EXCLUSIVE Interview with Lindsay McKenna & Michael Jaco

Lindsay McKenna, author of DOWN RANGE, sat down with our Janene Putman recently to discuss her newest release, what it’s like creating sexy military men, and pulling stories from her friend Michael Jaco.

Trained to kill, but built for love…

Captain Morgan Boland is at the top of her game, as is her former lover, Navy SEAL Jake Ramsey. Then a military computer selects them to partner in a special op. The mission can’t be compromised by their personal history—and they have truckloads of it.

But the Afghan assignment might provide the discipline they need to finally get it together—outside the bedroom, that is. A lot has happened over the two years since they last went their separate ways. And there’s way more to Morgan than Jake has ever given her credit for….

Rosie Goes to Teen Night

I had the pleasure of attending a signing at the Chapters Book Store in Richmond, BC, on July 17th. Touted as a Teen Author Night, my expectations for this event were high. With four amazing authors consisting of Amanda Sun, Elsie Chapman, T. Rae Mitchell and Jeyn Roberts, I was very excited to get the three hour event started. As it happens though, my idea of an event and Chapters’ idea of an event apparently differ. I showed up expecting to hear the authors talk about their books, give future spoilers and maybe even have a reading or two from their books. What Chapters gave fans who showed up to meet these wonderful authors was an awkwardly laid out set up at the entrance of the store with three tables and four authors who had to just stand around for three hours in the hopes that people would wander over and request a book be signed.

The saving grace to Teen Author Night? The authors! All the ladies very graciously talked shop for however long you wanted to hang out and drool over their books. They shared stories and some of them even gave up little tidbits about their work you may be unaware of. Such as Elsie Chapman told me that though her debut novel DUALED was originally written as a stand alone, it is now the first book in a trilogy. The second book in the series will be DIVIDED in May 2014. It is a bit of a wait but one that will be worth it in the end. Remember the old saying, all good things comes to those who wait?

Amanda Sun let it slip that her debut YA, INK, was not a paranormal when she originally began writing it. She had plans on writing a contemporary but then her characters threw her for a loop and before she knew it, there was a dragon in the story. Ms. Sun believes that every story should have at least one dragon and as a fan of all things that involve dragons, I couldn’t agree more.

Did you know you could get T. Rae Mitchell‘s FATE’S FABLE in paperback? Neither did I until I arrived at the signing. If you’re like me and still want a physical copy of your favorite books, then check out her website,http://traemitchell.com/, to see how you can order your own copy.

My conversation with Jeyn Roberts went a little deeper as we debated over the ethics of writing a fan fiction book and then having it published as your own idea. There are plenty of people on both sides of that fence but one question that was brought up while we chatted was in regards to the books being written now that are based on classic works with a zombie or vampire thrown into the mix. Would that not be considered a type of fan fiction as well? What are your thoughts on fan fiction?

All in all, regardless of how Chapters set it up, Teen Author Night was a delightful way to spend a few hours talking to people who love books as much as I do. Getting to meet authors whose books you adore is always a treat and I look forward to meeting these lovely ladies again in the future.

Rosie Bindra, Fresh Fiction Reviewer

TRaeMitchell-cropped ElsieChapmanAmandaSun-cropped JeynRoberts-cropped

Inside the NIGHTWATCHER trilogy with Wendy Corsi Staub

Wendy Corsi StaubDuring the Romance Writers of America Conference (RWA) this year I was able to meet with the lovely and talented Wendy Corsi Staub. As a New York Times bestselling author, wife and mother of two her plate is never empty, but she made time to give Fresh Fiction a little behind the scenes look at this talented woman. From young adult novels to psychological thrillers, Staub has made a name for herself and keeps a loyal following of fans waiting for more books, myself included. If you have not heard of her, then do not stop reading now because you are in for a new reading addiction with her “NIGHTWATCHER” trilogy with Harper Collins.

September 2012
October 2012

In NIGHTWATCHER, the first book, the story begins in New York City on September 10, 2001, the day before the 9/11 attacks featuring the heroine, Allison Taylor. In the wake of 9/11 you learn more about Allison, who has left a shadowy past behind in the Midwest in exchange for a fresh start in New York’s fashion industry. “In the course of the trilogy we see her (Allison) go from a young woman maybe with some different kind of values to a wife, to a mother who is protecting what she loves most,” said Staub.

The second book, SLEEPWALKER, picks up ten years later on the anniversary of the serial killings with possible copy-cat killings. Staub laughingly said, “There is a serial killer in the first book who couldn’t have committed these crimes or could he?” Then the third book, SHADOWKILLER, picks up six months after the end of SLEEPWALKER.

As a reader, I had to know what sparked the idea for this book, and what led her to set it in such a memorable time for America. “At the time this premise came to me it was triggered by a couple of things. First, I heard on news that crime was drastically reduced in NYC, like regular crime (muggings and murder) because everyone was caught up in what was happening. So, it occurred to me that with the police looking elsewhere and the different departments in chaos, if somebody committed a very serious crime it would be difficult to investigate it properly.

“Second, Lower Manhattan was cut off. It was a ghost town because communication was shut down. That was interesting to me. It felt like it was isolated. That speaks to you as a suspense writer, but it was too raw to write about it at the time. So I waited ten years and wrote all three books last fall. An attack like 9/11 can really push someone who is teetering over the edge of sanity.”

The fast-paced NIGHTWATCHER series is full of Staub’s trademark style of getting into the head of the serial killer. She seems like such a nice lady that I wondered how she could have such an evil mind to bring these killers to life so vividly. For Staub, it is more about being able to control her fears. And when you are the writer, nothing bad can happen that she cannot control. Alas, her own writing does not keep her up at night with nightmares, but Staub assured me “other people can scare me with their books.” For the first time she will release back-to-back adult suspense novels, with NIGHTWATCHER coming out August 28, 2012, then SLEEPWALKER scheduled for September 25, 2012 and the climatic conclusion to the trilogy, SHADOWKILLER, releases January 27, 2013. According to Staub, this series will “have lots of twists and turns and what you least expect to happen, happens…the very last line of each opens the door to the next book.” So, for those you that need the next book immediately this is the series for you!

Wondering where you can find Wendy Corsi Staub? If you are in the Dallas area she will be at this year’s Readers & ‘ritas, which is a fun filled weekend with lots of one on one time. I personally cannot wait. For those not attending, you can find her at her website, www.wendycorsistaub.com, on twitter at @WendyCorsiStaub, and her favorite Facebook, www.facebook.com/corsistaub.

Last and definitely the most important: September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. This cause is particularly important to Staub because she lost both her mother and mother-in-law to breast cancer. For the entire month of September, Avon Books is joining with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance to help educate on the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer through their K.I.S.S. and Teal campaign, proceeds of which will be donated back to ovarian cancer research. Due to there being no early detection test women must watch for the following symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic and Abdominal Pain
  • Difficulty Eating or Feeling Full Quickly
  • Urinary Symptoms (Urgency and Frequency)

To learn more signs and symptoms I urge you to log onto www.kissandteal.com and start talking with your mothers, wife, sisters and daughters about these signs and help us fight back!

Lady Of The War Of Roses: An Interview With Philippa Gregory

Philippa GregoryLADY OF THE RIVERSFRESH FICTION is delighted to welcome New York Times bestselling novelist Philippa Gregory.  Ms. Gregory, well-known for her novels of the Tudor era, is currently concentrating on the War of the Roses.  Several of her works were highlighted in the History Refreshed column THE WAR OF THE ROSES PART I, and her upcoming novel, THE KINGMAKER’S DAUGHTER, features Anne Neville, whose husband Richard III is the central character in this month’s column, THE WAR OF THE ROSES PART II.

Julia Justiss: Welcome, Philippa, and thank you so much for taking time out of your hectic schedule to give FRESH FICTION readers some insight about your background and writing.  So let’s get started!

As a New York Times bestselling novelist whose works have made their way into film, you’ve captivated readers around the globe. Yet you started your career not as a writer, but as a scholar. Can you tell us a bit about the professional background that resulted in your fascination with history?

Philippa: My first professional training and work was that of a journalist, which had the advantage of teaching me to write on time, and satisfied my enquiring curiosity. I went to university after I had served my apprenticeship in journalism and worked on a newspaper as I felt I needed more scholarly work. When I finished my BA I went on to do a PhD at Edinburgh, and when I had completed that I wrote a novel purely for the pleasure of it, but thought at once that it was publishable. I sent it off to a publisher while I was applying for university teaching posts and to my surprise it was bought and became a best seller. Thus I really “fell” into full time professional writing.

Julia: What led you to decide reading fiction wasn’t enough, you wanted to create it?

Philippa: I love writing, it’s a different pleasure from the joy of reading. I read, and I also write. I couldn’t be happy without regularly writing fiction.

Julia: What comes first, research or plot idea? Especially now that you are writing about characters in a more distant past, how difficult is it to find solid evidence that gives you a glimpse into their lives? How much leeway do you give yourself to deviate from what you find in historical record?

Philippa: The research comes first as this is where I discover the amazing women that I am going to write about. The research dominates the story of the novel as I always follow the historical record as far as it is certainly known – when we don’t know, or when there is room for doubt then I make up my own mind after reading all the historians to get their opinions. The more obscure the character the harder it is to discover what they were doing – so the research is sometimes something of a detective process.

Julia: Though you’ve written many works of historical fiction, this time you also collaborated on a non-fiction work to accompany your Cousins’ War series. What made you decide to provide a non-fiction background for these novels?

Philippa: In the case of my essay on Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, there simply was nothing available on her when I was doing my research, so I wrote up my research and published it as an introduction to her for other historians and as a guide to her for readers of the fiction who wanted to know more. The other historians had published on their chosen characters but when we were publishing both books were out of print,so if readers wanted to know more about these fascinating women they had nothing to consult. The companion history book was a way of providing readers with the historical background, and offering scholars a starting place for further research. It also restores the women to their place in history by describing lives which have been forgotten.

Julia: Once research and general plotting are finished, approximately how long does it take for you to write the novel? Do you write pretty tightly to an outline, or does the story, (as much as it can, constrained by writing about real people) surprise you by taking on a life of its own?

Philippa: The surprise is the development of character and how they sometimes shine out from the page for me. The story follows the history so that shouldn’t be surprising, but sometimes it is a surprise as to its significance or I suddenly see that a scene, though not mentioned by historians, must have taken place – for instance there must have been a conversation about the fate of the princes in the Tower between their mother and their uncle Richard III – but there is no record of this conversation in the chronicles. It takes me about nine months to write – writing at the same times as continuing the research.

Julia: Your most recent work, THE LADY OF THE RIVERS, features Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford and later, Lady Rivers. What about Jacquetta fascinated you? Did you decide to write about her after doing THE WHITE QUEEN about her daughter Elizabeth, or had you a book about her in mind all along?

Philippa: No, I fell in love with Jacquetta when I discovered the powerful role she played in the life of her daughter, and when I researched her family and her past I saw that she was a wonderful heroine of an historical novel.

Julia: You’ve often used elements of the supernatural in your novels: second sight in THE QUEEN’S FOOL, witchcraft and black magic in THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL. Jacquetta was accused, along with her daughter, of using the dark arts to entrap Edward IV. Have you always had an interest in the supernatural? Are you a fan of paranormal novels and movies?

Philippa: Actually, I hate paranormal movies and novels or any sort of horror/ thriller material. I find them too scary! Practising magic (and herbalism and alchemy and spiritual healing) was a major part of the culture of these times and I try to reflect this in the novels. I think this aspect of life has been ignored by historians because of their rationalist scientific background – of course we know that magic such as the medieval people practiced could not make a difference to events – but they did not know that. And since I am writing in first person, present tense, I have to be (as one of the characters) credulous as they would be. Also, women who were troublesome were sometimes falsely accused of being witches and this is something that a powerful woman might experience (like Anne Boleyn, or Jacquetta) and that all women would be aware of.

Julia: You’ve just returned from a tour to promote THE LADY OF THE RIVERS. Do you have any other promotional events planned where readers could meet you?

Philippa: I don’t have anything scheduled for the remainder of this year, 2011 but there will be lots of events in 2012. Readers can find my event diary on my website Philippa Gregory.com

Julia: You have a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. What sorts of short video do you like to post there? Any special places where fans can interact with you on social media?

Philippa: We regularly make short videos about the themes in the novels, we have been lucky enough to film at Bosworth Battlefield during their annual reenactment and more recently, have used Warwick Castle as the backdrop to some videos for THE KINGMAKER’S DAUGHTER which will be released in the fall 2012. You can find the videos at youtube.com/philippagregory and you can also follow me on facebook.com/philippagregoryofficialfanpage. I keep my website philippagregory.com up-to-date with appearances and provide reading lists and additional material for fans, there’s also a readers forum on there.

Julia: Wow, those videos sound fabulous!  Now, readers who haven’t visited your website might not know there’s a special charity you support. Could you tell us a bit about that and any way that fans could assist in those efforts?

Philippa: I have a small charity that digs wells in The Gambia to provide little gardens in village schools so the children can grow their own vegetables, drink the water, and even grow cash crops. It’s a great project, very cheap and well-run – all the funds that people give me I send directly to The Gambia to pay for our work there. You can donate by post or online with as much or as little as you can afford. And if you go to The Gambia you can visit the well you helped to provide.

Julia: What project are you working on now?

Philippa: I am writing a new novel for the Young Adult market – it’s been a great departure with much more freedom in the writing as it is fictional characters on a quest in medieval Europe. And I am writing a new novel for the Cousins’ War series: THE KINGMAKER’S DAUGHTER.

Julia: Another Richard III book, fabulous!  I know I speak for all your fans in saying I can’t wait to read that one.  Thank you again for giving us this glimpse into your life and writing.

The White Queen
Cousins War
August 2009
The Red Queen
Cousins War
August 2010
The Lady Of The Rivers
Cousins War
October 2011

Julia Justiss is the author of several historical romances including her latest, SOCIETY’S MOST DISREPUTABLE GENTLEMAN

Jen’s Jewels | Meet Deborah Bedford

Jennifer Vidohis other wifeWith the hustle and bustle of the holiday season comes an endless To Do list for moms. Whether it’s staying up late to bake cupcakes for a class party or being volunteered to sew buttons on costumes for a play, the stress of the season gets to the best of us. Throw in a couple of last minute school assignments for the kids like book reports and science projects, it’s a wonder we manage to enjoy the spirit of the season at all.

Blended families are very difficult to navigate especially when it comes to the role of mothering. Whether it’s the lingering aftereffects of the divorce or the deep resentment over the loss of control in their children’s lives, many women struggle to find an acceptable balance. There is no perfect answer due to the many challenges associated with moving on. However, the way in which these obstacles are met will ultimately determine the emotional well-being of the family.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Deborah Bedford addresses this very topic in her latest release, HIS OTHER WIFE. It’s the emotionally charged story of two women who love the same man yet desperately want what’s best for one teenage boy. When tragedy strikes, they are forced to put aside their feelings of guilt and fear in order to save the person who means the world to all of them… their son.

As part of this interview,Faith Words, an imprint of Hachette Books, has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end of the column. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

Jen: From journalism to marketing, your path to publication has been a journey of self-discovery. So that my readers may have a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please share with us a brief overview of your educational and professional background.

Deborah Bedford Deborah: Well, I started young! I was always getting in trouble in school for writing stories in spiral notebooks instead of listening to my teachers. My mom said not long ago, when she found a box of my old spiral notebooks up in the attic, ‘Why didn’t we figure out that this was going to happen a long time ago?’ I decided that being a journalist would be the best way to actually earn a living at writing. So I followed my father’s footsteps and earned a journalism degree from Texas A&M University. I’d long been smitten with cowboys, The West and the mountains so, when the chance came to work in Colorado, I took my first job as editor of the weekly newspaper in the little town of Evergreen. The paper was called Evergreen Today and I had the chance to work for Cary Stiff and Carol Wilcox, publishers, who had left The Denver Post to start their own publishing venture. It was an amazing learning experience. We chased fire trucks, covered county meetings, and were some of the first journalists at the Hinckley’s door when their son was accused of shooting President Reagan.

Jen: Please describe for us your “Ah! Ha!” moment when you decided to take the plunge and pursue a career as an author.

Deborah: Jen, honestly, there wasn’t a stunning moment when I knew I wanted to write a book. It’s just that I had ALWAYS been writing. I’d say the big moment fell somewhere between when I was ten years old and I finished reading Little Women, not quite sure I was happy with the ending because I had SO wanted Jo to end up with Laurie, and the day the phone call came from Nancy Rohrer, my first editor from Harlequin SuperRomance, who said, “We really like your book and we wonder if you’d be willing to make some changes on spec.” That’s the day I stood in the middle of the kitchen and cried for joy. It was a natural progression.

Jen: Throughout the years, you have moved from one publishing house to another. Currently, you have found a home at Faith Words, a division of Hachette Books. What led you to make the changes?

Deborah: I changed publishers because my life changed. I had grown up seeing myself as a Christian, but not until I started attending a church here in Jackson Hole called River Crossing did I cross my own river, from trying to be ‘good enough’ to be a Christian to understanding that the biggest gift I could ever give God would be to just get comfortable with myself, my feelings and my foibles, and let Him use my weaknesses for His glory. That’s been my mantra lately; there are things in us that, if we try to manage ourselves, are our biggest weaknesses. If we’ll turn them over to God, they become our biggest strengths. I’d liken it to the difference between thrashing frantically around in the water, trying to swim, and just being still, learning to float in God’s arms. At that point, I was writing mainstream fiction for Harper Collins. That had been another big dream, to leave what was viewed as the romance genre and write mainstream. I had this pride issue. “Oh, my books have sold in the hundreds of thousands. Those little Christian publishers are going to snap me up.” Well, let’s just say God had to get a hold of my heart about that one. There was a three year wait where I felt like God was asking me over and over again, “Do you want to write for Me?” “Do you want to write for Me? Do you REALLY want to write for me?” Still, rejection after rejection after rejection. It was one of the most difficult parts of my career.

It happened that I had met Jamie Raab, publisher at Warner (now Hachette) Books where we were both doing workshops for the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. We had a reading when I had to stand up in faith, without a publisher, and announce to my students that I was now being called to write Christian fiction. I read aloud something funny I’d written about my grandmother. Jamie came up to me that night and said, “We have to talk.” That’s how it happened.

Jen: Your latest release HIS OTHER WIFE is a powerful novel that dares to explore the relationship between women who have loved the same man. How did you arrive at the premise?

Deborah: It started with a sermon called “The Wounded Heart,” that my pastor gave in church, using the story of Hannah from the Bible. That was several years back, and the idea started stewing. I believe that book ideas find YOU. The characters started talking in my head. And I began to apply some of my own life to it, because my last child was leaving for college and I was seeking my own new sense of direction. I was able to direct a lot of my own grief at my children leaving the nest into this story.

Jen: The book closely follows the scripture 1 Samuel 1:19. Why did you choose to base the story on this Bible passage?

Deborah: Many of HIS OTHER WIFE’s plot twists and turns echo Hannah’s story, which is culminated in this passage in the Bible. Hannah has to change her way of thinking before anything else in her life can change. That is another change that happened it my own life, so it felt significant to me. Once I started seeing myself differently, once I started to understand that Jesus loved me not for what I did but just because I was ME, everything started to change. I’ll always keep my eyes open for Bible characters that might lend their stories to present-day situations. That made it fun, too, putting it all together, like piecing together a puzzle.

Jen: Not surprisingly, Hilary and her teenage son have developed a special bond due to Eric’s leaving them behind. How has their mother/son relationship affected Seth’s need to grow up?

Deborah: I think this book catches Hilary at a particularly vulnerable moment. That’s always a challenge as a writer, walking the fine line between a strong, sympathetic character yet remaining open to whatever questions she may still be asking herself, what she might wake up at 3 a.m. and be thinking about? A pew research study came out yesterday that says couples are more concerned now about being good parents than they are about being good partners. Hilary had survived the divorce by jumping head-first into being the mother of a teenager. So how does she deal with it when, suddenly, that life preserver is taken from her?

Jen: As Seth’s high school graduation approaches, Eric pays them a visit bringing along his new wife and two children. Why does their presence threaten Hilary’s sense of worth?

Deborah: Eric’s new wife, Pamela, is still in that stage where she can control her life. We had a book-club meeting over here last night and we laughed because those of us who have college-aged kids know that, as proud as we might be of our children, there comes the time when our kids strike out and make their lives their own. Pam is in that ‘perfect mom, perfect wife’ stage where she speaks and the world conforms. She doesn’t know yet that there’s any other way. She’s still living with that false sense of bravado, thinking she can turn her world into whatever she wants it to be. Her attitude would intimidate anybody. Add to that, she thinks it necessary to offer her opinion. So you see where the conflict begins.

Jen: The Wynns are a typical blended family who struggle on a daily basis with trying to achieve a workable balance. When tragedy strikes, fingers are pointed as to who is to blame. How does the pressure of the grave situation affect Eric’s relationship with Hilary? And with his current wife, Pam?

Deborah: Eric and Hilary have to band together to support their son. Hilary is finally able to voice some of her pain to her ex-husband, which helps her truly begin to heal. And Eric is finally able to count the cost of what he gave away, in pursuit of his own happiness. For a while it drives a subtle wedge between Eric and Pam, until Pam at last is able to take her own selfless stance as protector of the blended family. They all ride the ripple effect of their actions and, I think, end up in a better place because of it.

Jen: As an only child, Seth is used to working through problems on his own. How are he and his father emotionally similar despite their different personalities?

Deborah: You know, I hadn’t thought of it until you asked this question but I think that, because I grew up essentially as an only child, I tend to write characters that are emotionally isolated from each other. When Seth starts to hurt, he shuts himself off, even from his steady girlfriend Emily. When Eric started to hurt, instead of opening up and sharing his feelings with his wife, he turned to someone else, which resulted in the affair with Pam.

Jen: Throughout the story, Hilary relies heavily on her faith in God. How do her Christian beliefs hinder her ability to take a step back and take care of herself?

Deborah: They hinder her because she’s trying too hard. She’s trying so hard not to be wrong instead of just doing things that seem right. And when you get hypersensitive about doing something wrong, suddenly EVERYTHING seems wrong. Then she tries harder, which creates a vicious cycle where she berates herself for all of it. She loses herself in her faith for a little while, which is exactly what happened to me.

Jen: Hilary’s relationship with her lawyer John Mulligan is quite the tangled web. Having represented her in the divorce, this man has seen Hilary’s highs and lows. What special qualities does he have that makes Hilary willing to trust him?

Deborah: John is different than anyone else in Hilary’s life because he’s just so…present. He’s a solid rock, a listener. And Hilary has spent so much time and energy being the parent that Seth can depend on that she hasn’t left herself room to depend on anyone else. John doesn’t demand anything of her. Their intimacy comes from a familiarity that has grown over the years, which makes him able to support her while the rest of her life spins away.

Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. First of all, please take us on a tour of your website, pointing out any special areas of interest.

Deborah: Ah, I think my website is a work-in-progress even as we’re speaking. My web designer is setting up a blog on WordPress, and that will go up soon. At this point my website is DeborahBefordbooks, and the most valuable info there is a complete list of my books, including THE PENNY AND ANY MINUTE, which I co-wrote with Joyce Meyer, along with links to read the first chapters. Also there’s a page giving advice on how to get published. I’ve had great response to the info there.

Jen: Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?

Deborah: I’ve done phone chats with book groups in the past and have really enjoyed them. But my publishing schedule is tight with this next novel so I’m not able to do it right now.

Jen: Will you be touring? And if so, where may my readers find the dates and locations?

Deborah: My main focus right now is twitter. My son is graduating from college in two months and is joining a social-media networking firm, so he’s steered me in this direction. I love the micro-blogging. Yesterday I was writing and had a philosophical thought about how I was finishing a chapter. So wham, just like that, instead of journaling it for myself, I twittered it to everybody. It was fun to see when other writers picked it up and retweeted. This form of communication is working well for me right now, so instead of going out on the road, this is what we’ve decided to do. Have your readers follow @deborahbedford or go to the Deborah Bedford author page on Facebook. That’s where I see myself being able to stay the most candid and the most involved.

Jen: And finally, are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you share with us?

Deborah: Ooooh. This is tough, talking about a work in progress, but you’re asking so nicely, Jen! Ha! The working title is Bittersweet, the setting is present-day Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the main characters are Annie and Brian Ross, and the Scripture is I Kings 3:24-26, the story about King Solomon suggesting that two women cut a baby in half. Those are the best clues I can give you. It’s due to my editor on April 28, so it’s almost finished. Whew.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and chat with my readers. HIS OTHER WIFE is a truly phenomenal read. I wish you all the best. Bravo!

Deborah: Jen, I’m honored to be on your website and to have HIS OTHER WIFE featured here. It’s been great to get to know your readers and to see how you’re working to get good books into the hands of the great people who read them. Here’s a hug of gratitude for all you do. It is humbling that HIS OTHER WIFE really worked for you as a reader. Thanks for your encouragement. Hope we get to talk again real soon.

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Deborah. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of HIS OTHER WIFE today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead?

Okay, be one of five readers to correctly answer the following trivia question and you’ll win! Good luck!

What is the name of Hilary’s husband?

Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with New York Times bestselling author James Grippando. You won’t want to miss it.


Rosemary’s Fresh Takes from YA | Meet Gwen Hayes

The book landscape in March is in full bloom. Lots of great releases this month, so you should hit the Teen section of your local (or online) bookstore early and often.

Gwen HayesFALLING UNDERIf I had to pick one Don’t Miss book for March… Well, it would be really hard, but I am most excited to tell you about FALLING UNDER, by Gwen Hayes (March 1, from NAL), not least, because I was privileged to read it already and I. Love. This. Book.

If you are a fan of gothic, romantic, paranormal romance with a strongly developed fantasy side and a deeply satisfying romantic side, you will love it, too. I caught up with Gwen and asked her to tell me more about writing the book.

Gwen Hayes: Thank you for inviting me to Fresh Fiction. I’m really happy to be here.

RMC: I think when I read FALLING UNDER, I described it as a “Lushy romantic gothic fairy tale.” How would YOU describe it?

Gwen Hayes: Well, lushly romantic gothic fairy tale is pretty awesome. I’m not sure I could top that. I don’t even want to. When I was writing it, I knew it wasn’t like anything I’d written before. I hope readers find Under as evocative as it is creepy. It’s a very Tim Burtonesque place.

RMC: I can definitely see that. I found it macabre, but never gross. There are so many marvelous things going on, from the otherworldly threat, to Theia’s relationship with her father and the little bit of mystery surrounding her mother, to the romantic relationship that is so central to the book. What’s your favorite aspect of this story? What drew you to write this book?

Gwen Hayes: Haden is really what drew me to this tale. The book is written as Theia’s story, but for me, it was the mystery that was Haden that kept me writing. I didn’t know what he was about either–I found out when Theia did. Each twist and turn surprised and shocked me. Also, i enjoyed writing the friendship between Theia, Amelia, and Donny. Oh, and it’s a kissing book. I love kissing books.

RMC: Cannot argue with that. I noticed a lot of literary and folklore motifs (to use a pretentious word because I can’t think of a better one) in the book, and some things that were wildly original. What sort of books do you think influenced you as a writer? What are some of your favorites?

Gwen Hayes: Some of the writers who have influenced me are Joss Whedon, Nora Roberts, John Hughes, and Madeleine L’Engle. I’m sure that Under was partly influenced by the great imaginations of Frank Baum and C.S. Lewis, and the Bronte sisters really know how to write an anti-hero.

RMC: Speaking of the Brontes–Let’s talk about Haden. He’s a delicious mix of Edwards–Cullen and Rochester. (And just to be clear, I mean that as a compliment, as I do love a brooding anti-hero.) Am I wrong? What else went into the pot when you created him?

Gwen Hayes: I knew Haden would be compared to Mr. Cullen, and I’m okay with that. He’s similar but different and if every Twilight reader in the world wants to buy a copy of my book to compare Edward and Haden–I’m all for it. Also into the Haden Stew went: Angel from Buffy, J.D. from Heathers, a dash of Willy Wonka, Logan Echolls, Jack Skellington…Count Dracula…Haden is heavy on the Byronic hero plus guyliner.

RMC: Byronic! That’s the perfect word for him. Then there’s Theia, who is a good match for him. She’s someone that readers will identify with, but you gave her a uniqueness and a strong will that makes her stand out in my mind. Tell me how her music plays into to the story. (I loved that!)

Gwen Hayes: Thank you. Not everyone loves Theia–me included sometimes. She was hard to write because she portrays herself one way but in her heart she’s something completely different. Which is fine, but she lies to herself a lot, which meant she lied to me too.

As for her music, Theia is a violinist but she feels conflicted about her talent. When she plays for other people, they feel the magic of her talent, but she feels drained almost. When she allows herself to get lost in the song and plays for herself, she is rejuvenated. I suppose there is a metaphor in there– and I suppose also that writing can be the same way. I know that when I just let go and let it happen, my writing feeds me–but sometimes we writers have to deal with the “have to”s –deadlines and contracts sometimes make it hard to find that magical place where you can let go.

I love that comparison. And I love this book. It was satisfying to both the romantic and the fantasy geek in me. And it’s available now.

Here are just a couple of the other picks for this month:

WitherWITHER, by Lauren DeStefano. (March 22 from Simon & Schuster) This is my dystopian pick for this month. I have heard nothing but rave reviews for this book, from people who’s opinions I completely trust. The subject matter may polarize people over this book, but the writing and characterization is fantastic.

In the world of WITHER, a genetic mutation has made it so that no one lives past the age of 25. To keep the human species going, society has become polygamous, and 16 year old Rhine has been taken by the Gatherers to become a bride. Despite the world of wealth and privilege, the genuine affection of her husband, Lindon, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape, find her twin brother, and go home. Imprisonment, however, isn’t the only threat to Rhine, in this book that is part The Handmaiden’s Tale, part Hunger Games.

The quality of the writing really sets this debut novel apart. Rhine is a complex character–so are the other players– and her choices are not easy ones. If you only had a short life to live, would you spend it in a life chosen for you, or would you fight to spend it with someone you love?

Sean Griswold's Head SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD, by Lindsey Leavitt (March 1, from Bloomsbury). For those of you who love contemporary (i.e., non-paranormal) books, check out this book. Payton Gritas’s guidance counselor tells her that she needs a focus object, something to concentrate her emotions on when things get tough–which they are, because her father’s been diagnosed with M.S. Payton picks the back of Sean Griswold’s Head, because they’ve been alphabetically linked since the third grade. (I so get this. I, personally, never saw the front of Ralph Clifton’s head until graduation.)

As a result, Payton finds out the rest of Sean Griswold is pretty interesting too, in this sweet novel of first love, growing up, dealing with family issues, and just getting through the day. Payton is an endearing heroine, and the story is insightful, funny, and ultimately uplifting.

Happy reading!

Rosemary Clement-Moore writes Young Adult books because she loves to read them.
Visit her webpage or blog to find out more about her award winning Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil series, and her gothic romance, THE SPLENDOR FALLS (now in paperback). Next up is TEXAS GOTHIC.

Jen’s Jewels | Meet Linda Francis Lee

There are many reasons why dogs are considered man’s best friend. Loyal, compassionate, and trustworthy come to mind; however, these are not their most virtuous trait. Without a doubt, it’s their innate ability to judge a person’s character that reigns supreme. If a dog senses evil, take heed and run in the opposite direction.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Linda Francis Lee agrees wholeheartedly with the power of a dog’s intuition in her latest release EMILY AND EINSTEIN. It’s the story of Sandy Portman and Emily Barlow who seem to have it all until an unfortunate accident leaves Sandy dead. When the truth behind her less-than-perfect marriage comes to light, it’s up to a lovable stray dog named Einstein to help Emily get right back on her feet.

As part of this interview, St. Martin’s Press has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

Jen: A born Texan turned New Yorker, you have had the pleasure of living in two culturally diverse areas of the country. So that my readers may have a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.

Linda Francis LeeLinda: I received my undergraduate degree in Advertising from Texas Tech University. Then I went back to school for Geology and Math. I taught probability and statistics for a while, but my real love was writing. So I went back to school again and started taking literature and graduate fiction writing courses. (My husband and family thought I would never finish school!)

Jen: Describe for us your “Aha!” moment when you made the decision to actively pursue a career in the publishing business.

Linda: I was doing a lot of things as a sort of test of myself. Rock climbing, repelling. I started seriously running, writing, teaching probability and statistics, playing tennis, taking piano lessons…. But out of everything, the only things I really loved were running and writing. So I let the others drop away and I focused on what I loved.

EmilyJen: Known for your highly popular novels THE DEVIL IN THE JUNIOR LEAGUE and THE EX-DEBUTANTE, your writing prowess centers on female characters finding their way in life and love. In your latest release EMILY AND EINSTEIN, you take it a step further in what I believe is your most emotionally charged novel to date. How did you arrive at the premise?

Linda: First, Thank you!! Second, I had been thinking a lot about our dog Sophie who had passed away several years ago. For years, just thinking about her made me sad. But then a shift started to happen and the memories made me smile or even laugh. Sophie had so much personality. If she was mad at me, she ignored me. If I was sad about something, she leaned up against me until I felt better. I know it sounds crazy, but she felt like a little person, a sometimes crotchety person! She also felt magical. So I started thinking about a crotchety, magical dog . . . and eventually Einstein was born! I also wanted to deal with a woman who finds out who her husband truly was after he dies. So I put the pieces together, and then added a new man to stir things up even more.

Jen: Emily Barlow is a rising editorial star at Caldecote Press when she meets businessman extraordinaire Sandy Portman. Her initial attraction to him is based solely on his charm and good looks; however, when his vast fortune is revealed, the lady doth protest. Why is she so offended that Sandy had not come clean about his family’s money?

Linda: It wasn’t the money as much as it was that he intentionally misled her. To me, it’s one thing if someone doesn’t mention something, but something else entirely if say they are someone or something else. Why did they lie? Can you trust them in the future?

Jen: Fast-forward to a snowy evening in New York City, their marriage comes to an abrupt end when Sandy is killed in a freak accident. As Emily’s life quickly spirals out of control, her solace comes in the form of a smart dog named Einstein.

Linda: Because of the memories that wouldn’t leave me alone regarding my old dog Sophie, I really wanted to have Emily deal with a dog, but not just any dog, a dog that wasn’t your average, ordinary dog.

Jen: As if things weren’t bad enough, Sandy’s mother asks Emily to vacate the historic Dakota apartment where the couple lived. Despite Sandy’s verbal promise to leave it to Emily, his mother claims it is deeded to the family, Emily not included. Why then does Emily continue to believe in Sandy despite his failure to follow through with his intentions?

Linda: She believes because she can’t believe that she based her entire life on a lie. At a gut level she believes that despite evidence to the contrary he loved her deeply. The question for any of us is do we know how to read our gut, or is that feeling simply something that we want to believe and it leads us astray? Reading and trusting your gut is one of the hardest things to learn – and even harder to act on it.

Jen: On a side note, why did you choose to incorporate the Dakota into your novel?

Linda: While I was writing the book I lived next door to the Dakota which was completed in the late 1880s. The novel Time and Again is set there, John Lennon was killed there. Many of the famous and influential in the Arts have lived there and many still do. And when you see those steeply-pitched Gothic rooftops and even the moat that surrounds the perimeter of the building, it’s hard not to feel the magic of the place. Given that, it seemed the perfect setting for a magical book.

Jen: Emily’s office life somewhat mirrors the television show The Office. For example, her co-worker Victoria is out for blood. What was the inspiration for your office setting?

Linda: Several years ago publishing went through a major shift with big conglomerates gobbling up smaller, gentile publishing houses. Not long after that I read an article by an insider who discussed the changes in the industry, how it had become a bottom-line business with colleagues who pretend to work together when in reality it had become a competition as to whose books did better. I loved the contrast of mahogany desks and library-like offices turned upside down by new, bottom-line corporate types.

Jen: When her step-sister Jordan shows up, Emily is doubtful that her intentions are pure. These two women are in different stages of their life; however, they are connected by the common bond of their famous feminist mother. Who is the stronger character and why? In what ways are these two women alike?

Linda: I’m not sure one is necessarily stronger than the other, just strong in different ways. Each has forged her own life, and then lives it. Jordan couldn’t survive in Emily’s world, and Emily couldn’t survive in Jordan’s. I think that the happiest people are those who are lucky enough to find what they are good at AND enjoy doing it. Not to say that there aren’t bumps along the way in everyone’s life, but doing something that makes you happy and that is both challenging and also rewarding, makes for the most contented.

Jen: In order to make a romance complete, there has to be a hottie and without a doubt, you’ve got one… ex- Navy seal Max! What does Max see in Emily which makes him willing to take a chance on a grieving widow?

Linda: Max is the kind of character who loves so deeply and intensely that he can change a woman forever. He’s been broken and makes it back; giving him the kind of strength that Emily needs to see as proof that she can make it back, too.

Jen: Towards the end of the novel, it appears that Emily has a sixth- sense that Einstein and Sandy may be connected. Does it scare her or does it provide her with the peace she needs to move on?

Linda: Many people believe they can look into the eyes of their dogs and see their souls. In many ways, for Emily, this book is about believing in herself, believing in her gut. Her faith in herself and everything she believes in is tested. Ultimately that’s what life is about. Enjoying the good times and surviving the rough spots, coming out of them stronger. Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your website! Please take us on tour highlighting your favorite parts.

Linda: Probably my favorite part is the Linda Francis Lee in NYC videos. It’s been fun to try to show viewers the real New York rather than something you’d see on TV. Whether it’s a night out on the town or grocery shopping, New York is a very different sort of place to live.

Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you share with us?

Linda: I am definitely working on the next book about a strong and quirky woman in New York.

Jen: Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. EMILY & EINSTEIN is a fabulous read which I am highly recommending it to all of my readers. I wish you much success in 2011.

Linda: Thank you for having me! There is nothing better than great conversations about books!

I hope you have enjoyed reading about EMILY AND EINSTEIN. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead?

Answer the following question correctly and you could be one of five winners.

What is the name of Emily’s sister in EMILY AND EINSTEIN?

Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Christian author Deborah Bedford. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…


Jen’s Jewels | Laura Alden Interview

Laura AldenMURDER AT THE PTAWith the hustle and bustle of the holiday season comes an endless To Do list for moms. Whether it’s staying up late to bake cupcakes for a class party or being volunteered to sew buttons on costumes for a play, the stress of the season gets to the best of us. Throw in a couple of last minute school assignments for the kids like book reports and science projects, it’s a wonder we manage to enjoy the spirit of the season at all.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Laura Alden knows firsthand what stress might do to a group of over-worked moms. In her debut novel MURDER AT THE PTA, the newly-elected PTA secretary Beth Kennedy must find out who killed Carver Elementary School’s most disliked principal. With a long list of harried mom as suspects, Beth must separate the good from the bad in order to solve this most nerve-wracking case.

As part of this interview, Obsidian, an imprint of Penguin Books, has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your holiday reading list.

Jen: The road to publication is oftentimes as fascinating as the novel itself. So that my readers have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.

Laura AldenLaura: I came of age in the 70’s and my parents told me I could do anything I wanted, that all doors were now open to women. So instead of being the English teacher I might have been, I felt obligated to venture into male territory. Thus I got a B.S. in geology and spent 25 years in the surveying and civil engineering field. That career ended abruptly when I was laid off in 2009, but I recently found a wonderful job — a village clerk/planner/zoning administrator. Lots of different tasks, lots of responsibility, lots of autonomy. This isn’t a position I ever imagined having, but now I can’t imagine a job that would suit me better. Well, other than writing full time, of course!

Jen: Not surprisingly, initial career endeavors sometimes fall by the wayside in pursuit of a lifelong dream. Describe for us your “Ah! Ha!” moment when you made the conscious decision to pursue a career as a writer. And, how, if at all, has your educational background in geology helped you make that dream come true?

Laura: There were two things, neither of which had anything to do with education. The first was a job change that freed up my creativity. After a number of years in management, I felt the need to move on and took a job with waaay fewer responsibilities. A month later, I was dead bored. A month after that I turn to writing as a way to wake up my brain.

The second “Ah! Ha!” moment came via a sentence that leapt off the page and grabbed my shoulders. I was reading a lot of books on writing at the time, but this happened to be a book on exercise and dieting. I don’t remember anything else about it, but there was this particular sentence: “What’s it going to be, reasons or results?”

The phrase practically stuck me in the eye. I printed it out, framed it, and put it next to my computer. “Reasons or results?” At the end of my life, was I going to have a pile of reasons for not having written a book? Or was I going to sit down and write a book?

Once I started looking at it that way, the decision was easy.

Jen: As a writer, we all know how the pile of rejection letters becomes a badge of honor, if you will, in terms of acknowledging the dedication needed in order to pursue a writing career. Having written seven novels in the span of twelve years, your moment of acceptance finally has arrived. Looking back over the years, in what way does your first published novel MURDER AT THE PTA best encapsulate your professional journey?

Laura: One word — validation.

Jen: Any chance of some of those other titles coming off the closet shelf?

Laura: The first three novels I wrote should be either burned to bits or shoved to a dark corner of a damp basement. They’re that bad. The next three could be publishable with a little polishing, so who knows? Maybe someday. Hope springs eternal and all that.

Jen: Let’s talk about MURDER AT THE PTA. Please describe for us its premise. And, will this be the beginning of a new mystery series?

Laura: Yes, this is the beginning of a new series – I’m currently under contract for two more books. Right now I have absolutely no knowledge if the contract will be renewed, but I’m crossing fingers and toes, because I’d love to spend more time with Beth and the kids and Marina and all the other Rynwood- ites.

MURDER AT THE PTA starts with the main character, Beth, being arm-twisted by her best friend, Marina, into doing something she doesn’t want to do. While this is par for the course, Beth also knows Marina’s arm-twistings usually have sound reasons, so she becomes the local PTA’s secretary. To her surprise (but not Marina’s) she finds she loves being an important part of the PTA. Even when the school principal is murdered, Beth discovers she has something important to contribute.

Jen: Your main character Beth Kennedy has just recently gone through a divorce which most definitely has left some emotional scars. Interestingly enough, you do not choose to address its cause within the framework of the story. Why so?

Laura: Ah, great question. In the first draft, Beth was indeed struggling with the divorce and its aftermath. The standard framework of the cozy/traditional mystery, however, can often relegate such tangled and complicated issues to the background, and that’s what happened here. Or, to put it another way, Beth’s recovery from the divorce just wasn’t part of the story. It didn’t advance the plot, so into the background it went.

Jen: On the path of reinventing herself, Beth throws caution to the wind and decides to accept the position of PTA secretary at her children’s school. What attracts her to this new position? And in what ways is it perhaps cathartic in terms of helping her cope with her new set of circumstances?

Laura: The call of “We need you” is hard to resist, and when Beth finds she’s more than capable of doing the job, the confidence this gives her starts to ooze into other areas of her life. She doesn’t realize it, of course, but Marina will point it out her, I’m sure.

Jen: Her best friend Marina is a ball of fire, always pushing Beth to the limits of her comfort zone. What makes these two such a compatible pair?

Laura: It’s their very differences that make them such great friends. Marina pushes Beth, and Beth softens Marina’s rough edges. They’re good for each other and they’re both well aware of that fact. There will always be friction between them because they’re so different, but they’ve adapted this friction into a living part of their friendship and accept it as inevitable – even enjoyable.

Jen: When the news of the murder of Agnes Mephisto, the unpopular school principal, hits town, Beth and Marina decide to make it their personal mission to find her killer. First of all, why have they chosen to take on this dangerous task? Is it simply a good will mission, or do these two busybodies just crave to be the center of attention?

Laura: Marina, though she hasn’t said so, probably has delusions of becoming Rynwood’s version of Jessica Fletcher. It’s all a game to her. Beth takes it much more seriously. No one, she comes to realize, should have their life taken away from them, even someone as unlovable as Agnes. Beth becomes Agnes’s champion and makes it her personal goal to bring the killer to justice.

Jen: Naturally, the suspect list begins to grow as the ladies start uncovering the town’s dirty little secrets. Then out of the blue, Beth’s childhood friend Evan now turned sexy hottie, shows up tempting Beth into a new relationship. Why is Beth so leery of his intentions?

Laura: Poor Beth! Her self-esteem needs multi-vitamins, doesn’t it? First off, she doesn’t feel that Evan could possibly be interested in her. Once he realizes how inadequate and pathetic she truly is, he’ll dump her and take up with someone more suitable to his good looks. Plus, with her divorce only a year old, she doesn’t want to run in and out of relationships with men. This, she feels, couldn’t possibly be good for the children.

Jen: Beth undertakes the responsibility of cleaning out Agnes’s house. How does this have an effect on Beth’s outlook on her own life?

Laura: It’s at this point that Beth comes to know Agnes. She learns Agnes was a huge hockey fan, she learns she and Agnes shared the same taste in children’s books, she learns Agnes was, in many ways, oddly frozen in time. Beth feels guilty that she judged the woman so harshly while knowing very little about her and that evolves into an unconscious decision to avoid judging people. As much as possible, anyway.

Jen: Beth’s children play an important role in the plot. In general, how does their dependence on her contribute to Beth’s willingness to risk it all despite her fears?

Laura: Beth’s children are the most important part of her life, hands down, no questions asked. Helping Jenna and Oliver grow up to become happy and whole adults is generally Beth’s first thought upon waking and her last thought before falling asleep. Whatever she can do for her children, she will, even if it means stepping out into the Great Scary Unknown.

Jen: Let’s switch gears and talk about your promotional plans. Will there be a book tour? Blog appearances? Book give-away offers?

Laura: In the last couple of months I’ve guest posted on a number of blogs (Mystery Lovers Kitchen, Dollycas’s Thoughts, Jungle Red, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Cozy Chicks, etc.). Having a day job and living 300 miles from any major city precludes going on a book tour, but in October I attended the Magna cum Murder conference in Muncie, Indiana, and, if all goes well, I’ll be at Malice Domestic next spring.

Jen: Will you be participating in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?

Laura: An author phone chat? What a great idea! (Laura writes “Figure out how to do a phone chat” on her To Do list.)

Jen: Please take us on a tour of your website.

Laura: The one that needs a complete redesign? Oh, dear. I launched the website six years ago, long before I had any realistic chance of being published. The main reason I started it? I’d just bought a digital camera and wanted to have a spot to display the pictures.

But I’ve also used it as a way to keep myself writing. For six years, I’ve changed the home page post once a week and have written on a wide variety of topics. Writing, marriage, death, oyster dressing; thanks to this self-imposed weekly task I’ve discovered that I can write 500 words on just about anything.

The site also has the obligatory bio page, and I stuck in pages of links: one for writers, one to other author websites, and a page of fun links. (That’s my favorite :)

Jen: Are you currently at work on your next project? If so, what can you share with us?

Laura: Book #2 in the PTA Mystery Series, tentatively titled “FOUL PLAY AT THE PTA” was delivered to my editor November 15. (I don’t have the publication date yet.) Right now I’m working on the synopsis for Book #3 and am finding that Auntie May is demanding a large role. And since Auntie May usually gets what she wants, well….

Jen: Thanks so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. I thoroughly enjoyed MURDER AT THE PTA and can’t wait to read your next release. Best of luck in all of your future endeavors!

Laura: Thanks for having me. And good luck with your own books!

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Laura. Please stop by your favorite retailer or library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of five readers to correctly answer the following trivia question and you could win!

What is the tentative title of Laura’s next book?

Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Stephanie O’Dea author of the cookbook MORE MAKE IT FAST, COOK IT SLOW. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…


Jen’s Jewels | Interviewing Leigh Brill

Jen VidoDog named slugger
Living with a chronic disease presents daily challenges. Whether it is learning to navigate life’s obstacles with a physical disability or simply coming to terms emotionally with the harsh realities of an unremitting disease, it’s never easy. The best plan of action that I have found is to try to make peace with your situation and put your best foot forward each and every day.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Leigh Brill discusses this very topic in her heartfelt new release, A DOG NAMED SLUGGER. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, she tackles everyday activities with the help of an adorably smart guide dog aptly named Slugger. Through anecdotal tales of encouragement, she offers keen insight into the life of a person struggling with a debilitating chronic disease. Beautifully written from start to finish, her story is a true testament of courage, love, and hope.

As part of this interview, Bell Bridge Books has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your fall reading list.

Jen: The challenges that life presents often turn out to be blessings in disguise. A DOG NAMED SLUGGER is the story of your personal journey of self-discovery. So that my readers may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.

Leigh BrillLeigh: After earning my Bachelors degree in psychology, I went on to obtain my Masters and Educational Specialist degrees in Community Agency Counseling. I worked for many years in the mental health/human services field. With my service dog Slugger by my side, I assisted clients who dealt with a wide variety of psychological and physical challenges.

Jen: During your time as a graduate student, your health became a major factor affecting your educational goals. Eventually, you were faced with the decision to explore other options in terms of coping with your disease. First of all, please give us a brief description of cerebral palsy and how it affects your mobility.

Leigh: Cerebral palsy is a broad term that actually encompasses a group of posture and movement disorders. It is related to the brain’s ability to control the body, and there are several different classifications of CP (spastic, ataxic, dyskinetic, or mixed). Therefore, one person with CP may deal with very different symptoms compared to another person who has received the same diagnosis. For me, CP means I cannot depend on my own body to do what I want it to do. I have difficulties with my balance, my depth perception and vision, my muscles, and my ability to move and function physically. Walking requires a lot of concentration and energy (and a bit of good luck). Even with all of these, I fall easily. I sometimes need to use my wheelchair. My CP also makes my hands shake and I often drop things. In addition to these functional challenges, I have to deal with a lot of physical pain.

Jen: The use of seeing-eye dogs by the blind is widely well-known; however, companion dogs are not. Please describe for us how their roles differ. And, which breeds work best for each?

Leigh: Like guide dogs, mobility service dogs are trained to assist individuals who deal with disabilities. They can learn more than fifty different tasks that increase the independence and quality of life for their human partners. For example, service dogs are often trained to pick up dropped items, carry small things in their mouths, open heavy doors, and retrieve specific things (like the telephone) for their partners. All working dogs need to be healthy, smart, calm, and eager to please. Various breeds and mixed breed dogs can fill that important role; and I personally know lots of Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers who are service dogs.

Jen: How did the decision to apply for a companion dog affect your perception of your disease? In your mind, how did you make peace with it?

Leigh: When I as a little girl, my grandfather used to tell me that every part of life holds the promise of something good. As a child with CP, I’d thought he was wrong; I could not find anything good about growing up with my disability. But when I met Slugger, I realized something good had found me. My life was shaped by my congenital disability and ultimately re-shaped by my partnership with my service dog. It was Slugger’s unconditional love that enabled me to gradually make peace with my CP. My service dog was the single good thing to come out of my disability.

Jen: Briefly describe for us the application process required for obtaining a service dog. What was the most challenging part and why? And, did you select Slugger, or did he select you?

Leigh: The application process I experienced began with a phone call; I called Caring Canine Companions of Virginia and talked to the folks who worked there about my disability and how I hoped a service dog might help me. During this first conversation, I also began to understand some of the assistance tasks service dogs can perform. I was then sent a written application. Once completed, my application was reviewed and approved by the organization’s trainers and professionals. A thorough home visit followed. Once my home was approved for a working dog, I settled in to wait until the folks at CCC contacted me to let me know they had found a dog they believed might be suitable for me, my environment, and my physical needs. For me, this wait lasted nine months –and the waiting was the hardest part! Every partnership is a matter of give and take, but in order for the whole service dog bond to work, Slugger had to make it clear he was willing to work with me; that was our vital first step toward becoming a successful working team.

Jen: In terms of Slugger’s training, how active were you in his overall instruction? How long did it take? And, please share with us one of your favorite memories.

Leigh: Slugger’s training actually began years before I met him. It took nearly two years for him to gain the skills and confidence he would need to work by my side. After he had been trained for that time, he was matched with me and our team training took several months. One of my favorite memories of our training period was when, during our final team test, the instructor with CCC told me that Slugger and I were so well matched that our gaits were identical and our butts wiggled the same way when we walked together.

Jen: With Slugger by your side, your struggle with CP was no longer an individual plight. Rather, it became a team effort. What were his particular strengths? And, in what ways did his constant companionship impact your self- esteem?

Leigh: Slugger was incredibly loyal and steady, and obedient when we worked together. My sweet Labrador also had a sense of humor that helped me keep a balanced perspective about life. Slugger believed in me before I knew how to believe in myself. His unconditional love and assistance gave me a sense of confidence, completeness, and self-worth.

Jen: Your relationship with your future husband, Pranav, also came with its challenges due to your culturally diverse backgrounds. How did your willingness to embrace the diversity directly correlate to having grown up with a chronic disease?

Leigh: My personal experiences growing up with my disability helped me understand the importance of ‘seeing beyond the surface’ of individuals. This may have helped me be more open-minded in developing relationships as I matured— including my relationship with Pranav. I also think my CP forced me to adapt and be creative in how I handled challenges. That creativity has served me well in all my significant relationships.

Jen: In his later years, Slugger began to suffer from old age. How difficult was it to accept his need to retire? And, how did having a second service dog named Kenda help with the transition?

Leigh: If such things had been up to me, I would have seen to it that Slugger stayed young forever. I didn’t want him to get older; I did not want him to retire. Yet when he reached the point where working could have potentially been hard or painful for him due to his age, I absolutely knew it was time for Slugger to retire. I was fortunate to have caring guidance from our veterinarian. His input made it easier for me to do the right thing at the right time.

Kenda’s entrance into my life helped me feel a sense of continuity and security once it was time for Slugger to retire. I liked knowing that my first service dog and my second working partner would be a part of each other’s lives. My two dogs also made it clear they liked sharing their journeys with each other—and me—as well.

Jen: Throughout your life, you have experienced blatant acts of discrimination. Is it simply due to ignorance? Or, do you believe our society’s quest for perfection is to blame?

Leigh: Even with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (www.ada.gov), I believe that discrimination can arise out of either ignorance or choice. I feel that the discrimination I have faced over the years has in fact been a combination of both of these factors. Some people may not be familiar with service dogs. Some people may be uncomfortable with other individuals whom they perceive as being ‘different’. Still, neither discomfort nor ignorance should excuse discrimination.

Jen: Looking back, what was the most valuable life lesson you learned from Slugger? Leigh: Slugger shared so much wisdom with me in the years that we had together! He taught me that every partnership is a matter of give and take. He taught me that white fur on a dark skirt makes a wonderful fashion statement. And the most profound lesson Slugger shared with me was that even life’s biggest challenges can hold the promise of something good.

Jen: For those readers who want to know more about service dogs and the programs available, can you recommend some organizations?

Leigh: Having been involved with Saint Francis Service Dogs in Virginia for years, I would highly recommend the organization to those interested in learning more about service dogs in the state (www.saintfrancisdogs.org). Assistance Dogs International (www.AssistanceDogsInternational.org) also offers helpful information about service dogs in addition to a listing of service dog organizations throughout the United States and abroad. Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org) can also provide valuable information about many different types of working dogs and those who are partnered with them.

Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your website. Please take us on a brief tour highlighting your favorite parts.

Leigh: My website, www.leighbrill.com, is pretty basic, yet it seems to suit the fundamental style and message of my work. I’m especially happy with the video that is featured on my welcome page. I love knowing that folks can watch it and see a service dog in action (my girl, Kenda). I’ve also included information about the book so that people can uncover details about the story, my publisher, and where and how they can get A DOG NAMED SLUGGER! My website features lots of links that relate to my story. I think it’s a great way to share resources as well as inspiration. Readers can get to know me a bit more on my site, too, and contact me if they want to share their thoughts. It’s exciting to be able to let everyone know what my dog and I are up to on our news and reviews page. I’ll be updating that very soon…

Jen: What’s next for you? Are you currently at work on another project? And if so, what can you share with us?

Leigh: Lately I have been very focused on letting readers know about A Dog Named Slugger. I am also hard at work on my next book; Miranda and Charlie and the Great Cupcake Caper is the first in a series of fictional juvenile stories featuring an energetic kid-detective and her service dog.

Jen: Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. Your story is such an inspiration for all of us living with a chronic disease. I wish you only the best.

Leigh: I’m honored by the opportunity, thank you Jen! I’m pleased and humbled to know my book is making a positive difference. Sharing some of the goodness that Slugger first shared with me is rewarding on many levels. Best to you and wags from sweet Kenda!

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Leigh. Truly, she is such an inspiration to us all. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of A DOG NAMED SLUGGER today.

Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of five readers to answer to the following trivia question and you’ll could win. Good luck!

What is the name of Leigh’s next book?

Next time, I will be bringing to you my interview with Cynthia Keller, author of AN AMISH CHRISTMAS. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…



Meet Jennifer Erin Valent

CATCHING MOONDROPSHave you ever wondered what it would be like if you were born a different race? I think oftentimes we are so comfortable in our own skin that we neglect to acknowledge the adversity faced by others. For example, the civil rights movement seems like an event found only in the pages of a history book, but in reality, it happened not too long ago. If it weren’t for bright, courageous authors who challenge us to remember the road once taken, we might forever forget the struggles our country has faced.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Jennifer Erin Valent is an expert, in my opinion, in making the past come to life. In her latest release CATCHING MOONDROPS, she continues the story of a brave young white woman named Jessilyn Lassiter who comes face to face with social prejudices in Virginia in the 1930’s. The third book in the series, she takes the reader to a place where the Ku Klux Klan reigns supreme and the rights of those of a different race are put to the test.

As part of this interview, Tyndale Publishers has donated five books for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

Jen: A writer’s road to publication oftentimes is as fascinating as the story itself. So that my readers may have a glimpse into your world, please share with us your educational and professional background.

AUTHORJennifer: The only real writing-related educational experience I have dates back to high school. (Keep in mind that was the same place I nearly flunked a test on A Tale of Two Cities because I deemed Dickens unreadable!) I didn’t go to college, and I can guarantee I wouldn’t have majored in anything involving literature if I had. My passion for writing happened later in my life, but then living life is a great teacher when it comes to the study of people and how we live.

Jen: Describe for us your “Aha!” moment when you made the conscious decision to actively pursue a career in publishing.

Jennifer: It was similar to the experience I had when I decided to take voice lessons years ago and was told I was a soprano rather than an alto. I thought, “It’ll be fun to learn something new,” and then I thought, “I’m doomed to sing opera for the rest of my life”! Actively pursuing writing meant great things like spending vast amounts of time using my imagination to create people, places and stories. It meant sharing my heart with the world. But it also meant learning about an industry I knew nothing about, studying the craft and business, and determining that I’d stick to it no matter what… even if I got to a point where I wanted to burn my laptop and walk away. Clearly, I’m glad I made the decision to go for it, but in the beginning it was excitement and fear rolled into one.

Jen: As you have said, you have dabbled in many areas of publishing from magazines to children’s books. Currently, you write for the Christian Market. What has made this particular genre a good fit for you? And, what has been the most challenging part of writing for this audience?

Jennifer: It’s a perfect fit because my faith is the basis for who I am, and it’s why I do what I do. So it’s a market that I relate to easily. The difficulty is that the Christian market doesn’t get the same sort of publicity in some venues. It can be a struggle to get your work noticed. But ultimately, I leave that in God’s hands.

Jen: Your first novel FIREFLIES IN DECEMBER was the 2007 winner of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel award. Quite an accomplishment! Congratulations! For my readers who are unfamiliar with your work, please describe for us the premise.

Jennifer: FIREFLIES IN DECEMBER is the story of Jessilyn Lassiter whose family takes in her orphaned best friend, Gemma Teague. But Gemma is black and a white family taking a black girl in as their own in 1932 Virginia is not looked on favorably. The family faces the effects of segregation and come face-to-face with the Ku Klux Klan, throwing Jessilyn’s life into a tailspin of anger, fear and the harsh discovery of the darker side of humanity.

Jen: Approximately how much research was needed in order for the story to ring true with your readers? And, what was the most fascinating tidbit you learned along the way?

Jennifer: I primarily needed to have a feel for the time period and an understanding of racial prejudice during the Depression era. I watched documentaries, read non-fiction, Googled a lot. Sometimes, though, it’s the smaller details that are hardest to discover, like particulars about how their homes would have looked inside, what vehicles they would have driven, or what terms they would have used. You can’t just research certain time periods; you have to research that time period in that particular place. Someone living in the city in 1932 would have lived differently than someone in rural Virginia in 1932, which is where this story is set.

I suppose the most interesting things I learned had to do with the Ku Klux Klan. It amazed me to see just how pervasive they’ve been at times in our history, and how much they were able to circumvent the law. I think I knew something about that from things I’d read and watched before I started researching the book, but it really came to life for me when I plopped this family I’d created right into the midst of the turmoil.

Jen: Why did you choose to write about this time period from a young girl’s point of view?

Jennifer: It’s really as simple as sitting down at my computer with the desire to write a first person Southern drama and coming up with Jessilyn’s character first. From that point on, knowing the kind of character she was, I was excited to paint the story from her perspective. I’ve had some people who knew me as a teenager tell me she reminds them of me when I was that age, so I think I found it easy to step into her shoes.

Jen: The story continues in the sequel COTTONWOOD WHISPERS. What is the premise of this book?

Jennifer: In COTTONWOOD WHISPERS, we’re once again back in Calloway, Virginia, but this time it’s 1936 and Jessilyn is turning 17. She’s on that cusp of womanhood, and she’s no longer as naive as she was when the trouble hit in FIREFLIES IN DECEMBER. And when an elderly friend is accused of a crime she’s certain he didn’t commit, she’s determined to see right win out over wrong… at all costs. But when she finds out just what that cost might be to her and her family, she wonders how far she can go in her search for justice.

Jen: Was it your intention all along to write a series, or did the story just take on a life of its own? What works best for you in terms of plotting the storyline?

Jennifer: I had originally thought of following Jessilyn’s story through one novel, but as I worked it out in my head, I knew I’d never be able to dive into the storylines deeply enough without making it an epic-size novel. Considering I have an affinity for reading characters that I can follow through a series, I naturally decided to head in that direction.

Honestly, I’m not much on outlining plot, so I tend to wing it a lot. I think I’m just the type of writer who develops the characters first and then lets them weave the story together. As I flesh out the characters and have them interact, I start getting plot ideas, and it all just strings along as I go. So I usually start with a basic theme and idea of the story, but the particulars tend to come as I go.

Jen: In your latest endeavor CATCHING MOONDROPS, the main character Jessilyn Lassiter is facing a very emotional period in her life. Her best friend Gemma falls in love with Tal Pritchett a young, black doctor who has just recently moved to town. This new relationship puts a definite strain on their friendship. Why is Jessilyn so fearful of letting go of her friend?

Jennifer: Jessilyn is fiercely loyal. It’s one of her most endearing qualities, but it’s also something that makes life tough for her because it makes her resistant to change and growth. Letting go of Gemma means moving on to a place where life will never be quite the same again. That’s a difficult leap for most of us!

Jen: And, how does this mirror Jessilyn’s own doubts about her relationship with Luke Talley?

Jennifer: Jessilyn’s the kind of girl that wishes she could grow up in some ways and stay a kid in others. On one hand she wants to marry Luke Talley, and on the other hand she wants to stay with her best friend forever. Just by nature of who she is, and how dependent she is on the people who matter most to her, she has to make a lot of hard choices in order to grow into who she’s meant to be.

Jen: This story confronts the harsh realities of social prejudices in the South when a young black man is lynched. Jessilyn has faced these injustices before; however, this time is much different. Why does this specific incident throw her into such a tailspin? Does it have anything to do with her newfound sense of maturity?

Jennifer: Jessilyn’s been up close and personal with hate and violence before, but never quite so personally as this. She’s lost loved ones before, but not to brutality and murder. The picture of that lynching is etched into her mind, a permanent picture of hate, and it eats away at her soul.

The worst part of my research for CATCHING MOONDROPS was reading about lynching. Once you see pictures of someone hanging there like that, at the mercy of the dark side of human thinking, it sticks with you. Jessilyn saw it up close and personal, and it changed her forever.

Jen: Jessilyn struggles with accepting the Lord’s role in the injustices of her world. She realizes that she has disappointed her family and friends due to her disbelief, yet she can’t seem to move beyond it. Whose opinion among her circle matters most to her in this situation and why?

Jennifer: I always think it’s Gemma, but you’d have to ask Jessilyn to find out for sure! She wants to please her parents and make them happy, of course, but I think she really feels most convicted around Gemma. Gemma is like a mirror for Jessilyn – a portrait of the type of character that she should have – and because of that she feels more conviction from her than from anyone… without Gemma even having to say a word.

Jen: Luke Talley has been the constant in her life. He is the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with, God willing. What makes these two such a good pair? And, in what ways do their differences make their relationship more solid?

Jennifer: Luke and Jessilyn have formed a bond over the years that make them understand each other, and to me there are few things as comforting as having someone around who really gets you. Luke’s the guy who knows her, spots and all, and still sticks with her through thick and thin. When two people have been through so much together without killing each other, there has to be something good there, right?

I love how the Lord takes people and fits them together in complimentary ways, and that’s what I wanted for Luke and Jessilyn. His mild mannered ways are in stark contrast to her fiery personality, but he can come right back at her with his wit and doesn’t back down to her. At the same time, it’s Jessilyn’s spitfire nature that reminds Luke what’s worth living – and fighting – for.

Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Will you be participating in a book tour?

Jennifer: Right now we don’t have a tour planned. It’s amazing to me how much the internet has come to mean to the marketing world. Between interviews like this one, blogs, website ads, Facebook and Twitter, we’re able to get the word out to a lot of people.

Jen: Please take us on a brief tour of your website.

Jennifer: When you stop by JenniferValent.com, you can find out more about each of my books including sample chapters, critical reviews and purchasing information. There’s also a bio page where you can find out more about who I am and why I write, and an events page that will tell you about signings, speaking engagements, interviews and more. Plus, you can enter contests for books and other prizes, visit my blog, and drop me a note. I love hearing from readers!

Jen: Do you participate in Author Phone Chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?

Jennifer: I’m always happy to do what I can to help readers experience more of the back story of my books. I’ve participated with book clubs before, and I’m always open to considering invitations. Readers can contact me on my website with any requests, and I’ll get back to them as quickly as I can.

Jen: What’s next for you? Will there be a book four in this series?

Jennifer: No, Jessilyn’s story (at least my part of it!) ends with CATCHING MOONDROPS. I realized early on that I didn’t feel comfortable carrying this story line on past three books, and as sad as it was to say goodbye, I still feel certain it was the right way to end it. I’ve got a book idea I’m working on now that would still be historical fiction, but we’ll see if it works out.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and chat with my readers. I have loved reading all three of your books. The stories are so emotionally charged with historical informational and gripping plot lines. Thank you so much for bringing your readers back in time to a period that needs not to be forgotten. Best of luck in the future!

Jennifer: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my books with you and your readers. I wish everyone very happy reading!

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Jennifer. Please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of CATCHING MOONDROPS today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead?

Answer the following trivia question correctly and you could be one of five winners.

Name the first book in the Jesssilyn Lassiter series.

Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Leigh Brill, author of the true-life story A DOG NAMED SLUGGER. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…