Shannon, thank you for taking the time to visit with Manic Readers today.

Thanks for having me!

What exactly did you do as an Industrial Engineer?

I worked in telecom—mostly distribution and logistics.  The nuts and bolts are boring, but my work was all about improving manufacturing processes so that things were better, safer, faster, cheaper, etc.

What about writing appealed enough to make you decide to quit engineering?

I had no intention of writing when I quit engineering.  That came after I got bored, once I no longer had a day job to go to. I tried writing mostly to see whether or not I could do it. Once I did, I was hooked!

Is it difficult to be a 2 writer family?

I don’t think so.  We’re busy, but we both get exactly what the other’s job is all about.  That makes us especially considerate of each other’s time when deadlines loom.

You’re very creative both writing and creating jewelry.  Do you find the jewelry satisfies a different creative urge than the writing?

Absolutely. I’ve always had a strong urge to create, and while the writing helps that, the jewelry also fills that instant gratification thing that is hard to find with projects that take weeks to complete—like a novel.  Plus, the jewelry is all sparkly and pretty, where the books tend to be dark, grim and dangerous.

I confess I haven’t read the Sentinel War series but I have a friend who’s a huge fan.  Personally, I really enjoyed LIVING ON THE EDGE and look forward to RAZOR’S EDGE.  What are your 3 favorite things from each series?

I love being able to switch between them.  I think it helps keep things fresh.  When I start getting tired of the “real” world of the Edge series, I can hop over to the magical world of the Sentinels, and vice versa.  I love the fantastical aspect of the Sentinels, and the science-run-amok aspect of the Edge. And in both, I love the characters.  I think that’s what keeps me going, working to give everyone their happily ever after. I feel like I know these people and I want them to be happy. Eventually.

Are they similar for you & if so how?

I feel like the pacing is similar, as is the depth of emotion, but beyond that, they feel very different to me.

Do you plan to do any more with your Delta Force Series?

Not at this time. I’ve got more work than I can handle, and new ideas I want to tackle, so I will probably leave the DF series as is for the foreseeable future.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

Getting to spend all day in my jammies with hot men and kick-ass women.

Least favorite?


Have you ever considered self-publishing?

The idea is intriguing, but the work I’m doing now is all contracted, so there’s not a whole lot of time to pursue other projects.  Maybe one day…

Does your muse require anything in particular?

As my husband says, I don’t have a muse, I have a mortgage.  To me this is a job.  I get up and do it, whether or not I want to.  Muses are fickle bitches that have no place in my professional life. J

Quiet or music when you write?

Quiet or thunderstorms to drown out the noise if I can’t find silence.

Do you have a personal favorite character you’ve created?

I really love Madoc from the Sentinel Wars. He’s so gritty and foul-mouthed, but he’s the perfect example of actions speaking louder than words.  I do love those bad boys. J

Do you have a favorite book?

LIVING NIGHTMARE is the favorite of my books, but I don’t dare pick a favorite from other writers.  There are too many to name.

Have your reading tastes changed over time?

Yes, I used to read sci-fi and fantasy when I was a kid.  Then I found historical romance shortly after college, which led me to contemporary and paranormal romances, which is the majority of what I read now.

Do you have “go to” authors to suit your moods?

I do! JR Ward, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Suzanne Brockmann, Lori Foster, Lora Leigh, Shannon McKenna to name a few.

Is there one genre you don’t care to read?

It’s not technically a genre, but I don’t like to read anything written in 1st person or present tense.  Those formats simply don’t resonate with me.  I mostly stick to the genres I write, since those are my favorites, and I don’t have nearly the time to read that I used to.

Thanks again Shannon for being with us today.  I’ve enjoyed it so much.

Thanks for letting me come out and play!

Y’all are soooo lucky!!!

Shannon is graciously offering 2, yes TWO, prizes for giveaway.  We have a signed copy of LIVING ON THE EDGE, and a bracelet/necklace set.  Fabulous right?  (necklace/bracelet is varying shades of pink w/ pink & purple crystals, & silver spacers)

There will be two drawings. If you have a preference, please state it in your meaningful comment.  Only pertinent comments will be entered in the drawings.  Contest will close at midnight November 6th.  Winner will be announced November 7th.

Visit Shannon.

Xavier Axelson’s Interview

Thanks so much for visiting today Xavier.  You’ve blogged with us before but this is our first chat. I know you’re quite the busy fella too with your column, writing etc…

Please tell us a bit about yourself.  From what I’ve read you’ve led/lead a pretty interesting life in various places.

It’s funny, I’ve been looking back on my life lately because of my 35th birthday coming up but also because of surgeries I’ve faced this month and all I can say is yes I have lived an interesting life.  I’ve always done what I’ve wanted to do with little fear of what people think.  I remember making a promise to myself back when  I was a kid swearing I would not be someone who turned 40 and looked back and thought, gee, if only I’d done this or that.  So, I did this and that and am happy with the outcome.  My career path has definitely been unconventional and has afforded me the opportunity to meet and interact with all kinds of people.  Granted, I don’t have the picket fence, the 401 k plan or stock options but the trade off has been worth it.

A bit about your latest release?

My latest release is The Birches coming out this month with Seventh Window Publications.  Here’s the blurb:

Perfection isn’t everything, although it’s everything Leo wants. His desire to become the perfect chef may keep him at the top of his class, but it drives his friends and family crazy while keeping love and passion on the back burner. That is until he meets Dock, owner and chef of the new and popular restaurant, The Birches. Although Dock isn’t a trained chef, Leo finds the food he cooks delectable and the man behind the food irresistible. The lessons taught at the hands of an untrained cook may be just what this uptight chef needs to let go.

Prior releases?

My first published piece was Serpentigna a re-imagining of the Medusa Myth.  Last December Silver Publishing released Christmas Eve at the Powers That Be Café, my 1940’s erotic romance, followed by A Valentine for Evrain, also with Silver Publishing. Dutch’s Boy, a cowboy M/M romance was next and published with Seventh Window Publications. The Incident, just came out in August, is a dark, cop romance, and is available at Seventh Window Publications.

Ever considered writing a cooking or recipe book?

I would love to write a cookbook, I love food and cooking.  My last two books include a recipe.  Looking back on the last year, I realized food is featured in each story!  Maybe that’s my unconscious trying to get me to put together a cookbook.

What’s your favorite part of writing?

I love the lessons I learn as a writer from each piece I create.  Each story has a lesson in it.  I learn more and more what it means to be a writer in the world and like school; some lessons are harder to learn than others.

Least favorite?

Writing is exhausting. It really is a demanding pursuit.  It is spiritually, psychically, mentally and physically draining, at least for me.  I am invested in my writing and have to put my all into it, to feel like I’ve been true and authentic to the story and my characters.

Is there anything you require to coax your muse?

Solitude and attention; my muse is difficult and demanding.  There is no fence sitting allowed when it comes to my muse.  In for a penny in for a pound would be the saying on the t-shirt my muse wears.

With all your degrees have you ever considered another career or are you right where you want to be?

I’m right where I want to be.  I wanted a literary life and I think I am always working towards that aspiration.  My education has been a highlight to my foundation as a writer.

I read that most m/m fiction is written by women and mostly read by women?  Do you think this is true & what is your opinion of it?

Yes, I believe it to be true.  I think it’s great and also intriguing.  I think women have the advantage of knowing what other women want to read about Gay relationships/sex.

Do you really live with a small menagerie?  Bit about your critters?

I do!  My place is a zoo.  I have 5 black cats, a white rabbit and a curious amount of raccoons and the odd skunk.  They all live outside, except the rabbit.  I’ve had pigs, fish, skunks and possums; so yes, it is a menagerie.

Do you have a favorite historical character?

Anne Boleyn

Fictional character?

Lucy Westenra

Favorite book as a child?

Watership Down


A Streetcar Named Desire


The House of the Spirits

Favorite food?



The Haunting


Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover

Now for the question you wanted the most….

How the devil do you support yourself writing gay erotica?

The devil would know.  I’m still trying to figure it out.

Xavier, thanks for being with Manic Readers today.  You’re quite the mess & I mean that in the Southern sense of the word….:)

Purchase Xavier’s Books

Visit Xavier

Jeffe Kennedy is a Manic Reader

Oh yeah, I’ve always been a manic reader. Most writers are, I think. We start out as Miss Nose-in-a-Book and go on to accumulate libraries. We discover which genres we love best and talk to other readers about them. When I discovered romance, it was a guilty secret for me. I thought it wasn’t literary enough, or arty enough. I didn’t know anyone else who read them, so I never got to discuss that way-too alpha hero or what made one heroine sniveling and another heart-warming. No one gave me tips on which ones had the best sex scenes.

It’s so wonderful that sites like this have allowed things to change. I love hearing from authors and seeing what readers think. It’s so fun to find my tribe.

The other “new” thing I love is my eReader and all the wonderful books available for me to read without anyone judging the clinch on the cover. Sapphire is a sexy story with a naughty cover. And it looks just like a scene in the book. Look at it all you like and, if you decide to read it, no one will know our secret.

Unless you blab about it. But that’s okay – that’s what we’re here for.


A successful executive, M. Taylor Hamilton is on track with her ten-year plan. Too bad her personal life consists of hitting the gym and grocery shopping.Enter the seductive Adam Kirliss. They may have a working relationship, but everything changes at an office party when he handcuffs her to the rail of a yacht.

Taylor writes the adventure off as too much champagne, but when Adam challenges her to a date, she agrees to meet up with him. And follow his rules. They share a night of exquisite intimacy, brimming with both pain and pleasure. But afterwards, fearful of losing her heart, Taylor pulls back emotionally.

Adam is determined to prove that she longs for the loss of control he can give her – and the passionate release it provides. How can he make her see that he wants her, and not just her body?


Jeffe took the crooked road to writing, stopping off at neurobiology, religious studies and environmental consulting before her creative writing began appearing in places like Redbook, Puerto del Sol, Wyoming Wildlife, Under the Sun and Aeon. An erotic novella, Petals and Thorns, came out under her pen name of Jennifer Paris in 2010, heralding yet another branch of her path, into erotica and romantic fantasy fiction. Jeffe lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and frequently serves as a guinea pig for an acupuncturist-in-training.

Find her on Facebook and Twitter or visit her at her website .

Buy links:

Carina Press



Jeffe Kennedy

Ya-huh! Ya-huh! <- that’s me doing an end zone dance. Not pretty. Be glad you can’t really see it.Read the rest at my blog.

Sapphire available October 24 from Carina Press.

Gotta have twitter?

Deserted Island Wish List – THREE DAYS, TWO NIGHTS – MJ Fredrick

There are days—like recently, when I’ve got over 150 emails in my inbox, 2 commitments for the weekend and a presentation on Monday—when I wish I could run away to a deserted island. I fantasize about being left alone. Then I think what I’d like to have with me.

Some days I’d include my husband on the list. But we’ve been married almost 25 years, so some days I’d leave him home.

If I take my Nook, I’d need a power source, so maybe I’d take some of my old favorites to reread. I never have time to reread anymore—isn’t that sad?

I’d take yarn. I have an afghan I’ve been wanting to make, though a deserted island might be a little warm.

I’d take a nice fluffy beach towel and spend all day at water’s edge. (This is fantasy, so no sun damage!)

I’d take as much Diet Coke as I could carry.

And I’d need a notebook and a good supply of pens so I could write.

My wanna-be-a-hermit list is VERY boring compared to my hero and heroine in Three Days, Two Nights, coming Oct. 24 from Carina Press. Of course, only my hero is planning the vacation—my heroine is caught unawares. My hero is merely taking her away to try to win her back. He has a stash of supplies in readiness, including a mattress, and then lands on the wrong  island and has to improvise.

That works just fine as far as winning her back, until she discovers he planned this all along.

What would you take on a deserted island? Would you want to be alone, or with the one you love? Or like me, does that change from day to day?


MJ Fredricks

MJ’s blog


MJ’s Facebook Fan Page

Cedar Key and Terri Dulong

Fans have asked where I get my ideas for my stories.  In all of my writing, setting has always been very important to me.  When I read, I like to know where I’m at and then immerse myself in places I have visited or places I’ve never been.

So when we moved to Cedar Key six years ago, I knew I had my setting for future novels and I was inspired by the small town community, the people, the sense of family and love and the beautiful scenery surrounding this island fishing village.

I write women’s fiction so my stories focus on relationships.  In book one of my Cedar Key Series, Spinning Forward, my main character was coming to grips with her self-identity.  In book two, Casting About, I wanted to write about the father’s side of a custody battle in addition to the difficulties of becoming a new step-mom.

Book three in my series, Sunrise on Cedar Key, will be released on October 25.  Readers will remember Grace Stone from book two and this is Grace’s story.  My focus for this novel is friendships, the sister relationship, a past love and a present love.  And of course . . . knitting.  My novels have a knitting theme because in Spinning Forward Sydney has relocated to Cedar Key and opens a knitting shop where she also spins dog and cat fur into yarn.  I’m a dedicated knitter, so using this theme came easily for me, but I also needed to be realistic.  Sydney needed a means to support herself financially.  Jobs on Cedar Key are not that plentiful.  We don’t have any major stores, hospitals, doctor offices, or factories.  I needed to give Sydney a job that made sense for this island and opening a yarn shop was perfect.  In book two, her daughter Monica now owns the yarn shop and in Sunrise on Cedar Key, Grace’s aunt Maude has begun a new venture . . . she’s offering knitting retreat weekends for women across the country, to come for a weekend of knitting and bonding at the Blue Moon Knitting Retreat.

Sunrise on Cedar Key also focuses on the sister relationship.  I’m an only child so I’ve never had the experience of sibling rivalry or sibling love.  However, growing up I was fascinated by the on again, off again, up and down relationship between my mother and her sister.  So the idea for Grace and Chloe stemmed from that.

Having been to France many times and being half French, I’m a confirmed Francophile so it was easy to develop Grace’s love interest into the Frenchman of Lucas Trudeau who opens the new book shop and coffee café on Cedar Key.

So as you can see, I take a bit of my own history and then I let my imagination go wild to create characters and plots which result in another novel for my Cedar Key Series.  At the moment I’m on deadline for book four which will be released in 2012 and tentatively titled, Postcards From Cedar Key.  A little sneak preview:  You’ll meet Berkley Whitmore toward the end of Sunrise On Cedar Key and she’s the main character for book four.  Berkley comes to the island first just to check it out for possible relocation from Salem, Massachusetts, where she had owned a chocolate shop with her mother and grandmother.  She immediately falls in love with the town, meets Chloe, Grace and Suellen and decides the island is the perfect place to open a chocolate shop.  But that isn’t the only reason that she’s been drawn to Cedar Key because the past collides with the present, finally giving Berkley answers that she has searched for most of her life.

I want to thank each and every one of you for the support you’ve shown for my books.  I know all authors say they have the best fans, but I truly know that I do!  So I hope you’ll enjoy Sunrise On Cedar Key, because writing these novels continues to fulfill my passion and love for writing and sharing my stories with you completes that passion.

Visit Terri

First times with Wendi Zwaduk

I want to thank the folks here at Manic Readers for letting me blog today. I’m kind of nervous, but hey, the first time is always the hardest, right?

I thought for my topic for today I’d talk about first times. I’d  been rather snagged by an infomercial for music from the late 1950’s and very early 1960’s. My parents were the type that they had music on all the time—be it the radio, the record player, yes, I remember records, or they sang. There was quite a variety in the songs I heard.

So what does the first time have to do with this music infomercial? The songs are predominantly about young love, first love, first heartbreak and the like. I grew up listening to these songs and thought them to be moldy oldies.  I’m 32. They all came out way before I came about.

The theme of firsts and first times got me thinking. This is my first time blogging here at Manic Readers. If I were going to share a first with the readers, what would it be?

My first love.

When I was in the sixth grade, I wanted to grow up so much. I wanted to be like my aunt who was only 9 years older than me. She got to do all the cool things—drive, kiss boys, go to the football games… I grew up in a small town, so other than those things, there wasn’t much to do.

I happened to be rather bright for my age and I got to go to the big, scary middle school a year early. There was a boy I knew rather well as we’d grown up together.  Our moms were good friends. They liked us being friends. What happened next? Well, it wasn’t our mothers pushing us together. Nope. I developed a huge crush because he was older, by a year but at the tender age of 12, ‘going with’ someone who was 13 was big stuff. Then again, our definition of ‘going out’ was really just you wrote his name all over your folders, declared your undying love for said boy or girl and held hands at lunch.

Yeah, we totally lived on the edge.

So how did he become my first love? We had a church class together. Simple as that. We were both at the end of the alphabet and ended up sitting together a lot. Call it puppy love due to proximity, but yeah, we ended up ‘going out’. We held hands, I conned him into actually doing the work for the class, he showed off when they played football. Oh and he was my first kiss.

It seems so long ago and so simple. We were waiting for a parental unit to pick us up. We waited. Got bored. He kissed me. Was it magical? Honestly, I don’t remember. I do remember being shocked. He kissed me! And then as fast as it happened, it was over. We ‘went out’ for another few months, but then he discovered other girls and I just stuck to being shy—in school I was VERY shy. I’ve often wondered what would’ve happened if we had actually tried dating when we were older. I’d like to say it would’ve gone well. I have no idea.

Looking back, I’m glad my first kiss was with him. We’re still friends and I still think fondly on those times we spent together. I’ve learned to cherish little moments, like first kisses and I’d like to think I’ve worked them into my stories. I hope you think so, too. I’ll leave you with a snippet from my upcoming release, Somewhere I Belong. The characters in the book have a lot of resemblance to me and my first love.

Three is their magic number. Now they’ve got to decide if the magic is worth saving.

Razrs Edge packed stadiums, fuelled by the inner turmoil and passion of the three founding members. The lights aren’t as bright and the crowds cheer a little less now that the threesome has parted ways.

It’s time to bring the magic back.

Parkur’s not convinced the split is for good. They were meant to be three. But can he write the music to convince Juniper and Jacoby to give him a second chance? Juniper and Jacoby want the triad intact. Is the love they shared as three enough to erase the destruction in their collective past?

Contains two heroes hell bent on making sweet music with the woman of their dreams, the rediscovery of passion between three people, hot manlove and ménage action, a little spanking, some toy play, and some bondage…oh yes…

Savin’ Me

Wendi Zwaduk’s Site

Debra Kayn with a question for readers

One of the best pieces of advice I received from an editor is to write what I know. I took that to heart when writing the Sisters of McDougal Ranch series. I’m a country gal, have raised all sorts of animals, and have always lived in small towns. I’ve also experienced a parent dying when I was sixteen years old. Writing the Sisters of McDougal Ranch series came easily after that. I put my experiences with Sunday family dinners, girls with grit, and men who refused to take off their cowboy hats to good use.

When it comes to reading a book though, the sky’s the limit and I don’t always read about what I know and live. I’ll read about millionaires, FBI agents, the guy next door, and women who race cars for a living or find themselves gambled away by their rotten stepfather. Of course, I can never turn down a good cowboy story either. I love the freedom of choosing a book, and that brings me to a question…

Do you read books that have a storyline similar to the way you live or do you read books to escape to a new world?

My newest release came out October 17th, and is called Val’s Rancher. It’s the 2nd book of the Sisters of McDougal Ranch series. You can also find Chantilly’s Cowboy, book one, here and most ebook stores.

Buy Link


Val McDougal knows all about heartbreak. First, the love of her life, Sam Turner, left to join the rodeo circuit two years ago. Now she faces a new kind of pain—her beloved father is dying. The last thing she needs is Sam’s unexpected return to Pike, Montana, to take over his family’s ranch, stirring up desires Val doesn’t think she can handle.

Sam knows he made the biggest mistake of his life when he broke things off with Val. He’s determined to win her back, this time for good. But despite the sizzling heat between them, Val keeps pulling away. He has to convince her to trust him—and her own heart—again, especially as the time draws near when she’ll need him the most…

Book two of the Sisters of McDougal Ranch series. Look for book one, Chantilly’s Cowboy, available now.

Multipublished Romance author, Debra Kayn, is not only a writer, she’s a wife and Mom to four great kids. When she’s not staying up late dreaming of new stories to write, she enjoys riding motorcycles, gardening, playing tennis, and spending time with a fishing pole in her hands.

She lives in the beautiful Coastal Mountains of Oregon on a hobby farm. Her love of animals includes dogs, chickens, goats, rabbits, turkeys, geese, and yes…pigs. The peacefulness of a flowing creek across her property provides an excellent spot to read a book on a summer day, go swimming, and catch the ever-elusive fish.

You can visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or Like her Facebook page. She also loves hearing from her readers, and welcomes emails.

“Museum Sex” by Professor Gabriel O.Emerson

Museum Sex by Professor Gabriel O. Emerson, Associate Professor of Italian Studies, University of Toronto

I find museums enlightening, provocative … and sexy.

As a Dante specialist, I find myself invited to give lectures around the world. Over the course of my travels, I’ve had the good fortune of visiting many famous museums.

The best museums are quiet and spacious. They allow guests to appreciate the art and artifacts in silence.  They’re tastefully decorated so as not to detract from the objects on display. They provide places for visitors to sit down or to stand and contemplate the exhibits.

My favourite museum, without question, is the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Cosimo de Medici commissioned the Uffizi in the 16th century. Giorgio Vasari, a famous painter and sculptor, designed the gallery.  My favourite room in the museum is the Sandro Botticelli room, which contains several of his masterpieces.

One of my favourite paintings by Botticelli is “The Birth of Venus.”

Venus is a voluptuous but modest figure, with a serene countenance and long, flowing hair.  I could gaze at her for hours. This brings me to another reason why I like museums – they are incredibly erotic.

Beauty, in particular, the beauty of the female form, has been celebrated throughout history through art.  Sometimes the beauty one sees in a museum is so tantalizing, so seductive, it begs for release.

Never is this release more potent and necessary than when one is enjoying a museum with one’s lover.  Art, like sex, is supposed to be a shared experience.  One is supposed to stand in front of a painting and feel what the artist is trying to communicate. The presence of another, who one knows intimately, only heightens the excitement.

Which leads me to speak, quite naturally, about another favourite topic of mine, museum sex.

Imagine finding a quiet and slightly darkened corner of a gallery, pushing your lover up against a wall to steal a kiss, your bodies aligning perfectly.  The low hum of the distant crowd echoes in your ears along with her whimpers and whispered pleas.

Almost breathless, you touch her, allowing your fingers to stroke the hidden nakedness of her skin.  Unable to contain your ardour, you pay homage to her mouth and neck, causing her to repeat your name over and over.  You push aside clothing, only to feel the blissful connection of flesh against soft, soft flesh.

Searing kisses.  Speeding hearts.  The rush of blood through the veins.  The musky sweet scent of sweat and sex.  And always there is the pleasurable excitement of the forbidden, the possibility of being caught …

In a temple that worships the gods and goddesses of beauty, why shouldn’t we indulge our carnal instincts? The sensuous coupling of two desires made one.

Yes, in the sequel to “Gabriel’s Inferno,” there is mention of museum sex. But you’ll have to read the story to see what happens ….

Visit Sylvain Reynard

Manic Readers review of GABRIEL’S INFERNO

Birthday Month By Xavier Axelson

I’ve decided not to age past 35.  This will be the last year I acknowledge age as a physical construct.  From here on out it is a myth, a generalization, a conclusion drawn and believed by other people.  It’s not that I’m afraid of ageing.  I just decided age stopped mattering.  If people can say that gender is an illusion and sexuality is an illusion, then certainly I am justified in saying age is also an illusion.  Maybe allusion would be a better word.

Yes, I am growing one year older.  This blog will be posted on said Birthday.  I am a birthday whore.  Let me explain.  Ever since I can remember, I celebrated the entire month of October.  I don’t know when this started but I’m pretty sure my mother is the culprit.  If she’s not it’s fun to blame her anyway.  I set rules around the month.  First off, No one is allowed to irritate me.  Said irritation can be stupid words spoken, irritating things done, drama delivered to my Birthday doorstep.

See how fun this is.

It’s amazing when you set up parameters how willing most people are to stay within the rules.  So when a friend or family member starts up with something irritating I look at them ever so gently and say, “It’s my birthday month.  Save it for November 1st.”

I also make it a point to do a little something for myself everyday of the month.  This may be taking an entire day and do absolutely nothing but lie in bed and read.  I always buy myself a new hardcover book on my birthday.  I read once that the most important day in a Satanist’s life is his/her own birthday.  I remember standing in the middle of Barnes and Noble where I read this and thinking, “am I a closet Satanist?”

Who knew?

One of my favorite birthday month memories happened back in High School.  I have a wonderful friend who took my birthday month celebration to new heights one year.  One day she decorated the entire hallway where my locker lived, the next she decorated my locker and filled it with gifts.  She then proceeded to bake me little delicious tidbits the entire week of my birthday.  These ranged from something called “Maryannes” to a huge birthday cake presented to me in the cafeteria in the shape of a pumpkin.  I also remember cherry cobbler.  Another friend made little cards that announced my birthday and handed them to people in the halls.

I was a guidance office aide (I was an early grad and had to do this task to get the hell out of high school) and on my birthday a huge pile of gifts was delivered to the guidance office where I sat innocently pretending to file college brochures.  All I remember is a Playgirl Calendar being among the gifts and that causing quite the stir.

I should state here and now none of these things were commissioned by the birthday boy.  I was oblivious to everything, oblivion being a close personal friend of mine.

I’ve had many wonderful birthday celebrations.  Elaborate, quiet, fun, glittering, over the top and subdued, always wonderful and filled with great people and most importantly amazing food.  On a more recent birthday while I was working as an event coordinator at a fancy Beverly Hills catering company I remember sitting in my office and upon hearing a flurry of “oohs” and “ahhs” coming from the entryway went to see what the commotion was about.  I was rewarded with one of the biggest flower arrangements I’ve ever seen.  There were dark purple roses, chocolate cosmos, blood red roses, chili peppers, and any number of other black, red, and orange flowers.  In the vase pomegranates floated benignly.  Attached to this amazing arrangement were a mass of balloons.  The most important part of the arrangement was the man  I loved carrying the vase and smiling shyly from behind the tangle of black roses.

The women I worked with were in shock and must have asked me a million times if he had a brother, hell, did he have a sister, I could hook them up with.

Alas, here I am on the verge of 35.  I look back fondly at all my birthday celebrations and thank you for looking back with me.  As I write this blog, I realized the reason behind my month long celebration of my birth.  It’s not for the presents, the treats, or the indulgence, it’s to celebrate life.  Something we should all do everyday and not just one day once a year.  I like taking care of myself and taking care of oneself is really about taking time for oneself and spending that time generously and lavishly.  Granted, we can’t do this everyday but why not hold onto the idea of everyday being a little mini birthday.  After all, it’s someone’s birthday somewhere and life is worth celebrating, every day.

Melinda Hammond is an Incurable Romantic

Melinda Hammond muses on what it is to be a romantic novelist.

We like to label people don’t we?  Housewife, widow, magistrate, artist, athlete – all labels, but they could all apply to the same person (although not to me, I hasten to add).  The publishing world is no different, they want to label us so they know which shelf to put us on! So what do I call myself?  Well, there’s a problem: perhaps it should describe what I write, so I am a Romantic Historical Novelist – makes me sound like someone who wafts around in a day dream reading poetry (well, sometimes I do read poetry, but one doesn’t waft in the Pennines, its more usually a gale-force wind blowing one around!)  – Historical Romantic Novelist? That makes it sound as if I died years ago. No, what I really am is a story teller.  One of the oldest professions in the world.  I started telling stories in the playground and by the time I went to high school I was making up stories for my friends, usually involving one of them and the latest sinfully seductive pop star to hit the headlines.

So what do I write, I hear you ask.  Well it’s historical, romantic adventures.

The adventure bit is quite important.  I have three older brothers and no sisters, and I grew up in a street full of boys.  Street games consisted of playing cowboys and Indians, spies or war – I must admit I did very well in these last two – not because I was the only girl (young boys have no idea of chivalry!) but because I usually managed to convince everyone that I was a double agent so should be allowed to join in on both sides.  Until I went to high school, trips to the cinema were to see action films – although this was in the days when the baddie usually wore black and the good guy never lost his hat in a fight! The nearest I ever got to romance was The Crimson Pirate, The Scarlet Pimpernel or Robin Hood. Although, having said that, I believe there was a tiny element of romance in most of the other films, too.

My poor mother must have despaired of me –  I think she sent me to an all-girls school in the hope that I would become a lady! This is where my love of language and history developed – English was my favourite subject and the school encouraged a love of reading and the theatre. As for history, we had a wonderful teacher who would perch herself upon the edge of the desk and give us all the gossip behind whichever great figure we were supposed to be studying, as well as the truth about what actually went on beneath those huge Victorian petticoats.  This started a lifelong passion, not so much for the dates and facts but for the people in history. I devoured history, fact and fiction, during my teens and when I couldn’t find the stories I wanted, I started writing my own.  Not seriously, of course – this was a secret passion, I never meant my poor scribblings to be read by anyone else. Does this sound familiar to you?  I am sure I am not the only writer who started out this way.

I adored period drama with the men in their frills and frock-coats and the women in gorgeous dresses, so it seemed only natural to me to set my stories in the Georgian period. This was a time of great change, there was war on the Continent and the industrial revolution in England. A time of Keats and Byron: Napoleon and Wellington.  There was grinding poverty, a harsh legal system, mob riots and by contrast the rich lived in privileged luxury, ruling by a combination of power, social hierarchy and passionate affairs.  Plenty of scope for the novelist there. But although this is my favourite era, I do have a penchant for other times, too.


So what inspires me?  Well, everything, really.   In my latest book, Casting Samson, I drew on inspiration from many sources.  I wanted to write something about the Crusades, but I am an incurable romantic, and if my star-crossed lovers could not have a happy ending, there had to be some sort of satisfying conclusion for my hero, at least.  There is a poem called “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”, by Richard Lovelace (an incredibly romantic figure from the days of the English Civil War), and its last two lines have been the motto for many of my heroes:-

“I could not love thee, dear, so much / Loved I not honour more.”

Incidentally, I used the name, Lucasta, for another of my heroines (and as the name of the book, too) – I cannot believe it has not been used more, it is such a lovely name.  Perhaps some of you might know of instances where it has been used? I’d love to hear.

So, back to Casting Samson. My first idea was to write a book set in the twelfth century, but somehow other tales got in the way. I discovered I couldn’t resolve my hero’s story in his lifetime: the religion and mores of the period meant that he and his lady couldn’t run away and live happily ever after, so I mixed his story in with a modern day tale, and (hopefully) my hero can now rest easy.

Finally, to show just how life continues to confuse, at the same time as Casting Samson comes out as an e-book with Carina Press, at the other end of the technical spectrum, Harlequin Mills & Boon are publishing the UK hardback version of the latest novel written as my alter ego, Sarah Mallory – The Dangerous Lord Darrington. And, to be honest, as much as I love my Kindle,I don’t ever think I will lose my love of having a real book in my hands.

What do you think – will we still be buying books in the next decade?  Personally, I believe we will. I think there is room for both the e-book and the traditional printed version. After all, nothing feels or smells like an old and well-loved book (or is that just me being fanciful?)