Unwinding a long, lace table runner, she removed layers of tissue paper. As the last of the wrappings fell away, she choked back tears and stared at the face of her farmer, a face she had known all her life.
The small, framed drawing was one of the few things of value she possessed. Faded and fragile, it was a bona fide and precious antique, handed down through her father’s family for generations, placed in her keeping by her grandfather. It had hung in the great room of the farmhouse. She’d stood looking up at it so often that Gramps had finally moved it to her room. She couldn’t have been more than eight years old.
After that, she’d shared every sadness, every disappointment, and every joy with her farmer. She gazed at the beloved face.
No one knew who he was, but he’d been the impetus for her chosen career, the very reason she’d wanted to study medieval history. In her studies, she’d come across drawings of medieval farmers guiding their teams of oxen, but hers stood alone, strong and sure, facing the artist.
She touched the glass, tracing him with her finger, feeling that, somehow, he reached through the centuries to comfort her.
“I wish you were here,” she whispered.
I'm so pleased to welcome author Margot Johnson, who is going to tell us about her new holiday romance. She's also sharing an excerpt from the book and a wonderful Christmas cookie recipe. I have to say, it's put me in a festive mood! Enjoy!
Margot Johnson grew up in a family of writers and has always loved books and writing. She is the author of two, sweet romance novels--LOVE TAKES FLIGHT and LOVE LEADS THE WAY and the Christmas novella LET IT SNOWBALL. Her characters can't possibly find their happy endings...or can they?
Before turning her focus to the fun writing life, Margot held leadership roles in human resources and communications. Her motto is "Dream big and work hard." When not writing, she loves to connect with family and friends, volunteer with SK Writers Guild, and walk at least 10,000 steps a day (except when it's minus 40!)
She lives in the Canadian prairies with her amazing husband and beloved golden retriever.
From the Author
My writing tip: Don’t wait for the perfect idea or ideal moment. Just sit at your keyboard and write!
Inspiration for this story: I live in a place where winter storms and frigid weather are common. I also love Christmas.
Last year during lockdown, my husband and I couldn’t visit friends and family in person, so we delivered Christmas light necklaces to their doors and then connected online. We also bundled up for a walk on a minus forty degree day. I can imagine my characters Merilee and Ross sharing similar adventures.
One wish: I love hearing feedback from readers. I wish everyone who reads Let it Snowball would post a review.
I write feel-good stories about women who chase their dreams and bump into romance along the way. They live in small communities near my home in the Canadian prairies, and they count on an eclectic mix of family and friends to make their lives interesting and fun.
My new release is available as an eBook on Amazon and major online bookstores. I hope you agree it’s a fun way to celebrate the Christmas season!
In my story, the heroine, Merilee, shares her famous cookie recipe for chocolate snowballs – see below). Maybe you’ll want to add it to your Christmas baking list.
Website: margotjohnson.ca Facebook: MargotJohnsonAuthor Twitter: @AuthorMargot
Christmas tours brim with lights, cookies, and…unexpected romance?
Divorced, empty nester Merilee is on a roll. Filled with scrumptious cookies and old-fashioned fun, her Christmas bus tours aim to add festive spirit to her hometown and new meaning to her lackluster life. Too bad her reserved driver slams the brakes on fun.
Widowed farmer Ross needs a little joy to combat his December blues. Behind the wheel, he wears a Santa suit but can't muster a convincing ho-ho-ho. Too many memories block his road to happiness…until irrepressible Merilee sparks a snowstorm of unexpected feelings.
In two weeks of holiday tours, Ross might drive Merilee crazy…or will romance snowball inside their lonely hearts?
Excerpt from Let it Snowball
After a short drive, the busload arrived at their first stop. “You’re in for a treat.” Merilee leapt up, leaned over, and gave directions on where to park. Absorbing Ross’s delicious scent, clean like snow infused with a trace of peppermint, she jerked back and steadied her breath. Sudden, shocking warmth flooded her insides. Now where was she? She paused to gather her wayward thoughts.
“These rules apply for each stop so we can all enjoy the goodies inside and still keep the tour on schedule. You are free to choose from several platters of cookies. If you would like to sample other kinds or take some home, you can purchase as many as you’d like. We’ll stay for thirty minutes, and then I’ll jingle.” She demonstrated with a string of bells. “Last one back on the bus has to tell a joke or lead a song. If you agree, shout snowball.”
“Snowball.” In a chorus of voices, the group hollered back the right answer.
She lowered the mic. “What about you, Santa?”
He shifted the gear into Park. “Nobody’s going anywhere without me.” He straightened his hat and quirked a fluffy eyebrow.
She smiled, folded her arms, and tapped a foot. Her boots were pretty eye-catching covered in green and red toppers with bells on the toes. Maybe she could cajole him into some good-natured joking. “Santa, you know what happens to kids who don’t behave. You don’t want to end up on the Naughty List, do you?”
“Snowball.” He kept a straight face.
Let it Snowball
Love Takes Flight
Love Leads the Way
Merilee’s Famous Chocolate Snowballs
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 cup 2% or whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
Add egg, milk, and vanilla and mix well.
Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
Gradually add to creamed mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Shape into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake until tops crackle (7-8 minutes).
Remove to wire racks and cool. Roll in icing sugar.
A remarkable post from author Anna M. Taylor. Welcome, Anna!
The Past Is Always With Us
One of the last times I was able to visit New York, I stood on the Brooklyn Promenade and gazed across the East River to where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood. As I did, a line from William Faulkner’s Requiem for A Nun struck me: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” As a lover of history I've always known this to be true. The question is what effect should it have on the present?
On that same trip I visited the African Burial Ground National Monument and Federal Hall National Memorial in lower Manhattan. This is history which people took the time to erect solid reminders to so the past would be with us in a concrete way. But I also did a walking tour of African and African-American historical sites in the area which don't even have a plaque to mark the spot where that history happened. Spots like the corner of Ann & William Streets where nothing remains of the African Free School founded in 1787 for forty boys and girls. Not even a plaque. For years I had walked those streets surrounded by the ghosts of that history and the unsung stories of others who inhabited those streets long before I did. What would I be sensitive to if I had walked those streets to and from work aware of the ghosts who still lingered there? Would my outlook on life be different?
In Requiem For A Nun one character tries to escape her past by claiming she’s no longer the person she was. But the lawyer who speaks the line is telling her you can’t escape the past. It’s always present. For my mind that’s not always bad. Energy from the past can be used for good or ill; which one depends on your level of awareness. It’s no wonder then that as Anna M. Taylor I enjoy writing stories dealing with spirits or supernatural energy to be more accurate. Humans enter a situation, oblivious to or in denial about the past that is not dead, that is not past. Their level of awareness, i.e. ability to accept that alternate and concurrent reality, determines if things are going to end up good for them or ill. That level of awareness or denial is what I write about in my Haunted Harlem series.
Having been a minister I’m already predisposed to accept realities that go beyond the five senses. After all, the core belief of my religion is that over 2000 years ago a man named Jesus was crucified, died and was buried only to live again. It’s not just the knowledge of that sacrifice that gives the Christian power, but the belief that the energy released through that act reaches through time and enables me to heal through the laying on of hands or cast out demons by invoking Jesus’ name. It’s as if a nuclear bomb had been set off 2,000 years ago and the aftershocks from the blast are still being experienced. The energy of unrequited love leaves its own aftershocks that only love fulfilled can dissipate.
I bring this view on the world to bear in my ghost story/romances because I believe only actions motivated by love have the power to right all wrongs, see justice is done no matter how long it has been denied. I know that’s also why second chance is my favorite romance trope and shows up in all my stories. In coming back, repenting, forgiving, trying again we harness the energy of that past and can affect positive change in the present. The past is always with us, but I hope you agree with me and my romances that doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact it can be a mighty force for good.
Only love can face down those things not dreamt of in our philosophies
Ten years ago no one -- not even the man who said he loved her -- believed Sankofa Lawford's claim that she had been brutally attacked by a ghost. Ten years later an assault on a new victim brings her back to Harlem to a mother going mad, a brother at his wits’ end and a former love who wants a second chance. Sankofa longs for her family to be whole again, for love to be hers again, but not if she must relive the emotional pain created by memories of that night.
Mitchell Emerson is convinced science and reason can account for the ghostly happenings at Umoja House. He resolves to find an explanation that will not only satisfy him but earn back Sankofa’s trust and love. Instead, his own beliefs are shaken when he sees the ghost for himself.
Now reluctant allies, Mitchell and Sankofa learn her family was more than a little in love with death. Their search for the ghost draws them together but discovering sixty years of lies and secrets pulls them apart. As their hopes for happily ever after and dispersing the evil stalking Umoja House slip beyond their grasp, Mitchell and Sankofa find an unexpected source of help: the ghost itself.
Available at Amazon.
Excerpt: A Little in Love with Death by Anna M. Taylor
They all jumped at Wanda Lawford’s high pitched squeal. He strode in and pulled up a chair.
“Good afternoon, Wanda. It’s so good to see you.”
She clasped his hand against her cheek. Her rocking stilled and calm descended. She stroked his hand and repeated his name with each stroke.
“Mitchell,” she purred.
He gentled her into a hug as he glanced toward the open door. Relief registered on Langston’s face; shock on Sankofa’s. He eased back and placed a hand on Wanda’s shoulder.
“Now, what’s this I hear about you not wanting to take your medicine?”
“Can’t…mustn’t.” She closed her eyes and snuggled against his chest. “Have to be awake, have to be ready.” She sat up suddenly and stared at him. “Are my pastor now?”
“No, Wanda. Still awaiting my lay pastor commissioning.”
She teared. “But, soon?” Her voice quivered.
“Good. Can’t trust my memory sometimes.” She surveyed the room. “This isn’t my room.”
“Not your bedroom, no. Wanda, we want you to come home. Don’t you want to come home?”
She shook her head. “No. Can’t go home…don’t want to go home. Only death there. Only death. I’m not in love with death anymore. Not even a little.”
She clutched his lapel and pointed a shaky finger at Sankofa.
“Keep her safe, Mitchell. Only you can keep her safe.”
Mitchell glanced at Sankofa. Tears he longed to wipe away shone in her eyes. Wanda clutched his hands, shook them until she had his attention.
“Promise, Mitchell. Promise me.”
“Good. Good.” Wanda laid her head against his chest and sighed. “Sankofa still loves you. I know it. I know it. I know—”
She stiffened, then cupped his face in her hands and pinned him with her gaze.
“Them that tell don’t know and them that know don’t tell.”
Sankofa sobbed and hurried from the room.
Mitchell laid his cheek against the top of Wanda’s head. Her scented talc took him back to Easter hugs and Christmas kisses that made the holidays of his youth bearable. He lowered his voice.
“Wanda, I’ve got a secret to share with you. Can I?”
She nodded and pulled him closer. Mischief twinkled where madness once gleamed. He cupped his hand so it sheltered her ear.
“I love Sankofa, too.”
“But you left her.” A frown distended her lips. She gripped his arms so tightly he cringed. “You left her.”
“And have regretted that decision every day since.” He swallowed, the truth of his betrayal still bitter.
Wanda’s frown transformed into a teary smile. “But you came back. The others didn’t return, but you did. You did. I knew you would.” She searched his face then nodded for emphasis. “I knew you would.”
He looked to the nurse who held the pill cup and water to her.
“Here, Wanda.” He pointed to the pill cup. “Won’t you take them for me?”
She sniffed at the cup, eyed the nurse with a frown but took the pills. One by one she swallowed each capsule with a sip of water.
“Thank you.” Mitchell kissed her forehead. “They’ll help you rest. We can talk some more after you’ve rested.”
He helped her lay down on the bed. She sighed then smiled.
“Mitchell. You marry Sankofa. Married to you, she’ll be safe. Promise me. Promise.”
He held her hand. “There’s nothing I’d like better, Wanda. But that’s not up to me.”
Displeasure lined her tiny face. “She won’t be protected without marriage, Mitchell. I know. Marry her. Marry her...”
The repeated phrase faded to a whisper then ceased when she fell asleep. He eased his hand from hers and stood. How many times had she comforted him during his troubled teen years? He smoothed the sheet around her, grateful to be able to return the favor.
Langston stood at the door but didn’t enter. “Now I know she’s crazy.”
Mitchell started, angered by the look of contempt on Langston’s face.
“Don’t talk about your mother like that.”
Langston ignored him. “No way in hell Sankofa would have you now. Not after what you put her through.”
Mitchell let off an unsteady breath then moved so he and Langston stood nose to nose.
“After what I put Sankofa through, there’s no way I’d let her, even if she wanted to.”
Available at Amazon.
About the Author
A native New Yorker now a relocated-to-the-Southwest romance-writing retired minister. I came across a saying which I’ve framed: do more of what makes you happy. That’s writing. I write in three romance subgenres: as Anna Taylor I write Christian inspirational, as Anna M. Taylor I write gothic and as Michal Scott I write erotic (mainly historical). I’ve had nine works published since I debuted with Through A Glass Darkly, my first Christian inspirational in 2008. Last year I dove into the self-publishing waters with my Haunted Harlem novella series. This year I’ve participated in Falling Hard, my second Passionate Ink anthology and Cowboys, my third Delilah Devlin Boy’s Behaving Badly anthology.
Anna M. Taylor website
Anna M. Taylor Amazon Author Page
Anna M. Taylor FB Author Page
I LOVE Ella Shane!
What a beautifully cozy mysteryI The setting is interesting, the mystery solid, and the characters absolutely wonderful. These are people I look forward to spending more time with.
We are introduced to the mystery almost immediately. The story begins in New Haven, 1899, but quickly moves on to New York City. As it progresses, we get to know Ella, an opera star from humble beginnings, and those closest to her. Ella is kind, talented, self-possessed, self-educated, yet humble. She not only sings, she's an excellent swordswoman. If she wasn't as awesome as she is, I'd have a hard time choosing my favorite character. There's her Irish cousin Tommy, former prizefighter, who left boxing to become her manager. There's the outspoken, poker-playing Father Michael and Hetty, a rare, female reporter. Montezuma, the foul-mouthed parrot, is absolutely hilarious. There are still other endearing characters who add to the coziness of the story, but I won't list them all here. Of course, this romance fan is not about to leave out Ella's possible romantic interest, the gorgeous Gilbert Saint Aubyn, Duke of Leith. Every character bursts with personality, and you cannot help but love them.
The author sumptuously presents the cultural/societal atmosphere of the time. The story has a deliciously historical flavor, but the main characters are forward-thinking. It's the first novel I've read featuring an opera star, and I found that aspect to be very interesting as well. Of note, there's a subtle, beautiful dignity and morality to the book that match the fineness of the characters.
When you can spend time with characters you love, enjoy a solid mystery, sigh over a hint of romance, learn a little something, and overall feel uplifted by a book, well, that's saying more than a little something.
Thank you for a great read, Kathleen Marple Kalb. I look forward to more Ella Shane mysteries!
Today, I'm pleased to feature this delightful Christmas novella -- first of the season! The holidays are nigh upon us!
Hair stylist Scarlett Kerrigan lost her job and her apartment. To alleviate a touch of self-pity, she succumbs to her stepmom’s pressure to attend a wedding in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Unfortunately, she runs into the vacation fling who promised the moon but disappeared without an explanation. Months have passed, but she is not ready to forgive and forget.
After a chaotic year, executive Wes Harley settles into his family's event venue, The Timeless Manor. His carefully structured world is shaken to its core when Scarlett arrives for the Victorian Christmas wedding weekend. The feelings he never quite erased flood to the surface.
When secrets are revealed, will a magical chateau and a sprinkle of tinsel be enough to charm Scarlett?
Excerpt from Tinsel and Tea Cakes
Lights flashed in the side view mirror. Another car parked behind them, but snow blocked all visibility through the back window. Boots crunching through snow announced the hulking figure before he appeared at the door. A scarf and hat covered most of the stranger’s face, and only a pair of emerald-green eyes peered in.
Scarlett inched down the window a crack. The possibility of this person being a deranged lunatic couldn’t be overlooked.
“Scarlett?” The man stepped back and tugged down the scarf.
She knew that face and opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t find a word. This day just kept getting better. Those eyes should have been the first clue, but never in her wildest dreams did she expect to see him again. The blur of memories racing through her mind dropped a throat-constricting concoction of confusion, hurt, and vile hope on her chest. “Wes.”
“What are you doing here? Aren’t you a little far from home?”
A line formed between his eyebrows. Clarice leaned forward to get a better glimpse of their potential knight in shining armor.
“More than a little.”
Coherent thoughts took shape in the form of questions and accusations. Every fiber in her being burned at the thought of asking him for help, but alternative options were few and far between. Who knew how long before roadside assistance arrived? Fine, maybe he’d get her out of this mess, but making small talk didn’t need to factor into the exchange.
About the Author
Jill Piscitello is a teacher, author, and an avid fan of multiple literary genres. Although she divides her reading hours among several books at a time, a lighthearted story offering an escape from the real world can always be found on her nightstand.
A native of New England, Jill lives with her family and three well-loved cats. When not planning lessons or reading and writing, she can be found spending time with her family, trying out new restaurants, traveling, and going on light hikes.
Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram
I've been going on and on about how cozy mysteries have joined ranks with my all time favorite genre, romance! But this is the first time I've ever hosted an actual cozy mystery writer on my blog -- so exciting! Following her very fun and interesting post, you'll find an excerpt from her book Death by Sample Size, as well as a link for a very useful swimsuit fitting guide. Enjoy! Susie Black, thank you. The post is yours!
How I Became a Cozy Mystery Writer
by Susie Black
As a newbie author, I was advised by those far more experienced than me that the best way to build a following is to develop a relationship with readers by sharing personal things about myself with them and let them get to know me. The marketing webinars all preached show your vulnerability, your humanity, who you are, and the readers will lap it up. Truthfully, I didn’t see why anyone would be all that interested in my bio. Trust me, other than the possible exception of my mother who was compelled to find my life story fascinating or risk admitting she had been a failure by having raised a bore, even I didn’t find it particularly riveting. But enough colleagues I respect all suggested I do the same thing, so when people began asking how I became a writer, I realized I’d been wrong. I would be foolish not to put myself out there, right? What’s the worst that could happen? Ok, maybe we won’t go down that rabbit hole. This is it, so buckle up; it’s gonna be a heck of a ride. Like most journeys of mine, this one’s a bit convoluted; sort of like going to Cleveland by way of Cairo. That said, I hope you enjoy the ride.
With its ups and downs, hills, valleys, and sometimes unexpected curves, life itself is the ultimate story. What makes us all storytellers stirring the stew in the cauldron, is a point of view. Life is all around us. Sit in the food court at the mall and pay attention to the crowd. In the time it takes to order and consume a burger and soda, an observant people watcher will have enough subject matter to write a series.
Like the protagonist in my Holly Swimsuit murder mystery series, I am a ladies’ apparel sales exec. From the start of my career, I have kept a daily journal that chronicles the quirky, interesting, and often challenging people I’ve encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. The journal entries are the foundation of all my writing. The most critically important skill a sales exec must have in order to succeed is to be a good storyteller. Fortunately, I’ve been telling stories since I learned how to talk. Since I’d never written a novel before, the only thing I knew to do was to apply the same story-telling skills I’d successfully used hawking bikinis to writing a tale. So, where did my story ideas come from? My mother didn’t raise stupid children. I paid attention to the mantra. Write what you know. With a dollop of imagination, a pinch of angst, and a decades-long career chocked to the gills with juicy characters, I had more stories itching to be told in my daily journal than time to write them.
One thing I’d been told over and over as a sales exec was to know your product inside out. I heard the same thing when I started writing cozy mysteries: write what you know. If you don’t know it, either do the research and learn it, or don’t dare to write it. Whether you’re an author or a sales exec, you’re selling yourself, and readers, like buyers, can sniff out a phony in a heartbeat, and then you and whatever kind of story you’re telling are toast.
I came to write in the cozy mystery genre because I love solving puzzles. My parents would certainly confirm I have always asked a lot of questions, and I am naturally curious (some narrow-minded people say I am nosy…go figure…LOL). So, writing mysteries was the natural next step for me to take. Who could push a sales exec to dream of murder and mayhem? Who else but a buyer? After completing a rather challenging conversation with an important, but difficult account, I imagined how good it would feel with my hands around her scrawny neck, squeezing the life out of her. While the notion of knocking off my annoying customers was wildly appealing, a horizontally striped prison uniform making my four-foot, nine-inch body look like a barbershop pole and a fire hydrant had a child wasn’t a pretty sight. The viable alternative? Writing humorous murder mysteries set in the Los Angeles garment center. Brilliant and cathartic! In one fell swoop, eliminate a pain- in- the- patootie buyer, avoid life in prison and still get the order. It doesn’t get any better than that.
About the Author
Born in the Big Apple, Susie Black now calls sunny Southern California home. Like the protagonist in her Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, Susie is a successful apparel sales executive. Susie began telling stories as soon as she learned to talk. Now she’s telling all the stories from her garment industry experiences in humorous mysteries.
She reads, writes, and speaks Spanish, albeit with an accent that sounds like Mildred from Michigan went on a Mexican vacation and is trying to fit in with the locals. Since life without pizza and ice cream as her core food groups wouldn’t be worth living, she’s a dedicated walker to keep her girlish figure. A voracious reader, she’s also an avid stamp collector. Susie lives with a highly intelligent man and has one incredibly brainy but smart-aleck adult son who inexplicably blames his sarcasm on an inherited genetic defect.
Looking for more? Reach her at email@example.com
To connect with Susie:
Everyone wanted her dead…but who actually killed her?
“The last thing swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected was to discover ruthless buying office big wig Bunny Frank’s corpse trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey with a bikini stuffed down her throat. When Holly’s colleague is arrested for Bunny’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth jumps into action to find the real killer. Nothing turns out the way Holly thinks it will as she matches wits with a wily killer hellbent on revenge. Get ready to laugh out loud as Susie Black’s Death by Sample Size takes you on a rollicking adventure ride through the Los Angeles apparel industry.”
Excerpt from Death by Sample Size
Angela Wellborn and I nodded politely to one another as we entered A Jolt of Java together the next morning. I cautiously wished her a good morning and took it as a good sign when Angela told me to have a nice day. With any luck, maybe I’d save the account.
I worked my way around the table distributing the group’s coffees. When I handed Sonia her cup, the good vibe I had from Angela quickly disappeared. Sonia’s complexion was gray as day-old oatmeal. Her red-rimmed eyes said it all.
I squeezed her arm. “What happened?”
Sonia’s eyes filled. “I didn’t get it.”
“Did they tell you why?”
Sonia twisted her lips into a bitter smile. “My references didn’t pan out.”
Bunny Frank sat at a table across from us sipping a latte and reading the West Coast Apparel News. Sonia walked the short distance to Bunny’s table. Bunny folded the paper and gave Sonia a shit-eating grin.
Sonia growled, “You’re a miserable excuse for a human being. You couldn’t bring yourself to do the right thing for once in your life. You had to lie and destroy a fabulous opportunity because you could.”
Bunny drew a circle in the air and put her index finger through it. “Bullseye, Wilson.” She wiggled her thumb and flashed an evil smile. “Gotcha right under here and I always will.”
Sonia grabbed the latte out of Bunny’s hand and poured the drink over Bunny’s head. The concoction flowed slowly like lava down Bunny’s face and meandered into her cleavage. Too stunned to react, Bunny sat still as a statue as the foam seeped from her décolletage and stained her white knit top.
Sonia crushed the empty paper cup and threw it on the table. The crowded room was silent as a tomb as all eyes swiveled to Bunny’s table. Not a soul missed Sonia snarl, “I promise I’ll get even with you. I will make you pay if it takes me forever.” Sonia spun on her heel and stomped back to our table. She pointed to the barista’s station. “Anyone for a refill? This round is on me.”
A Gift from Susie: Choosing the Right Swimsuit
I am proud to welcome extremely talented Anise Eden to talk about her new book, Dead Sound. Hi, Anise. Happy Launch Day and congratulations! Dead Sound! What an intense, amazing book.
Thank you so much for having me back, Anastasia! I can’t tell you how delighted I am that you enjoyed Dead Sound. Thank you so much for reading, and for wanting to talk about it—which is one of my favorite things to do, as you can imagine!
This book – the action. Wow! Will you tell us a little about it?
Hah, yes! The action! Kind of ironic to think that so much action was generated by a person sitting in front of her computer, moving only her fingers! 😊
Here’s a quick introduction to Dead Sound:
In Washington DC, even the hospitals are political—and politics can be deadly. When a young psychotherapists’ patient tells her she must stop her boss from triggering the apocalypse, she turns to a friend, a world-wise Irish doctor, for support. But when the pair uncovers a Byzantine political plot that leads from their hospital directly to the White House, their struggle to uncover the truth suddenly becomes a fight for their lives.
Dead Sound was my first thriller, so writing it involved a great deal of learning, most of it in the form of trial and error! Thankfully, the team at Tangled Tree Publishing saw the potential in the story and helped me through a wonderfully productive editing experience, refining the book into the final form it’s in today.
I’m still stunned by the plot. What sort of research did you have to do and how much?
I worked on this book over a four year period, so it’s difficult to quantify how much research I did. I think “an awful lot” is an accurate description, however!
I had personal knowledge of some aspects, such as working in hospitals, living in Washington DC, dealing with chronic pain, and being a psychotherapist. However, I had a lot to learn about endocrinology, hacking/computer technology, and White House security. There were also a million little things that came up throughout the book where I needed to deepen my knowledge. Some examples are hospital communications technology and how specific types of injuries might be sustained.
Basically, when I’m writing, I have a web browser open all the time to look things up! Also, beta reader feedback was particularly key with this novel.
How will this series, Things Unseen, compare to the Healing Edge series? Granted, Dead Sound is very different from the Healing Edge books. But I’m familiar with your beautiful writing. There’s a sensitivity in your characters that’s so appealing, and I can see some recurring themes, particularly your emphasis on seeing – and loving -- the whole, real person. Would you elaborate on your themes?
It is so lovely to know that you think highly of my writing, Anastasia, because the feeling is 100% mutual! You have definitely put your finger on one of my recurring themes, there. The main character, Neve, is someone who sees beyond the surface and cares about people for qualities that may go unseen by others. At the same time, Neve, too, has her blind spots, and in Dead Sound, I explore these a bit in the context of mental health care. For example, what is it like for a provider when they become the patient?
Also in Dead Sound, I explore abuses of power, the question of how to discern truth, and the places where faith and logic sometimes collide. I’d say these themes tend to run through most of my work, including what is perhaps my most consistent theme, the healing power of love. Having said that, I don’t write with themes in mind, as such; I tend to glimpse them after I’ve written the story, often when others point them out to me. Also, each individual reader has a unique experience with every book, so they take something entirely different from the story.
I completely agree about the healing power of love. What a marvelous theme and one that is close to my heart. So, all things considered, you wouldn’t say that the Healing Edge series directly inspired Dead Sound? You consider it something completely different?
Dead Sound was conceived from a totally different place than the Healing Edge series. After finishing that first series, one day, I engaged in a thought experiment. What would happen if an Old Testament-style prophet were to be born into the world today? How would they be treated? How would they be categorized and managed by society? I realized that most likely, they would end up in mental health treatment. That was the germ of the idea for the story.
Also, unlike the Healing Edge series, this book is a thriller with no overtly paranormal events, so it has a different feel to it. In both the Healing Edge series and Dead Sound, however, I do explore similar themes, albeit from different contexts and angles, and with different characters. The more books I write, the more I discover what weaves them all together, just by virtue of having come from my brain! I’m learning that my creative imagination is drawn to certain ideas and topics—so far, at least. We’ll see what happens in the future!
This book is certainly a thriller -- and still so romantic! I loooove Neve and Con together, the intensity of their relationship, the beauty of their friendship. Their love for each other runs so deep. Neve is such a natural, authentic lamp of a person -- her inner beauty shines throughout the story. And Con is just delicious -- protective, utterly capable, and respectful of Neve's strengths and boundaries. For me, the romance in this story is even more amazing because the thriller/suspense level is just as powerful. Neither aspect is subdued by the other. How in the world did you manage it? Please, share with us your feelings about your main characters and their relationship.
It's wonderful to hear that you responded so strongly and positively to Neve and Con! I did, too, when they appeared in my head, so I'm glad that who they are as I imagine them came through successfully on the page. In many ways, they're very different people. You see some of those differences in Dead Sound, and they'll be revealed even more in the sequel, Dead Keen. The drama of their love story lies in discovering whether (and how), in spite of their differences, the things they have in common will truly bring and hold them together -- commonalities like their feelings for one another, their commitment to providing the best possible treatment for their patients, and their instincts for caring, which brought them to their respective fields.
As to the question of how I balanced the suspense and romance aspects, that's a little hard to answer, since I don't think analytically like that when I'm putting a story down on paper. As a writer, I'm what's known as a total "pantser," as opposed to a "plotter" who makes outlines, etc. In the case of Dead Sound, I think the intensity of the love story and the suspense both fed into each other, swirling around each other and building in parallel until the ending. However, the fabulous editing process with Tangled Tree Publishing included some terrific beta readers, so I took their suggestions when they said they were hungering for a little more "Neve and Con" here, or a little more "thriller-like tension" there. That kind of feedback is invaluable to me, and I absolutely love collaborating; it always makes the story better!
The combination sure works for you.
Before leaving the subject of Con altogether, I have to tell you that he just might be one of my new favorite heroes, and I love that he's Irish. Are you still living in Ireland? Please, will you tell us a little of your experience there?
Yes, my husband and I moved to Ireland a few years ago, and we absolutely love it! We live in a beautiful town with a vibrant and supportive writing community, which has been very important to me. In fact, the first friends I made when we moved here, I met in our local writers’ group.
This has been my first experience of living outside of the US, so as do must expats, I suspect, I have learned a great deal, simply by virtue of viewing the world from a different vantage point. Of course, when we moved, we weren’t expecting a global pandemic! It was incredibly difficult being so far away from many of my loved ones over the past year and a half, going through all the anxiety that came with it. But our community here has really pulled together and been very supportive of one another.
Just as an example, in those early days of COVID when we didn’t know much about how it was transmitted, as someone in a medically high-risk group, I was very anxious about going to the pharmacy to pick up my regular prescriptions. I spoke to the pharmacist, who suggested I call our local police (called the Gardaí, here), since they had offered to take pharmacy prescriptions and other essential deliveries where needed. I felt a bit silly about doing that, to be honest, but I took their advice, it turns out the Guards were more than happy to help. Later that day, they brought my prescriptions to my home, and they couldn’t have been more gracious about it! That kind of warmth, kindness, and ethos of taking care of one another made the past 18 months much easier to bear.
Beautiful. It does seem that you’ve had a wonderful experience, despite everything. Thank you for sharing a little about your life with us.
What’s on the horizon for you? Can you tell us about your next book? Will it be the sequel to Dead Sound and will it be set in Ireland?
I’m so glad you asked! Indeed, I am currently working on the sequel to Dead Sound. Book 2 in the Things Unseen series, called Dead Keen, picks up shortly after the end of my first book, and begins with Con taking Neve to Ireland to follow up on a storyline from Dead Sound in which Con’s brother seeks his help with a medical issue. Without giving you any spoilers, I can tell you that Dead Keen will be another high-suspense thriller with unexpected twists and turns, making rich use of the wonderful setting and showing how Con and Neve’s relationship continues to develop.
I can hardly wait! Anise, thank you so much for joining us today and also for the excerpt from Dead Sound, which follows. I wish you all the best with Dead Sound and with all your endeavors!
Thanks a million for having me, Anastasia! I really appreciate your good wishes and am very grateful to you for hosting me on your blog. I wish you all the best, as well!
Excerpt from Dead Sound
The rich aromas of roasted coffee beans and steamed milk stood in welcome contrast to the sharp smells of the ICU. What a way to start the morning. Something had unraveled inside me, seeing Amos lying unconscious on that bed, as helpless and out of place as a starfish stranded on a dry beach. And I’d never seen Con so uncertain about the reasons behind a patient’s clinical presentation. Frankly, it scared me. After all, he was a leading expert and knew Amos’s case well. If he couldn’t figure out what was going on, what hope did anyone else have?
Ruminating about it would do no good, however. I forced myself to focus not on the things that were out of my control but on what I could do—specifically, what I could do for Amos. It was time to stick my neck out. I cleared my throat and leaned in close to Con.
“Do you know any hackers?” I whispered the last word, not wanting to be overheard by the barista.
She didn’t seem like the gossiping type, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Con’s head snapped up. “What?”
“Hackers,” I hissed. “Do you know any?”
As his eyebrows rose, he leaned back against his chair. The wood made a sharp cracking sound, but it held. “Why on earth would I know a hacker?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you don’t. But you seem to know a lot of computer people, and I didn’t know who else to ask.”
“Ah, Jaysus.” His expression darkened. “You’re not being harassed online, are you?”
“No. Why would you think that?”
“Then what kind of trouble are you in?”
I shook my head. “I’m not in any trouble.”
“What in hell’s name do you need a hacker for, then?”
“It’s not for me.”
“Ah, well.” His expression flattened into a perfect poker face. “In that case, I don’t know any hackers.”
“Oh for God’s sake.” I wrapped my hands around my mug and stared down at the table. “Fine. Forget I asked. I’ll just figure out how to get on the dark web and hire one myself.”
I could feel Con’s eyes drilling a hole in the top of my head. “Oh no you won’t.”
“Oh yes I will.” I raised my gaze to meet his. “It’s for Amos.”
Rarely had I seen Con so taken by surprise. “What?”
“The homework he gave me. It’s encrypted, and I need someone to un-encrypt it.”
“You mean decrypt it.”
“Yeah, okay. That.”
“Even unconscious, Amos can’t stop making trouble, can he?” he asked with a mix of affection and frustration. “What’s this homework?”
To purchase Dead Sound
Following the advice to “write what you know,” ANISE EDEN is the author of suspense novels with thriller, romance, and paranormal elements. Her qualifications include growing up in countryside where rattlesnakes and cougars jumped out of nowhere; living with family members who are a little bit psychic; and having her life saved on more than one occasion by her SEAL Team of guardian angels.
After college, Anise soaked up life in NYC, Washington DC, and points in between. She tried her hand at grooming horses, scooping ice cream, and designing billboards before returning to school to become a psychotherapist. Though she left that field after many rewarding years, Anise remains a passionate mental health advocate.
Continuing her real-life adventures, Anise is now exploring life in Ireland with her husband and her small canine writing companion. While her books have won multiple awards, Anise’s propensity for dropping glass objects while barefoot makes it highly likely that her next win will be a Darwin Award. Member of ITW, RNA, SinC, and the Irish Writers Centre.
To connect with Anise:
Buy Links for Dead Sound: https://books2read.com/deadsound
Are you wondering if one of us has the wrong blog? This past year, I've come to love cozy mysteries. Like the romance genre, there are plenty of subgenres. For me, the cozier the better. I love the wonderful settings, the loveable characters, and the way everything is tied up nicely by the end. Moreover, my favorite cozies have a hint of romance. I've noticed a certain cross-over trend. Lots of romance writers have been known to pen irresistible cozies.
Many of these mysteries are set in a particularly picturesque area -- the Cotswolds, for example. Other's focus more on the career or hobby of the main character, one that is terribly appealing -- coffeehouse owner, gardener, librarian, baker, knitter... You get the idea. You are given the chance to immerse yourself in an enjoyable setting with characters you like, learning about things you find interesting or already love, and to solve a mystery that usually spares you the gore.
I realize that, as with any genre, not everyone enjoys cozies for the same reason. From my point of view, they are feel good books. Why anyone would find that description objectionable, I don't know, but some do. Just because a book has you smiling happily at the end doesn't mean that the writing isn't wonderful, the research thorough, and the mystery well-crafted and clever. The books I enjoy have all of those things and I couldn't be happier.
So if you are a romance fan -- and since you are here, I must assume that you are -- you might wantto give cozy mysteries a try.
Today is Launch Day for Jana Richard's latest, Unexpected. Don't miss the stunning excerpt!
A marriage of convenience. An unexpected love.
Single dad Ben Greyson wants only to retain custody of his two stepdaughters. A dysfunctional childhood has made family the most important thing in his life. When his late wife's parents sue for custody, a desperate Ben is left with two choices – run away with his girls or marry his next-door neighbor.
Jamie Garven wants to be a mother. She's intrigued by her handsome new neighbor and falls in love with his little girls. Then Ben is faced with losing his children, and Jamie agrees to marry him for a chance at motherhood. They're determined to show the world, and the girls' grandparents, two loving parents.
Their marriage of convenience turns into unexpected love. But Ben interprets Jamie's efforts to save their family as betrayal—they could lose everything, including each other.
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Excerpt from Unexpected, by Jana Richards
He wrapped his arms around both girls. Jamie watched, uncomfortable to be intruding on such a private moment. Something about the tender way this big man held these two tiny girls hit her square in the solar plexus.
Not every man behaved like her ex.
She cleared her throat. “I should get Rex and Sammy home. It was nice meeting you, Bella and Sophie. I’ll see you around.”
Her neighbor rose quickly and extended his hand. “Thank you for helping me find the girls. I’m Ben Greyson, by the way.”
“Jamie Garven.” She accepted his handshake. Again, she had the sensation she’d seen him before. In the lights illuminating the playground she could see his eyes were a mixture of green and brown and were framed by long, thick lashes. This close to him, she noticed the dimple in his cheek for the first time and caught the scent of a delectable men’s cologne. For a moment, Jamie’s heart wobbled like a washing machine with an uneven load.
Or a hormonal teenager with her first crush.
The embarrassing thought made Jamie tug on her hand. He released it immediately and she forced herself to smile politely.
“It was nice meeting all of you. Goodnight.”
Once she and the dogs rounded the school and were out of sight, Jamie urged them into a run. They raced all the way home. As if the hounds of Hell were on their tails.
Or perhaps her own unsettling thoughts were chasing her. Jamie stifled a groan. She was being ridiculous. She’d been momentarily dazzled by a pretty face. Any red-blooded woman with a pulse would have reacted the same way.
Anyway, there was likely a Mrs. Ben Greyson somewhere in the picture. Men who looked like him generally weren’t single.
And men who looked like her hot new neighbor didn’t give plain women like her a second glance.
About the Author
When Jana Richards read her first romance novel, she immediately knew two things: she had to commit the stories running through her head to paper, and they had to end with a happily ever after. She also knew she’d found what she was meant to do. Since then she’s never met a romance genre she didn’t like. She writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and historical romance set in World War Two, in lengths ranging from short story to full length novel. Just for fun, she throws in generous helpings of humor, and the occasional dash of the paranormal. Her paranormal romantic suspense “Seeing Things” was a 2008 EPPIE finalist.
In her life away from writing, Jana is an accountant/admin assistant, a mother to two grown daughters, and a wife to her husband Warren. She enjoys golf, yoga, movies, concerts, travel and reading, not necessarily in that order. She and her husband live in Winnipeg, Canada. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.janarichards.com
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