Guest Post: A Typical Day in the Life of Roxanne St Claire and Giveaway!

 

Please welcome New York Times bestselling author Roxanne St Claire to the virtual offices this morning! She stopped by to celebrate the release of Barefoot By The Sea, the final book in her Barefoot Bay series.

Describe what a typical day is like for you

There is no “typical” day for a writer. There are good days when the words flow and the story cooperates and the world is sunshine and rainbows. And there are days when the keyboard is my enemy, the book is the worst thing ever written, and every word hurts to yank out of my imagination.

But let me tell you about a Writers’ Camp day! These happen two or three times a week and they are the best, most productive, and definitely the most fun days for this writer.

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Guest Post: Learning Spanish by Serena Bell and Giveaway!

 

We have a special treat today! Serena Bell, author of Yours to Keep, dropped by the virtual offices to share her adventures learning Spanish.  Be sure to enter Serena’s giveaway, too!

Guest Post – Learning Spanish by Serena Bell

Thank you so much for joining me today at Manga Maniac Café, the latest stop on my Yours to Keep blog tour. I’m thrilled to be here today, talking about how I learned Spanish. Ana, the heroine of Yours to Keep, is a Dominican immigrant, a Spanish speaker by birth. She’s fluent in English, because she moved to the U.S. when she was a little kid, around the same time her parents made the immigration mistake that has resulted in her not having a valid visa. She works as an English-as-a-second-language teacher and a Spanish tutor, which is how she meets Ethan, a widowed pediatrician with a habit of saying everything Ana needs to hear, if not quite all in the right order.

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Spotlight and Giveaway! Ruby Hill by Sarah Ballance

 

13 Shocking Reasons Real People were Committed to a Lunatic Asylum  by Sarah Ballance

If you thought you had to get your crazy on to land in a place like Ruby Hill, you’d better think again.

The following list of reasons folks were locked up for “treatment” between 1864 and 1889 at the RUBY HILL-esque yet very real Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Asylum is absolutely true. (My commentary, however, may be prone to exaggeration.) (Source)

  1. Bad Whiskey – I don’t know if this guy drank bad whiskey, sold bad whiskey, or manufactured bad whiskey, but you’ve got to feel for anyone forced to sober up a lunatic asylum. I’m pretty sure that type of residence is exactly where I’d most need whiskey, bad or otherwise.

  2. Drospy – I admit I had to look this one up. It’s the old word for edema, which is what happens when you carry excess fluid. Basically this means if you’ve ever taken off your socks to find they’ve left dents in your legs, you could have been committed. Now THAT is lunacy.

  3. Fighting Fire – Not setting them, but fighting them. Apparently firefighting in the 1800s wasn’t always considered the heroic profession we know it as today. And someone at the admissions desk is a pyromaniac.

  4. Menstrual Deranged – What does that mean, exactly? Aside the menstrual part – we get that. Monthly, even. But deranged? We probably don’t want to know, but what do you want to bet a man came up with that one?

  5. Masturbation for 30 Years – Erm, okay. But why THIS GUY and not EVERY OTHER GUY ON THE PLANET? I’m just sayin’….

  6. Suppressed Masturbation – So what we’ve just learned is there is clearly a target zone for this particular activity—somewhere between once and 30 years’ worth. Good luck with that, boys.

  7. Ill Treatment by Husband – Okay, so he’s a jerk so they lock HER up? I bet a man thought of that one, too. (I’m gaining a whole new appreciation for my fabulous husband, who—in over 16 years of marriage—has not once sent me to an asylum.)

  8. Seduction and Disappointment – I’m not sure who was seduced in this scenario and who was disappointed, but apparently this was not the time to oversell oneself. (No wonder that one guy just stuck to masturbation for 30 years.)

  9. Scarlatina (Scarlet Fever) – You there, with the contagious disease. Into the criminally over-crowded asylum. Yep, that’ll fix you. That will fix all of you. Muahahaha.

  10. Medicine to Prevent Conception – To be fair, all forms of contraception were made illegal in the United States in 1873, so this was at least technically a crime. By the 1880s, though, there was a handy-dandy sausage casing device (yes, that would be animal intestine) alternative. Might have been worth a shot because…

  11. Dissipation of Nerves – There’s nothing to indicate the dissipation of nerves was in any way related to conception rates, but my husband and I have six children (one of whom was conceived after I was surgically sterilized) and I’m telling you, asylum people. YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS. It a classic inverse proportion, and if you don’t believe me just ask all those people who see me with six kids and immediately assume I’m crazy. But I digress.

  12. Carbonic Acid Gas – I’m not sure of the particulars here, but just so y’all know, this is a byproduct of breathing. BREATHING WAS A CRIME.

  13. Novel Reading – ERMAGERD, YOU GUYS. First we can’t breathe, and now they take away our novels! But fear not, for RUBY HILL is not a novel, but a novella. Which can only mean READING RUBY HILL WILL KEEP YOU OUT OF AN INSANE ASYLUM!

Okay, so my logic might be a bit flawed, LOL, but I’m going to distract you quickly so you won’t notice. ?

Here’s a related little historical twist that blew my mind.

In September, Entangled Scandalous released my historical romance, HER WICKED SIN, which is set during the Salem Witch Trials. Back then, the Salem in question was actually Salem Village, which has since been renamed Danvers. Danvers is home to the Danvers State Lunatic Asylum (reportedly one of the most haunted places in the world, and they turned it into APARTMENTS, y’all!), which sits on Hawthorne Hill, the very site of the gallows where the Salem witches were hanged. Nice little coincidence, right? But it gets better. Back in 2011—long before I’d given any thought to writing about the Salem Witch Trials or a haunted lunatic asylum—I had out there a little novella about a haunted house. Its name?

HAWTHORNE.

Mind. Blown.

Now that you’ve been properly wooed (yes-I-said-wooed), are you ready to dive into the dust, abandonment, terror—and yes, romance—of an abandoned mental institution? (Come on—you’ve got to see how the romance fits in there, right?) If so, I hope you’ll consider a dark, dangerous trek (or, you know, just click over) to your favorite e-tailer for the scoop on RUBY HILL!

PS: I’m probably hiking with grizzly bears as you read this, so bear (ha!) with me if I don’t respond immediately to your comments. I do look forward to your replies—and I have been promised nightly wifi—so if I’m not mauled, eaten, or otherwise incapacitated, I will SO come back for you! ?

Ruby Hill by Sarah Ballance

ISBN: 9781622662258

Book Description

From her earliest memories, Ashley Pearce has been drawn to Ruby Hill Lunatic Asylum, and she’s not the only one. Decades after the abandoned hospital ended its institutional reign of torture and neglect, something lurks in the shadows. Since she’s a paranormal investigator, it’s Ashley’s job to find out what.

Crime scene expert Corbin Malone doesn’t believe in ghosts. A born skeptic, he has no interest in entertaining the hype surrounding the mysterious deaths at Ruby Hill, but he won’t turn his back while more women die. He agrees to an overnight investigation, never expecting his first encounter would be with the woman he pushed away a year ago. But when he discovers Ashley is a target, he learns his greatest fear isn’t living with his own demons, but losing her for good.

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Excerpt:
Death had a flavor. Equal parts bitter and bland, the damnable taste was more sickening than the stickiness in Corbin Malone’s throat. It soured his gut, leaving him with an unease he couldn’t quite swallow, and the deeper they drove into the countryside—the closer the car brought him to Ruby Hill Lunatic Asylum—the more potent the flavor. Five years a cop, he’d neatly sidestepped the ugly aftertaste until things got personal.

Until the body belonged to his brother, Cash.

Nearly six months had passed since Cash Malone fought for his last breath inside the dismal, abandoned halls of Ruby Hill. Though his body now rested six feet under a distant patch of cemetery grass, Ruby Hill remained his tomb—a giant, crouching headstone marring acres of otherwise beautiful, rolling hills. And for Corbin, a visage of murder.

About the Author:

Sarah and her husband of what he calls “many long, long years” live on the mid-Atlantic coast with their six young children, all of whom are perfectly adorable when they’re asleep. She never dreamed of becoming an author, but as a homeschooling mom, she often jokes she writes fiction because if she wants anyone to listen to her, she has to make them up. (As it turns out, her characters aren’t much better than the kids). When not buried under piles of laundry, she may be found adrift in the Atlantic (preferably on a boat) or seeking that ever-elusive perfect writing spot where not even the kids can find her.

She loves creating unforgettable stories while putting her characters through an unkind amount of torture—a hobby that has nothing to do with living with six children. (Really.) Though she adores nail-biting mystery and edge-of-your-seat thrillers, Sarah writes in many genres including contemporary and ghostly paranormal romance. Her ever-growing roster of releases may be found on Amazon , Barnes & Noble, Kobo, For the Muse Publishing, and ENTANGLED PUBLISHING.

Website: http://sarahballance.com

Blog: http://sarahballance.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SarahBallance

Facebook: http://facebook.com/sarah.ballance.author.news

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4103362.Sarah_Ballance

Giveaway:

$25 Gift Certificate to winner’s choice of Amazon or Barnes & Noble AND Skelton Key blue Swarovski heart Art Nouveau necklace (US/Canada ONLY) (http://www.etsy.com/listing/88152504/silver-butterfly-key-blue-swarovski?ref=shop_home_active )

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Spotlight and Giveaway! Northern Light by E.J. Russell

Guest Blog by E. J. Russell

My youngest (by eight minutes) son is a lifelong aficionado of the macabre. Nick’s favorite book in grade school was an oversized, cheerfully illustrated book on historical disasters (his favorite was – and still is – the Black Plague), and post-grade school, he graduated to all-things-Stephen-King.

It’s only natural, then, that when he was a senior at the local arts magnet high school, he and his friends decided to make a horror movie. Their script involved a too-good-to-be-true free vacation at a B & B that turned out to be the lair of cannibals. The location for the creepy isolated hotel?

Our house.

I didn’t know whether to be insulted or flattered.

True, the very remoteness of our out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere house can be alarming. We live on a six-mile-long, partially paved road, with no feeder streets – you can only enter from one end or the other. Our house, screened from the road by a stand of shaggy Douglas firs, sits at the back of a grove of ancient, gnarled walnut trees that have almost forgotten how to leaf out, and the blackberry brambles looming on either side of the bumpy driveway rival Sleeping Beauty’s daunting thorn hedge.

To my husband, this set-up is a dream come true. For him, our virtual fortress on the hill is the perfect sanctuary, a retreat where he never has to see a neighbor if he doesn’t want to. But for our extrovert daughter, who gets freaked out by the least hint of the weird, it’s a nightmare in the making. She avoids being home alone like she’d avoid Nick’s favorite disaster, and if for some reason she can’t, she turns on every light in the house. Every. Stinking. One.

Nick, pragmatic opportunist that he is, was perfectly willing to exploit the creep factor for his film, even though he’s just as quick to embrace the seclusion when he’s feeling anti-social.

My two heroes in Northern Light have a similar love/hate relationship with rural isolation.

For desperate painter Stefan, the remote cabin in the Oregon Coast Range, off the grid and hugged by the forest, is a refuge. There, away from the stress of his financial difficulties and the reminders of his personal failures, he finally has a chance to reconnect with his artistic vision and start to rebuild his shattered life.

But the solitude that Stefan finds so comforting nearly sends Luke, my art investigator, running for…well, not the hills. He hates those damn hills. For Luke, who once endured a disabling traumatic event in the mountains, safety is a well-populated sea-level community, where he can see the horizon whenever he looks out his window, and know that he’s not trapped.

So how about you? City dweller or country cousin? Hustle and bustle or peace and quiet? Or are you like Nick, who’ll take which ever one suits his mood at the moment?

Northern Light by E.J. Russell

ISBN: 9781622662845

Genre: M/M Romance

Book Description:

Nothing gives art fraud investigator Luke Morganstern a bigger rush than busting forgers, the low-life criminals who dare victimize true artists. But when his latest job sends him to a remote cabin in the Oregon Coast Range, he’s stunned to discover the alleged forger is his former lover, Stefan Cobbe, the most gifted painter Luke has ever known.

Stefan, left homeless and destitute after the death of his wealthy partner, doesn’t exactly deny the forgery — he claims he doesn’t remember, an excuse Luke can’t accept.

But Luke’s elderly client suggests Stefan may be telling the truth and presents another possibility – a dark presence in the woods, a supernatural fury simmering for decades. Luke must face down his fear of the uncanny – and admit his feelings for Stefan – if either of them is to survive.

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Excerpt:

Luke slammed the heel of his hand against his forehead. Shitgoddamnsonofabitch. He’d asked the fucking question. Now he’d have to listen to an answer he could never un-know. His chest heaved and he stared Stefan down, waiting for the words that would either damn him as a liar or condemn him as a forger. Either one would force Luke to choose between rebooting his career or destroying the man he’d once loved.

Stefan blinked. Blinked again, brows drawing together in a tight vee. "What?"

For some reason, maybe aftershocks from his Fiat-flashback or mortification that Stefan had witnessed his resultant freak-out, the bewildered affront on Stefan’s face kicked Luke into art investigator asshole mode. "Did you think you’d get away with the fake Arcolettis because he was a relative unknown? Because all his pieces except one are in private hands?"

"Who the hell is Arcoletti?"

Luke guffawed, sounding unpleasant even to himself. "Good one."

"No. I mean it. Who’s Arcoletti?"

"Jeremiah Arcoletti. American realist painter. Disappeared in 1945 along with all thirteen canvases from his last collection.” Luke’s eyes popped wide. "Holy shit. That’s it, isn’t it? The lost collection." He poked Stefan’s shoulders with stiff fingers, peripherally aware arguing in the middle of a dark mountain road was ridiculous and possibly suicidal, but he didn’t give a flying fuck. They’d finish this now. "Is that your plan? Recreate the lost collection out here in your little studio in the big woods?"

"Stop it." Stefan batted Luke’s hand away, his gaze fixed on the ground, avoiding the question. Pleading the artistic Fifth. Last refuge of the guilty.

"Where’d you see his work? The museum in Amsterdam? Hell, in all those years of prancing around with Marius, you could have seen every fricking one of the privately held pieces. Marius had the connections for it. You could toss his name around to get access to the Gordon letters too. Damn it." He dropped his arms, suddenly spent. "The Stefan I knew would have cut off his hands before he’d counterfeit another artist’s work. What’s happened to you?"

"What hasn’t?" Stefan’s eyes were wide, his pupils huge in the combined light of headlights and flashlight. "But I swear. I’ve never heard of this Arcoletti."

"No? Then tell me. What’s coming off your easel these days? Studies in Monochrome? The Picture of Oregon Gray?”

"I…I don’t know."

The feeble disavowal flipped Luke’s asshole switch back on. "Don’t give me that shit. You don’t paint with your eyes closed."

"No. I just…" Stefan’s voice was hoarse, and he clutched his flashlight to his belly, casting warped, inverted shadows across his face and distorting his features into a death’s-head mask. "I’ve been painting, but I don’t remember them. I’m not even sure how many there are."

"Artistic amnesia? Bullshit. You must have seen them when you handed them over to Boardman."

Stefan shook his head and pinched his eyes closed. "Thomas always loaded them into his car. I never looked. Not after…not when they were finished."

"Why? Guilt?"

"No. I was afraid…" Stefan wrapped his arms across his stomach, pointing the flashlight into the woods, and his face was his own again, drawn and haunted.

"Afraid of getting caught?"

"Afraid of what I’d paint next," he whispered.

Luke’s lips twisted. "Denial. It’s what’s for dinner. No wonder you’re so fricking thin."

"Why is everything black and white for you, Luke? Let in some color, for Christ’s sake." Stefan forked the fingers of one hand through his hair. "Even a little gray would be a change."

Luke refused to allow the broken edge of Stefan’s voice to influence him. He’d let sentiment sway him once before and it had cold-cocked his career. "Right or wrong, Stef. It’s not that tough a choice."

"Fine." Stefan raised his head and met Luke’s gaze, his shoulders shifting as if bracing for a blow. "You’ve already made up your mind, as usual. Go ahead. Turn me in to the art police."

Luke searched Stefan’s face for some flicker of remorse, some acknowledgement he accepted the enormity of his crime. Nothing. Only the droop of his lips and a telltale glitter in his eyes, hinting at unshed tears. "Can you give me a reason not to?"

Stefan’s breath caught in what might have been a laugh if his face weren’t so bleak. "Guess not." He saluted Luke with a middle finger. "Enjoy your drive."

Stefan strode uphill, the beam of his flashlight bouncing from road to hillside, and Luke’s last trace of adrenaline drained away. He sighed, deep and exhausted.

The lousy car sat perpendicular to the road, driver’s door ajar. If he was lucky, he’d manage to creep down the hill by midnight. He shut the damn door before the brainless chime of the key alarm drove him nuts and leaned his forehead against the car roof, the beaded rain icy against his heated skin.

"Shit."

About the Author:

E.J. Russell holds a BA and an MFA in theater, so naturally she’s spent the last three decades as a financial manager, database designer and business intelligence consultant. She returned to her childhood love of writing fiction after her twin sons learned to drive and she no longer spent half her waking hours ferrying them to dance class.

Her daily commute now consists of walking from one side of her office to the other — from left-brain day job to right-brain author cave — where she’s perfected the fine art of typing with a cat draped across her wrists and a dog attached to her hip. Her stories include gay and straight characters because her life includes gay and straight characters (as does everyone’s).

E.J. lives in rural Oregon with her curmudgeonly husband, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.

Website: http://www.ejrussell.com

Blog: http://ejrussell.com/bloggery

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ej_russell

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/E.J.Russell.author

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/ej_russell

Giveaway:

The Oregon Chill-chaser bundle: (US ONLY)

Mystic Water handwarmer mug from Clay in Motion Pottery

9.5 oz Dark Hot Chocolate mix from Moonstruck Chocolatiers

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Spotlight and Giveaway! Haunted Chemistry by Lindsey Loucks

Guest Blog: Thrills & Chills While Doing Laundry (Wait. What?)

By Lindsey R. Loucks

Instead of taking one of the buses speeding through campus during my college career, I always walked, my gaze aimed at the ground for anything shiny and round. If I found treasure in the form of a quarter, it was well worth the few bumps on the head or rude comments I got from not looking where I was going. Like most college students, I was poor.

But I became a pretty successful quarter tracker, and when I’d find one, I’d add it to my carefully stacked pile with the hope I’d have enough to do laundry soon. With all that walking around campus, there were days when I came home smelling a tad ripe.

The washers and dryers were located on the basement floor of my apartment building, and let’s just say that going down there, alone, was the equivalent of walking into a dragon dungeon with my arms loaded with raw meat. That’s what it felt like anyway.

Storage cupboards took up the far wall that led from the stairs to the laundry area, each one about three feet long and three feet wide. Sometimes one of them would be open a crack. The single overhead light only cast a faint orange glow, deepening the shadows inside that open cupboard to an inky black.

Whenever I’d see one of those open cupboards, I’d stop in my tracks while my imagination tumbled over everything that could be lurking inside. Usually the things I imagined involved segmented legs, machetes, Brazilian poison dart frogs, porcelain dolls, or a combination of all of the above, just waiting to spring out.

My pulse racing, I’d give my laundry bag a squeeze and check to make sure I still had my quarters. Then, with my breath held, I’d race past the open cupboard, dump all my clothes into the washer, throw in some soap, push my quarters into the slots, start the machine, and sprint back out before I’d used up all the stored air in my lungs.

It was such a rush! It made laundry day pretty much the best day ever! Of course, I’ve always lived for that pump of adrenaline that fear gives me. I watch scary movies alone in the dark by myself on purpose. I guess I’m weird like that.

On one of my trips to the laundry room, my boyfriend’s brother went with me (I can’t remember why exactly, but I may have told him about the spooky basement). When he saw the wall of cupboards, his exact words were, “A serial killer stores his victims in these, huh?”

And that’s when I stopped doing laundry in that apartment building. Nah, just kidding. I still did. Remember that adrenaline rush thing I was talking about? Yep.

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Guest Post: Tony Cliff on Writing Strong Female Characters and Giveaway!

Today’s special guest Tony Cliff has a guest post for us, and after, you can win a copy of his graphic novel Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant.

Writing Strong Female Characters by Tony Cliff

I don’t know whether she meant it sincerely or whether she was just trying to tease me, but when a notably feminist-minded female friend saw the cover for my first little Delilah Dirk comic back in 2007, she said, “oh! You made a feminist character.” Knowing how vocal this friend could be about feminist issues, it was often fun to bother her about it with a grab-bag of stereotypically misogynist remarks, so she could have been returning the favour by maligning-but-not-really my labour of love. Pointing out that the project I’ve been working on for months secretly demonstrates feminist principles would have been a sort of, “ah ha, you’re part of the club and you didn’t even know it” statement. Whatever her intentions, she was the first person to posit that Delilah Dirk might be a “strong female character.” Since then, presumably because I am a human male and the incongruity is astonishing, I am often asked why and how I have written a “strong female character.” Let me tell you!

I’ll just pass by arguing about whether Delilah Dirk is, in fact, a “strong female character.” Since that first mention, enough people have framed her as such that I’m just going to roll with it. No one that I am aware of has argued that DD is specifically not a “strong female character.” If I’m reluctant to embrace that term (as indicated by my liberal use of scare-quotes), it’s probably due to my personal tendency to be contradictory, but also because I am occasionally suspicious of peoples’ motivations in throwing the term around.

I’ll also pass by the question, “why do you write strong female characters,” because Joss Whedon has already addressed that question very eloquently. Listen to him here (http://youtu.be/cYaczoJMRhs?t=1m44s).

If possible, I would also defer to Joss Whedon about how to write strong female characters. He has more experience than I do. I’m not entirely sure what makes a “strong female character.” Others have invested years of post-graduate study in this topic – there are tests to see if your work of fiction has sufficiently fully-featured female characters, there are classifications, there are archetypes and stereotypes… I just sat down one evening to invent an adventuresome character who seemed appealing.

Here is the extent to which I considered Delilah’s gender: inspired by Hornblower and Sharpe adventures during the Napoleonic Wars, I wanted to have a sort of logistically hyper-flexible (i.e. “globetrotting”) action character, and the genre and setting were already chock-a-block full of male characters. Plus, a female character in 1810 naturally faces more obstacles due to societal norms, which I thought would present more opportunities for conflict. It would generate laughs, too, because our society has come so far since then that the gender roles are comically outdated. Feel free to roll your eyes in disagreement, if necessary – again, I am a White Male. I was also motivated by the mainstream comics I had encountered – mostly Image comics of the late 1990s. The female characters were across-the-board boring. Too serious, too bland, no sense of humour, no depth or colour.

Meanwhile, throughout my life I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the platonic friendship of a few actual human females. I have studied them – made notes, measured and analyzed their behaviours and characteristics. I have dissected their droppings and run samples of their blood through complicated scientific equipment, at great personal expense. I have made a surprising number of astonishing conclusions!

There are differences, but all you need to figure them out is a little observation, a little time, and to not be a raging garbage bag of misogynist filth. Sure, there might be subtle differences between a male character and a female character who are identical except for their gender. But the gulf is not very wide. Maybe you know how to write characters who fall all along the personality spectrum, from a cruelly selfish man to heroically brave man, to a paralyzingly cowardly man. If so, you’re more than capable of embracing the socially and physiologically imposed differences between genders. They are minor by comparison. Yes, there may be aspects of a character that are forced on them by their physiognomy and anatomy, how they think of themselves, and how your society of other characters treat them based on their perceived gender, but this is where imagination and observation come in.

So how do you write a strong female character? And is this different from a believable female character? Is there something that separates strong from believable? Is it just the addition of swords? Is it some other “empowering” trait? After all, the forcefulness of how a character represents their gender is not necessarily an indication of their strength. I am suspicious that when people say “strong female character” what they really mean is “believable female character” or just anything except “curvaceous plot device.” Assuming you want to step away from having your character serve the limited purposes of a plot device (ahem, Princess Peach, ahem, every damsel in distress), I like two simple tools for the job: contrast and depth.

Contrast is a simple idea, and it applies to anything you’re creating, at any step in the process. It is a flexible and infinitely useful fundamental concept. Follow along. When you’re reading a WHERE’S WALDO book (or WALLY, I guess, for you Europeans), it is difficult to figure out Where Waldo is because he is surrounded by other humans, some of whom wear stripy things and/or share similar colours with Waldo. This is low contrast. It’s hard to tell where Waldo is because he’s surrounded by so many things that are similar. He gets lost in the Waldo-ness.

Conversely, if you put Waldo on a flat, deserted ice floe, voila! he’s easy to see. He is the only Waldo-shaped and -coloured object that’s visible. This is high contrast. Waldo stands out because of all the not-Waldo-ness around him. Meanwhile, the polar bear behind him? Neither you nor Waldo saw it coming, because a white polar bear against a white background is the epitome of low contrast.

You can (and ought to) apply principles of contrast to everything. Readability and understanding increase when contrast increases. So it goes when you are creating a character. Their happy moments stand out in contrast to their sad moments. Their angry, intense, moments stand out in contrast to their quiet, meditative, sitting-and-sipping-tea moments. I believe this is what sets an interesting (“strong/believable”) character apart from a dull character. Certainly, if you’ve heard the term “one-note character,” this is a way to combat that, and it’s the beginning of achieving a little depth of character. Just put them in situations where they’ll be motivated to have different feelings.

It is frustrating to realize that I have just given advice that amounts to, “give the character more than one feeling,” because if you think about it that simply, it seems inconceivable that anyone could make anything even passably interesting for the maker without clearing this low hurdle. But I guess it needs to be mentioned. Those dour, guns-blazing ladies in my late-90s Image comics all had approximately two-and-a-half modes of expression: “scowl”, “scowl harder”, and “laugh derisively.” Sometimes they would look very serious while sunbathing by the pool, or on a boat, or on cloudy days. Not exactly a rich tapestry of emotion.

Conversely, in his series of novels, Horatio Hornblower is a well-rounded, fully-coloured character. The stories are no major touchstones in the history of literature, but they are solid, enjoyable, and are improved dramatically by the depth that C.S. Forester gives his protagonist’s character. Hornblower’s strength, resolve, and bravery stand out so much more impressively because they are contrasted against his worry, neuroses, and his internal conflicts.

For advice on achieving depth of character, I’m once more going to defer to someone with more expertise than me. After all, this is the sort of topic that one could write a book about, as many have. I like Lajos Egri. His excellent book THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING was written in the 1930s and is designed for the playwrights of the time. Nevertheless, it is a timeless, effective guide to building integrated characters and stories, whether you’re writing a novel, comic, movie, or even an actual play, as preposterous as that notion may be. If you didn’t know when it was written, you might mistake it for being more modern than McKee’s STORY. Egri’s emphasis is on designing stories that could not exist if it weren’t for the characters within them. Weak characters? Weak story. If that seems to you like it might be a recipe for the type of dull literary fiction that lacks the excitement of a good adventurous or romantic story, please see my earlier thoughts re: Horblower. Strong characters make for strong stories. A dull story is elevated and made interesting by entertaining characters, whereas the greatest roller-coaster of a plot is still mind-numbingly dull without interesting characters.

Much of Egri’s approach involves building a character up from their backstory. He is good at providing direction on how to do so. Now, admittedly, backstory and depth are not the same thing. But they can work in tandem. I find that one inspires the other.

Boiled down as simply as possible, depth can be found by giving your character likes, dislikes, wants, needs, preferences, quirks, and fears, among other things. Characteristics. Indiana Jones began as an homage to the heroes of adventure serials from the early 20th century. One of those is H. Rider Haggard’s character Allan Quatermain. Admittedly, I have not read a lot of Quatermain stories – maybe only three-quarters of one story – but you’d think that would be enough to give me a sense of his character. I know him only vaguely as a pith-helmeted avatar for the readers who would have revelled in what would have been exotic adventures back when those stories were written. What does everyone know about Indiana Jones? Whip, hat, competitive, and he’s scared of snakes. It’s not much, but it’s enough to be interesting, and it’s all established in the first ten minutes of his first story. The same can not be said for Quatermain. Say what you will about Wikipedia, feel free to contrast Quatermain’s “Appearance and Character” section with that of Indiana Jones or Horatio Hornblower.

At this point, I’ve wandered away from specifically talking about writing “strong female characters.” Though… I like to think that’s the eventual goal – some time far in the future, we might not need to differentiate between “strong female characters” and “strong characters.” Maybe you shouldn’t be writing strong female characters. Maybe you ought to write strong characters, making them ladies when that makes sense and men when that makes sense. Based on what I hear on Twitter and elsewhere, I can acknowledge that we’re not there yet, but I also get the feeling that I might be preaching to the choir: the type of person most likely to read about how to write a female character is the type who’s probably already inclined to do so, and that person is not the person who needs to be convinced of the value of a treating your differently-gendered characters equally.

So my hope is that you’ll keep writing your characters, and hopefully I’ve shared some viewpoints that complement your own. Perhaps I’ve simply illuminated some of my own biases, and you’ve encountered a type of thinking or some cognitive mistakes you want to avoid. Either way, I hope you’ll keep writing (or start writing) richly-developed characters and sending them out into the world so that, eventually, somewhere down the road, no one feels that a character’s gender requires a special approach to writing.

Thank you, Tony!!

About the book:

Lovable ne’er-do-well Delilah Dirk has travelled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she’s picked up on the way, Delilah’s adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan’s guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life.

A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Delilah Dirk is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine…and globetrotting adventures.

Giveaway:

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Excerpt and Giveaway! To the 5th Power by Shirin Dubbin

Shirin Dubbin is visiting this morning to share an excerpt from her action filled and extremely fun read To The 5th Power. After the excerpt, enter for a chance to win a very special swag pack hand picked by Shirin!

 

EXCERPT To The 5th Power by Shirin Dubbin

Forty-five minutes later and after a shower, the thrill of the foot massage lingered. Fort could be an enemy, a charlatan or betrayer, and all Zola could think about was the feel of his fingers on her skin.

If she took the problem from a logical viewpoint, she could let go. The damage had been done. He’d been deep inside the most sacred places in her mind already. That knowledge occupied a far more intimate space than him entering her body. If he planned to destroy her he already possessed the tools. She could at least enjoy the devastating sex his touch promised. Then deal with the aftermath…after. Her vision blurred, her stomach flip-flopped. Zola grabbed the nearest poster of her canopied bed and blinked the wooziness away.

On the second blink, she rematerialized in the 1920s suite of Bella Noite. The room’s walls and finishings were largely done in olive. Although varied textures and hues from pink-tinted cream on the damask bedding to amber silk club chairs enlivened the palette.

Fort paused mid-stride, halfway between the Louis XV rosewood bed and the en suite bathroom. He appeared to be on his way to the shower. Zola deduced this not only because a towel hung loosely from his fingertips but also because he was bare-behind-balls-out-nude. No glasses. No nothing.

His impenetrable gaze held hers as he dropped the towel and crossed the room. He stopped a few inches away. The heat of his body brought a hot blush to her skin as he gazed down at her, his expression unchanging. She slid tentative fingers along the musculature of his stomach. She’d been right. His body was a blend of superhero and basketball superstar. Long, lean, perfection.

In response, Fort ran the backs of his hands down her arms. Zola hit air turbulence and closed her eyes. Opening them immediately, she took a step back. “An eye for an eye,” she said.

If he’d give her that, entrust his past and his pain to her safekeeping, maybe she could trust him again. Perhaps then she’d put aside her doubts.

“No,” he said, continuing the caress.

“Fort.” She damn near moaned his name.

“No.”

Distrust did nothing to avert her desire, she ached hot and heavy in her womb, but how could she reconcile the two? Indecision stilled the hand on his stomach. He took her fingers into his and brought her palm to his lips. The tender kiss singed her and she pulled away.

Fort gripped her shoulders, the edges of his closed expression melting with dismay. “Don’t you trust me, Zola?”

She wanted to. “No. I lust for you. I don’t trust you. It’s purely a sexual urge.”

A muscled ticked along his jaw. “That’s good enough.” He scooped her off the floor, his muscled forearm braced beneath her bottom. “At least for now,” He growled the words, his gaze on her mouth. Their lips met in a crash of sea meeting shore. Later for consequences. Her whole body strained against him, as though she couldn’t get close enough. She’d give herself tonight. Trust or no, she could kick him out of her house and her mind later. ?

 

Tour Wide Giveaway

Superpowered Love – The Swag Pack

To celebrate the release of my new superhero romance, To the Fifth Power, I’ve matched the book up with an equally hard hitting, highflying, romanc-a-thon of a swag pack called SuperPowered Lurve. . .and there are snacks too!

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Here’s what you’ll win:

The Amazing Spiderman see clip

First love’s first blush is so amazingly adorkable in this movie. There’s no doubt Spidey is one of the greatest to ever rock a mask, but the romance here starts off awkward then blooms. That love story and its growth center the movie. Plus, there’s spinning and skipping in this clip. D’aww.

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Guest Post and giveaway! Joya Fields, Author of Reunited in Danger

Please welcome Joya Fields to the virtual offices today! She’s going to hijack the control panel and tell us about her new release Reunited in Danger! Stick around after, and you can enter to win an awesome prize!

 

Thanks very much for inviting me to this awesome blog today to chat about my newest release Reunited in Danger, a romantic suspense. The book takes place in my hometown of Baltimore, MD and was inspired by several different local events and local people that I’ve met during my everyday activities.

Logan is a tortured hero in Reunited in Danger. He’s a Baltimore homicide detective who carries a secret and is not big on sharing emotions. Keely, a Baltimore social worker and the woman who has owned his heart since he left her ten years ago, is the one woman he thinks he can’t have. Circumstances force them together and they try to fight their buried feelings for each other without much success.

The idea for the romance in this story occurred to me as I was working out at a gym. The woman near me was heading to the airport to pick up two children whose mother was dying and had no family members or friends to raise her children. This woman at the gym and her husband had already raised their own children, but planned to raise these little ones who had nobody else. All I could think was, “do these kids have any idea how lucky they are to have someone so nice raise and take care of them and give them a chance at a great life?”

And it made me wonder…what if two people from very similar backgrounds fell in love? But one knew the value of a loving family, and the other endured a less-than-stellar upbringing and refused to believe he was capable of love? Keely is the heroine whose mom was dying. Ben and Lillian stepped in and adopted her and provided a loving, secure home. Logan wasn’t so lucky.

Keely and Logan are childhood friends, and their feelings turn into more when they are teens. But when Logan suddenly leaves town, Keely is devastated. Ten years later, Keely’s dad—the man who saved her from a lonely life, and the man who was more like a father to Logan than his own dad—is attacked. Logan can’t stay away. He’s compelled to help. But being close to Keely, and trying to keep his feelings on lockdown, becomes harder than he could have imagined.

Keely’s upbringing taught her that life can have hardships, but love can help heal. Logan, however, thinks history is going to repeat itself and he will eventually become his abusive father. What do you think? Can children raised in difficult circumstances ever overcome that upbringing? I’d love to hear your opinion.

Thanks very much for taking time to stop by today and for letting me share Reunited in Danger with you!


Reunited in Danger

by Joya Fields

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Imprint: Suspense

Keely Allen’s life goes into a tailspin when her adoptive father is viciously attacked. And the detective who offers to help her? None other than the sexy, love ’em and leave ’em man who once broke her heart.

Homicide Detective Logan North carries a haunting secret that has always kept his emotions on lockdown. But when he is forced to work alongside his former lover, the heat is still there between them, burning hotter than ever. Logan is determined to keep the luscious and tempting Keely at a distance…but he made a vow not to leave until all are safe.

On their race to solve the tangled web of crime, drug deals, and human trafficking, dangers abound—both to their lives…and to their hearts.

Reunited in Danger buy-links:

Amazon

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Joya Fields Bio:

Joya Fields has had over 100 stories and articles published in local and national magazines. Her debut novel was a NJRW GOLDEN LEAF WINNER FOR BEST FIRST BOOK OF 2012 and is nominated for RT Book Reviews 2012 Indie Press/Self-Published Contemporary Romance award.

Joya has taught arts and crafts, worked in public relations, helped her children raise prize-winning 4-H livestock, competed in three marathons, and even spent a year as a Baltimore Colts cheerleader. She loves hanging with her high school sweetheart/husband of over twenty years, two very supportive children, and a pug who follows her everywhere.

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