Friday, July 31, 2015

Under the Sea: The Joys of Aquariums

Bottoms Up! Otter Explores Bucket in Georgia Aquarium
I’ve always had a fondness for aquariums, especially in the summer. Zoos can be hot, overly bright, noisy, and, unsurprisingly, redolent of their various inhabitants. By contrast, aquariums tend to be temperature-controlled, softly lit, reasonably quiet—give or take the occasional dolphin-click, whale song, waterfowl squawk, or seal bark—and less odoriferous, provided you don’t mind the smells of brine and sea wrack.  And there’s something soothing, even hypnotic, about watching multicolored fish or sea mammals glide silently through the waters of their tanks, while kelp forests sway in the current.

I’ve been to several fine aquariums over the years: Monterey Bay, with its charming sea otter exhibit; Stanley Park, Vancouver, where I first saw beluga whales; and Georgia, which boasts an amazing collection of aquatic life that includes whales, dolphins, otters, penguins, and an albino alligator (the latter looked like something out of a critter-centric horror movie!)
A Ghostly Gator!
Most recently, I visited a small but very engaging aquarium, located on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara. Informally known as the “Sea Center,” this aquarium doesn’t have enough space to accommodate whales, dolphins, or otters. But it has some fine touch pools and a friendly, knowledgeable staff on hand to answer questions and provide information on the animals.

Haven't they gone home yet? We wanna sleeeep!
One of the most popular pools contains swell sharks—so called because they can inflate themselves to several times their normal size—and thornback rays, named for the numerous spines on their back. The touch pool attendant would pick up a shark so patrons could stroke its tough, almost rubbery hide. (By the end of the day, the sharks—possibly worn out from so much handling—had gathered in a big pile to sleep, like a litter of puppies.)

Meanwhile, the rays would skim along the bottom of the tank, just out of reach of the visitors. One ray, however, was so friendly or so curious that it would continually wriggle up towards the surface, and then swim back and forth along the perimeter of the tank, occasionally poking its nose above the water as if inviting a caress (despite its name, a thornback’s skin is smoother than a shark’s).



Hi there! You can call me "Ray."
Another touch pool, very popular with children, contained a collection of starfish in varying colors and sizes.

Catch a falling--or swimming--star
Still another tank was devoted to tidepool specimens, which tended to be soft-bodied organisms, like anemones, that could bend with the current or hard-bodied ones that could burrow into rock or sand to withstand it. At intervals, water would suddenly gush into the tanks to mimic the action of ocean tides. This tank also boasted a low-ceilinged tunnel that showed an underwater perspective. It’s a tight squeeze for an adult, but you can manage it if you crouch—and keep your head down!

"There is a tide in the affairs of fish..."
 Upstairs at the sea center were tanks containing brightly colored nudibranches . . .

Neither nude nor branchlike

  …a very active two-spot octopus . . . 

"I marvel at thee, Octopus..."

…and moon jellies, floating and pulsing in the water like blobs of some phosphorescent alien plasma!

Dance by the light of the moon jelly
All in all, a pleasant way to spend a summer afternoon. And the rest of Stearns Wharf is worth seeing too. A terrible fire in 1998 gutted several businesses, but all of them have since been restored, so well that even I—a former Santa Barbara resident—can’t tell the difference!

Pamela Sherwood

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Writing Inspirations - Why We Love Them by Victoria Roberts

Inspiration can come from the oddest of places, and we as authors love when that happens. Whether you're watching a movie or television show, reading a book or magazine, or gazing at pictures of mysterious places, ideas can spark your muse into overdrive. And that's when the creativity flows.

One of my books (To Wed a Wicked Highlander) was inspired by the following tale of Kenneth MacKenzie. 

Kenneth MacKenzie, known as Coinneach Odhar or the Brahan Seer, was a legendary teller of the future in the early 17th century…or so the story goes. Some people have regarded him as a fictional creation of folklorist Alexander MacKenzie, and others have questioned the existence of the Seer at all. Be that as it may, there is a long tradition of claims to be able to foretell the future and about folks who have the “second sight.” 

But was the Brahan Seer fact or fiction? 

Legend tells the tale that Coinneach fell asleep on a fairy mound (watch out for those wee folk!) and when he woke up, he found a stone in his coat. This mysterious stone allowed him to see the future.

A man often compared to Nostradamus, many of MacKenzie’s visions for the future are said to have come to pass. Not only had he foretold the site of the Battle of Culloden, the construction of the Caledonian Canal and the fate of the MacKenzies of Seaforth, but he predicted the “black rain” on Aberdeen, which was claimed by some to be the coming of the oil industry. 

The Brahan Seer may have given an accurate history of Scotland’s past, but there are still some unfilled prophecies. For instance, he predicted that a large stone on the hill opposite of Scallisaig farm-house in Glenelg “will fall and kill a man.” The boulder is well-known to locals, and the prophecy is so clear that there couldn’t be any mistake about its meaning. 

He also foretold that “a severe battle will be fought at the (present) Ardelve market stance, in Lochalsh, where the slaughter will be so great that people can cross the ferry over dead bodies. The battle will be finally decided by a powerful man and his five sons, who will come across from the Strath (the Achamore district).”

Unlike Nostradamus’ vague premonitions, Coinneach’s predictions for the future are clear. “When a holly bush (or tree) shall grow out of the face of the rock at Torr-a-Chuilinn (Kintail) to a size sufficiently large to make a shaft for a carn-slaoid (sledge-cart), a battle will be fought in the locality.”

Although there is no historical evidence of this infamous future teller, there are plenty of tales surrounding him. 

What type of inspiration sparks your creativity?

 

To Wed a Wicked Highlander

My Highland Spy

Kilts and Daggers

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Being Bored...NOT!

by M.L. Buchman

The last time I was bored, I was 12. (I'm nowhere near 12 anymore, just sayin'.)

We had moved right at the end of the school year. Shy new kid in new community that had no forum (like school) to meet new kids. I spent the summer watching "The Galloping Gourmet." Yep! Graham Kerr and I bonded deep at the age of 12. And yes, while I love to cook, that's not the point of this post.

I was bored to tears, literally. At the end of that summer, I swore I would never be bored again...and I haven't been. There are times since when I sort of wished I had a boring summer...or month....or even a boring day but nope! Instead time just fills up with all of the fun things I've found to do.

Sometimes I have months that are exceptionally NOT boring,  And July 2015 has certainly been one of those.

I think it started with our first vacation in FOREVER! Due to a few small circumstances (like having a kid in college during the recession, the business that I'd worked in for 6 years going bankrupt, and a few little events like that), it really has been a long time. So we ventured forth on a little driving trip for our first foray. We live on the Oregon Coast and we decided to do a little driving tour up to Canada. We wanted to visit Victoria, British Columbia (a city we dearly love), see a friend who lives up that way, and visit the aforementioned kid on the way home.

Of course, I can't leave well enough alone...it turned into a research trip. "What if my next heroine was from Victoria?" To me that added a whole level of interest to the vacation and thankfully my wife is a woman of infinite patience (and she gets into it to). Of course I was a pilot ages ago (on this side of 12, but not by much comparatively) and my character is a pilot. This made for rather odd vacation photos I admit:

(Seriously, almost every photo I took is like these.)
But we had fun anyway!

Then I decided to release a collection of my free fiction. ...Okay, I admit on the surface that doesn't really make sense, but it does. Last year I started publishing a free short story on my website for a week every month (a series called the Ides of Matt). And now I've collected all baker's dozen of last years stories into a single volume, written introductions for every story, and just released it for pre-order (Oct 14th release date). I'm very excited about this volume because it includes romance, SF romance, mystery, science fiction, and fun. The monthly story has been a great chance to play and fans tell me they love it. (Hint: It's still going on from the 14th to the 20th every month at www.mlbuchman.com.)


For those more traditionally minded, we're just a week away from my next release, also available for pre-order (Aug 4th release date).
This third installment in my Firehawks series. If follows the love story of wildland firefighting aviation pilot Vern Taylor and his penchant for breaking the helicopters that Denise Conroy must keep fixing. If that isn't a reason for true love...well, you'll just have to read the book to find out what is.

Now can I go be bored for a bit? Pretty please?

Nope, I can hear my next set of characters calling to me to come play!
So, what do you do when boredom threatens?
I'd love to hear!

technology, space travel and love

 
will Solitaire ever be home?  
Science Fiction romance combines two of my favourite things, romance and sci-fi. While some people will argue that the only real sci-fi is all about the technology, what is the point of technology without considering the impact on human lives? And what is life without a little romance?

The ES Siren series is at an end. Ours to Save (book 9!) came out last week (July 23rd). Like any good adventure I took it with friends (Mel Teshco and Denise Rossetti also wrote books in the series). We built our ships and filled them with people and then set off heading toward a new life on the planet Solitaire.

When we started writing we had no idea how we were going to pull the world together or how the drama on the ship would unfold. 12 months in space....anything could happen.

We had riots, and fighting, splinter groups and micrometeoroid showers. Among all the drama we had a couple of ménages form, a prisoner fell for a soldier, a scientist met her match and a laundry worker got rescued.

Along the way we had to invent suitable weapons (you don't want to be firing guns in a spaceship), new plants that had been discovered on Solitaire, and everyone's favourite ration meal...soyroom stew (which kind of became a running gag from all the characters, and by gag I do mean gag. Have you seen soyroom stew? Kinda gloopy and grey. Ew.)

We also had to construct a ship that could be dismantled at the other end for accommodation...

Which is where we leave the survivors of the first ever colonization effort by Earth. Not everyone on the voyage lived to see Solitaire. Those that did will find a planet that isn't like Earth even though it can support life.

This is a thank you shout out to my co-writers for going on this trip with me and for the readers who followed the series. Hopefully Denise, Mel and I will get together to find out what happened on Solitaire. But even if we don't I'm sure the people who settle there will invent new technology and find love and thrive, because that is what humans have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years.
~~~

If you like SFR keep an eye on my social media or join my newsletter as I have an exciting new series staring soon :)
~~~

SHONA HUSK is the author of the Shadowlands, Court of Annwyn and the Face the Music Series. You can find out more information about Shona and her edgy romances at www.shonahusk.com or follow her on Twitter @ShonaHusk, Facebook www.facebook.com/shonahusk or join her newsletter: http://mad.ly/signups/119074/join

Monday, July 27, 2015

When Old was New by Gina Conkle

Q: When did keeping up appearances mean making things look old?
A: The 18th century.


We like to feather our nests, reflecting our style and personality. The 18th century family was no different. Toss in England's exploding mercantile wealth, and you have people with money to spend.

If France's 17th century Louis XIV made Versailles a show place of the new and grand, England's 18th century landowners sought old and classical --- all freshly built, of course. What was a popular trend? Feature antiquated, picturesque cottages on one's land. Designers worked judiciously to create homes and gardens of yesteryear. 

False lakes were dug. Broken down abbeys were built. And fake Roman ruins were constructed.



The craze for out-dated things met its match in William Kent. Charged with designing part of Kensington Gardens, he planted dead trees to mimic a Salvatore Rosa landscape. You can't get any older than dead!

The talented Kent worked on landscapes, buildings, and furniture. Ironically, he knew nothing about plants, which hurt some of his garden designs. He reached absurd heights when he designed ladies' birthday gowns, fashioning the garb after architecture's five classical orders. Talk about taking the "Old is the new New" trend a tad too far. 

If planting dead trees doesn't have you shaking your head, this will. Well-to-do country squire, Charles Hamilton of Painshill, hired a hermit to live in an old thatched cottage in the woods. The hermit's duties? Keep his hermitage clean and sit at the door with a book in hand whenever the squire had visitors.

Builder James Malton kept the fad going near the end of the century with his Essay on British Cottage Architecture (1798). He studied cottage architecture and the effects of time on cottages. Malton rebuilt the simple homes for country folk and as retreats for the wealthy intentionally making the new structures look old.



Malton's cottages had uneven walls, unmatching colors and textures outside, and jutting gables and windows lacking symmetry. He gave careful attention to make the new look old and worn out. You might guess his work wouldn't pass muster with modern day building inspectors.

Every era has its quirks and eccentricities. Fashion just rolls that way.
***
Now it's your turn. What home design fashion trend (in history or modern times) has you shaking your head?

I'm Gina Conkle and I write Viking and Georgian romance with a softly sensual side. I love history, books, and romance…the perfect recipe for historical romance writer. My passion for castles and old places ---the older and moldier the better--- means interesting family vacations (sometimes).

I'd enjoy connecting with you. Take a look at my website, http://ginaconkle.com/ to learn more about my books.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Home for the Heart by Grace Burrowes

I am writing this blog in a hotel room at Times Square, New York City. This part of the Big Apple is noisy, busy, crowded, non-stop, and about as far from my kinda place as I can imagine.

And yet, at the Romance Writers of American annual conference, I am having a fine, fine time. How can this be? I have no tolerance for noise, but the two hours of my last book signing--hugely noisy--flew by. I'm generally what the Nice People call tactile-avoidant, that is, slow to offer affection, but here, I'll hug practically anybody.

This conference is the only place I'm with people who get what I do as a writer. They understand the infinitely variable process of wrestling a 100,000-word story from a single line of prose. They grasp the never-ending challenge of maintaining good health while pursuing a sedentary livelihood. My RWA sisters and brothers know the terror and glee of a business that makes a rollercoaster look as adventurous as a porch swing.

At this conference, they get me. And yet, that's not a complete explanation for what's going on here. 

When I'm a child welfare attorney, I'm often in the same courtroom with other lawyers. They do what I do. They're often advocating for the same outcomes I am, and their clients can challenge them as mine do me. Those lawyers and I don't squeal with glee at the sight of each other, we don't light up with joy when one of us wins an appeal. We're professionally cordial (most of the time), no more.  

Part of the difference is the subject matter of the two professions, of course. Lawyers... well, they lawyer. If lawyers are involved, then some relationship--a marriage, a business, a social contract--is falling part. If a romance writer is on the scene, a happily ever after story is in the making. 
 
That doesn't explain the utter delight I see on so many faces at this conference. Something else is at work here, and I think it has to do with our readers. Somebody can love my books, read every one the day it comes out, and also love Emily Greenwood's books--reading each of those the day they come out. 

They can also love the books written by Susanna Ives, Samantha Grace, Roseanne Bittner... and fourteen other authors, too. As a result, romance authors are not only free of a sense of competition with each other, we shamelessly, gleefully, promote one another’s work. 

The passion our readers bring to the genre makes writing romance a joyous undertaking, one in which every author can pull for every other author, and challenges and triumphs are shared among us all.

So thank you readers, from the bottom of my heart, for creating this wondrous place for me and for so many others to write. To three commenters, I’ll send signed copies of my August release, Tremaine’s True Love.


Who are your people? What does it look like when you get together with them? 



Friday, July 24, 2015

Kick Back, Grab a Snack, and enjoy the first few pages of THE ASSASSIN'S LOVER, By Kathryne Kennedy



Prologue

The link between the world of man and Elfhame had sundered long ago, the elven people and their magic fading to legend. Tall beings of extraordinary beauty, the fae preferred a world of peace. But seven elves--considered mad by their own people--longed for power and war. They stole sacred magical scepters, created their dragon-steeds, and opened the gate to the realm of man again and flew through.

Each elf carved a sovereign land within England, replacing the baronies that had so recently been formed by William the Conqueror. They acquired willing and unwilling slaves to serve in their palaces and till their lands. And fight their wars. Like mythical gods they set armies of humans against each other, battling for the right to win the king, who’d become nothing more than a trophy. They bred with their human slaves, producing children to become champions of their war games.

The elven lords maintained a unified pact, using the scepters in a united will to place a barrier around England, with only a few guarded borders open to commerce. Elven magic provided unique goods and the world turned a blind eye to the plight of the people, persuaded by greed to leave England to its own, as long as the elven did not seek to expand their rule into neighboring lands.

But many of the English people formed a secret rebellion to fight their oppressors. Some of the elven’s children considered themselves human despite their foreign blood and joined the cause. And over the centuries these half-breeds became their only hope.



Appleby, England, 1730

Jak crouched behind a bush beneath his mark’s window, his toes curled into a ball for warmth, trying to stop his teeth from chattering. His job required stealth above all else, and he would be the shame of the Rebellion’s Order of Assassins if he fumbled this hit because his chattering teeth alerted the guards.

Or the sleeping woman inside the mansion.

Jak had never been assigned a woman before, although the mark wasn’t supposed to matter. Only the job. In most cases, it was get in, do your duty, then get out. Sometimes the hit was a warning, and he’d leave a bloody mess. But usually he was instructed to leave a clean hit, making their enemies guess whether it was assassination or a natural death.

He had been trained to ultimately kill an Elven Lord. Many of the children saved from the trials were groomed for that task. But few held enough talent or magic to accomplish the feat. So in the meantime, the Rebellion removed smaller players: those half-breeds who sided with the Elven Lords in their war games. One death of a key strategist could save thousands of human lives.

Jak had seen the results of this time and again, so he never questioned his orders. The winner of the elven games kept the king--and the leader of the Rebellion--within the sovereignty of Firehame, the strongest bastion for the Rebellion, since a half-breed had stolen the black scepter and now reigned unbeknownst to the rest of the elven invaders.

But a woman…

And why send him to the sovereignty of Stonehame, where it was cold enough to freeze the bollocks off a man? He was used to the flaming palace of Firehame, to the pockets of fire dotting the countryside, a reflection of the Elven Lord’s magic. A reflection of his own magic…although he had only inherited the smaller gifts. Why not send an assassin with an affinity for the land of Stonehame?

Jak called the gray flame, feeling the magic uncoiling within his very blood. And answered his own question.

He had been sent because he was the best. The Rebellion had high hopes for him, that his magic would grow beyond the gray flame. But so far, it had not. In the meantime, he had become the most prolific assassin in the Rebellion’s Order. He made no sound, left no marks. Although he possessed the magic of white fire, it could only provide light. With the yellow, he could have used the warm flame to suffocate a mark. With the gray, which held solidity, he could have done so as well. But to use his magic to kill a mark would call attention to the sovereignty of Firehame, and expose the base of the Rebellion to scrutiny. So Jak preferred the garrote, poison, or his knife.

His fellows mocked him for going barefoot, but he never left an imprint nor made a scuff of sound.

He used the gray fire magic to gain entrance to buildings. Perhaps his magic was another reason he had been sent on this assignment, for the lieutenant’s mansion was smooth crystal, and he needed to create a stairway of gray fire to clamber up the outside walls, which would leave no trace of how he gained entry, which would further confuse the enemy.

With agility from years of practice, he created a ledge of fire, then another, the gray magic blending with the dark stone of the mansion.

He exercised regularly, ate sparingly, to keep his body lean and strong, even though he already possessed attributes of great strength and agility from the elven blood he inherited. But when he fought another half-breed, he wanted to be sure he would win. Jak smiled grimly. So far, his caution had not failed him.

Using his stairway of fire, he reached the second floor of the mansion within minutes, with plenty of time to spare before the sentry below made his next round.

Jak perched on the crystal sill of his mark’s window and glanced out across the town of Appleby, now more of a city, since the Elven Lady La’laylia, one of the seven Elven Lords, had invaded and claimed this land, building her palace of amethyst within Westmorland. The Elven lady ruled with the lavender scepter, her powers over stone a particular gift of magic. She called the stone up from the earth, shaped it to her will, and cast spells within it that could kill or protect.

Although Jak figured she preferred the killing kind. Rumors had it that the lady enjoyed using the sharp edges of her stones on her bedmates, the poor half-breed bastards.

But for all her cruelty, she loved beauty above all, and even at night the palace glowed with a lavender radiance, the color reflected on the homes nearest the place. Crafted of one whole piece of quartz, the castle soared up into the night, with one great tower almost seeming to touch the stars.

The great tower housed the dragon-steed Midaz, who could turn people to stone with his breath, and oddly enough, was rumored to have a fondness for half-breed women. Whether it meant he befriended them or ate them, Jak couldn’t be sure and didn’t particularly want to find out.

His glance skittered away from the palace. Every home within the city had also been crafted of quartz, in an array of colors, but most the natural white. The stone had been diamond-cut, especially the mansions of those who held the magical skill or wealth to craft the stone. Within the daytime, the city sparkled with a brilliance that kept most of the citizens squinting against the glare. Even at night, the homes glowed with an inner radiance from the gemstone and an outer glow from reflected starlight.

Except, of course, the mansion he now stood upon. Made entirely of black jet, it appeared ominous and gloomy against the rest of the city, like a black raven perched among white peacocks. Jak felt sure the lieutenant had crafted his home purposely to intimidate.

But with Jak’s black assassin’s cloak, it made his task all the easier, for he blended with the shadows of the stone. His linen shirt had been died black, and he only wore a black waistcoat over it. His hooded cloak replaced his frock coat, and his black breeches sported black hose that ended at his bare ankles. His cloak hid the pale skin of his face and his half-elven hair.

Unlike the white of the Elven Lords, his hair shone as black as a moonless night, matching the color of his large elven eyes. Unfortunately, he’d inherited the damned sparkle in his hair, and no amount of blacking polish would dim it, so he kept his head covered…but his feet bare, for he’d blackened them with grainy soot. Not only for camouflage, for it also gave him better footing on the smooth gemstone.

Jak also wore a black cravat around his throat, of sturdy fine wool, without a hint of lace. His garrote. His cloak also held a myriad of pockets, each holding a packet of a particular mixture of poison. His scabbard and knife lay strapped around his thigh, within easy reach, but hidden beneath the cloak when he walked the gemstone-cobbled streets.

The black mansion he now plastered his body against belonged to Lieutenant Overon, advisor to the Elven Lady’s champion, and a brilliant strategist. More than once, his battle plans had almost won Lady La’laylia’s army the day. But the king still resided in Firehame, and when Jak had first been given this assignment, he assumed his mark would be the lieutenant himself, to assure that the Fire Lord kept the king within his sovereignty. Although only a trophy to the Elven Lords, the king’s court held principal players in the Rebellion, and Firehame was the only sovereignty where those who tried to bring down the Elven Lords could thrive, due to the imposter on the throne who aided them.

But to his astonishment, the name of the lieutenant’s daughter had been scribbled on the piece of parchment he received. Well, not even her name, actually. Just “Lieutenant Overon’s daughter”. Jak discovered the girl’s name by spying on her.

Minerva. A woman in the flush of youth, with the white hair of the elven and the pointed ears. Only her human-shaped eyes of ocean blue betrayed her human heritage.

Devil-a-bit!

Jak loved women. His mentor knew it. Everyone did. Women loved Jak just as much as he did them. Their lace fripperies and mercurial moods and gaiety and giggles. He never truly fell in love with any of them, though. He figured loving someone changed your life, and not a one of the ladies had altered his a whit.

True love was an entirely different matter. One must first possess vulnerability and trust and…a heart. Jak had lost all of those long ago. He had been trained by necessity, chosen by chance. Oddly enough, he became good at his profession because he did not enjoy the kill. He learned not to care, one way or the other. When he was on a mission, his heart turned to stone. And although he counted the lives his kills saved to justify each one, through no conscious intent of his own, he felt his heart becoming more hardened with each kill.

He suddenly realized why the hell his mentor, Lord Bistine, had sent him to kill a woman.

Because, again, Jak was the best. To bungle such a job, perhaps cause the lady any sort of pain, would be unthinkable. His mentor knew Jak would be careful not to do either, and so he hied off to Stonehame.

It took him a fortnight to consider his strategy. To time the position of the guards. The comings and goings of the family. What most people did not realize, and what made an assassin’s job much easier, was that they all had habits. Routines. Things they did nearly the same time and same place day after day.

The lieutenant’s daughter was no different, although she spent much more time in her rooms and private gardens than the average young woman. She mostly drew or painted pictures, and occasionally wrote in a little book, usually facing the same apple tree. Jak often wondered at that. How many different variations of the same tree could one woman draw? But given her father’s reputation for ruthlessness in the games, Jak supposed her hobby might be a means of avoiding the man. Overon might be just as ruthless in his private life.

When Firehame again won another battle because the enemy mysteriously lost a key player in the game, he felt satisfaction and no remorse. Had he been sent to kill the lieutenant, the reason would have been obvious. But why the girl? A young woman who sang like an angel and dallied in her garden, rarely even leaving the mansion. Did the Rebellion think the lieutenant would suffer from the loss of his daughter, and become useless in the games? Or was it just a warning? To the lieutenant, or the Elven Lady?

Jak liked it when the mark was more obvious. It eased his conscience. Unlike most of his fellows, he still seemed to be plagued with one.

Minerva--no, his mark, usually left her window open, even at night. He found her room easily, because when she wasn’t drawing in her garden, she sat staring out her window. He often caught himself wondering what she thought about, for her view certainly never changed. Did she know her father sided with the Elven Lady in the games, killing her fellow countrymen? Did it bother her, as she sat safely in her room of black stone?

Jak suddenly became aware of the warmth of the fire roaring inside her room, saw the flames dancing across the window sill. It felt almost welcoming, the warmth that flared out into the cold night. He wondered again why she left her shutters open in the last few weeks he had been watching her, each successive night colder than the last.

Instead of closing out the frigid air, she built a raging fire to counter it. She appeared to love the outdoors, so perhaps she could not bear being shut in. Or…a frisson of warning suddenly crept up his spine.

He slid his toe toward the window opening, a fraction away from inside the sill, and froze when he didn’t feel the tell-tale tingle of a magical ward of alarm. No one with a lick of sense left their windows open and unwarded. He could not imagine Lieutenant Overon would be so careless of his only daughter, his only heir. But perhaps he relied on his guard, or his daughter neglected to tell him the warding stones needed to be replaced. Perhaps they did not have the magic to renew the spell within the stone and needed to hire someone at the palace to do so.

And perhaps he had been set up. But he trusted Lord Bistine, not only his tutor and mentor, but also a friend. Perhaps a trap set by the Elven Lady then? Could they have a spy in their own Order?

In Firehame Palace, the windows were warded with yellow fire. Any unauthorized entry resulted in the yellow changing to red fire, toasting the intruder within minutes. Each sovereignty created their own magical protection. In Stonehame, it consisted of crystals imbued with spells. Most warding stones set off a series of alarms; the stronger ones pain, and the strongest death. There had been many outside the mansion, but Jak discovered two unprotected areas, just small enough for him to wiggle through.

Had that been no mistake, but on purpose? Had he wandered into the perfect trap?

Jak ever so slowly withdrew his foot away from the sill.

“Please,” said a woman’s voice from within the room. She spoke loud enough to be heard, but gently, as if she feared to frighten him away. “Come in. You must be so cold.”

Devil-take-it. Jak almost fell off the sill. He recognized her voice. Minerva Overon. Awake and waiting for him. Could she be as wily as her father?

“I-I assure you it is safe. I…I am alone.”

Jak never ran from an assignment. This wasn’t the first time a trap had been set for an assassin. Just the first time for him. He knew ways of diffusing a trap. And he had a reputation to uphold. Was his life worth the keeping of it?

He saw her shadow against the firelight as she neared the window, a hand held out beseechingly. “I just want to meet my killer. Do not be afraid.”

Jak…afraid? That did it. Trap or no, he couldn’t run now.

With a speed which left the lady gasping, he slid through the window and crouched on the floor, calling to the white fire, sending it skipping about the room, lighting up every nook and cranny, causing a diversion for any who laid in wait for him.

But it appeared she’d told the truth. She stood alone, her white hair loose about her shoulders, tumbling down her back. She wore naught but a thin silk robe tightly clasped with a gem-studded girdle. No stomacher covered the top opening of the robe, and with every breath the silk crept open, revealing the swell of her breasts. Stones studded the silk as well, tiny things throwing golden sparks about the room.

She looked like some radiant angel.

In that moment, he hesitated.

Within a blink of her blue eyes he could be across the room, garrote about her throat, and she would take her last breath, with no more pain than a thorn piercing her finger. But because of her beauty, or mayhap the curious look upon her face, he froze, and in that moment Jak knew he altered the night’s events.

The door to her room showed a locked bolt from the inside.

Her bedding had been turned down; the imprint of her body still lay upon mattress and pillow. A mirror leaning on a small vanity cast his reflection back at him. A small escritoire faced the window, with ink, blotter and parchment. Two cushioned chairs flanked the roaring fire, a tea table standing between them, laid out with a silver service for two. A kettle warmed on the hob. Two small tables, covered in disarrayed parchment, flanked the bed, and a washstand with mirror faced it. A large clothespress took up the remaining space.

Jak took all of this in at a moment’s glance.

He drew his knife and strode across the room, throwing open the door to the wardrobe before the lady could blink, then stabbed his knife repeatedly inside.

“You are destroying good dresses for naught,” she said, speaking in a hushed voice. “Although I suppose I shan’t have need of them after tonight.”

Jak frowned. Not at what she’d said, but the tone of her voice. As if she considered her death a certainty. And she spoke softly, as if she did not wish to wake the household. So, she would not betray him in that way.

He began to press the walls, using his knife now and then to gauge the sound of the blade on the stone. Solid. Thick. He noticed the drawings hanging everywhere, but did not pay them any mind.

“What are you doing?” she quietly asked, having slipped behind him, trying to peer over his shoulder.

He spun, the hood of his cloak catching on the tips of his pointed ears before slipping off his head. She showed no fear in her voice, only curiosity. Her blue eyes reflected that feeling, as did her lovely face. She looked even more beautiful at closer inspection, perhaps the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

Fool. Beauty abounded among the English, what with the influx of the blood of the Elven. But she was different, somehow. Like calm in a land of chaos. Sanguine in an age of uncertainty.

She lifted a hand and touched a strand of his hair, gently stroking it with her fingers.

He wanted to lean into her touch, so quickly backed away.

“It sparkles,” she said, her voice apologetic, her forehead wrinkled with worry. “Just like the Elven Lady’s. Yet ‘tis black as jet, like tiny stars in a midnight sky. I just wanted to see what it felt like.”

He scowled, keeping his voice as low as hers. “Where’s the door?”

Suddenly her brow cleared. “Ah. You are looking for the secret door? The one in case of siege or fire.” She swept her robes in a turn, the silk whispering on the black granite floor. She reached the wall adjacent to her bed and lifted several pieces of hanging parchment. “As you see, sir, it is bolted from the inside.”

Again, she spoke the truth. The alarm which consumed Jak since he’d discovered the missing warding stones at the window faded, although he still kept his senses honed for the slightest noise beyond either of the entrances to her bedchamber. He went back to the window, looked out. The guard passed below, not bothering to glance up. They usually did not, the fools. But still, he doused his white fire, leaving only the mellow glow from the fireplace to light the room.

He turned and looked at the girl, Minerva, in complete incredulity. “What is going on here?”

She dropped her head and twisted her hands. “I…I just wanted to meet the man…who would take my life. It seems…a very personal thing, does it not? I would just…feel better if I knew you.”

“How do you know I am an assassin and not some robber out to steal your jewels?”

“Are you?”

Jak narrowed his eyes, almost insulted by the question. He, some common purloiner? Not likely.

She sighed, as if sorely tried by his silence. “If you wanted the silver, you would have studied the whereabouts of it, instead of me.”

“Balderdash,” snapped Jak. “How can you know what I have spied?”

She flinched at the word. He supposed a lady of her station had never heard the like. He did not care. There was something odd going on here, and at the moment he cared little for her sensibilities.

“How do you know who I am?” he demanded, this time with an edge of danger to his voice.

She looked up at him through her lashes. Long, pale brown lashes. “I know what you are. You wear the cloak of your Order. And then when I saw you at my window tonight…”

She then knew he had come for her. Not her father. His anger turned to admiration, at the courage on her face.

“I am very good at what I do, lady. Pray tell, how did you see me?”

She took a step toward him. Jak took a step back.

Her lips trembled, the first sign she showed of any inner distress. “May we discuss my magical gift over tea?”

“Ah. You have a gift which allowed you to discover my presence?”

“Yes…but it is more than that.”

Jak rolled his eyes. “And it requires tea to tell me of it?”

She nodded, with a sigh of relief which made him think she’d finally gotten through to a dunderhead. “I have it warming on the hob.”

“Not a chance, m’lady. I am done fencing words with you. I want to know what the hell you want from me.” He needed to know what he had done wrong. He was the greatest assassin in the Order, dammit. He could not continue to be the best if he exposed his presence without him even knowing it. Jak crossed the room in a blink and held his knife to her throat. “Tell me what you really want, or I kill you now.”

If he hoped to shock her into revealing some truths, he succeeded. But he had not expected her to shock him with her answer.

“Please…not yet. There is one other thing…” Her breath came in small pants. The pulse at her neck beat faster. Her gown slipped even more, quite on the verge of displaying the color of her nipples. Jak kept his eyes firmly on her face. Gawd, how he loved a woman’s body. And she had an exceptionally shapely one. But at the moment he loved his life a bit more. And this still felt like some sort of trap.

“Have out with it, lady.”

She finally looked up at him, staring into his eyes, and for a moment, time hung suspended in their contest of wills.

Her chin inched up a fraction, but she did not shy from his knife. “I do not wish to die a virgin.” 

***

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Authors Go Wild in NYC!

We always have great expectations about the RWA National Conference. It hasn't even officially started yet, and yet thousands of published and aspiring authors have already descended on the Big Apple.

Just getting here was an adventure. Planes were backed up at the gates at LaGuardia, which is probably nothing new, but traffic getting from the airport to the NY Marriott Marquis was horrendous. We were hungry and exhausted by the time we made it to the hotel, but the excitement was already in the air as more RWA members arrived.

After dinner at Junior's Restaurant, we wandered around Times Square before heading back to collapse in our hotel rooms. 

Tuesday is the day for most of us to play tourist. With the help of a bit of prior online research, we managed to get tickets to see the Statue of Liberty and made it from Times Square to Battery Park via the NY subway system, which is an adventure in itself. That's me with two of my Indiana RWA pals, Nikki Hayes and Aly Grady.


 During the ferry ride to Liberty Island. The wind felt great!


After the ferry ride to the statue, my roomie, Tia Catalina, and I climbed the stairs to the top of the pedestal. Let me tell you, my feet were NOT happy with me...

This is a selfie we took as we neared the top. We weren't feeling very fresh by then...



but the view was amazing!



That tiny, red-headed speck in the lower portion of the picture is Tia!



After the return trip, we walked up to the 9-11 Memorial. The water flows from the edge to the center continuously, and the names of those who died are engraved all around the perimeter. A very sad, moving memorial to a tragedy our country will certainly never forget.


Then we hopped on the subway again, after asking directions from a security guard.
After all that walking, the subway was nice and cool, and it felt really good to sit down for a while. Note my spiffy new Statue of Liberty hat!


After a very late lunch, it was back to the room to get ready for the Literacy Autographing. If you've never been to an event such as this, I can only describe it as deafening, tiring, and rewarding. Just imagine 500 authors in a room with a thousand or so readers, and you'll have some idea of the noise level. Getting to see some fans and old friends makes it well worth the effort, plus, the money generated all goes to literacy programs.


The conference officially starts Thursday morning, but so far, we've had a blast!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Royal Happenings

I'm at the Romance Writers of America conference in New York City this week. I love this conference, not just because I get to catch up with friends and colleagues, but because I get to rub elbows with romance novel royalty. Nora Roberts will be there, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn, Jude Devereaux, and more...

Recently the world was focused on another sort of royalty--British royalty! Princess Charlotte was christened earlier this month, and it was a royally classy affair.

The baby princess
What an adorable baby. She has an adorable family as well.

What a lucky little girl to have a big brother who looks like he's so much fun.

And the fashionable mom and dad.




I absolutely adore the christening gown.
And it wouldn't be a christening without a shot of all the generations. Of course, this family has a queen...

The Galen household has been celebrating too. We added a new member.

Sparky 
And Princess Galen has now had 2 visits from the tooth fairy!


 
Anything memorable happening for you or your family this summer?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Promo on a budget



So many books! How does a reader decide what to buy and how can authors influence that decision? It's that ugly 5 letter word: Promo. Technically, the word is 9 letters...promotion, but we all know what it is and that we have to do it. Like it or not.

As an experiment, when Amazon began allowing authors to put up their own books for sale, I posted 2 older books whose rights had reverted to me. I did NO promotion. None. I wanted to see if anyone would find my books without it. Well, a few did. I made $20. I probably should have left them there and promoted them, but I wanted to rewrite and reuse them elsewhere. Now, it's a few years later and Amazon is glutted with books and authors have to promote harder than ever.

The sad part is that too many authors have succumbed to the desperation of paying a company to help--and there are always people ready to take advantage of desperation! I know I'm going to get backlash on this. I don't care. It needs to be said. AUTHORS! STOP THE MADNESS! STOP GIVING AWAY YOUR HARD WORK FOR FREE! NOBODY NEEDS TO BUY ANOTHER BOOK AS LONG AS THEY LIVE IF THEY DON'T WANT TO, AND THEY'LL STILL DIE WITH A HUGE TBR PILE! YOU'RE SHOOTING YOURSELVES (AND EACH OTHER) IN THE FEET! Phew. I feel better. I just had to get that off my chest.

So, okay. Unless by some miracle this post goes viral, nobody's going to listen to me anyway. Desperation still abounds. People are still losing their minds over sales. So, what can you do? Well, there is another movement afoot these days called DIY. Do it yourself. Authors are finding all kinds of creative ways to reach readers without laying out a ton of money. It might take a little of your own legwork, and you might not notice an immediate payoff, but at least you won't go deeper into the hole. Because I want to sleep at night and look other people in the eye, I don't undermine other authors no. matter. what! Seriously, folks. Karma is real.

I hope I'm putting a few good karma points in the bank by sharing a list of bloggers who want to host romance writers. No need to pay someone to set up a blog tour for you! You can find my DIY list right here: http://romancebloghosts.blogspot.com/

The little photo you see at the top of this post was a fiverr. Fiverr.com is a place where anyone can advertise anything they're willing to do for 5 bucks. Simply look under the heading you're interested in, check out the options and let the person know you're interested. I looked under 'advertising' and saw this gorgeous pair of lips with something written on them. What a wonderful way to advertise romance, I thought. The young lady in Eastern Europe did what I asked, but it wasn't exactly right. So, she did it again at no extra charge and the 2nd attempt was perfect. A pic is worth a thousand words. I love it!

Free online tweets, facebook posts etc. can be given a little bump with a polite 'please share and thank you'. Not everyone has time to do that, but I'm always delighted when someone takes the extra minute for me. There's nothing like a little good will.

Now that I've said all that...here's my latest release info. Feel free to hit the tweet button, share to facebook, or wherever else the spirit moves you...and please accept my heartfelt thanks!!
ANNOUNCING—Ashlyn Chase’s fist book in the Love Spells Gone Wrong series:
THE CUPCAKE COVEN
“Entertainment abounds when a coven of witches whip up a few spells to help their friend hold onto her bakery while losing her heart. Can a long distance romance work between a cowboy and a baker if they believe in magic?” —Dorine Linnen, Romance Junkies Reviews
* * * * * Buy links:
B&N- http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-cupcake-coven-ashlyn-chase/1119478166?ean=9781927555590
Amazon- http://tinyurl.com/npgrme2
 Kobo- https://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/the-cupcake-coven-book-1-love-spells-gone-wrong-series
Are- https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-thecupcakecovenbook1lovespellsgonewrongseries-1838242-149.html
Bookstrand- http://www.bookstrand.com/the-cupcake-coven-book-1-love-spells-gone-wrong-series   Direct from publisher- http://www.lachesispublishing.com/

~ Blurb: Pretty Wiccan Rebecca Colby borrowed money from her father to start a bakery, and now he’s calling the loan due. When she learns he fell off the gambling wagon and owes big money to some scary people, she has to start making a profit—and fast—before the loan shark takes a bite out of her.

Hot Cowboy Dru Tanner is looking for his missing sister who left Texas to explore their New England Wiccan roots. She’s the only family he has left, and he’s desperate to find her. Dru has to hide the fact that he’s not a Wiccan long enough to infiltrate a coven in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It’s the only lead he has.

Dru needs a job and a place to stay while he searches for his sister. Rebecca needs cheap help so she can work some baking magic. Dru makes Rebecca an offer she can’t refuse—if only lust doesn’t drive them crazy first.

~ Excerpt (And why the book is called The Cupcake Coven)

Hanna strolled around the altar ready to thank the Goddess and open the circle. As she turned the corner, her ample hip bumped the altar and a few lit tapers toppled. Three of them landed on the plate of rum cakes and to Rebecca’s horror they ignited.

A dramatic blaze shot up over a foot high. Before anyone could react, Dru shouted, “Stand back.” He bounded through the circle with the fire extinguisher. Rebecca remembered seeing it on a wall in the kitchen, but never thought much about it.

Hannah yelled, “Stop,” but it was too late. Dru had already pulled the pin and was spraying the altar with foamy chemicals. The witches in range gasped and jumped backward to avoid his sweep.

When the extinguisher was empty, Dru placed it on the floor. He set his hands on his hips and faced Rebecca. “Bake cupcakes from now on, darlin’. Cupcakes.”

  Bio: Ashlyn Chase describes herself as an Almond Joy bar. A little nutty, a little flaky, but basically sweet, wanting only to give her readers a satisfying experience. She holds a degree in behavioral sciences, worked as a psychiatric RN for 15 years and spent a few more years working for the American Red Cross. She credits her sense of humor to her former careers since comedy helped preserve whatever was left of her sanity. She is a multi-published, award-winning author of humorous erotic and paranormal romances, represented by the Seymour Agency. She lives in beautiful New Hampshire with her true-life hero husband who looks like Hugh Jackman with a salt and pepper dye job, and they’re owned by a spoiled brat cat.

     Where there’s fire, there’s Ash
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*Ask me to sign your ebook at www.authorgraph.com  

Monday, July 20, 2015

On the Road Again

by Amanda Forester

The biggest romance conference of the year, the annual Romance Writers of America Annual Conference, begins in just a few days and I am already on the road on the way to New York City.  So exciting!

Some people are expert travelers. They can stuff everything they need for a month’s vacation into a carry on. I am not one of those people. I pack for an overnight looking like I’m going on an expedition to the North Pole. A trip to New York requires more luggage than I own, or certainly care to lug around.  So, I have had to get creative with my packing to make the most of the limited space I have.  Most people will tell you to take less stuff. That is excellent advice…but for those who need (or feel compelled) to bring more than they have space for, here are some tips for cramming more stuff into a small space.

1.       Roll Clothes – rolled clothes fit into the corners of small spaces better and actually don’t wrinkle as much as you think. I’ve heard if you roll them in tissue paper they get even less wrinkled, but who has time for that?

2.       Space Saver Bags – the kind you need a vacuum cleaner to suck out the air is only helpful one way, so this trip I used the kind you roll the air out manually (I sat on it for extra squish). I found it particularly helpful for bulky items.  It can also be helpful to have different clothing items in different groups (shirts, underwear, etc.) so it can be easily found and repacked as you travel.

3.       Color Coordinate – choose a color pallet and stick with it.  This saves space particularly with shoes and accessories (or you can leave all your accessories at home – which I realize I did – sigh). This can also help with mix and match so you can create different outfits with the same basic pieces.

4.       Wash and Wear - Dry clean only is not your friend while travelling; pack things that wash and dry easily in the hotel’s laundromat.  That 100% polyester dress may not be as eco-friendly as other fabrics, but it will pop out of the suitcase without need for ironing and will wash and dry well in route as needed.

5.       Use Travel Size - and replace as you need along the way. One thing I love to do is buy all those cute little travel size containers of things.  They are so adorable!  I love them until I get to the checkout counter and choke over how much I just spent on a few ounces of toothpaste and deodorant.

6.       Plan it Out – plan for what items you will need for the different events and try to keep it simple. A plan can help avoid over-packing something you may not need much of and forget an item you actually need.

7.       Pack Plastic Bags – Garbage bags are good for dirty clothes, zip lock bags of all sizes are good for shoes down to jewelry. Very handy for keeping like things together and dirty or wet things away form clean and dry.

8.       Pack Double-Duty – workout/yoga pants and soft t-shirts can work as pajamas, and won’t look quite as awkward if you lock yourself out of your hotel room and have to go down to the desk to ask for another key card. I’ve done that. More than once.

9.       Big to Little - pack big stuff first and cram the little things like socks around the sides to use up all the available space.
 

10.   Pack an Emergency Expandable Bag – Things expand when I travel – and not just my waistline. Inevitably I end up with more stuff and going to RWA I know I’m coming home with books so I pack an expandable bag for it.

I am excited to see New York City and enjoy the conference. I’m looking forward to signing copies of Winter Wedding and sharing excerpts of my upcoming book The Highlander’s Bride. I’m sure I have both over-packed and forgotten things, but I guess that’s just part of traveling. What great packing tips have you found that work best for you? Have fun and travel on!