Interview with V.K. Sykes aka Vanessa Kelly and Randy Sykes with giveaway

Do you find it difficult to write with your husband, Randall Sykes?  Honestly don’t think I could work like that with my hubby.

It’s actually fairly easy.  In fact, I’m convinced writing improved our marriage.  Randy retired pretty early and without any real hobbies to keep him occupied.  I suggested he start writing—more as a desperate attempt on my part to give him something interesting to do.  Some might even say I did it to keep him out of my hair, but I would vigorously deny such a scurrilous accusation.

Do you find it difficult to work with Vanessa, Randy?

Sadly, Randy tends to disappear when it’s time to do interviews.  He’s rather a shy person so he leaves this stuff up to me.  Of course, I would never DREAM of saying anything he wouldn’t agree with.  Oh, and Randy says he doesn’t find me difficult to work with at all.  He insists I’m the easiest person in the world to get along with.  Really, he said that.

Economics, labor economics no less, and romance writer are poles apart!  What spurred the foray into romance, and why romance?

Randy and I both worked for a trade union before we began writing, which does seem pretty dry compared to romance.  But historical romance has always been a genre I loved to read, so when I began writing I naturally gravitated toward that.  Randy followed me a few years later.  At that point, I had discovered a real love for contemporary romance.  Since Randy is a sports fanatic, we figured writing some romances with athlete heroes was a good fit.

Does Randy read over the male pov and bring a dash of reality?

Randy always writes the first draft.  I then take that draft and revise and polish it.  He’s obviously very adept at male pov, and surprisingly good at female pov too.  I have to write the sex scenes, though.  They’re just beyond him.

Are the sports and math themes Randy’s contribution or do you also get into sports and numbers, Vanessa?

Both sports and math bore me to the point of weeping, so those topics are all his.

What is the best thing about working together?

We always have something interesting to talk about.

Worst thing?

When we disagree on the direction a book should take.  Fortunately, we can usually resolve those disagreements fairly quickly.

Why did y’all choose to go self pub with the V.K.Sykes titles?

Like many traditionally published authors these days, we wanted to write books that aren’t necessarily in the publishing mainstream.  For instance, we were always hearing from editors that sports romances didn’t sell.  Since we like writing sports romances, that was a problem.  But lo and behold, our indie published sports romances are selling very well.  Indie publishing allows authors to have complete control over the book, even past publication.  If a cover doesn’t work—change it.  If a blurb isn’t doing what you want it to do—change it.  And you always know exactly how many books you’re selling and how much money you’re taking in.  That part is truly awesome, since traditional publishers often make it very difficult to track royalties and income.  Royalty statements are famous for being some of the most confusing financial documentation you would ever want to see.

Your readers might be interested to know that I’m part of a group of traditionally published authors who are also branching out into self-publishing.  We’re calling ourselves Rock*It Reads, and we have authors like Pamela Clare and Elisabeth Naughton in the group.  Rock*It Reads has all kinds of exciting things going on, including a partnership with Barnes & Noble.  We’ve just started a twice monthly review column on B&N Review, spotlighting the best in indie books.  You can find out all about us at

Can you tell us a bit about CADDY GIRL, HARDBALL, FASTBALL, and FAST NUMBER?

Buy from Carina Press

Buy from B&N

Buy from Amazon

CaddyGirls was our first book, and it was published by Carina Press.  We really enjoyed writing that book and it reads a bit like a Harlequin Presents—alpha millionaire hero, spunky underdog heroine.  Fastball and Hardball are part of a series, and have two really sexy baseball heroes.  We’ll definitely be writing more books in this particular series.





Buy from Amazon

Hot Number is a bit different from our previous books, but it’s probably our favorite.  It takes place in Las Vegas, and the heroine is a geeky math professor and the hero is a security chief at a big casino.  Sadie, our heroine, is looking for a blow-out week in Vegas to help forget her troubles at work.  But she very quickly generates mayhem, bringing her to the attention of Nick, the sexy security chief.  It’s a very steamy book but probably our funniest book.  Sadie is a very endearing heroine, with a sharp wit and a tendency to get into a lot of trouble.

Is there anything special you’d like readers to know?

Yes, I wanted to let readers know I’m still publishing my Regency-set historical romances as Vanessa Kelly.  My next book, His Mistletoe Bride, will be released by Kensington Zebra on Oct. 1.  As you might deduce from the title, it’s a Christmas book, which is always fun.  Stop by my website for a look at my beautiful cover and all the details.

Thanks so much Vanessa and Randy for visiting with me and Manic Readers.  I’ve really enjoyed it!

Vanessa and Randy are generously offering one (1) digital copy each of FASTBALL & HOT NUMBER.  Giveaway ends @midnight (12 a.m.) on 5-4-12. Meaningful comments only please!


Bio:  V.K. Sykes is really two people – Vanessa Kelly and Randy Sykes, a husband and wife team who write sexy contemporary romance. Randy excels at plot and characterization, but tends to fall down on the job when it comes to that pesky old thing called emotion. That’s where Vanessa steps in. She usually writes the sex scenes, too, since Randy is a bit uncomfortable when it comes to that sort of stuff. Vanessa also writes Regency-set historical romance for Kensington Zebra under her own name. You can find V.K. on the web at, and Vanessa at

V.K. Sykes on Facebook

Vanessa Kelly on Facebook


Rock it Reads author Cheryl Holt talks to Manic Readers

Cheryl, thank you for taking the time to join Manic Readers.  It’s a pleasure to have you visit.

Wow, you have quite a few degrees, music, languages, education and a juris doctorate.  I was really surprised.  Why did you decide to try and become a writer?

I had two babies back to back, and it was simply too difficult and too expensive for me to go back into the workforce.  I was suddenly a stay-at-home mom, and I’d lost my income.  I was frantically trying to figure out what I could do from home to earn some money, but I’m not the type of person who could sell cosmetics or soap, so the choices were limited.

I was one of those people who had always wanted to write a book.  So I decided to give it a try.  I was fairly clueless about how difficult parenting would be, so I thought I’d have lots of “free” time while I was at home with my two babies.  I thought to myself, “I’ll just write a book and sell it to New York.  How hard could that be?”

What I quickly learned is that it’s pretty darn hard!  I took me four years and seven finished manuscripts before I finally got good enough where I sold one to a NY publisher.

You’ve racked up numerous awards and accolades.  Is there one that is especially near and dear?

There is a trade magazine called, Romantic Times, that covers the women’s fiction industry.  They review all the books and cover the authors who are writing for the women’s market.  Over the years, they have honored me with many awards.  Once, they picked me as “Best Storyteller of the Year” and another time “Top 25 Erotic Writers of All Time.”  But probably my favorite was a double “KISS” award.

The KISS award is given out every month to the author who writes the most macho, yummy hero.  In my book, DOUBLE FANTASY, published in ’08, I had twin brothers, so “twin” heroes.  I received a double KISS award for the pair.  My long-time reviewer at the magazine later told me that, in the magazine’s 25 years of publishing, they had only given out two double KISS awards.  One to Linda Lyle Miller and one to me.  So I’m particularly proud of that accomplishment.



Can you tell us a bit about your contemporary ebook tirlogy~SEDUCE ME, KISS ME, and LOVE ME?  LOVE ME, the third and last released this month.

This series is about the three Merriweather siblings, Lucas, Dustin, and their younger sister, Brittney.  Their family is based in Colorado, where in the frontier days, their ancestors were pioneers, prospectors, and ultimately very rich gold miners.  They went on to parlay their mining strikes into railroads, real estate, and great accumulated wealth.

The three siblings are rich and entitled and spoiled.  They’ve had lives of leisure and pleasure and have always been wealthy enough to do whatever they want.  At the same time, they had crazy parents and horrid childhoods, so they have some big personal issues.

I like to write Cinderella stories, where a rich person meets and marries a person who is totally out of their societal structure.  When the hero and heroine are so different and come from such diverse backgrounds, it gives me bigger drama and issues to drive the story.

Lucas’s story, SEDUCE ME, is about Faith Benjamin who had been housekeeper to Lucas’s estranged grandfather.  When the elderly man died, he left Faith ten million dollars in his will.  Lucas is certain that Faith is a gold-digger who took advantage of a dottering old man, and he’s determined to get the money back.

KISS ME is Dustin’s story.  The family still owns a small town, high in the Rockies, where his ancestors made their first big gold strike.  He and Lucas have decided to sell the town to developers, so they can turn it into an upscale tourist resort.  The town’s newspaper gadfly and pest, Amy Dane, thinks it’s a horrid idea, and she’s determined to stop Dustin anyway she can.

Brittney’s story is the final one, LOVE ME.  At the beginning of the book, she’s in Denver to plan her wedding to a rich, snobbish New York hedgefund manager who is her social equal in every way.  She thinks she’s happy and ready to wed until she meets the man of her dreams, disabled veteran Matt Monroe.

Those sound really good! 🙂

How hard was it to go from print historicals to self pubbed digital contemporaries?

It was very difficult, but mostly because I just didn’t know anything about the e-book market, and I had to learn an entirely new process.  It was very exhausting—and daunting!

When I decided to start writing e-books, I was clueless about the process, the readers, the devices, and the market.  I didn’t know what would sell and what wouldn’t.  I didn’t know how you posted a book on-line.  I didn’t know how you found readers.

My career in print publishing had been in writing historical love stories set in the Regency Period in England.  But I didn’t know if that type of book would resonate with people who were using e-readers.  So I tried several different kinds of books—contemporary, nonfiction, Regency, medieval—and I was surprised to find that this contemporary series sold best of all.

I don’t know why it did.  I’ve never done a demographic study on my fan base, but since I began writing e-books, I’ve learned that my fans are typically older and very devoted to print books.  They consider e-books almost an abomination.  But my younger fans, who are more tech savvy, have IPhones and Kindles, and they perfectly happy to read a book on an e-book device.  My younger readers seem to like the contemporary stories more than the historical ones, so that might be why they sold as well as they did, but it’s all a guess and a mystery.  It’s always been difficult to figure out why someone likes a book, or why they like one style or time period more than an another.

I’ve found too, though, that with each passing book that I post on-line, I’m selling more and more—even though they’ve all been different.  It’s been interesting and frustrating and overwhelming, but I’m still plugging away.

What about your medieval, KNIGHT OF SEDUCTION?   How was that different, research wise etc, from your other historicals?

I had never written a medieval before, but the story had been rattling around in my head for years, so I was finally able to write it down.  For years now, in the print market, the general opinion of publishers is that the medieval market is dead and that no one reads them, so I could never have sold one to a print publisher.  The e-book market gave me the perfect opportunity to write it and see what readers had to say.

The biggest issue for me wasn’t the research.  I never do much research for my novels.  Although they are set in historical time periods, they are not centered around any specific historical events.  I simply need to learn the clothing, carriages, furniture, etc of the year that I’m targeting, and then, I can start writing.

The biggest problem for me in writing the e-book is that lots of our current version of the English language did not start to coalesce until after the Crusades had ended.  So lots of words that we use today were not part of the common vernacular.  I wanted to give the book a historical flavor, but at the same time, I wanted modern-day readers to be able to enjoy the prose.  For example, one of the common clothing items for a man during that time was a sort of knitted wool legging called “hose”.  But it’s such a modern word, meaning nylon stockings, that whenever I see it used in a medieval novel, the word always disrupts my attention.  It doesn’t seem to belong, and it seems too feminine for the macho knights in the story.

So I had some trouble with getting the word usage just as I wanted it.  That was the hardest part.  But other than that, the book is very fun.

How did you come to be a part of Rock*It Reads?  Personally I think this group is a wonderful idea. 🙂

I was kindly invited to join Rock*It Reads by the other authors who were already members.  I was lured in at the best time:  after they’d done all the initial work and planning!  

When I received their invitation, I jumped at the chance.  As I started writing e-books, the great frustration for me has been the number of books that are available at Amazon and other sites.  I think there are now 2 million books available for download at Amazon.  And much of what’s offered to readers is not very good.  The American novel, as it’s developed over the centuries, is a very complex art form, and it takes many years of practice to learn how to put a novel together and how to make it great and fun and exciting.

I’m a great writer, and I can put a great novel together, but I’ve had years and years of experience to learn what I’m doing.  And I get better at it with each passing year and each new book that I put together.  The e-book market was frustrating for me because I couldn’t see how to make my books stand out from the other 2 million that are sitting there, available for Kindle.  With the typical price for a download being 99-cents, my books were just heaped into the pile with everybody else.

I really wrestled with the notion of how I could let readers know that their 99-cents wouldn’t be wasted if they downloaded one of my books.

The Rock*It Read group is composed of NY published authors, many of whom are bestselling writers.  We are dedicated to putting out quality stories that equal what we were doing as print authors.  We will all be putting the RIR logo on our covers so that readers who are searching on-line for a great e-book to download will know that an RIR book is a good bet.     

Are you excited about the infinite possibilities open to you with self pubbing?

I wouldn’t say excited is the word.  Just as when I went into print publishing years ago, I’m tentative and wary and keeping my expectations very low.  If great things happen with the books, I’ll be happy.  But as with every endeavor a person undertakes in her life, there are ups and downs, good days and bad, and I’m entering the market cautiously.

Is there any aspect of it that scares you?

Yes, that I won’t figure out the market in a way that’s financially sustainable to me.

Think you might attempt that romantic suspense book now?

I don’t know if I’ll ever do another suspense novel.  Once in my print career, I tried a very creepy, very scary erotic thriller.  It was titled SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL, and released under the pen name, Vanessa Marlow.  But my publisher disliked it very much, so it became a very exhausting and unpleasant experience that left me with little energy to try any suspense again.  I’m a novelist, so it’s typical that I don’t have a lot of confidence in my work—it’s a common artist’s condition.  After the experience with my thriller, I convinced myself that I don’t know “how” to write suspense, which is silly.  After the book was released, I received a national award for it from Romantic Times, when it was picked “Best Erotic Fiction of the Year.”  But I can’t bring myself to write another one.  

What is your favorite part of writing?

It’s not actually the writing.  It’s that I’ve been able to work at home and have a home business, all the years while my kids have been growing up.  They have always been very active, so I needed to be able to have a flexible schedule.  I wrote a lot of my novels while sitting in the car and waiting for soccer practice to end.

Least favorite?

It’s extremely labor intensive, especially the editing.  I don’t mind writing the rough draft.  I can usually crank it out in a month.  But the editing kills me.  It’s like doing my taxes—it’s that boring and detailed.  I can’t do it while I’m tired.  I can’t do it when I’m upset or busy or not focused.  Readers often imagine that a novelist’s life is very glamorous, but the reality is that I work really hard to get my novels done, and I work all the time.

Is there anything special you need to get those creative juices flowing?

No.  Writing is a job for me in the same way that nursing or teaching is a job for somebody else.  And I’ve been doing it for 15 years now.  I get up in the morning, get my kids off to school, shower, dress, then sit down at my computer and work all day.  I always have a schedule of when my latest book has to be done, and I keep to that schedule. There are no creative “juices” involved.

What do you do to relax?

Relax?  What is that?  I don’t think I know the definition of the word.

What was the last really good book you got lost in?

It was called Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth.  It’s not a new book; it’s 20 years old.  I stumbled on it in the fiction stacks at my local library.  It’s a story about a merchant in England in the 1700s who had a ship built so he could go into the slave trade.  It details the journey down to Africa and everything that happened afterward once the slaves were aboard.  Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  It was a grand, disturbing, wonderful novel.

Anything special you’d like us to know?

I was a print published author for many years.  But when the economy imploded in 2008, the publishers went into freefall.  Many, many writers were dropped by their publishers, and I was one of them.  Although I was a “bestselling” author, I never had the kind of big sales that print publishers are looking for now.  So I started writing e-books and releasing them myself, which I’ve been doing for the past year.

But I have one last print book coming to bookstores, which is a wonderful and very poignant event for me.  It’s titled NICHOLAS.  It is one of my great, fun Regency Period historicals.  It was released last summer as an e-book, by e-publisher Samhain, so if any readers want to read it right away they can download it immediately.

Samhain Digital Edition

                                                            Pre-order print from Amazon
At Samhain, after they release the title as an e-book, they go on and release it a year later as a print book.  So NICHOLAS will be available in stores and through Amazon and other on-line retailers.  It’s Samhain’s lead title for July, 2012, and it will be available for the 4th of July weekend, so readers can take a print copy with them for their beach holiday.

To celebrate this great and poignant occasion, I am giving away ten autographed copies of the novel in July after the book is released.  Readers can enter the contest on the homepage at my web page at

Thanks so much for visiting with me and Manic Readers, Cheryl.  I’ve really enjoyed it!


Y’all can also find Cheryl at her Facebook fan page.  She also loves to hear from fans.  You can write to her at  



Barnes and Noble

M.K. Chester wonders, Do You?

I’ve always heard there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  As gruesome as that is when interpreted literally, it does serve a purpose.  There’s no right or wrong way to do something.  Like…write a book.  When I was younger, the linear approach to writing was taught in my classroom.  Start at the beginning and move forward to the end.
But when I started to get the “writing bug”, I found that tried and true methods didn’t always fit the bill.  So in the interest of sharing some of the weird things I practice as a writer, I give you my top ten and ask: Do You?

  1. I often write out of sequence.  If I’m itching to write a certain scene that is not necessarily the NEXT scene, I do it.  I might not have the same passion about it when it’s “due” to be written.
  2. If I have problems getting into a character’s head (POV), I slip into first person narrative to make the perspective more personal.  Then, I’ll go back over the passage and change all the necessary pronouns to third person.
  3. I write the first chapter, start the second chapter, then usually kill the first chapter.  I like to vomit back-story in chapter one, so I allow myself to do that, knowing it’s the wrong start.
  4. I like to go through catalogs and home good magazine and ads to find things that “fit” my characters.  I once went so far as to find a house plan for a character, because for the first half of the story, they were stuck there and I needed to anchor the place down for readers.
  5. If I don’t know the historical detail I need, I leave it out and research it later.  Usually I highlight it in the text so I don’t forget.  I set aside days for research, so I dig in then rather than in the moment.
  6. I have conversations between characters out loud.  That’s right, I’m talking to myself.  And usually recording it, since I can’t type quite fast enough.
  7. One of my writing rituals is to buy a new candle when I start writing a new story.  I light it every time I write, and when I finish (if the candle hasn’t already expired) I leave it lit until it burns down.  I haven’t yet burned down my house, but there’s still plenty of time.
  8. When I’m looking for names for secondary characters, I often use names from the student roster at the college where I work.  Imagine the fun, lol!  It takes all kinds, and I’ve got all kinds!
  9. Sometimes I write the love scenes with my eyes closed.  Not because I’m whisked away by all the bliss, but because sometimes it’s embarrassing to use some of those words!
  10. I fear The End.  It’s the most difficult part of the story for me because it often feels so rushed and too convenient.  Usually the third or fourth try is the charm for me.

If you’d like to see how any of those things work for me, please check out my latest release, Surrender to the Roman, a historical romance released earlier this month from Carina Press.  Here’s a blurb and the details:

Buy at Carina Press

As the Romans storm the last stronghold of Dacia, Princess Ademeni awaits her fate. Taken as a slave, she is deposited into General Marcus Cordovis’s home as a gift.

Driven to avenge her family, Ademeni plots to kill her captor and escape. Though not the cruel victor she expects, Marcus keeps her too close to make escape easy—so close that Ademeni is soon tormented by an unbidden, traitorous attraction. In a moment of weakness, a passionate kiss almost undoes them both.

But the handsome, widowed general has another surprise for Ademeni: a young daughter. Marcus dares ask Ademeni to help him bridge the gap between him and his little girl. And now, Ademeni is growing too fond of those she is supposed to despise. As Marcus prepares for the triumphal march and the opening of the gladiatorial games—where captives of her homeland will be sacrificed—Ademeni readies for her own battle between revenge and love.

You can find Surrender to the Roman on:
Carina Press
Barnes & Noble

You can find me on:

Editing the First Draft: Or, Where did the Time go? with M. S. Spencer

A recent interviewer asked me about my writing process. Do I carefully plot or let the characters drive the story, do I outline,  do I write in the wee hours or in the noonday sun—that sort of thing. It got me wondering which is the hardest part of editing a story.

For me, it is making sure the timeline runs rationally.  For instance, I’ll be busy working on a scene and suddenly realize the heroine’s been in bed for three days, or that she’s caught in a snowstorm during August, or that she’s been eating lunch for twelve hours straight.

Another area in which you have to be careful is the amount of time allotted to any activity. If she’s driving to Florida from Maine she’s not realistically going to arrive on the same day. Nor if she’s flying to, say, Paris. Remember to take account of time zones as well: for example, our heroine must arrive in Paris in the morning, since most transatlantic flights leave at night and arrive in the morning.  She’d better be watching the sun rise, not set, on the City of Lights.

One method that helps to keep track of the time line is to maintain a running outline.  As I draft each chapter I fill in highlights. It might look like this:


Setting: Mid-Summer; whole story takes place in one month.

Chapter One:

Morning to afternoon;  8 hours, sunny.  Milo meets hero; jumps down rabbit hole; is kidnapped by Red Queen.

Chapter Two:

Next day (afternoon to evening), raining. Milo escapes; has tea; hero rescues from rabbit hole.


The key is to remember to keep that running timeline current. It will shorten the editing process considerably. Plus you won’t have to field irate letters from readers pointing out more than your usual faults.


M. S. Spencer’s latest release takes place in Old Town Alexandria, an historic cobblestoned city on the Potomac River in Virginia.  It follows the adventures of several artists at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. An old munitions factory on the waterfront, it lay abandoned after World War II until the 1970s, when an intrepid band of local ladies convinced the City of Alexandria to lease it to them for an art center.


Waiting out the rain, Milo Everhart takes stock of her widowhood and the handsome man standing in the door to the bar.  Little does she know she will meet that man again and again under both passionate and terrifying circumstances.

Tristram Brody waits for his date, too conscious of the beautiful woman sitting by the door. Little does he know that she will hate him for trying to destroy her beloved art center, and even suspect him of murder. Nor that she will be drawn inevitably into his arms.

Little does either of them suspect they will be embroiled in not one, but two murders, in which the fate of the Torpedo Factory, an art center housed in an old munitions factory on the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria, will be decided.

Buy from Secret Cravings Publishing


Artful Dodging: The Torpedo Factory Murders

Released April, 2012, Secret Cravings Publishing

eBook, 65,000 words; M/F; 3 flames; ISBN 978-1-61885-250-2

Romantic Suspense/Murder Mystery







Although M. S. Spencer has lived in Chicago, Boston, New York, France, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, and England, the last 30 years have been spent mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, birdwatcher, kayaker, policy wonk, non-profit director and parent.  Her current day job is Executive Director of the Friends of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.  She divides her time among Virginia, Maine and Florida.  All of this tends to insinuate itself into her works.

Ms. Spencer has published four contemporary romance novels. Lost in His Arms is set in the spinning world of 1991 when countries fell like flies and a CIA fixer had his hands full. In Lost and Found we follow a desperate wife searching the wilds of Maine for the husband who disappeared. Losers Keepers is a tale of love, lust and treachery set on the island of Chincoteague. Her latest release, Triptych, tells of jealousy and intrigue high above the Potomac River. Coming April 24, 2012 is Artful Dodging: The Torpedo Factory Murders, from Secret Cravings.











Please contact me here:


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And check out my author page at
Manic Readers

A treat from Mike Orenduff especially for Manic Readers

Mike is graciously sharing with all of us Manic Readers the first look at his latest cover.  

Love those colors, don’t y’all?  Thank you, Mike.  Appreciate getting the first peek!  

If you haven’t discovered Hubie and crew yet, what are you waiting for?  I do recommend starting with the first, THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED PYTHAGORAS.  

POT THIEF’S at Amazon                              POT THIEF’S at B&N                  

Opportunity didn’t bother to knock. It just walked into my shop in the guise of a man with a broad face and pronounced epicanthic eye folds.

Of course I didn’t recognize him as opportunity. Nor did I think he was a customer. In the twenty years I’ve been in business, I’ve never had an Indian buy a pot.

He made no eye contact as he turned to the first piece of merchandise, an ancient olla from Santo Domingo. He studied it for perhaps thirty seconds. His movement to the next pot was so contained it seemed as though he was still and I was the one moving. Like when a boat moves away from a dock, something I never experience in Albuquerque.

I watched him survey the merchandise in this fashion for a few minutes then went back to The Wooing of Malkatoon by Lew Wallace, a book so bad I couldn’t put it down.

When my visitor finally approached the counter, I marked my place in the book and studied him. The heavy-lidded eyes looked weary, his face impassive. His sparse facial hair was unshaven. His worn jeans and stained chambray shirt gave him the look of someone who might ask you for spare change.

And yet… there was another layer, a sort of pentimento. What could be read as resignation might also be strength. Someone comfortable enough in his skin that he feels no need to demonstrate it to others. Did his countenance reflect five hundred years of white dominance or five hundred years of quiet resistance?

He stopped four feet from me. His hooded eyes seemed to take in the entire room without focusing on anything specific.

“You don’t have any pots from my people.”

His sibilant words drifted across my eardrums like tumbleweeds over dry sand.


“Taos,” he said. “How you know?”

He probably counted Picuris as a correct answer because Taos and Picuris are the only two places that speak the northern Tiwalanguage. I thought I heard the accent. The southern version is spoken in the two pueblos closest to Albuquerque – Sandia and Isleta. A variety of Tiwa was also spoken in Texas, where it was spelled Tigua. The pueblo there – also on the Rio Grande – was named like the one near Albuquerque but spelled with a ‘Y’ in the little village of Ysleta, long ago swallowed up by the El Paso metropolis.

But my fascination with Taos stems not from their language but from their traditional pottery. It was unlike any produced in the other pueblos of New Mexico. Their utilitarian style made Taos pottery less popular with collectors than the elaborate polychrome works of San Juan or the black-on-blacks of San Ildefonso.

The reason I had no pots from Taos wasn’t a matter of taste. I specialize in antique pieces, and old pots from Taos are rare because they were often purchased by local Hispanics and Anglos for everyday use which led to their eventually being broken or discarded. Very few people collected them.

When I explained this to my visitor, he nodded.

There was a long silence. I knew to avoid small talk. I looked outside to the deserted sidewalk. Too late in the year for skiers, too early for summer tourists.

“I can get you three Taos pots from the 1920s,” he finally said, eyes looking through me.

I told him I was interested.

“First you have to get an old one for me,” he said.

The offer to get me three pieces if I got him one seemed odd. I asked how I could get an old Taos pot for him.

He finally looked me in the eyes. “You’ll have to steal it.”

Maybe he wasn’t opportunity personified. Maybe he was temptation.

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Inspiration with Alexis D. Craig

Inspiration is a funny thing. It’s elusive when I go out to find it specifically, but it loves to hang around when I’m least able to take care of it. For example, my first novel, Imminent Danger, the inspiration came from blowing out my knee getting off a plane at Charles DeGaulle. The following several weeks, two in Europe, the rest back home on a cane, I started ruminating on the fact that I was so incredibly pissed that I was in constant pain. The more I thought about that, the more I realized that the cane was the only thing that most people saw. A cane is weakness, a cane is vulnerability, a cane (in the wrong part of town) is potential victimhood, due to the perception of being an easy target due to infirmity.

The story started because of a woman with a cane and a monumental chip on her shoulder. That said, not every story comes from personal mishaps. Most of the time, it’s music that moves my muse to put out, so to speak. Most of my short pieces are from the running film track that my mind fills in between the notes of whatever song to which it takes a shine. Growing up in the age of music videos has tainted the way I hear music, and the stories behind it. Snippets of lyrics, or a drumbeat, and suddenly I can ‘see’ the characters, ‘hear’ their conversations, and know their motivations. 

My favorite way to coax my muse out of hiding is by coupling music with scenery that I feel matches the mood/tone of whatever I’m writing. Writing a torrid sex scene while it rains outside and my mp3 player is pumping a steady stream of Sade, Jason Aldean, and Coldplay works exceedingly well for me.
The hard thing about finding inspiration is when your muse abandons you, or in my case, has a severe case of ADHD. It can be hard to stay on task and keep your focus on one story when the plot bunnies come out to play. For that, I say appease them, slightly. Write down (type out) the central thing that is going on in the scene. A brief outline should suffice. The things that stand out the most, the segments of dialogue, the setting, sometimes the characters’ appearance, that way, you can come back to it at another point, or use it later in another work if you so desired.
Honestly, sometimes finding inspiration can be like herding dust bunnies, possible with a strong enough broom, but one good breeze and you have start all over. The author’s job is to keep out of the wind. How you do that is up to you.

Buy from Sinful Moments Press



Dani Watson is a hard-edged, fiercely independent control operator for the Indianapolis Police Department. After breaking up with a detective on the force she’s sworn off dating cops. That is, until she is assaulted and the responding officer is one of the sexiest men she has ever laid eyes on. Jacen Fuessler is unprepared for the chaos that is Dani Watson. Instantly attracted, he’s dazzled by her great rack, her lethal right hook, and her quirky sense of humor. Through their jobs they share a life that is like two sides of the same coin. As far as Dani is concerned, that’s already too close a connection. But work and circumstance keep throwing them together and Dani is having a hard time keeping her distance from the super hot Jacen. As she begins to fall for him, things are complicated by a terrifying stalker and Dani finds out quickly that her heart and sanity aren’t the only things in imminent danger.





What Competitions Can Teach You By Beverley Oakley

When I was eight months pregnant with my eldest daughter (now ten), I received the results for my first entry in a Romance Writers of Australia competition.

It’s a day I’ll never forget. On the pavement by our inner city Perth townhouse next to the mailbox, I wept tears of mortification on the shoulder of my sympathetic, long-suffering husband.

The thick packet of score sheets I’d just opened with such hope and trepidation announced that I had ranked second to last with a score of 47%, a percentage that would be forever tattooed onto my brain.

Fortunately, with bolstering from my husband and the fact that I had been bitten by the writing bug, my despair turned to determination. This was the first time I’d entered a competition, I reasoned. I was still learning.

After a couple of weeks I was able to look more objectively at the feedback and to my surprise found that the main issue was one shared by all three judges. They couldn’t sympathise with my heroine.

What? I thought. How could anyone not like Fanny Brightwell? OK, so she was bold, brassy and ambitious but wouldn’t anyone in her perilous social and financial situation take the risks she took?

By the time I’d created Fanny for this first competition all those years ago Fanny and I had become best friends. The fact that the judges could see so  so few redeeming qualities was as much my fault as hers, I realised.

Fanny and I had work to do and I couldn’t let her down.

After some serious coaching on how to help Fanny make a better first impression, how to tone down the ‘rough diamond’ side of her personality and how to make the judges weep with empathetic understanding of her difficulties, I re-entered her into the same RWA Single Title & Loving it! competition the following year.

And won.

Avon editor, Erika Tsang, was the final judge and she requested the manuscript which became a rambling tale written far too hastily and which was, not surprisingly, rejected. (At that stage in my writing career it always took me a few goes to get it right.)

Shortly afterwards I sold two books with better mannered heroines and Fanny Brightwell was relegated to the sidelines. Not a place a girl like her is prepared to wait for too long.

After working really hard to get my third book in I came up for air and there was Fanny, demanding attention.

Glad to be released from the bottom drawer, Fanny Brightwell told me she was ready to be further re-moulded. Together we brushed up her deportment lessons, ironed out a few rough patches and rewrote her story.

The result is Rake’s Honour, a short novel with a long history. So far Fanny has had a very good reception. Like me, she’s learned the hard way but she has staying power.

A necessary attribute in any business, especially writing.


London’s most daring debutante, Miss Fanny Brightwell is about to embark upon the biggest gamble of her life.

Victory means marriage to Viscount Fenton, the man of her dreams, and a life of pleasure. Failure means she’ll be forever beholden to the odious dilettante, Lord Slyther.

However both men have underestimated the woman they desire.






Buy at Total E-Bound


Beverley Oakley wrote her first romance novel when she was seventeen. However, drowning the heroine on the last page (p550!) was, she discovered, not in the spirit of the genre so her romance-writing career ground to a halt and she became a journalist.

Throwing in her secure job on a metropolitan daily to manage a luxury safari lodge in the Okavango Delta, in Botswana, led her into a new world of romance and adventure: living in a thatched cottage in the middle of a mopane forest with the handsome bush pilot she met around a camp fire.

Seventeen years later, after exploring the world in the back of Cessna 404s and CASA 212s during low-level survey sorties over the French Guyanese jungle and Greenland’s ice cap, Beverley is back in Australia living a more conventional life with her husband and two daughters in a pretty country town an hour north of Melbourne. She writes traditional Regency Romance as Beverley Eikli and sensual historical romance as Beverley Oakley.


She’d love you to visit her at her siteblog, like her on FB, or follow her on Twitter.

Sherry Gloag interviews Melanie the heroine of FROM NOW UNTIL FOREVER


Sherry – Melanie, you protected liam for three years before you acted on your love for him, how hard was it for you to conceal your feelings from him?

Melanie – Not hard at all, he just didn’t see me until the night we worked together to save the foal.

Sherry – What abot the eveing at the Glasgow restaurant?  It was obvious he wanted you then, why didn’t you let him make a move on you?

Melanie – Because I wanted him forever, not just one night, and if I’d succumbed that night not only would I have lost any chance, however slim, of marrying the man I love, but I’d have had to walk away from my job too.

Sherry – When Liam discovered your role as his securtiy guard, did you think he’d ever forgive you?

Melanie – *sighs deeply and shrugs one shoulder.* What can I say?  I thought it was over between us.

Sherry – How did you feel when Prince Henri fell in love with Monica, your best friend and business partner in His Chosen Bride?

Melanie – Elated.  Monica deserved someone spepcial and Henri was perfect for her.

Sherry – *fails to hide the irony in her voice.* That’s not the impression I got when Herni first arrived in Scotland.

Melanie – *throws her head back and roars with laughter.* The stupid man had his head messed up with pre-conceived ideas about the kind of bride he thought his parents would choose for him.

Sherry – What about the twins, Sacha and Simeon?  Do you have any plans for them?

Melanie – What’s with the ‘Have I got any plans?’ You’re the one who’s writing their stories.  If you don’t know what’s going on in their lives, how do you expect me to know anything? * She tries to hide her sly grin, but Sherry sees it.*

Sherry – We both know you feed me the infomation as and when you feel like it…


Melanie -*feigned indignation* How can I do that when I’m not included in any of the scenes you’ve written so far.  You even changed the title of Sacha’s story from ‘Jubilee’ to ‘Royal Intentions,’ without asking me!

Sherry – * triumphant*  See?  You know what’s going on even when I don’t tell you.  How do you know that, anyway?

Melanie – I have my ways.  *Her eyes light up and she holds out her hands.*  Here’s Liam, I have to go, we have to fly home in good time for the King’s Jubilee firework celebration.

Sherry – *rises at the same time as her hostess.*  Thank you for talking with me today.  Do you have anything else you’d like to share with your readers today?  

Melanie – *offers a suddenly shy smile and leans into her husband’s embrace.*  We are expecting our second child.  *She lifts her face for Liam’s kiss, and together they leave the room, stopping long enough for a shared wave in Sherry’s direction.                                       




 Liam Fitzwilliam Gasquet stared in amazement at the blooming patch of red  milliseconds before the pain exploded in his arm. Some trigger-happy idiot had fired in  his direction. Indignation didn’t have time to take root before another bullet kicked the  dust at his feet.
Not ‘trigger-happy’.
The rebels had found the fourth and youngest son of Jean-Phillipe Gasquet, ruler of the  tiny kingdom adjacent to the Swiss border. When had they discovered his  whereabouts?
With a reluctant sigh, he faced the truth of it. They hadn’t ‘found’ him at all. They’d  followed him.









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She lost track of time until the flames caught her attention once more. They flickered from orange to gold, to silver, to white.

A flurry of snowflakes masked the flames and for a second Monica watched the most beautiful, pristine snow-scene she’d ever seen. Her lips curved in longing. How she’d love to get a toboggan and slide down that slope. She knew where it was, and had done just that many times in her childhood, first with her parents and then, in clandestine manner, with her brother. Sneaking an old tin tray from the back of her mother’s walk-in pantry, she’d then grabbed Billy’s hand and they’d rushed out the back gate, heading for the lakeside track that led up into the hills.

Darkness, dense and thick with grief dropped over the scene. Startled and disconcerted by the strength of emotion emanating from the vision Monica shifted to her knees, ready to stand, when a voice, a deep male voice, sharp with fear called out her name.

She knew she’d never heard the voice before, and yet—it was as familiar to her as the image she saw in her mirror each morning.

“Help me, Monica.”

Desperate for more clues, she searched the darkness within the flames until it sputtered and faded. With a curse she jumped up and ran for the phone. With her outstretched hand hovering over it she halted and let her hand drop to her side once more. What could she say? What would the police or rescue team think of her if she called them and told them she’d seen a vision of a man in distress?

They’d laugh in her face and classify her as a lunatic. Well, maybe not. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d contacted them with positive information but something—an instinctive gut reaction told her what she’d seen this time hadn’t happened yet.

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Barbara Sissel on writing and being newly signed

Initially, when Ivy offered to host a guest post from me here on Manic Readers, I thought I would write entirely about The Ninth Step, the first novel I indie published last August. I thought I would tell how I was led to write the story … that it had to do with courage. I gravitate toward stories of real-life courage, where real people stand up in the aftermath of terrible tragedy. They not only stand, they triumph. They even forgive—or not. At the time that The Ninth Step was coming together in my mind, there was a news story about a man who did something awful that left a woman shattered and afraid. But she survived; she rebuilt her life. Then many years later, she heard from him. He asked her forgiveness for the thing he did. That wound he made, the one she spent years trying to heal. She had no idea what to do or even how to think about his request. Eventually she became angry. She couldn’t forgive. She wanted justice. The whole matter was reopened and it bled through a courtroom trial like a freshly inflicted wound. She endured the entire ordeal all over again. It was very brave of her, I think, but I wonder whether it was worth it for her. Did she find peace in the resolution? 

It was in that question that I found the heart of story that is told in The Ninth Step.

But really, this issue is an overarching theme of my work … the fact that every crime has a victim and a perpetrator, and either way, there are families involved, parents, siblings, children. Families are the collateral damage of crime. I watched another story unfold recently on one of the crime shows, a woman’s brother was murdered. After his killer was sentenced to death, the woman ran into the street after the killer’s family. “Please tell me why he did this,” she cried. They kept walking. “Please,” she said in a lower voice. “I forgive you,” she finally whispered. It was amazing to me. But then the human spirit is amazing and so very brave.

So this is a lot of what fuels my fiction and it’s the central theme of The Ninth Step, which as I said is what I thought I would write about, and I guess I did! But before I close, I also want to share a piece of wonderful news I got recently. It has to do more with the publishing journey, and it’s really not off the topic of courage. To give a bit of background, as I said before, I published The Ninth Step in August of 2011 and shortly after that, I published The Volunteer and then The Last Innocent Hour. It was exciting, but I really had no idea what to expect. Not much happened at first and when sales grew, it was very gratifying. But in March, the dream of a lifetime came true when I signed with MIRA to publish two books. The first one, Evidence of Life, will come out in April of 2013 and the second in March of 2014. Here’s the thing though, as thrilled as I am, I’m also nervous, a bit scared. I see that venturing down this path will require courage. Granted it’s not quite the same courage that’s required by my characters, the sort it takes to survive horrible calamity, but still, it has me thinking about the changes in our lives, how even those that are as joyful as this one can be unsettling. I felt a lot the same way when I was expecting my first child, a bit unnerved with no idea what sort of mother I’d make. Suppose I was a total failure? It was like sitting at the top of a very tall, twisty slide where you can’t see around the curves, knowing there is no way to go but down. I was a bit scared then, but I couldn’t wait, you know? I feel like that now. Nervous but I can’t wait either! I hope you’ll join me as I blog here about this adventure over the next several months. It would be lovely to imagine a line of readers all ready to go down this slide with me.


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I Read a Book! Wendi Zwaduk

Okay, so you’re reading the title of this post and thinking, um, you’re an author so I’d hope you WOULD read a book. I would say to you that you are totally right. I should read books. I do, that’s not the point here. The point is the fantastic word I left out of that sentence. I read a book – for PLEASURE. For me, that’s radical.
It is.
Now you’re wondering why. I read for research. I mean, I need to know what song came out during what part of 1970 if I’m going to include it in a story. Someone will know and call me on it. I read for insight. I’m bad about reading the articles people share on FaceBook. I want to know what’s going on. I love magazines for the fashion. But I’ve also been reading a lot to write reviews and for blog tours.
Were they good books? Absolutely. Were they worth my time? You bet. But they weren’t for the sheer fun of I picked up the book/read the blurb and had to read the rest. That’s rare lately for me.
Why? Haven’t any titles caught my fancy? Haven’t I wanted to sit down and enjoy a book?
The answer is so not as cool as the questions. The titles have caught my fancy. Quite a few in fact. The reviews for those books have drawn me in as well. I did and still do want to sit down and enjoy a good book. There’s that little matter of time. Yep. The book I read I managed to polish off in a little less than two hours. Not bad for a nearly 300 page paperback. But that’s time I would’ve given to something else. Thankfully I had that time today.
And it was fun. I started the book thinking, oh, I’ll only read thirty pages. Then I realized I was at the 38th page. Hmm. I’ll read to 68. Got to page 79 before I realized I was that far. Odd. But the hero, even though I really wanted him to be a lot more forward in his advances on the heroine,  was yummy and the storyline bouncing along. I had to keep going. Dh needed me to let him know when it was a certain time, so I set my alarm on my phone and went back to reading. The EDJ laughed at me from my computer, but I thought, meh, I’m reading.  Before I knew it, the alarm had gone off and I was about twelve or so pages from the end. I let Dh know the time and went back to the ending of the book. Although the ending wasn’t as smooth as I’d have liked, it fit the story and I’m glad I took the time to sit down with it.
So what about you? What in the ebb and flow of your average day makes you sit down and read? I’d love to know.

Here’s a little bit about my latest book, in case you’re looking for a new read to get into:
When You’re With Me
Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Men in Uniform
m/f, spanking, voyeurism, light bdsm
Available here
A topless dancer plus a cynical cop doesn’t equal a lifetime love…or does it?
There’s more to Jude Nelson than just a sequined thong. She has big dreams of becoming an artist. There’s one tiny wrinkle in her plan-she’ll never forget the bloody image of her friend’s battered body in the dumpster.
Who can a nude dancer turn to for help? Certainly not a hardened undercover cop…
Detective Drew Alwyn is on the case to find out who murdered his good friend and fellow officer. But the moment he sees Jude, he can’t look away. He has to decide which is more important-his dedication to his job or the girl who holds his bruised and battered heart.
Will these two opposites come together to solve the case or will their desire consume them?


Reader Advisory: This story contains scenes of bondage, mentions of drug use by secondary characters, silk, sequins and art supplies used in foreplay, voyeurism and a little spanking for good measure.


Want to know more about Wendi Zwaduk? Here you go:
I always dreamt of writing the stories in my head. Tall, dark, and handsome heroes are my favorites, as long as he has an independent woman keeping him in line. I earned a BA in education at Kent State University and currently hold a Masters in Education with Nova Southeastern University.
I love NASCAR, romance, books in general, Ohio farmland, dirt racing, and my menagerie of animals. I’m published with Total-E-Bound, Changeling Press, Liquid Silver Books and The Wild Rose Press. Come join me for this fantastic journey!

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