Posts tagged with: fantasy romance

Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Jilly Wood!!

Today in our series of interviews with the Omegas, the 2019 Golden Heart Finalists, we’re welcoming Jilly Wood, a finalist in the Paranormal Romance category with THE TRANSFORMATION OF ALEXIS DOE.

Jilly Wood was born and raised in Derbyshire, England, a county that’s best known for Mr. Darcy but is also home to ancient castles, deep caverns veined with rare gemstones, wild moors studded with otherworldly rock formations, and a whole host of supernatural legends. All these elements are to be found in Jilly’s fantastic adventure stories of chivalry, rivalry, power, and love.

Jilly now lives quietly with her husband of many years in a leafy corner of historic North London. She writes epic fantasy from the comfort of her sofa, aided by her trusty laptop, a vivid imagination, and a steady supply of coffee and wine.


Alexis Doe is a six-foot-tall, shaven-headed twenty-five-year-old woman raised in a monastery as Brother Alexis, an acolyte with kick-ass fighting skills and a stolen power jewel hidden in her navel. When Alexis becomes energy sick despite the jewel’s protection, she’s forced to seek help in Caldermor, a wealthy city-state ruled by Prince Daire, the half-brother she’s never met. Daire is still hunting his missing heirloom. If Alexis is caught with it, she’ll hang.

Alexis finds the help she needs—at a price—from career soldier Kierce Randsen. Kierce knows Alexis’s half-royal birth, her excess of life energy, and her power jewel mean she could make elan—a golden, near-miraculous medicine created only by the royal family, who channel their vitality into common pulse beans at an ostentatious ceremony known as Transformation. Kierce’s sister is ill and he agrees to team up with Alexis if she’ll make the elan Mirel needs to survive.

When Alexis and Kierce discover that the solution to her energy sickness and his need for elan are only to be found at Transformation, they have no choice but to attend, risking discovery and execution. They don’t expect to develop a personal connection that runs far deeper than a mutual assistance pact, or to learn that Caldermor’s elan secrets are older and more dangerous than either of them ever imagined.

Awesome! I love seeing full-on fantasy in the Paranormal category!! I’m a sucker for wild moors and mysterious caverns (my reading tastes were heavily informed by an Ursula LeGuin addiction that ran from when I was eleven until I’d run out of new novels by her to read). And WOW do I love the idea of a “six-foot-tall, shaven-headed” heroine raised in a monastery, with “kick-ass fighting skills”!! (I’ve been jonesing for more Brienne of Tarth, so you’ve got my attention!!)

 I think we’ll gather round in a forest today, friends—and, ooh, look! A circle of ancient stones! Perfect! Put off your armor, if you’re wearing any, and get comfy while I pass around a goatskin of sweet wine and ask some questions of Jilly Wood.


Welcome, Jilly! Fantastic to have you visiting with us from all the way across the pond!

Thank you to Elisa and the Rubies for allowing me to share your blog, and for hosting this series of guest posts. I’m loving the chance to learn more about my fellow Omegas and their books, and honored to be part of the last ever Golden Heart class.

It’s truly our pleasure. I’m just loving the depth and variety of stories the Omegas are sharing!! So…fantasy is your jam! Why did you gravitate to that genre?

Because writing and reading fantastic stories makes me happy J.

I heard a superb workshop from last year’s RWA Nationals called Writing For Your Id. The presenter was Dr. Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA author (the recording is available for download from RWA). Dr. Barnes explained that an effective way to make your stories distinctive and memorable is to add in elements that the writer really, really enjoys. Dr. Barnes recommends building a personal Id List of beloved tropes, settings, or details, and using the list to add excitement to your writing. I really like that idea. I get a fizzy, Id List feeling writing fantasy romance, and if I can share that buzz with people who read my stories I’ll be even happier.

Oh, yes!! That was one of my favorite workshops in Denver!! The whole idea that instead of seeing tropes as clichés to be rigorously avoided, you embrace them shamelessly because if you enjoy them, there are surely other readers who do, too, and diving in to ones that give you that sweet frisson of excitement will make your writing delicious to others as well. She said it can be big things, like “friends to lovers” or “evil twin” or “couple come to know each other through long exchange of letters,” or small moments, like “midnight swim” or “hands brush unintentionally” or “gruff man gentle with child.” (At some point, I’m going to devote a whole blog post to this.) Dr. Barnes suggests making a list of things that give you that frisson of pleasure, and making the list as long as possible, so you can dip into it often. So what’s on your Fantasy Writer’s Id List?

Castles, monasteries, landscapes, seascapes. Jewels and sparkly stuff. Mystery. Wonder. Adventure. Bravery—physical and moral. High stakes—the world in peril. Wordplay and swordplay. Big ideas. Old-fashioned values—chivalry, idealism, sacrifice, honesty, respect, generosity, and kindness. Proactive women. Underdogs. True love.

Yum!! Definitely delicious!! Of course, fantasy can’t just be a pile of tropes; you’ve got to build a whole coherent logical world for your characters to exist in. Tell us about your worldbuilding for THE TRANSFORMATION OF ALEXIS DOE. What’s the big idea in your world?

Elan. It’s an imaginary medicine, created by concentrating life energy into specially grown beans. The mysterious transformation process changes beans from everyday foodstuff into hard-shelled, fragrant, shiny golden nuggets of elan, known as pulses. A pulse of elan can be grated and boiled into a tonic for internal use, or added to a poultice for external application. However it’s used, elan boosts the body’s own natural healing powers and gives near-miraculous results.

The Edevald family, rulers of the city state of Caldermor, holds a monopoly over elan. It’s a position that brings them wealth and power, but also envy and danger.

Fascinating! I love that it involves the power to heal, since that’s a power people will truly go to any lengths to obtain—either for themselves or their loved ones. I’ve noticed your gravatar looks jewel-like. Is it a jewel from your world?

Yes! That glowing amber stone is called the Light of Calder. It’s the greatest and most powerful treasure of the Edevald family. Missing, presumed stolen by my heroine Alexis’s mother, who was pregnant with the Crown Prince’s bastard child when she fled Caldermor. Now Alexis wears the Light in her navel, under her monk’s tunic.

Very cool!! So, will you be pitching Alexis’s story in New York in July?

No. The Caldermor Chronicles is a complex multi-book epic fantasy by a debut author. I think there will be at least two prequels and a main series of six books. It would be asking a lot to expect a traditional publisher to invest in that. Also I’m a bit of a control freak. I think indie publishing is a much better option for me.

Wow! That sounds big. You said indie publishing, not self-publishing. What’s the difference for you?

 I think the term self-publishing is misleading, because I didn’t do all the work myself. Many people have helped me get my elan stories to the almost-published stage. I’m super-grateful to them all, especially my main critique partner, Dragonfly/Persister and Paranormal GH winner Jeanne Oates Estridge, and ace developmental editor Karen Dale Harris. And I’m sure I’ll be grateful to many more folk before I finally get the first book to market.

No one should try this alone, that’s for sure! When do you expect the book to be out in the world?

I’m planning to publish my debut book, THE SEEDS OF POWER, later this year.

Oh, so you’re not starting with your Golden Heart story?

No, it’s a prequel. The heroine is Christal, a princess from a military-minded kingdom who’s ordered into a political marriage with spoiled Prince Daire of Caldermor but who uses her considerable ingenuity to avoid her fate. Christal becomes an important secondary character in the main series. The choices she makes in THE SEEDS OF POWER change Prince Daire’s life, and she sets in train the events that become the Caldermor Chronicles. Her story is the pebble that starts the series avalanche.

Cool! And what a great metaphor for a prequel! Do you have an official blurb ready?

Christal Hollin, princess of Larrochar, narrowly escaped death by marriage as a fourteen year-old. She won’t risk wedlock ever again. Instead she becomes trusted assistant to the King’s Cultivator and an expert in rare plants.

Christal’s safety rests on her papa’s obsession with elan—the mysterious golden, bean-shaped curative that gives neighboring Caldermor its wealth and power. Only the Calderran royal family knows how elan is made. Christal intends to break their monopoly.

Then, catastrophically, she receives a marriage proposal from Daire Edevald, crown prince of Caldermor. All he cares about is elan. All she has is her expertise.

Her father wants Caldermor’s secret. The Calderrans want Christal. To save herself she’ll need every kernel of knowledge she’s ever gleaned. And the support of Kiran Randsen, elite soldier turned Calderran bodyguard, who may be something even rarer than elan—a man she’d trust with her life.

OOH!! Love the concept, and that final line: “something even rarer than elan—a man she’d trust with her life.” Do you have a cover ready? Can we see it?

Yes! Here it is!

Oh, that’s absolutely gorgeous!!!! Hurray! Where can we find out more? 

You can read an excerpt at my brand new website:

I blog every other Sunday at Eight Ladies Writing:



Fantastic! I’m eager to check out the excerpt!! Best of luck on your debut!! 

So, do you have a question for our readers today to get the conversation rolling?

Here are a few more items from my Id List: Bluestocking heroines, men with strong mothers, twisted tropes, make-unders, bright colors, tall men, deception, snark under pressure… Readers, what’s on your Id List?

Ruby Release: Sword and Lute by Cate Rowan

There are many forms of imprisonment…and many kinds of freedom.

This Thanksgiving marked my first anniversary here in Colorado, and away from a situation in my old state that was very, very bad. While I won’t go into the details of the situation in a public forum, let’s just say that I was glad to leave it.

And yet I wasn’t quite free of the past for most of this year. There were some things that still haunted me, and that haunting held me prisoner. I could feel the bars holding me in, but I didn’t know how to escape.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when something unexpected happened out of that past—again, I apologize that I can’t go into details—that I finally, finally realized I was free. Really and truly free.

I live on a mountaintop, and watching the sun emerge above the plains to the east is a treat I’ve enjoyed every morning. This unexpected development gave me the same joyous feeling: a sunburst of light and freedom. I could now move forward with a whole heart. It’s no surprise to me that my books and stories involve the theme of healing from the past.

My latest fantasy romance, a 16,000-word novelette, is Sword and Lute. The hero is an immortal, and he knows the feeling of imprisonment (and healing) better than most. So does the mortal heroine, Amara. Cover of Sword and Lute by Cate Rowan

When a cursed sword slashed the god Taso, his immortality gushed into the grass along with his blood. He escaped death—barely—by transforming into stone. Centuries later, the aspiring musician Amara stumbles across the stone and inadvertently morphs Taso back into his dying body. To save him, she must sacrifice her precious lute and her life-long dream. But in return, she might find her heart’s desire…

When our past haunts us, sometimes love can guide us to a better future.

Excerpt of Sword and Lute:

“Lie down,” she said. “You lost too much blood.”

He gave her a mulish look.

She hastened over, put her hand on his chest and gently pushed him down to the earth. A mistake, because once he was down, he captured her wrist in his warm palm.

“Who are you, maiden fair?”

She shrugged, striving to keep her face composed. “You first. You’re the interesting one.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” His fingers softened their grip and caressed her skin. “Not at all.”

She gave a noncommittal smile, tugged her hand from his, and stepped away to tend the fire.

“My name is Taso,” he said at last into the silence. “And what is yours, milady?”

Her teeth clamped over her name, and then she flushed. Why should she keep it from him? It was simply a word.

But each piece he knew of her was leading to someplace larger. Deeper. Perilous.

“I’m Amara.” She sprinkled a few grains of precious salt over the meat and didn’t turn around.

“Amara,” he repeated, as if he liked the sound of it. Hells, she liked the sound of it when he said it in that mellow voice.

“This will need to cook a while, but I’m sure you’re hungry,” she said briskly, and knelt to rummage in her pack for the bread and cheese.

“Amara,” he spoke again, stopping her as easily as if he’d bespelled her. “Thank you. For your help. For your kindness to a stranger.”

She looked at him at last, and shivered. “Did I truly break a spell?”

“You did.”

“Why? How?” She rose and took a step closer to him. “Who are you?”

“I’m Taso.” He smiled, teasing her as firelight danced across his face.

She held still. “Are you a god?”

His chest rose with a long breath and he rolled his gaze up to the star-dusted sky. “I’m not sure.”

To celebrate Taso’s freedom and my own, Sword and Lute is just 99 cents. It’s available at the following e-stores:

Dear reader, I hope you are also feeling free and joyful. May love show all of us the way!

Experimentation and a Ruby Release: “Swords and Scimitars” by Cate Rowan

I have a new release to tell you about, but first, let me get this out of the way: I used to write to please others.

It’s not that I don’t take other people into account anymore—not at all. I have a readership, and their opinions of my work matter to me.

But I no longer write to please the traditional publishing industry. I’ve learned a fine lesson about that.

A panel of editors and agents once shot down my query letter at the RWA conference. It was a query letter workshop for Golden Heart finalists, and the panelists were to say “stop” when they reached the point in a query where they wanted to quit reading. The entire panel yelled stop as soon as they learned that my book’s hero, a sultan, already had six wives.

The industry consensus was that a book like that wouldn’t succeed. Under the paradigm of that time, they were likely right to shoot it down.

I hired several agents over the years who did their best, but Kismet’s Kiss was a tough sell. Despite two Golden Heart finals, it clearly didn’t fit the New York marketing boxes, and editors were afraid it wouldn’t make the publishing house enough money. That’s understandable; it was a risk. I was pushing boundaries.

But I knew romance, and understood my contract with the romance reader. I felt my book could flourish, and I was crazy (= stubborn) enough to try. After two small presses made offers, I decided to self-publish Kismet’s Kiss.

Instead of selling it to a publisher, I sold it to readers—more than 2600 of them to date, at prices from $2.99-5.99. And another 3600+ readers have bought my second book, The Source of Magic. While the number of copies sold is lower than what many trad-pubbed authors can expect, I earn much more per copy. I’ve made nearly $13,000 already. This is far beyond the average advance for two books from a debut author, and Kiss and Source are still in the marketplace earning more each day. They’ll never go out of print.

It’s funny to look back on my journey and realize what’s happened. It was not quite a year and a half ago that I published Kismet’s Kiss. I was the first Ruby Sister to self-pub, and alas, it wasn’t because I’m a visionary or a psychic. (I only wish.) I’d just realized going indie was my best chance to succeed and find readers for stories I loved.

Ten Rubies have now tested the indie path, and there are more Rubies planning to try it. Some of our agent-approved, contest-winning, misfit books that would otherwise be lying abandoned in darkness have found life—and readers—and in many cases, have revived their authors’ enjoyment in writing.


This world also lets authors experiment with prices, covers, descriptions, book length, and subject matter. That’s part of the fun for me with my latest release. It’s a short story of 7,000 words, a length that has very few traditional markets. I’m pricing it at a mere 99 cents to see if that will entice readers. And although it’s a prequel to Kismet’s Kiss, which is a fantasy romance, I consider “Swords and Scimitars” to be a historical fantasy. It brims with emotion and love, but it’s far more a hero’s journey through an exotic culture (think “Arabian Nights” or “The King and I”) than a traditional romance.

A few months ago, Amazon offered indies another way to experiment: the Amazon Select program for Kindle books. Select allows the author/publisher to set the book’s price to free for up to five days out of every 90. Free books get lots of downloads and greater exposure, which helps generate paid sales afterward. The author/publisher has control over when the free days are scheduled, making it easier to arrange promotions. The downside is that the Select program requires Amazon exclusivity for the full 90 days. I’ve been reluctant to add Kismet’s Kiss or The Source of Magic to the Select program for that reason. I’ve made about a quarter of all my sales through Barnes and Noble.

Still, now that I have a new release, I thought I’d try Select for “Swords and Scimitars” and see what happens. Hmm… have I mentioned my dislike for that exclusivity thing? Yeah. So before I sign up for Select, I’m making “Swords and Scimitars” available for the next five days at Barnes and Noble (nook) and Smashwords (all formats), as well as at Amazon, and all for just 99 cents. This way non-Kindle readers can get their hands on “Swords and Scimitars,” too.


Swords and Scimitars: A Fantasy Short Story

Immortal twin brothers. One enchanted sword. A tragedy that propels them into legend.

The lives of well-born twins Kismet and Taso are easy and carefree—endless days of bedding women and fighting battles among the gods—until sorcery drives a wedge between them that slices deeper than flesh. Kismet has striven to be the ultimate warrior, but a mistake costs him his brother, his family, and his homeland.

He carves out a new life in the desert, rising to the command of a realm and an army, yet can’t escape his past. When two women beg for his aid against tyranny, he must sacrifice his freedom and his long-scarred heart to help them.

“Swords and Scimitars” is a short story of the immortal founders of verdant Teganne and desert Kad, two rival realms divided by magic—yet bound by blood, mistrust, and love. The chronicle continues in the award-winning fantasy romance novels Kismet’s Kiss and The Source of Magic.


I used to write to please others… but I wrote “Swords and Scimitars” to please myself and my readership, and with luck, to attract new readers from a different genre. It’s an experiment for sure, and one of which I’m proud. As a writer, that’s the best feeling of all.

Thank you for stopping by to celebrate the release of “Swords and Scimitars.” To add to the festive mood, I’m giving away three copies to non-Ruby visitors. Leave a comment to enter, and good luck!

The Latest Comments

  • Louisa Cornell: It’s a great first line, Louise! I am looking forward to reading the book!
  • Lenee Anderson: The murderer is David’s best friend. I’m concerned if I said something along the lines of...
  • Darynda Jones: This is great, Lenee, especially for a first attempt. Wow. I’m wondering if the stakes can be...
  • Darynda Jones: YES!!! I love it, Vivi, but Autumn’s is adds that twists that grabs me. Great job both of you!
  • Heather McCollum: Yes, this works! Thank you Autumn! You are awesome!!


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