Ah…2014. Welcome! It’s a lovely year already, isn’t it? And I don’t say that simply because both Liz and I had a book come out yesterday. Though we did. And we both did little happy release day jigs. I suspect mine was more entertaining, though, because I did mine in my pajamas Because yeah, that’s the way I roll on New Year’s Day. Or maybe that only happened because I was doing revisions all day. Way to start the year off right, huh? (Insert sarcastic eye roll here.)
So anywho…since I was neck deep in a pile of mess I’m not sure I can write myself out of, I asked Liz to start us off for our release day celebration. We’re going to play a game. But first, Liz will talk just a bit about voice (because that feeds into the game). And then we’ll give examples from our latest books and you all will play “Guess the Author.” And of course we’ll finish up with blurbs and pretty new covers. Because we do have pretty new covers. The kind that make people do little release day jigs.
LOCATION: CIA Interrogation Facility, Washington, D.C.
RILEY: Given these anomalies in your travel documents and your, ah, colorful history, you’ll understand why we need to ask a few questions, Mr. Markov. Mind if I call you Nikolai?
MARKOV (lighting a Gauloise cigarette): I’d prefer it if you didn’t, Dr. Riley. As I’ve explained repeatedly to your CIA underlings, my name is Nikolai Kirov, and I’m an independent security consultant. A simple case of mistaken identity, no doubt, that you seem to have confused me with this ex-KGB hit man I take it you’re looking for.
When Kate was looking for a hostess I greedily jumped at the chance. Kate isn’t just my Ruby Sister, but we were Golden Heart finalists together for the first time in 2008, the Pixie Chicks. And she was also a member of my local chapter back then, Washington Romance Writers. In fact, it was at the WRW retreat in 2012 that she met her agent!
WRW has this fantastic game called American Author, where brave authors submit their opening pages, which are read out loud to a panel of agents and editors for their uncensored feedback. It’s brutal. It’s honest. And it’s been known to reduce some writers to tears.
But not Kate. Her opening page absolutely dazzled them all, and she left with multiple requests for the full! A short time later she announced that she’d signed with the talented Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency as a direct result of the American Author game, and a few short months later she announced her first sale! And the book was the exact same story that won us all over during the game.
So yeah, I’ve been waiting anxiously for this book for over a year and a half now, and was so excited to get to read an early copy. And oh yes, it was worth the wait! Deanna Raybourn better watch out! (And believe me…I love Deanna Raybourn!)
Georgia Fenchurch appears to be an unassuming antiquarian bookseller in Victorian London, but the life she leads is as exciting as any adventure novel. For Georgia is a member of the Archivist Society, a secret association of private investigators led by the mysterious Sir Broderick.
When a frantic woman comes to Georgia claiming that her neighbor, Nicholas Drake, has been abducted by the notorious Duke of Blackford, Georgia and the Archivist Society agree to take the case. But Drake is no innocent—he is a thief who has been blackmailing many of the leading members of London society. To find Drake and discover who is behind his abduction, Georgia and her beautiful assistant, Emma, will have to leave the cozy confines of their bookshop and infiltrate the inner circles of the upper crust—with the help of the dashing but dubious Duke of Blackford himself.
But the missing thief and his abductor are not the only ones to elude Georgia Fenchurch. When she spies the man who killed her parents years ago, she vows to bring him to justice once and for all…at any cost.
Amanda: Tell us a little bit about how you got the inspiration for The Vanishing Thief.
Kate: My hubbie ragging on me for finalling and winning contests but getting nowhere with agents and editors. I was getting really good rejections (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and they all seemed to point to my stories as being the problem. So I ignored my problem area, which is sex scenes, and built on my strengths, which are ensembles and dead bodies. You can never have enough dead bodies to suit my hubbie. It had to be set in the 1890s, where I’ve been doing research for ten years, in London, my favorite city in the world, with a love story and a mystery.
Amanda: How many manuscripts did you finish before you sold?
Kate: I’d finished 17 manuscripts before I sold. Contemporary romantic suspense and historical romance. The Vanishing Thief was the first manuscript I wrote that was a historical romantic suspense or romantic mystery.
Amanda: You’ve mentioned that you no longer consider yourself a romance writer since this series is mystery. But I definitely felt some strong chemistry between your spunky heroine Georgia and the absolutely delicious Duke of Blackford. Will there be a romance arc through the series?
Kate: I’m no longer writing romance by the narrow definition RWA employs. I think I’m still writing romance, and I think readers will think I’m writing mystery/romance, which is probably the best definition. There is very definitely a romance arc throughout the series. In fact, there are two! I have to give Emma a romance, as well as Georgia. I don’t believe a romance should necessarily be completed within one book, not if you have something else going on in your characters’ lives, and frankly, most people have more going on in their lives than falling in love. In my case, my characters have to deal with murder and blackmail. And since it’s the 1890s, there are societal rules that slow the pace of a love story. I hope readers love Georgia and the duke enough to follow them beyond The Vanishing Thief to find out what happens next.
Amanda: Georgia is such a rich, well-rounded character. How did you develop your heroine? What about the brooding duke?
Kate: I’m a pantster. I don’t use photos or make up charts or ask questions of my characters. As I write, I get to know them. I try to keep their thoughts and actions true to who they’ve turned out to be. On the second or third or fourth draft, if I realize a character is acting, well, out of character, that’s when I realize I have to fix their actions. The exception to this rule is the duke, who will have a life changing experience later in the series, and this will change his actions.
Amanda: How many books have you planned so far? How do you go about plotting a long-ranging series?
Kate: I have the first six books plotted out, and the first three written. The second, The Counterfeit Lady, comes out in August 2014. The mysteries serve the romance in that whatever they have to do for that investigation puts the characters where they need to be to carry on the romance. The romance serves the mystery in that their “high regard” for another investigator propels them forward to help with their investigation of the mystery. And there is a nugget of history at the base of every one of my plots.
Amnda: I like that — a nugget of history. Do you mean that the books are inspired by actual events?
Kate: Not actual events, but actual trends. In later stories, I use a naval arms race in the 1890s, and the Russian, English, and German aristocratic and royal families intermarrying. Bismarck set up the German spy apparatus to learn other countries’ secrets, and although Bismarck himself had been removed from office, his spy apparatus was stronger than ever. This provoked a desire among the other European powers to spy on their rivals.
In The Vanishing Thief, I use the development of the London Underground and large farms in the area where Heathrow is today to bring fresh groceries into the inner city of London. Oscar Wilde was a contemporary of my characters and I borrow from his story.
10/31/13 Update: Thanks to everyone for stopping by! Our randomly selected winners are: Autumn and Amanda! I’ll be in touch, ladies!
True story: Last summer at the RWA conference, just as I was about to leave the hotel room for my first ever Literacy Signing, my lovely and talented cousin, Cara Connelly, proudly took a photo of me and sent it to family back home. Our dear aunt—who’s my biggest supporter and unfailingly honest—immediately texted Cara back.
Something along the lines of: “Tell Annie she needs to amp it up a little if she wants to make it as a romance writer. Good grief, she looks like a schoolteacher. She’s got to WORK IT.”
Cara jumped to my defense—sort of: “LOL, I know. But I think she might be showing a *little* cleavage. Will try to get her to put on some red lipstick at least.”
Me (grabbing Cara’s phone): “Will everybody please stop hating on my classic cardigan and sensible heels?!”
Geez, you’d think I was dressed like a nun or something. Wait, never mind.
I guess the point is, I seem to be missing the risqué romance writer gene. I don’t like drawing attention to myself or taking risks. My life, in general, is distinctly un-scandalous—and I like it that way.
But when I’m writing (or reading), it’s a completely different story. In books, the more scandal, the better—and my second book, ONCE SHE WAS TEMPTED, has plenty!
Everyone thinks Miss Daphne Honeycote is the sweet, innocent younger sister, but it turns out that she’s been hiding a shameful secret. Two, actually. Because she once posed for a pair of risqué portraits, and if they fall into the wrong hands it will mean ruin for her and, worse, for her beloved family. (You see, kids, this kind of risky behavior can get you in trouble!)
Anyway, I thought it would be fun if there was a way for risk-averse people like me to experience the thrill of posing for a scandalous portrait without actually, you know, getting naked. So, I created Daphne’s Scandalous Portrait Generator. Just answer the five completely innocuous questions below to find out what your portrait would look like. I dare you to give it a try!
Also, since my book releases today, I’m going to give away two copies of ONCE SHE WAS TEMPTED to random commenters (U.S. only, please). Now, go get your portrait!
Today, I’m interviewing author Katie Graykowski about her new book Perfect Summer. Because I am Katie Graykowski and I’m also interviewing Katie Graykowski you can imagine this was a very difficult interview. We delve deeply into the psyche and some might call psychosis that is a writer. With my finely honed interviewing skills (in 5th grade I was on the editorial team for the Hudson Pep School newspaper), you will learn exactly what makes Katie tick.
To clarify, I will be interviewing as Me and she will answer as Myself and her alter ego will answer as I.
Me: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Myself: Yes and no. I’ve always loved to write and tell stories, but the idea that I could make a career out of it never occurred to me until I joined the Romance Writers of America.
I: When I grow up, I want to be a ninja.
Me: Perhaps you could find a way to marry the two and be a romance writing ninja.
Me: Perfect Summer is the story of high school teacher, Summer Ames, and NFL football player, Clint Grayson. How did you come up with the idea for the story?
Myself: Summer has been with me a long time. The idea started forming shortly after I moved to Austin (almost 20 years ago) when I met a teacher who’d won a date with an NFL player. She wasn’t a football fan and kept calling him by the wrong name. She thought it was hilarious and he was not amused.
I: I like sparkly things. She picks up the chunk of amethyst on the corner of my desk and tosses it up in the air, catches it, and tosses it up in the air again.
Me: That is very interesting, so you’ve been working on this story for almost twenty years?
Myself: Not exactly. I started writing about 7 or 8 years ago. Summer was my first book. Back then it was titled Summer in Austin. It was a rambling 500 page (single space) epic novel with 100 chapters spanning a 10-year time period. Think cheesy 80’s miniseries meets cheesier Mexican soap opera. There were no less than 3 secret babies, 1 faked pregnancy, and 4 sets of twins. I was encouraged by my fellow writers to shorten it a bit.
I: I wanted to name it Summer Vacation but no one listens to me. You have a stapler. Cool. Can I staple something?
Me: I’ve read and throughly enjoyed Perfect Summer. Why did you choose to go with a fictional football team?
Myself: I should hope you’ve read it since you wrote it. I chose to create a football team so I could have one located in Austin. In the original version, Clint was a Dallas Cowboy and drove back and forth to Dallas which makes it hard to be the school mentor. Also, sex is important in a romance novel and it’s much easier to achieve if the people involved reside in the same town. I know sexting and Skype are an option, but it’s really boring to describe a character finger typing–plus with autocorrect God only knows what the character would end up saying.
I: She is too busy stapling post-it notes to other post-it notes to answer anymore questions.
Me: Well, I think that’s enough questions for today. I’m tired and seriously considering stapling something to I’s forehead.
Here’s the first chapter of Perfect Summer. Enjoy!
It was seven forty-two, and Summer Ames was late. With a can of Diet Coke in each hand, she jumped into the cab of her grandfather’s 1959 Chevy Apache pickup and stowed the drinks in the two plastic cup holders she’d super-glued to the dashboard. Through the windshield, cheery morning sunshine glared disapprovingly down at her.
Teachers were supposed to be in their classrooms a minimum of thirty minutes before morning classes started at eight o’clock. On a good day, she made it in ten minutes before the bell, but today wasn’t a good day. Not only had her alarm clock failed to ring in the morning, but she was meeting Vice Principal Evans in her room before school. They needed to, in his words, “have a little chat.” No doubt this was about her outburst at yesterday’s staff meeting. She had no idea her view that school funding should actually be used on education instead of football would be so wildly unpopular. Perhaps the fact she’d been standing amongst the coaching staff had put her at a disadvantage.
Summer shoved the key into the ignition and hoped for the best. The pickup, aka Beulah the Bitch, only worked when the temperature was below seventy or a Republican was in the White House. Luckily for Summer, it was March in Austin, and the temperature was in the sixties. With a hiss and a cough, Beulah turned over. Summer took a millisecond to sigh in relief and then rammed the gearshift into reverse and backed out of the driveway. Two wheels stayed on the pavement while the other two edged over the side, cutting a deep groove into her lawn.
Since her ex-fiancé was tootling around in the Audi TT she was paying for, Beulah was the only transportation Summer could afford. Her ex, Jack—all-around asshole and driver of her new car—had once said her internal clock needed a new battery. Too bad it had taken her a year to figure out his moral compass needed a new needle.
She popped open a Diet Coke and slammed half. Sipping was for people who had the luxury of time, while caffeine loading was for those who’d experienced alarm clock failure. She shifted into third, changed lanes, cutting off a UPS truck in the process. She shot the driver an apologetic grin and wave before flooring it. The school was a mere five minutes away.
Chopin’s Funeral March droned on her iPhone. Her mother’s ringtone. Summer didn’t reach for the phone. Her latest strategy in mother-daughter relations was to avoid Lillian Summerville Ames like she avoided self-mutilation, handling uranium, and reality TV. It was all about choices. And she was choosing to be an orphan.
Her heart mule-kicked in her chest as she nearly overshot the entrance to the teacher’s parking lot but turned at the last minute, jumping the curb and swerving into the lot.
Summer screeched into the nearest parking space, rammed her truck in neutral, stomped on the parking brake, and opened the door. Her Birkenstocks hit the asphalt, and she took off in a full-on sprint across the parking lot. Birks weren’t her first choice for running; then again, for her, running was right up there with body piercing—it was fine for other people but why go asking for pain.
Lungs burning and sweat gathering under her arms, Summer threw open the door to the annex and sprinted the last five feet to her classroom. Her hand closed on the doorknob, and she shoved the door open with enough force that it banged off the wall and smacked her in the chest. “Ouch.”
She stepped into the room.
Photoflashes exploded in her face, burning neon squiggles onto her retinas. Blind and still breathing heavily, she leaned on the door for support. On the other side of the psychedelic fireworks, smiling faces stood in front of TV cameras and shoved microphones at her. She glanced at the number on the door—yep, one twenty-seven—this was her classroom.
She shaded her eyes from the bright lights of the cameras.
Wait a minute. Those people looked like reporters. What the heck was going on? The Teacher of the Year winner was supposed to be announced next week—yes, she was in the running, but the big day was not until Monday.
This was a bad dream. Mental eye roll. Of course, she was still in her bed, sleeping away. That was the only explanation. With her right hand, she slapped herself on the cheek. Pain heated her skin. The room went absolutely still.
“Ms. Ames, are you well?” It was Vice Principal Evans.
Summer sucked in a breath through her nose. “Yes, just making sure this isn’t a dream.”
Laughter filled the room—people laughing at her, not with her. Story of her life. She took a step back.
Backlit by the glow of TV cameras, VP Evans’s form cast a hulking shadow. He headed toward her. “Everyone, this is Summer Ames.”
More cameras flashed, and the reporters pressed closer.
Summer smoothed down the wrinkles of her black Come to the Dark Side…We Have Cookies tee shirt and tucked a stray lock of curly, blonde hair behind her ear. She wasn’t anywhere close to photo-worthy. Her hair might have been styled by an F5 tornado, and she was pretty sure the gamey scent wafting through the air was coming from her. If only she could rewind the morning, take a shower, and tame her hair, but life didn’t come with a DVR.
“Just go with it.” Vice Principal Evans’s eyes sent a message that said, smile or else.
“What?” Summer pushed her glasses up to the bridge of her nose. Because her alarm hadn’t gone off, she’d had to choose between teeth brushing and contact lens. At the time, good oral hygiene and minty-fresh breath had seemed like a priority—she touched a lens of her thick, serviceable, black plastic frames, which were the only ones she hadn’t managed to break. Next time, she’d opt for a breath mint and contacts.
Don Chapman, news anchor for KAUS, Austin’s Only Trusted News Station, stepped in front of her and thrust a microphone in her face. “How does it feel to be Austin ISD’s Teacher of the Year?”
“Teacher of the year?” Summer choked on the spit in her mouth. So much for Monday. Couldn’t someone have mentioned this yesterday?
“How about that prize? Can you believe it?” Don smiled directly into the camera with the big, red light.
“Prize?” If she’d received this honor from anyone else, she’d be jumping up and down, but she was pro-student, and Evans was pro-making-himself-look-good, so there had to be a catch. Principal Ellen Traverse, Summer’s champion and good friend, was out on maternity leave, leaving VP Evans in charge. Since he wanted Ellen’s job and Summer was her friend, Summer was enemy numero uno.
“Please excuse Ms. Ames. I wanted to surprise her.” Evans eyed her fresh-from-the-floor tee shirt. “That wasn’t a good idea.”
Summer plastered a big, fake smile on her lips and waited for a pithy comment to burst forth from her lips. She smiled some more and…nothing. Two hours from now, she’d be plagued with the perfect comeback. In her life, pithy ran later than she did.
She took a deep breath and lied.
“I love surprises.” Doing her best to ignore Evans, she focused on the positive.
Teacher of the Year. This was her fifth year to be nominated, and finally, all the hard work she poured into her job had been noticed. Last year’s winner had gotten a brand-new Prius donated by a car dealership. The year before that, a travel agency had kicked in an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. Excitement and the Diet Cokes she’d guzzled buzzed through her system. “What did I win? A car? Money? New classroom supplies? A two-week vacation to Tahiti?”
“Ms. Ames, I’d like you to meet your new class mentor.” He gestured toward a tall, blond man who looked slightly familiar. “Clint Grayson.”
Was he going to hand her the keys to her new car? Adios, Beulah, your days are numbered.
“Nice to meet you.” Summer nodded as she looked around for one of those huge cardboard checks commonly used for prize money.
Clint Whoever stuck out his hand, and Summer shook it, expecting to see his other hand slip inside the left breast pocket of his navy pinstriped suit and pull out a golden envelope containing an all-expenses-paid vacation to Tahiti. She glanced down at the pocket, back up to his face, back down to his pocket, and finally landed on his face. “You look familiar.”
“I’m the quarterback for the Austin Lone Stars.” His Sprite-bottle green eyes narrowed a fraction as they roamed down her body inspecting her appearance. She knew that look. Her mother always combined it with the you-have-such-a pretty-face-why-don’t-you-lose-thirty-pounds lecture.
Summer swallowed her craving for chocolate chip cookies, her childhood comfort food of choice, and focused on the positive. “Where’s my prize?”
“I am the prize. I’ll be mentoring your class for the rest of the school year.” His mouth tightened into a smile showing lots of pearly white teeth.
Now she recognized him. Clint Grayson. He was the shy yet playful Mr. September from her next-door neighbors’ NFL Hunks of the Gridiron calendar. If memory served, Mr. September loved long walks on the beach, helping starving children in Darfur, and wanted to find Ms. Right through meaningful conversation. All of which—the picture implied—he did while naked and holding a football in a very strategic place.
A reporter shoved a microphone an inch from Summer’s mouth.
“I don’t understand.” Summer stared at the quarterback while her mind did its best to process the situation. So, Mr. September wanted to play teacher…this was her reward for years of hard work? What about a new laptop or a SMART Board like the coaching staff used? “Is it too late to trade you in for two weeks in Tahiti?”
Buy it now on Kindle.
Me, myself, and I have swag to give away. Contact us through our website katiegraykowski.com if you’d like:
I’m launching my brand new YA time travel romance series with a novella, 1816 Candles. And to help me celebrate, I’m giving it away! Yes, it’s my party, but you get the gifts.
And not just 1816 Candles, either. No, I managed to rope five other awesome authors into a group free run. Stock up on Halloween reads by grabbing these six highly-rated ghost-themed stories FREE for Kindle October 24-25 only.
Scientist Maryse Robicheaux thought a lot of her problems had drifted away with her mother-in-law’s death. The woman was rude, pushy, and manipulative, and used her considerable wealth to run herd over the entire bayou town of Mudbug, Louisiana. Unfortunately, death doesn’t slow Helena one bit.
Sophie Rhodes has an interesting friend – a proper British ghost by the name of Marmaduke Dodsworth. Marmaduke keeps Sophie company, but she has eyes for her new boss, Dr. Callahan, who unfortunately has a spectral companion of his own – one with a nasty jealous streak. Love is in the air, but will it win out over the interference of two meddlesome ghosts?
Jade loves her new apartment – until a ghost joins her in the shower. When empath Jade Calhoun moves into an apartment above a strip bar on Bourbon Street, she expects life to get interesting. What she doesn’t count on is making friends with an exotic dancer, attracting a powerful spirit, and developing feelings for Kane, her sexy landlord.
She can see dead people. He’s a ghost assigned by the Otherworld to return a demon. It should be a simple assignment, but they soon learn there’s nothing simple when a live girl and a dead boy fall in love.
Guilt-ridden over the belief that she’s somehow responsible for her mom’s death, sixteen-year-old Riley is desperate to see her mother’s elusive spirit to gain her forgiveness. When her father moves the family to Scotland so they can all start over, Riley believes her life couldn’t get worse– until the ghost of Ian MacKinnon catches her purposefully cutting herself. Riley believes her gift could help Ian end the curse that has kept him tied to the land for centuries, but the malevolent spirit of the woman who filled Ian returns and she’ll stop at nothing to keep Riley from helping Ian find eternal peace.
And last, but not least (at least I hope not!)…mine:
A chance encounter during a costume ball at a historic tavern sends high school senior Lauren Harper back in time to early Americana. Now she’s experiencing the actual events of the “Legend of the Female Stranger” ghost story she’s attempted to avoid growing up in Old Town Alexandria. Can she solve the mystery of this ghost, find her way back home…and deal with her own emotions when she falls in love with a guy who lived 200 years before her?
Okay, commercial over.
So why did I decide to write a time travel that’s also a ghost story? Good question. Basically I’ve been obsessed with the legend of the “Female Stranger” ever since I took a ghost tour of Old Town Alexandria, where I live.
Old Town is famous for many reasons. Our cobblestone streets. Our famous residents, like Robert E. Lee or George Washington. Historic landmarks. And a mysterious ghost.
The long story can be found on my website (and I do recommend checking it out, because I’m really not doing justice to the tale here), but the short of it is as follows:
Almost two hundred years ago, a couple were kicked off a ship when it docked in the nearby seaport. Because of the fine cut of their clothes, the townspeople assumed they were rich and brought them to Gadsby’s Tavern, where they were quickly shown to the largest and nicest hotel room.
The woman was ill and soon died, and her heartbroken husband had an elaborate tombstone commissioned for her when she was buried in St. Paul’s cemetery. Despite the intricate carvings and size of the stone, she was identified only as a Female Stranger. Her husband made everyone promise never to reveal her identity, and then promptly skipped town without paying his bills.
That was the last time anyone ever saw the Male Stranger, but legend has it that the Female Stranger’s ghost remained in Room 8 of Gadsby’s to this day and that from time to time people have seen her.
You can still visit her tombstone in St. Paul’s cemetery. The inscription reads:
To the memory of a FEMALE STRANGER whose mortal sufferings terminated on the 14th day of October 1816 Aged 23 years and 8 months
This stone was placed here by her disconsolate Husband in whose arms she sighed out her latest breath and who under God did his utmost even to soothe the cold dead ear of death.
How loved how valued once avails thee not To Whom related or by whom begot A heap of dust alone remains of thee Tis all though art and all the proud shall be
To him gave all the Prophets witness that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins Acts. 10th Chap. 43rd verse
Who was she? Throughout the years, speculation about the Female Stranger’s identity has remained a favorite pastime in Alexandria. Some believe she was Theodosia Burr Alston, the distraught daughter of disgraced Vice President Aaron Burr. Alston was believed to have drowned at sea almost four years before the events unfolded in Alexandria, but of course the gossips said she had faked her own death to leave her husband in order to run away with her lover.
Others believed that the Female Stranger was a kidnapped European princess or possibly even Napoleon in drag. Those who believed the latter story point out that he had been exiled from France in 1815, and that the “23 years, 8 months” on her headstone would date her supposed birth in February 1793, which was the month in which the diminutive French general declared war on England. This theory posits that Napoleon, disguised as the “female stranger,” faked his death and used the burial as a hiding place for treasure stolen from the aristocracy during the French Revolution.
Or maybe, just maybe, she was a visitor from the future.
This story haunted me for years after that tour, and when the opportunity arose to write a lead-in story to a new series for my 2008 Golden Heart book, Party Like It’s 1899 (coming Jauary 2014), I decided I had to write about the Female Stranger. And just for my own amusement, I decided to use the structure of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
I hope you enjoy my ghostly little tale, as well as the other freebies we have for you today. Happy Halloween!
(Psst…See the couple in that snow globe? It’s me and Mr. Brice. No, really. That’s a photo of us from when we attended the Jane Austen Ball at Gadsby’s Tavern back in 2008. Now we’re cover models!)
After reading Vivi Andrew’s Finder’s Keeper, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Karma’s book, Naughty Karma. Now that I’ve read the book, it must be said, my impatience was well-justified! Moreover, I couldn’t wait to grill Vivi about how she brought these fabulous characters to life. Before I commence with the grilling, however, let me tell you about Naught Karma:
Double crossing the devil is a dangerous business.
Nearly two decades ago, Prometheus sold his beating heart to a devil in exchange for epic power. That contract is about to expire—and so is he. There’s only one woman with the power to help him see his next birthday. And he’s willing to use every manipulation in his arsenal to pry that power from the ice queen’s grip.
Karma, who values order above all else, has had enough of the unscrupulous warlock’s pranks endangering her people. But when she confronts the wily trickster to demand a cease fire, his terms throw her for a loop. The bastard wants her to save his life—and he wants her in his bed.
Clinging to her hard-won control is the only way Karma knows to keep her abilities from overwhelming her. If anyone can tempt her to embrace the chaos of her magic, it’s Prometheus.
One kiss brings her defenses crashing down. But can she trust Prometheus…or has she lost her own heart to a warlock with a hidden agenda?
EB: This book has been years in the making… Was there a lot of extra pressure knowing that you’ve been building to Karma’s book for a while?
VA: LOL. That’s exactly what I asked Tammy when I read Tempt Me (everyone go read it! it’s soooo good!) so I guess it’s only fair that I should answer too.
Naughty Karma was actually only a few months in the making ;), but Karma has been a featured character in every book of the Karmic Consultants series and readers have been asking me for her story since I debuted with The Ghost Shrink back in 2009. With that kind of build up, I knew I couldn’t let this book suck. But I had time (and six KC books) to mull over what her hero would be like (he had to be a force in his own right) and what kind of conflict would bring them together (the stakes had to be high – life or death, baby).
I actually liked knowing there were readers counting on me not to screw it up, but then I’ve always preferred working under pressure. Hopefully the end result doesn’t disappoint!
EB: I’m going to ask THE question that every writer gets repeatedly… Where do you get your ideas? What influences you to write a cast of characters with paranormal abilities to fight the big bad woo woo?
VA: Where did I get the idea? At McDonald’s. (I was sitting there with a ten-gallon cup of Diet Coke when I wrote the opening scene where Karma confronts Prometheus and takes him to task for his unscrupulous ways.)
In terms of the Origin Story of the series – the short answer is that it was in response to an open submission call for paranormal romantic comedy. I’d been writing contemp rom-com and was an avid paranormal reader, so I wanted to try my hand at it. I still think of this series as being right on that line between contemporary and paranormal – mostly about contemporary romance type conflicts, but with a few psychic powers thrown in.
I’ve always been a sucker for super power stories (the X-Men are my crack) and I really love the idea of a tight-knit community formed by those with extraordinary abilities. A sort of family that comes together because of the ways they don’t fit in with the rest of the world. The Karmic Consultants stories are opposites attract stories, but they are really about finding acceptance (both accepting ourselves and accepting others into our hearts). Those themes just give me warm fuzzies all over.
EB: I have to admit, you had me squealing out loud with some of your (older) pop culture references. There were a couple of references to The Princess Bride… (which it must be said is one of my favorite movies of all time) and the “Riggs and Murtaugh” line hee! Do you ever worry about younger readers not getting these kinds of references? (I ask because I’m struggling with this in my own writing! I have a 26 year old who I run things past, and I’m afraid I get a lot of blank stares!)
VA: Nope. I don’t worry about “old” references at all. In part because I have a young cousin who knows more about Monty Python than I do and a young-at-heart aunt who could school me on Glee. Pop culture doesn’t care how old you are – you can glom it at any age.
I don’t get absolutely every reference in every book I read and I still love them, so I hope readers can still enjoy Naughty Karma even if they’ve never seen a television. My bigger concern is writing references that are true to the point-of-view of the character. Prometheus likes to screw with people and he’s an appropriate age to be familiar with the Lethal Weapon movies – so the Riggs & Murtaugh gag suits him.
A couple years ago I did have an editor express concern that a Twilight reference was dating one of my books, but hey, Jane Austen referenced Ann Radcliffe’s Gothics in Northanger Abbey so maybe dating your books with appropriate contemporary references isn’t such a crime.
EB: You have an ethnically diverse cast of characters, which I love. (It seems like a lot of romance series have a pretty vanilla cast) Have you had any comments from readers (good, bad or indifferent?)
VA: No one has ever commented on it to me. I suppose because my books aren’t “about” race. The couples are ethnically diverse because my family is ethnically diverse and that is how love looks to me. I’m not trying to make a social point with it, just writing what I know.
EB: You are the world famous, world traveling Nomadic Ruby. Where were you when you wrote this book and how did the location influence it?
VA: *snort* I’m certainly not world famous, but thanks for the laugh. I was in the mountains of New Hampshire when I wrote the bulk of the book and I think the only influence the location had on it was the fact that my place up there didn’t have internet so I had fewer distractions. I’d highly recommend it for the autumn colors and a peaceful retreat if you’re looking to go be a word-hermit.
EB: Thanks so much for telling us about Naught Karma!
VA: Thank you so much for hosting me, Liz! I’ll just leave you with a little snippet of Prometheus and Karma squaring off in Naughty Karma.
He seemed even taller than he had the day before—which was peculiar. He should have seemed smaller in the bright, expansive spaciousness of her office than he had in the cluttered, dingy surrounds of his shop. Perhaps it was seeing him in motion that made him seem larger than life. He’d been so still the previous night, but this morning he was a body in motion, testing every corner of her office, and her patience. He prowled the room, touching her things, trying to get a rise out of her.
“What are you doing here, Prometheus?”
“I’m so eager to be reformed I couldn’t wait a single day.” He flung his arms wide, throwing back his head. “I am your clay. Mold me into virtue.”
She arched a brow. “I’m not sure my skill as a sculptor is up to the task. The raw materials leave something to be desired.”
“I assure you I leave nothing to be desired. Thoroughness, that’s my motto.”
Karma did not blush. She was on her home turf. No amount of innuendo could fluster her. “I thought your motto was reckless endangerment in the name of freedom and fun.”
“Sounds wordy. Wouldn’t fit very well on a coat of arms.”
“Prometheus.” She made his name an epithet of impatience.
“Are you surprised I couldn’t wait until tomorrow? I only have two and a half months to live. I can’t waste days.”
I was hooked on the Underbelly world from book one, so when our own Tamara Hogan offered to let me read Tempt Me (Bailey and Rafe’s story! Squeee!!!) before it came out, the answer was a no-brainer. I had high expectations for this book and it did NOT disappoint. In fact, Ms. Hogan has raised the bar and this is, in my humble opinion, the best Underbelly yet. Sexy, intriguing, and set in a richly developed paranormal world.
Of course I had to interrogate Tammy about her latest release… but first, here’s a look at Tempt Me:
A sex demon and a preacher’s kid? Heaven forbid!
Technology whiz Bailey Brown is one of two humans alive who knows a very important secret: that humanity has shared their planet with paranormals for millennia. When an obsessed hacker from her past threatens to expose the secret, Bailey and her Sebastiani Security colleagues must use every weapon at their disposal to stop him. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and she can’t let herself be distracted by her boss’s gorgeous brother, even if he is temptation incarnate…
Incubus sculptor Rafe Sebastiani hasn’t produced a decent nude in over a year, since he made the most selfish mistake of his life: sleeping with Bailey Brown. Now, with a deadline looming, his cranky muse has finally allowed him to express his memories of that incendiary night in clay. But when his brother asks him to pose as Bailey’s lover to provoke her dangerous ex, he jumps at the chance…to sculpt her, to protect her, and to earn the right to tempt her—and only her—for the rest of their lives…
You know you want it. Doesn’t it just sound tempting?
Now, without further ado, let the grilling commence!
VA: You know I’ve been waiting for this release. Did you feel any particular pressure writing a book you knew your readers were eagerly anticipating because they already loved the characters?
TH: Honestly? No. Call it confidence, call it arrogance, but when I write, I please myself first. (That sounds kinda dirty, doesn’t it.) I write stories I’d personally want to read, and let the ‘do readers like it’ chips fall where they may. One thing that helps take some of the pressure off is that I did a lot of character development work for all the series’ romantic leads before I wrote a single word of my first book, TASTE ME. When I started writing TEMPT ME, I already knew Bailey and Rafe fairly well – but they still managed to surprise me here and there.
VA: Did writing the third book in the series impact your process at all?
TH: Process-wise, I find series continuity to be the biggest challenge. Underbelly Chronicles series readers already knew Bailey and Rafe from TASTE ME and CHASE ME, but while writing TEMPT ME, I lost count of how many times I had to go back to TASTE and CHASE and reacquaint myself with exactly which facts I’d committed to the published page! One of my biggest challenges continuity-wise was crafting the exact sequence of events leading to Bailey’s pre-9/11 hacking conviction. In TASTE ME, two characters talk about Bailey having “done some time” for hacking “the NSA or the CIA .” Kinda specific, but it still gave me some room to move. As soon as I figured out how I wanted to address that issue, Edward Snowden made his very public revelation about NSA data collection—GAH!—which drove me to perform one final, frantic revision pass.
A more enjoyable process challenge was going back into the TASTE ME timeline and writing TOUCH ME, a novella that explains exactly what happened between Bailey and Rafe when they disappeared together the night of Scarlett Fontaine’s concert at Underbelly.
VA: I loved Touch Me, it’s such a great teaser to Tempt Me. Speaking of Bailey’s checkered past, I loved the Hacker Conference – is that a real thing?
TH: Yes, DEF CON, Black Hat, and the Wiretappers Ball are all real events. Pro Tip: when traveling, do NOT stay at a hotel hosting a hacker conference. Just…don’t.
VA: So many details like that combined to make the book feel current and really make the reader think about the technological world we have now that we’re only learning to navigate (like the question about the viability of digital as long term storage and all the little things Bailey does to protect her online self). Was that an intended message of the book or just a natural side effect of writing about tech security?
TH: I don’t know that it’s possible to write about tech security and not express a rather cautionary perspective, but I definitely want readers to think twice—three times—about the digital privacy trade-offs we make every day as we use technology. (Pro Tip #2: If you’re not paying to use a product, assume you’re the product.) Consumer and citizen protections in the digital realm haven’t kept up with the times; most law on this subject predates the advent of PCs and cell phones, providing little to no practical protection. I highly recommend the recent documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply, which provides insight into what we’re agreeing to by bypassing seven pages of 6-point font and simply clicking “Yes” in that Terms and Conditions box appearing on most websites and social media tools. (It turns out we’re complicit in our own victimization.) Character development-wise, it was great fun creating Bailey, a character whose opinions are even more extreme than my own!
VA: Bailey is such a fun character! And Rafe makes the perfect foil for her. A sculptor with the body of a male model? Be still my heart. Were there any artists in particular that inspired you when you were creating Rafe and describing his work? (I couldn’t help but think of Rodin as I read.)
TH: No, Rafe and his work weren’t inspired by any particular artist. Character development-wise, I think I was intrigued by a beautiful man who has enough strength of character to realize that his good looks are his parents’ doing, not his, who had enough self-awareness to realize the family business wasn’t for him and that he would have to forge his own path, and who has the talent to make a living expressing the beauty he finds in others rather than living off a cushy trust fund.
VA: I also love that Rafe, Bailey’s humanizing influence, isn’t even technically human. The Achilles heel that a creature who is accustomed to not only sensing emotions, but everyone being able to sense his wouldn’t think to actually say what he feels is such a brilliant touch – and causes all sorts of luscious conflict. And pheromone intoxication! Love. What was your favorite part of exploring the human/incubus relationship dynamic?
TH: Looking at my body of work so far, I think it’s a habit of mine to poke around that Achilles heel, to explore the unexpected drawbacks of a skill or ability that most people might think would be pretty awesome to have. In the Underbelly Chronicles world, incubi and succubi absorb emotional energy for sustenance. If it’s there, they absorb it—and in the case of Rafe’s brother Lukas, he tastes the emotion, too, due to a genetic glitch. What would it be like to be battered by sensory stimuli 24/7? Do you really want to know what your husband or partner is feeling all the time? What would the emotional energy at a murder scene taste like? Lukas knows, and it’s horrible—something he doesn’t have to explain to his family, because they’re incubi and succubi. The Sebastiani family is so used to this shorthand that they sometimes forget that not everyone has this ability. They have to remember to use their words, especially with their lovers and bondmates.
Talk about writing what you know. I also have a lot of trouble expressing emotions aloud to those I love.
VA: And now for something completely different… WYATT. The villain. He’s a brilliantly developed character and I LOVE that about him. A consummate manipulator, the way he thinks is really fascinating. He refers to another character as being a “kinesthetic thinker” and then alters his speech to adapt to that – could you tell me a little more about that and how you created him?
TH: While I was researching, trying to flesh out the details of Bailey’s criminal backstory, I came across a quote by the renowned hacker Kevin Mittnick: “You can patch technical vulnerabilities as they evolve, but there is no patch for stupidity, or rather gullibility.” Security-wise, people are the weakest link, and in the hacking business, people who exploit these gullibilities are called social engineers. And it occurred to me that young Bailey, an impressionable, socially awkward technology prodigy, would be a social engineer’s ideal target. (As you might imagine, there’s more to the story of Bailey’s hacking conviction than meets the eye.) I researched the work practices of famous, and not-so-famous, social engineers, and developed Wyatt from there.
VA: And finally… What’s next in the Underbelly world? When can I get my next fix?
TH: Underbelly Chronicles Book Four is all about the vampires! ENTHRALL ME is the story of the staid and responsibility-bound Vampire Second, Wyland, and how he comes to love a young, edgy, entirely inappropriate woman—vampire investigative journalist Tia Quinn, who readers may remember from the concert scene in TASTE ME. Being I’m a slow writer, I’m targeting a publication date of Fall 2014.
VA: I can’t wait! Thank you, Tammy, for giving me the inside scoop on Tempt Me.
Today one lucky commenter will take home a paperback or digital copy of Tempt Me! So don’t be shy, boys and girls!
A while back, I was talking to our own Katie Graykowski about one of her blog posts, telling her that I couldn’t wait until I could read an entire book written in her marvelously irreverent voice. Lucky for me, she took my (not so subtle) hint and sent me Place Your Betts to read. It made me laugh out loud, it tugged at my heartstrings, and ever since I have been eagerly awaiting the day when it would be published so I could shout about it to the reading public at large. Well, that day is today!
Today I am thrilled to be hosting the debut release celebration for Ruby Katie Graykowski, Place Your Betts.
Betts Monroe is a country music rags-to-riches story. As the daughter of the town slut, she clawed her way up from the bars of Bourbon Street to the Country Music Hall of Fame. She’s America’s sweetheart, darling of the media, and a multi-platinum star. But she has a secret. At the age of sixteen, she had a baby and gave him up for adoption because her boyfriend wasn’t ready for fatherhood. Now she finds out that her precious baby boy has been living with his father from day one.
Gabe Swanson is a Texas cattle baron riches-to-rags story. As the only son of the town’s most prominent family, it was a huge blow when his father lost the family fortune in a ponzi scheme. Now, Gabe is land rich and cash poor. But he has his son and family is all that matters.
When Betts moves back to the small town that shunned her, all hell breaks loose. She wants her son. Can Betts and Gabe leave their past in the rear view mirror so they can be a family?
And baby, let me tell you, watching these two go for their happily ever after is quite a ride! I recently sat down (in the online sense) with Katie to grill her about her new release:
First off, congratulations on your first release! Could you tell us a little bit about your path to publication?
My road to publication has led me down several one-way streets where I was going the wrong way. I’ve finaled in and/or won almost every romance writing contest in the United States, but I couldn’t get a conventional publishing contract. So…after being rejected by a publishing house because I was “too talented for their line” I decided to self publish. I can’t wait to see where it leads me.
That has to be one of the strangest rejections ever – but I’m so glad you decided to get this book into reader’s hands. Place Your Betts is outrageously funny, but it’s also a book with a lot of heart. Do you have any tips for authors looking to strike that perfect balance between humorous and heartfelt?
Thanks for the compliment—Betts was really fun to write. It has taken me a long time to understand that humor in small doses is more powerful than page after page of one-liners. As far as balancing the humor with emotion, I say make them laugh, hit them hard with deep emotion, and then back to laughter. There is nothing better than laughing through tears. And bonus, if you’re on an airplane laughing and crying the rest of the passengers will assume you’re emotionally unstable and leave you alone.
LOL. Always a good tactic on a plane. I adore the second chance at first love theme – I just can’t help pulling for them to get to their HEA – do you have tips for authors looking to make familiar tropes, like redemption love, feel fresh again?
Let’s face it romance plots don’t change. It pretty much goes, boy meets girl, girl hates boy, girl stops hating boy, they overcome after something traumatic, and live happily ever after. What makes any story interesting are the characters and the way the story is told. I like larger-than-life characters and some run-of-the-mill too, but my job as a writer is to produce characters that seem real. The best compliment is when a reader tells me they still think about my characters and miss them.
The chemistry between Betts & Gabe really pops. Do you like writing the sizzle or are you the kind of author who dreads sex scenes?
I don’t dread writing sex scenes, but I will admit that the very first one I wrote was hard. Now, it’s just another scene. Sex is pretty basic. Unless you’re a hermaphroditic, shape-shifting goat, the body parts will only fit into certain places, so I try to make my sex scenes emotional and really shown through the characters point of view. As my dear friend Kit Frazer once said, “Romance writers make sex about the emotion, because in real life there’s a fine line between ‘Oh Baby! Oh Baby! Oh Baby!’ and ‘get off my hair!’”
So true! Betts is one of a group of friends called The Marilyns. They are so fabulous! How did you come up with the idea for them?
Thanks, I love the Marilyns too. What’s not to love about a group of women who dress up as Marilyn Monroe and raise a little hell. I don’t know how I came up with them. There’s just something about Marilyn that’s fascinating. She’s smart but pretends to be stupid, has a body that men love but most women would call fat, and is just a little bit trashy. I’m a firm believer that every woman needs a slutty alter ego!
I couldn’t agree more. Every woman has a little Marilyn in her. :) Thank you so much for joining us today to talk about the delectable fun of Place Your Betts.
Katie also came bearing some Amazon gift cards and adorable swag, to be awarded to randomly selected commenters throughout the day today, so don’t be shy!
I’ve been gushing about Katie’s voice, but don’t take my word for it, I’ll leave you with a little sneak peek at the opening of Place Your Betts.
“I’m not singing ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’at Gigi’s funeral.” Betts Monroe tucked an errant lock of red hair behind her ear and stared down Mama Cherie Boudreaux.
Betts’s life had always been a circus, and this would be no different. With five multi-platinum albums and thirteen years in the country music business, nothing should shock her. But the rest of the world didn’t have Mama Cherie for a mother. Normality wasn’t a malady Betts suffered from. No matter how hard she tried.
“Why not? It was written about her.” Mama Cherie stabbed the nail polish brush back into the bottle, reloading it with her signature color: blood red.
The neon Abita Beer sign above her head blinked purple, green, and yellow sparkles off Mama’s silver sequined halter top. The glittery triangle barely contained her double-D breasts, exposed a good six inches of creamy white tummy, and exemplified Mama’s personal style philosophy—less was more than enough.
The acrid scent of fingernail polish mixed with decades of stale cigarette smoke, draft beer, and chicken gumbo—the Saturday night special— all simmering in the heavy New Orleans air. Betts inhaled deeply. The smell of childhood. Depending on how she looked at it, her life had started and ended in this bar. Voodoo Gumbos—a legend in the French Quarter. If walls could talk, these would never shut up.
“You’re right.” Mama continued to mop her fingernails with the color of homicide. “Your grandmother made the Wicked Witch look like the tooth fairy.”
Gigi was the only subject on which Betts and her mother had ever agreed. Gigi—Irma Cherie Dittmeyer—was the devil disguised as a Southern Baptist. She’d spent most of her life thumping her Bible so loudly she gave Jesus a headache.
“When does the funeral home expect to receive her body?” Betts picked up a dishrag and polished the bar top.
“Evil arrives at noon.” Mama Cherie screwed the top on the polish and blew on her nails.
“Evil” was being kind. Satan would throw her back for being too slimy.
“Can you help me move those tables against the wall?” Mama pointed to five tables in the back corner. “The funeral home said they needed four feet of clearance all the way around.”
“She’s coming here? I knew she was on her way to New Orleans, but I thought we’d have the service at a funeral home.” Betts slung the dishrag over her shoulder. This was why her mother hadn’t wanted help planning the service—Gigi’s final farewell was to be the ultimate fuck-you.
It was wrong. It was a sacrilege.
Betts could live with it.
Any love she’d had for her grandmother had died sixteen years ago on May 25th at exactly 3:32 p.m.
Hello Rubies and friends! My novella, TO ALL THE RAKES I’VE LOVED BEFORE, releases today, and to celebrate, I’m giving away three Kindle copies! Just leave a comment and you’re entered in the drawing.
9/6/13 UPDATE: The randomly selected winners are: Vanessa B., June L., and Kathy! Congrats, and I’ll be in touch.
And since the heroine of RAKES keeps a journal, I thought perhaps we could discuss the joys and perils of writing down—or typing, as the case may be—your innermost thoughts in a diary.
Let’s start with the JOYS:
1) Writing about your day is a lot like therapy—but cheaper! You can pour all your pent-up emotion onto the page without worrying that your voice will crack. You can write all the clever things you would have said to your boss/significant other/secret crush if you’d had an hour to prepare your comments beforehand. You can write down the secrets that you wouldn’t even whisper to your best friend.
2) No one’s going to fact check your diary. This means you’re free to embellish (i.e., the cute guy in Starbucks was TOTALLY checking you out!) You can downplay other events (i.e., the margaritas were a little strong but you were only buzzed—LOTS of people were dancing on the bar!) Your journal = your world. YOU own it.
3) You’re preserving a little piece of history. And one day, you will probably get a really big laugh out of all the things you worried about. But you’ll also remember what it felt like to not make the cheerleading squad or to get accepted to your first choice of colleges or to find out you’re having a baby. And that is pretty special.
And now, for the PERILS:
1) If you happen to live with other people (and brothers in particular), THEY WILL FIND YOUR DIARY. And they will gleefully READ every personal, tear-stained, emotion-laden page.
2) You may not even be AWARE that they’ve read your diary because they’ll probably put it right back in the very safe hiding spot at the back of your underwear drawer beneath your dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice.
3) The diary snatchers will bide their time and wait to reveal the most scandalous contents at the most INOPPORTUNE time. Think: Thanksgiving dinner, right after grandma has led grace.
So, while journal writing has many rewards, I thought you should know some of the pitfalls as well.
What about you? Have you ever kept a journal or diary? And did it fall into enemy hands? Don’t forget, three random commenters will win a copy of my brand new novella.