breadseed Poppies below. I got the seed for these at Monticello)

(Shirley Poppy and Miniature Hollyhocks)

Exquisite gossamer gown poppy. Actually, it's a rare colored Shirley poppy, the only one of its kind that I see blooming thus far.

Another thing about the garden, I think best there. Story ideas and scenes come to me. I've been advised to talk into a recorder so as not to lose these thought threads before jotting them down. I haven't yet done that, though. I'm already a neighborhood eccentric. Old Order neighbors have spotted me--gasp--in the garden on a Sunday more than once as they drive past in their buggies. Not done, you see. And they're not the only ones who disapprove. For those of you who do not live in a highly conservative area, you have no idea how wicked I am. I try to simply tour the grounds on the Sabbath and not do any actual frowned upon work. But a stray weed here and there temps me to a quick tug. And I've transplanted a geranium or two..three. I got caught arm deep in potting soil a few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. Daughter Elise was with me then and said there was nothing for it but to wave as the buggy drove past. She did. I pretended not to notice.

(Red Admiral butterfly on cone flowers)

If possible, I hide from passersby, sink down behind the asters or dart around the sunflowers. I'd really like a secret garden. Speaking of which, I love The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Another lovely children's book, also wonderful for appreciative adults, is Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. She has some of the most beautiful garden imagery I've ever read.

“Nothing stands still, except in our memory.” 
― Philippa PearceTom's Midnight Garden

That quote is true of life, and certainly of the garden. Each day is different out there. If you stay away a whole week, the growth in summer is staggering. Two weeks, and it's a jungle.

(Evening Primroses bloom at dusk like time lapse photography. This pic was taken in the early morning while they are fresh and dewy.)

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” 
― Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden

I believe the world would be a far far better place if more people had gardens. I'm all for community gardens, and getting children involved in growing things. Herein lies the key to world peace. Beth's shared wisdom. If only the world would listen.

(Poppies and larkspur)

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done--then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” 
― Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden

"My garden is my favorite teacher." ~Betsy Cañas Garmon,

(Abraham Darby, my favorite rose)

For more on me visit my blog

If anyone is interested, I wrote an herbal available in kindle and print at Amazon, also print at Barnes & Noble.  

An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Our Flight Was Cancelled -- by Vonnie Davis

Calvin and I flew to Columbus, Ohio for our granddaughter's wedding. We could have driven, but with Calvin's advancing age and my upcoming cataract surgery in 3 weeks, we decided to fly. We flew from Lynchburg, Virginia, to Charlotte, North Carolina. A layover long enough for lunch and ice cream and we boarded a plane to Columbus. Both flights took about an hour.

The wedding ceremony was held in a gazebo in a lovely park redolent with the fragrance of flowering trees and bushes. Folding chairs were set surrounding one part of the gazebo where John had proposed to our Eleni last fall.

Our four days there was a much needed time of grandma hugs and catching up with my two oldest grandsons and granddaughter.

Then we drove our rental car to the Columbus airport to catch the first leg of our flight home. We soon found out our connecting flight in Charlotte was delayed. Once more, we had a meal and watched the flight schedule board. An announcement was made. "Due to mechanical difficulties, our departure gate was changed from E-46 to E-17." This was in a different concourse. We grabbed our carry-ons and hoofed it down one long hallway to make a turn in the airport maze to the concourse or wide hallway containing our new departure gate.

We took seats and waited.

Caught our breath.

And waited.

An hour later...Calvin said, "One of us needs to ask something."
I walked up to the airline desk, ticket in hand, and inquired about our flight. I was told it was cancelled. "Cancelled??!! Why weren't we told?"

"Look, I don't have time to talk to you. Go sit down until I do," The rude woman in the American airline's uniform told me.

The redhead in me came out. "No! You'll talk to me now. We have tickets to get home. Your airline didn't hesitate to take our money, now you'll damn well take the time to give us tickets on another flight home."

She glared.

I scowled back.

We were directed to the American Customer Service Desk where we stood in line for an hour and a half. Finally, we got tickets home the next morning, a voucher for a hotel room, and a voucher for a shuttle ride to the hotel.

We went outside to wait...and wait...and wait. Over an hour later, our shuttle van shimmied in front of the airport. I say shimmy because it rattled as if every bolt and screw in it was loose. Eight of us scrambled in--tired, hungry, and sweaty.

Meanwhile, although my body was exhausted, my mind had sprung to life. Two strangers trying to get home to the same city. Their flight gets cancelled. They talk...then...and by the time we were checked into the hotel and I'd gotten a shower, the first chapter of a book was roughed out in my mind. While waiting for our flight early the next morning, chapter two was mentally taking form.

So, where do most of our story ideas come from? They come from life.

Or they come from your editor who says, "We need a series of wounded warriors, preferably SEALS, set in Texas." Book one of this series releases on July 19th.

Friday, June 24, 2016


By Amanda Quarles 

Hello! I’m gearing up soon for my latest release, and this time it’s a time travel set in Scotland! Because the research and editing for this is fresh on my mind, I thought I’d chat a bit today about some of the challenges authors face when penning the books you love (or hate!). Much like the navigator of yore, we must navigate the tricky waters with our tools and best judgment in hand. I’ve visited this topic in the past elsewhere, but it was before I was published. It was interesting to reread that post from four years ago! I think the major difference with me now, is that I do have a little more tolerance as a reader than I did then, because I know how hard it is now as an author.
A lot goes into writing a book that we have to consider, beyond characterization, pacing, and plot. I know you know this, but I thought it might be fun to show you some behind-the-scenes choices to give you a little taste ðŸ™‚ Because sometimes, well, we’re not accurate on purpose ðŸ˜‰ You might wonder–shouldn’t a writer who sets a book in the past strive to make their book as accurate as possible? It might come as a surprise to those who know me well (since I’m a history buff) but the answer is not always Yes. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I strive for that goal, but as you’ll see below, it’s not always clear cut.
NOTE: when I say “reader” and “readers” please know I’m not saying all readers, but since it’ll be cumbersome to keep saying “your average reader” or “most readers”, etc. throughout this post, I’m taking that shortcut.

Are there historical truths?

Before I get into the genre expectation part of the formula, there’s also the question of whose history are we following? There’s a reason why historians say that the winners get to write history. What’s recorded is filtered by the biases of the witnesses. On top of that, historians going over contemporary accounts of a past event are biased as well. So, unless we could fire up that ole time machine, we can’t actually know 100% what for-real transpired.
As the character Malcolm Reynolds says in the movie Serenity:
Half of writing history is hiding the truth.
Sigh. I miss the characters from Firefly/Serenity. Anyway, my point is, as authors, when we go to research our era, we can find conflicting accounts, so we’ll need to weigh the source, check if there are primary documents we can verify against, etc. But in the end, there are two things working into our decisions: 1) we’re writing fiction whose purpose is to entertain (and sometimes enlighten) and we need to consider our story’s needs, and 2) we’re not writing our Ph.D. dissertation on the subject ðŸ™‚ I know that sounds snarky, but it’s true. And it’s something I have to remind myself when I start to get too anal at the expense of story.

History vs. Story Needs

I have several quick examples to show you what I mean here. The first is actually from Must Love Chainmail, set in 1294 Wales. I hired an expert for that time period and culture to read it over, and she made this note about my use of the word “pinkie”
pinkie would be fine if you are in her pov [Point of View] but you are in Robert’s and the English and Scottish call it the pinkle because the Dutch call it pink – pink meaning little finger
I did debate with myself on whether to change it to “pinkle” but in the end I stayed with pinkie. Several things went into this, but there were two main considerations for me. First, none of the language for his scenes was what he actually spoke (Norman French) since a) I can’t speak or write in it, and b) that’d be seriously narrowing my reader audience ðŸ™‚ I made the decision, however, to try to restrict the English words used to ones he’d have an equivalent word for in his language, and pinkie fit that parameter. What I was writing was English, but they were conversing in Norman French.
The other consideration was one of taking a reader out of the story. I worried that a reader would stumble on pinkle, or worse, think it was a typo.
But, funnily enough, I did get a reader complaint! She told me she enjoyed the story but that my use of pinkie pulled her right out of the story and spoiled it for her. I felt bad, and I wrote back explaining my reasoning, and she was understanding. But I still feel like it was the right decision as I think more people would have been pulled out of the story if I’d used “pinkle.” Maybe not. Who knows? But see, these are the things that keep us authors up at night, LOL!
The other example is from Must Love KiltsI have the story start at in inn on Loch Cluanie (the setting is an actual one–I stayed in the room I described!) but when she goes back in time, there might not have been an inn there. Unfortunately, the Highland Clearances destroyed much of the infrastructure as well as the records. My Scottish editor I hired wanted me to move the inn to a large town like Inverness, because she said there weren’t inns in that area, but that didn’t work for my story needs, so I kept it. Sorry! I also didn’t have them sleeping in a room at the inn with a bunch of other people, though that would have been more accurate. I’m fully aware that there will be some readers and writers who would disagree with my choice to put my inn where I did, or will be miffed my couple had their own room. And I have to be okay with that.
On the flip side of this, there are historical details that can yank a reader out of the story that wouldn’t have affected the character or plot to have gotten right, and these are the bits I try to make sure are accurate (or that I hope my editors and Beta readers catch). These help create the fictive dream we weave for our readers. So my Highland warriors don’t have their swords strapped to their backs, a la Braveheart, for instance.

Genre expectations and reader beliefs

Over time, a core set of expectations evolved with certain genres, and readers can feel unfulfilled if they’re not met. The close cousin to genre expectations are events and mores that a reader believes to be accurate because it’s been standard in fiction for so long, but doesn’t actually hold up when studying that time period. And woe betide the author who is actually historically accurate, but it butts up against these beliefs.
I’ve definitely grappled with both of these issues with each of my three time travel romances–one set in 1834 England, one set in 1294 Wales, and one set in 1689 Scotland. As promised, here’s a few of these to illustrate.
Reader beliefs
This is pretty common in Regency romances, and I’ve talked to some authors who write in that time who say they have to weigh this factor in when deciding whether to be historically accurate. In other words, there are customs and beliefs readers think are accurate for that time that actually aren’t. I won’t spend too long on this, but I’ll give one quick example that relates to my books–bathing in the Middle Ages. The belief is pervasive that in the time I wrote for Must Love Chainmail (1294) people didn’t bathe at all, or hardly at all, and the fact isthat’s not true. Part of what motivates me in writing is to help dispel some of these beliefs. But I take the risk that I’ll get called out for not being historically accurate, even though I am.
Did you know there were no set tartan patterns for clans before the late 18th century?
This I classify under genre expectations. It’s pretty standard for the heroes in our Scottish historicals to be identified by their tartan, but back in the day, this wasn’t actually the case. As Michael Newton states in his excellent book, Warriors of the Word: The World of Scottish Highlanders:
…weavers in particular areas tended to use particular patterns and thus you could infer the place to which a person belonged if you were familiar with the local styles of tartan. This is quite different from the claim that each clan had its own tartan.
Plus, the belted plaid apparently didn’t even evolve as a thing these hunky Highland men wore until around the 1500s, though there are folks who hotly debate this. So Braveheart was not running around in a kilt apparently ðŸ™
But as readers, we want to see our heroes in kilts, even if they’re in the 1200s, and that’s okay! It’s part of our fantasy and as authors of romance, that’s what we deliver. Long ago, this was one of the things that woulddraw me out of a story, but now I roll with it because I now want to buy into that fantasy when I read that type of book.
However, I did have this as something my heroine gets confused about as she navigates that world because she’s from our era and believes clans could be identified by their tartans, and so it provided a bit of fun for her to meet with puzzlement. It also helped the story because it showed her (and the reader) that she needed to tread lightly so that she wouldn’t give herself away as being “not from around here.”
Dinnae fash, bonnie lassie!
I didn’t know that a lot of the speech we associate with our hunky Highlanders is actually Lowland dialect! I only found out when the Scottish editor I hired to read Must Love Kilts for historical, linguistic, and cultural accuracy (she has a Ph.D. in Celtic Studies) pointed out to me that when my hero was saying “bonnie”, “lass”, and “dinnae fash” that these were Lowland words and speech patterns. A Highlander thought in and spoke in Gaelic, not English. As she put in her notes to me:
People who visit the east coast of Canada will see and hear all sorts of names from the Highlands of Scotland and wonder why they don’t sound Scottish. You won’t hear ‘wee’ or ‘bonnie’ or ‘de ye ken’ ever. The reason is because they came to Canada speaking only Gaelic.
So here I compromised, because readers do expect to hear these words when they read a Scottish Highlander historical. And, since he’d be speaking in English to the heroine, and had gone to University in Edinburgh, I figured it was safe to have him use it when he’s speaking to her. I tried to limit its usage for his thoughts, but I wasn’t super strict. Again, I weighed it against genre expectations and genre expectations won out for me.

Final thoughts

As readers of my series know, I do try to be as accurate as possible, but the truth is we can’t be 100% accurate, either because we don’t really know because we weren’t there, or because we weighed in genre expectations or the story needs won out. The problem we face, though, is that each reader is different and, like the lady who was upset by the pinkie, their thresholds can differ from others. In the end, we strive to make our stories enjoyable for the majority of our readers, all the while knowing that there will be some who won’t agree with our choices.
Unlike how it sounds above, though, my editors do make many (many) suggestions that I incorporate or fix. And I research my settings and time period beforehand as well. It makes my stories richer and more authentic, and I’m extremely grateful for their guidance and expertise. I feel that striving for authenticity is one of the promises I make for my readers, and I do my best. But I am human, and so I may not always succeed to everyone’s satisfaction, or, like in the cases above, I made a decision contrary to historical accuracy for the sake of story, genre expectations, or readability.
What do you think? I’m curious to know where you fall in your tolerance for authenticity. It’s not an easy line to straddle, that’s for sure. And authors, do you have any stories and opinions to share?

Angela Quarles is an RWA RITA Finalist and USA Today bestselling author of time travel and steampunk romance. Her debut novel, MUST LOVE BREECHES, swept many unpublished romance contests, including the Grand Prize winner of Windy City's Four Season's contest in 2012. Her steampunk, STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY, was named Best Self-Published Romance of 2015 by Library Journal. Angela loves history, folklore, and family history. She decided to take this love of history and her active imagination and write stories of romance and adventures for others to enjoy. when not writing, she's either working at the local indie bookstore or enjoying the usual stuff like gardening, hanging out, eating, drinking, chasing squirrels out oft he walls, and creating the occasional knitted scarf.
Reprinted with permission from 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Enchantress' Secret

My new series is contemporary paranormal. These books are where writers create a whole new world or change the existing one to enable magic. It's rather fun to write stories with that kind of power. I opted, as I had with Diablo Canyon and Sky Daughter, to have the Hemstreet witches' world look normal if it wasn't for magic.

When writing about magic, the writer must consider its source. Magical powers can be given by a god (could be deity or demon). In Harry Potter, magical ability is born into some but must be developed-- hence a school. Magic in the Potter world uses objects (also popular in time travel), such as broomsticks, invisibility cloaks, wands that work only for their own masters.

The Hemstreet witches are born into what seems a natural world but with abilities inherited from shamans and witches. Their skills are nurtured and guided within the family, which is currently made up of four sisters, their widowed mother, two grandmothers, and a disapproving aunt. They are human, with a normal lifespan. They can be killed. They experience normal, human emotions like arguing, jealousy, joy, love, etc. They are supportive of each other. One rule that may not be broken-- they must use magic for the good of others or self-defense. Any selfish use or for evil will find them losing power or even punished.

They can all throw fire or energy bolts, dematerialize and travel from one place to another seemingly at an instant. Their other gifts vary where some are better at one thing or another like healing, seeing into the future, reading minds and histories, creating doppelgangers, and shifting into animals. They face demons, black magic purveyors, sorcerers, shapeshifters, druids, the occasional monster who was conjured into existence for nefarious purposes, and are helped by spirit guides, angels and supportive ghosts In their world, some animals can talk and are attached to their person. There are elementals, wards, potions, and vortexes. 

Because I only write romances, in each of the books, one of the women will meet her mate with all the usual complications. Together this couple will face danger from human and demonic sources. 

In Enchantress' Secret, Denali Hemstreet, as a detective in the family agency, uses her skills, both natural and developed to solve crimes. Ex-SEAL, Nick Beringer paints with an intensity few can match, including images he does not understand. An idealistic witch and a hardened soldier find their mutual attraction urges them to overcome their differences to join forces, when another realm thrusts past their boundaries and challenges their lives.

Hemstreet Witches Book 1 is set in Barrio Viejo, Tucson Arizona, a piece of the old Presidio where the witches watch the street and keep the order of the ‘old ways’. (second book, To Speak of Things Unseen, will be out the end of July).

Available at: 

Monday, June 20, 2016

How To Be #Texan - Sandra Nachlinger

I was born and raised in the Lone Star State, so you’d think I’d be an expert on all things Texan. However, it's been a while since I’ve lived there. How To Be Texan, by Michael Hicks, spurred memories of facts and funnies from the land of my birth and has been most helpful in my writing.

Here are a few highlights.


This useful contraction is covered on the very first page of the book. “The word is actually a slurring of ‘you’ and ‘all,’…” The plural is all y’all. I’ve heard that other areas of the country have similar terms – youse guys, for example.


A truly great chicken-fried steak is “…fork-tender, lightly breaded, crisply fried, and covered with Mom’s good cream gravy.” Every time I go back to Texas, I have chicken fried steak with a side of fried okra at least once.  

“True Texas BBQ is easily distinguished by the mesquite flavoring.” This dish's name can be written several ways - Bar-B-Q or barbeque or BBQ - and it tastes delicious no matter how you spell it (especially with a side of potato salad and/or cole slaw).

There’s a whole separate chapter on Tex-Mex food, including instructions for making Frito pie. “…the original was made by taking a small package of Fritos, splitting it open at the top and pouring a ladle full of steaming hot chili inside. Fresh diced onions are then sprinkled on the chili and a layer of grated cheese is melted on top.” The bag acts as the serving dish.


“While a lot of cowboy hats are still worn in Texas, the most official day-to-day-wear has to be the gimme cap.” I’ve heard these referred to as baseball caps in other areas of the country; however, in Texas “…when you say ‘Gimme one of them caps,’ you get one.” They are folded in thirds (there’s a technique to this) so they’ll slip easily into the back pocket of your jeans.


Horny Toad – I played with these little critters in the sandbox in my parents’ backyard in Dallas. I understand the Texas Horned Lizard is now the official reptile of Texas.

Armadillo – “Unfortunately, the only place many urban Texans ever see the armadillo is flat on the highway.” These strange-looking animals migrated up to Texas from Mexico and decided to stay.
Photo source via Wikipedia from:

The book includes a brief glossary of oilfield terms, including:

Blowout – “A gusher in the old days, a headache today.”

Wildcatter – “Now called an ‘independent’…” J. R. Ewing of “Dallas” fame was a wildcatter. I worked for a wildcatter for several years—an unforgettable experience.

How To Be Texan also features chapters on ranches (the King Ranch in South Texas, as well as the Chicken Ranch -- the inspiration for the Broadway hit The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), fishing, boots, vehicles, hats, and other important subjects. I'll loan you my copy if you need more information because, unfortunately, the book is out of print.

PS: Both my books are set in North Texas.
I.O.U. Sex (co-authored with Sandra Allen)