Saturday, March 22

Weird, old tip...

Sorry, I couldn't resist!
If you're one of my FB friends, you're probably aware that I've started a new "diet" and exercise regimen.  (I'm reticent to call it a "diet" because diets are something you go off eventually; what I'm doing is changing--or really just modifying--my eating habits. For the last few months, I've been putting in an extra effort to eat better, mostly because the first month after we bought the new house, we ate a steady diet of fast food. Even trying to make the best choices possible, it wasn't a pretty sight!)
Of course, since I'm cutting calories, I wanted to make sure I was still getting the right balance of good fats (yes, there is such a thing), protein, and the right kind of carbs. That last one is a kicker. On the one hand, there's the glycemic index (which is more important to people prone to diabetes than me--that's one thing that doesn't run in my family) and on the other hand there's the "eat lots of whole grains" (which are high in the kinds of carbs that can cause a glycemic spike). I'm taking the middle ground: eat on the lower end of the "high side" (because that's where whole oats and brown rice fall--but white rice and white bread are a *lot* higher!)
Now, what would have been really nice would have been if the professional nutritionist I saw when I had gestational diabetes would have actually explained this to me. All she said was that I should start drinking my coffee black and cut down to 1% milk--neither of which happened. (Fortunately, I did manage to keep that under control and there were on complications as a result; I developed the condition fairly late in my pregnancy and it's one of those things that--they tell me--goes away after delivery).
But back to the present. 
This year, I turned 45. It was only a little scary at first. Then I started thinking about the next five years and the five years after that and looking in the mirror...and yeah. I also know that heart problems run in my family like crazy, which is why I'd been trying to generally clean up my dietary act over the last couple of years--not enough to loose weight, but enough to ensure that at my last check up, my cholesterol and blood pressure were still right where they should be. (Go me!  I was honestly surprised; I expected the doc to come back with a long lecture about heart health).
Two things I will never do, however: eat margarine again, or consume artificial sweeteners. I've switched over to raw honey for everything but my coffee and the occasional (and occasionally necessary) cup of hot cocoa (home made, of course!) because it's at least got a little food value (where as white sugar is nothing but calories).
And I'm exercising (although the pool is playing havoc with my hair color! I'm going to get the roots professionally done this week--some things are just easier to have someone else do--and I'll stay out of the pool for a week or so after re-coloring--instead, I'll hit the gym/weight room. I'm not thrilled about treadmills and the like, but I love weight lifting. Yes. Really. Once upon a time, I was in pretty good shape. If only I hadn't listened to everyone who told me I was fat, I *might* not be quite where I am now, because after you hear how fat you are for so long, you kinda just absorb the message and stop caring. At least that's what happened to me. I weighed about 110 lbs and stood 5 feet tall and I was *convinced* I was obese. I wasn't thin, but I was *wasn't* fat.  Ohhh to be that weight again....but my goals aren't that lofty.  I'm shooting for about 135, which is just a little over the "ideal weight" for a woman my age/height/build. We'll see how it goes--and how I look/feel--as I get closer and modify that goal as needed.)
Oh and the title of my post? I'm sure you've seen those "weird old tip" adverts (truthfully, they drive me batty). Well, here's my "weird old tip" for losing weight: eat good food in moderation. Good foods are a combination of the foods that are good for you and the foods that you love (or healthy variations there-of). Also, drink lots of water, and get in an hour of exercise everyday--housework and walking the dog totally count! Basically, that's everything my grandmother taught me--no need to pay some guy a jillion dollars a month after sitting through his inane video (which I've never managed to do)--and there are no magic pills or silver bullets, no miracle "cures" for being overweight. It takes patience, hard work, and a lot of self-love because feeling guilty over a slice of cake or an ice cream cone will only make getting back on the bandwagon harder.
Do you love ranch dressing? I sure do. And ranch has totally skewed my fat intake every time I have a salad. I *loathe* "Low-Fat Ranch". I don't know how they make it, but it always tastes icky (and low fat is often even worse for one's health than regular fat).  There *had* to be a way to eat the one true indulgence that I eat every day (or every other day, anyway) without totally skewing my fat intake (and really, though none of the oils in my ranch are "bad" they're not "good" either). So I went looking on line and this is what I found:
This is the base recipe:
  • 1 clove (to 2 Cloves) Garlic
  • Salt To Taste
  • 1/4 cup Italian Flat-leaf Parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Chives
  • 1 cup (Real) Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • Buttermilk (as Needed To Desired Consistency)
    I switched out the mayo (which I'm not too keen on anyway, although homemade mayo is pretty good--and basically, I like controlling what goes into what I'm eating) AND the sour cream for 0% Fage Greek Yogurt. I chose Fage because it and Oikos had the only ingredient list I didn't need a dictionary to understand, but only Fage came in a 0% milk-fat option. I used the 2% milk we always have in the house for the milk--final ration ended up being almost half and half yogurt to milk, but you could make it however you wanted. Hubby chopped the herbs. I wanted 2 cloves of garlic and he just sort of eyeballed the parsley (which is very good for you, by the way) and chives, but it came out tasting *really* great and almost exactly like the stuff from the bottle. Obviously, you could easily sub low-fat mayo and sour cream if you don't want to go all in (or all out?) on fat. (Or make your own mayo--remember, egg yolks ARE good for you! That's where all the omega-3's are.)
    Next time:
    More house pics! The place is coming along beautifully.
    Oh, and if you haven't signed up for my newsletter, *now* is the time. After a painfully long hiatus, I'm coming back with something very special at the end of the week--a hot scene from my WIP (Derrik and Palo)!  If you like sexy, sweet, BDSM, this one is definitely for you. 

    Sunday, March 9

    How about an excerpt?

    So I've been very, VERY busy over at the new house (remember those pics from a few weeks ago? Stay tuned and I'll update with some new ones in a couple of days.)

    Anyway, I've been putting in a lot of time at the other house--and winter has been kind of kicking my butt (me and Depression keep doing the two-step). February is always notoriously insane, but before that was January, when a friend passed away not exactly unexpectedly but...well, the short version is that it sucked. Put the suck and the stress of moving and the depression together and I decided to set Dillon and Andy aside for a couple of months and take a break from writing.

    And you know what happened next, right? Of course you do: ATTACK OF THE PLOT BUNNIES!

    from "Night of the Lepus" which seemed a) wholly appropriate and
    b) hopefully less likely to get me into copyright trouble, since I'm
    crediting the movie (which is awesome in a B-horror flick sort of way).

    The plot bunny that surfaced at the Dragon Ritual Drummers concert was actually one that had been hibernating for a while.

    And here's that excerpt. Please bear in mind that this is entirely unedited; I wrote it while watching the the sun slowly filter into my dreary family room--I can't WAIT to be writing in my bright sunny office in the new house!

    “We meet again.”
    Palo was so startled he dropped the small bag of trash he was carrying toward the bin outside the shower house—he immediately dropped to the ground and started picking up his mess. He didn’t have to look to see who was behind him. After hearing the man’s voice once, he’d know it anywhere. What he didn’t expect was for the beautiful Asian drummer to kneel down and help him gather up the trash that had fallen out of the bag—and when Palo looked up and saw him, his breath slipped away. The man was wearing a leather corset, the under-bust kind made for a woman, but there was nothing girly in the way he looked, even with the long black…Palo didn’t know what the super-wide pleated pants were called, but he’d seen them in pictures of Samurai.
    “You’re a jumpy little thing,” the Asian commented—but there was nothing derisive in his tone, just a friendly smile on his face and a slightly mischievous glint in his eye.
    Palo still couldn’t help ducking his head in a silent apology as heat flooded his cheeks. He desperately wanted to tell the other man he didn’t have to help, it was Palo’s mess, his fault, he’d dropped it—but his heart was racing so fast he was sure he’d never be able to get the words out. The best he could do was try to work faster, so the Asian wouldn’t have to pick up as much.
    “You don’t like to talk, do you?”
    Palo shook his head. It had nothing to do with Stan’s stupid rules.
    “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
    Palo shot him a startled look.
    His smile warmed, completely melting Palo’s insides so that his knees felt like they were made of jelly. “I noticed your little bit of a speech disfluency[H1]  this morning.”
    He swallowed back the lump in his throat and nodded.
    The Asian picked up the last piece of garbage and stuffed it into the little plastic bag Palo was holding, then stood up and dusted his hands off on his pants. Nothing in the garbage had been gross, it was mostly paper and bottles—Palo had only gathered up the trash as an excuse to take a walk anyway. “Th-thank…thank you.” His voice was barely a whisper, the words pushed out past the lump in his throat as he stood up, too.
    “I’m Derrik.” He held out his hand.
    “P-p….Palo.” Damnit, he couldn’t remember a time when his stutter had been so bad! Derrik’s hand was big and warm, but his grip was light. And Palo suddenly remembered he wasn’t even supposed to talk to anyone, so he pulled his hand back quickly—far too quickly to be polite. But if Derrik was into BDSM of any kind, he’d understand. There were rules.
    Derrik retrieved the djembe he’d set down to help Palo pick up his mess, and slung the strap back over his shoulder. “I’m headed down to the main circle to teach a class—polyrhythms 101.” He flashed a lop-sided grin. “You interested?”
    “I d-d-don’t-don’t drum.”
    “You could come dance for us.”
    Heat flooded Palo’s cheeks again. Derrik couldn’t possibly have noticed him at the drum circles—could he? Don’t be stupid. Derrik was one of the best drummers Palo had ever seen. Why would he notice me? Shame replaced embarrassment and the vague glimmer of…something. Palo couldn’t name it, but whatever it was, it felt like ego and how many times had his foster mother told him not to be so self-centered? The world didn’t revolve around him.
    “A couple of the belly dancers are coming down, too,” Derrik told him.
    But Palo shook his head—and spotted Stan, coming toward the shower house. His heart froze. The angry scowl on Stan’s face told Palo he’d seen them talking. “I h-h-have-have…have t-t…to go.” Without waiting for a response or even an acknowledgment, Palo dropped the trash into the bin and hurried to Stan so he could explain. He hadn’t been doing anything wrong. He was just dumping the garbage from their tent and someone stopped to talk to him. It was nothing, no big deal.
    But Stan would never believe that. It wasn’t his fault—only that didn’t make Palo any less afraid. Depending on how much of the exchange Stan had seen would depend on how bad it was when they got back to the tent.

    Derrik watched his little pup run toward Muttonchops, looking like a scared rabbit running toward a hungry coyote. Part of him wanted to go after him—the look of pure terror in the kid’s eye reminded him too much of the looks he’d seen on battered spouses. But you have no idea how these two roll, he reminded himself. Every couple was different. Every kink was different. Outsiders looking in might have thought Henry was abusing him every time he called Derrik a cunt or a slut—every time he slapped Derrik across the face. But that was the way Derrik had wanted it. Never mind that the old man was right and it was no good for me. Even after two years of therapy, he still hadn’t forgiven Henry for refusing to give in when he said he wanted more. More pain. More punishment. More verbal abuse. For all I know whatever those two have going is exactly what each of them needs. Because two years ago, he never would have believed that he didn’t need everything he thought he wanted.
    He still couldn’t help the way his gut twisted up into a knot when Muttonchops grabbed his little pup by the arm and practically dragged him away.

    Thursday, January 16

    Writing Dialogue

    Of all the literary pet peeves I have, poorly written dialogue is probably the biggest. I will forgive typos (as long as there aren't so many the prose is unreadable) more quickly than I will forgive characters who sound like robots--you know, assuming they're *not* robots  *G*
    In preparation for writing this blog post, I went looking at other people's advice on the subject--that was less than ten minutes ago, because straight away, I found advice that I disagree with, in the strongest possible terms.
    "Use juicy verbs, edit superfluous words and keep sentences simple. Reveal complex characters with simplicity. Again, often what’s not said that is most important and revealing. Most “real” speech contains fragments, “ums” and idioms. Don’t include those. Don’t have your character say something unless it’s pertinent to the story or the character."
    I agree with the very last sentence: Don't have your character say something unless it's pertinent to the story or the character.  The rest of it is rubbish. Real people speak with superfluous words, we us "um" (although too many I written dialogue is going to be tedious for the reader), we sometimes speak in fragment sentences, we hardly ever use "juicy verbs" (i.e. the average person doesn't stop to think "I shouldn't use passive voice when I tell mom what happened to her vase; I should avoid copulas whenever possible, substituting instead action verbs), and we most definitely use idioms. The idioms your characters use will clue readers into their age, ethnicity, and what part of the country they're from. We also um and erm, and let sentences fall off part way through, and sometimes we go round the mulberry bush instead of getting straight to the point.
    There is a fine line, of course, between real and boring. One of the best pieces of advice I've read sums up that fine line like this: dialogue doesn't repeat real conversation, it imitates it. It cuts out the boring parts, many of which can be summed up in exposition. (E.g.: they said their goodbyes and Tom disconnected the call.)
    When you're writing exposition, all that stuff that comes in between dialogue, definitely use the best verbs possible, avoid idioms (unless they fit he situation), and avoid over-using fragment sentences. Almost always avoid passive voice and replace as many copulas with action verbs whenever you can (again, opting for what works best for the text, not what works best for your English professor.) When you're writing dialogue, the ideal is to strive for speech that sounds natural but won't bore your readers to tears (or worse, bore the acquisitions editor into tossing your ms into the circular file).
    In real life, my husband and I might have a lengthy and time consuming conversation about dinner. I can tell you from experience that those conversations don't serve to move our personal plot along one bit. If we were characters in a novel, the first time we had that discussion it might provide some entertainment and certainly some insight into our personalities. (We're both to bloody indecisive for our own good and each of us is usually hell-bent on pleasing the other--unless I'm having a mad craving for Mexican food *G*). So when your characters talk about dinner plans, it needs to serve an actual purpose. Has one character forgotten the other's food allergies? Or is he being a prick because he knows the other guy doesn't like Chinese, but insists on it anyway. Or maybe he's the one who hates Chinese, but he knows his best friend loves it, so he suggests going to Chang's for her birthday.
    It's also important to remember that characters are people, that means they sound different from one another, some to a greater degree and others to a lesser. If you take two twenty-year-old males from the same neighborhood, they're probably going to use a lot of the same words. If you take a poor twenty year old from the inner city and place him next to a twenty year old from a wealthy white-collar family living in Beverly Hills, he's likely to make different word choices and have different speech patterns. Education, socio-economic background, culture, ethnicity, and age all play into the way people talk.
    The best way I've found to learn about speech patterns is to eavesdrop on conversations. I know. It's rude. But I'm always listening to conversations going on at the other tables in restaurants or to what people are saying to each other as we wait in line at the bank or the grocery store. Mostly, I'm listening for words and syntax more so than actual content--but sometimes the content is pretty inspiring, to! I also credit writing fanfiction with helping me develop an ear; I wanted my version of other peoples' characters to sound true to form. (That's one more reason why I disagree with the people who say fanfiction writers are lazy. In some ways, I think it's harder to write another author's characters accurately than it is to create your own from whole cloth.)
    A couple of the "tricks" I employ when I write is to pick a couple of words and always have a character use that word. As an example, in my current (and currently neglected WIP), I have two main characters, Dillon and Andy. Andy is a high school drop out and Dillon is college educated. But Andy is very well read, especially for his age (and those reading choices have been explained in the story), so sometimes he uses words that the average eighteen year old wouldn't choose. He's still a street kid, so when he's talking about his favorite recreational drugs, he uses "molly" and "pot." Dillon, an attorney, refers to Andy's bad habits as "MDMA" and "marijuana." On a deeper and more personal level, Andy always uses the word "stupid." Dillon always uses the word "dumb." Because they're both typical Michiganders, they both drink "pop" not "soda." They both usually use grammar that wouldn't make an English teacher cringe, but of the two, Andy is more likely to use the less correct word (although very few human beings speak with correct grammar 100% of the time.)
    Here are a few good articles I found on writing dialogue:

    Saturday, January 11

    I bought a house!

    And really, even though my husband and I are paying for it together, he couldn't make the meeting, so it's just my name on the purchase agreement, so technically, *I* bought a house  :)  (It's been a running joke for years that technically the house we're living in now is his, since my name isn't on the deed--it was another paperwork sort of thing. If you were to come over and look around, you'd realize that this place is far more me than him, even though frankly I hate it. Which is why we bought a house!)
    If you've been following my life on Facebook or even in my newsletter (which is running *way* late, I apologize), you know we were trying like heck to move out of state. The Universe kept throwing us curve balls; we were also trying to move into an apartment (let somebody *else* shovel the snow for a while!) That hasn't panned out, either. So here we are with an upside down mortgage on a house we can't afford that I don't even like (although I love the garden, but that can be moved). Not 10 miles down the road is the city of Detroit (cringe now, get it over with) where there are hundreds of beautiful old homes in need of a little TLC that can be had for reasonable prices. The more TLC the more reasonable the price, of course.
    We found a compromise. A house that's within our meager budget, in a pretty nice neighborhood, that doesn't need too much more work on it than we can do ourselves. And what's that in the attic? Is that a plot bunny? Why, I think it is!
    People sometimes ask me where I get my ideas; the answer is EVERYWHERE!
    But first, I have to finish Andy and Dillon's story  :)  The last couple of weeks have been difficult (emotionally draining with everything going on), so the writing's been slow, but I'm hoping to wrap them up in between scraping, sanding, patching, and painting.
    Standing in our bedroom looking into what
    might have been a nursery; we're going to turn it
    into a sitting room
    and it even has a desk!
    I need to re-finish it over the summer, of course.
    Stairwell going upstairs--drywall needs to
    come out and be replaced.
    Ditto in the kitchen
    (the dining room is in similar shape)
    My daughter's closet; needs insolation and proper walls/ceiling
    but she has a thing for huge closet spaces, so we gave her the
    room with the bigger/more interesting closet.
    Her room--needs a good scrape and paint.
    Bathrooms don't actually look too shabby
    (this is the upstairs bath; downstairs is about the
    same...except from some gods awful wallpaper)
    Our room again, from a different angle
    we have a walk in closet, too.
    It's not a real fireplace, but still... 
    It makes up for the kitchen! 
    (Hubby found a junk drawer--with junk still in it *G*)
    In addition, there's a little office space off the dining room,
    and another bedroom upstairs we want to use as a spare room/
    sitting room (we already have a futon sofa/bed).
    There's an old upright piano in the basement that needs
    a complete re-furbish, but it looks like it's more tan worth the effort.
    And look at those ceilings. No, I don't just mean the falling paint and cracked plaster.
    The ceilings are at least 10 feet tall  on most of the main floor.
    Which means it'll be a bitch to keep warm and an even bigger bitch to fix, but I finally get my 100 year old house *G* (The house is currently almost 90 years old. It looks like prior to the last decade, it was kept up pretty well. We've been able to learn snippets about the couple that lived here before; last registered owner was 87 and stopped being the owner in 2004. We suspect she passed on. Prior to her, a man with the same last name had the house in his name until 2000; we're guessing he was her husband and passed away, leaving the house to her. Someone was at least paying the taxes on it until 2 years ago, but the water bill is current--and the back taxes are well within our budget to pay by the March 1st deadline.)  We bought her on a land contract (or rather *I* bought her on a land contract) and within the year, she'll be ours free and clear--at which point, yes, hubby's name will go on the deed, too  *G*
    We'll be tackling the biggest projects first to make the house livable and hopefully be in there in a couple of months. (Fair warning to other bargain hunters, of all the "move in ready" homes we looked at, *this* was the nicest. Move in ready does not always mean amenities like a hot water tank or even toilets. We saw a lot of houses where the bathroom fixtures had been completely gutted. We will have to replace one of the toilets, it has a crack, but at least it was still there. The place has newer siding, newer windows, a newer roof, and updated electric.)

    Monday, January 6

    Welcome Anne Barwell

    First, let me take a moment to say welcome and thank you for being here today! It’s always a pleasure to have guests in the hot seat…erm, I mean interview chair.

    Why don’t you start out by introducing yourself (where you call home, how long you’ve been writing, etc.)?

    Helen, thanks for having me here today. I live in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I used to write when I was at school but picked it up again when I got my first computer, and discovered fanfic on the internet. Dreamspinner Press published my first novel Cat’s Quill in 2011, and my sixth publication with them, Shades of Sepia, is coming out end of January. My day job is in a public library so I guess a lot of my life revolves around books. 

    Please tell us a little bit about your current release. What inspired you to write this story? How did it come about?

    Shades of Sepia is book 1 of The Sleepless City series. This urban fantasy series is a joint project with Elizabeth Noble – we’re alternating books. We were chatting about how we both had vampire characters we wanted to do something with and that’s how the series was born. The other character I had morphed a little into a local Wellington guy, and we added a few ‘joint’ characters and it grew from there. Shades of Sepia was a lot of fun to write, and I’m looking forward to revisiting the characters when I write book three later in the year. It’s also quite a buzz having someone else write my characters, and Elizabeth did a great job with it as Simon and Ben also appear in her book, Electric Candle, which is the second in the series.

    Here’s the blurb from Shades of Sepia:

    A serial killer stalks the streets of Flint, Ohio. The victims are always found in pairs, one human and one vampire.

    Simon Hawthorne has been a vampire for nearly a hundred years, and he has never seen anything like it. Neither have the other supernaturals he works with to keep the streets safe for both their kind and the humans.

    One meeting with Simon finds Ben Leyton falling for a man he knows is keeping secrets, but he can't ignore the growing attraction between them. A recent arrival in Flint, Ben finds it very different from his native New Zealand, but something about Simon makes Ben feel as though he's found a new home.

    After a close friend falls victim to the killer, Simon is torn between revealing his true nature to Ben, and walking away to avoid the reaction he fears. But with the body count rising and the murders becoming more frequent, either, or both of them, could be the killer's next target.

    Is there an underlying theme in your stories?

    I write across a range of m/m genres but I like to give my guys a happy ending but I expect them to work for it first! My characters screw up and make mistakes, and aren’t always 100% sure of themselves. They’re often strong willed and stubborn, but ready to do whatever it necessary to protect the guy they love. I like a few plot twists, and a good mix of action/drama in with my romance, so it’s more a story with a romance than a romance with a story, if that makes sense. I try to put in some kind of Kiwi connection, although that’s not always possible, and some whumping (hurt/comfort). If there are handcuffs or restraints involved in the whumping that’s an added bonus.

    What’s your favorite part of the writing process? (the spark, the research, character oultines…?)

    The brainstorming and seeing the characters come alive as their story takes shape. I love character interaction, throwing them into a situation, and seeing what they do. Often it’s not what I thought they’d do either, but I take that as a good sign that they’re three dimensional and this is going to be a fun story to write.

    What’s your least favorite part of the writing process?

    Finding the time to sit down and actually write the story. Sometimes it’s really frustrating when there’s a lot going on in life and all I want to do is sit and write. I find writing is good stress relief but unfortunately when stuff is going on that really stresses me, that’s often the time I can’t squeeze in time to write. Catch 22 and all that.

    What’s your favorite part of the publishing process? (writing the story, working with an editor, working with the art department, marketing, etc?)

    Getting the cover, from the initial sketches/ideas through to the finished results. I love covers, and Dreamspinner Press has some very talented cover artists working with them. I have my high resolution prints of my covers hanging on my wall. I love them.

    What’s your least favorite part of the publishing process?

    The wait between submission and contract. The longer the time in between the more I start to second guess myself about whether they want it or not. I’ve never been good at the waiting game. When I decide I want to do something, I want to do it now.

    Do you listen to music while you write, prefer absolute silence, run off to the coffee shop…? If you do listen to music, can you name a few songs off your playlist?

    I always have music playing in the background when I write. What it is depends on what I’m working on, the characters, and the mood. Some of my playlist for Shades of Sepia is: “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Toploader, “Demons” by Imagine Dragons, “Kiss Me” by Ed Sherran and “Photograph” and “If Everyone Cared” by Nickelback.

    *happy squee* I love those songs!

    What do you do to get in the mood to write, especially when you don’t feel like it?

    I make a cup of tea, and put on the CD player, then settle in front of the computer. Once I’ve started writing all is good, but it’s getting started especially if I’m tired or distracted by the not so great things that happen in life. I then tell myself I need to reach x amount of words for the day (it’s usually 500). Sometimes the first hundred or so go slow, then it runs and I look up and it’s twice what I aimed for so all is good.

    What makes for a great hero/heroine?

    I like heroes who aren’t perfect because they’re far more interesting that way. A self-assured totally capable hero doesn’t interest me that much, and in fact can be really annoying. I much prefer a hero who makes mistakes, isn’t always sure he’s doing the right thing and isn’t afraid to admit he screwed up.

    What makes for a great villain?

    Shades of grey. I love villains who have their own motivations and think they’re doing whatever for all the right reasons. They don’t perceive themselves as the villains but in their mind are doing what is necessary for the greater good. To me, that’s far more interesting than greed, though that and revenge often factor in as well.

    What makes for a great overall story?

    As a reader I read for characters and plot. Characters make or break a story for me, and if I can’t connect with them or are interested in their journey I lose interest in the story. I like a few twists in my plots, and interesting three dimensional characters who make mistakes. Some whumping (hurt/comfort) in there too tends to seal the deal.

    What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing? (hobbies, time with friends?)

    Spending time with friends, whether it be meeting for a cuppa/lunch, or getting together to watch movies and TV shows. The discussion that follows the latter is just as much fun as whatever we’ve just watched and has led to many a very late night.  I also watch a fair bit of TV shows (as a way to unwind as I don’t get home from work till after 9pm), and I play violin in a local orchestra.

    What are the three most important things in your life, the things you absolutely could not do without?

    Family, friends and reading/music.

    If you could have one (and only one) super or magical power, what would it be and why?

    Teleportation. It would save not only a lot of time and money but it’s probably the only way I’m ever going to get to the other side of the world to meet the friends I’ve made through the internet and writing. Although I love living in New Zealand, it often does feel like I’m very far away from everyone else. I’d also love to be able to pop over to other countries to go shopping, in particularly for books/graphic novels/DVDs and CDs. The prices of books here is very high and it’s difficult to get hold of a lot of stuff.  A lot of online stores charge a small fortune in shipping and that’s IF they will ship here.

    It’s the Zombie Apocalypse and you can take three of your characters along with you to help you and your family get to safety. Which characters would you take and why?

    Denys from A Knight to Remember, as he’s a dragon so could provide air support, and toast the zombies to a crisp. Simon from Shades from Sepia as he’s a vampire, so he’s strong, very fast, and a good fighter. Will from Hidden Places as he’s an archer and could take them out from a distance, especially if he tars and lights the end of his arrows. Denys is also an archer in his human form so between the three of them they’d make a good team and line of defense/attack.

    If your books were to be turned into a movie, which channel would it air on (Logo, Lifetime, Syfy, etc.)? Assuming you have an unlimited budget, who would you cast to play the leading roles? Who would direct it?

    Elizabeth and I already cast the main characters of Shades of Sepia/The Sleepless City because a)it was fun and b) with us both writing the characters it was easier to have a common point of reference. It could air on Syfy, Fox, CBS, or WC – the homes of a lot of our favourite shows with supernatural themes. For director – the team behind the TV show “Arrow”.  

    Our cast:

    Simon – Jason Dohring (“Moonlight” and “Veronica Mars”)

    Ben – Andrew Lee Potts (“Primeval”)

    Forge –  James Murray (“Primeval”)

    Lucas  - Noah Wylie (“ER”, “Falling Skies” and “The Librarian movies”)


    If you could have a lunch date with anyone in the world, living, dead, or fictional, who would it be and why?

    My dad. He passed away just over a year ago. I miss him and there’s still so much I want to talk to him about.

    What’s your favorite genre to read? Why, what about it do you love the most? What are your favorite books/authors in that genre?

    I read a lot of sf and fantasy but I’ll also read anything else that catches my interest. I also read a lot of graphic novels.  SF and fantasy appeals to me because it’s about what-ifs, and I like reading about how characters react in those kinds of situations. But, despite the different settings, it’s still about people and their interactions with each other. I also have a fondness for stories about psi powers and time travel.  I love the dual nature of the characters in graphic novels, and often having to hide or make the two very different parts of their lives mesh.  I’ve been reading about some of these characters for years and seen them grow, it’s like catching up with old friends.

    I’ve read a lot over the past— we won’t say how many years—so it’s really difficult to name favourites so I’ll go for a few I’ve read fairly recently ie within the last two years.

    Tanya Huff is an author I’ve read a lot of. I love her books and own most of them. I loved her last book The Silvered which was about shape shifting wolves, and elemental magic. Wonderful characters, and I couldn’t put it down.

    I’m hanging out for Lynn Flewelling’s next Nightrunner book. They’re a great mixture of action, drama and fantasy and I love the relationship between the two main characters, Alec and Seregil.

    Also waiting on new books next year from Suzanne Brockmann and Diana Gabaldon.

    In graphic novels, I tend to read a lot of DC and in particularly the Bat family, and am collecting the stories which feature Nightwing and Red Robin (both of whom were Robins at some stage, and in Dick/Nighwing’s case also Batman). I’ve also recently got hooked on Marvel’s Young Avengers series, and in particular the characters of/and relationship between Billy (Wiccan) and Teddy (Hulking).

    What television shows are you currently watching?

    Probably far too many but there is a lot on at present, and more I need to play catch up on. But the ones I’m currently watching are:  The Tomorrow People (I’m a fan of the original and 90s version of this show so was thrilled when I found out it was being remade), Arrow (I’m a huge comics reader so again this makes me very happy), Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Murdoch Mysteries, Atlantis, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Dr. Who, Almost Human, Agents of Shield, Sleepy Hollow, Young Justice, Smallville, Eureka, and far too many others I need to play catch up on.

    What’s in your CD / MP3 player?

    I usually have an audio play from Big Finish on my mp3 player. I’ve just finished listening to ‘The Light at the End’ which is BF’s Dr Who 50th anniversary special. It was really good.

    My CD player is where I play music. I have a stack of CDs I’m going between at present (and others from work as my reserves come in):  Michel Buble, Nickelback, Robbie Williams, Ronan Keating and a few ‘mix’ CDs.

    What’s next on the horizon for you? WIPs, writing goals, personal goals…?

    I’m presently working on book 2 of the Echoes series, Winter Duet.  It’s an historical action/drama set in Germany in 1944 and is the sequel to Shadowboxing. So far I’m over 60K in on it, and aiming to finish it by end of February. After that I’m writing On Wings of Song which is a novella set in WW1, and then Family and Reflection, the third book in The Sleepless City series.  Lou Sylvre and I are also co-writing a series of historical fantasy novellas. The first one is set in 1745 in Scotland.

    I’ve worked out that it’s going to take me until 2017 to finish the series I’ve started and I have several more waiting in the wings once these are done. I have pushy characters.

    For personal goals I want to keep writing, and have a good balance between work and down time, which can be difficult with the day job being full time and the writing I want to get done.  It’s one of the reasons I play in an orchestra and have movie nights with friends once or twice a week. It keeps that balance in place and helps me hang onto what I like to call my sanity.


    Links (in case you need/want them):




    Tuesday, December 31

    Doodle Tuesday

    I've decided to use Doodle Tuesday (here's the Facebook page) as the kick in the butt I need to get back to my Tarot Deck project. Or, to be more accurate, Tarot Deck Project Take Three.  Take One was a beautiful watercolor Egyptian inspired deck that I sort of ran out of steam on. Take Two is still sitting uncolored on GINORMOUS (11x14, I think) paper. Okay, that's not really ginormous, but when you're trying to color in 80+ cards.... yes, tarot people, 80+ cards because I'm a masochist...erm, I mean I was inspired by the Minchiate Tarot, in particular Brian Williams' deck. I'm not working in the same style as Brian Williams, but I *am* a huge fan. His Renaissance Tarot was my first tarot deck and I still love it--and I'd love to get my hands on his Light and Shadow Deck, but so far all I've been able to procure was the book.

    Doodle Tuesday is a project within the You Will Rise Project, co-founded by Paul Richmond, the awesome artist who did the cover of my first novel. You Will Rise is all about rising above bullying a subject I'm unfortunately pretty familiar with.

    When I was younger, I didn't fit in with my peers. I dressed funny (we didn't have a whole lot of money) and I was being raised by my grandmother (something that was far more unusual in the seventies than it is today, at least in the little slice of suburbia I called home). I was (and still am) an introvert in a world filled with people telling me that being an introvert was Bad. They said I was shy and that was Really Bad. (I'm not shy by the way; a lot of people simply confuse introvertedness with shyness). By the time I got to be a teenager, I fit in even less. And when you don't fit in, you get picked on.

    The only "good" thing about my situation was that it was pre-internet. I could come home and leave all of the shit some of my classmates spewed at me behind. These days, kids don't have that luxury. They have Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, email, texts, a million ways to connect to the outside world--and a million ways for bullies to continue to hurt them. My Tarot Project isn't about bullying; the deck is relatively standard (sort of), but as an author and an artist, I bring awareness to things the only way I know how: through my words. So I'm using this platform to a) kick my butt into gear and (far more importantly) b) bring much needed attention to an important issue. 
    Bullying isn't just kids letting off steam. It's not okay. We're letting bullies kill our children with their words and their cruelty. We're letting bullies grow up into adults who will continue to bully and harass their peers because believe me, it's not just kids who get bullied. This isn't a small problem, or something that only affects "other people." This affects all of us and it has to stop. That happens when we speak up, when we take a stand, when we say "no more." It happens through awareness, education, and compassion.

    And most of all, we need to let the victims know that they're not alone. It gets better. There is hope and there is help. In the U.S., you can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1 800 8255). You can also visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Website. (

    I've completed five cards this week (obviously not all on Tuesday) as well as writing about 9,000 words in the last seven days. Not enough to meet my daily goal, but still 9000 words closer to the end  :)

    First you'll see the original drawings, done with Prismacolor pencils (which are not easy to photograph); following those are the formatted card that will be going to the printer once the deck is completed. The formatted images are what happens when I have too much fun with photo editing software have been digitally altered/enhanced to add special effects and balance the color from my rather lousy photography. (The images going to the printer will be a better res. these are the "almost finished" versions).

    All in all, I'm having fun, though (although I'm kinda ready draw some happy cards!)

    Five down, eighty-eight more to go!

    Friday, December 27

    Welcome Shira Anthony!

    I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday and didn't drink *too* much eggnog  *G*! We're still in recovery mode from eating too much Chinese at my sister in law's on Christmas Eve, and I'm still the world's best mom for getting my daughter a laptop for Yule  :) 
    I'm very pleased to be hosting my friend, the lovely and talented Shira Anthony today. I love Shira's Blue Notes series and look *very*  forward to carving out a little post-holiday-insanity time to read Symphony in Blue. (Probably after the kid-let goes back to school.)
    Take it away, Shira!
    Thank you, Helen, for hosting me!  It’s been a busy holiday season so far, since I have two releases in my Blue Notes Series of music-themed gay romances: Encore (released November 11th) and Symphony in Blue (released on Christmas day).  Symphony in Blue also happens to be my 10th Dreamspinner Press release, so I’m going all-out with a Blue Notes Holiday 2013 Tour giveaway contest featuring a grand prize of a Kindle loaded with e-books as well as other fun goodies (details at the end of the post).
    The Blue Notes Series books, with the exception of Symphony in Blue, are standalone novels and can be read in any order.  Encore shares themes in common with the other Blue Notes books: music and musicians, a heavy focus on character development, and long-term, committed relationships.  And in Symphony in Blue, readers have an opportunity to revisit some old friends and share in the gift of developing love.  It’s a happily-ever-after after the happily-ever-afters in the first four books.
    I love happily-ever-afters, but not the Harlequin variety.  I’m thinking years down the line, not wedding days, or the first time a couple says “I love you,” or even when a couple moves in together.  I love to write what happens when an established couple grows and changes with time and experiences. Happily-ever-after isn’t a moment in time—it’s a state of mind, and it continues over time.  And writing those happily-ever-afters was so much fun, especially because it gave me a chance to spend a bit more time with the characters.
    Looking for sexy hot romances with fluffy scenes?  I think you’ll like the Blue Notes books.  But if you’re also looking for something more—for something more real than Cinderfella and his prince? I think you’ll enjoy these stories about real men in real relationships making love work over time and through obstacles.  You can find all of my Dreamspinner Press books by clicking here.  Want to read more about me and about my books, including free fiction and excerpts?  Check out my website, 
    Don’t forget to enter the Blue Notes Holiday 2013 Blog Tour giveaway by clicking here (Rafflecopter).  There are plenty of ways to enter, and you can enter more than once by commenting, tweeting, buying books, and liking pages.  I’ll be drawing winners on New Year’s Eve at midnight!  Good luck! –Shira
    Excerpt from Symphony in Blue:
    DAVID TAPPED his cellphone, shoved it in his pocket, and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
    David and Alex
            “Something ruffle the maestro?” Alex grinned up at him from the couch, his bare feet tucked underneath him, a pile of staff paper scattered about the floor and coffee table. He’d printed out a score for a new composition and managed to knock it off the printer tray. Of course, all the page numbers at the bottom of the sheets were cut off. Damn thing was at least thirty pages and would be a nightmare to organize.
              “Nothing that can’t be managed. Unlike your score.” David raised an eyebrow and Alex saw the ghost of a grin on David’s face. “You could just reprint it, you know.”
    “What? And waste paper?”
             “You’re stubborn,” David said as he picked up several of the pages and set them on the coffee table before joining Alex on the couch. When Alex said nothing, David leaned over and feathered several kisses over Alex’s neck. “Delightfully so, of course. But stubborn nonetheless.”
               Alex sighed contentedly and pushed the rest of the music onto the floor. Fine. He’d reprint the damn thing. Later. “Who was on the phone?”
    Sam and Aiden
             “Aiden.” David spoke the name with his lips so close to Alex’s ear that Alex nearly gasped. David’s voice just did that to Alex—that sexy baritone seemed to resonate through every part of his body. Alex was pretty sure David knew what it did to him too.
    “Aiden? I thought he and Sam were in Australia.”
    David pulled away and offered Alex a sardonic eyebrow. “Austria.”
    “Oh, come on!” Alex laughed. “You know I can hardly keep track of my own schedule. Now you expect me to keep up with his?”
    “Not even the correct continent.” David went back to kissing him. “What was he calling about?” Anything to keep David focused on his neck. “The party in Connecticut is off. They’re also postponing the civil ceremony in New York for now.”
             Alex shot up off the couch. “What? But we’ve been planning the reception for six months now! It’s only two weeks away. What the hell happened? Are they okay? I mean…. Shit. You know what I mean.”
             David smiled—a strange expression for someone who’d just learned that he’d wasted four months arranging the party to celebrate Aiden and Sam’s wedding. Caterers, musicians, guests, and a dozen different schedules to coordinate.
    “Okay. Fess up. Why are you smiling?”
             “Aiden and Sam are fine. They’re just postponing it.” David appeared entirely calm. Too calm. Happy, even?
    “Postponing? They’ve been doing that for two years now.”
              “Fine. Three years. So why are you happy about it?” Alex pressed. Of course, David was yanking his chain, but he liked that. Anyone who thought David Somers didn’t have a sense of humor simply didn’t know him.
             “I’m happy,” David said as his eyes brightened, “because there’s a good reason for it. In fact, there’s a wonderful reason for it.”
    Alex laughed. “What reason would that be?”
    Who might be the more appropriate way of say—”
    “David,” Alex warned.
    “Graziella Michaela Redding.” 
    “Graziella? You mean….”
              “Mother and child doing quite well, I’m told.” David grinned outright this time.
    “Cary and Antonio’s baby?”
             “Born last night. Almost five pounds. Three weeks early but doing well.” David stood up and wrapped his arms around Alex’s waist. “A good reason to postpone a wedding, don’t you think?”
              “The best.” Alex kissed David. “Should we plan a visit in a few weeks?”
              “A few weeks?” David’s sly grin made Alex chuckle. “Just because we can’t have the party to celebrate doesn’t mean we can’t take advantage of the opening in everyone’s schedules.”
     “What did you have in mind?”
    “Thanksgiving in Milan. It’s been years since we’ve been able to get everyone together.”
    Carey and Antonio
    “The villa?” David’s Italian villa was certainly large enough. “But—”
    “Is that a problem for you? Last I looked at your schedule, your next performance is in Buenos Aires in three weeks.” David nipped at Alex's earlobe.
    “No… it’s not… ah…. Shit, David, I can’t think straight when you do that!” Alex shivered and closed his eyes. “And no. No problem for me. But didn’t you give the staff at the villa the entire month off?”
    Alex knew David had completely forgotten about that particular detail. He frowned, then said blithely, “We’ll just have to do it ourselves. Jules and I can handle the cooking. You and Jason can get the placed opened up. Rachel can help you with the rooms.”
    “You’re serious about this?”
    “Am I ever not?” David pulled at Alex’s earlobe with his teeth. “I’ll call the travel agent and look into rebooking all the air travel.”
    Jules and Jason
    “Travel agent?”
    Another kiss, a nip, and then: “The travel agent. Too complicated to handle that much rebooking online and you needn’t trouble yourself with that. Just call Jules and Jason and let them know we’ll meet them in Milan on Saturday. I’ll text them the flight information as soon as I have it.”
    “Ah…. Okay. Sure. Jules and Jason.” Alex could handle that. He’d been meaning to call Jules to see how the Blue Notes album was coming along anyhow. He’d joined Jules and the other members of the trio on several of the tracks when he’d been in Paris three weeks before.
    “Good.” David brushed his lips against Alex’s. “And one more thing.”
    “Hmm?” Focus, Bishop, focus!

    “This.” David pushed Alex onto the couch and began to unbutton his shirt. “First things first. Always.”
    Blue Notes Holiday 2013 Blog Tour stops:
    November 11th (release day – Encore):  Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words (Melanie Marshall)
    November 14th: Michael Rupured’s Blog
    November 15th: Joyfully Jay (Blue Notes Cover Art – Interviews with the Artists)
    November 18th: Elin Gregory’s blog
    November 22nd: Aisling Mancy’s blog
    December 6th: Oscar’s Bruised Petals (Sandra Garcia’s blog)
    December 10th: Brilliant Disguise (Tali Spencer’s blog)
    December 13th: Lily Sawyer's Blog
    December 16th: Rebecca Cohen’s blog
    December 20th: Purple Rose Teahouse (Charlie Cochet’s blog)
    December 23rd: Mrs. Condits and Friends
    December 25th: Symphony in Blue Release Day Party at Melanie Marshall’s Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words
    December 26th: Book Suburbia
    December 27th:  Helen Pattskyn’s blog


    Again, a huge thank you to Shira for being here today!