Enter Trevor Smith, a pseudo-cowboy from Houston, Texas, with good looks, a quick tongue, and testosterone poisoning. Will Tess succumb to his questionable charms and become his damsel in distress? She doesn’t have to faint at his feet—she’s capable of handling just about anything. But will she choose to let Trevor be the man? When Tess kidnaps her niece, her life changes. She must make some hard decisions. Does she trust the lawman that promises her redemption, or does she trust the cowboy that promises her nothing but himself?
Interview with Denise Moncrief
How long have you been writing, and how did you start?
I wrote my first “novel” when I was seventeen. It was an obvious rip-off of the last romance novel I’d read. That was a long time ago. I’ve been writing seriously for publication since the spring of 2003.
How did you create the plot for this book?
I was watching the coverage for Hurricane Ike that made landfall near Galveston, Texas. The news reporter said that Texas authorities had advised those who intended to ride the storm out to write their social security numbers on their arm just in case they needed to be identified after the storm. The premise jumped out of the news report at me. What if a fugitive used a hurricane as an excuse to highjack someone else’s identity?
That sounds intriguing! Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?
I know where I want to begin a story and know where I want the story to end. In the middle, I allow my characters and their evolving personalities to dictate where the action goes from there. I ask myself how the character would react in a given situation, how the characters would relate to each other, and what consequences would come out of those choices. The character’s story sort of writes itself.
Did you have any say in your cover art?
The publisher’s cover artist sends me a questionnaire about the book and about my preferences and suggestions for the cover. Then she takes it from there. I think Viola Estrella did an amazing job on the cover for Crisis of Identity. It wasn’t exactly the vision I had in my mind, but she conveyed the essence of the book very well. I was very pleased with the outcome.
Do you have imaginary friends? When do they talk to you? Do they tell you what to write or do you poke them with a Q-tip?
Nooooo… I haven’t had an imaginary friend since I was in grade school. I did have an imaginary boyfriend once… I probably shouldn’t talk about that.
LOL. How do you get to know your characters?
While I am writing, I get into their head. I try to think like them and react like they would react. I try to pull something from inside myself that would connect with how the character would feel about what was going on in their life at that moment. What they would see, hear, taste, smell, feel, and think. I don’t become my characters, but I get to know them very well. It’s almost like I’ve lost my best friends when I write the last sentence. Sometimes my husband and I speak about them as if they are real characters. (My wonderful husband reads all of my work before I submit to a publisher.)
When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?
No. If the situation begs for a new character, I write her or him into the plot. This gives me a bit of creative flexibility. But…this has gotten me into trouble on occasion, as I have written too many characters for a book and bogged the story down. I love an ensemble of memorable characters, but I also believe the story should include only the number of characters necessary to adequately tell the story. Too many characters can be distracting to the reader.
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
In this book, by far my favorite character is Tess. This woman doesn’t take crap off anyone. She is tough when she needs to be and soft when it is necessary. Tess is no damsel in distress. She doesn’t have to faint at her hero’s feet. She can take care of herself.
Wow--your Tess sounds a lot like my Tess! I like writing characters who do and say things I never would, as well as characters who do and say things I wish I could. Do you have characters who fit into one of those categories? Who, and in what category do they fall?
I love to write my characters saying and doing things I’ve only thought about. You know, when you’ve finished with a confrontation and you think about that one thing you wished you’d said? That’s what I love to make my characters say. A writer can get brave hiding behind a character!
Tess in Crisis of Identity is probably the most extreme character I’ve written as far as saying and doing exactly what she feels she needs to do at the moment. She sees an opportunity and uses it. Nothing shy about Tess!
What three books have you read recently and would recommend?
I love reading romantic suspense, but lately I’ve read quite a few romantic suspense with a paranormal element. I’m hooked! I just read Heather Graham’s The Unseen and plan to read more in The Krewe of Hunters series. I’d also recommend Gwenan Haine’s Vertigo, a very good book with a hero and heroine I enjoyed reading about. And there was a lighthouse and a ghost. My third choice doesn’t have a paranormal element, but I thoroughly enjoyed Chantel Rhondeau’s Crime & Passion, a story about a woman who falls in love with a police officer suspected of murder. I love cops and murders! But mostly I love a romantic tale filled with suspense.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Reading, scrapbooking, traveling
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Colorado. My absolute favorite place on earth is the Rocky Mountains. I set a series of books in Southwestern Colorado. Two of those books are being released by The Wild Rose Press.
What are you working on now?
A paranormal romantic suspense set in an old plantation house in South Louisiana with the working title The Unmistakable Scent of Gardenias. Yes, there will be a ghost.
Fantastic. Come back and tell us about it when it's released!
Excerpt from Crisis of Identity:I dropped onto the cot at the far end of the locker room, struggling to remove the stained smock the state so generously provided. Forget about sleep; it wouldn’t come. I had too many memories that begged to become nightmares. I closed my eyes anyway.
The springs in the cot next to mine creaked. “I’m Jake.” Why had it taken him so long to introduce himself?
I released an internal sigh. “Tess.” I told the truth, because I had to say something and I was out of lies.
“Yeah.” I wanted him to shut up and leave me alone.
“Why would someone like you volunteer for this?”
I opened one eye and glared at him. “I didn’t volunteer. I was strongly encouraged to help. Why are you here?”
He hesitated. “I’m a U.S. Marshal. It’s my job. Part of the oath and all that.”
I opened the other eye and assessed him. “Why would you move here—” He smiled, cutting off my question. “I can tell from your accent you’re not from Texas.”
“I followed a fugitive here from Illinois.” He leaned forward, his knees not quite brushing mine. “She’s accused of murder.”
“Stabbed her boyfriend…in the back…in cold blood.”
My reaction gushed from my mouth. “How can you be sure it was cold blood?” I sucked back a gasp at my gaffe. My question probably seemed strangely timed and oddly constructed. “I mean…it could have been self defense.”
He offered me a cold, hard stare with unblinking eyes. “I just know.”
“I guess I followed my lead at the wrong time. I got trapped riding out the storm…just like you.”
“What makes you think I got trapped?”
“If you’d had any choice, you would have left.”
My brother Tony forced me to stay, but he left me. A storm surge so strong it pulled the house out from under us knocked him into the sea. The Gulf of Mexico spit me back onto the beach as if the ocean didn’t like the way I tasted.
I survived, but I had no time to grieve. The realization impaled my heart.
Jake stretched out on his cot. “There’s a boat out of here tomorrow. It’s taking volunteers back to the mainland.” Galveston was in ruins. The thin strips of concrete that once connected the island to civilization lay scattered on the beach looking somewhat like a child's building blocks.
“There is?” I tried not to appear too interested.
“You didn’t know?” A different question danced in his eyes—a challenge of sorts. “So how long have you lived in Galveston?”
“Not long. My brother found a job. So I moved here a few months ago to be with him.”
“Where’s your brother now?”
I blinked at him. “He’s gone.”
His stern countenance wavered, but before I could embrace his presumed compassion, his expression settled into severity once again. “Now you’ll have to start your life over…again.” His eyes captured mine. A shiver of dread slithered down my spine. It was as if he knew me, even though he didn’t seem to know me. “Are you going to sleep?” He nodded toward my pillow as if he didn’t think my conscience would allow rest.
“I never sleep.”
Within minutes, he emitted soft puffs of breath, in and out, obviously lacking any guilt to keep him awake.
The shadows lengthened and receded over the locker room, drifting in and out of the grimy, shattered windows as if the world was still revolving around its axis on schedule. But I was sure it had stopped turning. I was the fugitive he sought.
The unrepentant sunshine streamed through the cracks, jubilant in its victory over the storm. Only five days since the devastation of Hurricane Irving and the sun acted as if nothing had ever happened. I turned away from the brightness with an ill-tempered snort.
Jake caught up with me on the gym floor. “Did you get any sleep?” His question hit me as a trifle vindictive.
“No. But you did.”
“I snore.” He grinned. Then his smile faded. “I thought you’d be gone this morning.”
“Why? I have to finish the job.”
The thought that pestered me all night erupted from my mouth. “What happens to that woman when you catch her?”
“She’ll go back to jail.” He stopped by the double doors and folded his arms over his chest, blocking my path. “Then she’ll go to trial.”
“What if she did what she had to do?”
“There was no evidence it was self defense.”
I stared hard at his implacable façade. How could the man be alternately warm and cold, compassionate and hard, flexible and unyielding? I stepped around him and entered the gym. There were already bodies lined up waiting for our initial inspection, so I began the task of collecting information from my column of the dead. The hours passed as I searched pockets and noted identifying characteristics on those with no papers or markings. I glanced toward the open door as two men begin loading the last group onto a waiting truck.
One more victim to notate. I squatted next to her. Even in partial decay, her features were enough like mine it pushed me back on my heels. I lifted her arm. My breath hitched. Her Social Security number was so nearly like mine. I scanned the gym. Jake, the one man who might care if she became me or I became her, was absent. With a few strokes of the pen, I could die and live again.
My heart pounded with the possibility I might get a chance to start over without the baggage of my past dragging me down. I changed her identity with a few swipes of a permanent marker. The number went onto my log with an unshaken hand, and I was free to escape the woman I used to be…the woman I didn’t want to be any longer.
About the author:Denise wrote her first story when she was in high school—seventeen hand-written pages on school-ruled paper and an obvious rip-off of the last romance novel she read. She earned a degree in accounting, giving her some nice skills to earn a little money, but her passion has always been writing. She has written numerous short stories and more than a few full-length novels. Her favorite pastimes when she’s not writing are spending time with her family, traveling, reading, and scrapbooking. She lives in Louisiana with her husband, two children, and one very chubby dog.
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