Donna Grant's Dark Kings series features a race of dragon shifters who have remained hidden in plain sight for centuries. In this guest post, Grant explains what drew her to the alluring mythology of dragons and talks about her next book in the series, Soul Scorched, out June 30.
Why dragons? I get that question a lot when I tell people my series, Dark Kings, is about dragons who have been around since the beginning of time.
I write about dragons because out of all the mythological creatures—and there are thousands—dragons are the only ones that show up in every culture around the world. From Asian and European countries to Native American folklore—everyone has a dragon myth. Some cultures revered the dragons and almost worshiped them. Other societies feared them and thought of them as bad omens.
I’ve always found that things like that don’t occur by coincidence. It got me asking, Why does every culture have a dragon myth? Why not another mythological creature, like fairies or goblins? Why only dragons?
Was it because there were dragons at one time? How else would societies across the globe have the same legends of huge beings, some with wings and some without, some that could breath fire and some that couldn’t? But if there were dragons, where did they go, and who was to blame for their disappearance? The only logical answer? Humans.
We are responsible for the dragons disappearing. It’s how each civilization knew about them, it’s how they passed down stories of the magnificent, huge beasts—or scary man-eaters—who came down from the sky breathing fire.
Was there a war? Did all the dragons leave? Or did some remain behind, sleeping deep underground, waiting for a time when they could rise once more and take to the skies. Could some be able to shift from dragon to human? Perhaps the man passing you on the street is a dragon in human form.
So I started thinking about how I could turn all those questions into a world of my own. I wanted my dragons to be leaders of their people. So I made them kings—Dragon Kings. I wanted them to be the only creatures on this planet for millions of years. Ever since time began, they ruled the skies, the earth and the seas.
Because of all of the different legends surrounding dragons, I knew the dragons’ downfall had to come at the hands of humans. A war perhaps, but how would the humans win over such creatures as dragons? I decided it was because the dragons vowed to protect humans, and dragons don’t break vows.
So the world of dragons faded to myth. Yet they hid in plain sight, living on their land in Scotland where they can take to the skies at night. Their lavish lifestyle is supported by their distilling and selling of whisky. Beings this powerful, however, have enemies—the Fae, as well as one of their own: a banished Dragon King who is looking for revenge.
Soul Scorched, book six in my Dark Kings series, features Warrick, a Dragon King who finds humans extremely interesting, although he detests being with a crowd. He does better on his own—until he’s sent to the dangerous city of Edinburgh to watch over the unusual Druid Darcy as the Fae and other enemies stalk the streets.
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Nashville, Tennessee, is the home of country stars, line dances, cowboy boots—and BookPage! So we were particularly excited to see that Loving Dallas, the latest in Caisey Quinn's New Adult romance series Neon Dreams, is set in Nashville. In Loving Dallas, a country musician is on the brink of stardom, but the love he left behind to pursue fame refuses to fade. We asked Quinn to tell us more about what she finds so special about Nashville—and got some bar suggestions, to boot!
Everyone has as favorite vacation destination: The beach. The mountains. Ski resorts. Las Vegas. Disney World.
Mine is a little different than most.
Mine is full of neon lights and street musicians and smoky bars.
Doesn’t exactly sound like a dream resort, and that’s because it’s not. It is, however, one of the fastest growing cities in America and lately one of its most popular.
I loved it even before it was a television show. (And yes, I do also love the TV show!)
Nashville, Tennessee, encompasses all of the things I love. It’s in the South, it’s constantly filled with music, and you can’t walk five feet without running into a cowboy with a guitar strapped to his back. So it’s no surprise that several of my books are set in the world of country music and many either take place in Nashville or feature characters who spend a great deal of time there.
Traditional romance heroes generally fall into one of several established tropes: athlete, billionaire, CEO, cowboy, soldier, rancher, rock star. I wanted to read about guys more like Luke Bryan, Eric Church or Brantley Gilbert. Personally, I prefer my heroes country with an edge. Mostly I began writing books about country musicians because I wanted to know what in the world happened on that tour bus between Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. I couldn’t find those books. So I decided to write them myself. Much more experienced writers than me will tell you to write what you want to read and write what you know. So that’s what I did.
Luckily, Birmingham, Alabama, (where I live) is close to Nashville, and my brother and several of my friends are musicians that were happy to answer any questions about the musician lifestyle I had along the way. And I had a lot. Each trip I take to Nashville, I find myself in a bar like The Stage or Crossroads, watching a band and wondering about their story. If I’m lucky, I get to chat with them after the show. If I’m not, I make it up. Either way, each trip provides more inspiration for future novels. So it may not be the bright lights of Vegas or the relaxing vibe of a five-star resort, but Nashville is my second home and there’s nowhere I’d rather be—or rather write about. ;)
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New York Times best-selling author Kylie Scott has made a name for herself writing about the scintillating love lives of the (sadly fictional) rock band, Stage Dive. Deep, out now, is the final book in the series. In this guest post, Scott tells us about what drew her to rockers, her decision to feature a pregnant heroine and her thoughts on closing out the series.
Rock stars are funny things. Ever since prime-time TV deemed Elvis’ hip-shaking antics too raunchy to show on air, we’ve been fascinated with their lives, both on stage and off. Rock stars push boundaries and live life on the edge. They stand up beneath the spotlight in front of thousands and both enthrall and entertain. And right from the get go, more than any other topic, they were singing about sex, love and relationships. Take Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” or Little Richard’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” Sex, sex and more sex. How about Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” or The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”? All of the longing and heartbreak you could ask for and then some.
For me, writing the Stage Dive series meant finally putting all the hours I spent in my youth sitting in front of music video shows, or with my ear glued to the radio hoping to catch a certain song, to good use. In the first book, Lick, there was lead guitar/song writer David. He was the tortured artist, emo-type dude. Next came manic, life-of-the-party drummer Mal, because filters . . . why would you even? Then came lead singer Jimmy, the messed-up, moody-ass show pony with addiction issues (He’s my favorite. I can’t help it. I love an asshole.) And finally, bass player Ben: big, bearded and simple in his ways. The man just wants to make music. So of course I screwed with him big time and had him accidentally knock up his best friend’s kid-sister. Angsty complications—I love them.
But why a pregnant heroine? Good question. You see, as we all know, in real life, sex has consequences. Sometimes those consequences are as simple as losing a bra down the back of the headboard or doing the walk of shame. Other times, they’re unexpected pregnancies that throw your whole life for a loop.
Now, despite the rather loud voices in my head, I know Deep is just a book. As much as I’d love to have a beer with Lena, it ain’t gonna happen. But romance novels are an opportunity for us to explore all those nitty-gritty relationship and female-orientated issues. Hold your horses! I’m not saying men can’t or don’t write romance, or that pregnancy doesn’t affect the other partner. What I am saying is, that in this book, written from the heroine’s perspective, we have a chance to dig deep into the mind of a young woman in this situation. It means we can bring unrequited love (*swoon*) out to play whilst also taking a peek at the biological, emotional and mental changes a woman undergoes when she’s knocked-up—both the funny and the frightening. Another reason I gave Liz a bun in the oven? I hadn’t written about a pregnant heroine before, and I like to mix things up, set myself a challenge. Also, pregnant women can, and do, have sex. We don’t suddenly lose all personality and become solely a breeding machine when sperm meets egg.
I’m going to miss the Stage Dive crew. They taught me a lot over the course of four books and I’m grateful for the experience. Will I ever write another story about them? Honestly, I don’t know. Right now, it’s time for something new. In the future though? There is that god-awful Martha woman still hanging around making side-eyes at Sam . . .
We're excited to announce that BookPage will be launching Smitten, a monthly romance newsletter, next week. Smitten will feature exclusive guest author blog posts and Q&As with some of your favorite authors along with our monthly Romance Top Pick, a digital-first feature and reviews of some of the month’s biggest romance novels. Sign up for Smitten here.
Andrea Laurence's latest series, Brides and Belles, focuses on the women behind the romance: wedding planners. And we'll admit that we're doubly intrigued by this series because it takes place in Nashville, home of BookPage! In this guest blog post, Laurence writes about her inspiration behind the series and the favorite wedding details.
This January, I was very excited to kick off my new Brides and Belles miniseries with Harlequin Desire. It’s the first of four books that follow the love lives of a group of Nashville wedding specialists. I came up with the idea several years ago when I was going through a period when all my friends were getting married. Every wedding was different; every one was special in its own way. It’s also very stressful. While I love the concept of weddings—picking out cake flavors and dresses—the reality is hard work.
It made me wonder about the people who manage weddings for a living. I couldn’t imagine the stress of creating someone’s perfect day each and every week. There’s always drama: The bride can be a handful, and so many little pieces have to fall in place perfectly to pull it off. Hats off to the folks who make these days happen! It got me thinking that it probably takes a toll on their personal lives.
Oh, the irony of being in the wedding industry and incapable of finding someone to marry! That’s where the story began for me. I picked four different women who join together as friends to become business partners. They each have their own specialty—planning, catering, photography and decor. They also each have their own relationship drama.
I started with Bree, the photographer, and asked myself what the single most uncomfortable thing would be for her to do. The answer was to take engagement photos of her ex and his new fiancée. Ouch, right? And so Snowed In with Her Ex was born. In the second book, Amelia, the caterer, is the one who has always wanted the big, fancy wedding. What was the worst thing she could do? Elope in Vegas with her best friend! That’s where my February release, Thirty Days to Win His Wife, starts.
I’m currently finishing up the last two books in the series, and I have to say that writing about weddings and the people who plan them is so much fun. I really do enjoy all the wedding details. It’s hard for me to narrow down my favorite part, but I would have to say it’s seeing which dress each bride chose and what her wedding cake looked like. I think those details tell a lot about the bride and the couple as a whole.
What’s your favorite part of a wedding?
Thanks Andrea! You can visit Andrea's website and find more titles by Andrea Laurence here: BAM | B&N | Indiebound | Amazon
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Best-selling author Jayne Ann Krentz's latest romantic-suspense novel is Trust No One. But you may know the author by one of the two other names she writes under, Jayne Castle or Amanda Quick. So why did she decide to write under three different names? Allow her to explain the allure of the pen name.
Yes, it’s weird but true—I write under three names. Why? It’s complicated.
I swear I did not set out to create three writing careers. I do not recommend this publishing path to aspiring writers. I mean, what kind of strategy is that? The drawback to having three names is obvious at every signing event that I do—about half the people who come through the line will say: “I didn’t know you were Jayne Ann Krentz,” or “I didn’t know you wrote as Amanda Quick” or “I didn’t realize you were Jayne Castle.”
The fact that I write under three names is in every bio on every one of my books. Hey, it’s not like I’m trying to keep it a secret. But evidently very few people actually read those author bios!
So, for what it’s worth, my advice to budding authors is choose one name and stick with it, because if you don’t you will spend the rest of your career trying to explain yourself to readers.
That said, the reason my path took three different names is not because I write three very different kinds of stories. I have always written romantic-suspense under each name. It is my core story—the book of my heart, as writers say—and I expect to spend the rest of my career exploring that story. Romance and danger is a perfect combo for me. It’s what I love to read and it’s what I love to write.
But I do like to shift fictional landscapes, so I decided to use a different pen name for each world. Turns out readers have strong preferences when it comes to settings. A lot of people won’t read my paranormal landscapes, even if they love me in my other worlds. Others only want my historical or contemporary backdrops.
So, the only big advantage of my three-name career? When readers pick up one of my books, they know exactly which fictional landscape they will enter.
In Trust No One, you will enter my Jayne Ann Krentz contemporary world. The setting is Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. The heroine, Grace Elland, has a past that she had hoped would stay buried. Let’s just say that going home can be murder. . .
Thanks Jayne/Amanda/Jayne! You can find Trust No One online here: BAM | B & N | Indiebound | Amazon
(Author photo by Mark Von Borstel)
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Romance author Terry Spear continues her Heart of the Wolf series with a holiday twist in A Highland Wolf Christmas. In this guest post, Terry Spear talks about holiday traditions—both for her family and for her wolfpack!
In my newest paranormal romance, A Highland Wolf Christmas, the wolves find their Christmas traditions changing with the changing dynamics of the pack, just as they are in my family. We always open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve and have a nice dinner of some sort—usually a roast. When the kids were little, we either spent Christmas at home or visited one set of grandparents. Now my kids live far away from me, and while they're both married, one of them still comes home to visit both her in-laws and me during the holidays. My son, however, is in the Air Force and has had to fly missions the last two Christmases, so we celebrated Christmas early at Thanksgiving last year. This year, my son and his wife are coming to visit, and we'll celebrate Christmas early again.
So you see, family is still very important, but because of jobs and where everyone lives, traditions are always changing. But the one thing I still am able to do with my daughter and son-in-law is have a turkey and all the fixings, open Christmas presents on Christmas Day, play games and watch Christmas movies. Then they’re off to visit the son-in-law’s family for even more Christmas presents and food.
We had a really small family growing up—no cousins, no family to speak of—just Mom, Dad, my sister and me. So we never went anywhere for Christmas; we just stayed home and celebrated with the family. One year, to change things up, we opened all of our Christmas presents Christmas Eve. The next day, getting up to stare at the bare floor around the tree, was a total anticlimax. From then on, we always opened one present on Christmas Eve and saved all the rest for Christmas Day.
Just like with the wolf pack in the Highlands, traditions have evolved as well. Americans have brought some new traditions to the Highland wolf pack, and the Highland wolves have shared some of their interesting customs. The one I loved most was the burning of the Christmas lists in the fire, the smoke going up the chimney and carrying the list to Lapland and Santa. Because of the botanist in the family, the wolves also started a new tradition of putting up a real Christmas tree. And they've started a Christmas bazaar, which has brought the pack together in a fun way. Learning new traditions and keeping the old can be enjoyable and add a spark to holiday celebrations. The key is to share the enjoyment with friends and family!
Valerie Bowman looks to the great Oscar Wilde for inspiration in The Accidental Countess, a Regency romance filled with Wilde-style antics. In this guest post, Bowman discusses her love of the historical romance genre and the art of adaptation.
There is nothing I like better than a romp, a farce. As an English literature major in college, the comedies I read captured my imagination with a far-tighter grip than a tragedy ever could. My medium, however, is the historical romance novel. It’s a genre I adore and am extremely proud to write. I think I fell in love with it when I first read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years. That’s a romance novel, don’t you know?
When I was coming up with my Playful Brides series, I knew I wanted to include my love of romp plays in the stories. Oscar Wilde was always on my short list. He’s a great master of the romp, after all. The Importance of Being Earnest has long been one of my favorite stories ever told and, while it is a bit outlandish, its absurdity is exactly what makes it so entertaining. What could be more fun than inventing a person who does not exist to get out of unwanted social obligations? The moment I read the word “Bunburyist” I was hooked.
The challenge, however, was making that sort of tomfoolery work in a historical romance novel. The Accidental Countess is my attempt! Penelope Monroe has invented a fictitious friend, Patience Bunbury, to avoid seeing her fiancé newly returned from Waterloo. When Captain Julian Swift mistakenly believes Penelope’s cousin, Cassandra, is the elusive Patience, Cassandra may just have the opportunity she’s always dreamed of: spending time with the man she’s loved from afar for the last seven years.
I managed to sneak in a couple of scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest, including the infamous muffin scene and a few of the quotes as well. My favorite line: “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”
There’s plenty of angst as well as comedy, and I hope some tender moments as well, for as Wilde says, “The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
Now what’s not to love about that?
Elizabeth Hoyt's latest romance in her Maiden Lane series, Darling Beast, is out today. In this guest post, Hoyt writes about her love of myths, second chances and the unexpected inspiration behind the novel.
Myths and fairy tales have always fascinated me, perhaps because they’re a pre-Freud peek into how the human brain works—what frightens us, what awes us and what we desire deep in our hearts. Fairy tales and myths are storytelling at its most basic. There is no room for character development. Dialogue, setting and description are all usually very sketchy. What remains are stories in which the fat has been removed; underneath are bare, beautiful bones in which it’s easy to trace motif, themes and morality.
I like to include an accompanying fairy tale in each of my books as a sort of foil to the main story. My latest book, Darling Beast, is no exception. The hero of Darling Beast, Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne is on the run from the law after escaping Bedlam. He’s a big, rather physically intimidating man, and he’s lost his voice after being viciously beaten by the guards in Bedlam. Apollo is in hiding in an isolated, ruined pleasure garden where he’s supervising the restoration of the grounds. Living in the back of the burned-out theater in the gardens is Lily Stump, a successful actress and playwright who’s a bit down on her luck. As far as Lily knows, she has the gardens to herself. . . that is until her 7-year-old son, Indio, comes home one day and informs her that he’s seen a ‘monster’ in the gardens.
Now you might think that the obvious fairy tale for this story would be Beauty and the Beast—and in a way you’re right—but I chose a much older myth to highlight the story—The Minotaur. If you know your Greek myths, you’ll remember that the Minotaur was half man, half bull, born out of the unnatural union of a spell-bound queen and a magical bull. The Minotaur was a monster in the true sense of the word—in the original myth he lived at the center of a labyrinth and he ate human sacrifices. He provokes some of our most basic fears: deformity, unnatural sexual urges, cannibalism and being eaten by a big scary monster.
But what of the Minotaur? What does he think about a fate he never asked for? After all, he didn’t choose to be born a monster. Is he a cannibal by choice or because no one ever sends in anything else to eat but nubile youths and girls? In the original myth, the Minotaur has no voice. He’s simply a thing to be feared. He has the head—and tongue—of a bull and, like Apollo, he’s physically unable to speak. And isn’t speech the thing that makes us human and sets us apart from the animals?
Here’s the thing. I believe that often monsters—both in real life and in myth—are simply ourselves in a form we cannot recognize. We get caught up in that bull-head thing, in primitive fear and faulty first impressions, and fail to look beneath the outer horror.
Fortunately for Apollo, Lily is a kind woman—a woman willing to allow her opinions to change when she gets to know more about him. And isn’t that all each of us needs? Kindness and the willingness to give people—even monsters—a second chance.
The fast-paced world of romance publishing is always offering up great new authors to discover. As part of our #FirstFictionMonth coverage, we're spotlighting three new voices who are each debuting in their own way this year.
Jennifer Ryan will be making her print debut with At Wolf Ranch (on sale February 24, 2015), the first in her thrilling romantic suspense series, Montana Men. The novel focuses on Ella Wolf as she flees to her family’s ranch, certain that the man who murdered her sister is now after her. Luckily for Ella, a ruggedly handsome cowboy is bent on protecting her from the killer.
Despite finding eBook success with her best-selling The Hunted and The McBrides series, Ryan is excited to finally have a novel in bookstores, admitting during our discussion at RWA that she's “really more of a print person.” And her path to print publication is the stuff of writers' dreams. While attending a panel discussion during a previous RWA convention, Avon editor Lucia Macro mentioned that she would love to see more romantic suspense novels. Taking the cue, Ryan sent Macro her manuscript, and a short three weeks later, Avon bought her series. It's no surprise, really; Ryan is adept at writing those gripping scenes that leave you flipping pages till the end.
Ryan’s romance-writing career took off with a bit of a happy shock: the discovery that she was pregnant with third child. “I was reading all the time—I read 10 books a week while my kids were growing up!” she says of her time as a stay-at-home mom with her first two children. But when they grew older, she decided it was time to go back to work as a computer programmer. That plan quickly changed when she discovered that she was pregnant again with her daughter. With another baby on the way, she decided that writing romance novels from home just made sense.
So what inspired her to base her series on the cowboys of Big Sky country? “When I was younger, I had a friend in California with a small ranch and horses. I would spend my weekends riding horses with her, and I just thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world," she explains. "I grew up daydreaming about cowboys, because who wouldn’t? I remember thinking, there’s got to be a cowboy our there for me—And I ended up marrying a military man!" Ryan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children, and can usually be found immersed in a world of books.
We chatted with debut author Lillian Marek over email about her first novel, the Victorian romance Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures (on sale November 4). This novel answers the call for romance in exotic locales, since its heroine Lady Elinor and a distractingly handsome family friend find love while exploring Italy and the ruins of the ancient Etruscan civilization. Marek writes with humor, historical knowledge and just enough spice to keep things interesting.
Writing historical romance was an easy choice for Marek. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else—you could call it a compulsion. For a number of years, I got my writing fix, so to speak, as a journalist, but it’s much more fun writing fiction,” she says. Her focus on romance was inspired by a friend’s suggestion to pick up Loretta Chase’s romance novel Mr. Impossible. “I absolutely adored it,” she says. “I started devouring romance novels, especially historical ones, and had a glorious time. Then I thought it would be fun to write them, so I did.” As simple as that!
Getting published was a bit more complex than her decision to write, but after winning a few romance-writing contests, Marek felt confident enough to pitch her book to Sourcebooks. Not only did Sourcebooks buy Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures, they bought the rest of the proposed series as well. "I was, as you can imagine, ecstatic," she says. Marek lives near Long Island Sound with her husband, where she enjoys taking long walks along the coast. We're excited to see where the next intrepid installment in Marek's Victorian Adventurers series takes us!
Rhonda Helms is venturing into the world of New Adult print with her love- and music-inspired novel, Scratch (on sale September 30). Scratch is a departure from her usual romantic young adult novels, which are “frothy and fun,” she says during our conversation at the hotel Starbucks. New Adult is an up-and-coming genre, marketed towards young women in their early 20s—a grown-up YA reader, if you will. New Adult focuses on characters finding themselves and struggling with choices and consequences, from first jobs to first loves, as they explore life after high school. “It’s got that young adult voice [first person], but with more adult situations. I like the fact that you can write these characters that are a little bit older, and there’s lots of high emotion,” Helms explains. Helms has a knack for writing convincing dialogue between her young characters, perhaps inspired by conversations with her 18-year-old daughter!
In Scratch, college senior Casey attempts to keep memories of an unpleasant past at bay by losing herself in her gigs as a DJ. She tends to keep others at a distance, but when a fellow student takes an interest in her, she wonders if letting him in might be worth the risk. Helms knew music would be a big part of the book, and explains, "Music is really important to me. I was a DJ too for a while—It was awesome!" Scratch even includes a track list which “reflects stuff that would be on Casey’s personal playlist or music that she would play in the club,” Helms says. Here's a sample track from the list.
Along with her interest in music, Helms has always loved romance novels. “I started reading romance when I was a kid,” Helms says. “I would hide in my mom’s bathroom and read her Harlequins!” Growing up with those Harlequins, she knew she wanted to write. However, she says, “The first book I wrote, I had no idea what I was doing. I just sort of vomited out five chapters, and then didn’t know what to do next. . . It took me a year, but after that first book, I learned my process. But that first book was rough!” Seven books later, it looks like she’s gotten the hang of it.
Helms lives in Cleveland with her family, where you may find her enjoying time with her pets, reading or perhaps sampling her favorite cheeses. “A good aged Gouda is divine, and Asiago cheese is exquisite,” she says. Romance with a side of cheese: what more could you want?