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Family Ties by Madeline Hunter

Around the time this is sent out, I will be spending a few days with my three sisters. Within minutes of seeing each other, we will fall back into the dynamics we have had since we were children. We will laugh and joke with each other and sometimes grumble and sigh at each other. The quiet one will, as always, be quiet and I, despite being well into my middle years, will still be the “baby.”

Families involve a special kind of relationship. You may not like a member of your family, but that person remains in your life through your history even if you never speak anymore. Families are tied up with our memories, and with who we are and who we become. Good or bad, they are intrinsic parts of our characters and personalities.

Families play the same role in novels. No character emerges fully formed on page one. The characters have histories too, and families figured prominently in them. Even if the reader never meets a member of the main character’s family, that character carries her family inside her.

Sometimes it is all benign. The memories are good ones and the heroine is grateful for the love and guidance she received. Other times family members are toxic, and that history is an obstacle to overcome.

In my book A Devil of a Duke, the heroine’s family plays a significant role even if we don’t meet any of them until the end of the book.  Her parents were thieves, and trained her to be one. She has overcome her background, only to be forced back into it by events beyond her control. She has every reason to abandon her family just as they abandoned her, but she can’t because, well, this is FAMILY, and she has an obligation to them born of blood and memories. Continue reading “Family Ties by Madeline Hunter”

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Interview with Heather Heyford

Heather Heyford’s newest release is First Comes Love,  Book 2 of A Willamette Valley Romance. Here, Heather shares a glimpse into her world of wine and romance . . .

In First Comes Love, Alex is a jaded detective who vows he’ll never be domesticated—until two little boys have nowhere else to turn. Kerry, the fiery attorney who almost destroyed his career, and a single mother with deep roots in the wine country—becomes determined to weave him into her tangled family vine. I love how these two strong-willed characters butt heads before realizing they belong together.

What made you become a writer?

My dad was in the military, so growing up, I moved every three years. I was a dreamy, introverted kid, constantly needing to adapt to new environments. To cope, I read—a lot. But it wasn’t until I was teaching art that a story kept nagging at me until I finally caved and wrote it, thinking that would be that. Instead, it showed me that writing what I was meant to do.

What was it that made you into a self-described wineau?

It must have been fate. When I was seven we lived in a tiny French village where, despite their modest budget, my parents could afford to buy champagne by the 12-liter bottle, which came up to my hip. When we moved back to the states, I was struck by how small the wine bottles were here!

Years later, I was so inspired on my first visit to the Napa Valley that I imagined a whole series of love stories there: The Napa Valley Wine Heiresses.

Then, when a family member moved to Oregon, I fell in love all over again with the Willamette Valley. People say the Willamette is now what Napa was twenty-five years ago, and based on my research walking the vineyards and talking to the growers and the winemakers in person, I’d have to agree. It’s still somewhat rugged and undeveloped, but the air hums with excitement and potential. That’s also where I envisioned my books, The Crush, Intoxicating, and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.

What do you love most about the Willamette Valley?

Lumbersexuals. I bow to any guy whose grooming is superior to mine.

Pinot noir. Sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand used to be my go-to wine, until I tasted Erath pinot noir. I love Erath’s back story about the engineer who started out making garage wine, vowing to one day make the world’s best pinot under twenty dollars—and succeeded.

Voodoo viniculture. What’s not to like about a culture that buries crushed quartz crystals in cow horns in the middle of their vineyards on the summer solstice in hopes of a good harvest?

What’s next?

Right All Along

Jack was born wine country royalty and Harley was from a blue-collar family, but she always believed they were meant for each other—until he stunned her by marrying someone else. Fast-forward ten years. Successful beyond expectation, Harley returns to Ribbon Ridge just as Jack is struggling to raise precocious twin daughters alone. The question is, has he learned enough to win back the woman whose world he once turned upside down? You can pre-order now for delivery in the fall.

As you might have guessed by now, the theme running through all of my books is one that’s close to my heart: finding home. I hope you love them! Stay in touch on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram.

Continue reading “Interview with Heather Heyford”

Baking With Your Children – A Fun And Wonderful Way to Create Special Memories by Diana Cosby

In addition to growing up with my mom who is a wonderful cook, I spent a lot of time baking with my grandmother in the mountains of Vermont.  I cherish the memories of creating recipes, of the stories I’d listen to as we’d mix the ingredients, and the scents of warm cookies, cake, bread, and more.  A tradition that I shared with my children as they grew up.

 

Through baking I taught my kids how to measure, to count, and to be artistic in thinking beyond the recipe and create something new, and to have fun as I’d place a small dollop of frosting on the tip of their noses.  For birthday’s they’d pick themes for their cakes, and on holidays they’d help place special effects, usually created with chocolate, candy, or toys.  In addition, they learned about sharing what they baked with friends and neighbors, and how to help the community by donating their creations to bake sales.

 

 

I’m a huge believer in giving back and helping others, a trait I wanted my kids to embrace in their lives.  For several years I made cakes for Make-A-Wish.  As I’d decorate the cake, with my children giving me suggestions on what colors to use or details to ad, we’d talk about the challenges of life, and how important it was to thank God for each day.

 

As I look back, I’m grateful for those special moments of baking with my children, it was more than teaching them life lessons, but a way to create special memories that will forever touch their, as my heart.

 

“Diana Cosby is superbly talented.” —Cathy Maxwell, New York Times bestselling author

In battle-torn Scotland, a castle’s mistress awaits her groom, a warrior she has never met . . .

Lady Gwendolyn Murphy’s fiancé has finally arrived at Latharn Castle, but she expects no joy in their introduction. Gwendolyn is well aware of Bróccín MacRaith’s cold reputation. Yet from first glance, she is drawn to the intimidating stranger. Impossible! How could she be dazzled by such a callous man?

Little does she know, Bróccín is dead. The man Gwendolyn believes to be her intended is actually Sir Aiden MacConnell, a member of the Knights Templar and her enemy, masquerading as the earl to gain access to the castle. His soul is dedicated to God and war; he has no time for luxuries of the flesh. But Gwendolyn’s intoxicating beauty, intellect, and fortitude lures him to want the forbidden.

With the wedding date quickly approaching and the future of Scotland at stake, Aiden gathers critical intelligence and steels himself for his departure, vowing to avoid an illicit liaison. But a twist of fate forces him to choose—move forward with a life built on a lie, or risk everything for the heart of one woman?

Praise for the novels of Diana Cosby

“Cosby gives you it all—passion, danger, lush history and a touch of magic. Excellent reading.” —Hannah Howell, New York Times bestselling author

“A sexy new voice in historical romance. Scottish historicals have a bright new star.” —Sandra Hill, USA Today bestselling author

“Diana Cosby writes wonderful historical romance!” —Susan King

How to survive a murder mystery By Dana Dratch

When it comes to fiction, who doesn’t love a good murder mystery?

The classic whodunnits combine all the best elements: Suspicious characters. Glamorous settings. Curious clues. And malicious motives (the more the merrier).

After the victim is dispatched (preferably neatly), the focus quickly turns to the “who,” “how” and “why” of the puzzle – with minimal time out for tears. And reading the will.

But those classic cozies also offer up some pretty solid lessons in real-world survival. Here are four:

  1. If your meal tastes “off,” for the love of Agatha Christie, just spit it out.

How many characters realize that their tea cake, poached fish or evening cocoa tastes “off,” but don’t want to make a fuss?  So they swallow their objections (along with who-knows-what else). Next thing you know, the inspector is declaring it a homicide and telling everyone not to leave town.

So if that coffee comes with the faint odor of bitter almonds, dump it and get yourself a fresh cup.

Oh, and if you’ve contracted some condition that renders you unable to smell or taste, you might just want to do the cooking yourself.

  1. Blackmailing a murderer is a good way to become Body #2.

Snaky servants, slippery relatives and nosy neighbors who try to cash in on errant eavesdropping or the well-timed lurk don’t last long in murder mysteries. (And they’re not too popular in real life, either.)

Blackmailers, who monetize their knowledge of the crime, are a special subset of murder mystery villains: Those who often become victims. Because Karma is alive and well in cozies.

  1. Share what you know.

They’re the staple of the murder mystery: Those dithering, weak-willed or obstinate souls who announce that they “know something” but can’t or won’t reveal what. (For some reason, they soon head off to deserted houses, crowded train stations, or long, dark walks in the woods.)

So if you suspect you know who killed the Countess or how the missing matchbook might reveal the murderer, speak up. Snitches may get stitches, but at least they make it to the end of the book. Continue reading “How to survive a murder mystery By Dana Dratch”

The Littlest Angler by Janie DeVos

Gator Joe’s; formerly the dance pavilion/bar at Johnson’s
Gator Joe’s; formerly the dance pavilion/bar at Johnson’s

Note from Janie: 

I’m in the midst of writing a three-book series on old Florida, called the Glory Land series.  The first book, A Corner in Glory Land, takes place in central Florida, around Silver Springs, and Lake Weir, in the 1880’s.  When I was a little girl, my family spent time at Lake Weir, specifically at an old fish camp named Johnson’s, and it was those sweet old memories that helped to bring A Corner in Glory Land to life.  Here is one of my favorites:

When I was a little girl living in Miami, Florida, my family would go to Lake Weir, which is in north-central Florida, not too far from where my only sibling, Kathy, and her family now live.  We would stay at Johnson’s Fish Camp, which was made up of tiny stucco cabins all prettily perched on the shore of the lake.  It was nothing fancy, believe me, and making it even more rustic was the fact that the faucets spewed out sulfur water.  Now, if you’ve never tasted sulfur water, you have been spared a most unpleasant experience.  It’s a vile liquid, both smelling and tasting like rotten eggs, though my grandmother found that it blended rather nicely with a double-shot of Kentucky Bourbon.

Right on the water’s edge of the lake was the dance pavilion/bar.  On that thick oak bar, many a good fish story was passed around, along with red plastic baskets of fried fish, shrimp, alligator or chicken, all accompanied, of course, with a good dollop of coleslaw and greasy fries.  At night, the pavilion became the focal point for all of the youth in Lake Weir, as well as the tourists.  Around the juke box and flowing out onto the pine-planked dance floor, we did the Twist to Chubby Checkers’ Peanut Butter, and drank the coldest Seven Up you’d ever poured down your throat.  It was the nectar of the gods on a hot July night.  Life was sweet.

Daddy would take Kathy and me fishing, and at the little bait and tackle shop we would gear up and rent our little boat. I can still smell the worms in their Styrofoam containers which were filled with rich, black dirt that would keep the little wigglers alive long enough to be assassinated by large-mouthed bass.  I can also still smell the the lake as the sun would warm it quickly on a hot July morning.  Onto the lake we’d go in our 12 ft. aluminum boat with an outboard motor and a middle plank for a seat.  We’d cruise down the shoreline, never missing the chance to pull up in front of the Bradley house.  This was a creepy, old house on the lake’s shore where gangsters Ma Barker and her son were shot to death by FBI agents in 1935.  We could get close enough to make out the bullet holes in the clapboard siding of the house.  Looking up into the empty black windows, we’d indulge ourselves in the most gruesome thoughts our little minds could conjure up.

Lake Weir was a slow and quiet place on those summer mornings.  Nothing much moved, including the bass, though that made it easy to catch them…all except one.  This one was the granddaddy of granddaddies.  He had been lurking in the reeds and pilings, making life quite frustrating for all of the serious anglers.  He was wily, he was elusive, and every angler – and there were plenty of them – wanted that fish.  Over many cold beers at the bar in the pavilion, plans were formulated for the capturing and ultimate eating of that “dang fish”.  And, thus far, each and every one of them had failed.  Never before in the history of Lake Weir had a dang fish outsmarted so many, and the bait and tackle store was benefiting handsomely from their frustrations.

One summer morning, Daddy bought Kathy, who was 6, a Mickey Mouse rod and reel.  I was not with them on this particular outing as I was too young yet, so it was just the two of them out on the lake.  Daddy had scoped out a spot the night before – thick with reeds – that he thought would be a good place to catch a large bass.  Now, of course, everyone else had their own “good place,” but, without doubt, Mr. Granddaddy Bass had found the very best “good place,” for he still lived.

Daddy steered the little boat into his selected spot, then helped Kathy bait a plump worm from the container onto her hook.  And, as we Sandells learned to do at a young age, Kathy spat upon the bait for luck before she cast out her line from her brand new Mickey Mouse rod and reel.  The mosquitoes hummed, the humidity thickened, Daddy lit a cigarette, sipped his sugary sweet, creamed coffee… and Kathy’s line went ZIIINNNGGG!  Daddy shouted, “Set the hook!!”(This is a quick upward snap of the rod, ensuring that the hook gets embedded into the fish’s mouth.)  She did, and then she proceeded to reel.  She reeled and reeled.  She held on tight, and that little girl reeled.  And then my sister landed that granddaddy bass.  I believe that was the first time she heard language not befitting a member of the Methodist church issued forth from my daddy’s mid-western lips, although, he was respectful enough to include the word “holy” in his exclamations.

By 10:00am on that hot July morning, the pavilion was a-buzz with the news of the “brat” that had landed Old Granddaddy.  There were a lot of angry anglers there that morning, and a few decided that having a bourbon or two before noon would not be a crime.  After all, a crime had just been committed against them.  Daddy had a scotch or two, himself, but graciously did so at the other end of the bar.  And Kathy walked back to the stucco cabin for a grilled cheese, wondering why every man glared at her while every woman smothered a laugh.

Everyone in Johnson’s Fish Camp knew what we were having for dinner that night.  A mouthwatering aroma of cornmeal-coated fresh bass fillets sizzling in a black cast iron skillet wafted out our kitchen window.  Mama honorably served the entrée with sides of grits, coleslaw and hushpuppies.  No one, save the family, seemed to want to join us, however, and that was just fine with us.

Last summer was Kathy’s 50th birthday.  I drove up to Ocala from Ft. Lauderdale to be with her for the occasion.  It was a Friday, and just she and I drove to Lake Weir, where we slowly – almost sacredly – walked into the time-worn pavilion.  We sat by a window looking out over the lake, and laughed about how everything looked smaller – even the bass.

Many things have changed in the last four decades since that Weir-record bass catching day; Kathy and I live in different towns, living different types of lives, though we’re fortunate enough to be best friends. Daddy and Grandma have both been gone for many years now. And the pavilion on the lake is called Gator Joe’s today.  But, some things haven’t changed too much at all; the wooden dance floor is still there, with all of its scuff marks from the Twist, and the many dances which came before and after.  Kathy and I, once again, ate fried fish sandwiches out of red plastic baskets, with slaw that was still as tasty and fries that were just as greasy.  The smells were the same, too; the sun-warmed lake, the fish, and the worms.  And, Daddy was there, in the play of light on the water.  For a fleeting second, I saw him in that 12 ft. aluminum boat, among the reeds by the dock’s pilings.  It’s funny how our memories can rise up enough to allow our eyes to see what our hearts most want them to. All things considered, life that day on July 15, 2005, was just about as sweet as it had been on that hot July day in 1961.  Just about.

On January 16, 1935, Ma Barker and her youngest son Freddie were traced to a cottage hideout in Lake Weir, Florida. After a four-hour gun battle, their corpses were found inside the house. The FBI called her “Bloody Mama.”

 

 

Continue reading “The Littlest Angler by Janie DeVos”

Island-Themed Blog Post by Tara Sheets

I was born on Guam and lived in Hawaii before moving to the Pacific Northwest, so it seemed only natural for me to base my first series on an island.  After visiting the San Juan Islands off the northwest coast, I fell in love with Friday Harbor and its beautiful landscape and creative, wonderful people.  There was an instant connection I felt to the small-town atmosphere; the quaint coffee house, the bustling tourist shops, restaurants, and summer markets.  There’s something magical about island life, and the more I visited, the more The Holloway Girls series began to take shape.

One of the things I really love about small island towns is the fact that everyone seems to know each other.  Friends and relatives blend so seamlessly that often it just feels like one big, extended family.  My hope for The Holloway Girls series is to give readers the experience and sense of family that island life brings, as well as the drama that often unfolds when you live in such a close-knit community.  And of course, I had to add a dash of magic to bind the series together because magical hijinks just seemed like too much fun to pass up.

If you pay close attention, I mention dragonflies and mermaids in every book.  They hold a special place in my heart, as two of my Golden Heart® groups from Romance Writers of America are the Dragonflies and Mermaids.  These women continue to inspire me on a daily basis, and many of them have become dear friends.  I took this photograph during a summer trip to Friday Harbor, where I often visited to soak up the atmosphere while writing DON’T CALL ME CUPCAKE.  This is how I picture Pine Cove Island. A lovely, magical place! Continue reading “Island-Themed Blog Post by Tara Sheets”

A Little Time At The Beach by Kat Martin

Everyone loves the beach.  Though I live in Montana, I’m fortune to spend my winters at the beach in sunny California.  My writing space looks out on a boat channel that leads to the harbor so I watch the tide go up and down several times a day.

A bicycle-ride away, a sandy beach slopes down to the water where a frothy tide rolls in and out, the perfect place to talk a stroll at the end of a long day or just dig your toes into the warm gritty sand.

For me, there is no better way to spend an afternoon than lying in the sun on a bright-colored beach towel, straw hat shading your face while you read a delicious, page-turning novel.  The rhythmic curl and tug of the waves is the perfect backdrop, lulling me into the story, shutting out the day-to-day troubles of the world, if only for a little while.

As a writer, lying half-asleep in the sun, listening to the soft rush of the wind and the cry of seagulls, is a great way to get story ideas.

Too often I get stuck when writing a novel (I refuse to call it writer’s block, which is way too scary).  The beach, I’ve discovered, is a great antidote.

While I was writing the third book in my Texas Trilogy, BEYOND CONTROL, Josh Cain and Victoria Bradford’s story, in the middle of the novel I found myself unable to figure out how the heroine was going to escape her perilous situation.  After several sleepless nights, I took a drive along the beach just a few blocks from my house.

As I looked at the clear blue ocean stretching endlessly in front of me, my whole body relaxed.  A little slice of heaven.  An hour away from the computer, watching the waves crash up on the shore, my creative juices started flowing.  Ideas flashed in my head, some good, some not, as the next part of Josh and Tory’s story spread open in my mind. Continue reading “A Little Time At The Beach by Kat Martin”

Embroidery and Stress Relief by Tina Kashian

Everyone needs an outlet for stress. Many of us have family and work demands. Writers are no exception. Creating stories is wonderful, and I’m grateful for my work. But I still struggle with deadlines and getting the kids to soccer and swim practice, piano lessons…and everything else on time. It’s a balancing act!

I’ve always enjoyed swimming laps. The water and the repetitive exercise is calming. But my latest form of stress relief is embroidery. My mother loved to embroider, and she created some beautiful pieces. Sadly, my mom passed away, but I decided to try my hand—or my needle—at embroidery.

To my surprise, I enjoy it. It’s not easy, and I’ve accidently poked myself with a needle once or twice. But I do feel a special connection with my mom as I work, and that makes me happy.

Embroidery is also relaxing and eases stress. After the kids are in bed, my husband and I sit on the couch and watch the television shows we want to watch. No Disney channels! I stitch during commercials. I’ve even solved plot problems for my cozy mysteries as I work. Continue reading “Embroidery and Stress Relief by Tina Kashian”

Author Post by Kate Clayborn

When it comes to gardening, my husband and I have an arrangement that’s evolved over time: I’m secretary of the interior, and he’s secretary of the exterior. Since we’ve lived in our house, he’s built our fence, constructed beds for the vegetable garden, and dug out plots for landscape features. For the past couple of years, he’s been pretty invested in attracting monarch butterflies, which means lots of beautiful experiments with wildflowers.

As for me? Well, I contribute pretty regularly to our outdoor garden, but unless I’ve got SPF ten million and someone giving me compliments about my work ethic every thirty seconds, I’m less in love with the big projects that sometimes go along with outdoor gardening. A little harvesting from our lavender plants, sure…but digging out a huge new garden bed that’s going to require tons of mulch? Well, I think I’ll stay inside…

But me and indoor plants, we get along just fine. When I was younger, I thought I’d never get the hang of keeping a plant alive, but over time, maintaining a set of indoor plants has become really special to me, and that’s because nearly every plant I have in my house comes from a cutting given to me by a loved one. Continue reading “Author Post by Kate Clayborn”

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