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Sherryl Woods Discusses Small-Town Mystique

New York Times bestselling author Sherryl Woods talks about small-town charm and why she—and readers—love it. Sherryl Woods' latest release, The Christmas Bouquet, is available for pre-order now.

Sherryl_WoodsOver the thirty-plus years of my publishing career, I've written a lot of books set in small towns. During most of that time, I've lived in a very big city—Miami. I grew up in another very big city, a suburb of Washington, D.C. And when I went to college, I landed at Ohio State University, which at the time boasted over 40,000 students.

So, how on earth did this fascination with small communities come about? I have several theories, one of which revolves around my childhood love for the Little House on the Prairie books. Not only did those books tell stories about a simpler time, but they focused on family and community. People cared about one another. Survival often depended on other peoples’ kindness.

During the same years I was reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, I was lucky enough to spend my summers in Colonial Beach, a tiny town on the Potomac River in Virginia. The year-round population was fewer than 5,000 people. It still is. My friends were local kids, rather than "summer" kids, so I got a real taste of small-town life.

While in the city, my spare time revolved around organized activities at school or church. What a difference in the summer, when we devised games to keep ourselves entertained, when we wandered up the street to get ice-cold soft drinks from a cooler in a neighborhood store barely bigger than a closet. Seriously. The building's still there and I marvel at how much seemed to be stocked in such a tiny space.

Sure, summer is a carefree time anywhere, but in a small town with all the entertainment relying on our own imaginations, it seemed magical. I desperately wanted to live there year-round and go to that small school and attend bible school in the summer with my friends. I thought my dad, who worked for the federal government, could surely find some sort of job at the small naval base near town. I thought my mom—an executive with a direct mail advertising company—should be a waitress at one of the local restaurants. Needless to say, they saw some serious shortcomings in my plan.

Still, I dreamed of living in that close-knit community where everyone seemed to know one another; where relatives lived down the street, not miles away; where parents kept an eye on all the kids in the neighborhood and where bingo on the boardwalk or a July snowball fight (crushed ice is a dangerous alternative, trust me on this) was excitement.

To this day my friends from that time in my life are among the closest I have. I still spend my summers in that same tiny town. And I can't go anywhere without running into somebody I know.

This background provided the basis for Seaview Key, for Chesapeake Shores, for Whispering Wind, Wyoming, for Serenity, South Carolina—the home of the Sweet Magnolias—and for all the other small towns I've created over the years.

That's all about me, but what about readers? Well, of course I have a theory about that, too. In today's world, many of us live far from our families. The sense of community we all desperately want may be harder to come by as we race from home to work, to obligations, then home again. Demands are many. Time to ourselves to read, to walk barefoot in the grass or catch fireflies on a summer evening, is at a premium.

Books set in small towns, whether mine or those created by so many other wonderful writers, fulfill our longing for a sense of community. Catching up with characters we've come to love is just a little bit like connecting with friends or family who live far away. It's reassuring. It's comforting. And it reminds us of a simpler time, when family and community mattered above all else. It seems to me that's something worth remembering.

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Exclusive Excerpt: "The Resolution of Callie and Kayden"

New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Jessica Sorensen shares an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book, The Resolution of Callie and Kayden, #6 in the Coincidence Series. Get a sneak peek and pre-order before The Resolution of Callie and Kayden releases on September 30th.

Callie and kaydenCallie is standing in the middle of it the frosted trees and lights, staring down at the snowy ground. Her forehead is creased like she’s thinking about something deeply. She has a coat on, gloves, and boots pull over her jeans. Her hood is down and snowflakes cover her long, brown hair. She’s simply beautiful. Perfect. Amazing. And I give myself a moment to appreciate everything that’s her before I walk toward her. She must hear my boots crunch against the snow because she glances up, startled. Tiny snowflakes dot her eyelashes, her cheeks flushed, and she has a smile on her face, her eyes so full of love I seriously about turn around and look over my shoulder to make sure there’s no one else standing there.

“Hey you,” she says still smiling at me. But she shifts her weight, appearing nervous, which makes me nervous as well. Why would she be nervous?

“Hey you back.” My feet move toward her on their own, wanting—needing to be near her. “Why are you standing out here in the freezing cold?”

She holds up her finger, indicating to wait just a second. Then she walks toward the leafless, snow-bitten tree beside her and ducks behind it. A heartbeat later, music surrounds me. When she steps back out, she’s still grinning. The snowflakes swirl around us, almost moving with the slow rhythm of the song.

“What do you have back there?” I ask. “An iPod dock or something?”

She shakes her head as she hikes through the snow toward me, reducing the space between us, something I’m so grateful. In fact, I want it all gone—not a single drop of space left between our bodies. “No, it’s Luke’s stereo. Seth borrowed it from him so I could use it for this.”

I shake my head, a smile touching my lips for the first time today. “God, he’s so weird with all that old crap he keeps around, right?”

“Like all his mixed tapes?” she says with a soft laugh as she reaches me.

I nod, slipping my arms around her waist, eliminating the space between us. Suddenly I become warm in the midst of the cold. “I seriously think he belongs in the 80s.”

“Maybe he does.” She loops her arms around the back of my neck and draws me closer. “What era do you think we’d belong in if we could go live in a different one?”

“How about the 60s,” I suggest.

She smiles. “We’d be all about the peace, love, and happiness.”

“I think that sounds a lot like you.” I tuck a strand of her damp hair behind her ear. “I’m not sure about me, though.”

Her forehead creases as I stroke her cheek with my finger, memorized by the softness of her skin. “You’ve seemed a little bit down lately… has something been bothering you?”

My smile falters. “I’ve just been thinking about some stuff.”

“About family stuff?”

“Yeah… I can’t help it… with the holidays coming and stuff. It’s just got me thinking.”

“About your family?”

I swallow the lump in my throat. “Yeah, about my lack of one.”

“You have me,” she says quietly. “You always will.”

My heart tightens in my chest. “I know I do,” I say, then lean into kiss her, unable to take the little amount of space between us any longer.

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Romance Authors' Favorite Summer Reads: Part 2

In part 2 of our summer reads post, romance writer Susan Wiggs, author of the Bella Vista Chronicles and the current release The Beekeeper's Ball, shares highlights from her beach-read list. Click here for part 1.

41wsMwAvYnL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_The long lazy days and cool breezy nights of summer are the perfect time to relax and renew the spirit with a great read. If you’re familiar with my books, you might think my reading tastes reflect the topics I write about with such passion—romance, family, friendship, food and the immutable power of love to change a life.

And it’s true that I do love books in that vein, but when it comes to reading, I am a dedicated omnivore. Depending on my mood and interests, you might find me engrossed in a thriller, reading aloud to one of my favorite kids, reading a memoir, a book of poetry or even a cookbook.

I’m a dedicated true-crime junkie and a history buff, so Blood Royal by Eric Jager satisfies both of those urges. Although it’s a true account of the murder of Louis of Orleans by a gang of thugs, the story reads like a classic gumshoe detective novel. Think Sam Spade goes to fifteenth century Paris.

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand is a deeply moving and ultimately uplifting novel of a woman whose giving spirit knows no limits. Bonus: The book is set on the author’s home island of Nantucket, which is one of those places we all dream about—roaring waves, sea breezes, an enduring history and every booklover’s paradise—a proper Atheneum.

A story that starts with a letter from a fan to a renowned author is always going to get my attention. I was completely smitten by That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay, a pen-pal relationship sparked by a shared love of food and France—which happen to be two of my favorite things, as well. 

There is no reading quite so rewarding as sharing a book with a child. A well-written children’s book is one that holds both the listener and the reader in its spell, and this season brings some real gems. My school-age stepson and I are huge fans of Suzanne Selfors, who writes hilariously about boys, dogs, adventure, fantasy and friendship...and then the characters sneak up behind you and touch the heart. Her latest series—the Imaginary Veterinary stories—features every kid’s favorite mythical creatures. Check out the latest: The Rain Dragon Rescue.

And finally, it’s a little-known fact that Holly Hobbie is an author, not just an iconic doll in a bonnet. As a first-time grandmother, I’m excited to share my favorites with the adorable Clara Louise, who likes to read at least a book or two before every nap. The Toot & Puddle series is perfect, and “You Are My Sunshine” is one of the few songs I know from start to finish. It’s the perfect baby-read.

Enjoy the summer, the sunshine and most of all the stories that inspire your heart and mind. Don’t forget to laugh, cry, dream...and read.

Susan Wiggs

We want to hear from you--What have been some of your favorite romance reads this summer? Let us know in the comments.

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Romance Authors' Favorite Summer Reads: Part 1

In part 1 of our 2-part post (click here for part 2), romance author Barbara Freethy gives us her list of must-reads for the rest of the hot summer season. Her latest novel, That Summer Night, is on sale now.

ThatSummerNightSummer is my favorite time of year. I'm a California girl, so we have a lot of days that feel like summer, but there's nothing like those few months when the light lasts until nine o'clock and a warm breeze swirls around you late into the night. I love to set books in the summer and my latest, That Summer Night, stars a young doctor and an ex-soldier who discover that saving the world first means saving themselves and falling in love. 

If you're looking for some good books to read this summer, I hope you'll check out That Summer Night, but here are some of my favorite summer reads by other authors. Some of the books are brand new and others have been out awhile, but I think you'll enjoy them all:

Christie Ridgway – Take My Breath Away (Cabin Fever Book #1)

Christie Ridgway is one of my favorite contemporary romance writers. Her stories are always fun, sexy and a little bit sassy. I really enjoyed the first book in her new Cabin Fever Series called Take My Breath Away where a single mom meets a former teen idol and sparks quickly begin to fly.

Ava Miles – Nora Roberts Land

This book intrigued me just by the title alone. Have you ever dreamed of finding a hero in real life like you read about in romance novels? Who hasn't? Well, a new contemporary romance writer Ava Miles gives us just that kind of story in her novel, Nora Roberts Land. Her heroine, a newly divorced journalist, returns to her small town to debunk the Nora Roberts romance novels her ex-husband blamed for their divorce only to discover happy endings do exist--with a hero who could have starred in a Nora Roberts novel. With Nora Roberts' blessing for the use of her name, Ava's story is witty and charming, making it one of my favorite summer reads. This book kicks off Ava's Dare Valley Series.

Nora Roberts – The Collector

Nora Roberts' latest romantic suspense, The Collector, was also one of my favorite reads this summer. I love books that mix romance, suspense and even a little adventure, and The Collector does all three. A house-sitter witnesses what looks like a murder in the building across the street and is soon thrust into a dangerous mystery. The hero, a sexy painter, becomes her ally and together they risk it all to find the truth and fall in love. Don't miss this one.

Barbara O'Neal – The All You Can Dream Buffet

First of all, I love this title. It immediately made me hit the buy button, but I also love Barbara O'Neal's books. She writes beautiful women's fiction stories that are charming, poignant, filled with emotion and charm. In this book, she ties together food and friendship as a popular blogger and foodie queen invites three of her closest online friends to the Oregon wine country. She wants to find an heir to sustain her life's work, and hopes that one of these women will fit the bill. If you enjoy women's fiction, this is the book for you.

Bella Andre – Just To Be With You (Seattle Sullivans)

Bella Andre is my go-to author for sexy romance and her latest title, Just To Be With You, part of the Seattle Sullivan Series is the perfect mix of sexy fun and charming romance. Ian Sullivan, a wealthy and powerful CEO, falls for Tatiana London, a hot Hollywood actress, and the passion between them sizzles. This one will steam up your summer sunglasses.

Ruby Laska – Black Gold (Boomtown Boys Series #1)

This series starter has everything I look for in a sweet romance: a hunky alpha hero, a sassy heroine who's easy to root for, a touch of humor - and just enough quirky twists to make it stand out from the pack. A glimpse into the country music business and a fresh new setting--the North Dakota oil fields--add up to a real page turner.

I hope you'll enjoy checking out some of my favorite summer stories. Don't forget to check out my newest book, aptly titled That Summer Night.

Happy Reading,

Barbara Freethy

 We want to hear from you--What have been some of your favorite romance reads this summer? Let us know in the comments.

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Maisey Yates Gives Us An Excerpt from "One Night to Risk it All"

In One Night to Risk it All, best-selling author Maisey Yates offers us a sassy heroine's perspective who finds herself whisked away to Cannes by a sexy Greek while carrying another man's baby.

MaisyYatesIt’s hard to argue with a Greek billionaire. Which is why I’m here in Cannes, avoiding the champagne, thank you very much, as I’m gestating a human being. Which is not exactly where I thought I’d be in my life right now. Things like this don’t happen to Jane Cooper. I’ve been called Plain Jane (very original) for most of my life for a reason.

Plain Jane finds herself dateless on prom night. She finds herself waiting tables instead of using her scholarship for a university across the country so that she can stay close to home and care for her mother while she’s sick. Plain Jane does not find herself caught in some weird cross fire between two billionaire brothers.

But you know…life surprises us.

It was shocking enough, getting into this arrangement with Nikos Christakis, but then his older brother, Theo, showed up at Nikos’s mansion and demanded I accompany him to Cannes (something about an emergency).

Well, that wasn’t strictly the case. He tricked me.

Turns out he thinks I’m a gold digger, which would be funny if it weren’t so close to the truth. I mean, considering where I’m at in life, it’s a tough one to dispute.

Pregnant with his brother’s baby, holed up in a luxury house on his private island. And all for a chance to improve my circumstances. I can’t really argue with Theo’s accusations. But Nikos is aware of what I want, and more than that he was the one who proposed the arrangement, so it’s not like I’m evil.

Though it’s clear Theo thinks I might be. Every time we get close he moves away like he might get burned.

The scary thing is, when he’s close, I feel like I might get burned. He makes me feel warm, from the inside out. Like everything in me is melting. It’s disturbing to say the least. As if the early stages of pregnancy aren’t making my body weird enough, I have to negotiate whatever it is that happens to me when Theo gets close.

Last night, he almost kissed me. He was looking at me like I was the vilest thing to have ever crawled into his hallowed home, and then suddenly it all changed. The spark that was burning there, with hatred and distrust, caught fire and it burned out of control. Into something else entirely.

No man has ever looked at me like that before, and I can honestly say that, even though I shouldn’t have wanted to lean in and press my lips to his more than anything in the world.

But it didn’t happen. He came back to his senses, which was for the best because I was lost completely. He turned away from me, swearing, cursing his own name and mine. And he told me he could never touch me, because I belonged to Nikos. I belonged to his brother and was carrying his child.

I wonder if things would change if he knew the truth. If he knew that I really was doing this for the money. That Nikos has never touched me. That I’m pregnant because of a medical procedure, not because of passion. That I’m a surrogate, and not a mistress.

He would either turn away from me forever…or he would give in to everything burning between us.

And I honestly don’t know which one frightens me more.

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Q&A with Jill Shalvis

Romance editor Alyssa Morris spoke with author, and 2014 RITA nominee, Jill Shalvis about her popular "Animal Magnetism" series, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference, and her love of writing relationships.

Then Came YouAlyssa Morris: First, I just finished Then Came You. I loved it. Wyatt is amazing. So I’m excited—can you tell us what’s next in the Animal Magnetism series?

Jill Shalvis: Well next is Wyatt’s two sisters, Zoe and Darcy.

AM: Yay!

JS: Darcy is next, I just turned her in. She’s a wild one. She’s like a tumbleweed rolling through town and she finds her happily ever after, of course, the hard way. As Darcy does everything.

AM: I was really hoping when I was reading it that that was where we were going.

JS: That’s where we’re going. And she comes out in April, and it’s Still the One. That’s the title. Zoe will come out in October but I don’t quite have a title for her yet.

AM: What in your own life provides inspiration for your novels? Is there a small town you go to or do you live in a small town?

JS: I actually grew up in a very large town, one of the largest, Los Angeles. And a small town to me was always a fantasy. In Los Angeles you can go and never be recognized. You could never see anybody you know. So, you go to the grocery store for days and never see anyone. I always wondered what it would be like, because you read in these small town things how you can go to the grocery store and you see your dentist and you go to the gas station and you see your next-door neighbor. So that was always the fantasy and that was why I started writing it. It’s just a coincidence that now I live in a small town and so, because I grew up in a big town and now live in a small town, I find all these small town idiosyncrasies funny, you know? That’s my inspiration.

AM: You’re kind of more primed to notice it?

JS: Correct. Because now I go to the grocery store and I see five people I know. You used to be able to go to the grocery store in your pajamas and bunny slippers and no one would care, but now you can’t because everybody knows everybody. So I enjoy pulling the humor out of those sort of things.

AM: I saw you’ve recently gotten into Supernatural.

JS: Oh my god! Can we talk about that for the next three hours?

AM: Are you still catching up?

JS: Yes I’m on season 5, and I resent [the RWA] conference because I haven’t gotten to see a single episode. Are you into it too?

AM: I haven’t gotten quite sucked in yet but I have a feeling it’s coming.

JS: Oh it’s coming. It’s addictive—you just can’t stop watching. Yes, I’m in love with Supernatural.

AM: I feel like I’ve had to put off watching it for a long time because I know that once I start--

JS: It will be all over, trust me.

AM: Do you feel like this will influence your work at all? Is it inspiring you to write a paranormal?

JS: Not necessarily paranormal, although I would love to do that some day very much. I would love to write witches. Or ghosts. But what I am finding is that the characters—at the core of Supernatural what really draws me isn’t the ghost, isn’t the demons, it’s the brothers’ relationship with each other. And that to me is so amazing and so touching—even though they are either beating the heck out of each other or they’re mad at each other. I have daughters and I understand and recognize that relationship. It’s OK to mess with your own sibling, but it’s not OK for anybody else to mess with that sibling. And I love the romance. I just love men and their relationships with each other. I always do that in my books. And I think that is what draws me to Supernatural. And you will see the influence of that.

AM: What’s your favorite part of coming to RWA?

JS: For sure going to the signings and meeting people who read my books. You know, we work alone all day long and you’re alone with your laptop and your characters and you don’t get a lot of feedback unless you go online and read reviews, and I don’t necessarily have the time for that. I have a very full life and I feel very separated from what readers do and think, so when I come to conferences, that’s my favorite part, is hearing feedback.

AM: So paranormal and witches…is there another genre of romance that you would like to try your hand at?

JS: Definitely paranormal, that draws me. That’s probably it. Other than that—I mean I love writing and reading contemporaries so I’m gonna stay there to the end of time. But some day I will dabble in paranormal, I think.

AM: I think it’s interesting now how a lot of people are kind of branching out from their genres and giving their own spin on something else. And I think readers really like seeing that.

JS: I do, too. And also, it’s always a mistake to write to the readers, but I am a reader at heart, so I feel like I have the same taste that readers have.

AM: That makes sense. Is there anything you’ve been reading lately that you really loved?

JS: Well I go through spurts. I’m a pop culture fanatic, frankly, I mean I love TV, I love books, I love magazines, I love movies. But I go in spurts. So either I’m reading or I’m watching TV. Right now I happen to be marathon-ing tv, but I’ll get back to books.

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Lauren Blakely On Writing For Romance & Young Adult Genres

Author Lauren Blakely (AKA Daisy Whitney) discusses the challenges writers face when balancing writing for more than one audience. Her latest romance release, "One More Night," is now available.

Lauren BlakelyJust as kids have a separate compartment for dessert that isn’t impacted whatsoever by the meal compartment, the same may be true for writers in different genres. 

Case in point: I write for middle schoolers, teens and adults, and part of that job entails using those separate drawers every day, and sometimes with every word. For instance, some words go in the teen-only drawer, and some belong in the adult-only one, and I don’t just mean the dirty words. 

Take “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” I learned from the readers of my adult romance that they don’t want to hear a romantic interest referred to as a boyfriend or girlfriend, whereas those terms are perfectly acceptable and quite the norm in teen lit. In sexy adult romance, the love interest is a “lover.” Maybe a writer can get away with “significant other,” sometimes she can use “partner,” and occasionally descriptive terms like “the woman he wanted always” play well. But when I used “boyfriend” in my third adult romance, Trophy Husband, readers told me the term felt too high school. 

Oops. I had forgotten to use the separate compartment for that word in that book.

Now, with five novels for teens, one more middle schoolers, and more then a dozen novels for adults under my belt, I am better able to balance the genres cleanly and easily. 

That balance extends beyond words, and encompasses more than the presence or absence of sex on the pages. Balance comes too in knowing when to tap certain emotions. The teenage experience can be quite intense with everything happening for the first time - first love, first dance, first kiss. On the flip side, many of my adult romance novels, such as Burn for Me, depict characters who have - naturally - more experience at life, love, work and so on. The emotions of jealousy, pain, love, lust, happiness, and joy are colored by the years. In Burn For Me, the hero and heroine have a flirty, playful banter, but it’s an adult banter that reflects how two 28-year-olds might talk, whereas the leads in my teen novel Starry Nights flirt in a more innocent and youthful fashion. 

Writing in different genres uses different muscles. I will often dip in and out of working on a novel for teens and a novel for adults in the same week and sometimes in the same day. The process, I suppose, is not much different than exercise. Some days you do cardio, some days you lift weights, and some days you do both. 

However, one element remains consistent throughout my novels and requires little balance – dogs. Nearly all my books feature a dog. Dogs don’t need different terms, or require different interactions, because dogs break down all boundaries and barriers. Dogs are universal. For the rare reader who might read across my books, she might notice the dog in my middle grade novel Ben Fox: Squirrel Zombie Specialist at Your Service is the same dog in my YA novel When You Were Here is the same dog in my new adult romance Every Second With You. The dog is my border collie mix making her appearance on page. 

Make no bones about it - a dog is a dog is a dog. 

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Author Jeaniene Frost Discusses Magic in Romance

New York Times best-selling author Jeaniene Frost shares her love of romance, magic, and mayhem in some of her favorite books!

Jeaniene Frost croppedEver since I first snuck in to watch Dracula as a child, I’ve loved the paranormal genre. A little later, swiping books from my mother’s romance novel collection made me a lifelong lover of that genre, and Wonder Woman first fueled my addiction to strong heroines (as a little girl, I even had Wonder Woman Underoos, which both dates me and embarrasses me now).  Therefore, it’s no surprise that my favorite things to read and write contain elements of all three.  

Take my latest novel, The Beautiful Ashes. My heroine, Ivy, gets thrust into the supernatural world when she finds out the hallucinations she’s had all her life are actually glimpses into other realms. The hero, Adrian, wants nothing to do with Ivy because of a destiny he’s determined to avoid, but the only way to get the vengeance he craves is to help Ivy navigate these realms in search of a weapon only she can use. Falling in love is the most reckless thing they can do, but it’s also the only way Ivy might be able to save Adrian from his fate. After all, nothing transforms a person more than true love, right?

When I’m not writing about strong heroines navigating their relationships with dangerous-yet-sexy alpha heroes against a backdrop of hazardous paranormal elements, you can usually find me reading about them. Here are some of my favorites:

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

When readers first meet Kate, she’s a magic-filled mercenary with a lot of trust issues. As the story (and series) progresses, you find out the many good reasons why Kate has had to keep everyone around her at arm’s length—among Kate’s many other secrets, she’s had to hide the truth about her lineage. Curran, the Beast Lord of Atlanta, is more than up for the challenge she poses. In her perilous life, Kate’s had to battle vampires, necromancers, shape-shifters, malevolent magic and more, but what I love most about this series is how her greatest challenge might be letting herself be emotionally vulnerable enough to love, and be loved, by Curran.

The Fever series by Karen Marie Moning

MacKayla, or Mac, starts out as a somewhat flighty, privileged girl whose biggest concern in life is dropping her cell phone into a swimming pool. That all changes when Mac’s sister is killed and she travels to Ireland for answers, not knowing that she’s going back to the place she really came from. To say that Mac undergoes a startling transformation in this series is an understatement. For several books, she’s both manipulated and saved by the enigmatic Jericho Barrons, a man practically drenched in secrets. Neither wants to get involved with the other, yet Mac and Barrons’s relationship is as inevitable as it is steamy. I loved watching the two of them get beneath each other’s skin. Shadowfever is also the first novel I ever read in ebook form because I was traveling when I finished Dreamfever and I couldn’t wait even one day to get to a book store to find out what happened next.

The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander made me fall in love with two things: First-person narrative and Jamie Fraser (for some of you, I don’t need to say more because “Jamie Fraser” is enough.) If you’re not familiar with this series, you are missing something special. Our heroine, Claire, starts off as a married army nurse who’s inexplicably transported to eighteenth-century Scotland. Before she can say “time travel is real!” Claire is forced into marrying a handsome Scot who has no idea that his new bride is both from the future and married to someone else. If the setup sounds implausible, Gabaldon’s superb writing and meticulous historical detail will soon make you a believer, but it’s Jamie and Claire’s relationship that still has me hooked twenty years after I first read Outlander. Their love forever changes both of them whether they’re together or apart, and their relationship proves a line my character Bones once said in my second novel: “Time has no dominion over love.”

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2014 RITA Awards: The Inside Scoop

Editor Alyssa Morris gives us an insider view on the 2014 RITA awards.

After three days of conversation about the future of the romance in an ever-shifting publishing ClaimMe_CROPlandscape, the 2014 RITA awards celebrated romances of the past while honoring innovators of the present. Notably, J. Kenner took home the first ever RITA for erotic romance for Claim Me and the award for best Romantic suspense went to author Carolyn Crane for her novel Off the Edge. These awards reflect the widening romance market and the trends of the past few years, many wrought by the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, the Crossfire trilogy, and other similarly steamy independent titles (which 50 Shades of Grey and the first Crossfire book both, briefly, were).

Eloisa James presented the lifetime achievement award to Bertrice Small, a truly remarkable pioneer of the modern romance whom James, quoting Dickens, described as “the founder of our feast.” James recounted an anecdote from Small's early career, when her first publisher told her to stay home and take care of her baby. Small was undaunted, convinced that she would last longer in the publishing industry than he. And, indeed, she did. Leaving the ceremony, many people could be heard discussing their desire to track down some of Bertrice's novels.

Throughout the ceremony, video interviews revealed the first romances read by blockbuster authors. Emcee Simone Elkeles read Nobody's Darling by Theresa Medeiros, Julia Quinn was inspired to write by Jude Deveraux, Sarah MacLean was also inspired by Deveraux, citing The Black Lyon as her first romance. Kristan Higgins stole her first romance novel from her grandmother, knowing she wouldn't be allowed to read it otherwise. With the recent and forthcoming e-releases of many of these classic authors' backlists, it feels as though we are due for a resurgence of their popularity and a return to more adventurous themes in the modern romance.

Other RITA winners included Sarah MacLean for her historical No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, Molly O'Keefe for her contemporary Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Jane Porter for her novella Take Me Cowboy, Carla Laureano for her inspirational romance Five Days in Skye, Susan Kearsley for her paranormal The Firebird, and Leah Ashton for her short contemporary romance Why Resist a Rebel. Finally, Laura Drake won best first book for her western The Sweet Spot. All of these and the nominated titles are well worth delving into, and they may even inspire readers to look back in time and try the romances that paved the way for them.

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Alison Kent on RITA Nominations

Romance author Alison Kent discusses the honor of receiving a 2014 RITA award nomination for her book, "The Second Chance Café." The official RITA award winners will be announced July 26.

Interested in RITA nominees? Read more from romance author Nancy Kerkness on her RITA nomination experience.

My name is Alison Kent, and I'm going to tell you all about the RITA experience. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular writing award, it's the highest peer-judged honor given every year to published romance novels and novellas by the Romance Writers of America.

This is how the RITA contest works. For every author I know.

  • Early autumn, when the RITA registration opens, we rush to send our entry fee to RWA before the contest reaches its entry cap and we're left looking in from the outside. Through our tears.
  • Late autumn, when the deadline for receipt of RITA books approaches, we rush to send the copies to the RWA office before it's too late. Since I now live less than five miles from the national headquarters, I get to skip the postage and the post office lines and motor over!
  • Early winter, when the RITA judging packets hit our front doors, we rush to rip into the boxes, wanting to see what has arrived. It's like a late Christmas gift. Free books! New authors! Free books!
  • Late winter, when the RITA scores are due, we rush to the RWA website to submit them. Or at least I do. I'm sure there are some out there who are much more organized!
  • Early spring, when the RITA finalists are announced, we rush to get out of bed so we can then wait by the phone. The calls go out early. Twitter explodes with congratulations. Those whose categories have not yet been called try not to weep.

Funny how much rushing is involved when publishing is all about "hurry up and wait."

This year when the calls began, I was sitting in my kitchen coffee shop with my husband pretending the day was no different from any other. This is our morning routine. Coffee and Twitter for me. Coffee and Fark for him. I was reading the tweeted call announcements and cheering on friends. Then our house phone rang. The only unit we have is upstairs.

SecondChanceCafe_"That's my RITA call," I said, and didn't even move. My feet were propped up. I had my phone in one hand, my coffee mug in the other. There was no way I would be able to pry myself out of my cushy chair and get to the phone before it stopped ringing. My husband felt differently. He sprinted to my office and caught the call in time. I had entered three books in two different categories, but in my heart of hearts knew which had finaled.

How did I know it was a RITA call? For one thing, no one who knows us to talk to us uses the house phone, but it is the number attached to my official RWA membership. The real reason I was so sure, however, is because The Second Chance Cafe has been a magic book since the moment it became a Montlake Romance - and I can't even explain why. I did nothing differently while writing it than I did while writing any of the forty-plus books that came before. It was a matter of the right book and the right publisher at the right time.

I think that's called luck. And mine was twenty years in the making.

My first book was released in 1993, years before social media was a thing. It took days to find out who had finaled. Some years I didn't see the full list until the Romance Writers Report (RWA's official magazine) arrived with the announcement weeks later. There was no hearing the news as the calls were made, no getting to celebrate with friends on the spot.

I'm so glad it took this long (no, really!) because of that experience. Congratulations from readers and authors alike chirping on my phone made "call day" the best ever. Flowers arriving from my publisher brightened my kitchen coffee shop for days. Wearing a RITA pin and ribbon during the RWA conference will make the week fun beyond words.

I've enjoyed every minute of being a finalist and will do so even after the winner is announced. It's an incredible honor to have my book selected by my peers as one of the year's best romances. I'm thrilled to death to be able to share it with Amazon Montlake.

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