Frances Fowlkes | Stepping Outside the Norm—The Unexpected Heroines of the Regency Era

Frances FowlkesMISS WINTERS PROPOSESI have a weakness for writing bold, independent heroines with unusual hobbies. My ladies are often drawn to the extraordinary and the forbidden—at least for their time. From an educated number-crunching business partner in my first book, THE DUKE’S OBSESSION, to an independent dog-breeder in my latest release, MISS WINTERS PROPOSES, my heroines broach the unexpected and the near impossible with their interests.

So, what constitutes a deviation from the norm, especially in the late Georgian through the Regency era?

Pretty much everything.

A typical lady was meant to be educated—but only just enough to secure a husband and claim the role of his wife. Anything beyond the expected basic arithmetic needed to balance household budgets was considered superfluous. A woman’s job, her sole purpose in life, was to perpetuate her husband’s line through the delivery of an heir.

Anything else, was, well…scandalous.

To have an opinion was frowned upon, especially when it was in contradiction to your spouse. To possess wit, discouraged. To breed dogs, and therefore comprehend anatomy, vulgar.

But despite the numerous social mores, a few bold, brave, women went against the grain, and gave the phrase faux pas, a run for its money.

Mary Wollstonecraft did not only write novels and treatise, two indications she possessed an over-imaginative and undesirable mind, she philosophized and advocated women’s rights. One of the first feminists, she believed men and women were equal, and imagined a social order founded on reason. Ideas, one can presume, that were not entirely popular during a time of prevalent male superiority.

Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace, otherwise known simply as Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron and his wife, Anne, was known for her fondness for numbers and logic. Along with Charles Babbage, a brilliant British mathematician, Ada developed an elaborate set of notes, now known to be the very first algorithm and is considered the world’s first female computer programmer. Rather scandalous, wouldn’t you say?

Caroline Herschel was not only a brilliant astronomer and discoverer of the 35P/Herschel-Rigollet comet (which incidentally bears her name) she was the first woman to be paid for her contributions to science, and earn both a gold medal and membership into the prestigious Royal Astronomical Society. She reached for the stars—and broke outside the rigid expectations of a male-centric society.

A woman in possession of intelligence was a dangerous thing. A woman participating in physical activity, specifically a vulgar sport like boxing, was a sight to behold. Women’s ankles were not allowed to be seen, and yet The Boxing Baroness, Lady Barrymore, stripped down to her shift and boxed against her sport-crazed husband—bare-fisted.

There are others, women who dared to step outside of the box and go against the grain with their sculptures, paintings, and interests deemed suitable only for men. These women, while rare, exist and serve as inspiration for brilliant, strong, and independent heroines worthy of a story.


An unseemly proposal…

Juliet Winters has come up with a wonderfully devious plan to avoid marrying her vile cur of a cousin. First, she’ll propose marriage to her handsome, reclusive neighbor, Lord Colwyn. Then, once she has both name and financial support, she’ll be able to pursue her true (if rather unladylike) passion — breeding dogs. But when Lord Colwyn rejects her proposal…

Juliet must take matters into her own hands. The last thing Benjamin Colwyn expected was for the spirited Juliet to blackmail him into marriage — especially not by kidnapping his beloved canine companion. Yet despite his yearning for peace and isolation, he finds himself wanting to help her, if only to protect her from a marriage to a disreputable scoundrel. He certainly doesn’t expect the woman who pilfered his dog to steal his heart, as well…

About Frances Fowlkes

After viewing her all-time favorite love story, Anne of Green Gables, at the impressionable age of ten, Frances Fowlkes has been obsessed with affable boy-next door heroes, red-heads, and romance stories with lots of “highfaluting mumbo jumbo” written within their pages. It only seems natural then that she married the boy who used to pull on her curls in her high school English class, had not one, but THREE red-headed boys, and penned multiple love stories with bits of flowery prose.

When not writing, Frances loves spending time with her family, playing with makeup, and planning her next vacation.

Frances Fowlkes, originally a northern mid-westerner, now lives in the southeast with her ardent hero of a husband, three playful and rambunctious boys, and one spoiled standard poodle.

A self-professed Anglophile and summa cum laude graduate of LeTourneau University, Frances Fowlkes combines her passion for happily-ever-afters with her interests in both American and English histories.

Coleen Kwan | Sappy Books

A couple of weeks ago I was talking about books with my eighteen-year-old daughter, and I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed a young adult book I’d recently read. My daughter instantly picked up her phone (to which she is surgically glued, I’m convinced) and Googled the book. She read the blurb and informed me that it sounded like a very sappy book and not for her. Sappy? Me? I was momentarily taken aback, but after I’d thought about it for a while, I was okay with that. What to my daughter sounded sappy and sentimental, was moving and tender to me, and I absolutely loved that book. We all have different tastes in reading, and thank heavens there are so many books out there catering for so many varied palates.

I love reading romance, and even when I pick up a non-romance book my interest is always piqued by the relationships between characters. (Maybe that’s why I’ve never really gotten into non-fiction.) To me these relationships deepen the reading experience and bring the characters to life.

We all know about those books that suck us in and pull us away from our everyday lives, making us stay up late as we read “just one more chapter”. There’s a little bit of magic in those books, as if they cast a spell over us so we forget about mundane things like feeding kids, doing laundry, and even eating. Whenever I finish one of these books, I always sigh and wish I could write such a book. I wish I could cast that spell over a reader and hold her captive for a few hours, so that in the end she’ll sigh with satisfaction and not mind that her teenage daughter calls her taste in books “sappy”. As a writer, I’d take that as the highest compliment.

What about you? What was the last book that held you spellbound and did it contain some romance? I’d love to know.


She’s right where he wants her…

Amidst an ugly divorce and an even uglier scandal, Paige Kerrigan has returned to her parents’ estate to hide out until things blow over. While she’s enjoying a late-night naked swim, however, she’s shocked to find Owen Bellamy— her family’s former cute pool boy—standing poolside. Now he’s all hot, grown up, and renting the Kerrigan property…and he’s definitely not forgiven Paige for how she used to treat him.

Once, the beautiful but spoiled Paige Kerrigan was everything Owen wanted. Now she’s broke and Owen finally has his revenge…by offering her a place to stay as his housekeeper. Yet Paige isn’t the person he remembers. Instead, she’s far more than he imagined, and far more irresistible than is safe. But the last thing Owen can afford is to give his heart to the same woman who once broke it.

About Coleen Kwan

Coleen Kwan has been a bookworm all her life. At school English was her favorite subject, but for some reason she decided on a career in IT. After many years of programming, she wondered what else there was in life — and discovered writing. She loves writing contemporary romance and steampunk romance.

Coleen lives in Sydney, Australia with her partner and two children. When she isn’t writing she enjoys avoiding housework, eating chocolate, and watching Criminal Minds.

Kate Collins | Follow Your Bliss

Kate CollinsA ROOT AWAKENINGI almost titled this Paralyzed by Fear, but that sounded too negative, and I want this to be a positively uplifting blog.  Just so you know, I’m using the word “bliss” to reference what makes us happy in life, what makes us want to get up in the morning, what fulfills us as human beings.

Stalled careers are a big problem among writers both published and unpublished. I’ve met people who want to be published, who have the ability to write, but can’t bring themselves to send their work out to a publishing house for fear of rejection. I’ve met talented musicians and artists with the same problem. The only thing keeping them from achieving their bliss is fear. They are afraid to trust their talent. They’re afraid of how bad rejection will feel. They’re afraid they’ll be humiliated. Ask successful writers/artists/musicians about those fears and they will tell you they had to let go of them or they never would have made it.

Being out in the public as much as I am, I encounter so many people who are stuck in a cloud of fear and negativity—from stalled careers, money troubles, relationship issues, parenting problems, and on and on. But then I see others who have had the same or worse tribulations and still found ways to find their bliss. I’ve heard unbelievably touching stories of people who’ve come from some of the worst conditions in the world— impoverished villages in Africa, dangerous ghettos, prisons—who made their dreams happen against all odds. Their secret was that they never stopped believing in themselves.

Believing in yourself gives you the power to achieve. Letting fear take hold keeps you from achieving. You have to ignore fear, push it aside, and say to yourself, “I want to do this. I will do this. If I get rejected, that doesn’t mean I failed. It means I have to do better. I will learn from this and try again.” That’s what I call success. After all, what is the worst that can happen? You may discover that your talent lies elsewhere. But how will you know unless you try?  As in a quote I read recently, failure isn’t trying and not succeeding, failure is not trying at all.

Write down your goals on a piece of paper and post them where you can see them. Meditate or pray about them every day. If your gut is telling you to go for it, if a little whisper in your mind is saying, “Write that book!” or “Get that song published,” don’t ignore it. Those gut feelings, or whispers, are coming from a higher power. Listen. Let go of your fears and seek your bliss.

If you haven’t found your bliss, what fears are holding you back?


Abby Knight’s marriage may be in full bloom, but house hunting is no bed of roses in latest novel in the New York Times bestselling Flower Shop Mystery series

Now that they’ve tied the knot, flower shop owner Abby Knight and her husband, Marco, want to put down roots. When it comes to picking a house, Marco can’t wait to get his hands dirty, while Abby isn’t ready for a fixer-upper. But conflict really sprouts when they’re checking out a dilapidated Victorian and watch a construction worker take a life-threatening tumble.

Since witnesses claim the man shouted for help, suggesting that the fall was no accident, the victim’s flamboyant wife hires Marco to find the person responsible. Meanwhile, Abby keeps secret from Marco her own investigation into the home’s inhabitants, a family whose off-kilter behavior has aroused her suspicions. If only Abby’s very pregnant cousin, Jillian, will stop distracting Abby with false labor pains, she can conclude her own inquiries before Marco finds out…and her case blossoms into a disaster.

Read Fresh Fiction’s review.

Lucy Arlington | Writing Real People

Lucy ArlingtonPLAYED BY THE BOOKPeople often ask me if I use real people as my characters. Some ask with a bit of a grin and sly wink, as if to say, “You could use me, if you wish.” The answer is always no, and often receives a disappointed sigh from the person who asked. But using real people as characters could be libelous. And while everyone has some interesting aspects to their lives and/or personalities, fictional characters need a ton of fascinating traits to really hold readers’ attention. So, what I like to do is “borrow” a few of those attributes from the people around me and merge them into my fictional characters.

For example, the lady who lives down the road and wakes at the crack of dawn every spring day to painstakingly clip the yellow heads off dandelions in her yard—all million gazillion of them—well, I find her fascinating. What motivates her behavior? (Besides the fact that she doesn’t like dandelions.) What type of person has the tenacity, or perhaps the compulsiveness, to do such a thing? What other compulsions might she have? And how does she feel about the guy who lives next door to her with the field of weeds, all turning to seed, and blowing into her yard? Man, I bet he drives her crazy. How crazy, I wonder. Enough to push her over the edge? Voila, there’s a story, and all as a result of a single interesting character trait pushed to the max! Even so, I would never put my actual neighbor in a book. Especially not that one–she might recognize herself and try to deadhead me!

However, all my characters are derived, in one way or another, from real people. Because in order to give my fictional people realistic behaviors, I need to collect mannerisms, idiosyncrasies and, yes, even odd quirks from the people around me. Am I worried that someone might recognize themselves in my writing? Nope. The good thing is, fictional characters always morph into something bigger than reality. They’re better looking and in better shape than real people—his T-shirt stretched tautly over his well-defined, muscular torso. They’re braver than real people—without reservation, she entered the dark, snake-infested basement in search of the escaped convict. And they’re always twice as sensual as anyone I know in real life—you don’t need an example to know what I mean here. The characters become the people we want to be like, or the heroes we’d love to meet, or the villians we would willingly kill off ourselves! Through careful observation and creative packaging, I take traits from those around me and spin them into realistic characters, albeit a bit bigger-than-life, who hopefully will both resonate with readers as real and yet be complex and interesting enough to be worth following.

For instance, consider Lila Wilkins, a literary agent who finds herself not only engrossed in the mystery books she vets for her agency, but also in the lives—and murderous traumas—surrounding both her would-be writers and bestsellers authors. Each character is complex and quirky, from her tarot card reading mother, known as The Amazing Althea, to her New York transplant of a boss, Bentley Burlington–Duke, founder and president of Novel Idea Literary Agency. If you’d like to meet Lila and learn more about my latest characters, check out PLAYED BY THE BOOK, the fourth novel in the Novel Idea Mystery series. In it, when a popular TV garden show host comes to town to promote his upcoming book for Lila’s agency, the garden club women are swooning—but one ends up also clobbered with a garden spade! The book is chock-full of all-too-real characters, bucolic garden themes and, unfortunately, an evasive murderer.  What you won’t find, however, is a crazy dandelion lady. I promise.


The New York Times bestselling Novel Idea Mysteries make their return with Lila Wilkins, literary agent and “murder magnet,” planning a book signing garden party. But things aren’t coming up roses when she has to weed out a dangerous killer…

The owner of the Novel Idea Literary Agency is thrilled when former local boy and popular television show host Damian York returns to Inspiration Valley, North Carolina, to launch his new gardening book. But Lila is less than excited about the hubbub when she sees her mounting to-do list. Between planning York’s gala and sprucing up her yard for another event, she’s spread too thin—especially after she finds a skull buried in her flowerbeds.

As Lila’s macabre discovery leads to other secrets hidden in Inspiration Valley’s past, a member of the local garden club is found slumped over her prize roses—murdered. Now it’s up to Lila to dig through old mysteries and new clues to unearth a murderer before someone else is found pushing up daisies…

Sheila Connolly | Inspired by Ireland

Sheila ConnollyAN EARLY WAKEAt the heart of the County Cork Mysteries is the second book I ever wrote, set in a small pub in a very small town in southwestern Ireland. It was inspired by a real pub called Connolly’s, which I’ve come to know well over the past decade (especially after having tea with the owner in the back room, with her Irish Wolfhound by the fire and her cat in my lap).

I chose to write about Ireland because I never knew my father’s parents, both of whom were born there (although in different counties), and I thought seeing the country might be a way to get to know them. My grandmother and grandfather came to New York separately, in 1911, and connected when he made milk deliveries to the back door of the house where she was a servant. They didn’t marry until 1918, and they had my father a year later. My grandmother was 38 at the time.

They went on to have two more children. My father became a chemical engineer and earned a master’s degree. His younger brother was a nuclear engineer at Stanford, after getting a Ph.D. at Cal Tech. Their baby sister worked in television in New York on the show Mr. Peepers in the 1950s—not bad for a girl from Syracuse, although she went home to marry a hometown Irish boy (it did turn out that he’d been a spy in Paris in WWII, complete with trench coat—I’ve seen the picture). That’s quite an impressive list of achievements for the offspring of two poorly educated Irish natives who grew up raising cows out in the country. Is it any wonder I wanted to know more? So I made my first trip there in 1998.

What did I learn in Ireland? That there’s a particular kind of humor that seems familiar to me. There’s also a sense of fatalism: even when things are going well (like during the brief Celtic Tiger), there’s the sense that a bad turn is just around the corner, but that’s nothing new and we’ll get through it somehow. That the Irish people love words and talk and songs, and they love sharing all of those.

The new book in the series, AN EARLY WAKE, is about music. Not the pipes and tin whistles kind, but contemporary music. I based Sullivan’s pub in the series on Connolly’s, and for reasons that are still a mystery to me, Connolly’s was once a center for bands and music in West Cork. If you see the place, you end up scratching your head: it’s all of two rooms, and it holds no more than 200 people legally, and only half of them in the back room where the stage is. The stage was maybe a foot off the floor and about ten feet square. Yet still they hosted bands you might have heard of, like the Cranberries.

How did the word get out? That’s even more mystifying. No Internet in those days. No money for advertising, in the Cork papers or on the radio. The owner of the place would book the bands and people would just show up. He’s gone now, but I asked his 24-year-old son just how it happened, and he said, quite simply, “magic.”

And he’s right. There’s something magic about Ireland. I felt it the first time I saw the place, and it keeps bringing me back. I want to write about it because I want others to see what’s so special about the country and the people. It’s not all rainbows and leprechauns (although I’ve seen plenty of the first, and maybe a few of the second); there’s something deeper and more complex going on that draws you in.

The title of that first Irish book of mine (never published) was Home of the Heart. It still fits.


Pub owner Maura Donovan may have Irish kin, but she doesn’t seem to have the luck of the Irish. Who could have foreseen that bringing live music back to Sullivan’s Pub would lead to a dead musician?

Summer is ending in County Cork, Ireland, and with it the tourist season. Expat Maura Donovan is determined to keep Sullivan’s Pub in the black as the days grow shorter—but how? When she hears that the place was once a hot spot for Irish musicians who’d come play in the back room, she wonders if bringing back live music might be Sullivan’s salvation.

As word gets out, legendary musicians begin to appear at the pub, and the first impromptu jam session brings in scores of music lovers. But things hit a sour note when Maura finds a dead musician in the back room the next morning. With a slew of potential suspects, it’s going to take more than a pint and a good think to force a murderer to face the music.

Amanda Carmack | Elizabethan Mysteries


I love, love, love the Elizabethan period!  The music, the clothes, the houses, the sense of adventure and discovery, the poetry—it’s all so exciting.  Writing the Kate Haywood Mysteries lets me live in the time period for a few hours every day, see it through Kate’s eyes, talk to Queen Elizabeth, sweep around in farthingales and ruffs—and then come back to my own cozy house, with running water and electricity.  The best of both worlds!

My love of the Elizabethan era started when I was about ten years old, and found a magical box full of paperbacks at my grandmother’s house one summer.  That box was full of wonders, and started me on a lifelong love of reading and history.  Jane Austen’s Emma; Jane Eyre;  Little Women; 1960s Harlequins set in mysterious places with names like Cornwall, where young, innocent secretaries encountered dark, brooding millionaires; Victoria Holt Gothics with crumbling castles and dark, brooding dukes (who may or may not have killed their wives).  These treasures kept me gloriously busy for weeks.

One of the best finds was a Barbara Cartland story called Elizabethan Lover.  I was no newcomer to Cartland novels by then.  My grandmother had an endless supply of those thin little paperbacks, full of wide-eyed heroines in fabulous gowns, more dark, broody dukes, and all kinds of interesting historical tidbits.  From a literary point-of-view, they were—well, not great.  But they always sent me to the library in search of historical non-fiction about whatever the setting of the last novel was—Victorian London theater, the Indian Mutiny, gypsies, horse training, Waterloo.

But Elizabethan Lover was my all-time favorite.  The wide-eyed heroine (named Elizabeth, I think?), was quite feisty compared to most of Cartland’s stammering teenaged heroines, liked to shoot a bow and arrow and climb trees.  She was in love with the hero (dark and broody, of course), who is about to set off on a voyage to the New World, and is—gasp!–betrothed to the heroine’s beautiful sister.  Who wants to run away to France to be a nun.  The heroine, for reasons I can’t remember, disguises herself as a boy and stows away on the hero’s ship for the voyage.  I loved so many things from that story—the details of the ship’s journey, the visit to court after they return (and the heroine goes to be maid-of-honor to the queen), the fashions and houses, details of business arrangements, betrothals, and religious politics.

It led me to dressing up as Anne Boleyn for a fifth grade book report (my mom is a genius at sewing costumes!), and looking into every aspect of Queen Elizabeth’s life and reign.  (It also led to some seriously unrealistic dating expectations in high school, but that’s another story…)

In MURDER IN THE QUEEN’S GARDEN, Kate has to solve a crime in the beautiful mazes and gardens of Nonsuch Palace, in the middle of an idyllic summer interlude.  There’s magic, thanks to the queen’s astrologer Dr. Dee, dancing, jousting, some great gowns, and maybe even a bit of romance.  I hope you enjoy visiting Nonsuch as much as I did!  There’s more “behind the book” info on my website.

If you could visit any time period, what would it be???


1559. Elizabeth has been on the throne for six months, and life in England seems newly golden. But for the Royal Court, murder and betrayal are foretold in the stars…

Kate Haywood, the young queen’s personal musician, has been keeping busy playing for a merry round of summer parties where famed astrologer Dr. John Dee and his fantastic horoscopes are all the rage. However, Elizabeth’s favorite stargazer fails to predict the discovery of a skeleton in the queen’s garden—and that the victim’s identity will call his own innocence into question.

When the doctor’s pupil is the victim of a second murder, the concerned queen enlists her trusted Kate to clear the accused killer of wrongdoing. But will the stars align to light Kate’s path through a tangled thicket of treachery to save Elizabeth’s prized astrologer and protect the queen from those who threaten her reign?

About Amanda Carmack

Amanda has been in love with the Tudors ever since an accidental viewing of Anne of the Thousand Days on TV as a kid! Now she just wishes she could live with them all the time–but there has to be time for writing about them too.

She also writes as Amanda McCabe and Laurel McKee, and her books have been nominated for many awards, including the RITA Award, the Romantic Times BOOKReviews Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Booksellers Best, the National Readers Choice Award, and the Holt Medallion. She lives in Oklahoma with a menagerie of two cats, a Pug, and a very bossy miniature Poodle, along with far too many books.

When not writing or reading, she loves taking dance classes, yoga, collecting cheesy travel souvenirs, and watching the Food Network–even though she doesn’t cook.

Shana Galen | Covent Garden Street Smarts

Shana GalenEARLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUNThe heroine of my new historical novel, EARLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN, isn’t your typical Regency heroine. Marlowe is a thief who grew up in the slums of London and runs with a gang called the Covent Garden Cubs. “Cub” is a slang term for a young thief.

When she’s suddenly mistaken for the long lost daughter of a marquess, she has a lot to learn in order to fit in with her “betters.” But what Marlowe learns is that sometimes street smarts are good for more than just survival. In fact, those lessons she learned on the street, come in handy when she’s introduced into Society.

Lesson #1: Trust no one.

Growing up in the rookery of Covent Garden, Marlowe quickly learned not to trust anyone. One false move, and she could end up with a knife in her back. Literally. Even the Bow Street Runners, the police of the era, weren’t above using unsuspecting cubs for financial gain and then abandoning them to face time in prison or hang for their crimes.

So when Marlowe meets the Earl of Dane, she doesn’t trust him or anyone in his family. Dane might claim to want to help her, but she can’t know his true motives. She’s always watching her back, which comes in handy when the crime lord who leads her gang comes looking for her. Then it’s Marlowe who has to make a choice between betraying a friend or trusting someone besides herself.

Lesson #2: Never pass up a meal.

Food was scarce in the slums of Covent Garden, and Marlowe grew up having to either steal food or the coin to buy it. So when Marlowe has breakfast in Derring House, Dane’s swanky London town house, she is overwhelmed by the amount and variety of food offered to her. Not only does she stash some in her pockets for later, she eats until she wants to burst. She never knows when another meal is coming.

Food definitely holds Marlowe’s attention, and it’s while she’s eyeing a table of food that she first spots trouble coming her way in the form of the Dowager Countess of Dane. A woman who deigns to sip only weak tea and passes up clotted cream must be an enemy.

Lesson #3: Watch and learn.

Marlowe might not know how to behave in Polite Society, but she’s a quick learner. She’s learned to be a consummate actress and can ape her betters flawlessly. When Marlowe is obliged to attend a duchess’s ball, her acting skills see her through the morass of unfamiliar social rules.

I loved writing about Marlowe because I am so not street smart. I wouldn’t have lasted the day in Covent Garden. But I have other smarts, like getting my preschooler to bed in under 30 minutes or quoting large portions of Star Wars verbatim. What are you smart about?


His heart may be the last thing she ever steals…

Marlowe is a pickpocket, a housebreaker-and a better actress than any professional on the stage. She runs with the Covent Garden Cubs, a gang of thieves living in the slums of London’s Seven Dials. It’s a fierce life, and Marlowe has a hard outer shell. But when she’s alone, she allows herself to think of a time before-a dimly remembered life when she was called Elizabeth.

Maxwell, Lord Dane, is intrigued when his brother, a hired investigator, ropes him into his investigation of the fiercely beautiful hellion. He teaches her to navigate the social morass of the ton, but Marlowe will not escape so easily. Instead, Dane is drawn into her dangerous world, where the student becomes the teacher and love is the greatest risk of all.

Fresh Fiction reviewer Monique Daoust calls it “a superbly written swashbuckling romance!” Read the full review here.

About Shana Galen

Shana Galen is the bestselling author of passionate Regency romps, including the RT Reviewers’ Choice THE MAKING OF A GENTLEMAN. Kirkus says of her books, “The road to happily-ever-after is intense, conflicted, suspenseful and fun,” and RT Bookreviews calls her books ” lighthearted yet poignant, humorous yet touching.” She taught English at the middle and high school level off and on for eleven years. Most of those years were spent working in Houston’s inner city. Now she writes full time. She’s happily married and has a daughter who is most definitely a romance heroine in the making. Shana loves to hear from readers, so send her an email or see what she’s up to daily on Facebook and Twitter. Visit her website and Goodreads page for more information.

Victoria Vane | Capturing the Cowboy Swagger

Victoria VaneROUGH RIDER
One of the biggest challenges I faced in making the leap from my genteel Georgian set historical romances to the rough and tumble world of rodeo was to find the right voices for my characters. My answer to that dilemma was to spend time with the real deal. I was fortunate to make two extended research trips to Montana and Wyoming for a hefty dose of genuine cowboy where I got my characters’ voices straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth. Although ROUGH RIDER is at times raw, gritty and a little coarse, it’s also very realistic in the characters, situations, and dialogue peppered with western witticisms and dry cowboy humor.

Excerpt from ROUGH RIDER

Grady Garrison leaned over from his perch on the adjoining pen and spat a wad of dip. “Good thing pretty boy scored so high on the broncs cause he sure as shit won’t make the cut on the bulls.”

“That so?” Dirk paused in prepping his rope, his ice blue eyes meeting Grady’s for only a second. “Funny, as I recall it just last week in Red Lodge I made the whistle while your ass hit the dirt.” He went back to work, crushing the lump of rosin and wrapping his gloved hand around the bull rope.

Grady jumped down from the pen with narrowed, steely-colored eyes. “I’m still going into the short round with the high score.” His shoulders were thrown back and his thumbs hooked in his belt loops—the ones that supported the huge Collegiate Champion Bull Rider buckle. Any stranger who didn’t know them as longtime rodeo buddies would surely think fists were about to fly, but Janice suspected it was just pre-ride posturing. Cowboys as a rule were ridiculously competitive. Still, she bit her lip at the tension of rising testosterone.

“Maybe you’re right, Grady, but a closed mouth gathers no boots.”

“What’re you sayin’? You think I’m all talk?”

Dirk shrugged. “Maybe you wanna put your money where that big fat mouth is?”

“All right pretty boy. How ‘bout the lowest score on the next ride buys the drinks tonight? And none of that cheap shit either.”

Dirk stood up straight, rolled his neck and shoulders, and then extended his hand. “You’re on.”

Grady accepted it with a laugh. Janice breathed a sigh of relief. The announcer gave the final scores on the barrel racing and then broadcasted the imminent start of the bull-riding.

Grady puffed up like a fighting cock as soon as audience attention riveted to their end of the arena. “Now the real rodeo begins.”

“Plenty of people watch the other events too,” Janice protested. “The broncs are my personal favorite.” She darted a glance to Dirk. “Classier than the bull riding.”

Grady scoffed. “You know as well as I do that the bulls are what eighty percent of these people come for. No one really gives a rip about all the warm up acts, though team ropin’s probably the worst.” He looked to Janice with an air of expectancy.

“Don’t ask why, Janice,” Dirk warned. “It’s his worst joke—and the one he always uses when he’s itching for a bar fight.”

“Oh yeah?” Janice couldn’t stifle her grin. “Why’s that, Grady?”

Grady smirked. “Because team ropin’s a lot like jacking off, Sweet Cheeks—kinda fun to do, but no one wants to watch it.”

Cowboy Riding a Fresian Bull isolated with clipping path Bucking Rodeo Horse isolated with clipping path

Cowboy Wisdom

1. Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.

2. Don’t squat with your spurs on.

3. Don’t judge people by their relatives.

4. Talk slowly, think quickly.

5. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

6. Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

7. The easiest way to eat crow is while it’s still warm- the colder it gets, the harder it is to swallow.

8. Don’t worry about bitin’ off more’n you can chew; your mouth is probably a whole lot bigger’n you think.

9. Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.

10. When you give a personal lesson in meanness to a critter or to a person, don’t be surprised if they learn their lesson.

11. When you’re throwin’ your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.

12. Always take a good look at what you’re about to eat. It’s not so important to know what it is, but it’s sure crucial to know what it was.

13. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back into your pocket.

14. Boot Hill is full of fellows who pulled their triggers without aiming.

15. A gun and three of a kind always beats three of a kind.


Two wary hearts …

Janice Combes has two loves, bucking bulls and Dirk Knowlton. But Dirk only has eyes for a dazzling rodeo queen. How can Janice ever compete while mired ankle-deep in manure? Exchanging playful banter with Dirk is all Janice can expect-until the stormy night he knocks on her door dripping wet and needing a place to crash.

Different dreams…

Dirk Knowlton is living the cowboy dream. Life should be good-roping, branding, backing broncs, riding bulls, but there’s a void he can’t seem to fill. After getting hung up by a bull, he wonders if this is really the life he wants. Restless and rebellious, he bolts…but there’s a certain cowgirl he can’t forget.

When a battle-scarred Dirk returns to his Montana ranch he’s determined to hang on at any cost. Janice has come back home to lick her own wounds. When old dreams turn to dust, can two wary hearts take another chance on love?

Fresh Fiction reviewer Rachel Williams calls it a “poignant saga and a lovely, redeeming romance.” Read our full review here.

About Victoria Vane

Victoria Vane is an award-winning author of smart and sexy romance. Her works range from wild comedic romps to emotionally compelling erotic romance. Victoria’s books have received more than twenty awards and nominations to include the 2014 RONE Award for Treacherous Temptations and Library Journal Best E-Book romance of 2012 for The Devil DeVere series. She lives the beautiful upstate of South Carolina with her husband, two sons, a little black dog, and an Arabian horse.

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Cathy Elliott | 5 Ways Writing a Book is Like Making a Quilt

Cathy ElliottA STITCH IN CRIMEI have been a quilter for many years and enjoyed making an intricate, scrappy beauty more than any other hobby. Until I began to write. Now here was a craft I dearly loved. But wait, I loved quilting, too. In fact, I couldn’t decide which I liked better.

Writing or quilting? Quilting or writing? Both of them held me captive. I simply had to quilt. And write.
Combining the two crafts in my new book, A Stitch in Crime, I wrote a whodunit set around a quilt show with a no-show judge and a stolen, legacy quilt. And I thought of five ways the two pursuits are very much alike.

1. They have a similar starting point.

Writing: I wanted to write a mystery, but what kind? A police procedural? Locked room/puzzle mystery? Hard-boiled detective? I decided on a cozy – which has been defined as “cats & quilts and not a lot of blood.” Now I had the direction I needed to move forward.

Quilting: I wanted to make a quilt, but what kind? A bed cover? A wall hanging? A miniature? A table runner or Christmas tree skirt? I decided on a blanket-type, something the family could use on picnic outings or grab at home when the weather turned cold. Then I had the direction I needed to move forward.

2. Both inspire vision.

Writing: I needed a setting. Where would the story unfold? I thought about it a lot. Maybe a small town? I put together memories of many historic California towns: Weaverville, Ferndale, Jacksonville, Cottonwood, and added Sisters, Oregon to the mix, creating my own surviving Gold Rush town I called Larkindale.

Quilting: I needed a pattern. What would it look like? I thought about it a lot. It could be something with flowers or a sampler or a picture…like a landscape. But I love recycling leftover fabrics. I decided on a scrappy Log Cabin pattern.

3. They each tell a story.

Writing: Figuring out the plot was key. It mattered which incident went where. A restful scene next to another restful scene wouldn’t move the story. But conflict next to a restful scene would offer contrast and make the book more interesting.
Quilting: Laying out the design was key. It mattered which fabric went where. A pale color next to a pale color could bore. But a dark color next to a pale color would offer contrast and make the quilt more interesting.

4. They are both a lot of work.

Writing: As I pieced the scenes together, the book began to take shape. I made changes where needed and kept writing. I wrote until Thea had solved the mystery. At the end, I had a completed first draft.

Quilting: As I pieced the blocks together, the quilt began to take shape. I made changes where needed and kept quilting. I sewed and stitched my way to a finished quilt top.

5. Editing must be a part of the process.

Writing: Time for the most important work. I cut all the extra words, cut the unneeded scenes, until it read smoothly. Now the manuscript was ready to send to the editor for publication.

Quilting: Still important work to do. I cut all the threads away, cut the extra fabric so the seams were straight, ironing them until they were smooth. Now the quilt top was ready to send to the quilter for completion.

In the end, what did I accomplish?

Writing: I created an art piece that was also utilitarian. It might be read and, I hope, enjoyed by one of you. Or maybe read by someone in the hospital, undergoing chemotherapy. Someone who needs to escape into the winsome world of Larkindale and meet all its quirky characters for a day or two.

Quilting: I created an art piece that was also utilitarian. It found a home with my sister-in-law and resides on the back of her sofa, waiting to cover a chilled child or an adult who wants to wrap up in a cozy quilt.

A visiting quilter to our local guild meeting said it well, “Quilts are important. They fill lives with comfort and hands with purpose.”

I’d say the same about a book, wouldn’t you?


Thea James has accepted an assignment as co-chairperson for Larkindale’s first quilt show extravaganza. Juggling the new assignment with running her antique business, she’s already feeling frayed when things start to unravel.

Mary-Alice Wentworth, a much-loved town matriarch, respected quilt judge, and Thea’s dear friend, is covertly conked on the head during the kick-off Quilt Show Soiree, throwing suspicion on her guests. It also appears that a valuable diamond brooch has been stolen during the attack. The family is furious. But is it because of their mugged mother or the missing diamonds?

When a renowned textile expert goes MIA and the famous Wentworth heritage quilt disappears, Larkindale’s reputation as a tourist haven is at risk. Thea attempts to piece the mystery together and save the town’s investment in the quilt show before Mary-Alice is attacked again . . .with far worse results.

Fresh Fiction Reviewer Viki Ferrell writes, “This inspirational mystery will keep you turning pages…” Read our full review here.

Join the Scavenger Hunt to Celebrate the Release of Chelsea Fine’s PERFECT KIND OF TROUBLE

Chelsea FinePERFECT KIND OF TROUBLEWant to win a copy of PERFECT KIND OF TROUBLE by Chelsea Fine? Join in our scavenger hunt! Each participating blog will feature a letter in their post—collect all the letters to find out the secret word. If you’re just joining in, be sure to head to Cocktails and Books for the first letter.

This post is brought to you by the letter U. Look for the next letter at Vilma’s Book Blog.  Once you’ve got the word, head on over to Chelsea Fine’s website to get your book!*

Fresh Fiction wishes you all the best on today’s scavenger hunt! Find out more about PERFECT KIND OF TROUBLE and read the excerpt below, and happy hunting!


I reach Mr. Perkins’s office and quickly park before climbing out of the car in my high heels.

The inheritance really could be only twenty dollars—or less—and spending an afternoon chained to Daren Ackwood to find it could be a complete waste of time, not to mention horribly awkward given our romantic encounter last night, but it’s worth a shot. Because if it turns out to be a substantial amount of money, everything could change.

Not only could I go back to nursing school, but I could afford a decent apartment and buy myself some time to find a new job—one where my boss isn’t demanding I work for free or flash him in order to pay off my mother’s debt.

Ugh. My life can really only go uphill from where I’m at.

I know money can’t buy happiness, and I believe that. But it would be nice to be out from under Big Joe’s threatening thumb. And sleeping in a cockroach-free apartment while eating regular hot meals wouldn’t be bad either.

I hurry down the sidewalk toward Mr. Perkins’s office, tripping a little in my shoes. Maybe wearing the skirt and heels again wasn’t such a great idea. But I wanted to look professional and responsible, and the gray dress is too hot and the only other pair of shoes I own are my beat-up sneakers from last night. I didn’t think a pencil skirt and a pair of dirty sneakers really said I can be trusted with my deceased father’s money. So I went with the pumps.

I wobble as my shoe catches on a small pebble and curse under my breath.

High heels really are a bitch.

Up ahead, I see Daren round a corner and hurry toward the office, now just a few yards down the sidewalk. I relax a little, knowing he’s not there yet. As we near each other, my stomach fills with butterflies. I don’t know what I’m more anxious about—the inheritance or seeing Daren.

We reach Eddie’s door at the same time.

“Good morning.” He smiles broadly.

“Morning,” I respond with a cheerful smile of my own.

Our smiles are exaggerated, like we’re trying to prove just how “okay” we are with the thing that never happened last night. Then our eyes meet in brief a clash of lust, and tension fills the air.

Daren is the first to break it. “So. You ready to do this?”

“I am,” I say.

The tension returns, but this time it’s laced with nervousness. We’re about to lock ourselves together. For money. The morning after we dry humped each other against a bar. It’s nothing less than weird and desperate. Which begs the question, why is Daren doing this?

I know why I’m subjecting myself to this craziness but I’m still not sure why Daren has agreed—especially without knowing how much money is at stake. Is he in it for the thrill? Is he just bored?

Whatever his reasons are, I’m grateful.

We enter the office and Eddie looks up from his messy desk, his glasses perched on his shiny head. Today he’s wearing a yellow button-up shirt with a plaid bow tie to match his plaid pants. The look suits him.

“You’ve returned,” he says brightly, standing to greet us. “I guess this means you’ve come to a decision about Mr. Turner’s letter?”

“We have,” I say.

Daren nods. “Yes.”

“Excellent.” Eddie clasps his hands together. “What have you decided?”

Daren and I exchange an anxious look. My stomach does a flip-flop, afraid he’s going to change his mind, but then he gives me a subtle nod and I nod back.

We turn to face Eddie, hold out our wrists, and at the same time say, “Cuff us.”


Sometimes when perfect falls apart, a little trouble fixes everything . . .

Twenty-one-year-old Kayla Turner has lost everything. After spending most of her life taking care of her ailing mother, she just wants to spot a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. So when her late father-a man she barely knew-leaves her an inheritance, she finally breathes a sigh of relief . . . until she learns the inheritance comes with strings. Strings in the form of handsome playboy Daren Ackwood, her father’s protégé. To see any of her inheritance, she’s forced to team up with him. From his expensive car to those sexy dimples, Kayla’s seen his type before. But Daren isn’t who he seems to be . . .

Struggling to make amends for his family’s mistakes, Daren has a life more Oliver Twist than Richie Rich these days. He’s beyond grateful that James Turner included him in his will, but working with Turner’s princess of a daughter to fulfill his cryptic last wish is making Daren wonder if being broke is really so bad. Still, she’s just as beautiful as she is stubborn, and the more time he spends with Kayla, the less it feels right being without her. Soon Daren and Kayla begin to wonder if maybe the best gift Kayla’s dad could have left them . . . was each other.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | IndieBound | GooglePlay | Kobo | BAM!

About Chelsea Fine

Chelsea Fine lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she spends most of her time writing stories, painting murals, and avoiding housework at all costs. She’s ridiculously bad at doing dishes and claims to be allergic to laundry. Her obsessions include: superheroes, coffee, sleeping-in, and crazy socks. She lives with her husband and two children, who graciously tolerate her inability to resist teenage drama on TV and her complete lack of skill in the kitchen.

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Enter here to win one of five signed copies of PERFECT KIND OF TROUBLE.

*(This giveaway is open to US/Canada only).