Tuesday, July 31, 2012

#BookReview Crimson Footprints by Shewanda Pugh

Crimson FootprintsCrimson Footprints by Shewanda Pugh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, wow, and triple wow! I absolutely love Deena, even though I can see why her family thinks she's uptight and uppity. But gosh, I can so relate to her as someone who never really belonged anywhere, always an outsider, always at arms length, and unable to let fly and be herself.

In steps confident, brash, and hedonistic Tak Takumi, who just happens to be Deena's boss's playboy son. Charming, rich, and NICE, Tak sweeps Deena off her feet in a whirlwind romantic tour around the United States. He indulges her, caters to her, understands her and puts up with her insecurities.

While Deena's busy proving her architectural genius to Tak's father and hiding Tak from her family craziness, she inadvertently hurts Tak, the source of her newfound confidence and well-being by denying him the validation he needs. Tak is pushed to the limits of his tolerance and love, and in one explosive moment, Deena comes face to face with life without him.

This story was multi-faceted in so many ways. Both families were mixed up and dysfunctional in so many ways. Secrets, vendettas, hatred and prejudice, guilt, regret, neglect, and abuse, cruel words, bitterness and the taint of murder simmer in a toxic mix of volatile emotions and riotous scenes.

Deena turns out to be stronger than she thought, and while not everything was resolved (which is as it should be), many relationships were repaired and Deena walks away richer with the love, acceptance and support she always craved.

Ms. Pugh portrayed Deena's family realistically with a touch of humor and a twinge of tragedy. I'm Chinese and that scene where they ragged on Chinese and Buddin' was a crack up. And I'm sorry, but I agree with Grandma Emma when she banged her fist to the table. There's more to say, but I think I'll interview Deena and Grandma Emma on my blog someday.

Other than needing a proofreading, some wrong words and grammatical errors, I rate this book highly. 4.5 stars. If you like the architectural detail you'll swim in it. Otherwise, it could be a bit slow. AND how the heck did they hide out 3 years with nosy relatives like Grandma Emma and Aunt Caroline???

View all my reviews

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dark Fantasy Author: Todd Maternowski #AuthorInterview

Todd, you describe yourself as a Dark Fantasy author. What does that entail?

Realism with a hint of hope. A lot of fantasy is very this-is-good, this-is-evil black and white, and real life just doesn't work that way. No one is out there dressed in all black, spending tens of billions of their hard-earned cash on doomsday devices (not since the Cold War, anyway). Bad guys are motivated by the same things as good guys, and the differences are often only cosmetic. That said, life isn't all bleakness and horror: there's quite a bit of upside to being alive. A relentlessly negative book would probably be relentlessly unreadable. You've got to have that speck of light for any of the darkness to have effect. That's what the best dark fantasy authors do extremely well.

I downloaded your book, Golem. You list it as Horror. Can you give us a bit of background on it?

My wife and I went to Prague for our honeymoon, and it was magical. One of the many intriguing places in the city was the Old New Synagogue in the Jewish quarter. Allegedly, four hundred years ago the Christians in the city were ready to storm into the Jewish quarter and start another pogrom, so a very wise and learned rabbi went down to the banks of the river and fashioned a "golem" out of clay. Using kabalistic magic, the rabbi breathed life into the golem, ordering it to protect the Jews in the city. It did its job, perhaps too well: depending on the legend, the golem may have gone out into the Christian part of the city and started killing people. Regardless, the Hapburg Emperor intervened, promising that no harm would come to the Jews if they would lock up the golem. So they did, keeping it in the attic of the synagogue... where, the guides and gift shop people will gladly tell you, is still there to this day. We walked around the synagogue, and wouldn't you know it: there's a freaking ladder leading right up to the (presumably locked) attic door! I HAD to get in there, but since committing crimes was not on our honeymoon agenda, I decided to write about it instead. It may not seem like a traditional "horror" story, but... keep reading.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I fought the urge for decades. I'd always pictured "writers" as self-absorbed narcissists with an overwrought sense of importance, so I slaved away at trying to be a productive member of society until Dec. 2010, when I finally gave in to my friend's repeated requests and read George R.R. Martin's "Game of Thrones." I had read Tolkien as a kid and Neil Gaiman in my early 30s, but absolutely zero fantasy other than that up to that point. Martin was different: there were no high-sounding elves with poles up their rears, no cardboard evil wizards or bland one-note heroes slaying entire armies without getting a scratch. To say I was entertained is an understatement: I was inspired: "I can write like this. I *should* write like this." Before I'd finished reading the first book in Martin's series, I was already hard at work starting my own.

That's great! What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I'm blessed to work from home for an online news site, so I can manage my own schedule. My daytimes are full of being a dad to a three year-old girl, so after she goes to sleep, after my full-time work is done and there are no more distractions, I can write in complete silence.

Ah, yes... silence often comes after all are asleep in the household. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I'm a storyteller, and hate literary gimmicks. I just write in a straight-ahead third-person narrative with very little experimentation, no unreliable narrators, no clever wordplay, etc. Those things tend to distract rather than add, and I want the reader as fully immersed in the world of my novel as humanly possible. Anything that reminds the reader that they are reading a book is a big taboo for me. The characters and settings need to be as real as the ones outside for a novel to really work. 

Nothing getting in the way of the story, right? How do your books get published? Traditional or Indie?
I tried traditional on my first go-around, and was rejected by 43 of the 43 agents I queried. Going over a list of 100+ fantasy publishing houses, I was shocked to find that only three of them accepted submissions from unknown authors, and that the waiting period for a *possible* callback would be 12 to 18 months (not to mention that 40% of them were out of business... on a list that was just two years old. Imagine that.) Having worked in plenty of other industries that are not on the verge of catastrophic collapse, I couldn't fathom how any of these houses stayed in business. The model itself is sick --if Walmart or Best Buy operated like the publishing industry, they'd be out of business in a week-- and I couldn't justify wasting my time sitting by the phone waiting for some phantom phone call. And that's not even mentioning the horror stories from traditionally published authors regarding titles, cover art, lack of marketing, and editorial direction. So I went indie after two months of waiting, and while I'm not successful financially I have found the process extremely rewarding artistically. I didn't even consider going traditional for my second book. There's simply no good reason to do so.

Well, times sure do change fast. I'm glad you found an audience. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Since I started writing fantasy, I started reading the competition: Abercrombie, Gene Wolfe, Eco, Herbert. I've always loved Russian literature from the 1800s, as well as Dungeons and Dragons, and have tried to meld both influences through my books. The setting of my novels was a D&D campaign I had been designing for years, but knew that I would never get the chance to use (all my friends, like myself, are lame working dads in their mid-30s). So I created different versions of myself through the years, shaped them into the four main characters and put them in a world I find extremely interesting. The side benefit to fantasy is that you don't need to do a lot of research into how things really operate in the real world: nevertheless, I tried to remain as grounded as possible, particularly with something as tricky and over-abused as magic.

Ha, ha, too much magic can take away suspense. Do you have any suggestions to help our readers become a better writers? If so, what are they?
Yes! Ignore the vast majority of advice for self-published authors, because most of it is obsessed with marketing, not writing. If you want to spend your entire life marketing, go join a marketing firm. If you want to be a writer, write what you need to say, not what you think will sell. This is not a "career," this is an artistic pursuit. The idea of authors becoming rich off their books is a relatively new concept, and incredibly short-sighted. Second: go as deep as possible. Don't hold back because you're worried your grandma will read this and think less of you. Go all-in on conflict, desire and pain, even if it embarasses or exposes you personally. If you're worried that imaginary readers might not like a certain scene or plot line, you'd better be doing this for money and nothing else.

I agree. Writing is a chance to explore those forbidden emotions and dark secrets. What do you think makes a good story?
Conflict, conflict, conflict. The protagonist needs to want something, and someone or something needs that same thing. That's the core of every great story, whether it's a twenty-second parable or a 8000-page multi-volume fantasy series.

Thanks for talking with us. I wish you best of luck with your career.

Todd Maternowski
Available on Amazon Kindle, Nook, Smashwords and everywhere else eBooks are sold
Find out more at

Sunday, July 29, 2012

#BookChat The Teacher's Billionaire by Christina Tetreault

Callie Taylor's life is turned upside down when she learns the truth about her birth following the death of her mother.  Not only is her father alive, but he's none other than presidential candidate Senator Warren Sherbrooke. 

Billionaire and confirmed bachelor, Dylan Talbot, is devoted to his family.  When his stepfather Warren Sherbrooke receives a letter from a past love telling him they have a daughter together, Dylan is instantly suspicious. In order to keep the media vultures away and protect Warren's political aspirations, Dylan convinces Warren to let him handle the situation. 

As Callie and Dylan spend time together, they can't resist the feelings that blossom between them.  However, when Callie learns the real reason he has been spending time with her their fledgling romance is put in jeopardy and only complete honesty can save it.


Slowly she dropped her arm back down and turned around expecting Dylan to step back. He didn't move. Rather he reached out to brush a stray piece of hair off her face.

As if on autopilot Callie closed her eyes as his fingers skimmed down her check and neck to her shoulder. With the weight of his hand resting on her shoulder, she waited not sure what to expect. And then she felt just the slightest bit of pressure as his lips settled over hers. Everything seemed to stop. The only things she was aware of were his callused hand on her shoulder and his lips on hers. The kiss was gentle. Tender.

This shouldn't be happening. Not with this man.

Even as her brain protested, Callie's body responded. She wanted to feel his hard-muscled body pressed up against hers. Even though she knew she should break contact, she took a step closer and rested her hands on his wide shoulders.

Reader's Reactions
Jade Varden sez:
I was drawn to The Teacher's Billionaire because it begins with the revelation of a dark family secret, and that's totally in my wheelhouse even if romances are not. Usually, I roll my eyes all the way through love stories (I am not a fan), but I didn't want to stop reading this one. The characters are completely believable and each setting so vivid, I wanted to hop a plane to Boston to see some of the places where Callie and Dylan actually walked. She's a pretty average schoolteacher that jumped right off the page, a very real female who isn't so secure in her looks and hates her own wardrobe. He's grade-A daydream material with a magazine-ready smile and a pathos so real it's easy to forgive him for being involved in American politics (a truly demonic machine). Sure he's a Fortune 500 favorite son, a wheeler-dealer with a corner office and a home gym, but he's also a pretty basic guy that's driven by the same fears and desires as any other -- and he's all too easy to fall in love with. I can't find anything to complain about in the writing -- the author has a gift for crafting characters and places that smack of sincerity ….. I don't think anyone should pass this one up. I look forward to the next installment in the series, and my biggest complaint is that I can't pre-order it right this very minute!

Lily Silver sez:
This is a charming contemporary romance with very likeable and believable characters. I rate this as 4.5 stars. I found the plot instantly drew me in and had a hard time putting the book down. Normally, I stretch a book out for several days to a week, but this one drew me in from the start and would not let me slowly savor it.  I finished it in two evenings.

The author has created very vivid characters and an intriguing backdrop of a pre-election campaign scandal.

This story is worthy of a 5 star rating.  My only reason for giving it 4.5 stars is due to my personal preference for sex scenes to be fully depicted. There were several intimate interactions between the couple, but the author discreetly turns our heads away after the couple begins undressing and closes the bedroom door. This is not a failing of the author but rather a personal choice that must be respected.

For those expecting to have their love scenes a little more fleshed out (sorry, pun intended), be warned going in to the story that this is not the case here, yet the story stands alone without it. On the other hand, those looking for a realistic, believable, compelling romance without the offense of graphic sex scenes will be pleasantly surprised by this author's obvious talent for spinning a complex contemporary fairytale.

Either way you like your romances, hot or sweet, this one is not to be missed. I recommend it as a delightful, fun, summer read!

Meet The Author
I wrote my first story with characters similar to those in the Sweet Valley Twins books at the age of 10 on my grandmother's manual typewriter. As I got older my stories and characters became more mature. During my freshman year at UMass Dartmouth, I read my first romance novel and fell in love with the genre. I have been writing contemporary romance ever since.

Today I live with my husband, three beautiful daughters and two dogs in Massachusetts. Whenever I have a free moment you'll find me either reading a romance novel or working on my most current story

twitter: @cgricci

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Secrets - Portia's Story by Moody Holiday #BookReview

Secrets: Portia's Story by Moody Holiday
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating multi-generational story of lies, lust and secrets. The villain's tentacles spread through everyone's lives, yet on the surface he seems to be a respectable man. Portia, the protagonist, is the villain's daughter and the most affected. Her story is tragic and everything she does is acting out her pain. I am unsure whether her story is really resolved or not. I guess it is "to be continued."

The sex was frequent and quite steamy, and the sights, sounds, smells and visceral were uniquely descriptive. The author has a nice way with words. The only thing that distracted me was the head-hopping where the point of view would suddenly change from paragraph to paragraph.

My favorite character was Scuba. That scene at the sports arena has me rolling with laughter. What a riot. I can't wait to read more about her. Yep, she got that right. The role models need help too.

Secrets was a fast read/page turner and I finished it in a couple of hours.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cure for AIDS Found? Interview with Through These Veins Author: Anne Marie Ruff

Anne Marie Ruff has a plausible scenario. Her first book, Through These Veins, explores the relationship between biodiversity and the race to find a cure for AIDs. This exciting story crosses several continents, from a village in Ethiopia to Washington DC. Besides being a medical thriller, Through These Veins explores the cross-cultural interaction between two strong heroines and a dedicated scientist bent for answers.

Anne Marie, can you tell us a bit about your background and why you decided to write Through These Veins?

I didn’t set out to write fiction, which seems so contrary to the ‘just the facts ma’am’ axiom we associate with journalism.  I was living in Bangkok, working as a freelance journalist, with the intention of shining a light on unreported or underreported environmental stories. I also covered medical and AIDS research stories to help pay the rent, but they were not really my passion. After a year of telling gloom and doom stories about the destruction of forests, or coral reefs, or traditional agricultural varieties, I felt like even I was becoming desensitized to my deeply held belief that our collective health is inextricably linked to the health of our environment.

When, in the course of my reporting, I met a charismatic Italian scientist who approached plant collecting and conservation as if it were an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones. I had a shazaam moment. He ignited an idea for a new approach, a fictional story centered on a character like him. He could carry readers around the world, and inspire in others the passion he felt for the richness of life on the planet. He could articulate the imperative to conserve it for the health and well being of this and future generations.

I am grateful for the assignment to cover a scientific conference in Malaysia where I had the chance meeting with the Italian scientist, Stefano Padulosi, for it allowed me to marry my different reporting interests and use everything I learned and more in a novel way.  So facts support my fiction, and hopefully, my fiction will serve the facts.

So basically, you already had a strong background in all of the scientific and technical aspects of the story. I would absolutely LOVE it if your story were true, that someone out there has a cure for HIV/AIDS. Do you think it's possible that such a breakthrough could be squashed by the government?

I think the possibility of a cure for HIV/AIDS would be of interest to the government, but could pose disincentives to pharmaceutical companies.  I would challenge you to show me one pharmaceutical company that can afford to undertake the very expensive, risky, and long-term research necessary to develop a cure for HIV/AIDS, or almost any other disease.  Drug companies produce drugs that people take over and over, therapies.  For example, Truvada, a drug used to prevent HIV/AIDS, has just been approved by the FDA, but it needs to be taken daily. Whereas a cure is sold only once, or over a finite period of time, so the sales model simply will not support the effort.  I don't think that makes drug companies villians, drug makers are simply responding to market forces and are legally required to their shareholders to pursue the most lucrative business strategy.  I think the problem highlights the need for different organizational models, more along the lines of what the Gates Foundation is doing, to support research into a cure for HIV/AIDS, or any other disease for that matter. 

You've traveled all around the world. What inspires you to write about people who may view the world so differently from you?

For me, people are inseparable from travel, and some of the best experiences of my life have been through travel. I love to be in motion, by train, plane, automobile, bicycle, rickshaw, you name it - and all along the way I meet people who teach me things just by living their lives in ways different from my own.  This is the great university of life.  My passport stamps tend to the obscure places in the world. When I spent a lot of time traveling in my 30’s, I figured I could hit more common tourist destinations later in my life. Some of my favorite places – perhaps all the more so because they were unexpectedly wonderful – appear in Through These Veins.

Turkmenistan was full of intense flavors, the contrasts of green orchards and barren deserts, people first guarded, then gracious. That trip gave me such a sense of adventure because I felt the place remote, cut off, unhurried, absolutely non-digital. Ethiopia offered a highly refined cultural history in the capital, set against a rich kaleidoscope of geography in the countryside – mountains, rivers, forests, waterfalls, and birds – oh the birds! In the 1980s Americans were conditioned to think of Ethiopia only as a place of deserts and famines. To be sure, hunger and poverty do exist in Ethiopia, but so do a million other stories. Oman is another favorite place of mine. The exposed geology of the mountains and the gracious hospitality of Arabs, especially my friend’s Bedouin family that hosted me made for an unforgettable village experience – also off the beaten path (are you sensing a pattern here?). Driving across the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia, a train ride down the western coast of India, a day trip from Beirut to Damascus to shop in the centuries old bazaar. 

All of these travels were populated by fascinating people.  I have always been a storyteller, and we tell what we know.  So during the years I was traveling, telling a story from a perspective broader than mine as an American seemed less of a conscious choice and more about simply drawing on what was around me.

Your photo albums must be visually rich as well. What was Ethiopia like? How hard was it for you to blend in and get a feel for the culture?

Volumes have been written by many writers more qualified than I about Ethiopia’s history, politics, and culture. My objective in traveling around Ethiopia was not to become an expert on any of these things, but to experience the country, to smell it, to hear it, to taste and touch it. And in the process I had a rip-roaring good time. Of course I didn't blend in, but my obvious foreignness made me a curiosity, allowed me to meet all kinds of people; rich people, poor people, scientists and shepherds, hucksters and holy men, expats and exiles. Almost every single person I met displayed an incredible hospitality, sharing with me whatever they had – food, song, dance, stories, intoxicants. On a bus from Gondar to Bahar Dar, I even made friends with a baby who giggled and offered me his mother’s breast after he had had his fill of mother’s milk (we all found this hilarious). I have enjoyed the bawdy humor of Asmari music and taej in small towns. I have marveled at the religious finery and felt the exhilaration in the streets of Addis during Meskal. I have followed the route of coffee from forests, to factories, to cupping conventions. I have struggled with the bad internet connections and inefficient bureaucracy. I have been awed by the architecture and art at places of pilgrimage.  You can hear a little of what I heard through a radio musical tour of Ethiopia here.

In short, I have experienced some of the splendor and richness Ethiopia has to offer. I am grateful for these opportunities. I hope that others will be able to experience Ethiopia vicariously as they read Through These Veins, and I hope I will be able to repay some of the debt I owe to Ethiopia and the many people I met there.

Like you, I live in a neighborhood where cross-cultural relationships are the norm. My children are Chinese and Puerto-Rican and yours are Punjabi-European. Are you planning on writing any stories exploring the dynamics of family relationships and deeply held traditions?

This is another beloved topic for me.  I am fascinated by the mixing of cultures, especially in situations as intimate and profound as marriage.  This year I published an article about the cross cultural population in Downtown Los Angeles, an amusing look at what happens when you mix all kinds of people together.  On a more serious level, I am writing my second novel about an American woman who marries a Pakistani man, a man who subsequently commits a terrorist act.  The story delves into some searing questions about identity and loyalty, justice and revenge.  While the book is by no means autobiographical, I am drawing on my own experience of a cross-cultural marriage (I married a Sikh man from India) and a familiarity with Islamic culture which I developed during three years I spent living in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates which hosts a large Pakistani population.  Writing the book has been an intensely emotional experience for me, kind of playing out a very scary 'what if?'.  

Sounds like a lot of intense drama! I cannot wait to read about it. Sounds like we have some time for random questions.

Chicken or egg?
Chicken! (at least until she lays - we have four in the back yard - and they definitely arrived before the eggs, here's a little more on that http://www.annemarieruff.com/blog.html )

Green thumb or brown?

Morning lark or night owl?
Hoo hoo!

White meat or dark? [I'm talking turkey here.]

push-ups or sit-ups?
Sit-ups, Pilates style

Thanks for being a good sport. We enjoyed talking to you.

My pleasure - thanks for such a great set of questions.

One lucky commentator will win a paperback copy of Anne Marie's lovely book Through These Veins. (US/CAN only) Please leave a comment or question for Anne Marie and also your e-mail or how to contact you. Let's pray that a cure will be found!

Anne Marie can be found at her website: http://www.annemarieruff.com and Through These Veins is 99c for the ebook at Amazon.com

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Do Sex and Biblical Fiction Mix? Reader Survey

Reblogged from Heather Hummel July 16, 2012

Too Sexual for a Biblical Tale? Rachelle Ayala Stops by to Chat about MICHAL'S WINDOW

This was an interview I didn't want to pass up! Rachelle Ayala is here to talk about her somewhat controversial book, MICHAL'S WINDOW - the big question is, are the love scenes to sexy for a biblical book? Let's find out...

Heather: MICHAL'S WINDOW is your first novel (and by the way, I love the cover!). What inspired you to write it?

Rachelle: Believe it or not, reading the Bible. Michal is a relatively unknown character, one that everyone loves to hate. Perhaps it's because she was a princess, but in any case, Michal's life is about loving to the fullest and losing everything for that love. The Bible depicts her as assertive, cunning, and opinionated. In a time when women's feelings were not important, she not only loved David, but acted quickly and decisively to save his life. Later on, she dared to speak her mind to her husband even though it displeased him.

Michal would have felt more at home in our century than her own times, and I felt this remarkable woman's voice had been suppressed for way too long.

Heather: Since this is a biblical story, did you expect it to have controversy around it?

When I set out to write Michal's story, I decided to make it well-rounded and gritty. I would immerse the reader into her innermost emotions and feelings and not "hide" anything that might be unsavory or deemed sinful.

I was not trying to write a sermon or a Sunday school lesson, but a novel that had historical elements woven with imaginative subplots in a way that would allow the reader to share Michal's experience.

Heather: MICHAL'S WINDOW has been criticized for being too sexual in nature, going against it's biblical category. Do you consider the scenes to be sexually explicit or are you shocked by the reactions from some readers?

On the whole, the vast majority of my readers (including several pastors' wives and Sunday school teachers) have enjoyed the story including the steamy bits. Of course there are those who have never been exposed to any semblance of sex in a story with Biblical characters, and I understand how they may feel. I stand by my rating of "mild", because most of the descriptions are metaphorical and deal with what Michal is thinking and feeling. Of course, David's descriptions tend to be a bit more physical. There is one scene in particular where it got a bit hot and heavy, but this was written from David's point of view. A man just sees sex differently than a woman.

Sex is an integral part of the relationship between Michal and David. I debated leaving it out, but I would not have been able to show the reader the intensity of their attraction, obsession and yes, love, because they did love each other deeply. At the end, the reader should hopefully understand viscerally how it felt to be Michal, a woman ruled by love but caught in the challenging situations of her life.

Heather: Do tell about your second novel that's in the works. Is this going to be a series?

Oh, I'm having fun with this one, Broken Build, a romantic suspense set in Silicon Valley with a software build engineer as the protagonist. This one has a simple premise. Could a man ever love a woman who had harmed him in the worst possible way? And I don't mean broken his heart, or stolen his money, or cheated on him with his best friend. But something much, much worse. I'm not going to tell you what it is because I structured this story in a way where things are revealed at the same time the character who is most affected by it finds out. It is a story for reader participation, whether throwing their e-readers into the wall, or laughing until their sides split, or howling and screaming at my characters while racing with them to solve the mystery.

On the surface, it's about broken software, broken cars, and broken lives. But it is a hopeful message that has a quirky ending. I'm not sure about a series yet, but there are quite a few characters that can be developed further (of the ones that aren't killed off or arrested).

Heather: Besides writing, what are your passions? Your muse?

I have a lot of passions, probably too many. I love music, playing the violin, mandolin and mountain dulcimer: classical and folk music. I've also made 23 mountain dulcimers, but I left off when the writing, revising and editing chores got too time consuming.

Nothing beats the first draft, and that's where my muse is. It's slinging words onto the screen without abandon, love-at-first-sight-daring, eating, sleeping, and dreaming my characters, and living through them. And most of all, it's the raw agony, the yawning void or the pressure-cooker fury, and blissful love with starry eyes, and having those emotions dictate the story. Too bad I only get about a month or two of first draft fever, then it's off to critique groups and the grind of revision and polishing.

I don't try to be controversial, but I also do not think about guidelines when I write. I go where the bare, naked emotions take me and I like to go deep. Just today I was commenting on someone's blog where she felt bullied by people telling her that she overstepped some line in her writing. Here's what I told her:

If you don't have some people hating what you're doing, you're not doing it passionately enough. - Rachelle Ayala

Author Bio:

Rachelle Ayala was a software engineer until she discovered storytelling works better in fiction than real code. She has always lived in a multi-cultural environment, and the tapestry in her books reflect that diversity.

When her hyperactive imagination is not in the mind of her characters, Rachelle enjoys social networking, reading and music.

Rachelle lives in California with her husband. She has three children and has taught violin and made mountain dulcimers.

What's your opinion? Should Bible characters have sex or keep it behind the scenes? How explicit compared to contemporary romance novels? Compared to historical romances? How necessary do you think sex is for the love connection? Do you want to be shown or told?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

#AuthorInterview: Melisa Hamling thrives on Drama and Romance

Today, I am both pleased and proud to have Melisa Hamling, author of Twenty Weeks, visit with us. Melisa is my Writing BFF. I cannot tell you how many times she has inspired me, encouraged me and MADE ME LAUGH!!!! Her emoticons are the bestest.

Why, thank you, Rachelle. You're pretty funny yourself and helped me too.

Rachelle: Yep, I guess we do egg each other on, don't we? So Melisa, tell us about your book, Twenty Weeks. What inspired you to write it?

Funny you ask. I had just finished writing my first novel. The state of Nebraska had just announced a new law they were trying to pass on abortions being illegal after the twentieth week. I remember vaguely listening to the information, and then, just like that, the idea popped into my head. The title of the novel was immediate. I started with what I'd say was more like a query letter. From that point on, the ideas kept coming and unfolding into an outline. And we see what became of it. Twenty Weeks.

Rachelle: Your book includes some controversial topics. How were you able to weave such a sweet and uplifting Young Adult romance into it?

You know you're forcing me to really think? Ha. I can tell you my original conflict and resolution wasn't such a happy one. As I wrote, more thoughts came to mind. I realized there are those who have no voice, who are in situations nearly impossible to get out of. Andrea's story formed from that knowledge and weaved in Maya and Andrea's friendship. The romance between Alex and Maya started out simple. Misunderstandings and lack of communication is a commonality in teens. Things go wrong and understandably so, but I'll leave it at that. Twenty Weeks has its own answers.

Rachelle: Twenty Weeks is an incredible book. You’ve given a voice to those who suffer in silence. It opens with a beautiful poem that sets the stage. I’m awed by both the message and the romance. You use the word Kaleidoscope in both the poem and the closing chapter. What is the deeper meaning?

Definition of Kaleidoscope: an optical toy consisting of a cylinder with mirrors and colored shapes inside that create shifting symmetrical patterns when the end is rotated
OR: A complex set of events or circumstances.

Life is like a kaleidoscope--bringing new shades of emotions, memorable moments, and a variety of shapes, each building new foundations at different stages of life. 

Rachelle: So, what's next?

Of Love and Deception. My next WIP is an adult romantic suspense. After that, I plan on going back to my very first novel "Finding Forever", and rewriting/revising it. As part of a Trilogy, the second book in the series is written and part of the third.

Rachelle: I’m excited about the romantic suspense. Love and Deception often times go hand in hand. Why did you decide to try this genre?

Simple. I love romance; break-ups and make ups. Mostly the making up!

Rachelle: Tell us more about your first novel, the trilogy. What is it like?

To be honest... gosh! The first book is a mess right now, but the idea behind the story is one I could only imagine. Who wouldn’t want to find a perfect man? And live in his unique world? Even if your doctor pursed his lips, arranged himself at your bedside and said, "… these people and this place you conjured up is nothing more than a psychological retreat of your subconscious mind."  
My main character has to determine if the good doctor is right or if the world she came to love, while in a coma, is real.

You sure do come up with some exciting plots. As a reader do you enjoy plot twists, drama and high intensity, or in-depth character examination?

I tend to favor anything with romance.  I do like in-depth character examination, but only if those characters are interesting or have something to offer to the story. I love twists that shock me and my assumptions backfire.

Rachelle: Okay, now for some fun questions. Describe your first kiss.

Seriously? My first kiss? Yuck. Sean and I sat outside at my friend’s house. I'm not sure how it started, but I do remember his lips being pressed against mine. I went with it, but it was wet and pretty lame. Not romatic like I had dreamed it would be. Ha. I didn't talk to him after that night. Boo-hoo. ;>

Rachelle: I honestly can’t even remember what mine was like. What was the most shocking thing you read and wished to erase from your memory?

I can't say I've ever wished to erase what I've read. I think Stephen King's "IT" was the most disturbing thing I had read. Scarred the crap out of me. A Child Called It really disturbed me. I guess it touched some familiar places in my own memory, but the extreme nature of what David Peltzer (the child) went through was so terrible. I had to put the book down several times because it made me cry.
The books I didn't like, I didn't finish. I won't say who the author is, but it's not an indie author.

Rachelle: Pick any author, someone you know or not. Name one thing you would tell to their face.

One author. Without mentioning a name (because I know her), I would have to say to this author that she created such a beautiful story, and it literally made my heart swell. Every possible emotion went through me and I wanted nothing more than to stay in her story because I couldn't get enough of it quick enough. And that is the truth! It's one of those stories you think about long after you've finished the novel. Not many books do that for me.

Another author, I will mention, Colleen Hoover. Her Slammed series took me by surprise. I love the freshness this author introduced in her Slammed and Point of Retreat novels. If you don't know what the title Slammed means, then I'd suggest you read it. Who knew such a thing would be so cool? And the love story is incredible in both books.

Rachelle: Ahh…. I see you are a real romantic at heart. Gee, it was great having you!

Well, it's been great to be had! Oh, wait, I mean thanks for inviting me, Rachelle. It's been a pleasure interviewing with you.

Twenty Weeks will be free July 25-29 on Amazon! Be sure to pick up your copy today! [Click HERE]

What have you got to lose? Nothing! It's free! Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vanessa Morgan - Bonechilling, Creepy Horror!!! #AuthorInterview

What drew you to the horror genre?

I’ve always been fascinated with horror movies and the paranormal. As a child, I tortured my Barbie dolls and loved going to video stores to look at the covers of horror movies, hoping that I would be able to see them one day. Writing horror was a natural progression.

Tortured Barbie dolls? How could you? LOL. How did you come up with the title for A Good Man?
A Good Man is about an altruistic vampire - a vegetarian who feeds the homeless, takes care of animals and is concerned with the ecological future of the planet. He is a good man, but if he doesn't feed on the blood of humans, he'll be paralyzed for eternity.
Talk about conflict! Is there a message in A Good Man that you want readers to grasp?
A Good Man makes the reader wonder about his or her own behavior and interactions with people. We all have good motivations to behave the way we do, but they don't always justify negative results.
It must put your vampire in a bit of a dilemma because he needs to feed which obviously hurts another person. Did you write A Good Man entirely with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?

I almost never write with paper and pen. I only use it when I’m stuck for ideas as switching from computer to paper and pen helps to order my thoughts. A friend of mine, Daph Nobody, does exactly the opposite. He writes his entire novels in a notebook and only uses his computer to transfer his text once the book is finished.

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?

The most productive time to write is the evening. Nighttime stimulates the right hemisphere, while daytime is for tasks that require the activation of the left hemisphere, such as editing and rewriting.

Hey, looks like we're similar. I get creative after everyone goes to bed. I'm really excited for you! It looks like A Good Man has been picked up to become a French film. How did that happen?

In 2010, my short story The Strangers Outside was brought to the screen. The main actor in that film, Pierre Lekeux, is also a producer. He loved what I had done with The Strangers Outside and he asked if I’d agree to write their next feature film. He wanted to jump onto the wagon of the current vampire-craze and he thought that I was the ideal person to bring this project to life. The movie will be shot later this year - starting in September - and will be released as Un homme bien.

Some people feel that when their screenplay/book is made into a film, they don’t do a good job bringing the work to life, Stephen King for example. Are you nervous or excited to see your work on the big screen?

The problem is that the filmmaker's view on what the movie should look like doesn’t usually correspond with the author’s view. That doesn't mean that the filmmaker is doing a bad job. The film adaptation of The Strangers Outside doesn't resemble my short story either. The director made a slasher movie out of it whereas my story was serious horror with a philosophical twist.

I do like psycho thrillers, but I suppose it is hard to get the philosophical twist into action. I have read some places that you are the female Stephen King. Do you feel that is a fair comparison? And are you a Stephen King fan?

That quote shows up in almost every article about my books and screenplays. It intrigues people and it helps to sell books, so I don't complain. Old-school Stephen King stories are still my favorites: Salem’s Lot... Christine... It...

Sound good to me! What were you in a former life?

A cat, naturally. I love cats, I have almost all the characteristics of a cat and most days I wish I could be a cat.

It's no wonder that your Good Man has a cat then. If you could have any supernatural power, what would it be?

I’d like to have all of them: being invisible, reading people’s minds, talking with the dead… But I can only choose one, right? Then it’ll be talking with animals. I have a very special relationship with the animals in my life and I know that there’s so much more to them then what I currently know. Oh, and I’d like to be able to cure people and animals miraculously. Who wouldn’t?

You're cheating and trying for two. But since we're fantasizing, why not have it all? Actually I don't think I'd want to read minds, then I'd know what people were really thinking about me! Which books are on your bedside table right now?

Kelly Creagh's Nevermore... I really loved the beginning of this book, but the ending is dragging a bit...

And lots of books my boyfriend got me as a present lately, such as Joe Hill's Horns and 20th Century Ghosts...

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children...

And the first two books in the Chi's Sweet Home series...

Vanessa, it's so wonderful to chat with you. Looks like some bone-chilling book recommendations you have for our readers. How can people get in contact with you?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prolific Phenomenal Author: Russell Blake!!! #AuthorInterview

Rachelle: Silver Justice is what, your 14th novel?

Russell: Depends on how you count 'em. If you consider that Zero Sum was originally a trilogy before I grouped the three books into one, then it is number 16. If you count Zero Sum as one reeeeeaaaalllly long book, then it's number 14.

Rachelle: That's an incredible body of work. And you told me you only started publishing June, 2011? What's your secret?

Russell: Desperation and desire, in equal parts. Seriously, I told myself I would do this balls out, 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a year, to see what I could accomplish if I applied myself with no distractions. Frankly, it's even amazed me a little. Since January, I've released The Voynich Cypher, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin, and now Silver Justice. Last year was a watershed year for me, and I am unlikely to ever match it - I committed to myself that I would release 7 novels in 2012 instead of, like, 10 in 2011, and I think that's a little saner. Next year I'll only be doing 3 or 4. Likely only 3. One every 4 months, to give me some time to have a life in between writing.

Rachelle: 7-10 novels a year? 15 hour days? For real? How do you sustain that?

Russell: Fueled by tequila and ideas. But it is really unhealthy, in that I'm sitting in one place from 7 or 8 in the morning till 11 or 12 at night, with only an hour break to hit the gym, and grabbing some food at my desk. So it isn't something sustainable. But if you think of 12 of those 15 hours as productive, and you figure I can write 800 or so words per hour, you can see where a daily word goal of 7500 words is achievable. Even with distractions, that makes for a first draft of a novel within a couple to three weeks, tops. Then it's back to polish and rewrite.

Rachelle: How many passes do you typically do on a novel?

Russell: I'm doing more now than I used to, because I find the end product is way easier on my editor with more passes, and I'm happier with the way the stories are coming out. I'll do a first draft, put it aside for a week or two, then do a second draft, then go back and do a third/polish. Then the editor gets it, and then the copy editor, then finally the proofreader. I still get an occasional typo even with all that, but I've found that reading the third draft on my kindle changes the experience for me and I catch a lot more. It's labor and time intensive, but I think the quality of the work has benefited and speaks for itself.

Rachelle: So Silver Justice. The synopsis describes it as a single mom FBI agent heading up a taskforce to catch a serial killer, framed against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis.

Russell: That's right. It's a character driven police procedural/thriller that follows a strong female protagonist - Agent Silver Cassidy - who is running the task force that is hunting a serial who is killing financial industry bigwigs. It's set in New York, present day, and is very different than any of my other novels, in the sense that the lead character is a departure for me. I wanted to give readers a three dimensional set of characters that come alive the moment you start reading. And I wanted to plunge the characters into a pressure cooker scenario where the challenges keep coming until it's an unbearable load. Silver is an ass-kicker of a federal agent, but she's also a mom, and a sentient being, with doubts, insecurities, responsibilities, good as well as poor choices in her past, and a drive to succeed in a tough, male-dominated career environment. I think the end result is a racing read that also challenges the reader's sense of reality - it posits a chillingly plausible explanation for the 2008 financial crisis that I guarantee will polarize people. I won't say how much is real and how much is fiction, but I also won't hide that I did a mountain of research, and the underlying conspiracy is based largely in fact.

Rachelle: Only a man would refer to an emotional female as a sentient being, LOL. Sounds interesting. How technical is it? Will readers need an economics degree?

Russell: Not very technical. Part of the challenge was to impart a meaningful amount of information about how the economy works without sounding like a first year college course. I actually cut around 15K words, most of it technical, and fought to synthesize everything into a few meaningful paragraphs here and there. That was the hardest part writing this book. It's not hard to say something in 15K words. It's really hard to say it in 500. Brevity being the soul of wit and all. The book is intended for casual readers who want something more substantial than the typical mindless fare. Not that there's anything wrong with that - I just aspire to write something a bit more involved. Although I like mindless. It has its place. But if you can move the pace along in a blistering manner and address some big issues in the process, and get readers to think, that's a tougher nut to crack, but also a more satisfying read. I think Silver Justice, more than any book I've written to date, will divide readers. They will either love it or hate it because of the underlying conspiracy. As a thriller, though, it's in the same mold as any of the big names. It won't disappoint pure adrenaline junkies, either.

Rachelle: I'll be adding it to my TBR list. What's next for you? Sounds like you better get writing. Year's more than half over!

Russell: I feel that pressure every day, trust me. Next will be JET, about a Mossad operative who fakes her own death to get out of the game - but now her past is coming back to haunt her. I don't really have much more than the name and high concept - I envision a cross between La Femme Nikita and Salt, with some Dragon Tattoo thrown in. I want her to be the world's deadliest operative, up against insurmountable odds and a villain with global reach. Sounds like I need to start plotting, huh? I'll start on it within a week or so, and I'm really excited at the premise and concept. Probably an early fall release for that. If all goes well.

Rachelle: Are you planning to write a sequel to Silver Justice?

Russell: I try not to think in terms of writing sequels. I tend to just write what interests me. Having said that, I do have an idea I have penciled out with Silver as the protag, so one never knows. Let's see how reaction to the book is. The reader is boss, and if people want it, I'll write it. In the end, though, I think Silver is a fascinating character with a lot of depth who we could hear more from.

Rachelle: Going back to JET, I love the premise of a Mossad operative, seeing how interested I am in the nation of Israel. What is her name? Michal? (hint, hint) Physical description? I can see her now, a combination of a Jewish princess and Lara Croft?

Russell: Her operational name was Jet, real name Maya. She's late twenties, medium height, long black hair, exotic good looks. Father was Israeli, mother was from the Dominican Republic, so she's sort of a mix of different ethnicities. Think the world's most effective assassin/clandestine operative, master of covert ops, Krav Maga and several other martial arts, computer wiz, speaks six languages, adept at disguises and is an adrenaline junkie. Very definitely Lara Croft, but she could kick Lara's ass. Completely different than Silver, she's a kind of alpha female on the run who's been targeted for execution by enemies from her past, and she has to go back into the life she abandoned to bring the hunt to them. She thought she was dead inside emotionally due to childhood trauma and later her work, but that all changed when she found out she was pregnant, triggering her to want out of the Mossad - but this was a team you don't just quit. I'm going to write it as a balls out adrenaline rush of a book so that it keeps readers up at night, moving from Venezuela to the Middle East to Africa to Central America. I want it to make the Bourne stuff to seem like Bronte. I'm very excited by the story possibilities, and I can promise twist after twist - this very definitely won't be your parents' thriller. Now all I need is the part between where it starts, and when it ends, and I'll be set.

Rachelle: I definitely want to read this one. I'll still think of her as a Michal, but I can see how Maya fits in with her Central American side. Sounds like you've got it all planned out. Well, thanks for visiting with us and I am sure JET will be another blockbuster.

Russell: You're welcome. I definitely hope so!
- - -

Russell Blake is the bestselling author of the thrillers Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, the Zero Sum trilogy (Wall St. thriller), King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Voynich Cypher and Silver Justice. 

Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel With Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related. 

Blake lives in Mexico and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing, while battling world domination by clowns. 

His blog can be found at RussellBlake.com where he publishes his periodic thoughts, such as they are.  

Write From the Heart by Heather Hummel #BookReview

Write from the HeartWrite from the Heart by Heather Hummel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is life-affirming and positive. When we first meet Samantha, the protag, she is in the throes of yet another breakup, has quit her boring job, and is wetting her pillow with tears every night. Somehow along the way, while writing her novel and in between therapy sessions, Samantha has a dream with these words. "WRITE POSITIVE"

What follows is a miracle, but one in small baby steps. Amanda rethinks her existence and the negative self-talk that constantly spiraled around her, dooming her relationships and hampering her success. Instead she grits her teeth and determines to Write Positive every day in her Positive Journal.

Well before the halfway point, I set this book aside and started my own Positive Journal. I counted my blessings, thanked God for letting me meet Heather and buy her book, and cast negativity and worries behind me. Knowing God has a plan for me, and really trusting it are two different things. Keeping a Positive Journal and writing down my prayers and giving thanks will help me to do the best I can and leave the results to Him.

I then finished the rest of the story in a single evening. The story was full of little surprises and nuggets of truth, about serendipity, believing you deserve happiness and being content. I cheered with Samantha and shared in her happiness as she fulfills her dreams and has a brighter future to look forward too.

View all my reviews

Saturday, July 21, 2012

PhotoNovelist Heather Hummel #AuthorInterview

Heather, you describe yourself as a photonovelist instead of a photojournallist. Why is that? and how do your photos come into your novels?
I’ve pursued both writing and photography since my teens. In fact, my two favorite classes in high school were English and photography. Now, in my forties, I remain both a writer and a photographer. The term “PhotoNovelist” was coined when I acknowledged that I don’t write in the journalism field¾I write novels. So it’s a simple term to accurately describe my two passions!

Are the descriptions in your novels visually richer because of your eye for a good picture? How so?
Because of my love for photography and being outdoors, I’ve always been a very visual person. As a writer, I consider all of our senses when scripting a scene. What would the air smell like? What colors are accentuated during this season and location? What sounds would be appropriate? I think the answers to questions like that are subconscious at times, but other times we strive to find just the right description. I’ve also lived in and photographed many locations, north, south, east and west, so I have a good sense of the weather and seasonal changes around the country. That diversity has helped with the types of novels I write. So yes, the two go very well together.

That said, which medium do you find more expressive? Visually with photographs, or stirring emotions with words?
I think they’re equally expressive; it’s more a matter of how the viewer or reader connects to the piece. One image can evoke powerful emotions as readily as a paragraph in a novel. It’s up to the interpretation of each individual, which is why I get so much satisfaction out of doing both. There are days when I connect more with my photography and other days when I take great pleasure in writing 2,000 words. I’m just so grateful I can do both on a daily basis and the reward has been that of responders to my work in both cases.

I just started reading "Write from the Heart: A Novel." Is it autobiographical? Or a flight of imagination? Any message for the reader to take from it?
WRITE FROM THE HEART was actually written as a test of the Law of Attraction with the purpose of having much of it come true in my own life. Ironically, my first novel, WHISPERS FROM THE HEART, was only slightly autobiographical, and yet many of the scenes came true in my life within five years! Because I believe that what we put our focus on with great emotion has the potential to come true, I’m careful about the types of books I write!
The unanimous response to WRITE FROM THE HEART is that it has inspired readers to either write their own first novel or to start a positive thought journal. That’s all I ever wanted from it.

You're working on a PhD in metaphysical studies. Can you describe what it is? How does it work its way into your writing? Your photos?
Metaphysical Sciences is the study of spirituality, such as the Law of Attraction based ideas. As I noted in my experience with WHISPERS FROM THE HEART, I learned that what I write with passion, I have the tendency to create in my own life. So, yes, it definitely carries over to my writing. Believing in the idea that what we focus on (pun intended) we can create, I am conscious of the topics and subjects I write about and capture through my lens. Much of my photography is landscape in beautiful places where I love living. That’s a conscious choice. My characters learn to love again after heartache, that, too, is a conscious choice.

You are absolutely lucky to live on the Central Coastline of California and your photos are fabulous. What are the emotions coursing through your body when you have a majestic scene in front of you?
I did live in Carmel for two years, but recently moved to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. After photographing the tumultuous waves of the Pacific, I found myself moving to Colorado where I now photograph statuesque mountains. It’s quite a different feel. I’m much more grounded in Colorado, which has surprised not only me, but those who know me well because I was always considered a “Cali Girl” even when I lived in Connecticut and Virginia!

I never tire of looking at beautiful landscape, and as I’m driving or riding my bike, I constantly analyze the lighting situations. It’s become much like when I read other people’s books in that I’m always analyzing (not critiquing, but more of a study) their works.

How about people? Photographing them or writing to capture their essence?
I do some portrait photography. I also photograph people with their pets, which is my favorite. Most of the characters in my novels come to me on their own accord with their own self-description. It’s interesting because I don’t have much say in the matter. It’s like they show up in my head and tell me all about themselves. I definitely have more control of the camera’s subjects than I do my novels’ characters!

What is your philosophy about life?
Read my book SIGNS FROM THE UNIVERSE, it’s all in there! But in a nutshell, I believe there are two wells in the universe that we can dip into: Love and Fear. Which one do you (plural) dip into?

It was great to get to know you. How can folks contact you?
Thanks so much for having me! My websites are:

Heather Hummel is a "photonovelist" who blends her love for photography with her award-winning career as an author. Her published works include:
Journals from the Heart Series:
Whispers from the Heart (2011)
Write from the Heart (2011)
Life in the Iris of the Beholder (2012)
Signs from the Universe (2011)
Gracefully: Looking and Being Your Best at Any Age (McGraw-Hill, 2008),

2009 Mature Media Awards, Merit Award
2009 New York Book Festival, Honorable Mention

Heather has ghostwritten for politicians, corporations, and public figures. Her books have appeared in newspapers such as: Publishers Weekly, USA Today and the Washington Post; and in magazines that include: Health, Body & Soul, First, and Spry Living, a combined circulation of nearly 15 million. A graduate with High Distinction from the University of Virginia, Heather holds a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree with concentrations in English and Secondary Education. She is currently earning a Ph.D. in Metaphysical Sciences.