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.
Young adult mystery Death Spiral is working double duty: It introduces the Poisoned Pencil, the new YA mystery imprint of Poisoned Pen Press, and kicks off the Faith Flores Science Mysteries.
Death Spiral might be intended for teen readers, but this science thriller tackles some dark stuff. Sixteen-year-old Faith Flores wants to go to college and study science, but she has a lot to overcome. When her junkie mom dies, Faith doesn’t believe it was an overdose, and she begins a dangerous search for the truth that takes her from the drug houses of North Philadelphia to the labs of the pharmaceutical industry.
Author Janie Chodosh is a "scientist wannabe and a naturalist." Chodosh shares 10 fascinating tidbits on the science behind her debut:
Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery is a genetics-based mystery. Check out this list of interesting genetics facts that inspired the story of Faith Flores and her quest to find the true cause of her mother’s death from a supposed heroin overdose.
1) The human genome consists of approximately 3 billion chemical base pairs and about 21,000 protein-coding genes. There are probably thousands more genes. Despite so many base pairs, any pair of humans is 99.9% identical in DNA.
2) Many genes play a role in addiction. For example, The A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in people addicted to alcohol or cocaine.
3) Although no mice were tested on to write this book, with the help of mouse studies, scientists have identified many genes that play roles in addiction. The reason mice are so helpful in studying addiction is because the reward pathway in our brains functions in much the same way in mice as it does in people. (If you want to know about mice and their addiction issues, read the subpoints; if rodent addiction is not of interest to you, move on to #4.)
a) Mice lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol.
b) Mice bred to lack the β2 subunit of nicotinic cholinergic receptors have a reduced reward response to cocaine.
c) Mice with low levels of neuropeptide Y drink more alcohol, whereas those with higher levels tend to abstain.
4) Gene therapy is a set of methods that uses genes to treat or prevent disease by inserting genes into a patient’s cells. There are three approaches to gene therapy: replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene; inactivating a mutated gene; or introducing a new gene to help fight a disease.
5) When many people, including yours truly, think of patents, they think of things like curling irons and doodads that make cars work. In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has been issuing patents on genetic material since 1982. There are currently 3,000 to 5,000 patents on human genes in the United States.
6) However, (see #5) on June 13, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes could not be patented.
7) Opponents of genetic patents worry about the financial aspect of gene patenting. What about this: If just one company is allowed to patent a particular genetic test or treatment, they will have a monopoly for the term of the patent and can charge whatever they like for it, limiting access to people who cannot afford to pay. Or this: Without any competition from other researchers, the company who owns the patent wouldn't necessarily have to respond to consumer feedback.
8) Myriad Genetics filed several patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. In March 2010, a U.S. District Court ruled that the company's patent claims were invalid because genetic material was, in fact, a product of nature.
9) The age of personal genomic medicine is here. Whereas it used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a genome sequenced, the cost has gone as low as $1,000 and will continue to get cheaper. However, getting the meaning out of the data might cost you a lot more. Plus, where are you going to keep that valuable information?
10) We can find now find out if we are carriers for thousands of different diseases with a genetic component—things like Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia and Huntington’s Disease. Now, the question is, do we want to know? And if you know, it might have an impact on your siblings and children.
Thanks, Janie! Readers, Death Spiral is out now.
RITA Award-winning romance author Robin D. Owens has just launched a brand new paranormal series with Ghost Seer (out this week). In it, Denverite Clare Cermak inherits her recently departed great-aunt's ability to communicate with ghosts. When she encounters the restless spirit of an Old West gunslinger and Zach, a handsome (and very much alive) private investigator, things start to get interesting. In this guest blog post, Denver native Owens offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the inspiration behind the fun new series.
The creation of the Ghost Seer series began with a road trip. I was born and raised in Denver, but always dreamt of castles in Europe. Even though the history of the Old West was all around me, I took it for granted.
Two years ago, I wanted to come up with a new series concept, and my mother and a friend and I were driving to California. It's hard to ignore the landscape that shaped the people, or the history those people made—gold rushes, the Overland Stage, the Pony Express, mining towns and ranch wars and gunfighters—when you're traversing the Western United States mile by mile.
So with that landscape and the bits of history we read as we traveled, ideas turned in my mind of a contemporary paranormal series set in Denver. With ghosts. And a woman who wouldn't believe in them, a logical sort, an accountant—but she'd have to come to terms with her "gift" or go crazy or die.
So I thought of a psychic power that passes from family member to family member—the ability to see and communicate with ghosts—and Clare Cermak came into being. Clare had a weird great-aunt Sandra who recently died and left her a fortune, the psychic gift, and a ghost Labrador dog named Enzo to help her accept her new powers.
I am most well known for my telepathic animal companions in my books, and I sure like writing them, so writing Enzo helped me transition to the new series.
On the trip we discussed men, naturally, and I came up with Zach Slade, an edgy, wounded warrior type of hero. He's a former deputy sheriff from Montana who, along with his partner, made a mistake that got him shot and disabled. He, too, has to reshape his life. He's not too happy about giving up the public sector, or even interviewing at the Denver private investigation firm that his old boss recommended. But when he meets and flirts with Clare, he's intrigued by the shadows in her eyes that hint at a puzzle to be solved, and, of course, he's attracted.
As for the ghost, this guy was THE archetype for all the gunfighters of the Old West, a man Mark Twain (who never let the truth get in the way of a good story) made famous . . . at the time. Now, he and his story are barely known. He can't move on until he redeems himself for the worst act of his life. I really enjoyed visiting places my haunt had lived, taking pictures, soaking up the atmosphere.
Ghost Seer has romance: Clare with a paranormal gift, and Zach with a whiff of the paranormal, too. Enzo is there as mentor and comic relief, and there's a light suspense twist, along with historical fact as true as I could make it.
Throughout the series both Clare and Zach will grow, and face danger. For Ghost Layer (coming in September), I took a couple of facts that got juxtaposed in my mind—a millionaire who moved an entire ghost town to his ranch estate and a "romantic" ghost that appeared, skeleton and all, in ladies' beds after they died. My millionaire is having house parties, and the ghost is driving off his female guests as well as his staff. In this story, the apparition was murdered and wants Clare and Zach to find his killer before he can go on.
I am having a great time writing these and hope readers enjoy them, too. Thank you for this opportunity for me to gush about my new passion.
Thank you, Robin! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Ghost Seer?
Veteran romance author Lorraine Heath has written more than 60 novels over the past 20 years. Her latest, When the Duke Was Wicked (out today!), is the first in her brand-new, deliciously titled new Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series. Will the rakish Duke of Lovingdon (love it!) forgo his wicked ways and give in to his love for Lady Grace Mabry? In this guest blog post, Heath offers a peek into her creative process and shares how real life has a tendency to influence her while she's writing.
I’m a by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer. When characters visit me, asking for their story to be told, they aren’t always forthcoming with what that story entails. Very often, they simply give me a glimpse—a scene or two—something to intrigue me, to make me want to explore what leads to the scene and what follows. When the Duke Was Wicked, the first book in the Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series, was no exception.
When I began writing the book, my husband had just finished a successful prostate cancer treatment, and three of my friends had beaten breast cancer. Cancer was very much on my mind. I didn’t originally intend for Grace, my heroine, to have cancer. She was quite obsessed with marrying for love, but as I wrote the story, I realized that she needed to be struggling with something internally in order for the reader not to find her motivation weak. It needed to be something hidden, that her husband would discover on their wedding night. She planned to reveal it before the wedding, wanting someone who would love her so much that whatever her secret was wouldn’t alter his feelings. I considered an accident that had resulted in scarring, something that made her self-conscious. Then I envisioned the scene where Lovingdon, with his wicked ways, would seduce her. And when I envisioned him undressing her, I realized she’d had a mastectomy. During Victorian times, cancer was a disease that no one talked about. It was shameful to have suffered through it. So of course Grace didn’t tell anyone, not even her dearest friends. Her parents knew, and that was it.
When writing a story, we want the characters to have to face their deepest fears. Lovingdon had already lost his first love to disease and never wanted to love again. But he does fall in love with Grace. And then he discovers she’s had cancer—sees that physical indication—and it terrifies him, angers him. He can’t bear the thought of loving and losing again. There’s no guarantee that she will remain cancer-free. But during the time period for this story, the treatment of breast cancer was advancing so I could realistically have a character who survived it.
As a writer, I tend to incorporate in my stories whatever I need to work through. Not always, of course. I tend to be cruel to my characters, and I’ve never had anyone be cruel to me. I’ve never been abused or beaten. But there is usually something reflected in my writing that is part of me. Unfortunately cancer has been very present the past few years. Writing about it, giving my characters an optimistic and hopeful story, has allowed me to work through some of my anger and fears. Grace is such a strong character that I think I channeled some of my friends into her. She faces the disease with dignity and an indomitable spirit. She is determined to make every moment count, because she doesn’t know how many she might have left. She won’t be cowed. I think she is a remarkable character, one who has given me the opportunity to acknowledge those who face cancer—any cancer—with such grace.
Thank you, Lorraine! Readers, will you be adding When the Duke Was Wicked to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Kayla Marie Photography)
Science and love? At first, it may seem like an unlikely pairing, but in his highly informative new book, The Science of Happily Ever After, Ty Tashiro, PhD, presents tips for how to best go about choosing a mate—wisdom generated from examining lots of true-life stories and scientific research in the fields of sociology and psychology. In this guest post, Tashiro explains how we should stick to three wishes—and no more—when it comes to selecting our ideal partner.
If a fairy godmother granted you three wishes for your ideal romantic partner, then what traits would you wish for? When a bright undergraduate in my Psychology of Relationships course at the University of Maryland asked me this question five years ago, I found it so compelling that I eventually decided to devote two years of my life searching for the answer. I knew that guidance about how to wish wisely for enduring love was buried somewhere in the thousands of scientific papers about dating, sexual attraction and marriage. The answers I found are explained in my new book The Science of Happily Ever After.
I know that three wishes does not sound like much, but consider the following thought experiment to see why three is the magic number: Imagine that a bachelorette has an opportunity to choose among 100 eligible bachelors who are randomly selected from the population. Let’s say that her three wishes for traits in a partner include some who is: tall, college educated and employed at a good job.
1. If we conservatively say that someone “tall” is 6' or taller, then 80 of the 100 eligible bachelors would walk out of the room because only 20% of men in the United States are 6' or taller.
2. The wish for someone who is college educated would rule out 16 of the remaining 20 bachelors because 30% of men have a bachelors degree.
3. If having a good job were code for someone who has a job that pays pretty well, maybe someone at the 70th percentile in yearly income ($60,000/year) then only one man would remain out of the initial 100.
You can play this wishing game with just about any set of three wishes, and it almost always whittles down 100 possible options to just about no options. However, this is more than just a game. In online dating situations, it’s common for people to inadvertently narrow their pool of available dating options by specifying certain characteristics of people they will date. Although people should certainly maintain standards for who they will date, it’s unfortunate when something that is not a real necessity, but is rather just a preference (e.g., height, love of the outdoors), rules out hundreds of potential partners who might have possessed the traits that really matter for long-term relationship success.
I wrote The Science of Happily Ever After with the goal of explaining why it’s important for singles to prioritize the three things they want the most in a partner and to be stubborn about getting partners who fit those criteria. This is not a book about settling for someone mediocre, but rather a book about how to be smart about prioritizing what you really want.
The Science of Happily Ever After is filled with entertaining stories about people looking for love, the common problems they face while trying to choose a partner, and straightforward explanations of the vast body of research on romantic relationships. I also explain why many people squander their three wishes on superficial traits and provide suggestions about the traits that can significantly improve the odds of finding relationships that are satisfying and stable.
With Valentine’s Day upon us, sometimes it’s easy for singles to wish that they had somebody, anybody, who could fit the “responsibilities” of being a partner. However, one of the saddest situations is ending up with a lifelong partner who simply fills a role. For singles looking for happiness that can endure, they should be sure that they have a good idea about what it is that they want in a partner, so that they can be sure that they find exactly what they wish for.
Thanks, Ty! Readers, will you be checking out The Science of Happily Ever After? Visit Ty's website to learn more.
Melanie Shankle's best-selling memoir, Sparkly Green Earrings, delivered a laugh-out-loud portrait of the good, the bad and the hilarious aspects of motherhood. In her new memoir, The Antelope in the Living Room, Shankle turns her keen observation to marriage, sharing the ups and downs, the joys and disappointments of her own 16-year union with husband, Perry—all with her trademark, relatable humor. In this guest post, Shankle takes a refreshingly honest look at the holiday of love: Valentine's Day.
I’m sorry if the title led you to believe this was going to be any sort of actual researched work detailing the true history of Valentine’s Day. Because you’ll never convince me that it’s not just a holiday made up by Mr. Hallmark to find a reason to sell greeting cards and boxes of chocolate in that historically dead period between Christmas and some relative’s birthday.
And since the dawn of Valentine’s Day, it has proved to be a harbinger for most women as the day of the year we most prepare ourselves for disappointment. Maybe you’re in the minority of women and your husband actually shows up with two dozen roses and a piece of jewelry from the jewelry store at the mall to tell you he’d marry you all over again. If that’s the case, good for you. We’re all happy for you even though we may not like you. Also, you can quit reading now.
But for the rest of you, I will share a little story. In The Antelope in the Living Room, I write about the first Valentine’s Day my husband and I spent together. We’d been dating a little less than a year and he showed up at my apartment with a giant tin full of red cinnamon-flavored popcorn. And because I was a 24-year-old girl in love, I assumed there was a good chance that there might be a ring box containing an engagement ring at the bottom of that popcorn.
I was wrong.
My daughter read the story from my book out loud about the popcorn the other night, and she stopped at the end of it, looked up at me with a look I can only describe as pity and said, “I can’t believe you thought Daddy was going to put a ring in a bunch of popcorn to ask you to marry him. You didn’t know him AT ALL back then.” And I laughed out loud because she is so right.
Back then I had all these romantic, sappy notions of what Valentine’s Day should look like, and it involved candlelit dinners, roses and other grand gestures. But the truth is that real love isn’t just about a day of the year. True love is the daily commitment to share a life together that is sometimes messy and beautiful and frustrating and wonderful all at the same time. It’s the courage to pick up the pieces and fix what’s broken and constantly work to keep it all woven together.
And so for me, I’ve learned that Valentine’s Day isn’t going to look like it does in the movies or on Hallmark commercials, which is probably for the best because I really do not care for the chocolate assortment contained in those heart-shaped boxes. (It only takes biting into something with coconut filling once to scar you for life.)
So Valentine’s Day at our house is going to look pretty much like every other day of the year. There will be dishes to wash and dinner to cook and kids to drive to soccer practice. There might be pizza delivered for dinner and maybe a card that says, “I Love You” if it happens to be a particularly good year. There will be a car already started in the morning to warm it up for me before I have to leave the house and trash cans rolled out to the curb and leaves blown off the back patio because he knows they drive me crazy.
And what I’ve learned is that all those things look a whole lot more like real, true, lasting love than any piece of jewelry ever could.
Thanks, Melanie! What do you think, readers, will you be checking out The Antelope in the Living Room? Learn more on Melanie's blog.
(Author photo © 2013 by Leslie Lonsdale)