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Distressed Damsels Inspire Hannah Howell's Latest Novel

Romance author Hannah Howell talks about how the ever-popular damsel in distress archetype inspired her latest novel, "If He's Daring." Plus, the author gives us an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming 2015 release,"Highland Guard."

If hes daringThe inspiration for If He’s Daring came from a news report about a missing child. As I marveled at the speed the Amber Alert went out (even to the electronic sign boards along the highways), I found myself wondering how people might have dealt with the theft of their child in earlier times, like say 1790. Lady Catryn Gryffin deWarrenne has the advantage of knowing who took her child and why when she sets out after the man who stole her son. When her horse falls lame, Lady Catryn steals Sir Orion Wherlocke’s carriage to continue the pursuit and he becomes a useful ally.

The unique Wherlocke/Vaughn family in this series came about after my long fascination with psychic gifts.  I chose the late-Georgian time period (part of The Enlightenment and The Age of Reason in Britain) because it was past the time of the worst of the persecutions against witches, but superstition was still strong enough to establish a need for families to be secretive and cautious, yet continuously battle disbelief and ridicule. It also made families tightly knit to protect each other even as the study of science and logic matured.

In If He’s Daring, Lady Catryn’s troubles require all of Sir Orion’s unique gifts and skills.  Sir Orion has a psychic gift, as do most of the members of his expansive family, and he believes himself eminently qualified to help her even as his interest in her deepens. He shares her determination to save her son from her late husband’s brother, who want’s the boy’s inheritance, no matter how many obstacles are tossed in his way.

Highland guardExcerpt from Highland Guard:

    “M’lady!”

    Annys started at the shout from the door yanked her out of her thoughts and she stared at the tall, too-thin young man who had burst into the solar.  “What is it, Gavin?  Please don’t tell me there is more trouble to deal with.  It has been so blissfully quiet for days.”

    “I don’t think t’is trouble, m’lady, for Nicolas isn’t bothered.”  Gavin scratched at his cheek and frowned.  “But there are six big, armed men at the gate.  Nicolas was going to open the gates for them and said I was to come and tell ye that.”

    “I will be right out then.  Thank ye, Gavin.”  The moment Gavin left, she looked at Joan.  “How are six big, armed men nay trouble?”

    “If they come in answer to your message?”  Joan hastily tidied Anny’s thick braid.  “There, done.  Now ye look presentable.  Let us go out and greet our guests.”

    “Guests don’t come armed,” Annys said as she started out of the room, Joan right at her side.

    “They do if they come in reply to a lady’s note saying help me, help me.”

    “I didn’t say help me, help me.”

    “Near enough.  No gain on talking on it until we actually see who is here.”

    “Fine but I did nay say help me, help me,”

    Annys ignored Joan’s soft grunt even though she knew it meant the woman was not going to change her mind.  She stepped out through the heavy oak doors and stared down the stone steps to the bailey only to stop before she reached the bottom.  The man dismounting from a huge black gelding was painfully familiar.

    Tall, strong, and handsome with his thick long black hair and eyes like a wolf, he had been a hard man to forget.  She had certainly done her utmost to cast him from her mind.  Each time he had slipped into her thoughts she had slapped his memory away.  Writing him that message had brought his memory rushing to the fore again, however.  Seeing him in the flesh, looking as handsome as he had five years ago, told her that she had never succeeded in forgetting him.  Annys began to regret asking him for his aid no matter how badly they needed any help they could get at the moment.

    She fought to remind herself of how he had ridden away from Glenncullaich all those years ago without even a quick but private farewell to her.  It had hurt.  Despite knowing it had been wrong to want that private moment to say their goodbyes, despite the guilt that wanting had stirred in her then, and now, she had been devastated by his cold leave-taking.

    Harcourt looked at Annys and his heart actually skipped a beat.  He would have laughed if he was not so filled with conflicting emotions.  Such happenings were the stuff of bad poetry, the sort of thing he had always made jest of.  Yet, there he stood, rooted to the spot, frantically thinking of what to say and how to hide the tangled mass of emotion that was nearly choking him.  He nodded a greeting to her and watched her beautiful moss-green eyes narrow in a look that did not bode well for an amiable talk later.  Talking was not what he was thinking about, however.  He was recalling how soft that long blood-red hair of hers was, how warm her pale skin felt beneath his hands, and how sweet those full lips tasted.  That was a memory he needed to smother and fast. 

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Heather Graham's Top 5 Halloween Reads

Best-selling paranormal romance author Heather Graham gives us a spine-tingling reading list to help celebrate one of her favorite holidays. Her latest book, "The Betrayed," is on sale now.

51-KVC4lWFL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays—as it was with my family. I grew up in an Irish household, so the stories abounded, and when they ended, there were more wonderful stories told by brilliant authors from way back—and during our own time.

Choosing the five I love most? Impossible! But I’m going to give it a try.

First, I’ve recently reread Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus—since I decided to make use of the historical “year without a summer” when Shelley wrote that story in one of my own, Waking the Dead. What I love about Frankenstein isn’t just the shivers—it’s Shelley’s tug on human emotion as we see the tragedy befalling the innocent—and the monster.

Then there’s Hell House by Richard Matheson. What can I say about such a master? Once again, characterization is key—and fear creeps down your spine as you read.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub—the book is both scary and heart-wrenching. As you can tell, “slasher” flicks aren’t my favorites—I love a lot of emotion with my fear!

For a vampire tale? They Thirst, by Robert McCammon. I couldn’t put the book down—and jumped several times in broad daylight.

Ghoul by Michael Slade. It’s tremendously…ghoulish!

Okay, quitting is hard. And I’ll cheat a bit by mentioning a few more. Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, The Keep by F. Paul Wilson, anything by Poe and Lovecraft, and of course, there’s Dracula...

Finally, (forgive me) I can’t resist mentioning my own The Betrayed, out now and set in Sleepy Hollow at Halloween!

Q&A with Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh, author of the RITA nominated "Heart of Obsidian", talks with our romance editor about balancing two complex series. Her latest release in the Guild Hunters series, "Archangel's Shadows," is available for pre-order now. 

Nalini SinghAlyssa Morris: You have two different, very established series that are pretty much completely different from each other, so how do you balance writing two different series with equally complex worlds?

Nalini Singh: I never actually intended to end up writing two very complicated series. I thought Angels' Blood, the first book in the Guild Hunters series was a stand-alone. And then not until I was getting to the end did I think oh no, it’s not a stand-alone. So I kind of fell into it, but I think the balance comes form the fact that they are so very different. I don’t have a problem separating them out, so when I switch from writing a Psy-Changeling book to writing a Guild Hunter book, I guess I make the switch in my brain and just go for it. And now I’m writing one a year for each, which I think gives me enough time to sort of switch over and keep them separate. I think it would be more difficult if I was writing series that were similar in some way and then I think it would be harder, but the Guild Hunter series, even the language choices are different in that series.

AM: Do you have a bible for each series to remind yourself when you’re switching back and forth?

NS: Definitely. I have to have a bible and I also, when I write, this is particularly for the Psy-Changeling series because each book focuses on a different character, and there are some long-term characters. For example, when I wrote Hawke’s book, book 10, he had appeared in book 1 and in multiple books since. So I would go back and read every mention of him previously, just to make sure I have the same information the reader has. Because quite often as a writer I will write scenes and delete them, but the information from the scene is still in my head, so I don’t want to mistakenly assume I’ve told the reader something that is not actually in the book, so I always go back.

AM: Is there anything in particular you like to eat as fuel for your writing?

NS: Fuel for my writing? Not really food, but I drink a lot of tea. A few years ago I actually had to go totally caffeine-free on doctor’s advice (laughs) just like too much caffeine because I drank so much tea. So now I’m on decaffeinated tea but I still drink like pots of it.

AM: I noticed on your blog you talk about chocolate a lot…

NS: I do eat a lot of chocolate, it’s true. I keep trying to be good and switch over to the dark chocolate, which is meant to be much better for you, I really like it, but then I fall back into my milk chocolate loving ways. That’s the one vice that I couldn’t give up. That’s my little treat.

AM: So we just had a new book in the Psy-Changeling series, but can you give us a hint of what’s next?

NS: So the previous book Shield of Winter was about an Arrow, and the next book is also about an Arrow, it’s about Aiden, who is basically the leader of the Arrows, and he’s different from Vasic in that Aiden seems very together. He ‘s basically got this huge responsibility on his shoulders. And he has to lead the squad into the future. And sort of create a future for them because right now they’re living on the fringes. These are the assassins and the dangerous men and women that people need but they don’t want to live with them because they are so dangerous, so they’re on the fringes. So I guess it’s kind of like Shield of Winter and this book are kind of like a two parter, because Vasic’s made it but now Aiden has to lead the rest of the squad out. So it’s about that and of course it’s, you know, romance. And I’m can’t give you too many hints on there because I need to figure things out. This is a tough one and I just want to make sure that I actually have it working before. I’ve always kind of known who it was going to be. You know, who this couple is going to be. But I just have to make sure that on the page it’s going to translate. I think when it comes out, when I am ready to talk about it, people will realize why I was like, “Oh my gosh, can I make it work?”

AM: I remember with Heart of Obsidian there was so much secrecy about all of that…

NS: Yes that was crazy! Never again will I try and keep a secret. Oh my god that was so hard.

AM: I got a copy to review and I got all of these forms—these are the things you cannot talk about. And then I was like well what can I talk about? (laughs)

NS: I guess it was the whole Ghost thing and like not wanting it to be spoilered for people, and then we were like well what can we reveal? Oh it was just crazy. But it was really fantastic everyone was so good about it. Everyone who had early copies no one was sort of like giving out huge spoilers or anything. But it was so hard!

AM: Do you have a sense of how many more books there are going to be in the Psy-Changeling series?

NS: It’s difficult because with Heart of Obsidian it was the end of the story arc, the original one. And these two books are the aftermath. But then I realized that it’s kind of like a new beginning as well, so I am now working on a new story arc to take us into the future. So once I write this book I’ll have a much better idea of how it’s going to go. But even then I probably won’t know the number of books, because I tend to think in story terms, like this is the story and we’ll see how long it takes to tell it.

AM: Do you think this will be an entry point for people who are new to the series to be able to start at the different arcs?

NS: I think so. Oddly enough I think Heart of Obsidian is a good entry point because it’s so self-contained and focused on the romance. It’s Kaleb and Sahara 90 percent of the book. But I think Shield of Winter and this next book probably aren’t, because they deal with so much of what has happened and linking back and things, but yeah. I think after that, I think there will be a good entry point, because I want to do books like set in the falcon shifters or in the sea changelings. So there are sort of self-contained communities and so even though they will be linked back I think they will be able to.

AM: Explore different parts of the world?

NS: Yeah. I really like it. I think that I love the breadth and the depth of the world.

AM: I think that’s what people like about it, too, it’s so developed. Have you read anything you really loved lately?

NS: Actually, I’ve been raving about a debut author and she’s releasing in November, I think. It’s Sonali Dev’s A Bollywood Affair. It’s fun. It’s this big, dramatic romance. If you’ve ever seen a Bollywood movie you know—

AM: Yeah!

NS: Huge drama and color.

AM: So lush.

NS: Yes. And it really felt like that and it is a romance. It’s very much, you know for my romance reader heart it was like, ahhhhh.

AM: Swoony?

NS: Swoony. It’s got the hero and the heroine you like and it really is really fantastic. And just coming over on the plane I read an early copy of Milla Vane’s she’s calling it the Beast of Blackmoor novella. It’s actually in the same anthology as my next Psy-Changeling novella, Night Shift, in December, and that’s really good. It’s bloody and gruesome but sexy and romantic at the same time.

AM: Are there any subgenres of romance you particularly like to read?

NS: I read a lot of historical. I just love all the balls that they go to and all that kind of stuff. It’s almost like another planet.

AM: It’s pure escapism.

NS: Yeah, it is. And I still like science fiction and fantasy. I like, I guess space opera, where it has the romance in it as well. And last year I found Sharon Lee and Steve Miller and I inhaled all of their Liaden books, which are fantastic. Contemporary, till love reading contemporary. I mean. I’m one of those readers who, if I find something interesting I’ll pick it up. I don’t really read that much paranormal any more because I think I’ve read so much. I really read just a ton. And I love writing it. But for me to get into a new paranormal it has to be something very different.

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A Love Story Complicated by a Crime: “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters

I received a somewhat disturbing text from a friend the other afternoon. She was running late for work Paying_guestsbecause she couldn't put a book down that I'd recently leant her. "How can I go? I must read on!" "But, the children!" I cried. She is a nanny, you see, so while I could relate to her plight--I had spent a rare sunny day in Seattle, indoors, eschewing some much needed vitamin D reading the very same book--I didn't have children to keep alive. Such are the perils when one picks up The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. So readers, clear your calendars.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Waters recently, on a not-so-rare rainy day in Seattle, to talk about this historical page-turner, set during a "politically untidy" time that has many parallels to our own. 

The story takes place in 1922 in suburban South London. WWI has ended and ex-soldiers are roaming the streets, unemployed and uncertain about the future. In a once grand and genteel house, Frances Wray--a spinster with a surprising past--lives with her mother.  "They've lost their men to war, and they've lost income and servants, and so they've had to bring in lodgers to make ends meet, and they are Leonard and Lilian Barber, the paying guests of the title. Francis is at first appalled by their gaudy furniture and bothered by the sound of them moving about upstairs, but finds herself increasingly drawn to Lilian. So the novel is the story of their affair and the sort of dramatic and really violent and alarming consequences that it has for everybody involved."

The novel was inspired, in part, by an actual murder case from that time--a case that had a "classic triangle at [its] heart--a wife, a husband, and a male lover. And, I began to think what it would be like if the lover was female--what that would do to the story, how it would touch on other issues in the period." With this germ of an idea, Waters began researching similar cases in earnest. "I was struck when I looked at those murder cases--and I looked at lots of other murder cases from the period. They did tend to feature ordinary people who by some sort of mistake, by a moment of madness, were plunged into nightmare and into disaster and ultimately towards some sort of violent death. And I was very struck by the fact that people in murder cases like that, they don't know what's coming...In the months, weeks, days leading up to the murder, they were just leading their ordinary lives."

Waters is known for plotting-out most of her books ahead of time, but she admits that she was knee-deep in the writing process before realizing that--despite the murder and the mayhem--the book is mainly a love story.  "I really was sort of rooting for Frances and Lilian but very conscious that their love came at a cost...Once I'd realized, though, that that was kind of the trajectory of the book--that it was based on their love--the book came together for me more smoothly. And then it became a novel very much about how their love is put under pressure, how it's tested by this dramatic incident, and the moral complexity of the events that follow."

Sound a bit dark? Fortunately, as fans of other Waters’s novels like Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith can attest, she has a knack for humanizing her characters with pitch-perfect humor for the period that also resonates with a modern audience. "Often humor is so specific to its moment that it doesn't date well. There's nothing worse than, sort of, terrible comics movies from the 20s, for example...The best of them last but they just seem incredibly tiresome now as no doubt our movies will in another hundred years. So, it's trying to find humor that belongs, feels like it belongs to the period and yet still seems kind of funny to us. That’s quite a challenge...We do need to get beyond those static black and white pictures of the past and remember that people live their lives in color, and with laughter, as well as with tears and sternness. The whole range, that's how you bring the past to life."

The Paying Guests was a Best of the Month selection for September.

Lora Leigh Shares Her Inspiration for Hunky Heroes

Romance author Lora Leigh shares how she finds inspiration for her hunky male leads. Her latest book, Ultimate Sins, is on sale now.

Lora leighWhere does the inspiration for a hunky hero come from?

Television. The movies. A particular book.

Or when you see a man jogging in the park, sweat sheening his dark flesh as he runs with a steady, powerful stride, wearing nothing but sneakers and jogging shorts that fall just a little too low below his navel. His muscles moving, flexing while the breeze flirts with his dark hair and his green eyes seem fixed on some point in the distance.

He’s snagged my attention now and my imagination is off and running, because the potential for “hot” is just shimmering around that far too gorgeous body like waves of heat rolling off asphalt.

He’s not really handsome. He’s not a pretty boy or some young poser. He’s a man. Mature.

Mentally, I’m rubbing my hands together in glee because my imagination is painting pictures for me and some wicked little imp is just pecking out the words as if the challenge to keep up with how fast the picture is coming together is just too great to pass up.

The jogger passes me, his jogging shorts brief, not hugging his body, but comfortably covering it. Black shorts, white sneakers. A white knight at the very core, but a really bad boy when he gets intimate.

I notice, the day is starting to get really hot. Where’s that July Polar Vortex the weather man promised? I’m anything but cool.

As I watch him jog away from me, my heart’s racing and there’s a heroine jumping above the others in my imagination, waving her hand and shouting, “Here I am! Here I am Lora! He’s mine!”

Because already an image is beginning to form of a hero.

He’s a man most women would shy away from. A good girl knows better than to look, let alone touch. But the good girl in the heroine demanding him has already made the mistake of looking.

The man she sees has seen life, lived it, glimpsed the darkness and knows it. He’s a man that when he touches, he knows where to touch, how to touch, for optimum pleasure. He’s a man that understands the fragility of a woman’s body, but he still has to learn the strength of a woman’s heart.

But she knows he seen her. From his periphery. He’s watching her as he jogs by.

He knows she’s there and he knows all her inner most secrets. There’s no hiding from him. There’s no hiding from the hunger he’s keeping carefully banked, the dominance that’s not really hidden in that sharp gaze. And he’s there, because of her.

He’s seen her before. He’s a man not used to telling himself “no,” but he’s also a man who has no idea what to do with a good girl.

This isn’t the type of woman he normally associates with. She’s not hard, bitter, and just looking for a few hours of pleasure.

This woman, he knows, will take hours. He’ll demand hours. He’ll demand forever…

Damn…I really didn’t have time to add a book to my list, but I think this isn’t just added—it’s heading for the top.

That’s what I get for going to the park to ponder the question, “What makes a hunky hero?”

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A.C. Arthur and Donna Grant on Writing Paranormal Romance

Romance authors A.C. Arthur and Donna Grant discuss their favorite parts of writing paranormal romance. A.C. Arthur's latest paranormal romance, "Shifter's Claim," is on sale now. Donna Grant's latest, "Burning Desire," is also available now.

  Shifter's claimA.C. Arthur – Whenever I sit down to write a blog post I always wonder where to start, what to say, what my tone should be. It’s the same when I start reading a book that takes me into a new world. 

Donna Grant - I definitely agree. For me, there's nothing more exciting than developing a new world - or getting to stay in one that I've already created. It's like starting with a blank slate. You get to craft your adversaries, allies, and everything else in whatever way you want. My favorite part of crafting a new world in paranormal romance is making my villains horrible, evil sociopaths. I've also been known to redeem a villain or two along the way. What's your favorite part?

A.C. – Growing up I could not wait until I was old enough to do what I wanted. Of course, I found out the hard way that grown-ups have a few guidelines they have to follow as well. But what I love most about building a paranormal world is creating the rules and adding characters that will ultimately break them.

Donna - Isn't it so much fun to weave these intricate worlds? I love when I add something that I don't Burning desirerealize could be detrimental to the characters. Until it is. In my Dark Kings series featuring dragon shifters set in Scotland, they are the ultimate protection for our planet against other supernatural beings. Yet they keep their true selves hidden from humans after a woman betrayed them. They've used magic to keep from falling in love with mortals, and yet love prevails. 

A.C. – This is so true about adding something to a world and then finding out how damaging it can be later in the series. For instance, in my first Shadow Shifter stories about the half human, half jaguar species that live among humans, the most important rule is complete secrecy. Yet, in Shifter’s Claim, the hero is forced to reveal himself in order to help the human he is desperately in love with.

Donna - I love when characters must choose between their world and love. It puts them in some amazing situations. In my book, Fire Rising, the hero, Tristan, has to show her his true form as he saves her from certain death. Then he does the unthinkable and brings her back to Dreagan for protection. Which doesn't sit well with some of the other Dragon Kings.

A.C. – I am sure the Dragon Kings were not happy to see her or to know that their secret was out! Another interesting aspect about world building is how we deal with the changes these new relationships prompt. My hero, Sebastian, is adamant that his mate—despite being human—remain by his side, even though he knows the rules. The Assembly Leader has to choose between killing the human and losing one of his soldiers and adapting to the situation. It’s not an easy choice because this will ultimately change the premise of their world and beliefs in future stories.

Donna - I love when one act changes everything for the characters and their world!

A.C. – Just as one decision can change everything in the real world. I think these are some of the elements that draw readers into paranormal stories. The way we combine the new with the old to bring about a happy ending each time can be very rewarding.

Donna - So true. With every book I write, something else develops in the world I created that I never saw coming. It's always so much fun to put our characters through the ringer, only to give them an HEA [happily ever after] at the end.

A.C. – Yes, it’s definitely all about the HEA ending!

Readers, what’s your favorite part about reading paranormal romances? Is it the wonderfully wicked villains, the intricate new worlds, or the hero and heroine who find love no matter what? Leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Lori Foster on Her Love of the Alpha Male Hero

New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster shares why her favorite parts of romance books always involve the alpha male heroes. Her latest book, No Limits, is available now. 

No_limitsAlpha males are fun to write, which is why I chose Cannon Colter as the hero of my new book, No Limits, which will be followed by books about Denver, Stack and Armie in my new Ultimate series featuring MMA fighters. But alpha heroes are also my favorite to read. The guys can vary from young to mature, dangerous to domestic. But they need to be strong leaders and they have to be honorable.

In other words, they must be alpha.

I’ve read some really memorable hunky heroes lately, the kind that stick with you long after the book is finished.

Top of my list is West Young in Katie McGarry’s most recent release, Take Me On. I’ve loved every single one of McGarry’s books, but West was extraspecial—and he’s my new favorite. This young man is badly misunderstood by his family but remains notably honorable in his actions and emotions, very dedicated to those he loves, and so incredibly sweet with how he fell for Haley. :::sigh::: In all of Katie’s books, you experience the wonder of first love. It doesn’t get any better than that.

I can never think about alphas without remembering sexy demon Cadeon Woede, in Kresley Cole’s Dark Desires After Dusk. Being a rage demon, Cadeon is more alpha than most, with abilities well beyond mortal men. But he was still so utterly human in how hard he fell in love with Holly Ashwin, how badly he suffered over past mistakes and his extreme determination to claim what was his.

Dangerous Ty Garrison from Jill Shalvis’s Lucky in Love totally hooked me on the Lucky Harbor series. Ty is one alpha who knows how to make readers laugh, sigh and quickly turn the pages. He was so terrific about putting up with all the busybodies in the town, and he was so protective of Mallory—and so sexy—how could anyone not get hooked?

Heroic Staff Sergeant Mike Kowalski in Catherine Mann’s Shelter Me epitomized the real-life hero, those awesome men who serve our country. I got Shelter Me as an advance reading copy, and I’m so glad I did. Mike Kowalski returned from Iraq with battle stress, but instead of shutting himself away, he brought a dog from overseas to comfort the family of his fallen commander—who also happens to be the father of the only woman Mike’s ever loved. Then Mike did something I really loved—he moved into the McDaniel family's loft apartment (in a barn converted into an animal rescue) to help with everything from making home repairs, assisting the mom with doggie adoption events, helping the grandfather with Alzheimer's come to grips with his own PTSD and even guiding a deeply troubled teenage boy through coping with the loss of a father. How could the heroine—Sierra McDaniel—help but fall in love with Mike? How could we help but love an alpha hero who's so in charge yet so tender? To make it even better, the author included some scenes from the dog’s POV. I loved it.

For more tales about alpha heroes, be sure to check out these great Lori Foster titles: No Limits, Dash of Peril, Getting Rowdy, Bare It All and Run the Risk.

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Sarah Price's Inspirational Roots

Romance author Sarah Price discusses how her upbringing inspires her writing. Her latest book, An Amish Buggy Ride, is now available for preorder.

AmishbuggyrideSince I first learned how to write, I have always been creating stories. At first, I wrote with a pencil in little bound books, an eraser at the ready in my left hand. Later I graduated to an old Selectric typewriter, a present from my parents who encouraged my passion for writing. When I turned seventeen, I went to college and had access to my first real computer. The stage was set for the passion to pour out.

We live in a fast paced world, a world with plenty of highs and lows. While relationships seem to be easier to make, they can also prove harder to keep.  There is a heavy emphasis on individual rights vs. individual duty--I believe the media is calling this the "me generation". As I watch the younger generation, I worry about their future as husbands, wives, mothers and fathers.

That's one of the reasons I am so drawn to writing about the Amish. Having been born into a Mennonite family, I never had that "ah-ha" moment about the Amish and Mennonite culture or religion. They were just people that have always been a part of my life. However, with the increasing reliance of the world on technology, I find it amazing how the Amish culture, centered so staunchly on their religion, continues to survive with very little change.

Over the years, I have spent countless days and weeks living among several Amish communities. I’ve lived over mules sheds, stayed in Amish homes, attended worship service, and even held an elderly woman as she passed from our arms into God’s. For thirty years, this culture and religion have been a deep part of who I am. My acceptance within the different communities has come after many years and by demonstrating respect (and sometimes awe) for these amazing people.

In watching the children grow up, get married, and start their own families, I realized something very important: Romance doesn't have to be boy meets girl, they fall in love, have a conflict, and then resolve it. Romance can be dealing with inner struggles, overcoming personal affliction, and helping others deal with their own problems. Romance can be questioning life or dwelling on life-changing events. The key thing is that the people I write about -my characters- apply God's Word to help others as well as themselves. If they are able to represent, willingly or not, a righteous affection for the outside world while balancing the challenges of the Amish world, to me, that is inspirational and romantic.

My goal is to share my personal experiences with other readers, readers who most likely may never make cheese with an Amish woman or chase a kitten with an Amish girl. Yet, I want my readers to taste the horsehair that flies through the open buggy window and smell the amazing scent of freshly baked bread in an Amish kitchen. And, even more, I want my readers to fall in love, not just with my characters but also with the culture and the religion of the Amish, as an antidote for our overly fast paced world.

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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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