Tara Sue Me continues her Submissive series with The Exhibitionist, in which a husband and wife recommit to their explicitly adventurous marriage.
In this blog post, Tara Sue Me tells us about how she went from writing kisses-only romances to erotica. (And yes, her pen name was inspired by the Italian dessert!)
I often get strange looks when I tell people that The Submissive wasn’t my first published novel. Those looks grow even stranger when I tell them my first novel didn’t contain anything more graphic than a kiss. This is usually followed by, “What’s the title?” And after I explain that I have the rights back and it’s no longer available, the next question is, “How?”
How did I go from closing the bedroom door to flinging it wide open?
How did I go from writing kissing to describing a full-fledged BDSM scene?
While parts of the transition were difficult (I had to talk myself through the first sex scene, “You can do it. Type one word and then another.”), other parts weren’t difficult at all. I think this is because at their core, romances are very similar. They’re the telling of a couple’s story: their coming together, falling apart and making it all work out.
In any type of romance, the main focus typically shouldn’t be on what the couple does, but on the emotion between them. This is where writing sweet romances helped me. Because when you can’t describe the physical, you have to make the reader feel the connection with emotions. You have to think outside of touch to convey how they feel and in doing that, you hone your ability to write dialogue and thoughts that often show the emotion much more intimately that sex ever will.
So when I sat down to write something racier, I wanted to keep that emotion front and center. I didn’t want people to read The Submissive series and walk away thinking it was whips and chains with a kiss or two thrown in. I wanted them to feel right along with the characters: the excitement of that first knowing glance, the despair as she walks away and the joy when she returns. First and foremost, I wanted to write a passionate love story. The BDSM elements are secondary.
Almost ten erotic romances later, I still work hard to show the relationship through more than sex scenes. I’m a long way from doing it perfectly, but I do it better with each book. And I firmly believe those sweet romances gave me a head start.
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To celebrate the release of Passion Ignites, the seventh book in Donna Grant’s New York Times best-selling Dark Kings series, we'll be selecting two winners to receive a copy of Passion Ignites as well as the third book in the series, Burning Desire. Enter to win here. (Contest open until November 19.)
Grant is also sharing a song playlist she curated for the hero of Burning Desire, Kiril. Kiril is part of an ancient race of kings, sworn to protect the secrets of their dragon magic. On a quest to destroy a member of the evil Dark Fae, Kiril goes to Ireland, where he meets a beautiful, intriguing woman—who is the very Fae he came to kill. Can their burgeoning love survive the fact that they're sworn enemies?
Grant tells us about why this playlist is perfect for Kiril, saying, "Kiril's playlist suits him because it has the sensual, sexy vibes that surround him and Shara from the first glimpse he has of her. I particularly love 'Animals' by Maroon 5 because I think it screams Kiril and Shara perfectly. 'Latch' by Disclosure and Sam Smith I hear playing in my head at the beginning of the book when Kiril spots her on the street that first time. I dare you to read that particular part and not hear that song."
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In Swedish author Asa Maria Bradley's debut paranormal romance, Viking Warrior Rising, a band of immortal Viking warriors is tasked with protecting the contemporary world from the Norse god Loki.
We asked Bradley to tell us about how the rich history of Sweden inspired her new series.
I was born and raised in the very south of Sweden, which was part of Denmark until 1658 and therefore has a complicated history. This may not seem like a big deal to someone who lives outside of Scandinavia. After all, people from Norway, Sweden and Denmark share genetics and have related languages. However, one of the weird effects of this Swedish takeover is that my dialect is so different from the Swedish you hear on the news that I have to enunciate and speak slowly for people from Stockholm.
This is just one of many little details of how history shapes modern life. Although I must admit that I wasn’t really aware of how present history was in my life while I lived in Sweden. My whole family still lives there, and I visit often, but I have lived in the United States since I came over as a high school exchange student. On some level, my teenage self was aware of the magnificent historical architecture that surrounded me back home, but it only served as backdrop to my teenage angst and drama. For example, I was too busy checking out the boy I had a crush on in my confirmation class to pay attention to the fact that I was taking my first communion in a cathedral built in the 11th century. And historical landmarks like the buried Viking ship at Ales Stenar (Ale’s Stones) were just a destination for yet another school trip. Yet on some level, I must have paid attention to those patient teachers dragging reluctant school children around the countryside.
I have always been fascinated by Norse mythology, even back in my teenage boy-crazy days, and maybe seeing Viking artifacts all around me is what made those stories so vivid and why my interest continued. I am now forever grateful for those fieldtrips and history lessons. Not only did they plant the seeds for my first published novel, but while writing Viking Warrior Rising and the subsequent books in the series, the landscape and traditions that shape my immortal Norse warriors appeared vividly in my mind. Thanks to those amazing teachers, my inspiration has a solid foundation and is fed by memories that a simple Internet search couldn’t replace. I have tactile memories of buried Viking ships outlined in rough grey stones. I have stood in the middle of Trelleborg and imagined what it was like as a rich settlement and vibrant trading place. I know what it feels like to trace my fingers along the chiseled grooves on a rune stone that tell tales of adventures and heroism, just like I try to do by putting words on a page many hundred years later.
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Autumn and harvest time go hand-in-hand with independent reading time. My first BookPage blog post of this school year provided an introduction to STEM, STEAM and STREAM for parents. (Read it here.) Now I want to suggest two novels that parents and children can enjoy together, and which offer wonderful connections to math and science for third- through sixth-grade readers.
In 2010, Aaron R. Hawkins, a professor of electrical engineering at Brigham Young University, published his debut novel for children, The Year Money Grew on Trees. Hawkins said he was inspired by his own memories of growing up in New Mexico and working on his family’s orchard. I’ve been recommending this delightful title as a read-aloud to parents, librarians and teachers ever since I reviewed it for BookPage five years ago.
The year is 1983. Jackson Jones, the book’s 13-year-old hero, has the chance to obtain an apple orchard—but only if he can earn $8,000 from the crop. Jackson convinces his sisters and cousins to help. The book’s humor—and magic—is in watching Jackson and his team learn about pruning, irrigating and fertilizing, to say nothing of trying to figure out the economics of their new business. The author has included maps and illustrations of mechanical equipment and irrigation systems, along with mathematical calculations.
The Year Money Grew on Trees is a wonderful book for budding farmers, engineers, businesspeople and just plain lovers of apples. Check out Hawkins’ website for pictures of some of the equipment used here.
Another debut novelist, Jacqueline Kelly, received a Newbery Honor for her first book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (2009). (A sequel, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, was released earlier this year.)
Like The Year Money Grew on Trees, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is historical fiction—only it’s set a bit earlier, in 1899 Texas. Here, the STEM connections are most strongly related to natural history and botany, for Calpurnia’s grandfather is a devoted follower of Charles Darwin, whose book The Origin of Species was published in 1859.
Each chapter in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate begins with a quotation from Darwin. Calpurnia, the only girl among six brothers, dreams of becoming a scientist herself someday, to her parents’ dismay. Calpurnia tries to fulfill her mother’s expectations that she learn domestic arts, but the truth is, she much prefers exploring the natural world with Grandaddy. One of the highlights of the novel is the duo’s discovery of a new species of plant “heretofore unknown.”
This is a wonderful book for young scientists and plant lovers—both girls and boys. It also complements many nonfiction books on botany, Darwin and the natural world available at your library.
This fall, grab an apple (or some warm homemade applesauce), curl up and read!
Deborah Hopkinson wrote about Charles Darwin in Who Was Charles Darwin? She has also written about the 19th-century astronomer Maria Mitchell in Maria’s Comet. Next spring she will publish Follow the Moon Home, a book about sea turtle conservation with Philippe Cousteau. She's also a regular contributor to BookPage.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month! Eighteen-year-old Aija Mayrock has written the ultimate guide for any kid struggling with bullies, The Survival Guide to Bullying, based on her own difficult experiences. In a guest blog post, Mayrock shares how she went from victim to anti-bullying spokesperson.
The first time I was told I was worthless, I was 8 years old. I felt like I had my purpose taken from me. I was bullied every day at school. When I got home, it didn’t end, because I was cyberbullied as well.
I thought perhaps I could create my purpose again through words. I created fantastical worlds to escape into. I wrote in class, out of class, at home and everywhere I went. But soon I stopped writing. My classmates told me that I wasn’t good enough to write. And I guess because I was 8 years old, I believed them.
So I ventured to the school library every chance I got. I read as many books as I possibly could. And that’s where my dream of writing a book began to blossom. From my early teenage years, I wanted to help other kids survive bullying. But I didn’t know how.
I always read how-to guides on making friends or having confidence. But none of them ever really addressed the issues I was going through. I was terrified of going to school every morning, in fear that I would be torn to shreds by my classmates. I began to hate everything about myself. I lived an online life where I was cyberbullied terribly, yet I didn’t know how to protect myself.
I knew there was a way to shine a flashlight into the unknown for the rest of the kids being bullied. So I started re-reading my diaries that I had kept since the age of 8. I decided to build a book from 8-year-old Aija’s fears and foes.
Eventually my streams of consciousness turned into a guide that could help any kid navigate their way through going to school, having confidence, cyberbullying, finding their creativity and living a happy, healthy life.
It was the guide that I always needed, but never had.
I self-published it a year ago on October 1, 2014. I spoke at local schools and tried to get it into as many kids' hands as possible. My dreams came true when Scholastic published it this summer.
I wake up to hundreds of messages from kids around the world who have heard my story or read my book. I now realize why the bullying happened.
It took me so many years to be able to stand up after being knocked down so many times. It took me even longer to be able to pick up a pen and paper and know that I was worthy enough to write.
I found my purpose in a book I created to help others being bullied find THEIR purpose. It always takes a dark night to be able to see the stars.
Manda Collins, a librarian and author of sweeping Regency romance, continues her Lords of Anarchy series with Good Earl Gone Bad.
We asked Collins to tell us about the modern-day inspiration behind the series, as well as the original motorcycle gang: the driving club.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time playing the “what if” game. And because I’m trying to make Regency England both entertaining and relevant to my readers, one of my favorite variations on “what if” is to take something that seems particularly grounded in the present day and ask what would happen if something like that happened during the Regency era. So, I’ll check out what’s happening in pop culture today and try to figure out how and if it’s even possible to transport it to 1818.
But some things don’t need pop culture. Some things come from personal experience. And in the case of my protagonist in Good Earl Gone Bad, the second book in my Lords of Anarchy trilogy, I went back to my own third grade year in Catholic school. That was the year that the boys started to get training as altar boys. Even now, decades later, with multiple degrees and my 10th book about to be published, I still feel the sting of being excluded from that club—because I was a girl.
I think that must have been in the back of my mind when I was planning my trilogy about a Regency-era carriage-driving club. I knew from the start that the heroine of Good Earl Gone Bad would be a lady with a burning desire to join a driving club whose father does everything he can to stop her. But she finally gets accepted into the Lords of Anarchy, only to have the triumph snatched away when her father’s creditor publicly takes possession of her horses right before her first official drive with the club.
It’s not hard to guess that my springboard for the Lords of Anarchy driving club itself was the FX show “Sons of Anarchy” (based on Hamlet, by the way—guess TV folks play the “what if” game too!). Though their vehicles might have been horse drawn, Regency-era gentlemen (and ladies!) who belonged to driving clubs shared some of the same elements as motorcycle clubs, like group drives, revelry and loyalty. Only with a few balls, routs and soirees mixed in.
As Beau Brummel might have said, “They’re Anarchists, my dear. Not Barbarians.”
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Eva Leigh, who also writes paranormal romance under the name Zoë Archer, tries her hand at Regency romance with great success in Forever Your Earl, the first in her Wicked Quills of London series. The opener in the series delves into the scandalous world of gossip rags in Regency England.
In this guest post, Leigh tells us about the history behind today's celebrity gossip obsession and how it inspired her latest novel.
Scandal and gossip aren’t 21st-century inventions. Hundreds of years before TMZ, people loved to hear and read about the exciting, outrageous, titillating exploits of the rich and famous. Gossip sheets and scandal rags were hugely popular, all operating under the pretense that by exposing others’ misdeeds readers could see what not to do and learn by example. Most likely, nobody believed that fiction, but it made for a convenient excuse when pouring over the adventures of “Lady S—” and “Lord T—”.
Why do we love hearing about celebrities like the Kardashians and the latest pop sensations behaving badly? Maybe part of it is schadenfreude, pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune. And if that person is somebody with more money, more fame, more privilege than us—so much the better. We like to revel in a world of excess that most people don’t get to experience: getting thrown out of exclusive nightclubs, making scenes in wildly expensive restaurants, fast cars, designer clothing . . . We can’t seem to get enough of this fantasy world. And now, with the Internet, information on the latest gossip is instantaneous.
In Forever Your Earl, heroine Eleanor Hawke owns and runs a Regency-era scandal sheet called The Hawk’s Eye. She herself is something of a scandal, given that she’s a woman in possession and in charge of her own business. But for Eleanor, the story isn’t herself. She’s much more interested in the misadventures of notorious rakes like Daniel Balfour, Lord Ashford. Yet Eleanor’s reportorial skills are put to the test when Lord Ashford invites her to accompany him on his wild nights—and she soon finds herself not just writing about scandal, but being part of it.
Thank you, Eva! Check out our review of Forever Your Earl.
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Donald Harstad worked for 26 years as deputy sheriff and chief investigator for the police department of Clayton County, Iowa. Harstad transforms those experiences into thrilling mysteries with his popular Carl Houseman series. The sixth in the series, November Rain, finds Houseman far from his usual heartland setting, as he travels to the UK to consult on a kidnapping case—and to protect his own daughter.
In a guest post, Harstad shares a bit of the real-life inspiration behind November Rain.
I’ve written six novels about a fictional deputy sheriff named Carl Houseman, set in a fictional county in northeast Iowa. Since I was a deputy sheriff for 23 years—in a not-so-fictional county in northeast Iowa—much of the research for my novels involves nothing more complex than sitting at the Sheriff’s Department and talking about the good old days with some of the officers and dispatchers I used to work with.
I certainly never thought I would write a book until I actually wrote my first. One day, as I was working on that book, Eleven Days, I spread some evidence photos out to bring back the ambience of a killing, and it suddenly came to me. Looking at the forlorn little farm house where the body was discovered, I began remembering the enormously long hours, all of them at night, when I was the only officer working in a county of 760 square miles, 1,300 miles of roads, over 2,000 farms and 19 little towns.
Scenarios. That was the key. We were required to patrol and respond to calls. Simple enough, except one did not want to be in Postville when a call came in of a serious crime in North Buena Vista: The distance between them via the best route was more than 60 miles, and a half hour response time was out of the question. Because of such circumstances, I would drive around doing my patrol thing and continuously imagine scenarios and plan response routes and times to other areas in the county, the proximity of ambulance, fire and other police services, and under what circumstances I’d request another officer be called out to assist. The night shift hated to call somebody out on their night off, and then discover it hadn’t been necessary. Shots fired? Who called this one in? Him? He’s always doing something like that, don’t really need another officer. Yet.
On the other hand, shots fired, one man down, another being threatened with a gun, concerned farm wife is watching events unfold through her kitchen window—that one actually happened about 1 A.M., and when I arrived, there was one dead man on the ground, another potential victim had fled into a tall corn field, and the suspect had headed for the barn. I’d called for an ambulance, and two other officers as I responded to the scene.
The first officer arrived 19 minutes after I called. The ambulance came in at 23, and the second officer at 34 minutes after. They hurried. Distance is a real killer, so to speak. I secured the woman witness in my car. The only other car on the place was parked very near the corpse, and she said that was the car that both the suspect and the dead man had come in. So I lit up the barn with my spotlights, and I sat on the hood of my patrol car with my AR-15 until the next cop arrived. It was a long 19 minutes. (We did go in and get him, and the man hiding in the corn emerged just as we were handcuffing the suspect.)
That’s where Eleven Days, my first novel, had originated. Although the plot was much different, the spooky feeling stayed the same, and the old scenarios bore fruit as plots and situations. In my subsequent books, although I used fictitious characters and locations, recalling and re-imagining real-life scenarios always came in very handy. We did have a gaming boat in our county, so when I wrote The Big Thaw, I drew heavily on scenarios regarding possible armed robberies on a river boat casino.
For my latest, November Rain (Crooked Lane Books), I send Carl to London for an assist in a homicide investigation. The whole London scenario is based on one of my trips there, when I discovered that then-President George W. Bush was also in London. Coincidental though it was, the disruption of the London Police Force caused by his visit, and some of the events occurring in London at the time, allowed me to justify Carl going to London in the first place.
Our daughter’s impressions, and some wistful speculation on her part about how she’d like to stay there for a few months, provided more inspiration—not so coincidentally, Carl also has a daughter. That, combined with the fact that you just cannot look anywhere in the greater London area and not find a perfect location for a fine homicide or really cool crime, gave me all I needed to start writing. Mixing that beginning with my personal experiences in law enforcement and several discussions with members of the Metropolitan Police Force became the foundation for fictional officers and conversations. Then, again by coincidence, returning to Elkader, Iowa, and bumping into a person who had personal experience with the U.K.’s MI5 and MI6 intelligence services just put the icing on the cake.
Even today, as I write, it’s memories of the multitude of unique circumstances that I draw upon for many fictional incidents, and the real world responses that would have been generated. Characters’ reactions to events are also authentic, based on people I know and the responses I saw in hugely stressful situations. And, to be fair, actual responses I observed over coffee and donuts.
When I do public appearances I always try to include stories about what really happened, to impart a little additional flavor to whichever novel we’re discussing. Then, sometimes, as I drive back home at night, I find myself running scenarios all over again . . .
Since his retirement, Donald has written six best-selling, critically acclaimed novels featuring Carl Houseman. For more, visit: http://donaldharstadauthor.com
English professor and YA author Joseph Monninger (Finding Somewhere) dedicated his new book, Whippoorwill, to his late dog, Laika: "Last of the sled dogs. No truer heart ever lived." Whippoorwill drives straight to the heart of dog- and animal-lovers everwhere, with the story of a 16-year-old girl who takes it upon herself to save a dog named Wally.
In a guest post, Monninger shares another story—a myth that captures the "essence of dog."
Here is a myth about a dog. Whippoorwill is about a dog, and this myth gets to the essence of dog. I could tell you about writing Whippoorwill, where I got the idea and so on, but wouldn’t we all prefer a story? I think so.
The Ponte della Maddalena, a bridge in Italy’s Tuscany province, is also known as the Devil’s Bridge. It is a beautiful bridge, and legend holds that the builder, seeing its potential beauty but unable to complete it, invoked the devil to help him. The devil consulted with the builder and promised to help finish the work, but the price would be the first soul to pass over the bridge. The builder consented and the work went along rapidly. The builder, tremendously pleased with himself and with his expanding reputation as a designer and architect, had forgotten about the devil’s bargain until the day before the bridge opened.
“I have come for my soul,” the devil told the builder. “Tomorrow, when the bridge opens, I will take the first soul that crosses.”
The builder, so filled with dread he could not sleep, came to his morning coffee not knowing what to do. He asked God for a sign, though he did not believe God would interfere with the devil’s work. He spoke softly to his wife. He had not told her what Satan required, but he could not be certain he would see her again. He kissed his boy on the forehead, ruffled the youngster’s hair and walked slowly toward the bridge.
He made one stop to buy bread. As he tucked the bread inside his shirt, a dog began to follow him. Many dogs roamed the street in Lucca, and at first the builder took little notice. But then, as he neared the bridge, an idea came to him.
“I am ready to pay my debt,” he announced to the devil.
“Very well,” said the devil, “give me my soul.”
With that, the builder drew the bread and waved it in front of the dog. When the dog could hardly contain itself, the builder threw the loaf across the bridge. The dog sprinted after the bread and the devil, bested by a mere builder who had remembered at the last moment that a human soul had never been stipulated, accepted the dog’s soul and disappeared. The dog, too, vanished, but the bridge remained and may be crossed today without fear and with much admiration for its lovely shape. The dog’s name was not known and therefore could not be forgotten.
If you know a dog, if you’ve ever been in the presence of a fine, true dog, then you know how gladly a dog would give itself to protect its human guardian. I wrote this novel with all the dogs I have ever loved in mind. If someday I should die and go to heaven, and if my dogs are not there to greet me, I’ll ask to go where they are, because dogs—for me, anyway—are the measure of my happiness.
I love the classic historical romance time periods like Regency England, but I also love unexpected settings, like World War I or, as is the case with Marissa Campbell's print debut, the year 869. Avelynn is the story of the forbidden love between a Saxon noblewoman and a Viking warrior.
In this guest post, Campbell tells us how she landed on Anglo-Saxon England as the setting for Avelynn and reveals the real events that helped inspired her.
I’m often asked what inspired Avelynn, and in all honesty, it was the cold dark nights between Outlander novels. I had just finished reading my hot-off-the-shelf hardcover copy of Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo in the Bone and was waiting longingly for the next installment, when I decided I would write a novel to help other lost and bookless readers like myself.
Avelynn popped onto the page all spit and vinegar—I loved her immediately—but I needed a time period that would allow me to play with her tenacious personality. I picked the Anglo-Saxon era because, well, men and swords, but also because women had a modicum of power. They could lead men in battle, as the real historical figure Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, does some 20 years after Avelynn is set. They could own land and chattel and bequeath them onto their children, and they had an influential voice in Council, the chief court of the time. Avelynn even had a fantastic role model in England’s very first queen, the historical Queen Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald of Francia. Judith rebelled against social norms and her father’s reach and power, eloping with her true love, Count Baldwin of Flanders. Women were making things happen during this time period, and I knew Avelynn would fit in wonderfully.
I was diligent in my study and research of the world, but I didn’t want a historical bogged down in political machinations and minutiae. What I wanted was an escape—a romance with strong historical details that would transport readers to the land of Vikings and Anglo-Saxons. The thing that always made me return to Gabaldon’s novels was the connection between Jamie and Claire. I wanted to create two characters with a deep love built of respect and equality. I wanted a love story that would resonate with readers. Which led me to my favourite movie of all time: Grease. One year alone, I’m pretty sure I watched it 365 times! The story of Danny and Sandy always stuck with me. With Avelynn and Alrik, I wanted just that, a summer love that was (sing it with me) ripped at the seams . . . but ah/oh those summer nights!
I’m also a huge fan of “Game of Thrones” and the Mists of Avalon, so a straight-up historical wouldn’t do. I wanted an element of the mystical and otherworldly. In a time when elves caused disease and witches uttered hexes and curses, there was plenty of magic to be found in 869 Anglo-Saxon England, and Avelynn wanted to play her part in that.
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