Suspense author Alafair Burke's new Ellie Hatcher novel, All Day and a Night, came out last month, on June 10. Oh, happy day—the on-sale day—also known as the day that makes authors crazy.
It’s not the reading or writing of books that makes an author stupid. It’s a book’s publication that seemingly shaves a standard deviation from an author’s IQ.
About a week before a new book comes out, I start to lose sleep, playing Words With Friends until 2 AM only to wake up at 5 from a dream that makes the Kimye-on-a-motorcycle music video seem ordinary. Awake, I’m too unfocused to produce anything useful, so I find myself in front of my refrigerator, posting dog pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (the time-suck trifecta), and, the worst, repeatedly refreshing the not-yet-published book’s Amazon page to check its ranking. (Oh, c’mon @YouJudgmentalWriterYou, you know you’ve done it!)
By the time pub date comes, my brain is like a lazy uncle watching infomercials in his boxer shorts surrounded by Pop-Tarts, canned frosting and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
And this has been only the precursor to on-sale week, when, if you’re lucky, you get to hit the road, juggling interviews and blog posts between flights. In some ways, the learning curve here can be steep: I get better by the minute at talking about the book and my writing process. It’s like a master class in how-to-talk-like-a-writer. But becoming a book-talking savant can extract a cognitive price.
Here are a few of the idiotic things I have done on book tour:
Supposedly Lloyds of London will insure anything. If so, they should consider selling a policy to cover all of the stray jackets, make-up bags, flip-flops and headphones I have lost over the years during on-sale week.
In a search for validation that I was not the sole victim of this phenomenon, I contacted some of my favorite authors to ask whether they, too, get stupid during on-sale week. This is what they told me.
Michael Connelly, author of The Burning Room:
“I have gone to the wrong hotel room, trying to open the door of the room corresponding to the room number of the night before. Usually this is late at night and more than once this effort has awakened and scared the crap out of the sleeping occupant. I’ve been mistaken as a would-be hot prowler and grabbed by security a couple times. They rarely buy my explanation that I was in room 213 the night before in a city in another state.”
Megan Abbott, author of The Fever:
“Once, in Scottsdale, Vicki Hendricks and I escaped scorching heat by ducking in a bar for a beer before our event. A man in his cups—on his way to jail for a month—pulled down his pants to show us a Mom tattoo on his posterior.” (The punchline? They thought maybe, just maybe, he’d show up at their reading as promised.)
Chris Pavone, author of The Accident:
“I stop sleeping well a week before [the on-sale date]. I fall asleep poorly, then I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. I think working would be no good, so instead I read, then I seem to fall asleep again just as I should be getting up, so then someone wakes me, which results in me being overtired and cranky at the exact point when I most need to be well-rested and happy.”
Laura Lippman, author of After I’m Gone:
“I got into the wrong town car when I was booked on 'CBS Morning.' I had my contacts in (oh, vanity), and I misread the driver's sign. Almost ended up at the 'Today' show.”
Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street:
“I found myself alone in Boston for the first three nights of my book tour including on my pub date. I was excited and nervous and lonely, and didn't really know what to do with myself at night. So I drank as if I was on spring break. During the days I ran from event to event a little more dazed and confused then was appropriate for a newly published author.”
Lisa Unger, author of In the Blood:
“I am scatterbrained and confused on the road, overwhelmed I think with so many logistics, demands, exhilarations and disappointments (it ain't all awards and standing room only). Once, while packing for a conference, I practically sprained my shoulder patting myself on the back for being so organized and such a light packer. It wasn't until I arrived at my destination that I realized I had neglected to pack any pants!”
Today—after accidentally swallowing tomorrow’s allotment of pills from my vitamin container—I vaguely recalled from my college psych education that this temporary case of the I-Love-Lucies might have a cognitive explanation. Because I certainly wasn’t sleeping, I shot off a late-night email to my undergrad mentor, Daniel Reisberg (Reed College, author of The Science of Perception and Memory).
“People can do a wide range of things on auto-pilot,” Dr. Reisberg explains, “but automatic behaviors tend to be easy, but badly-controlled, and often leave you with actions that are habitual (even if they’re not what you intended at that moment). For example, you’re in the car, driving to the store. You intend to turn left at the corner, but, under stress, you turn right, taking the route that you usually take on your way to school.”
So that’s why I head for my usual airport (Newark) when I’m supposed to go to LaGuardia, turn right into a restroom instead of left, and walk out of a hotel room carrying the book I was in the middle of reading instead of a book I finished writing months before.
I should feel comforted, but I’m not.
I get stupid because of stress? Ten books in, shouldn’t I be beyond that? After all, I know, at an intellectual level, that by the time the books are printed and shipped, there’s nothing more for me to do. Whatever happens this week is out of my control.
Stress? Nah, I’m too cool for that. But these silly slips reveal the ugly truth.
Author photo credit Deborah Copaken Kogan.
Set in sunny Southern California, Lauren Christopher's debut romance novel The Red Bikini begins at a low point. Giselle McCabe's life has long revolved around her daughter and husband, but everything is turned upside down when he suddenly leaves her. At a loss, Giselle and her young daughter seeks refuge at her sister's beach house in idyllic Sandy Cove. Giselle expects some relaxation and recuperation, but what she finds is love in the most unexpected of places. In this guest post, Lauren shares the inspiration behind The Red Bikini.
I love summer. And I love books. Some of my most wonderful memories of carefree summers involve sitting in my back yard under the orange tree and eating pistachios all afternoon in the heat while getting lost in a great book.
So I guess it’s no surprise that when it came time to write my first romance novel, I started with a romantic, summertime setting. I wanted to bring alive everything I loved about my hometown area in Southern California since I was a kid: the sunsets, the palm trees, the mist on June mornings, the greenbelts, the way the bright-green ice plant meets the sand, the ocean-facing restaurants and how it always smells a little like suntan oil and open grills when you’re walking down the sidewalk in a beach town.
I also set out to write about a slightly older heroine. (Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?) Giselle is 35, and, like most women in their 30s, she’s a little set in her ways. And there’s no way she’s wearing that red bikini her sister left her.
She also has a lot of preconceived notions about things, and that was fun for me to work with. I think everyone in their 30s can relate to that – you’ve decided how things are, and how things are going to be, and it’s hard to open your mind to new possibilities; especially when it comes to love. Giselle has her certain routines for grocery shopping, her “Excel sheets in her head” about her daughter’s nutrition, her assumptions about suburbia and what her life should entail.
So I wanted to throw a hero Giselle’s way who would challenge all that. And that’s how Fin, the 28-year-old surfer, was born!
I knew that Giselle would bristle at everything about him. I guess I wanted to explore how often, perhaps, our assumptions or misperceptions might get in the way of letting us fall in love. Giselle assumes Fin’s too young, too irresponsible, too used to groupies and easy sex to hold her interest or be interested in her. And Fin assumes she’s too well-bred and well-educated to be interested in him. But one by one, they both have their stereotypical assumptions stripped away.
Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?
The surfer stereotype was a fun one to use. People still hold onto the idea of the laid-back surfer “beach bum.” But here in Southern California, a guy in a wetsuit with a board under his arm could just as easily be your CEO as a professional surfer making six figures a year. Surfing is a $6 billion industry now, and there’s a lot of cut-throat competition involved, both in the water and in boardrooms. So I wanted Giselle to stumble into this world and have some of her stereotypes questioned, which opens her up to challenging lots of things about her life. As she does, she becomes more accepting of other people and, ultimately, more accepting of love and respect in return from the most improbable sources. Fin goes through a similar journey, and together they find that “connection” doesn’t happen on a superficial level – same interests, same hobbies, same lifestyle – connection happens on a deep, gut level.
Beyond that, I just wanted to make the story fun and romantic! For a couple of summers, my family and I stayed in a beach house in San Clemente where sea spray actually splashed the patio when high tide was in – and that’s the house I modeled Fin’s home on. I love going to the huge outdoor art pageant here every summer called the Pageant of the Masters (my husband takes me every year for my birthday). It has a long, romantic history, so I put Fin and Giselle there for one scene, too. And I put them in Laguna Canyon for a couple of scenes, which has its own golden beauty and real eucalyptus groves. Throw in some good wine, walks along the pier, sultry Spanish street names and delicious tacos, and I hope to transport readers to a summer of romance – where they can relax under the shade of their own backyard tree, eat pistachios in the heat and get wonderfully lost in a book…
Thanks Lauren! If you want to read more about the inspiration behind The Red Bikini, check out Lauren's author website.
Romance novels are filled with all types of dashing male leads. But what does Marie Force, author of the newly released I Want to Hold Your Hand, have to say about the hero trope? In this latest novel in the Green Mountain series, sweet and caring Nolan attempts to win the love and trust of Hannah, whose heart still mourns the husband she lost to war. In a guest post, Marie shares what it takes to be considered a true hero.
As a romance author, I spend a lot of time with “heroes,” the word we use in the romance community to describe our male protagonists. I’ve written all kinds of heroes in my 30-plus contemporary romances. Some are "alpha," some are "beta," some have swagger and others are just downright hilarious. All of them have qualities that endear them to the women who love them in the books—as well as the women who love to read about them. However, I think Nolan Roberts, the hero of my latest book, I Want to Hold Your Hand, might be the most heroic of all.
Several years after the death of his close friend Caleb Guthrie in Iraq, Nolan realizes he has feelings for Caleb’s widow, Hannah. Nolan, Hannah and Caleb grew up together in the fictional town of Butler, Vermont, and their friendship endured into adulthood. After Caleb’s death, Nolan and Caleb’s wide circle of friends are a source of comfort for Hannah, who goes out of her way to keep up the traditions her late husband enjoyed so much with his unruly tribe of friends.
Over time, however, it becomes clear to Hannah—and her very large and nosy family—that Nolan has special feelings for her. In All You Need Is Love, Book 1 in the Green Mountain Series, we see the Abbott family take great pleasure in delivering Nolan’s frequent messages to Hannah.
In Nolan’s mind, a quiet, unassuming town mechanic doesn’t stand a chance with the woman who was once married to the larger-than-life Caleb Guthrie. He also wonders what Caleb would think of Nolan having feelings for Hannah, even if he’s never acted on them—until one significant night when everything changes between them. Afterwards, they can no longer deny the attraction that has simmered between them for quite some time.
I think it takes a special kind of man to step into this situation with his eyes wide open to the emotional battlefield he’ll need to navigate to bring this woman into his life. Nolan puts Hannah's happiness, well-being and needs so far above his own, it's as if his own needs don't exist. Nolan also puts up with her huge and interfering family who want to celebrate the fact that their beloved Hannah seems to be taking an enormous step forward with a man they love and respect, while torturing him with their special brand of Abbott “involvement” all the same.
Nolan never blinks an eye, even when Hannah’s father and grandfather “kidnap” him to gauge his intentions towards Hanna. He puts up with her twin brother’s grilling and the concerns of townspeople who have stood by Hannah during her darkest hours and want only the very best for her. He stays steady in the face of the emotional reaction Caleb’s brother has to hearing that not only is Hannah dating again, but she’s seeing one of Caleb’s closest friends.
Through all of this, Nolan never wavers in his love for Hannah or his determination to see her happy again, no matter what it takes. His love for her is the one true thing in his life, and that, more than anything else, makes him the most heroic of heroes.
Thanks Marie! Readers, will you be checking out I Want to Hold Your Hand? Find our more about Marie and the book on her website.
Author Stona Fitch created Rory Flynn as a pen name to reinvent himself for a more commercial, popular fiction audience. Flynn's debut novel, Third Rail, is the first in a new series and introduces Boston narcotic detective Eddy Harkness. When Harkness' gun disappaears, he starts a secret search that leads him to discover a dangerous new drug, Third Rail.
But what happens when a pseudonym becoming a psuedo-nemesis? Fitch pokes hilarious fun at his love-hate relationship with his successful, upstart alter-ego Flynn.
Why I hate Rory Flynn
Rory Flynn, like many a bastard, was conceived in a moment of thoughtless abandon. I was on the phone with my agent, talking about my latest novel, Third Rail, when he floated the idea that the book might have a better chance of selling if someone else wrote it. Third Rail is more squarely in the mystery/crime camp, my sales history could charitably be called spotty, and a pseudonym would give me a fresh start. Since the book is set in Boston, how about something more Irish-y?
How about Rory Flynn, I said. And Rory was born.
I didn’t pay much attention to Rory at first. I figured he would have about the same kind of writing career as I did. He would weather through plenty of rejection (which is character-building and good for writers, as we all know), and occasionally sell a novel or catch some kind a break—foreign rights, a 25% discount on HP toner, something. Just like me.
But then the plot took an unexpected twist.
Within weeks, Rory had a book deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – not just for Third Rail, but for a series—and not a series of disappointments. Then NBC/Universal Television optioned Third Rail for television. And Jess Walter, one of my favorite writers, sent a glowing blurb that ended with this kicker—“Rory Flynn is a suspense writer to watch.”
And so I watched. I watched as my pseudonym turned into my pseudo-nemesis.
I tagged along as Rory got his author photo taken in South Boston by a famously hip, long-bearded photographer who looked like he just stepped out of "Sons of Anarchy." He scouted gritty urban locations that would capture that moody darkness within Rory Flynn, crime novelist. Then a beautiful assistant adjusted his carefully styled hair so it didn’t cover his glinting, street-wise eyes. In the final author photo, Rory looks ready to kick some literary ass.
Who was this Rory Flynn and what did he want from me?
He wanted everything. Soon he was all over Facebook and Twitter, making friends with all the crime writers I had always admired. He was in New York City meeting with his editor, staying in a really nice suite at the W (charged to my credit card, no less). Last fall he went to Bouchercon, where he spent long nights at bars with the likes of Megan Abbott and Wallace Stroby, ladling on the Irish charm. Without so much as even mentioning me. And a couple of weeks ago, his publisher took him out to dinner with a dozen booksellers to an expensive restaurant with actual tablecloths and waiters who weren’t wearing costumes. The last time my editor invited me out to dinner it meant a bleary night at El Quijote, where I ended up paying for his paella, six margaritas and cab ride home.
As the pub date for Third Rail approaches, Rory’s proverbial platform is expanding. He’s got a stunning website and a sleek video trailer on YouTube that looks like it cost real money. And he’s got readings coming up, where he will, no doubt, be charming.
What do I have? I called up my agent to talk about my next book last week. I gave him the pitch. Doesn’t sound like a Rory Flynn novel, he said. I told him that it wasn’t. There was a long pause and the sound of a pen scratching on paper. Someone was bored and doing Sudoku—and it wasn’t me. So what do you think? I asked. Just have Rory give me a call, Stona, he said before the phone clicked.
When Third Rail comes out, I’ll buy a couple of copies, because that’s what you do to support a writer you know. Even one who commandeered my career, stole my agent and took over my office. Because I have faith that one day, with a little luck of the Irish, I could wake up and find myself living a life just like Rory’s.
Despite our rocky start, we’re really a lot alike, Rory and me. We’re both writers. We both like moving words around on the page, telling stories and hoisting the occasional pint. And Rory’s relentless charm offensive is working.
I’m starting to like having him around.
Stona Fitch’s novels include Senseless, Printer’s Devil and Give + Take. He is also the founder of the Concord Free Press, the world’s first generosity-based publisher.
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?
Bcause June is Audio Month, we asked beloved author Alexander McCall Smith to share his thoughts on why he loves the medium.
Every author must fear the adaptations of his or her work. I know people who have looked on with amazement as movie directors have changed their books out of all recognition, imposing new characters, different locales and different endings. Such is the allure of the screen that vandalism of this nature seems to be accepted by authors as an inevitable part of the process. Rarely, if ever, will authors stand up to a movie director or producer in full flight. They should, but don’t.
But if movies present good reasons for an author to be afraid, the same cannot be said of audiobooks. In my view, just as movie people are sometimes difficult and unreasonable, audiobook people are the unsung heroes and heroines of adaptation, always polite, always helpful and always willing to bring out the author’s vision in the finished product. As a result, I have never heard a single author complaining about what audiobooks have done to his or her story—quite the opposite, in fact.
Of course I am biased: I really like audiobooks. I love listening to a good reader and a good text, and never begrudge the hours that I spend in the company of these recordings. In some cases I have listened to a particular recording time and time again, such is the pleasure I derive from a good reading. An instance of this is an audiobook I have of Somerset Maugham’s short stories. I have listened to one of these stories—“The Outstation,” a splendidly claustrophobic tale of two colonial officials at one another’s throats in a remote river station—five or six times. The reader, a well-known American actor, might not have been the first choice to do a story by a British author writing about British characters, but his reading is so magnificent, so measured and beautiful, that it is hard to imagine anybody doing it better.
When it comes to the recording of the audio versions of my own books, I have had the good fortune to have publishers who seem to take infinite pains to get just the right reader for the task. The job of reading the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels was given to Lisette Lecat, a South African-born actress who now lives in the United States. Lisette’s performance over the course of the 14 novels that currently make up the series has been flawless, and she has, for many people, become the voice of my Botswana heroine, Mma Ramotswe. I have also been extremely lucky with the readers of my other series—every one of them, I feel, sounds just right.
What is it that makes a reader perfect, as Lisette Lecat is? I think that the most important quality is intimacy in the voice. A good audiobook reader must sound as if he or she is reading to you, the listener, and not addressing a much wider, less personal audience. An audiobook should sound like the bedtime stories we listened to as children—stories that are addressed to us and to nobody else. That is the most important requirement, even if there are others. These include the ability to do different voices for different characters. That is something that I admire greatly in a good audiobook reader. I was fortunate enough to have Hugh Laurie read on my Portuguese Irregular Verbs series. In those books he managed to be three totally credible different German professors. He later became much more famous with “House,” but I hope he returns to recording audiobooks one day. Anybody can act on television—rather fewer can do a brilliant audiobook. Please come back, Mr Laurie: I shall willingly write you further books!
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of more than 60 books for adults, teens and children. The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Café, the 15th installment in his best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, will be published later this year.
Readers can expect lots of laughs, clever wordplay and a fun Shakespeare connection in This Private Plot, the third adventure for amateur sleuth Oliver Swithin. This time out, Oliver discovers a corpse while on vacation. It seems the victim was driven to suicide by blackmail, and it's up to Oliver to figure out why.
In a guest blog post based on a lecture in This Private Plot from Oliver, author Alan Beechey corrects a few common Shakespeare-related misunderstandings. For example, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” is not a love poem at all!
“To be or not to be, that is the question.”
(Yes, but what was the answer?)
This year, we celebrate the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare. Or rather we have already, because it was on April 23, also the day of his death and, fittingly, the feast day of England’s patron saint, St. George.
I also celebrate the publication of This Private Plot, the third book in my Oliver Swithin mystery series. I mention that not merely because I want you to rush out and buy it, but also because Will S. looms over its pages like some great looming thing. Indeed, because the question of Shakespeare’s true identity is a feature of the story, I was actually forced to do some research for once instead of just making everything up, as I usually do.
It’s amazing how much we still get wrong about Shakespeare. For example, that patriotic date for both birth and death is pure speculation—we only have records of Will’s christening and his burial.
But we misinterpret his works, too. Take his most celebrated sonnet, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” When Colin Firth started reciting it in Bridget Jones’s Diary, it caused Renée Zellweger to go all unnecessary, as my mother would have put it. The trouble is, though, that particular sonnet (number 18 out of about 150) isn’t about romantic love at all.
And it was originally addressed to a man.
(And the answer to the question is “no, I shan’t.”)
Shakespeare’s early sonnets were written to flatter his patron, a young, effeminate nobleman whom he admires, but not in “that” way—as Will makes quite clear with a smutty joke in Sonnet 20. Instead, the effusive man-to-man admiration and passionate praise were a convention of the time, especially from an inferior to a man of high birth, and especially if he’s paying you a groat or two to say so.
But the plot thickens. Sonnets 1-17 are all variations on the same theme—that the young man should stop preening, get a wife and start begetting sons, so that his great beauty will be passed on down the ages even though he’ll get old and wrinkled and die. (Very flattering.) There’s even a theory that Shakespeare’s real backer was the young man’s mother, despairing of ever having grandkids. She makes an appearance in Sonnet 3.
By the time we get to Sonnet 18, there’s a shift of focus, but it still isn’t about love. It’s about the power of poetry. In brief, Will reminds us that summer days are no bargain—they’re too hot or too cold or too windy, and anyway, autumn’s here before you know it. You, my sweet lord, knock the spots off summer, because your beauty will last forever. How’s that then? Because I’ve written about it here in this sonnet, duh. In these “eternal lines to time.”
Ah, but here’s the clever part. The poem itself has indeed memorialized the young man’s beauty for posterity. (A bit arrogant of Will you might think, but four centuries later you can’t deny he was right.) But aren’t all those hoped-for sons and grandsons, snaking down through the generations on a family tree, also an eternal line to time? Clever, huh? Alas, not original — the dual immortality conferred by both verse and procreation was introduced in Sonnet 17.
By the way, did you ever wonder what those “darling buds of May” in line 3 of the sonnet are doing on a “summer’s day”? Well, in Will’s time, England was still on the Julian calendar, and May was a summer month. (Research!)
Now what about Hamlet’s famous soliloquy? He’s thinking of killing himself, right? Wrong. For a start, he dismissed that idea several scenes earlier. And at no point in the solo speech does it get personal—Hamlet never uses the words “I” or “me” or “my.” He basically weighs up the two options we all have when our fate takes an “outrageous” turn. We can roll over and put up with it, or we can fight back, even if resistance inevitably gets us killed. (Hamlet never states that this death is self-inflicted, or that the “bare bodkin” is turned on oneself.) And because death is scary, we usually play it safe. We be a live coward rather than not be a dead hero. The whole argument, the whole of this speech, is a kind of cheesy self-justification for Hamlet’s dithering over avenging his father’s murder. Later, he does act, and gets skewered by, yep, a bare bodkin of sorts, poisoned for good measure.
Hamlet features a lot in This Private Plot (although the book’s title comes from Henry VI Part 2), including a scene where a third-rate amateur drama group, rehearsing “To be or not to be,” run headfirst into one of Shakespeare’s finest mixed metaphors: “to take arms against the sea of troubles.” They eventually decide Hamlet’s thinking of some kind of harpoon.
So sorry, Renée, but unless you’re a philandering nobleman, Colin got it wrong. He needs to do more research.
Thanks, Alan! Readers, This Private Plot is now available!
The men of Melissa Cutler's Catcher Creek series are irresistible, including the gorgeously rugged oil rights attorney Matt Roenick, hero of the third book, How to Rope a Real Man (out now!). He's certainly caught the eye of Jenna Sorentino, a single mom trying to get her act together and escape the tiny New Mexico town. In this guest post, Cutler shares her affinity for writing about strong, independent women and offers a sneak peek at Matt and Jenna's chemistry.
Melissa Cutler here, and I'm so excited to be on Bookpage talking about my latest western romance, How to Rope a Real Man. One thing that I hoped to achieve with this story—besides the most entertaining, engaging romance I could possibly write that left readers with a squishy, happy good-book high when they finished it—was that it would take a feminist stance. Even before this book, it was important to me that every book I write—from Harlequins to Westerns to small-town contemporaries—contain positive female relationships. And last year, I made a conscious choice to make sure all my books moving forward pass the Bechdel test (that, within the story, two women have a conversation about a topic other than men).
I’m not trying to write Message Books, but, rather, reflect our modern-day reality. The reality is, women are smart and capable. We form strong bonds with other women with whom we talk about things other than men; we often provide for our families financially; and we handle our shit. So in How to Rope a Real Man, single mom Jenna Sorentino is doing just that. She has strong relationships with her sisters and her best friend. She’s about to graduate college and has a job lined up that’s a strategic career move (with medical benefits, too!). And it was important to me to give Jenna a book hero who finds all those amazing qualities attractive. In fact, country lawyer Matt Roenick is my answer to the flood of alpha asshole heroes that have been all the rage lately.
I’m known for writing steamy romances, so you might ask: sure Matt is attracted to Jenna’s brain first and foremost, but is their physical connection present in the story? You bet. Do they have mind blowing sex? Heck, yeah. But like the vast majority of real life women, Jenna can’t easily orgasm during intercourse. Is that a problem for Matt? Nope. Matt has enough, er, tools in his toolbox that getting creative about Jenna’s pleasure is not an issue. Does it make their sex any less hot? That’s for readers to decide, but I think it makes those scenes even hotter.
I hope you’ll give How to Rope a Real Man a read. At its core, it’s a fun, heartfelt emotional journey of two people who are figuring out what they want out of life and falling in love in the process. Jenna is one of my favorite heroines, and Matt, one of my favorite heroes. Happy reading!
Here's the scene to whet your appetite:
With his eyes on the road, Matt cracked the knuckle of his middle finger and said, "I have a question I've been wanting to ask you. And I bet you've been asked it a hundred times."
As far as transitions went, this one was about as smooth as a dirt road after a rainstorm, but she decided to follow his train of thought around the mental U-turn. "You want to ask me about Tommy's father."
"That obvious, huh?"
She grinned and offered a shrug to show him she didn't mind. "He's not in the picture at all. Never has been, never will be."
Matt's breath gushed out in a whoosh and his torso folded in as though he would've doubled over if not for the support of the steering wheel. "What an idiot. I can't understand men like that."
One of Jenna's greatest sins was letting people believe Tommy's father wasn't around because he was a deadbeat. The truth was, the reason Tommy's father wasn't fulfilling his fatherly duties was because she'd never told him she was pregnant with his child. And unless she were to divulge the whole story of why she'd made that choice—which she'd never do because lives and livelihoods were at stake—then she came across as a borderline criminal, keeping a little boy and his daddy apart for no good reason.
“How are you coping with it? It's none of my business, but does the creep at least pay child support?"
Child support would've been nice. The money might have helped her cut down on her waitressing hours and given her more time with Tommy when he was little. "Tommy and I have managed all right. Rachel's helped a lot and now we've got the oil money coming in regularly." She touched his arm because gratitude was a good excuse to get her hand on him. "Thank you for being concerned about us."
He eased his arm away from her. "You almost told me something earlier but stopped yourself. You said you were juggling being a waitress and mom and something else."
It took her a lot of blinks to catch up with his second directional shift in as many minutes. And this time, she didn't like where they were headed. Not at all.
Her first instinct was to follow his lead by changing the subject. Then she thought about what a ridiculous conversational dance they were doing, twisting around every sensitive topic. How did she ever expect him to open up to her if she refused to do the same?
She scooted sideways in her seat, her heart pounding with a sudden burst of adrenaline. "I'll tell you something about me I've never told anyone, but it can't get around. Not even to my family . . . "
Thanks, Melissa! Readers, will you be checking out How to Rope a Real Man? Find our more about Melissa and the book on her website.
(Author photo by Tessa Desharnais)
Best-selling author Gena Showalter's Burning Dawn, the third installment in her wildly popular Angels of the Dark series—out today!—dishes up a sizzling tale that's sure to enthrall fans of paranormal romance.
Thane, a Sent One (an immortal winged warrior and demon slayer) has been enslaved by a Phoenix princess. After his escape is facilitated by Elin, who is half human and half Phoenix, sparks fly between the unlikely pair. But, of course, danger threatens to thwart their budding relationship. In this guest post, Showalter offers insight into her hero and heroine.
I’m often asked what inspires my stories. The answers are as different as the books themselves. I knew the hero of Burning Dawn before I sat down to draft the tale. He appears in two other Angels of the Dark books (Wicked Nights and Beauty Awakened) where readers are given a mere glimpse of his tragic history. He is an immortal warrior who has endured the worst kind of torture: mental torture. Imprisoned for years by demons, his agony was never physical. He resented that fact. Still does. The physical is what he wanted—his way to experience the pain his closest friends were dealt day after day, right before his eyes. He escaped what they did not. He continuously drowns in guilt. The desire for pain eats at him. So does the denial of it.
Once, his days were simple. He fought and killed demons. Rinse and repeat. He lived for it, had no other goals. He was happy. Or thought that he was.
It has always awed me, how quickly life can change. In one of my other books, I wrote this passage: “A blink, a breath, a second and everything I knew and loved was gone.” It’s a theme I’ve explored often, a theme I’ll continue to explore. To me, it’s a slice of real life. And it’s certainly true of Thane’s life at the very moment he meets Elin. He finds this more agonizing than anything else he’s ever endured. And it changes everything for him.
Elin is light in a very dark world.
Some people function better in the dark. Thane is one of them. In the light, all the creepy crawlers hidden inside his mind are revealed. He is forced to deal with harsh truths. About his past—his future. Love, hate. Who he has become. To Thane, Elin is just another form of mental torture—but as powerful as he is, he cannot find the strength to walk away from her.
Thane might be the most damaged character I’ve ever written. He thinks he wants a warrior woman, someone cold, who has a desire to give and receive pain. A mirror of himself, like calling to like. Elin is kind, witty, sexy, fun—and she wants nothing to do with pain.
How can two seeming opposites make a relationship work?
I adored writing this book. It was a joy to watch Thane and Elin fight their attraction to each other, to play, to argue, to learn about each other…and only crave more. Their connection sizzles. Their awareness constantly intensifies. Thane’s obsession with her grows. Her need for him magnifies. She teaches him to laugh. A miracle. He gives her what she’s never had: acceptance. I shiver every time I think of these two together. They have become my favorite couple—a true happily ever after. I hope you’ll give Burning Dawn a read and fall in love with Thane and Elin as deeply as I have.
Thanks, Gena! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Burning Dawn?
(Author photo by Kim Haynes Photos)
London writer Eleanor Moran's fourth novel, The Last Time I Saw You (Quercus), is a gripping psychological thriller that investigates the twisted roads a female friendship can travel. Inspired in part by the du Maurier classic, Rebecca, it is the story of two best friends from university, Olivia and Sally, whose relationship was destroyed by a shocking betrayal. When Sally dies in a car crash, Olivia is drawn back into the tangled history of their friendship—and into the arms of Sally's grieving husband.
In a guest blog post, Moran explains the universality of what she calls "Rebecca Syndrome"—the doubts that you can ever measure up to a past love.
I was a geeky, bookish 13-year-old when I first laid hands on a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the story of a nameless young girl who falls passionately in love with aloof widower Maxim De Winter, only to find that their marriage is haunted by the spectre of his dead wife, Rebecca. Even when I discovered Maxim was a murderer, who’d killed his first wife to protect his beloved Manderley, I still rooted for their relationship. It was partly because I identified with the second Mrs. De Winter’s dogged version of love: I’d grown up with a distant and unknowable father whose approval I fought an endless battle to win. But it was also because, even in my youthful naivety, I recognised the universality of her dilemma. Who amongst us has escaped the painful mental rat run of comparing herself to a partner’s previous love? In my head I call it “Rebecca Syndrome,” and it underpins my new novel, The Last Time I Saw You.
Who amongst us has escaped the painful mental rat run of comparing herself to a partner’s previous love?
In my early 30s, I found myself on the brink of marriage, a gnawing doubt permeating all the happy times. We’d been together three years, we loved each other, and I longed for the conventional setup I’d never had growing up. And yet . . . I knew it was wrong, that ultimately we wouldn’t make each other happy. The separation was messy and painful but ultimately loving. Now it was time to step into the unknown.
Having left single life behind as a twenty-something, I discovered that the thirty-something version was a foreign country that I wished I didn’t have a passport for. My ex sent his back immediately: he re-coupled within a few short weeks and, a few months later, announced he was expecting a child. Even though I’d initiated our split, I was cut to the quick, obsessing about this woman who had stepped so seamlessly into my onetime future. The crate of uncomfortable shoes I’d failed to take with me when I moved out of his apartment, the boxes of old magazines. Did those traces of our old life bother her, or did she simply dismiss them as no more than a practical inconvenience, a trip to the thrift store?
I soon got to experience the situation from the other side. I fell for a man who looked perfect on paper, but was consumed by court battles with an ex-wife he’d divorced years previously. He told me all about it on our first date, wanted it all out in the open, but over the coming months, I found myself wondering how thin a line it really was between love and hate. I would ask him what he’d loved about this complicated, mercurial woman, obsessively analysing his opaque replies. Words like “chemistry” could trigger a whole painful fantasy about chandelier-swinging sex. “The highs and lows” that he said characterised the relationship made me feel as exciting as day-old rice pudding. Were my anxieties paranoia, or warning bells? A gay friend, practical and optimistic, told me to pull myself together, pointing out that if you took my logic to extremes, I’d have to start seeking out 35-year-old virgins. I understood his logic, and yet the relationship couldn’t survive the haunting.
Livvy is left wondering if she can ever find happiness in the shadow of the complex and charismatic Sally.
In The Last Time I Saw You, Olivia, my heroine, experiences the most extreme version of Rebecca Syndrome. When she gets the call to tell her that her onetime best friend Sally has been killed in a car wreck, she’s forced to re-examine their turbulent college relationship. Her friendship with Sally was a heady roller-coaster, until Sally betrayed her in the worst possible way. Sally’s widower reaches out to Olivia, desperate to get to the bottom of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the accident. But as feelings gradually develop, Livvy’s left wondering if she can ever find happiness in the shadow of the complex and charismatic Sally.
I believe we have to grieve our “dead”—the relationships we’ve left behind—and then move on to the next with a heart that’s hopefully bruised but not broken. We just have to watch out for the partner who is still in the emergency room, claiming a clean bill of health.
Author photo by Ben Lister.