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What We're Working On Now

Elisabeth: Marked

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33,126 / 95,000

Joan: Buried Secrets

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Linda: Facing It

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:~: Friday, November 30, 2007 :~:


A man in the worst place he can be—between two women—and forced to choose which one lives or dies

What Mattered Most by Linda Winfree

Houston homicide detective John O'Reilly is torn between two women. One is the woman he's loved without hope for years. The other carries his unborn child. Now, a man bent on revenge wants O'Reilly to choose, and any choice he makes could cost him everything.

Gutsy sheriff’s deputy Lanie Falconetti is determined not to repeat her mother’s mistakes in love. Her no-strings attached affair with John O’Reilly leads to an unexpected, but joyfully welcomed pregnancy. However, the shadow from John’s past threatens not only her chance at happiness, but her life and that of her unborn baby as well.


John swam in a thick grayness, somewhere between light and dark. His body felt as though he should be in pain, but the sensation hovered just out of reach. The cold was real, and shivers racked him.
“John?” A lyrical voice soothed over his nerves, warm fingers stroking his jaw. He turned toward the warmth. Lips brushed his. “I love you.”
He struggled to open his eyes. “Beth?”
Warm fingers linked through his. “No, it’s me.”
Weighted lids lifted, and the grayness receded in the piercing fluorescent light. He recoiled then focused on the face above him. Warmth and peace trickled through him. “Lanie.”
“I wondered if you were ever going to wake up.” She blinked, tears sparkling on her long, dark lashes. What had happened to bring that look of strain to her face? Her fingers danced over his jaw again. “I love you, O’Reilly.”
Remembrance flooded his mind – Beth’s screams, Mitchell’s curses, the bullet burning his shoulder. He struggled to sit up, and the lurking pain tore through his chest. “Beth. Oh, my God, Beth. Got to find her-”
Lanie’s hands pushed at his arms. “Stop. You can’t-”
He thrust her away, his arms heavy and uncoordinated, agony shooting through him with each movement. He ignored it. “Damn it, I’ve got to find Beth.”
“Everyone’s looking for her ... John, you’re going to pull out your-”
A sharp stinging tore through his hand, and he stared at the blood spurting from his skin, the intravenous line lying useless on the bed now. He shoved to a sitting position, his head swimming.
“Oh, hell.” Lanie tried to push him back again, reaching for the call button at the same time.
“He’ll kill her. I’ve got to find her.”
“John. Stop it.” Lanie took his face in her hands, her hazel gaze holding his. He stilled, breathing hard, impatience and terror pounding under his skin. “The FBI is here. The Texas Rangers, too. They’ve sealed off the county, and a door-to-door search is underway. They’re going to find Beth and Nicole. I promise.”
Screams and blood filled his mind again. He pulled her hands away, blood dripping down his forearm, and shook his head, trying to clear the dizzy fuzziness. “You don’t understand. She needs me.”
“I do understand. And you can help her best by getting better.” Lanie’s soothing tone grated against his ears.
“You don’t understand.” He snarled the words at her, and she stepped back, a startled expression crossing her face. “You can’t.”
A nurse materialized at his bedside. She exchanged a glance with Lanie. “Mr. O’Reilly? Lie back and let me put your IV line back in.”
Nausea and panic clawed in his throat. “No. I don’t need it.”
“Yes, you do.”
“John.” Lanie’s voice slipped from soothing to authoritative, the tone he knew she used with recalcitrant suspects. “You are not leaving that bed. Now, you can either let her put the line back in, or we can strap you to the bed and then she can put it back in.”
He glared at her, almost hating her for standing between him and Beth’s safety. “You wouldn’t dare.”
Her golden eyes narrowed. “Try me. Steve’s on the other side of that door, and I know he has his cuffs with him.”
With a growled curse, he subsided and allowed the nurse to replace the line. His gaze remained locked on Lanie’s throughout the procedure, although dizziness attacked him again. When the needle was in place again, Lanie smiled grimly. “Now. What did you mean, he’ll kill her? Who is he?”
Agitation crawled along his nerves. “Doug Mitchell. Beth’s ex-husband.”
Startled confusion settled on her face. “I thought-”
“I need to get the hell out of here.”
“You need to rest. If you’ll be a good boy, I’ll go see if there’s any news, okay?”
The brief struggle had exhausted him. The gray depths pulled at him, and he fought the sucking heaviness. He had to stay awake, had to help Beth. He had to-
“Rest.” Lanie’s whisper and her gentle touch washed over him once more. “I’ll be right back.”
The gray rushed in on him, and awareness vanished.

Link to book.


:~: Thursday, November 29, 2007 :~:

Excerpt: Perfectly Good Nanny by Paty Jager

Brock Hughes is a man juggling a mortgaged ranch, a preteen daughter, and a toddler. He’s lost two wives, one to a tragic accident and the other to the bright lights of the city. That’s the trouble with women. Sooner or later, by design or by fate, they leave a man high and dry. He doesn't want another one for his family--especially in the form of a beautiful nanny he didn't hire.

Carina Valencia arrives on Brock’s doorstep determined to pull her life back together. As far as she's concerned, it doesn't matter who hired her. These children are clearly in need of a woman’s touch and she’ll not let another child down.


“You have no right to come here and criticize how I raise my children.” Brock took three long strides toward Carina. “Do they look abused or neglected to you?” Towering over her, he glared at her upturned face. How dare she question him?

She didn’t back away or down.

“Your daughter ordering a nanny screams of neglect to me,” Carina retorted with steel in her voice.

Her reaction puzzled him.

“She had help.” He did feel remorse his daughter knew what she needed and he didn’t.

“But you knew nothing about it.” Carina threw her hands in the air, turned away then swung back around. “If you supervised your children as you say you do, she wouldn’t have been able to arrange for a nanny and have one arrive without your knowledge.”

She was right, but he’d never admit it. He was a bad excuse for a father, but he loved the land and his children and was torn between the two. They both needed him.

Brock rubbed a hand over his face and backed away from the woman who made him see himself in an unfavorable light. “I know,” he mumbled.

“You know what?” she stepped close. He could smell her perfume and the scent of baby powder.

"I know I’m not around enough, but they also need fed and clothed and this god-forsaken land is what puts food on the table and clothes on their backs.”

“But they need you, too.” Her face softened. “Physical contact is just as important as food and shelter.” She reached out, rubbing his arm. “You’re a wonderful father when you’re with the children. And I’ve no doubt Maddie had a terrific time with you today.”

The energy her touch set off frightened him. God help him. Between the zing of her touch and the passion in her words, his body overruled his good sense.

Grasping her shoulders, he pulled her against his chest, breathing in her sensual scent. It felt good to hold a woman again. Especially, one who’d just given him such high praise, even if it was after raking him up one side and down the other.

When she didn’t pull from his embrace, he slid his hand down her back, forgetting all the reasons he’d built to stay away from a woman.


Paty Jager lives with her husband of twenty-eight years and a menagerie of farm animals. Her four children are grown and leading their own lives and providing grandchildren to spoil.She has been a freelance reporter for local newspapers and a 4-H program assistant over the years as she honed her writing. Nearly ten years ago she joined RWA (Romance Writers of America). After eight years of attending many conferences, workshops, and being a finalist in eight contests, she broke into the publishing industry with a new, small e-book and POD publisher, The Wild Rose Press.
Soon to be the ex-president of the Mid-Willamette Valley RWA chapter in Salem, Oregon, she is also a member of the Hearts Through History RWA online chapter, and a member of the Redmond Writers group. She credits the RWA organization for helping her work on her craft to become a published author and giving her the contacts necessary to build her career. Two western romance historical books were published in 2006. Marshal in Petticoats and Gambling on an Angel. Her third romance novel, Perfectly Good Nanny, a contemporary western romance, is available in both print and e-book. The second book of the Petticoat series, Outlaw in Petticoats, will be available in print May 2008.

To View Paty's website and buy her books visit http://www.patyjager.com/

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:~: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 :~:

Gifts for Writers

I'm blogging a bit late to give Charlotte's post a bit more "face" time. So great of her to stop by. Thanks, Charlotte!

I'm rather wound up in Christmas shopping. Normally, I'm stressing at the last minute. For whatever reason, I'm more on the ball this year and it feels so much better. I'm also going simple--one largish present instead of a hundred little ones. And conservative--thoughtful, but not overboard. I have to say...it's nice. I'm enjoying the season a lot more, stressing a lot less and generally feeling happier.

I'm still debating over what to get the members of my RWA chapter board. Flip flopping between a few ideas, which had me surfing around the Internet looking for good gift ideas for writers. They seem to come in three categories: intangible, big or little. I kinda wanted something different, but thought it would be good to list the various ideas I found and hopefully have you all add to them.

  • Time, space and support--of course every writer needs those things, but how do you "give" those? I think a coupon book would be a great way--homemade coupons for "Ready to cook lasagna for the family" in lieu of "time"; "Two hours of organization" in lieu of "space"; "Three brainstorming sessions at Starbucks" in lieu of support. You could get really fun and creative with a coupon booklet. Unfortunately, none of my writing friends live close enough for me to use this one. :-(

  • Pens, pencils, notebooks--these are ... okay, but I probably wouldn't use them. I've got pads and writing utensils all over the dang house. Maybe a special journal. Better yet, a journal with guided writing prompts or self-discovery techniques you've put in yourself. Or a journal that accompanies a book such as Simple Abundance or one of Eric Maisel's creativity books or any other of the enlightening works out there.

  • Books--of course, this one is rather obvious. But maybe look at it from a little different angle--the newest release of a best selling author from the writer's genre, the newest release from one of their favorite authors, a craft book related to that genre, or something that writer has been struggling with.

  • Gift certificates--no, not necessarily to B&N, although I'm sure lots of writers would like that too, but maybe for an online class or workshop. Be creative!

Lots of other suggestions come to mind:

  • Computer software

  • Flypen (this is what I've asked for)

  • Alphasmart (looking into this too)

  • Scrapbook of story ideas collected from newspapers and magazines

  • iPod

  • iTunes

  • Inspirational notes or signs

  • Calendar

  • Magazine subscription

  • Online subscription (i.e. autocrit, Publishers Weekly, etc.)

  • Bookclub subscription (i.e. Writer's Digest)

  • Netflix subscription (they've got great documentaries, too)

Okay, I'm dry. Help me out here -- what are your ideas for great writer gifts?


:~: Tuesday, November 27, 2007 :~:

Guest Blogger: Charlotte Cook, Komenar Publishing


Yikes! I understand the frustrations of this industry. I'm a writer, editor, teacher, and publisher ... along with being the spouse of an independent book seller and friend to many others in and across this industry. And I don't know why anyone would want to rage at people who might help a writer achieve his/her ambitions and achieve them successfully.

Authors Raging at Booksellers

Story One: An author with a published book in hand stands at the cashier station in a bookstore shouting at the lone bookseller there. "Why won't you carry my book?" the author asks and repeats while a customer stands nearby, hesitant to approach to make a purchase.

Story Two: An author writes an "anonymous" letter to a bookseller criticizing the bookseller for taking a call from a customer, then putting the author on "hold" to take an order from the customer on the telephone rather than discuss taking the author's book.

Story Three: An author follows around an events coordinator at a bookstore where the author is to have an event. The author repeats, "You haven't enough books on hand. Thirty won't do it. This is a great book. Everyone who comes will want to buy the book." The bookseller says that they rarely get turnouts above thirty people. The author counters with: "You don't know that. You can't tell the future. And my book is special."

Writers Raging at Publishers

Story One: A writer emails a publisher that the publisher's guidelines are "stupid" and the publisher is "just on a power trip." Writer and publisher have had no previous contact.

Story Two: A writer calls, then emails, a publisher: "My book will make you a million dollars. Why aren't you smart enough to see that?"

Story Three: A writer is asked to do a bit of rewriting. The writer responds with: "Clearly you have never read any Faulkner," refuses to do any rewriting, and closes with "you don't know literature."

An unfortunate story all around:
A writer confronts a publisher at a trade show: "You rejected my book but I got it published anyway. HAH!" The publisher points out that the book was rejected because the publisher doesn't take books in that genre. The writer turns very red, mutters something and stomps away.

I just found out that there are websites with stories about writers behaving badly. I'd think that no one would want to find a posting about their behavior there. But a writer on another site emails: "We have every right to behave as we do. You publishers and editors and agents just don't get it."

Well, yes, we do "get it." We are the recipients of the behavior and we do understand the catalyst for the behavior. But, if your emotions can't be managed in the earliest stages of relationship building, why should it be our problem? No behavior that is anti-social, unprofessional and/or intense can be rationalized away here in this industry. And why should it be? None of these people would be allowed such behavior elsewhere, in other industries, with other professionals. No behavior of that kind makes any of us want to work with such a person long term. And that's what this business is ... long term.

From submission to second printing, especially in the mid-size and smaller houses ... and with any bookseller ... bad behavior just can't be tolerated. We have no time, no staff, no added resources, no money and often insufficient resilience to cope with behavior that demoralizes or offends. I have actually witnessed writers exploding with expletives at receptionists, editors, booksellers, designers, and others. And I know people who have changed jobs and companies as a result. Good talent going away. Everyone loses.

So, just to avoid to catalyzing any raging emails to me, let me give you some ideas about how to become deeply appreciated in this world:

1. Make friends of everyone. You never know who is within earshot or who knows whom. (The woman behind you at the airlines counter is a producer for Oprah. The quiet customer waiting to buy book had been holding one by you.)

2. Take advice. If an agent says do this or that, if an editor says do this or that, if a publisher says do this or that ... do it with great energy and attitude.

3. Or, ask for clarification. But ...

4. Don't argue. Never argue.

5. Negotiate or question but never with attitude, or ...

6. Say thanks and walk away. Work to get along or to get away.

7. Always say please, thank you, and you're welcome. (Don't say "no problem.")

8. Remember that nothing happens in this industry quickly. If you want an update on your submission, the status of production ...

9. Send polite emails, or ...

10. Call, asking first if the speaker has time to talk, then be brief and polite.

11. Consider that sales are essential to success. Publishers and booksellers have to sell books to buy more books. And stocking large quantities creates costly returns, not more sales.

12. Learn about the challenges each and everyone has in this industry.

13. Be agreeable and articulate.

14. Make friends of everyone.

15. Make friends.

I have had the best fortune in making friends in this industry. Most everyone I deal with is a friend in one manner or another. I am always grateful for their time and commitment. Many have helped us in very particular and important ways. I remind myself all the time that making a successful book is a team effort and I am always on a learning curve.

So, what more can I write? All I want you to know is that to succeed you make friends. Make friends of some really wonderful people. And I hope that's what you do.


:~: Thursday, November 22, 2007 :~:

A Couple of New, Different Firsts

It's been a wild couple of weeks. I've started graduate school on top of teaching, parenting and writing, so I've been really focused on keeping my head above water. Anyone who knows me can tell you having a conversation with me lately is an interesting experience -- I'm focused, as I said, on keeping everything going, so my ability to converse is less than focused. ;-)

But, I did manage to hold myself together for two recent (and pretty darn cool) author firsts . . .

1) I signed my first copy of one of my books. It's actually a pretty neat story. I'd gone in the local bookstore because Leigh, the owner, had emailed to tell me What Mattered Most had been delivered (early, I might add!). I'd had to take Monster #2 for a checkup and while we waited for his prescriptions, we went for a coffee and a slice of Patsy's decadent chocolate cake. Afterwards, we walked next door so I could pick up a copy of Bobby Dews's book, which he was scheduled to be signing that evening. I knew I'd miss his signing.

While I was purchasing his book and talking with Leigh, in walks Mr. Dews! He was early. So we chatted about his book and Leigh mentioned I was her next booksigning. He asked to see a copy of my book and ended up buying it right there then asked me to sign it. Overall, it was a great experience -- and he was so interesting to talk to. I can't put his book down, either. He's Southern and dark and realistic. I like that.

2) I survived my first newspaper interview. I'll be featured in two local newspapers this upcoming week -- my hometown paper and the larger metro newspaper near us. Wednesday, the reporter from the metro newspaper called to conduct the interview via phone. She was really nice, asked great questions, and overall it was a fantastic experience. I'm hoping that feature comes out well. The photographer is coming out Monday to take the photo -- that makes me nervous because I am less than photogenic, y'all! There should be an online link once the article runs and I'll post that here when it does.

I'm looking forward to another first -- my first booksigning on Saturday, December 1. If you're in the south Georgia, north Florida area, drop by The Bookstore in Camilla between 10:00 and 12:00. I'd love to see you!

Y'all have a great weekend. I'm off to recover from eating too much of Mama's famous thirteen-layer chocolate cake . . .


:~: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 :~:

Gratitude as a Tranforming Life Force

Most of you will recall the blockbuster book Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Oprah rocketed the book and the author through the atmosphere several years ago. This was my first introduction to the concept of gratitude as an adult. As a child, I was drilled with the concept of gratitude via Catholicism, but…I was a kid. Kids never listen.

My personal practice of gratitude has brought me comfort and perspective in the most stressful times in life. But instead of torturing you with my “take” on the concept, I’ll gift you with the words of those far more knowledgeable and poetic.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. ~ Melody Beattie

Paraphrased from Day 14, Simple Abundance, regarding the Gratitude Journal:

After consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life, you simply will not be the same person. You set into motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.

As you recognize and give thanks for the gifts in your life, and inner shift in your reality will occur. Soon your will be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. As you focus on the abundance rather than the lack in your life, you will be designing a wonderful new blueprint for the future. This sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work, transforming your dreams into reality.

A French proverb reminds us that “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” Begin to explore and integrate this beautiful, life-affirming principle into your life, and the miracle you have been seeking will unfold to your wonder and amazement.
~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

Do you employ gratitude in your everyday life? Can you share the benefits or transformations you’ve experienced because of it?

Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday.


:~: Monday, November 19, 2007 :~:


Lin's been talking a lot about characters. We all know strong characters make or break a book. Plot is essential in driving a story forward, but good characters are what keep the reader thinking about the book long after the story is over.

So what's in your perfect hero? How about your perfect heroine?

My perfect hero is a little bit cocky. He doesn't know exactly what he wants at the beginning of the book. He may think there's not much wrong with him personally even though his life might be way out of whack. He's been around the block a time or two. He's probably done things he's not proud of. He could be a hundred different things on the outside - cowboy, cop, business man, warrior, soldier, thief - but on the inside he's a man of principle. He knows what's important to him and he has a strong personal code of ethics he strives to keep in balance. He loves his mother (a given), family is important to him even if he doesn't admit it outright, and he knows there's more to a woman than simply a pretty face (and body). And, oh, yeah, he has to have a sense of humor, must like football and baseball, and always holds the door open for a woman.

When he meets the heroine, he's knocked on his ass. He may fight it. He may tell himself (and the world) she's the wrong woman for him, but the reader will know he's toast from day one. When he finally figures it out, there's not a single thing in the world that would keep him from the woman he loves.

My perfect heroine is feisty. She's a fighter, a rebel, an independent woman. She, too, has been around the block. Maybe not sexually (then, again, maybe sexually too), but she's experienced the highs and lows of life. She's not green. She doesn't have sappy visions of the man who will sweep her off her feet. She knows - at this point in her life - she's not willing to sacrifice who she has become just to have a man by her side. Wanting one is totally up to her.

She, too, has a good sense of humor. She likes sports, isn't afraid to get her hands dirty, and can just as easily hang with the guys on a Saturday afternoon as she can get gussied up and go out on the town.

When she meets her perfect hero, he'll probably irritate her. A strong woman doesn't like to meet her match. She'll most likely deny her feelings (just like my hero), but because she's a woman, she knows when she's fighting a losing battle. Even if she doesn't tell him, and even if she knows their relationship is doomed, she'll keep what she feels to herself until the last possible second. But when she discovers the man who truly loves her for who she is, there's nothing she wouldn't do for him.

What's in your perfect hero and heroine? Have you ever come across a book that had the "perfect" main characters?


:~: Friday, November 16, 2007 :~:

Characters, Once Again

Picture a classroom, decorated in lots of red, white and blue befitting an American Lit class, full of inquisitive, talkative teenagers hyped up on Halloween candy. For once, they've all done the required reading (Scary -- that might be the first sign of the Apocalypse). We're thirty chapters into Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and they're excited about the developing story.

The conversation veers into making connections between this novel and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which they finished earlier in October.

"Oh! So Edna and Robert are kinda like Gatsby and Daisy!" Brittany says. "They're in love, but they can't be together because both Daisy and Edna are already married."

Sara brightens as she leans forward, eager to talk. "Yeah, and both of them are unhappy in their marriages."

Colby looks up and I know I'm in trouble. I love this kid -- he's smart and funny and likes to participate -- but when he gets that little frown between his brows . . . oh, man.

"Ms. Winfree, what's up with all these books with adultery in them?"

See? Told you I was in trouble. All twenty-two pairs of eyes swing to me. At this point, they are convinced every novel in four hundred years of American writing revolves around some adulterous situation. They're wrong, of course, but somehow I inadvertently picked an entire semester's worth of major works that do involve some aspect of that particular issue.

What I point out to my students is that in all of the works in this series (The Great Gatsby, The Awakening, The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible), adultery is not the central conflict or event. In all of them, it serves as a tool for the author to build a character, to create or enhance a main conflict, to explore a theme. Fitzgerald uses Nick Carraway's rather unreliable point of view to gloss over Gatsby and Daisy's illicit liasons. Chopin's exploration of Edna's sexual and individual awakening has the character's destruction hinging on her emotional affair rather than her physical affair. Hawthorne and Miller both have their characters suffering consequences of their actions, but with different outcomes: Hester must own up to her affair and Hawthorne uses the Puritan's treatment of her to indict their own hypocrisy; Miller's John Proctor keeps his adultery quiet too long and loses everything because of it.

So . . . four authors, one taboo, four great reads.

Four books in which the reader is induced to basically overlook the adultery for the other major ideas. I don’t have a problem with Gatsby and Daisy having an affair. I understand why Edna makes the choices she does. I get John Proctor’s straying. Same for Hester Prynne.


In my office is another book, the second by an author whose first book I adored. I've had this book over a year. I can’t finish it. Can’t get past chapter four or five. Because the protagonist is about to embark on an adulterous relationship and I can’t stand it. I think she’s stupid and ungrateful. I can’t read this book.

Different author. Same taboo. A really cruddy read, for me anyway.

Why? Again, it’s the character. If she were different, maybe it would work. But because her motivations seem weak, her character comes off as weak.

As Bonnie pointed out to us earlier this week, it’s all about the characters.


:~: Thursday, November 15, 2007 :~:

Excerpt: Night Song by Sharon Cullen

Night Song

He’s a centuries old vampire who doesn’t do domestication. She’s a single mother struggling to survive. Evil brings them together, but will their love be enough to keep them alive?


Aiden hadn’t lied. He had been walking in the woods. What he didn’t tell her was that he timed his walk to coincide with her nightly ritual of sitting on the deck with her glass of wine. She’d been late tonight and he’d almost given up, but his patience had been rewarded when the sliding door opened and she stepped through.

He’d been more than stunned to see the shimmer of tears on her cheeks and could no more have stayed away than deny his insatiable hunger for blood. He had to know what was wrong, what made her sad.

But she was reluctant to talk and her mortification was apparent, so he let it go for the time being. That thought alone should have been enough to send him running for the hills. She was human and she was a mother on top of it. A bad combination in his book. But this woman was different and that both drew him to her and made him step back.

It was insane to get to know her.

Yet he couldn’t stay away even if he wanted—and at the moment he didn’t want.

She left the deck to get his wine. He followed and stood just outside the sliding glass door, surveying her kitchen. It was everything his home was not. Lydia’s drawings covered the front of the refrigerator held there with big, colorful magnets. An overlarge calendar was taped up, each day marked with different colored pens. Papers had been pushed off to the side of the kitchen table. Cooling loaves of bread littered the small space. Aiden took a deep breath and held it. Lemon bread, if he wasn’t mistaken.

He rarely ate food, and only then to appease the human he was with, but the scents coming from Amy’s kitchen made his stomach grumble. His gaze went to her as she bustled around the cluttered kitchen. Just like the other night, he wanted to step inside and just be with her. But, as a vampire, he wasn’t allowed inside unless invited.

Amy shot him a warm look over her shoulder as she pulled more loaves from the oven. “Come in,” she said with a smile. “Sorry about the mess.”

He stepped inside, savoring the smell of warm lemon bread, entranced at the sight of her rear end bent over the open oven door. His breath caught in his lungs and he stepped even closer. She closed the door and opened the refrigerator, pulling out a bottle of wine.

“It’s so hard to keep the kitchen clean,” she said. “Seems every time I straighten it up, it’s a mess again.”

She chuckled and turned around, then gasped when she knocked into him. Wine splashed out of the glass and splattered her hand.

“Oh.” Her face turned red. “Sorry.”

He took the glass in one hand and her fingers in his other. Lifting her hand to his lips, he kept his gaze trained on her wide, amber eyes. Slowly he sucked the sweet liquid from her fingers and palm, running his tongue along her palm. He closed his eyes, biting back a groan at the salty-sweet taste of her skin. He skimmed his fangs across her palm and she inhaled. His gaze flew to hers where a desire mixed with trepidation and a longing that nearly matched his shone back.

Quickly, before he lost control, he let go of her hand. She held it to her body, cradling it close to her breast. Aiden licked his lips, wanting more. Wanting it all. He took a step back and sipped his wine, studying the rise and fall of her breasts, hearing the small little pants that escaped from between her lips. He could smell the heat rising from her body, the woman scent that had him rock hard.

Not tonight. If he were smart, not ever. But sometimes his intelligence took a back seat to other, baser instincts, and he had no doubt this would be one of those times.

She wanted him. He could see it in her eyes and in the way she leaned toward him. But she also didn’t want him. That was in her eyes as well, evidenced by the confusion. He placed his glass on the kitchen table and took a step in her direction. She held her ground but her eyes grew wider and the pulse in her carotid picked up speed. Keeping his mouth shut, he licked his incisors, nearly tasting her warm, sweet blood. Would it taste like she smelled? Vanilla and flowers? God, he wanted to know.

He reached her in another step and stood so close her warm breath heated him through his shirt. With slow movements, he lifted his hand and caressed her neck. There. Right there he could kiss her, feel her pulse, know that her blood flowed through her. His mouth watered. She licked her lips and he groaned, bending his head and taking her mouth with his, licking the line where her upper lip clamped over her lower, asking for entry.

She opened and he dove in, tasting her, testing her. He was a master at kissing while hiding his elongated and very sharp fangs. His hands cupped the sides of her face. Tentatively, slowly, she raised her hands and placed them on his waist. Her fingers stroked little circles, making his skin tingle where she touched him.


With a gasp, Amy pushed away, staring at him with wide eyes, her lips rosy and soft. She swiped a hand across her mouth and tore her gaze from his. With a muttered curse, Aiden ran a shaky hand through his hair.

“Lydia, what are you doing up?” Amy asked her daughter.

“Why are you kissing the boogey-man?”


BIO: After reading Black Beauty when she was ten, Sharon had two dreams—to own a horse and to write books. She still doesn’t have the horse, but she does write. Nowadays she divides her time between the every day duties of a mom with three busy kids, a husband, a Labrador Retriever who occasionally makes an appearance in her stories, and writing.

Contact Sharon at sharon@sharoncullen.net

Visit Sharon’s website at http://www.sharoncullen.net/

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:~: Tuesday, November 13, 2007 :~:

Character Driven Fiction

Welcome to our guest blogger: Bonnie Hearn Hill

Author, teacher and public speaker Bonnie Hearn Hill worked as a newspaper editor for 22 years, a job that, along with her natural nosiness, increased her interest in contemporary culture. Her 2003 novel, Intern was called “a page-turner” by Publishers Weekly. Killer Body (February 2004), a thriller about our weight-obsessed culture, was a Cosmopolitan magazine “pick.” In September 2006, Bonnie’s series of newspaper thrillers from MIRA Books featuring hearing-impaired reporter Geri LaRue, debuted. She has also written nonfiction, including a co-authored book on the Scott Peterson murder trial and articles for Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest and The Writer magazines.

A national conference speaker, contest judge and co-founder/faculty member for the Yosemite Writers Conference, Bonnie leads a very successful writers' workshop in Fresno. She is proud to have mentored some of the San Joaquin Valley’s most successful authors, including Hazel Dixon-Cooper, now the Cosmopolitan magazine Bedside Astrologer, mystery novelist Sheree Petree, Woman’s Day magazine essayist Wendy Revell, cowboy poet Bob Brown (Story Line Press), Hackney Literary Award winner Gary Hill (no relation), humor writer (Redneck Haiku, Santa Monica Press) Mary Witte and multi-published quilting pioneer Jean Ray Laury.
If you visit her Web site, http://www.bonniehearnhill.com/, you can see a photograph of Parker (adopted in Sacramento on a 2004 book tour), one of her three wonderful cats.

We are thrilled to have her here today to discuss character-driven fiction.


Let the characters drive it

Almost every time a writer I mentor tells me that she has a plot problem, I discover that the problem is really not plot but character. We all know that the right character can sell your book, and that a ho-hum character can ruin the best plot.

When I speak at conferences, I’m often approached by a beginning writer who believes she has a great idea for a story.

“So this woman from Earth marries a Martian. What do you think?”

The problem is – when I start asking about this Martian-marrying woman, I realize that the author doesn’t know anything about her – how she looks, her past history, not even her birthday.

When you decide to write a book, you might try asking yourself these two questions. 1. Whose story is this? 2. What does this person want? (external plot)

Character-driven fiction can be reduced (but is not limited) to a basic formula: C+C=C. Character plus Conflict equals Change.

Take a character and put him or her into conflict, and what happens? Just like real life, the character changes, whether or not he or she realizes it.

The external conflict is the second C. The internal conflict is the hole in the character’s life. We all have a hole in our lives, a tragedy, a regret, a guilt that still gnaws at us. Your character should have one too.

Getting to know them

In addition to my Writer’s Digest and Authorlink online classes, I lead a Tuesday night workshop in Fresno, and a small critique group (The Fridays) that meets in my home. My good friend Hazel Dixon-Cooper, the Cosmopolitan magazine Bedside Astrologer, always has the same question when one of us introduces a new character. “What is her sign?” And if we don’t know, Hazel will grill us about our characters, right down to body type and hairstyle. I use her nonfiction book, Born on A Rotten Day to give me character insights from an astrological perspective.

The late Jack Bickham said that he actually interviewed his characters. He’d sit in one chair as Jack, ask the question, then move to the other chair to answer it as the character. I tell you this if only so you won’t think that what I’m going to confess next is weird.

I have my characters write letters to me. “Dear Bonnie, My name is...and I was born...” Usually by the third page, the character says something like, “My problem now is...” These letters help me hear the character’s voice. I learn back story and information that doesn’t need to go into the book verbatim but is essential to my story.

People in real life have secrets. What’s yours? What’s your character’s? I try to make sure that most of my characters have secrets, and because I write thrillers, I try to give most of the main characters a motive for whatever crime has taken place. Both secrets and motives show up in character letters.

Character traits

What traits should your protagonist have in order to engage your reader’s heart? SJ Rozan’s Bill Smith drinks, smokes, and lives above a bar. He’s a private investigator who’s lost a daughter. He broods. Somehow, he’s very sexy. Jonathan Lethem’s protagonist in Motherless Brooklyn has Tourette’s, spews obscenities and is on a quest to find the killer of the small-time hoodlum who adopted him. Totally engaging. I was in love by the end of the first paragraph. How can you create characters who will grab a reader in a similar fashion?

Although you can come up with any number of character traits, I believe your protagonist must have two important characteristics in addition to the ones you choose.

S/he should be:
  • Sympathetic. Flawed, vulnerable characters are more appealing than perfect ones. This is where the hole in the life comes in.

  • Proactive. No one roots for a victim. The protagonist must protag.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on character-driven fiction.


:~: Monday, November 12, 2007 :~:


First off, today is Veteran's Day. If you are a veteran, from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you for the sacrifices you make. Unfortunately, not all veterans get today off from work, but they should.


On to epilogues. Love 'em? Hate 'em? Blah about them either way? Of the last five books I've read, four have had epilogues. New trend? Probably not. Most likely it's a fluke four out of five I read lately had epilogues.

What genres tend to have epilogues? All. Cindy Gerard uses them in her RS body guard series. The epilogue is the same in each book - the family (and their significant others) all together playing croquet. What I like about Cindy's epilogues is that she uses them to introduce the next "conflict" for the next book in the series. Kind of an intriguing way to do that, I think.

A lot of paranormals tend to have epilogues, showing the HEA months after the story ends. Susan Elizabeth Phillips generally has epilogues in her books for the same reason (and hers are very fun to read). And short time-frame books (ie. chases or books that only span a few days) tend to use the epilogue to show the lasting romance.

Which authors do you think make good use of the epilogue? Which don't? If you're a writer, do you generally include an epilogue or not? Honestly, I don't think I've ever written one, but I'm not opposed to them, either. If it fits the story, I say go for it.


:~: Friday, November 09, 2007 :~:

Yeah, Still All About the Characters

First, the skinny on my current contest:

I'm going to leave this open 9:00 PM EST Saturday, November 10. Okay, here's the deal:

1) Visit my author page at Samhain (http://www.samhainpublishing.com/authors/linda-winfree).

2) Peruse the blurbs and/or excerpts for my current releases (What Mattered Most, Truth and Consequences and His Ordinary Life).

3) Drop me an email with SAMHAIN CONTEST in the subject line to linda_winfree at yahoo dot com (you know what to do). In the email, tell me which title you would like if your name is drawn, along with 1-2 sentences telling me why you're interested in this particular title.

4) Saturday night, I'll draw for two winners and announce them at the Samhain Cafe as well as my blog.


Today, the Spanish II class gifted us with the annual Spanish play. These are always an excercise in hilarity and this year was no exception. Our Spanish students chose to translate Napoleon Dynamite. Yes, you read that correctly.

Now, let me preface this by saying I didn't make it through one entire viewing of Napoleon Dynamite. My students are always horrified to hear this because, you know, "Oh, man, Ms. Winfree, that's the funniest movie ever!"

Yeah. Sure it is.

But watching the play today and watching the audience reaction, I could somewhat see the appeal of the non-funniest movie ever.

It's the characters. The kids fall in love with Napoleon, Kip, Pedro . . .

I'm a plotter all the way, but I've been reminded again lately of how important character consistency is. I'm doing some minor revisions on my spring release, Anything But Mine, before my editor and I begin the major editing process. This book is closely tied to another in my Hearts of the South series, Hold On to Me. Over the summer, I rewrote Hold On to Me, changing the backstory to up the conflict and further focus the heroine's character. But it's not the heroine who changes the character layers in Anything But Mine.

It's all Tick.

He, of course, is the hero in Hold On to Me. The hero in Anything But Mine is his close friend and colleague. There's a minor backstory issue in HOTM that affects their relationship in ABM. It's not a major point, but no way is Tick going to be all smiling and happy in Stanton's presence in ABM. He's resentful, a little angry, that some of the pain he and the heroine suffered could have been alleviated if not for one act of Stanton's. So, even though my revisions aren't major, there's quite a bit of character layering to be done to keep the characters consistent.

Have you had to revise for character consistency before? Any tips you'd care to share? Or books where you think the characters should have been more consistent?


:~: Wednesday, November 07, 2007 :~:

Excerpt: Judgment Fire

The massive rock barrier of the southern Sierra and its jagged snow-covered pinnacles never failed to inspire Tempe. Normally, the pine, aspen and cedar forest bordering the winding highway calmed and reassured her--until this afternoon.

A face popped into her mind. Someone she hadn't seen or thought of for quite awhile, which added to the apprehension she couldn't shake. Deputy Tempe Crabtree attributed her uneasiness to the fact that her assigned beat, the tiny community of Bear Creek and the surrounding area, would soon be swollen with Memorial Day weekend tourists. Fishermen, swimmers, and water skiers would swarm the banks of Lake Dennison, and visitors in all sorts of vehicles would soon clog the two-lane road to the high country and its many camping sites. Her work load would increase a hundred-fold.

She made a quick pass through Bear Creek and continued upward into the mountains. Her vehicle, a white Blazer with SHERIFF printed in large black letters above the gold county seal on both doors, made her highly visible.

The route followed the river's course and she caught glimpses of it from time to time. Most of the homes and ranches were hidden from view by the thick tangle of wild berry bushes, manzanita, and shadowed woodlands.

Maneuvering the Blazer around a sharp curve, she drew in a quick breath and braked. Fire engulfed the front end of a green mini-van, outlining a person in the front seat. The vehicle was stopped at the side of the road, flames licking at the bordering brush.

Tempe radioed her position and requested assistance before leaping from her vehicle and dashing to the driver's side of the van. She yanked on the handle, but the door wouldn't budge. The cab was filled with smoke. "Get out!"

The driver, a Native American woman in her fifties, faced straight ahead, long fingers gripping the steering wheel. It was Doretha Nightwalker, her silver hair brushed tightly back into a bun. Though Doretha's eyes were open, she didn't seem aware of what was happening.

The windshield and dashboard were melting. Doretha would die if Tempe didn't get her out immediately.

Darting around the van, Tempe leaped the burning brush and reached for the passenger door. After a short struggle, the door opened. "Doretha! You've got to get out now."

The woman didn't react. Tempe scrambled into the front seat. Smoke burned her eyes and the intense heat made breathing difficult.

Tempe yanked the woman’s arm, but Doretha continued to clutch the steering wheel. Flames sneaked through the cracks of the firewall. One by one, Tempe pried Doretha's fingers loose. Grabbing her around the waist, she yanked the slender woman across the seat and pulled her out of the burning vehicle.

One of the van's tires exploded as Tempe dragged Doretha to her Blazer. Opening the passenger door, she hoisted the woman onto the floor of the Blazer. Doretha stared vacantly.

"Doretha, are you hurt?" Tempe spoke loudly, trying to get through to the woman. Another van tire burst. A siren whined in the distance.

Grasping her wrist, Tempe felt Doretha's pulse. Rapid and strong. No cuts or bruises were on her face. Examining her quickly, Tempe found no obvious broken bones. Of course internal injuries were possible.

The siren grew louder. "We'll have help soon, Doretha."

Doretha still didn't respond.

Tempe grabbed her microphone and contacted the dispatcher. "We've got a single vehicle, fully involved. One victim. We need an ambulance."

Long, slender fingers grabbed Tempe's arm. "No, no ambulance. I'm not hurt." Doretha's voice was deep and raspy.

"You should be checked out by a doctor," Tempe said.

"There's no need."

Tempe shrugged, and picked up the mike. "Cancel the ambulance."

Facing Doretha, Tempe asked, "What happened? Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine. My mind was off somewhere. To tell you the truth, I was thinking about you. All of sudden the car was on fire...I pulled off the road. I don't remember anything after that."

Amazing. "That's strange because you're face popped into my mind just before I turned the corner and discovered your van on fire."

Doretha nodded. "Yes, I thought it was something like that."

Before Tempe could ask what she meant, the fire engine rounded the bend and came to a halt. Captain Roundtree and two volunteers in black-and-yellow turnout gear and helmets leaped out, carrying fire extinguishers and hoses. "I don't think they'll be able to save much," Tempe said.

"No, I realize that. A small sacrifice."

"You do have insurance, don’t you?"

"Oh, yes. My van will be replaced. But I'm relieved to know that this didn't happen because I was out of harmony. That's when most misfortunes occur."

Doretha, a shaman, viewed the world in a unique manner. Tempe first met her while investigating the disappearance and murder of a small child. Doretha was one of several Native Americans who had recently helped Tempe learn more about her own Yanduchi heritage.

Her curiosity piqued, Tempe asked, "Why do you suppose I had you on my mind just before I came upon you? Something psychic?"

Doretha chuckled. "That's one way of putting it I suppose. However, I think there's a simpler explanation. Our paths were intended to cross."

Why? Did Doretha have a specific reason why they were supposed to see each other? Did the shaman have a problem she needed Tempe's help with? Or was it Tempe who needed Doretha?

Marilyn Meredith is the author of award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series as well as other novels. The latest is, Judgment Fire, from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, the latest, Fringe Benefits. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, EPIC and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She was an instructor for Writer’s Digest School for ten years, served as an instructor at the Maui Writer’s Retreat and many other writer’s conferences. She makes her home in Springville, much like Bear Creek where Deputy Tempe Crabtree lives.

Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com



Boiling a 400+ manuscript into a one line pitch is a killer. That's why we write 400+ page manuscripts -- it's easier than writing one line that encompasses an entire book.

But, as with everything in life, practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the easier it gets. The more of them you read, the better idea you have of how to do it.

The best place to get examples -- NYT Bestsellers List -- after all, they must know something about it seeing as they made it this far.

How about these tag lines from the top 20:

1) A retired F.B.I. agent has a chance to track a rapist who may have murdered his wife.

2) A princess is challenged by work at an African Red Cross camp.

3) N/A

4) A woman vows to punish the wealthy American man who lured her mother into a prostitution ring.

5) A woman elevated by inheritance to the ranks of London high society navigates her new world with the help of a handsome socialite.

6) A divorce lawyer may be murdering his clients’ spouses.

7) The members of the Camel Club reunite to solve a murder at the Library of Congress.

8) Two Boston P.I.’s investigate the disappearance of a 4-year-old girl they assume is dead.

9) A comic police procedural involving a jewelry store robbery, a Russian nightclub and an undercover operation gone wrong.

10) A marine archaeologist hunts for the lost golden menorah of Jerusalem.

11) The young couple from “True Believer,” who are now expecting a child, get a disturbing message.

12) A green-skinned girl grows up to become the Wicked Witch of the West.

13) A “haze of terror” descends on a small town; originally published as a novella in the collection “Skeleton Crew.”

14) Two friends as close as sisters share a deadly confidence.

15) Murder, arson and lust surround the building of a 12th-century cathedral.

16) A human surgeon cares for a wounded vampire.

17) Two novellas about two murders, one in the world of politics, the other in the world of music.

18) A dead detective once suspected of murder reaches out through a Ouija board to clear his name.

19) A Victorian woman, promised by her father to a man she’s never met, assumes a false identity to spy on her intended.

20) A chess champion keeps a protective eye on his hairdresser wife after receiving veiled threats from a Russian opponent.

Some are better than others. Those I find most compelling: 1, 2, 6, 10, 14, 15, 18, 19. These contain some element of intrigue...lead me to want to know more, to pick up the book and read the back cover.

How about you -- which of these interest you and why? How do you squeezy your manuscript down into a sentence?


:~: Tuesday, November 06, 2007 :~:

Guest Blogger: Cynthia Lea Clark

I have taken several of Cynthia's online courses via KOD and she recently presented to our RWA group. She is a wealth of information on pychology and the criminal mind, and I'd like to welcome her to RWKF today!

Cynthia is teaching another course for KOD in January -- Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Homeland Security.



A rose is left at your door step. Romance or something sinister?

There you are working out in a gym, buying groceries, having coffee. Enjoying life. But what happens when someone disrupts that life? A person watches you. He or she stalks your every move. Now maybe this person finds you attractive and is just to shy to say hi or maybe this person is mad because you got that promotion at work instead of them, is a former lover, or worse, this person is a serial killer or a rapist and is watching you, his/her next victim.

Many, many years ago, one might break up with a guy or gal and drive by his or her house to see if there has been a replacement. No one thought twice about this. The same rejected suitor might call the other and hang up once or a hundred times. But then we didn't have caller ID. My times have changed. Now, if you call someone they know immediately it's you. Even if you use a payphone, it would be a good bet it's you. And now it’s called stalking.

I won't give my age, but suffice to say, I drove around the block a few times to see if the lights were on in my day, to see if there was a new car parked out front. Seems harmless and as long as it never gets passed a drive-by or two. And as long as that’s all it is, it is. It's when it becomes an obsession, which now seems to be a past time that we need to worry.

This Blog is called Romance Worth Killing Worth. Ummm. Sounds like a Stalker’s mantra.

Some stalkers think you love him or her too. I will use the one pronoun, him, for sake of ease but know that stalking is an equal opportunity crime.

I could write about any criminal but given the name, I felt stalkers calling to me. There are several types of stalkers and if you yourself haven't driven by an old boy or girl friend's, you may have been stalked or know someone who has been.

Stalkers can be crazies or they can look like average Joe, the guy next store, the Judge in court. Actually, the Judge, the policeman, and the doctor are some of the scariest stalkers. These professions already demand respect and yield power. They are used to getting their way and when they want it they want it. Plus others don't expect these professions to stoop to stalking. They tend to make the victims life even harder as few if any believe that such esteem people would stalk.

Who stalks? Anyone could stalk. As I have stated, a scorned lover, or someone just dumped could be a stalker.

There are many types of stalkers. The largest group of stalkers are those who had some sort of previous relationship with the victim, i.e., a former lover, boss, employee, etc. This group along with the serial killer are the most dangerous. The stalker who had a relationship uses fear to try and win back the victim. This can frequently escalate into violence. The ex may go to the person's place of employment and shoot it up, sometimes shooting the love of his life and other times not. His intent is to show her how deep his love is in the cases where he shoots others and where he shoots her, it is “if I can't have you no one can.”

But not all victims know their stalkers. “Famous” people, those on television, in film, on the radio, etc., may develop fans who suffer from erotomania. Erotomania is where the stalker feels that the stalkee is also in love with them, and is talking directly to them. If they wave, it’s a secret wave to them. Stalkers who suffer from erotomania are mostly women and their victims tend to be older men.

But the “love” stalkers are similar to the erotomania in that they think someone in television, film, radio, Internet, is directly talking to them and shares the same feelings for them as they have. There is no prior real relationship; any relationship is in their mind. Obsessed fans fall into this category. Many have psychological disorders as well and declare themselves as someone’s wife, etc. They make up the second largest group of stalkers.

Other stalkers include the delusional one. This one has little to no contact with the victim. However, they believe that a heavy pursuit will win their suitor. They are unmarried, socially immature, and a loner. They rarely date and have few if any sexual relationships. They go after someone unattainable, an actor, a lawyer, teacher, or a therapist for example. They may have been abused as a child and have no sense of personal identity. They are tenacious and will stalk for years until stopped. Any contact, even negative, such as arrests encourages them.
The vengeful stalker tends to be a former employee or someone in a position to consider him wronged. He is probably paranoid. He stalks to plot getting even.

The False Victimization Syndrome is a rather clever stalker who accuses her victim of stalking her. Her goal is to illicit sympathy and get her target into trouble. They tend to be female.
The Terroristic Stalker is generally male. He suffers from a psychopathic personality however has no mental disorder. He tends to seek out his family members. And anonymously harasses them. And there is a trigger or a precipating stressor.

The Psychotic Personality Stalker can be male or female. They target random strangers and develop delusions and then fixate. They do attempt to contact their prey. There is no precipating stressor.

When stalkers begin their campaign of fear they use numerous techniques including, telephone calls (harassing, threatening, hang-ups, etc.), letters, emails, following, surveillance, photos, videos, ordering unwanted goods on the victim’s behalf and sending them COD, and threatening the victim, their family, and their property.

With the Internet, cyber-stalking has added a new dimension to the terror that can be delivered. Instant messages of terror, emails, chats, pretending to be someone else, hacking, sending viruses, Trojans, monitoring cell phones, posing as the victim on the Internet all cause more grief and trouble.

Males make up 90% of the stalkers and are 20% of the victims. 65% of the males stalked know their stalker and 30% of these are by a former intimate partner.

Most of the male stalking victims are most likely to be stalked by another male.

80% of female stalking victims know their stalkers and 59% of them are stalked by a former intimate partner. 81% of these women were physically assaulted. 31% were physically and sexually assaulted.

Male stalkers are more likely to have a criminal background and drug abuse than a female stalker. Males are more likely to stalk strangers.

Females are likely to stalk their therapists.

Women stalk to establish or maintain intimacy with their target.

Men stalk to restore an intimate relationship.

Non violent stalkers are more likely to have had only a casual relationship with their target.

20% of stalkers use weapons as a threat or to harm their targets.

Only 53% of those stalked report it to the police.

Those who are stalked suffer from post traumatic stress, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, suicidology, irritation, agitation, nervousness, they have relationship problems, and suffer with decreased school or work performance.

To escape a stalker a victim might move, change their name, change their job, stay inside, stop socializing, change their appearance, change their phone number, and they may start carrying a weapon.

Next time you receive an unexpected rose….think about it, a sweet smelling rose of romance or is a stalker lurking?

Dr. Cynthia Lea Clark
Forensic Psychopathologist


:~: Monday, November 05, 2007 :~:

Still Stuck...

"This sucks." Cruise tosses the remote control on the scuffed coffee table that's seen better days and pushes off the couch. The guys-weekend-from-hell is getting worse. They're about out of beer, the Cheetos dried up sometime yesterday morning and someone in the room ate too much chili on their chili dog last night because the SBDs are smokin' them all out. The lack of windows in The Basement only makes things worse.

Cruise pushes a hand through his hair and starts pacing. "It's Monday-frickin'-afternoon for Pete's sake!" He looks up to the ceiling and raises his voice just to make sure She can hear him. "Did you hear me??? Some of us have work to do!"

Tick glances at Rio. "I think he's losing it."

Rio regards Tick thoughtfully. "Wasn't there a Pete in here with us last time?"

Tick rubs a hand over his weekend's worth of stubble. "Now that you mention it, there was. Slick dude. Didn't like him."

Rio reaches for the remote Cruise dropped and sarts flipping channels. "Me neither. Too slick."

He and Tick look at each other and nod in unison. "Felon."

Brody chuckles from across the room where he's lying on his back, feet propped against the concrete slap wall, tossing his baseball against the wall while Cruise continues pacing and muttering to himself.

"What's so funny?" Stanton asks, looking up from the Women's Day he's found wedged into a basket full of old magazines and newspapers.

Brody grins. "The felon. He'll be back. Uber-agent's reading his book right now. Guarantee there'll be edits."

"Fabulous," Rio mutters, returning his attention to the TV. "That's all we need in here. The only thing that'd make it better is if good ol' Troy Lee was in here too."

Tick quickly looks away.

Stanton's eyes narrow. "What do you know that we don't?"

"Nothing," Tick says quickly. Too quickly. "I mean, just that She's got his torture all laid out. And knowing Troy Lee, it's going to get worse before it gets better."

"I do not want to be stuck in here with Troy Lee," Ash says adamantly from the recliner where he's been pretending to sleep.

Cruise finally stops pacing long enough to glance toward the SI Swimsuit special Rio's paused the TV on. But his attention is obviously elsewhere because he looks away from the TV and scans each of the men's faces. "How much longer can this go on? Seriously. We've all got things to do."

"Not all of us," Theron mutters from the corner of the room where he's been quietly plotting to escape most of the day.

Brody catches the ball and stills. "Now that sounds like animosity, to me. Did you boys here that?"

Cruise drops into the other recliner and rolls his eyes. "Here we go again. Don't you two have anything better to do than bicker about who's getting WIP time?"

"I do," Theron mumbles.

"Not me," Brody says, going back to his tossing. The ball hits the concrete wall with a thunk. "Season's over, spring training doesn't start until Feb. I got all the time in the world. 'Course you wouldn't understand that. You being a spook and all. Busy things to do. Like wire-tapping innocent citizens, making deals with terrorists, and then there's that ever-present hunting-down-Bin-Laden thing that you guys can't seem to get right. And on that subject, explain it to me. Why can't you guys seem to find one old man again?"

"That's it!" Cruise leaps off the couch. "I've had about enough of your mouth."

Tick and Rio both step in to intercept. Tick puts a hand on Cruise's chest to keep him back. "He's just trying to get you going."

Brody chuckles.

Tick looks Brody's way. "And you. Knock it off, meat. It's bad enough we're all stuck in here together without your smartass comments."

Brody pushes up from the floor and slouches against the wall, all flippant attitude and defiant charm. "I'm hurt. Did you just call me meat?"

"Yeah, deal with it. And cut the crap."

Brody lifts a brow. "Watch Bull Durham one too many times, insect man?"

"Let me hit him. Just once," Cruise pleads. "It'll make us all feel better."

"That's true," Theron says from across the room.

Tick looked at Rio. Rio shrugs in a why not? move. Stanton puts down the article on how to bake a bundt cake and grins. "This could get interesting."

Tick finally drops his hand. He lets out a long-suffering sigh. "I know pounding on each other sounds like a good idea at the moment, but I'll be the one in trouble if there's a brawl. Remember the card game?"

"What card game?" Ash asks. "You played cards without me?"

"That wasn't our fault," Rio cuts in. "There were extenuating circumstances."

"Still," Tick says, shaking his head. "I've been around here the longest, and it's not wise to tick Her off. Now if we just---"

The basement door opens with a soft click. Silence falls over the room as all the men turn to look toward the lean woman standing in the doorway wearing cargo pants, a fitted black tee and army boots.

Theron uncoils from his corner, but She doesn't seem to notice him. She's zeroed in on Brody across the room. A wicked smile curls Her mouth, and She lifts one finger, beckoning him toward Her.

Theron shoots forward. No one attempts to stop him. "No!"

She turns Her attention his way. Her smile fades. Her violet eyes narrow. Theron stops dead in the center of the room as something unsaid passes between them. His shoulders slump. Then suddenly She turns. She looks at Brody again over Her shoulder and heads for the door.

A lopsided grin curls Brody's mouth. He hikes up his Levi's. "Been nice knowin' ya, losers." He follows Her out of the room. The door snaps shut with an echoing click.

Theron slumps back to the floor.

Ash kicks the recliner footrest down. "Um. What just happened here?"

Theron's jaw clenches. "She's toying with me."


"Um, no offense," Ash finally says, "but what does that mean for the rest of us?"

"It means the weekend's over," Tick says. "And The Other Two will be coming for us soon."

Rio tips his head and studies the closed door. "Well, some of us. Hopefully."


"Yoo-hoo," another female voice calls from the top of the stairs.

All male ears in the basement perk.

"Are there any spooks, spies or CIA hanging out down there?" she asks.

Every man's gaze turns on Cruise. Stanton leans back and laces his fingers behind his head with a sour expression. "As a matter of fact--"

Cruise smacks Stan in the chest, cutting him off as he squints suspiciously at the darkened stairwell. "Who wants to know?"

She clears her throat, taps her foot. "Let me rephrase. Are there any spooks, spies or CIA hanging out down there who want steamy shower sex?"

Every man's feet hit the floor. Every spine straightens.

Stanton ducks and peers toward the top of the stairs. "Uh, nope, no spooks down here, just a lousy diplomat. But I've been in some pretty dicey situations in the past, know how to lie my ass right out of trouble--"

"No way Stan," Tick says. "I've been on three times as many undercover operations as you have. I'm far more qualified as a spy."

"Sorry, boys." Rio extends his arms and cracks his knuckles with a smug expression. "My UC ops have extended for years. I've lied to drug cartel, military leaders and psychopathic murderers. I'm way out of your league."

Theron stands, shoves his shoulders back until his full height looms over the other men. "None of you can deny I'm the most suspicious one here."

Ash taps his temple with one finger, comtemplative. "I don't suppose disposing of chicken corpses would count as espinage..."

Cruise is quiet, now standing aside the doorway peering past the jamb. The silouhette of a woman outlined in yellow light hovers on the top step. "Who wants to know?"

"Jesus," Rio frowns at Cruise and darts a disgusted look at Tick. "He's way below rookie status. He's just a fucking idiot."

"Hmmm," the woman ponders. "Too bad there's no spy down here, cause I've really amped up that shower scene, and I'm letting him stay afterward for more instead of cutting to the future. Big, comfortable bed, Egyptian cotton sheets. Slow this time, too. No wham-bam, which has it's place and all, but we've always got to remember if there's no meaning behind a sex scene, we may as well be writing porno."

"What's wrong with porno?" Stan mutters, pouting now, arms crossed again.

She sighs, long and loud. "I'm kinda thinking after the intensity of the shower, my h/h might indulge in some exploration of bodies, a little experimentation...might throw in some mouth action--"

Every man rises to his feet.

"I'm the spy!" Cruise bellows up the stairwell. He turns on the imposters, whips his Glock from the holster at his spine and trains it on the rest of men as he backs toward the darkened stairs. "Step away from my muse. Anyone even so much as looks at these stairs is going to loose an eyeball...or worse."

Cruise's feet pound up the stairs and the door closes with an exhuberant slam. All the men sink back into their seats...except Rio. He stalks to the opening to the stairs, braces his hands on either side of the jamb and yells, "Hey, what about me? Any word from the agents?"

"Sorry, handsome," Her voice floats back, fading. "Nothing yet."

Rio swears again, scraps a hand through his hair and stalks back to his recliner. "Damn spies have all the luck."


:~: Saturday, November 03, 2007 :~:

Fun Stuff On Tap

Romance Worth Killing For has decided to sweep into fall with some exciting changes.

1) Guests every Tuesday

2) Excerpts (translation: free reads) every Thursday

Of course, we'll still have our regular postings: Monday-Elisabeth, Wednesday-Joan and Friday-Linda.

On tap for November:

11.6 -- Cynthia Lea Clark, Forensic Psychologist
11.13 -- Bonnie Hearn Hill, multi-pubbed author and writing instructor
11.27 -- Charlotte Cook, President, Komenar Publishing

Published/debut authors: interested in a little free promo? Submit your excerpts to us for consideration at ultraswan AT hotmail DOT com. Each week, either Elisabeth, Joan or Linda will evaluate submissions and post the most compelling each Thursday with an author bio and cover art (if available).


:~: Friday, November 02, 2007 :~:

Return to the Basement

"This place is the pits." Ash sweeps a finger along the battered coffee table and grimaces at the traces of Cheetos dust. The Muse disappeared days ago but it seemed like she'd at least dust the place every once in a while. Disgusting. "Why do you hang out here?"

Tick shrugs. He's kicked back in the recliner, eyes closed. "You get used to it after a while."

Across the Basement, Stanton stops pacing and glares at him. "In your dreams."

"Relax, Stanny-boy." Tick opens one eye to look at him. "She hasn't started your revisions yet. She's thinking through them. You'll be here a while."

Stanton throws out his hands. "I shouldn't even be here. The damn revisions don't have anything to do with me. It's just layers."

Brows lowered in a slight frown, Ash is watching Tick. "You're in an awful good mood. That long dry spell finally break?"

Tick's wicked grin lights his face. "Your book. Chapter five."

Ash's bark of surprised laughter fills the confined space. "Wait a minute. It's my book and you got laid before me?"

"Benefits of marriage."

"He had to wait ten months for it," Stanton says.

Tick gives him the finger and straightens, slamming the recliner to an upright position. "Besides, She's in the middle of your scene now, although I think She stopped to write her paper for grad school."

Ash rolls his eyes heavenward. "Well, that's just great. And how long does that mean I'll be stuck standing in the middle of my bedroom, staring at Madeline without being able to touch her?"

"Well, that paper's due Sunday."

Ash groans.

Footsteps clatter on the stairs beyond the door and all three turn that way.

The door bangs open. Two men who couldn't be more different barge into the room. One's built as big as a tank, dressed all in black like a big, badass biker dude with a scowl to match. The other is slim, athletic and tan, holding a baseball bat and sporting a cheesy grin, looking like he's just caught ten off a gnarly wave.

The door snaps shut behind them.

Stanton groans and heads for the couch.

Tick frowns. "Holy Hell, She's done it again."

"What?" Ash asks.

Stanton lets out a long-suffering sigh from across the room. "Trapped us in with these yahoos. I'm guessing they're from the west coast."

The younger one lifts the bat onto his shoulder. "I am. Thor over there's from outer space. Name's Brody."

Tick and Ash return his handshake. Stanton flips on the TV and waves without looking at the newcomers.

The biker dude rolls his dark eyes. "I hate humans. And the name's not Thor."

"Theron, Theo, Thor, all sounds the same to me," Brody says as he makes himself at home, drops into a beat-to-hell recliner and lifts an open bag of Cheetos from the side table. "And I like how you conveniently forget you're half human." He glances up at the other three, as if finally remembering they're there. "Anyone got beer?"

Ash shoots a confused glance at Tick. "Uh, the guy's not human?"

Tick tosses back a how-the-hell-should-I-know? look.

Theron sinks onto the steps where he's been standing and rubs a hand over his face. "I didn't sign up for this. I'm going home."

"Sorry," Stanton calls from the frayed couch. "No way out."

Theron glances toward Brody.

Brody shrugs and pops a Cheeto into his mouth. "He's right. Your little poof powers won't work in here. Lead walls or something."

Theron's eyes narrow. "I'm not a fictional vampire, dumbass. Lead walls don't stop me."

Tick sighs and reaches for the remote control. "I think there's like a time-space continuum thing going on in here. None of us can get out. If we could we wouldn't be in here, we'd be shacked up with our heroine's. And why are you so grouchy anyway, space boy?"

"I'm not from space, you moron. I'm a hero."

"Uh," Ash lifts a finger. "Aren't we all heroes?"

Brody rolls his eyes. "He's speaking technically."

Theron glowers at Brody. "Literally and figuratively."

Brody laughs, long and loud, like he's in on some private joke that even Theron doesn't know. They all look his way, even Theron, who could be growling, none of them are completely sure and no one's willing to ask.

When his laughter dies down, Brody pulls a baseball from his pocket and starts tossing it up toward the ceiling, catching it again with one hand. "He's pouting because uber-agent finally gave Her the go ahead on his book and instead she's happy with me."

"She's not happy with you," Theron counters. "You're pushy. And you're in Maui."

"Hey, I can't help it if this body was built for the beach. And it's not my fault She stuck me somewhere more exotic than la-la land." Stanton and Tick exchange glances at their bickering, but Brody ignores it. "If you have a problem with how She's handling--"

His words are cut off by more pounding on the stairs outside. Brody and Theron both look toward the door. Tick drops into the other recliner and pauses the TV on the Georgia-Auburn game. Ash reached for another beer.

Stanton sinks lower on the couch with a heavy sigh. "I think it's about to get a little more crowded in here, boys."


Tick's frown eases as Rio jogs into the room, obviously high on somethin'. His grin turns on Tick and lifts his hand for a hi-five. "Hey, Tick." He gestures to the empty recliner beside him before sitting and stretching out. "This the winner's circle?"

Tick chuckles. "You betcha. Been saving your seat."

Brody stops tossing his ball, his look one of incensed irritation. "If there's a winner's circle around here, I should be in it."

"Your book finished?" Rio asks.

"Well, no, but--"

"Tick's book is finished," Rio said. "And mine is not only finished, it's been requested by four top-tier agents. This," he hooks both thumbs toward himself and Tick, "is the winner's circle, my friend."

"Goddamn," Stanton gripes. "How the hell do you get through the door with a head that big?"

"I'm just compensating for Her. Keeping her buoyed, you know?" Rio pushes up one shoulder in a confident shrug. "Least I can do after that HEA She gave me."

"I hate you already," Stanton says, "And I don't even know who the hell you are."

Another dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-skinned man hovers at the doorway and draws everyone's attention.

"Come on in, Cruise," Rio gestures him in. "No terrorists are going to pop out from the crevices."

"I've got too much to do to shoot the shit with a bunch of heroes." He turns on the stairs and starts up. The door at the top slams, followed by the snick, snick of deadbolts. The sound of Cruise shaking the door handle echo's around an angry, "What the fuck?"

Rio shakes his head and gives Tick a sidelong glance. "Rookie."

Cruise steps into the room, clearly reluctant. His gaze inspects and categorizes each man in the room...until he hits Theron. That one he can't quite figure that guy out.

"What's your story?" Stanton asks Cruise, eyes narrowed.

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. Can't you answer a simple question?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Oh, hell." Stanton shoots Tick a look. "He's a spook."

"I'm..." Cruise crosses his arms, lifts his chin, "...a diplomat."

A beat of silence fills the room before all other six men bust up laughing.

"Yeah, right," Stan sputters. "That's good."

"Come on, sit down." Rio pats the arm of the sofa at his side. "I'll show you the ropes. Play your cards right and you'll have your HEA before you know it."

"What's your problem?" Ash asks.

"I don't have any problems." Cruise sinks to the edge of the sofa, elbows on knees, hands clasped. "Except being locked in here with the rest of you."

"You need to get into the spirit, G-man," Brody says. "Got to be a team player."

"G-men are Feds. I'm not a Fed."

"Naw, he's a spook," Stanton pushes, trying his best to rile Cruise.

"Do all her other heroes look like you two?" Theron asks, studying them.

Cruise and Rio look at each other, then at Theron, and Rio asks, "Whad'ya mean?"

"Black hair, brown eyes, dark skinned, same height, build. Both, what...Mexican?"

"Hispanic," they say in unison.

"Hispanic, Mexican, whatever. You need to tell Her to mix things up a little. Two of you look a little like clones." Theron leans back and pops a handful of Cheetos in his mouth. "What the..." He spits them out, wipes his hand with the back of his hand. "You call that food? No wonder you humans are so inferior."

Ash lifts an eyebrow. "She have a thing about Mex...Hispanics?"

"She lives in California," Tick says as if that should explain it all, then turns to Rio with a considering look. "That other guy who was here...the other cop, Carl, Ken..."

"Cole," Rio says, nodding. "He wasn't Hispanic. Neither was his heroine." His grin is sharp and hot. "His loss."

The creak of the door opening at the top of the stairs brings Cruise to his feet.


A short, round woman carrying a large plastic box bustles down the stairs. Her red apron, worn over jeans and a black tank-top, doesn't quite cover a wide expanse of copper skin and ample cleavage. The rich, decadent smell of fried food wafts along with her.

"Meka." Tick brightens and moves to take the overflowing container. Towering over her, he grins down. "You're a godsend."

She rolls her eyes and hands him a blue ticket. He tugs his wallet free and starts to open it, when the television catches his eye.

"Yes! Go...run. Run!" His gaze is riveted on the screen.

Meka takes the ticket from his slack grasp and moves toward the stairs, muttering something about adding it to his tab. Cruise hastens after her but finds that somehow, she manages to slip out before he can catch the door. The locks snick closed.

"Yes!" Tick punches a fist in the air. "Hot damn!"

Brody is peering into the grease-stained white sacks. "Hot dogs, fries, burgers...what the hell is this?"

He pulls out a white box and grimaces at the grayish pieces of indeterminate fried meat. Ash glances over his shoulder and back up, his face paling a little. "Chicken gizzards and livers."

Brody looks at him, aghast. "What?"

Ash waves a finger at Stanton. "He eats them."

Shaking his head, Brody puts the box aside. "That's some crazy shit, man."

Cruise edges closer. The smell of fresh french fries is drawing him in. "Where'd the food come from?"

"Big Dawg." Tick doesn't look up from attempting to send a text message. He growls in frustration. "Can't get a damn signal down here."

Rio nudges him. "You and Cait betting on football games again?"

Tick flashes him a grin. "Yeah. That touchdown just covered the point spread, too."

They share a very male laugh. Theron drops onto the couch. It creaks dangerously under his muscular frame. Favoring his bandaged left hand, Ash passes him a chili dog with onioins. Theron studies it a moment before digging in. Surprise and pleasure light his face as he chews.

Ash frowns. "Theron is Greek. It means hunter."

Theron nods and reaches for another chili dog. He pauses a second and takes two from the pile on the battered coffee table. Ash nods and steps back, still watching him.

Cruise stands at the foot of the stairs, munching on a bag of fries, looking anything but happy. "Someone want to tell me how this works? What do I have to do to get the fuck out of here?"

Stanton pops a gizzard in his mouth, mumbling something about spies who can't find their way out of a paper bag.

Eyes narrowed, Cruise lets his gaze rest on him. "Hey, smart ass, you're still down here, too."

"Temporary," Stanton says. "Edits and I'm outta here."

Rio is kicked back in the recliner again. He slants a devious look in Tick's direction. "What exactly do you have riding on this game anyway?"

Tick snorts. "Like I'm telling you with them"--he waves a hand at the other heroes -- "around. Although, actually, come to think of it ... I win even if I lose, you know?"

Rio chuckles.

Face set in annoyed lines, Cruise eyes Theron's out-of-this-world physique. "Hey, you. Think you can take out that door?"


"Lord." Tick shakes his head and shifts his gaze from Cruise to Rio. "He reminds me so much of you when you got here."

"Yeah," Rio shrugs, grinning. "Don't worry, he'll evolve eventually. She's slow, but thorough. Look what She's done with me."

Rio's phone vibrates and he tugs it from the back pocket of his jeans. Tick sits a little straighter, forgetting the game on T.V. "Hey, you got a signal?"

"We talked about this last time we were in here, remember. I told you to change your goddamn provider."

Tick opens his phone and frowns at the display.

Rio's chuckle brings Tick's attention back. "What?"

"Getting the inside scoop from my heroine. And it looks like you, spook-boy, will be in here a while."

Cruise's hand pauses with a fry halfway to his mouth. "What the hell? Why?"

"Because She's doing research."

"See..." Cruise tosses the almost-empty bag of fries on a nearby table. "This is what happens when She talks to your" -- he waves a hand toward Brody and Theron -- "She...muse...whatever. She gets this idea that she can just start writing without working it out before hand and where do I end up?" His hands are gesturing wildly now. "Here! With all you losers."

"Hey!" Ash frowns and stabs a finger at Cruise from across the room. "I resemble that remark. Watch it, spook."

"Don't blame us," Theron growls. "I sure as hell don't want to be here with all you friggin' messed up humans!"

"Would you stop bashing humans, already?" Brody says. "In case you haven't noticed, you're a little outnumbered here."

Theron scoffs. "I could take on ten times your numbers without breaking a sweat."

Brody's face darkens. He slaps his bat to the palm of his hand. "Think so, huh?"

"Don't go knocking heads," Rio says. "You'll miss the rest of the good stuff. Like..." He laughs and lifts his chin toward Theron and Brody. "You two better get comfortable. She left for a birthday weekend with girlfriends. You're both SOL."

"She what?" Theron bellows, pushing to his feet.

"Go for the door," Cruise encourages the biker-dude. "If anyone can take it, you can."

"And you, spy-boy, are on the back burner. Your muse is researching the FBI Counterintel site, printing articles on terrorist activities, searching Amazon for spy books." Rio offers Cruise a pitiful look and shakes his head. "Sorry, buddy. When She starts ordering books off Amazon...you're really screwed."