2018 Fiesta Medal Blog Hop (April 19-28)

The San Antonio Romance Authors (Romance Writers of America) bring you an awesome chance to win a glittering and collectable fiesta medal.

These medals are in limited supply and not currently for sale. Are you ready to win one? We hope so. During the dates of April 19-28, visit the below sponsors sites for an opportunity to learn about them and get entered to win a medal.

Entrants need to be at least 18 years old and love romance books as much as we do. USA only for shipping and void where prohibited. Entry to all contests is free. You can only win one medal for the whole event.

“Viva Fiesta”

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Music of the Smoky Blue Series

Music is an integral part of my life.  Ever since I sat down at our brand-new piano at the age of nine with a simple song in front of me, I have been making music in one form or another on five, hopefully soon to be six, different instruments (piano, organ, guitar, dulcimer, ukulele and hopefully I can nail down the bowed psaltery).  It is inevitable that my love of music finds its way into my stories.  In my first series, The Texas Hill Country series, my characters either sang, danced well, or played an instrument.  But I wanted to take it further than that.  So when I was thinking about writing a second series, I decided to set the stories in the world of Appalachian mountain music and bluegrass music and have as my centerpiece a bluegrass music club in Bristol, Tennessee, with my characters the professional musicians performing there.

Kylie Richards, the heroine of ‘Mist’, plays the mountain dulcimer.  I play the dulcimer-not as well as she does, but I do play it.  I bought my first dulcimer in the summer of 2012 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  The vendor was demonstrating how to play one and it looked interesting, so I sat down and gave it a test run.  I was hooked!  I bought one on the spot and brought it home to San Antonio, where I found a tiny but thriving dulcimer group called the Riverpickers.  The mountain dulcimer is the only instrument that was ever developed in the continental United States and is a bit deceptive in that at first it seems easy, but playing it well requires a great deal of skill.  Normally a dulcimer is held flat on one’s lap or on a table in front of the musician and played flat like a steel guitar. I have several I play this way, but I also have a  ‘music stick’ or banjo dulcimer that I hold like a banjo or a ukulele.  Most dulcimers are made by specialty luthiers, and they are hard to find outside Appalachia or the Ozarks.  Some of the characters in ‘Mist’ play the hammered dulcimer, a large triangular instrument played by hitting the strings with small hammers.  I don’t play one of those and have the utmost admiration for those who do!  I also have Kylie’s amputee brother Cooper Barstow playing a bowed psaltery, an instrument that can be played one-handed.  It’s another instrument that is deceptive in that it’s laid out like a piano and would theoretically be a quick study for a pianist, but that again requires skill and practice to play well.

A good musician can play anything on a dulcimer (either kind) or psaltery, but the music that’s made for them are the old folk songs and ballads that were brought over by the English and Scots that settled Appalachia and passed these songs down as the years passed.  I was careful to have my characters play actual old mountain songs to the point that I had my Riverpickers music book on my desk as a ready reference.  Most of the music in that book is hand-written, as much of the mountain music has never been formally written down or published.  When I needed a song for my characters to play, I would ask myself ‘What are the characters doing with the music?’  If they are accompanying the young cloggers, I have them play something that would be suitable for clog dancing, as opposed to singing a love ballad.  However, I was also careful to have them play other kinds of music as well.  The Barstows sing and play bluegrass, which developed in the 1940’s as a musical genre and is an outgrowth of the old mountain music, and my musicians are seen playing modern songs as well.

As the Smoky Blue series progresses, my characters play other musical instruments and perform in other genres. In ‘Smoke’, classical violinist Francesca Giordano hides out with The Barstows and plays fiddle with them when she isn’t wowing audiences in symphony halls. Leilani Mahuiki brings her ukulele and her Hawaiian music to Bristol and finds love in the hills of Tennessee in ‘Evergreen’. ‘Indigo’ banjo picker Timberlynn Barstow sticks mostly to bluegrass and her sister Caitlyn writes country hits in ‘Mistletoe’. ‘Emerald’ heroine Trish Dyson pole dances to just about anything sexy and ‘Violet’ heroine Karen Gregory plays in a youthful bluegrass fusion band. Upcoming heroine of ‘Ruby’, Lexi Barstow, sings bluegrass and in a bit of a departure, ‘Amethyst’ heroine Taylor DeWitt is a heart surgeon. Several of the heroes in these stories are also musicians or working in the business.

So what of my future characters? Will they also be musicians and singers? Most definitely! The Durango St. Theater series is already in the works. It will feature the actors, directors, musicians and movers and shakers of a San Antonio community theater group performing Broadway musicals. Music again will be the heart and soul of the heroes and heroines I love to create.

Creating a Lovable Heroine

I’m going to make a confession right now.  Writing a lovable heroine didn’t always come easy for me.  I have been taken to task time and time again by my editors and occasionally by my readers because my heroines have not been the nicest people in the world.  Oh, they weren’t cruel or vicious or evil.  They didn’t deliberately set out to steal or cause trouble or hurt others in the story.  But somehow they weren’t all that likeable either, at least not in the first draft.  Unlike my heroes, who the readers and I fall in love with right along with the heroine, my heroines could sometimes seem cold and aloof and uncaring.  And I had to change that, because along with falling in love with the hero, my readers also have to care about the heroine.  They have to like her and root for her and really, really want her to have her happily ever after.  Otherwise, why read her story?

So I had to sit down and think.  Why were my heroines coming off less than wonderful?  Why was I writing them so cold?  A part of it was because I wanted my heroines to be very, very strong women.  I grew up reading a generation of romance novels in which the women were seldom portrayed as strong.  They were young, pretty, and just marking time until a rich, handsome older man came along (or rode up on his steed) and swept her off her feet.  Or they let themselves be a doormat, both for the hero and for just about anyone else who cared to use them in that manner.  I had a lot of fun reading those books but I would also get aggravated.  No way, I would think.  Where is her spine?  Where is her gumption?  Where is her career?  Where is the strong woman I want to read about?  Where is the strong woman I want to be?  My heroines would be different!

And so at first I over-compensated.  My heroines were strong and independent all right, but at the same time cold and brilliant and emotionless-or they were until my editor at Candlelight Ecstasy sat down with me and together we looked at my ladies.  She took me page by page through the first few novels I wrote for her, patiently pointing out the places where my heroines were cold and needed to be ‘warmed up’.  “Don’t make her so perfect,” she said to me.  “Put her in a ratty robe and let her have laundry on the sofa.  Make her human.”  And that went for my heroine’s relationship with the hero.  She could be strong, but she has to be loving as well.  She has to care about him and it has to show.

I like to think I paid close attention and learned.  But I struggle still.  In the first read-through of ‘Solomon’s Choice’, my first book in the Texas Hill Country series, Caroline Stern was very cold, frozen in grief over her dead husband, bitter about the time lost with her child and totally uncompromising in her attitude toward Jack Briscoe, under the circumstances perfectly natural reactions-but not very attractive ones.  So, taking the advice of a trusted reader I warmed her up and gave her compassion for Jack, a fellow victim of a cruel plot and the father of her child.  I was more careful with my next heroine.  Captain Holly Riley, the heroine of ‘Daughter of Valor’, is a wounded warrior who is understandably unhappy with the turn her life has taken, but she has channeled her frustration into helping her wounded warrior friends who are worse off than she, and in spite of her amusing tendency to pop out orders her soldiers and the four year old daughter of the hero adore her.  Christi of ‘Welcome Home’ helps paraplegic Tommy Joe adjust to his new life in a wheelchair and Emily Riley of the upcoming novella ‘Unexpected Assets’ is able to look past her hero’s horrible scarring to see the wonderful man within. And what can I say about Angie Baxter, my heroine of the next full-length book in the Texas Hill Country series ‘Never and Always’?  This woman stayed with an abusive husband because of her love for her beloved stepson.  I made sure that her love for the boy shone from every page of the book.

So what qualities did I finally learn to create in my heroines?  These days, they are strong, yes, but I’m also careful to make them caring of the hero and others around them.  Caroline shells the pecans in her yard to make Jack pecan pies.  Holly buys special pots and pans for one of her warriors so he can get a job as a chef.  Angie bakes special cakes for her son.  They are less than perfect-I let them get tired and frazzled and frightened and down, but they never let life defeat them.  They accept or learn to accept the heroes for who they are, or better yet, help the heroes become better men than they were. And they too grow in the story.  They are better women on the last page of the book than they were on the first.  And we love them for it.

Creating a Believable Villain

Moriarty.  Iago.  Lex Luther.  Hannibal Lecter.  The Wicked Witch of the West.  Just the sound of their names brings the thought of evil to mind.  These are some of the more memorable of the numerous villains, or ‘bad guys’ if you will, created by skilled authors to pit against the heroes or ‘good guys’ of the story.  Villains appear in many different literary genres, from political thrillers to science fiction to mystery to romantic suspense to serious literary work.  They can be supposed friend or former friend turned enemy, an ideological opponent, a thug or a psychopath with a bone to pick.  They can be a lone wolf or the tip of a much bigger iceberg.  They can be thieving or murderous or diabolical.  Their ire can be personal or they can hate what the hero stands for.  They can be out to destroy the hero personally, financially, or by destroying what our hero loves most.  They all have one thing in common-they are up to no good.  But they are a necessary foil to the goodness of our heroes and heroines, and a carefully crafted, well-written villain can be just as memorable as the hero or heroine they are created to challenge.

Back in the early days of my career I wasn’t overly worried about creating a good villain.  Most of my books were straight romances, and while there was the occasional rotten apple I was not creating true villains in that genre.  Even the books with a slightly suspenseful theme did not have a villain as such.  But when I decided I wanted to add the elements of danger and suspense into my stories I had to sit down and think about what made an effective villain in literature and how to bring that villain to life.  And then I had to figure out how to bring that character into the story in such a way that neither the hero, heroine, or reader knows until the end who their nemesis is nor why they are doing the things they do.  This takes some careful plotting-no flying by the seat of one’s pants-and occasionally it takes going back into the story and adding hints and clues that were not included in the first draft.

So what makes a villain in a romantic suspense novel believable?  I try to make sure that my villain first and foremost is a villain, not a hero who does bad things or antiheroes such as the Corleones in the Godfather series.  My villains have to be doing something evil, something that is going to bring harm to my protagonists or others in the story and they are not to be admired for it.  However, it is very important that the villain have a reason for doing what they do.  Sometimes having them a thug or a greedy titan is enough, especially if our hero or heroine gets in the villain’s way, but it is infinitely better if the villain has a specific bone to pick with his or her victims.  That issue might seem unreasonable to everyone but the villain, but it has to be reasonable to him or her.  And it is never enough, at least in a suspense novel, just to declare the villain psychopathic or ‘crazy’.  There has to be a reason the villain is what he is and doing what he does.

So what else do I include when I craft the bad guy of the piece?  My villains are all smart-scary smart in some cases, and I make sure that they would have the skills to carry out whatever crimes they commit in the course of the story.  In an early version of ‘Solomon’s Choice’ my villain Cissy was a vindictive but weak alcoholic dependent on someone else to carry out her nefarious plans.  After it was pointed out to me that Cissy as I had portrayed her could not have carried out the crimes she is guilty of I turned her into a cunning, manipulative loner who by guile got others to do her bidding.  I make sure the villain has the skill set to carry out the crimes they are perpetrating.  (I would not, for example, have a mild-mannered chemistry teacher shooting someone from a hundred yards away or strangling them with her bare hands, but I could and did have her poisoning people with chemicals from her stock room.)  A careful matching of character to skill set not only makes the story and the villain more believable but also provides valuable clues to the good guys trying to track them down.

Should a villain have a conscience?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  My villains in ‘Solomon’s Choice’ and ‘Daughter of Valor’ did not.  They loved and they grieved and in their minds that made their heinous behavior acceptable.  My villains in ‘Never and Always’, on the other hand, do have consciences.  They know that they are hurting innocent people and even come out and say that to one another, but make the decision to go ahead and deliberately do things to innocent people in order to destroy the woman they hate.  Either scenario works, depending on the context of the story, and in the hands of the right author it’s great fun to watch a villain with a conscience destroyed by his own actions.

A strong hero and heroine deserve an interesting, believable, bad guy, a villain worth besting in the end, and I always do my best to make sure that they get one.

Unexpected Assets Blog Tour

unexpected-assets-bannerMy Family’s Heart has coordinated a three-day blog tour for my book, Unexpected Assets. The event will include interviews, reviews and a giveaway. I hope you’ll stop by one–or all!–of the participating bloggers.

Fancy You Stopped In
Jen’s Reading Obsession
My Family’s Heart
Chrys N Jay

In The Harem
Lisa’s Louisiana Home
Muffy Wilson Provocative Romance
Ramblings From SEKS
Smile Somebody Loves You
Crystal’s Chaotic Confessions
Girl with Pen
Mythical Books
Nicole’s Book Musings
Polishgirl’s Blog
The Bookworm Lodge

 

Stories inspired by Wounded Warriors

I am pleased to announce the release of two new stories, both inspired by military heroes.

Welcome HomeDaughter of Valor

Veterans in general and wounded warriors in particular have a very warm spot in my heart. I live in San Antonio, home of San Antonio Military Medical Center, site of the Army’s famous burn treatment center and one of the three stateside hospitals where wounded warriors come home to recuperate and rehabilitate from their devastating injuries. Many of the more severely injured young men and women, those whose injuries were such that they can no longer serve in the military, have settled here in San Antonio, and it is absolutely no big deal these days to see a young father on two prosthetic legs chasing a couple of children across the mall or a man with severe facial scarring paying for his groceries at the store. Nor is it unusual to work beside a colleague with a closed head injury that suffers from migraines and struggles to put names with faces. Here in San Antonio the wounded warriors aren’t just a face on a magazine cover or an abstract concept–they are our friends and neighbors and part of our community.

So why are they such compelling heroes and heroines? Why do I like to write about them? Perhaps the answer lies in the bravery I see these men and women exhibit on a routine basis in everyday life. No, we’re not heroes, they will tell you. As far as they are concerned, they are just going about their ordinary everyday lives the same as the rest of us. Yet at the same time the scars remain. After asking a time or two if they would share their experiences with me and seeing the expressions on their faces, I decided to do my research on topics like firefights and PTSD and IEDs online rather than ask them to relive the horror. (If I did have a question, I went to my son, who saw a lot but thankfully came home without a scratch.)   But, outward and inward scars or no, I do see these brave men and women as heroes of the highest order, the kind of heroes and heroines I like to bring to life in my stories.

Welcome Home

Love and patience help a loyal young Texan beauty overcome the fears of her heroic fiance, returning wounded from the Iraq War.

Available on Amazon

Daughter of Valor

When wounded war hero Holly Riley comes home from Iraq to the Texas Hill Country to build a new life for herself, she has no idea she’ll find danger—and true love.

Wounded war hero Holly Riley has come back to Texas, to the lakeshore community of Heaven’s Point. Here, intending to recover from her injuries and build a new life with a band of injured veterans just like herself, she finds temporary work as a nanny with the charismatic Jimmy Adamcik. The handsome congressional candidate almost makes her forget her distrust of politics, and in his arms nothing else seems to matter. But Holly is right to fear. Jimmy will soon find himself sucked deeper into the seamy side of the political process, and an old enemy will reappear and target Holly’s soldiers one by one. Only strength and valor will win this fight. And true love.

Available on Amazon

Love and patience help a loyal young Texan beauty overcome the fears of her heroic fiance, returning wounded from the Iraq War. – See more at: http://boroughspublishinggroup.com/books/welcome-home#sthash.r9AhICDH.dpuf
Love and patience help a loyal young Texan beauty overcome the fears of her heroic fiance, returning wounded from the Iraq War. – See more at: http://boroughspublishinggroup.com/books/welcome-home#sthash.r9AhICDH.dpuf