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?
Sabrina Jeffries' latest book in her Duke's Men series, How the Scoundrel Seduces, catches the heroine, Lady Zoe, in the midst of a bit of an identity crisis. Raised as the only child and heir to her family's Yorkshire Estate, Zoe is shocked to learn that she might actually be the daughter of an unknown Romany woman. Desperate to discover the truth and avoid the marriage her father is intent on arranging, she hires Tristan Bonnaud to help her track down her supposed mother. In this guest post, Sabrina Jeffries writes about the inspiration behind How the Scoundrel Seduces.
A few years ago, I realized that all my novels have at least one character pretending to be something he or she is not. Apparently, issues of identity are a big deal for me.
It shouldn’t surprise me—I grew up in Thailand as part of an American Protestant missionary community plunked down in the midst of an Asian, predominantly Buddhist community. Meanwhile, my high school was filled with kids who were military brats or diplomat’s kids or children of parents who worked for foreign companies with offices in Bangkok. None of us knew quite where we belonged or who we were. How could we?
That’s probably why my books often have masquerading heroines, spy heroes, or just plain men and women who aren’t what they seem as they struggle to figure out how much of their façade is real. Because I can relate. When you grow up in a mix of cultures and communities, you learn to blend in anywhere, and it makes it hard to figure out who you really are.
At first glance, the heroine for How the Scoundrel Seduces, Lady Zoe Keane, should be very secure in who she is. She has been raised with the expectation of taking up her father’s mantle. She’s that rare thing in the English peerage—a peeress in her own right, a woman who can inherit land and a title from her father (or mother, if her mother was the previous title holder). That should make her feel comfortable with her identity, right?
Except that it doesn’t. Bad enough that her situation has already made her different from all the other ladies, who are peeresses by reason of being daughters or wives to a peer. But Zoe’s father, who was an army major before he inherited the title, has raised her to be his heir. So she acts a bit like a man and not like the other ladies, who are waiting around for a husband.
I got to have her question some of the same things I questioned growing up. Which culture is mine? What do I believe? Who am I?
Plus, she doesn’t resemble her parents—she’s olive-skinned and exotic-looking. And her aunt has just revealed to Zoe that she may secretly be the child of gypsies (the Romany). That would mean Zoe couldn’t inherit a thing if anyone found out, since England didn’t have a legal construct for adoption during the Regency.
So Zoe is truly confused about who she is . . . or who she should become. And I had great fun with that. It’s always more interesting when a heroine (or hero) is in a period of flux. It gives the author a chance to capture the character emerging from the cocoon, unfolding her wings and learning to fly.
In Zoe’s case, she has to figure out what she wants. Marriage to her father’s cousin and second heir, to solidify her claim to the estate? Independence, even if it means losing her inheritance? Love with a man who might keep her from getting what she’s been bred to have?
By throwing in the possibility of Zoe being from another culture entirely (Romany), I got to have her question some of the same things I questioned growing up. Which culture is mine? What do I believe? Who am I? After all, it’s hard to figure out what you want when you don’t know who you are.
Which brings us back to why I create characters who are trying to work out their true identities. Because with every one, I get a little closer to figuring out my own. And what more can a writer ask for?
(Author Photo by Jessi Blakely for Tamara Lackey photography)
This weekend, Trisha and I had the pleasure of attending the annual RWA Conference. RWA (Romance Writers of America) is an organization that supports and advances the careers of romance authors, and the RWA conference is a four-day gathering of publishers, writers and supporters with over 2,100 attendees. It is held in a different city each year, and this year it was held in San Antonio, Texas, home of the Alamo and puffy tacos.
The conference is a fast-paced affair. Days are packed with panels about pitching novels to publishers and developing realistic characters, as well as book signings by favorites like Nora Roberts and Jill Shalvis. It all culminates in an award ceremony for the best books of the year in which the winners recieve a RITA or a Golden Heart award. And at night, there are parties! Fabulous parties with great food, plenty of drinks and incredibly friendly guests.
That's the thing about RWA: It's a gathering of the friendliest, most helpful bunch of people you'll ever meet. The romance writing community is famously supportive, and the RWA conference is a chance for writers who have been sending emails back and forth for months to finally meet in person. Many authors we met said they couldn't have finished their book if it wasn't for the support of romance writing chatrooms and friends along the way.
Stay tuned for more posts about RWA, including romance trends to look out for, a roundup of the party circuit and more!
With an entire trilogy coming out in three months, Grace Burrowes has been busy! The first in the Captive Hearts series, The Captive, was released this month. This Regency romance trilogy focuses on the troubled, but of course swoon-worthy, veterans of war and the women they return home to. The next two installments, The Traitor and The Laird, will be released in August and September respectively. In this guest blog post, Burrowes reveals the perks of widowhood for Gillian of The Captive.
Widowhood is a time of sorrow, and widows above all women are to be pitied. Gillian, Countess of Greendale, has waited eight years to earn such pity.
Gilly has obeyed society’s rules and married the man of her father’s choosing. Eight years later, she’s finally a widow, and more than prepared to take advantage of the very same rules that consigned her to a loveless marriage. Now those rules say she’s entitled to live quietly on her own. As a widow, she will endure poverty and obscurity happily to have the peace and contentment that even society admits are her due.
Two problems stand between Gilly and contented widowhood. First, her late husband left her dower house in atrocious condition. Creeping damp isn’t the worst of it. Bats, possibly; a leaking roof, surely. Second, her young cousin Lucy is much in need of a father’s love and attention, but that good fellow has only recently ended captivity in French hands, and is otherwise occupied.
Gilly stirs herself for Lucy’s sake to confront the girl’s father, Christian, Duke of Mercia. Gilly is prepared to give His Grace a sound dressing down—Lucy needs her papa!—but His Grace dangles a lure before Gilly that tempts her from her plans of obscure widowhood. Gilly wants peace and contentment, and she wants to ensure Lucy’s well-being. Christian offers Gilly a place in his household—they are cousins by marriage, after all—and asks her to join him and Lucy at his country estate.
Oh, the blessings of widowhood! Because of her widowed state, Gilly is free to accept Christian’s offer and join him in the tranquil, bucolic splendor of the Severn family seat. She has company, she’s in comfortable surroundings, and she has a widow’s autonomy. She can also keep an eye on Lucy, but increasingly, she finds herself keeping an eye on Christian as well.
He’s not a particularly impressive figure at first—weak, mentally troubled, overwhelmed with the effects of captivity and the burdens of resuming his ducal responsibilities. As much as Gilly longs for independence, she can’t help but sympathize with a duke who was cruelly deprived of his own independence and taken captive. Christian can’t help but admire Gilly, whose relentless independence becomes both an inspiration and a challenge.
Gilly thinks she’s playing by society’s rules as the story opens, but by the end of the book, for Gilly and Christian, the only rules that matter have to do with love and honor. Propriety and the social expectations? Not so much.
You can see more about the trilogy on Grace Burrowes' website.
Molly Harper's latest paranormal romance, Better Homes and Hauntings, is the spooky, oftentimes hilarious tale of talented landscaper Nina Linden as she attempts to restore the dilapidated mansion of wealthy entrepreneur Deacon Whitney. But she keeps running into obstacles that keep her from finishing the job, not to mention exploring her feelings for Deacon. Namely: ghosts. In this guest post, Harper shares the inspiration behind the book and her thoughts on played-out horror tropes.
As a child, I watched a little too much Scooby Doo. I remember sitting in front of TV, practically twitching as the ending credits to Guiding Light rolled by, whining, “Is it coming on now, Mom?” Because that day was going to be the day: The day when Fred and Daphne failed to catch the spooky culprit—using Scooby and Shaggy as bait—and Velma would be forced to say, “Jinkies, gang, I guess this carnival really is haunted by the ghost of an evil Cotton Candy Clown.”
I was never happy when the phantom turned out to be a guy in a rubber mask. And their reasons for posing as phantoms never satisfied my curiosity. This turned out to be a lifelong problem. Whether it was a TV show, a campfire tale or a non-fiction paranormal-science book, it was rare to find a haunting explanation that left me feeling sufficiently frightened.
And frankly, I got a little judgmental about the actions of the Scooby Gang and the characters in the horror movies. Why did they always split up? Why did they go investigate spooky noises coming from the basement armed only with a flickering candle? Why did they ignore walls dripping blood and disembodied voices telling them to “GET OUT”?
So when I set out to write Better Homes and Hauntings, my first-ever ghost-based paranormal romance, I had three goals for the characters. I would devise the scariest, twisty-est ghost story possible. I would spare the characters the stereotypical, “let’s split up” moments. And no one would lose their glasses, ever.
Based on the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, The Crane’s Nest of Better Homes and Hauntings is an enormous, stylish structure on a private island. However, it never quite made it as a family home since Gerald Whitney, the business tycoon that built it, murdered his unfaithful wife, Catherine, immediately after it was finished. Gerald died disgraced but unprosecuted, and rumors of a curse followed the family as their fortunes crumbled. Over the years, locals insisted Catherine’s spirit was still wandering the halls of the mansion, hiding from Gerald’s angry ghost and searching for her lost lover.
Tales of ghosts and curses persist until Deacon Whitney, the first successful Whitney in more than a century, sets about restoring the mansion to its former glory. A team of restorers, including comely landscape architect Nina Linden, plan to stay on the island for the summer to breathe life back into the Crane’s Nest, and the weird phenomena begin before Nina sets foot on the island. The characters are drawn into the mystery of Catherine’s death, but the spirits inhabiting the mansion are none too happy with their sleuthing.
As someone who has grown up with the horror movie tropes, it was a lot of fun to play with those themes and the characters’ awareness of them. I loved hiding clues in strange places around the house and letting the characters stumble into information. My “Mystery Gang” experience fear, ferret out the truth and find love – because this is a romance, and even though Fred and Daphne never got together, I’ll do what I want. And in the end, there is a real ghost and a twist, without a rubber mask in sight.
Better Homes and Hauntings is a childhood dream fulfilled and I hope the readers enjoy it.
Will you be picking up Molly Harper's latest romance?
Love the romance of Jane Austen, but looking for something a bit saucier? Then Jayne Fresina’s tantalizing Once Upon a Kiss, the first installment in The Book Club Belles Society series, might hit the spot! As five young women of a quaint English village delve into the new and scandalous novel Pride and Prejudice, it sparks some not so lady-like desires in rebellious and clever book club member Justina Penny. In this guest post, Fresina shares her love for those immortal Austen novels and her inspiration (as well as her trepidation!) as she pens a new series of romance in the Regency Era.
I became a Jane Austen fan at fifteen — and yes, that is a long time ago, and no, I’m not saying just how long! My first exposure to Jane’s work was a BBC TV production of “Pride and Prejudice,” which my English literature teacher, Mrs. Jones, had advised the class to watch. Oh wise, dear Mrs. Jones, of the irrepressible enthusiasm and bright eyes gleaming through enormous glasses. She knew I’d be sucked right in.
After that I saved up and bought a set of all Austen’s books, eagerly working my way through them, absorbing myself in that Regency world of ballrooms, bonnets and manners. What a world it was. Somewhere to which I could escape from being an awkward teenager for a few blessed hours.
Years later, when I finished my first Regency series for Sourcebooks and my editor asked if I had any ideas for another series, I jumped at the chance to write a playful homage to Austen’s work. I didn’t want to write a sequel, or prequel—or ‘quel’ of any kind. Nor did I want to risk offending Janeites and Lady Catherine de Bourghs the world over. (“Heaven and earth!—of what are you thinking? Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”)
So I created “The Book Club Belles Society,” a small group of young ladies in a country village, living when Jane’s books were first published. The Belles include Justina Penny (Jussy), her sister Catherine, and their friends Diana, Rebecca and Lucy. Some of the ladies are good and proper. Some aren’t. Some would never put a foot wrong. Some always leap without looking. Naughty or nice, one thing they have in common is a love of books.
What did Jane’s contemporaries think when they read about Darcy and Lizzie? Were they inspired to seek their own Mr. Darcy, or did they (ahem . . . Jussy) find him a bit of a bore?
In 1813, the Critical Review found only suitable moral instruction (I hear Jussy sighing heavily) within its pages. “An excellent lesson may be learned from the elopement of Lydia:—the work shows the folly of letting young girls have their own way...” As for the author, “The line she draws between the prudent and the mercenary in matrimonial concerns, may be useful to our fair readers.”
Blimey, did Mr. Collins write that review?
Was Pride and Prejudice a moral lesson for naughty girls (ahem . . . Jussy), or was that just the male point of view?
The more wayward members of my Book Club Belles society, I’m afraid, do not take much guidance from the book, but they relish the romance. Especially when a man who appears to be the very embodiment of Mr. Darcy appears before them in real life, and suddenly they find their own lives taking similar paths to those of Austen’s heroines.
I hope Jane herself would find my attempts to recreate Regency English village life amusing—and not too saucy or impudent. It’s a dodgy business taking a beloved story and putting your own voice to it. This series is my homage to Austen, my thanks for the hours of pleasure her books have given me. As I worked on Once Upon a Kiss and the introductory novella “Before the Kiss” I was very conscious of staying true to Jane’s world—as far as I, a humble fan, ever could.
And Mrs. Jones, if you’re still out there somewhere, thank you!
Thank you, Jayne! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Once Upon a Kiss?