Posts tagged with: 2016 Golden Heart finalist

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Erin O’Brien, w/a Laurel Kerr!!

Well, this is it, folks—the last of our Golden Heart Finalist guest blogs for the year! The Rubies have loved getting to know the Mermaids better, and we’re thrilled that we’ll get to meet lots of you in San Diego in JUST A FEW DAYS!!!

Bringing us home with the guest blogs today is a first-time Golden Heart Finalist, the lovely Erin O’Brien, who writes under the pen name Laurel Kerr. She’s a finalist in Contemporary Romance with her manuscript VOLUNTEERING HER HEART. (Aww! Love the title!!)

By day, Erin is an attorney, but she loves escaping into a fantasy world at night when she pens contemporary, historical, and time travel romances. She has a wonderful husband, who indulges her writing habit, and a Cavalier spaniel, Selkie, who assists the writing process by curling next to Erin.

Here’s a blurb for VOLUNTEERING HER HEART:

Single-dad Bowie will do anything to keep his financially strapped zoo afloat—even if it means kissing a pig.

Back in high school, foster-kid Bowie had craved social acceptance so desperately that he bullied the class nerd, Katie, and tricked her into kissing a pig in front of their peers. Now, on the cusp of her thirtieth birthday, Katie has returned to her small hometown of Sagebrush after earning millions in the public offering of her computer entertainment empire. She only wants to hole up in her dream house and design games, but her mother volunteers her to help improve the zoo’s social media image. Less than pleased to assist her former tormentor, she vehemently refuses until Bowie offers to kiss his Red River Hog, Daisy. Katie relents and is soon challenging Bowie to perform more lighthearted publicity stunts on YouTube based on his old pranks against her. Spending increasingly more time at the zoo, Katie begins to soften as she watches Bowie care for his pre-teen daughter, the elderly former zookeeper, and the animals. Yet, she’s determined to protect her emotions, even if her hormones are firing at will. Bowie falls hard for this sexy, smart, prickly woman, but will he manage to break through the barriers surrounding her heart—barriers that he himself created?

Oh, what a brilliant twist on the meeting-the-high-school-bully-as-an-adult trope!!! You’ve got some fabulous built-in conflict there, and it sounds like you’re coming at it with a wry sense of humor. Seriously, make sure you let me know when this is out in print!!

It sounds like Bowie and Katie both got battered around a bit by life, but are emerging all the stronger into their happy endings!! Erin’s here today to share the story of how hitting a few bumps in the road of her writing life really did teach her the skills she most needed to know.

Take it away, Erin!


Erin Laurel O'BrienI have recently embarked on the great agent hunt, and it has again reminded me of the importance of a skill that I learned during my freshman year of college: harnessing criticism to propel my writing.

The summer between high school and college, I worked as a reporter for a local weekly newspaper, filling in for those on vacation. Toward the end of the gig, my editor dispatched me to write an article on a local library. While there, I learned of their renovation woes and more prosaic general news typical for small town libraries. Thinking that someone had already covered the construction, I mentioned it only in passing…and basically missed the entire story.

My editor was the stereotypical gruff newspaperman. He called me over to his desk, took out a pen, and scratched through the entire piece, leaving only the short phrase regarding the remodeling issues. Then, he handed the article to me and told me to rewrite the whole thing based on that one remaining sentence. Now, eighteen-year-old me slunk back to my desk, paper clutched in my hand. I believe that I had a good cry about it, but I ended up penning my best work that summer after his criticism. The water pouring from the ceiling and the mice invasion suffered by the library provided excellent fodder for vivid imagery, and I was able to capture the difficulties facing the librarians as they tried to protect their books.

That fall, I began college. I had one English professor who used pencil to markup papers instead of pen. Each time, my work appeared as if it had been hit with a graphite grenade, so numerous were her comments. The first time I was upset. Then, I buckled down and dutifully made the changes, and I realized something important: her suggestions drove my writing to new levels. Even though I made good grades, the professor never stopped covering my assignments with constructive criticism. I owe much of my writing skills to her efforts, and I learned that I should view critiques as exciting challenges to improve my work product.

The lesson taught me to listen to advice in order to bolster my writing. This ability has helped me as an attorney to rewrite contractual provisions to better capture technical terms or the business intent. It also allows me flexibility to tweak language to reach compromises with opposing counsel.

Embarking on my new journey into the publishing world, I find that I have returned to the original roots of this skill. Recently, I pitched to an agent at a conference. She thoughtfully gave me constructive criticism on an issue with fluidity and the opportunity to rewrite the piece before submitting to her. Currently, I am working on how the adjustment will ripple through my entire manuscript. I can already tell that this will bolster my story and provide a stronger underpinning to it.

I believe what makes a writer strong is not the ability to produce a flawless story on the first try. It is, instead, the ability to take comments and critiques and transform the story into something polished and solid.

What critiques have helped to propel your writings to new levels?


Learn more about Erin’s romance-writing alter-ego at

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist T.L. Sumner!

It’s hard to believe we’re here already, but Nationals is NEXT WEEK, and so we’re nearly at the end of our 2016 series introducing the new Golden Heart Finalists, the MERMAIDS!!

Our guest today, T.L. Sumner, actually joined us last year, too, since this is her second Golden Heart final in a row! She’s nominated this year in Young Adult Romance for her book BETWEEN NEVER AND ALWAYS.

Forever optimistic and easily amused, T.L. Sumner is the author of magical stories about strong, athletic heroines chasing their dreams on and off the playing field. She holds both a B.S. and M.S. in business from Villanova University where she ran cross country and track on a full athletic scholarship. When not hiding in her writing cave, T.L. works in healthcare information technology, enjoys running, and being the number one fan for her kids’ sporting events. She’s an active member of Romance Writers of America, including the Young Adult (YARWA) and Georgia Romance Writers chapters. Sometimes you can find her hanging out on Twitter or in TL’s Dreamworld.

Here’s a blurb for BETWEEN NEVER AND ALWAYS:

There’s instant chemistry when seventeen-year-old track phenom Callie meets eighteen-year-old Trent, a junior cyclist on her uncle’s cycling team. But after losing her pro-cyclist father in a horrific crash, Callie has sworn to never date a cyclist. Besides, Trent’s already dating the daughter of the team sponsor. However, when Callie suffers a season-ending injury, and a doping scandal threatens her dad’s legacy, Trent becomes the perfect distraction. As they spend more time together, the sparks between them start to sizzle, and Callie finds herself falling for “the cyclist boy with a death wish.” Terrified she’ll lose another person she loves, Callie must decide whether following her heart is worth the risk.

Woot!! How awesome that your heroines are strong, athletic girls!!! We need more of that in YA! Hopefully we’ll see this out on shelves soon!

Okay, everybody—let’s take a little time-out from your workouts to join T.L  over on the bleachers for some Gatorade and a rub-down by one of our talented in-house masseuses. T.L.’s here to tell us a bit about her own athletic career, and how that intersects with her writing life.


TLSumnerBETWEEN NEVER AND ALWAYS features athletes from two of my favorite sports – running and cycling. Right now I am in sporty girl heaven because leading up to #RIO2016, there are the Olympic Trials for swimming, diving, gymnastics and of course, my favorite – track and field. I’m also a HUGE cycling fan, and the Tour de France started this past Saturday, July 2nd and goes through July 24th. So pretty much for all of July – it’s all sports, all the time in our house.

Although in some respects it seems like yesterday, a very long time ago, I was one of the athletes you’ll see on television in the next few weeks, competing for the chance to represent Team USA at the Olympic Games.

My story started in ninth grade, when my health teacher, Coach Hayden, suggested I go out for the track team. I ran sprints and hurdles during my time on the Fairport Track team, then in college I became a middle distance runner. Fast forward to the 1996 Olympic Trials – I toed the line in the finals of the 800m in the very stadium the Olympic Games would be held. Little ‘ole me had a shot to make the Olympic Team!! It was a surreal experience that I will never forget. Just like today, top three make the team…I placed seventh that day, but I left it all on the track and couldn’t have been happier with how I ran my race.

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Eileen Emerson!

Today we’re welcoming my very most FAVORITE Mermaid (*spoiler alert*: she just happens to be my CP, my brilliant editor, and my LITTLE SISTER in real life!!!), Eileen Emerson, 2016 Golden Heart Finalist in Historical Romance with AN UNBRIDLED GENTLEMAN.

eileen author photo copyEileen spent years getting a Master’s degree in costume design for the theatre, and then chucked it all to make her way in the world of Corporate America. She eventually turned her creative focus to writing, and began submitting her work to the contest circuit, with excellent results—in addition to collecting notable wins from “Emily” and “Maggie” and “Sheila,” she got a Golden Heart nod in 2012, and is now a two-time Golden Heart Finalist. She lives in Pennsylvania with either two or four enormous dogs (the number depends on whether the neighbors’ dogs have barged in through the screen door), her guitar-playing son, and her professor husband, who manages to be both deeply romantic and really, really good with computer stuff, making him the ideal mate for a romance writer.

Here’s a blurb for AN UNBRIDLED GENTLEMAN:

On the run from an assassin for the past dozen years, Anne Barrett wonders if she can finally stop pretending to be a horse trainer’s niece and try to reconnect with whatever is left of her aristocratic family. But to earn funds for her search, she must first rehabilitate a horse for Lord Norland—a man forced by circumstance to accept his grandmother’s offer of wealth in exchange for rebuilding her once-famous stud farm in Yorkshire.

Thrown together with Lord Norland more often than Anne’s equilibrium might like, she discovers that to heal the poor beast, she’ll also have to help the troubled lord face the childhood trauma that has left him with a deep fear of horses. When attraction sparks between them, Anne and Norland both have more to fear—courting a commoner could ruin Norland, while revealing her true identity could alert her parents’ killer that Anne is still alive.

What she doesn’t realize is that the assassin has already tracked her down . . . .

It’s such a fabulous story, everybody!!!! As Eileen’s CP, I’ve seen it grow and ripen from first concept to the mature version, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Anne and Norland (and Anne’s dog Tip, and Uncle Ned, and Norland’s hilariously crotchety grandmother, and THE HORSE!!) It’s a smart, sweet, sexy, satisfying, beautifully-written, character-driven story that NEEDS TO BE OUT IN THE WORLD. SOON!!!!

Seriously, SOON!!!!!

(*Elisa catches breath*) . . .

So, anyhow, Eileen’s here today to share some wise words of inspiration from a surprising relative!! (And, no, it’s not me.)

Take it away, Eileen!!


One of the best things about being married to my husband (besides our terrific son and a bevy of fur-kids), is that our merged ancestry means I can claim Ralph Waldo Emerson as kin.

And Ralph – I can call him “Ralph” now that we’re cousins-many-times-removed – is the king of great quotes.



See that? It’s great! And so helpful for someone like me who is often riddled with self-doubt, especially when it comes to my manuscripts. Unlike my sister Elisa, I don’t have degrees in writing from prestigious universities. I have nothing but a teetering stack of writing craft books by experts like Debra Dixon, Chris Vogler, and Michael Hauge. Even that folder of contest certificates does little to bolster my self-confidence.

But Ralph? He comes up with gems like this that soothe my quivering soul:



Isn’t that lovely? Don’t you feel better about yourself? And, do you know what? I think it’s true. After this latest round of edits, I had a real sense that all these gems of knowledge I’ve been accumulating were falling into place, as if the tumblers in a lock were aligning each time I sat down to fiddle with a scene or beef up the dialogue.



Aye, there’s the rub.

As my critique partners have repeatedly told me, it’s far past time that I toss my babies out into the world of queries and submissions. Which has me quaking in my boots. I’m a terrible sissy sometimes, regardless of the fact that I’m fearless about so many other things in my life. Need to know how to bake gluten-free? No problem—just find some recipes that work, and go from there. Need to plant up a garden? Pfffft, grab a shovel and get cracking. What’s the worst that can happen?

But… send my writing to an agent or editor? I’m rendered motionless with terror.

Well, in comes Cousin Ralph to egg me on, to tell me that I have to face my fears and conquer them (or never get anywhere in the publishing world.) What good is my endless tinkering and fussing if no one ever gets to see these stories?



Oh, all right, Ralphie-boy. I’ll do it. I won’t waste my life in doubts and fears, and I’ll trust in my knowledge and skill, and fling my manuscripts into fray.

Just after I read through them o-o-o-o-o-n-e more time.

Tell me, readers, what are your writing fears? And how do you plan to face them and do Ralph Waldo Emerson proud?

Oh, and just in case you don’t already think RWE is a stinkin’ genius, I leave you with this:



Leave a comment below to get a chance to win a PRINT copy of your choice of the books Eileen has edited for Elisa (in her Lara Archer persona). You can check them out on Amazon here.


Connect with Eileen Emerson on social media:

find her on Facebook

or follow her ramblings on Twitter: @MsEmersonWrites

(and you can see her 2012 interview with Elisa here)


Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Diane Holiday!

Today we’re welcoming Diane Holiday, 2016 Golden Heart Finalist in Romantic Suspense with her novel LOVE IN HIDING.

dog in wavesDiane, who won first place in the 2015 RWA Pages From The Heart contest, lives with her husband at the Jersey Shore. An avid boater and beach lover, she spends her spare time on the water. She has a grown son and daughter who live out of state, so her adoring golden retriever gets a lot of attention. The dog also draws a crowd on the beach as she loves to surf the waves. Diane worked in corporate until she had children. She became a director of the Pampered Chef for nine years, then a substitute teacher for ten as she raised her family. She now volunteers in the public school system tutoring the children of active duty military families. If asked, “What’s the most important thing in life?” the answer right behind chocolate would be humor. Diane lives to make people laugh, often at her own expense. She incorporates that in her writing as well. If she can put a smile on one face, she considers her day a success.

Here’s a blurb for LOVE IN HIDING:

Prima ballerina Sarah Baker needs to disappear. She flees cross-country to hide from an obsessive stalker and winds up working side-by-side at a horse ranch with a former Navy SEAL. On the run, with a fake identity, Sarah isn’t looking for love. All she longs for is a normal life and to dance again.

Bruce Thompson is a horse trainer who runs a therapy program for amputee vets. He has no interest in another relationship after the tragic death of his wife. That is, until Sarah shows up and jump-starts his guarded heart. But Sarah has secrets, and he intends to find out what threat might follow her to the farm. His protective claws come out as he is determined to keep her and his clients safe.

While Sarah and Bruce fight their sizzling attraction, an unknown threat lurks in the midst. This one, closer to home. Will they find love and uncover the deadly plots before it’s too late?

I love the title–and the way both of them are struggling to rebuild a life for themselves! I want them to have their HEA!

Diane’s joining us today to talk about a personal act of rebuilding, and what to do when you hit the Black Moment…in your writing life.

Take it away, Diane!!


diane holidayFirst, I want to thank the Rubies for this tremendous opportunity to share a piece of myself.

I thought long and hard about what to discuss and decided that I wanted to address one of the most difficult parts of being a writer. Self-doubt and rejection. We all know this journey is not for the weak-hearted. I don’t have a thick skin, and rejections hurt. So, it’s pretty amazing to me that I can make the statement that I am confident in my writing. As soon as I wrote this sentence my inner demon said, “Yeah, but are you published?”

How do we overcome these negative thoughts and rejections? I think we all ride a roller coaster of ups and downs. I got a request for a full! Champagne and dinner out. Only, a month later, it’s a pass. I got signed by an agent! Triple champagne dinner. Only, the big pubs rejected the manuscript.

I’d had a particularly tough week prior to the call about the Golden Heart. I had found out only days before that my agent, who I didn’t even know had cancer, had passed away. I was in shock. Sad for her family, unsure of my future, and no clue what might be going on with the book I had out on submission. I remember sitting under the stars that night and thinking about my journey. Had I wasted the last four years of my life in workshops, critique groups, studying grammar and writing techniques until my eyes crossed? What did I have to show for it? A folder of rejection emails, albeit some very complimentary, but the bottom line was still a no. If I were writing my story, that night would be the dark moment. In my heart, though, I knew there was no other answer but for me to get back up and keep at it. Writing isn’t optional for me.

Two days later, the Golden Heart happened. Talk about a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. I got a personal call from Kristan Higgins congratulating me on my final. Kristan Higgins? I was a bit star-struck. I had my dog’s leash in my hand (because I kept checking the time, and hey, it was already nine a.m., so clearly I hadn’t made the cut), her water bottle (the dog, not Kristan’s), a hat, sunglasses, keys, and poopy bags (again, for the dog.) The dog ended up asleep in the cul-de-sac by the time I got off social media and texted my family. It took me a while to find her water bottle on the top of the refrigerator and her leash behind her food bin. I was a little excited and had mindlessly thrown things around to free up my hands.

shore pictureFor me, the Golden Heart was finally some validation. My hard work had paid off. I’d spent the last four years completely dedicated to writing after moving to the shore. My incredible, supportive husband insisted I take the time to do what I’d always wanted and write a book. Sure, I’d been writing for as long as I can remember, but it was always around my job, the kids, sports, you know…life.

This couldn’t have come at a better time, and what a ride it’s been so far. The journey’s not over, though. I’m working with a new agent and have met so many amazing people through the Golden Heart. I know there will be plenty of tomorrows filled with rejections and criticisms. It comes with the job. But, just for today, I’m enjoying one of the highs.

I’d love to hear from others. What do you do to overcome self-doubt and handle those tough rejections? What high have you had that’s kept you in the game?


Connect with Diane Holiday on social media:

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Karen Marcam!

Today we’re welcoming another Mermaid, Karen Miller, who writes as Karen Marcam, 2016 Golden Heart Finalist in Historical Romance with her book SAVING COLUMBINE RANCH.

Image_Karen_MillerKaren lives in southern Wisconsin, where she can be found watching way too much HGTV when she isn’t reading or working on a story. She is married with one son who is married himself now. Her empty nest will get a little fuller in the future when he and his wife come for visits, because they are expecting her first grandchild in September.

Karen is a business analyst for her day job, which means she spends a lot of time asking lots of questions and helping people solve problems in their organizations. Being so analytical can be helpful when she is plotting a story, but can be a royal pain when it makes her want to identify every background detail – down to the wallpaper on the walls – in a scene before she writes it.

Karen’s previous role was as a trainer who spent weeks at a time traveling around the country. This is when she finally obeyed the voice in her head urging her to write. That first story she worked on in hotel rooms at night is now her GH finalist. So she is very glad she listened to the voice.

Here’s a blurb for Saving Columbine Ranch:

Widowed mother of four Susan Connolly never imagined she would be raising her family alone on the ranch she and her husband established shortly before he died. If enduring alone after his death is the steep price she must pay to keep her home, then she’ll make sure it’s worth the cost. Cade Anderson has kept to himself all the years since his pregnant wife died and won’t admit why he feels the urge to help Susan now. He calls it saving her from her own foolishness. She calls it one more debt she owes.

But she’s not done paying. When the story starts, a powerful neighbor’s disturbing comments reveal an escalating desire to take her and her land by any means. Even that is a drop in her bucket of troubles when she learns a mountain-sized loan her husband took out could cost her the ranch. With so much at stake, she can’t afford the temptation Cade proposes. His hovering protection would smother her spark of independence like a wet quilt thrown over glowing embers. Besides, it’s a sure bet their smoldering attraction will not survive once he learns how she plans to save Columbine Ranch.

I love her independence, and the quiet protectiveness you’re suggesting in him!! I so miss a good heartland American historical romance (for a couple years now, I’ve heard Westerns are returning!), and I see this Golden Heart nomination as a terrific sign!!

Image of READ keyring giveawayC’mon, everybody—join Karen and I in the local saloon (don’t worry—I’ve sent ranch-hands out to take care of all your chores), and we’ll set a spell and learn more about Karen and her writing journey.

One lucky commenter today will win this sweet READ keyring!!


So, tell us a little about your Golden Heart finaling book and the process of writing it.

It was a long process. This was the first story I ever wrote, so you can imagine how many revisions it went through. I got the idea for this story many years ago, and let it rattle around in my head for a few years before I started writing it down. My idea for the story started with a mental picture of the first time the hero came to the heroine’s cabin, and continued from there, with additional scenes added over time. By the time I started putting it all down on paper, much of the story already existed in my head. But then I had a LOT to learn about how to get it from my head into words that other people wanted to read. For example, the first version had some serious POV issues. And I had to learn that even if I could clearly “see” a scene in my mind, no one else would unless I clearly described it with my words. Each time I went to a workshop or conference and learned a bit more about writing, I applied the lessons I learned to this story. Since it is my first, and I have spent so much time with it, I am very glad to have finaled in the Golden Heart with this particular story.

What was it like when you got the phone call telling you you were a finalist? And what have you liked best so far about being a Golden Heart nominee?

Oh my word, my “getting the call” story is so embarrassing, I almost don’t want to tell it! On THAT Friday, my husband and I were driving from Wisconsin to Ohio to spend Easter with our son and his wife. Well, my husband was driving and I was reading one of the Courtney Milan books I loaded on my Kindle before we left. It never crossed my mind the GH finalists were being announced that day.

We had a wonderful time with our son and daughter-in-law and after we returned I sat down to read the emails I didn’t check all weekend. One of the first emails I saw was one Courtney Milan sent me on Friday, asking for a way to contact me.

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Alyson McLayne!

Today we’ve got a special treat! We’ve got a visit with another Mermaid, 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Alyson McLayne, whose manuscript WØLFF: RISE OF THE VALDYR is nominated for Best Paranormal Romance. And here’s the special part: the interview today is conducted by her CP, who happens to be one of the 2009 Golden Heart Finalists (and therefore a Ruby Sister), Tina Beckett, author of Harlequin Medical Romances including DOCTOR’S GUIDE TO DATING IN THE JUNGLE and PLAYBOY DOC’S MISTLETOE KISS! Tina’s twentieth book for Harlequin, WINNING BACK HIS DOCTOR BRIDE, comes out in July 2016.

Alyson McLayne is a stay-at-home mom of twin four-year-olds, a writer of romance novels and screenplays, a dog lover, a cat servant, and a certified chocoholic on a diet. After getting her degree in theatre from the University of Alberta (Canada), she promptly moved to the west coast where she worked in film for several years and met her Prop Master husband. Her family also includes her geriatric cat and a grumpy old guy downstairs—AKA her dad.

Alyson recently self-published two short contemporary romances, THE FABRIZIO BRIDE and THE D’AMICI MISTAKE, and has high hopes for her historical romance series set in the Highlands of Scotland, called THE SONS OF GREGOR MACLEOD. Which is NOT her Golden Heart nominated manuscript. No, that one’s a paranormal romance—proving she knows nothing about branding.

Alyson and Tina met on-line eight years ago a few months before RWA’s National conference in San Francisco. Both had recently joined RWA and signed up for their first National conference—and were looking for a roommate! After connecting on RWA’s roommate forum, sending a few emails back and forth, and discovering they were both writing short contemporary romances (at the time), they swapped chapter critiques. After that, Tina introduced Alyson to her on-line critique group, Write Romance (or as we prefer, The Goddesses), and the rest is history!! There have been lots of ups and downs along the way—including Golden Heart nominations for both of them and upheavals in their personal lives—but, even though Tina spends much of he time living far off in Brazil, both women know a cyber hug or much-needed kick in the virtual bootie is only an email away.

Here’s a blurb for WØLFF: RISE OF THE VALDYR:

Ages past, the Norse god Odin created shape-shifting wolves called Valdyr to imprison his enemy Fenrir and prevent Ragnarok—an apocalyptic war between the Norse gods and the Jotun.

ERIK KRON is the current Valdyr Alpha, sworn to fight Fenrir’s sons who for eons have attempted to free their father—which Erik swears won’t happen on his watch. But his pack is besieged by a curse that has slowly ravaged it. After trapping the curse within himself, Erik vows to find its source before it kills him and everyone else—all while trying to unravel a cryptic prophecy from Odin.

KRISTIN ANDERSEN is one of the lost Valdyr with little insight into Valdyr history, so when she stumbles onto Erik’s pack she knows nothing of their fight against the Sons of Fenrir or what they stand for, all she knows is they may have information about the monsters who killed her family, and she intends to find it. Using her magic to hide her wolf scent, she poses as human and infiltrates Erik’s pack in Montana. After getting to know him, however, and fighting the sizzling attraction between them, she realizes she’s found more than she bargained for—she’s found her fated-mate.

Then Erik discovers she’s Valdyr, and desperate to protect her from the curse, he rejects her. Not only that, he forbids her to kill the Sons of Fenrir for reasons she can’t possibly understand. His command that she can maim but not kill them because it may bring on the apocalypse does little to ease her need for vengeance.

But Odin has brought Kristin and Erik together for a reason. Not only must they work together to destroy the curse and save the nine worlds, they must find a way to trust and love one another—or their triumph in Asgard over the Sons of Fenrir will be for naught. 

Wow! What a great mash-up of shifters and Norse myth!!! (*tries very hard not to imagine Tom Hiddleston in Loki gear locked up in a mythic dungeon somewhere*….*okay, maybe doesn’t really try all that hard, because Tom Hiddleston in Loki gear ANYWHERE is still totally hot.*)

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Melanie Novak!

Today we’re welcoming Mermaid Melanie Novak, 2016 Golden Heart Finalist in Romantic Suspense with RUBY RED!

Melanie Novak lives, reads, and writes in Pittsburgh. Though she lives with only her sixteen-year-old cat Jasmine, she has a posse of friends and family close by to rescue her when her toilet overflows or she locks herself out of the house. When not reading and writing, Melanie enjoys walking, going to the movies, and following Pittsburgh Pirates baseball. She can’t decide if she’s more excited about Outlander finally coming to the small screen or the upcoming Gilmore Girls revival.


When a multi-million dollar ruby belonging to Marie Antoinette is stolen from Lamont Auction House, Addison Merritt’s career—and the survival of the boutique house—is on the line. Addison teams up with sexy U.S. Marshal Michael Wright, but they are not the only ones looking for Rosette’s Ruby.

And others are willing to kill for it. 

As the danger mounts and time runs out, Addison takes a bold gamble and risks everything—including her heart—to recover the ruby.

That sounds thrilling—and you KNOW the Rubies are psyched to have a ruby-centered story out there in this year’s Golden Heart! We’ll be cheering for you in San Diego, Melanie!!

Melanie’s here today to talk with us about first times…with romance novels, that is.

Take it away, Melanie!!


Novak_Melanie HeadshotYou Never Forget Your First

I don’t remember how old I was when I read my first romance novel, but not old enough to know that what went on between the hero and heroine behind the closed bedroom door was a lot more than kissing. I read in absolute amazement as the scene unfolded. This was an eighties romance novel with all the trimmings—bodice ripper cover, politically incorrect hero, a not-entirely-willing-but-completely-satisfied-afterwards heroine.

I still didn’t understand everything that happened in that scene, but one thing was certain. 

I was hooked. 

When my mother sat me down to tell me about the birds and the bees, I informed her that I knew all about it. When a brief round of questioning confirmed this, she asked, “Did Cousie tell you?” Cousie was—of course—my beloved cousin and senior by four years. 

I will admit Cousie provided a few details and clarifications, but she hadn’t told me. Valerie Sherwood and her swashbuckling buccaneers and corseted ladies already had. 

I first tried my hand at writing a romance novel in 2006. I was twenty-five, and I’d read dozens of romances by then. Inspired by the Torino Olympics, I made my hero and heroine star-crossed figure skaters who were paired with the wrong partners. 

With FIRE AND ICE, I proved to myself that I could maneuver around work and life, overcome a dismal first draft, and research all the things I didn’t know about skating. 

I could finish.

I typed the final sentences of FIRE AND ICE on the fourth of July. As I did, fireworks exploded outside my window. Oh please. Personal fireworks for my finale? How cheesy is that?

Hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t write the scene. This was real life, not fiction.

FIRE AND ICE, it must be said, was met with deafening silence from the publishing world. I read it now, years later, and I see its flaws. But I still see those fireworks.

2016 is shaping up to be a year filled with firsts. My third novel, RUBY RED, has garnered a Golden Heart nomination. This is more than my first Golden Heart. This is the first external recognition I’ve received for one of my original works. Lack of external recognition wouldn’t stop me from writing—I’m not sure anything would stop me from writing—but let’s not lie to each other. External recognition is wonderful.

In July I’ll attend the Romance Writers of America conference for the first time, and in the process I’ll see San Diego for the first time. For the first time, I’ll be querying agents with a bona fide feather in my cap.

And this, dear reader, is my first blog post.

You can bet I won’t forget it.

Your turn readers! Tell me about a first in your reading or writing life: the first romance novel you read, the first book that made you want to write, or the first book you wrote. I can’t wait to read your responses in the comments.


Find Melanie on the Web 

Twitter: @MelanieNovak31

Instagram: novak_melanie


Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Melonie Johnson

Today we’re welcoming another Mermaid, Melonie Johnson, a 2016 Golden Heart finalist in Contemporary Romance with SOMETIMES YOU NEED A SEXY SCOT!

author photoMelonie Johnson is a Star Wars junkie, Shakespeare groupie, and unabashed lover of lists. She lives along the Illinois/Wisconsin border, and enjoys the benefits and miseries (traffic, anyone?) of living within an hour of two major cities. She’s married to a retro-game geek and has two red head daughters who keep her busy with laundry, dishes, and laughter.

She recently wrapped up her second term as the president of the Chicago-North chapter of RWA and now serves as the Social Media Chair for the chapter. You can find her on twitter at @MelonieJohnson, visit her on Facebook (where she shares pics of hot gingers, among other things), and check her out at


When a gorgeous guy (in a kilt, no less) literally falls at the feet of “Twitter Babe” Cassie Crow, she does what any American girl on her dream vacation would do: throws caution to the wind and locks lips with the sexy Scot. But when she realizes her hot Highlander is actually the creator of a UK Internet prank show, Cassie fears if the clip of her getting punk’d by a Scottish hunk goes viral, she can kiss her ambition to become a serious broadcast journalist goodbye.

Logan Reid’s star is on the rise. Under consideration to be picked up for a television series in the states, Logan knows this latest stunt is guaranteed to rack up the views he needs to knock his numbers out of the park. When the unwitting player in his perfect pitch cries foul, Logan vows to see the prank go live, even if he has to chase the Yank with the smart mouth and hot lips across the pond to seal the deal. Turns out, the joke’s on Logan once he realizes he’d risk his fifteen minutes of fame for a chance at a lifetime with Cassie. But with her career on the line, is Cassie willing to risk the same?

got kilt

Hee!! It’s like Outlander meets Punk’d, with a fun, sexy twist! I can’t wait to read that opening scene!

Okay, readers, let’s make ourselves at home in the castle throne room (ignore the TV cameras, but be on the lookout for hot guys in kilts…I hear they’re all over the place). Help yourselves to some shortbread cookies—and a tumbler of whiskey if you’d like one—while I lob a few questions at Melonie Johnson.


-Welcome, Melonie! Your Golden Heart book has such a fabulous concept! How did you come up with the idea?

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Elizabeth King!

Today we’re holding a special SATURDAY blog session to introduce you to one of the Mermaids who lives in the Southern Hemisphere: the lovely Elizabeth King, 2016 Golden Heart Double Finalist in Historical Romance with (the wonderfully titled!!) THE EARL AND THE PUSSYCAT and TAMING THE EARL!!

Elizabeth spends both her days and nights writing. A tax lawyer by trade, she currently works for a legal publishing firm writing tax law books during the day. At night, she puts the tax law away and turns to historical romance writing. Elizabeth lives in beautiful Marlborough, the heart of the winemaking industry in New Zealand, with her winemaker husband and, when they’re home from boarding school and university, her two children. She is addicted to sci fi TV shows, anything produced by Joss Whedon, and all forms of super hero movies. She’s thrilled to be a double finalist this year and can’t wait to come to San Diego.

Here’s a blurb for THE EARL AND THE PUSSYCAT:

Five years ago, tortured by the loss of everyone he’d ever loved, Richard Selby fled England for the battlefields of Europe.  Returning now as the new Earl of Ashbourne, he’s learned his lesson well – if he doesn’t care, he can’t be hurt.

Evelyn Thorpe cares too much.  In love with Richard since she was a young girl, she’s spent the last five years pouring her heart into rescuing every hurt and mistreated animal she can find. Now Richard’s back and she’s determined to make him see her as something more than simply a replacement for his dead sister.

But Richard didn’t come back alone.  Thanks to another promise to a dying man, he’s brought with him the man’s orphaned daughter and he intends to make her his countess.  He’s failed to keep too many promises in the past and he refuses to fail again.  Only Richard didn’t count on being drawn back into Evie’s world and finding himself saving her from her madcap schemes to rescue animals.

Will Richard keep his promise this time or will Evie teach him there’s another lesson to be learned?

And here’s a blurb for TAMING THE EARL:

Less than a day ago, Lady Emily Stockton was fleeing for her life, escaping her deceitful guardian’s home in the dead of night. Now she finds herself lost and injured on the East Sussex coast and facing yet another man who claims to be trying to help her. Sebastian Wylde, sixteenth Earl of Westfield, wants nothing more than to be left alone, but he can’t ride off and leave an injured woman.

Forced together, each is determined to ignore the other. Emily has only to stay hidden for three months until she can claim her inheritance for herself and then she can start having adventures and travelling to all the places she’s planned. But she didn’t expect to be so drawn to her reluctant host. Secrets surround him and unable to resist the lure of trying to unravel them she finds herself falling for the man she starts to discover.

Sebastian, too, is drawn to Emily, even though he knows that as a ‘Wylde Earl’, he can only bring pain and sorrow to anyone he cares about. The Wylde Earls’ legacy is violence and destruction, and Sebastian plans to put an end to that legacy by never marrying.

But when danger once again threatens Emily, Sebastian realises two things – that he loves her and that to save her he will have to reveal his darkest secret, which could tear them apart forever.

Oh, sigh!! What wonderful scenarios!!! Terrific, classic takes on historical romance, complete with wounded, difficult heroes!! (*fans self.*) And Elizabeth spells “realise” with an “s,” the British way, which all by itself makes some of our little Anglophile hearts go pitter-pat.

Elizabeth is joining the Rubies today to talk about one powerful way she “refills the well” as a writer!

Please note: Elizabeth is joining us from New Zealand, so it will be past midnight for her around the time most of our blog readers start visiting….she’s not ignoring you, she’s sleeping, like a sensible human being. She’ll be back to respond to comments in the late afternoon U.S. Eastern Time.

Also, one lucky commenter will win a $20 Amazon gift certificate!

Take it away, Elizabeth!!


ElizabethKingAuthorPhotoLike many writers, I struggle to find the time to write in between the demands of the day job, family commitments, exercise routines, trying to make sure everyone around you is happy and looking after myself.

Even when I do find the time to write, there is also the fact that writing is a very solitary occupation and that can sometimes get you down. I’m not ashamed to admit that there are times when I consider giving up the whole idea of being a published author. I could take back my evenings and weekends to mix more with others. I could forget about word counts and deadlines and revisions and all the other stresses that go with writing. Rejections could become a thing of the past. Of course, the downside to all that would be that I wouldn’t be writing! And as all writers know, that doesn’t really work for us.

So, I can’t give it up, but what am I going to do to get through those times when things are getting me down? I’ve heard it described as “refilling the well” or “feeding the ladies in the basement” but however you want to describe it, it’s about reinvigorating yourself and your writing, finding the joy in what we do again, and getting that bum back in the chair and those fingers on the keyboard.

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Layla Reyne!!

Today we’re welcoming another Mermaid, Layla Reyne, a 2016 Golden Heart finalist in Romantic Suspense with her manuscript FOUR TRAGEDIES.

Layla Reyne - Author Photo-1Attorney by day, writer by night, Layla Reyne was raised in North Carolina and currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her scientist husband and three smush-faced dogs. Growing up surrounded by generations of southern storytellers and at the knee of her soap opera loving grandparents, she began writing at an early age. Now writing romantic suspense and contemporary romance, Layla is inspired by her coast-to-coast experiences and delights in weaving the people she’s met and places she’s been into her stories for readers everywhere to enjoy. Layla is a member of Romance Writers of America and its Kiss of Death and Silicon Valley chapters. She is represented by Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency.

Here’s a blurb for FOUR TRAGEDIES:

University professors are dying in Hanover, North Carolina, and their murders bear a striking resemblance to the deaths of Shakespeare’s wronged heroines. Police Chief Charlie Reddmann is on the case, which becomes complicated when her ex-fiancé, FBI Agent Hayes Keller, joins the investigation. Hayes was forced to leave Charlie behind two decades ago when his parents threatened to expose a secret that would destroy her family. Since he’s been gone, Charlie’s done everything in her power to keep that secret buried and protect, at all costs, the son Hayes doesn’t know exists. But as the case Charlie and Hayes are investigating leads closer and closer to home, the tightrope they’re both now walking is stretched taut under the weight of their past and their secrets. If it snaps, the free fall will be deadly.

Awesome!! I’m a Shakespeare fiend, so I love the conceit! (Layla calls it “a second chance romance wrapped in a Shakespearean-themed murder mystery,” which is pretty much like crack for me.) Looking forward to this!

Okay, readers—it’s time to pin on your FBI badges and gather round for some intense (but friendly) interrogation of Layla Reyne!


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The Latest Comments

  • Darynda Jones: Love this, April! I could see this for any age. Your protagonist could be a child haunted by a...
  • Darynda Jones: Oooooo, this would make a great opening, Cynthia! Great job!
  • Darynda Jones: YES! Love it, Lydia! Creepy and dark. Two of my favorite things, and if that’s wrong, I...
  • Darynda Jones: BAM! There you go. Fantastic, Diane! Super creepy.
  • Darynda Jones: Nice, Joyce!!! You included scent. It’s something I’m always overlooking. Great job!