Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Featured Author: Sharon C. Cooper

About the book:

Alandra Pargas, ex-CIA counter-intelligence officer, plans to wreak vengeance on the people who tried to kill her. A little rendezvous with danger is not what scares her, though. It’s seeing the tall, dark, and dangerously sexy man she vowed to love forever that has her running for cover.

Former U.S. Special Operative, Quinn Hamilton, left the world of covert operations after the love of his life died in his arms during a black op. Three years later, he still loses sleep wondering if maybe he could have done something more to save her – until Alandra shows up on his doorstep. With her lies and betrayal, he wants nothing to do with her, yet, his heart won’t cooperate. It’s not until unknown enemies come after her that he must decide if he can leave the past behind and protect the woman he’ll always love. Will they survive this last mission and rekindle the love and passion they once shared?

Interview with Sharon C. Cooper

Sharon, can you describe your book in a tweet (140 characters or less)?

CIA counter-intelligence officer, Alandra, & U.S. Special Operative, Quinn, join forces- Rendezvous with Danger http://www.amazon.com/Rendezvous-Danger-Reunited-Series-ebook/dp/B00BLSR3Y6/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1362056882&sr=8-12&keywords=rendezvous+with+danger

How did you create the plot for this book?

The story-line for this novel gained momentum after I finished Blue Roses, book 1 of the Reunited Series. I received numerous emails from readers wanting to know more about Quinn Hamilton - the sexy, dangerous, and well-connected best friend of Tyler Hollister. I knew Quinn was a former Navy SEAL as well as an ex-Special Operative, and I knew he needed to be hooked up with an amazing woman.

I started with a short-story for Quinn – reintroducing him to readers and introducing his love interest, Alandra Pargas. The short story, "Secret Rendezvous," is a prequel to Rendezvous with Danger. NOTE: Secret Rendezvous is FREE on all online ebook retailers.

Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

I outline – especially for romantic suspense.

Did you have any say in your cover art?

This particular book was indie published. As an indie author, I have a say in every aspect of the publishing process, and I make all final decisions, such as which editor I’ll use, what type of photos I want used for the book cover, which retailers I’ll have my books with, etc.

What books have you read more than once or want to read again?

Redemption Song, by Dr. Bertice Berry is a book that I’ve read more than once. It’s a beautiful love story that is uniquely and wonderfully written. It’s my favorite because it’s a layered love story. Not just between a man and a woman, but love of family and their history. The story has a little bit of everything that kept me turning the pages - humor, drama, the amazing journey of two African American families whose lives intertwine over two or three generations...and the book also exposed the awesome power of love.

Do you have imaginary friends? When do they talk to you?

I’m not embarrassed to say that technically, I do have imaginary friends (smile). My characters are always rolling around in my head and often times while I’m working on their story, they take me on a different path than I intended to go with their character.

Do you have a favorite of your characters?

Of all of the stories that I’ve written, my favorite character has been Tyler Hollister, the hero in Blue Roses, book 1 of the Reunited Series. I absolutely love him! He is gorgeous, smart, wealthy, maybe a little arrogant, but also caring. He makes million dollar deals happen, but is just as comfortable playing a pick-up game of b-ball in the neighborhood he grew up in. And what I love most - he’s not afraid to go after what he wants – and he wanted Dallas Marcel (the heroine).

Which character did you most enjoy writing?

Though Tyler Hollister was my favorite character, I most enjoyed writing Quinn Hamilton from my latest release – Rendezvous with Danger, book 2 of the Reunited Series. As a former Navy SEAL and special operative, Quinn is totally alpha male.

If you could be one of your characters, which one would you choose?

I’d be Alandra Pargas, the heroin in my latest novel, Rendezvous with Danger. She has a black belt in Taekwondo; she’s a former CIA agent and is in love with a former Navy SEAL who is downright sexy. I think it would be kinda cool to have her wild and exciting life.

What song would you pick to go with your book?

"Reunited" by Peaches and Herb.

Which author would you most like to invite to dinner, and what would you fix me? I mean, him. Or her.

LOL! Though I would love to invite you, I would probably invite Beverly Jenkins. I wouldn’t take the liberty of preparing her anything I wanted (at first), I would ask if she had any dietary restrictions or foods she dislike. And if she didn’t I would probably do grilled salmon, brown rice, and a vegetable medley. For dessert I would probably do cheesecake...or chocolate chip cookies.

How do you handle criticism of your work?

A bestselling author once told me (prior to my first story being published) that “everyone is not going to like your story, but there will be so many others who do.” I try to keep that in mind – knowing that everyone has different taste when it comes to books/stories – I try not to get offended if someone can’t connect with one of my stories.

Excerpt from Rendezvous with Danger

Quinn continued to stare. The intensity in his midnight dark eyes scrutinized every inch of her.

“I don’t even know what to say to you,” he finally spoke just above a whisper, his voice laced with anguish.

Alandra looked at him, unsure of how to respond, but didn’t have to say anything when he continued.

“A part of me wants to wrap you in my arms and love on you so fierce that you’ll never want to leave me again, but then there’s the other part of me. The part that is mad as hell that my wife has been alive all this time, working in the city that I live in, and has never tried to contact me. That part of me wants nothing more than for you to get your ass out of my house and stay the hell out of my life...for good.”

Alandra reared back, stunned by the bitterness of his words. But what had she expected - to be welcomed with opened arms? Maybe not, but she had hoped they could at least talk. Yet, if she was honest with herself, she knew his unforgiving heart would rear its wicked head. He was the most committed, determined and trusted man to those he loved, but merciless toward his enemies. And right now she wasn’t sure how Quinn saw her.

Quinn released a long ragged sigh and leaned against a nearby wall, his muscular arms folded across his chest. “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through these last few years, thinking you were dead? Thinking I’d never be able to touch you, hold you, or make love to you? Hell, I watched you die, Alandra, in my arms! You have any idea what that feels like? To watch the one woman you loved more than life get gunned down.”

His voice broke, but he held his gaze steady, maintaining his usual tough-guy composure, and Alandra’s heart crumbled. She blinked rapidly to keep tears from falling. He had always been so hard, tough, and strong willed. It had been too easy for her to forget he was just a man. She drew in a deep breath as she walked toward him.

“Quinn, I’m sorry, but I lost too. I’ve missed you so much, and staying away was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. So many times I wanted to call you, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t safe.”

He pushed slowly away from the wall and approached her with concern in his eyes. “What do you mean it wasn’t safe?” He reached out to touch her, but dropped his arm.

Disappointment crept in when he took a step back as if she were toxic, as if touching her would somehow weaken him. Alandra swallowed hard and decided it was probably for the best. Had he pulled her into his arms, there was no telling what would happen. Besides, that wasn’t why she had come. Three years ago someone tried to kill her, and now she was determined to find out who and why, but she needed Quinn’s help.

She sighed, anxious about getting him to understand. “Quinn, I’m in the midst of something big and you’re going to blow my cover if you keep coming to the hospi—”

“Are you kidding me?” he yelled. His angry eyes pierced her soul deeper than any knife ever could. “This three year disappearance is connected to some goddamn op?”

She stepped to him and placed her hands on his chest in hopes of calming him down. “No. No, you don’t understand. It’s just that—”

“I can’t believe this shit!” He jerked away from her and raised his fist as if he were going to punch through the wall.

“Let me explain,” Alandra grabbed his arm.

He turned abruptly. “Explain? Hell, you’ve had three damn years to explain.”

“But I couldn’t. I—”

“Yeah, you could have,” he said in a hoarse whisper. He held her face in his large hands, his lips inches from hers. Her pulse quickened. “Lan, baby, there is nothing I wouldn’t have done for you including give my life. I mean absolutely nothing. And you knew that, so don’t tell me you didn’t have a choice.”


About the author

Bestselling author, Sharon C. Cooper, lives in Atlanta with her husband and enjoys reading, writing, and rainy days. She hasn't always been tied to a desk, a computer and a chair. Earlier in life, Sharon spent 10 years as a sheet metal worker. And while enjoying that unique line of work, she attended college in the evening and obtained her B.A. from Concordia University in Business Management with an emphasis in Communication. She writes sweet and contemporary romance, as well as romantic suspense. 

Sharon is a Pro member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), board member and member of Georgia Romance Writers (GRW), and a member of the Page a Day Writers Group. To read more about Sharon and her novels, visit www.sharoncooper.net

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Featured Author: Victoria Hamilton

I'm happy to be able to tell you about another great cozy mystery today. Author Victoria Hamilton is here as part of her tour with Cozy Mystery Book Tours to promote her book, Bowled Over, from the Vintage Kitchen Mystery series, published by Berkley Prime Crime. And find out at the bottom of this post how to enter (now through May 15) to win one of four prize packages sponsored by Cozy Mystery Book Tours.

About the book:

Stirring up trouble...

Vintage kitchenware and cookbook collector Jaymie Leighton has been estranged from her high school best friend Kathy Cooper since they were teenagers, but she never knew what turned Kathy against her. After fireworks at a Fourth of July picnic, Jaymie discovers the body of her former friend in the park. On the ground nearby is Jaymie’s own Depression-era glass bowl, broken in two.

With her fingerprints all over the bowl and a troubled history with the victim, Jaymie suddenly finds herself at the top of the list of suspects. Did the killer intend to frame her for the murder? If so, she is ready to mix it up, because solving crimes is vintage Jaymie Leighton…

Interview with Victoria Hamilton

Victoria, let's talk cozies! How long have you been writing, and how did you start?

I’ve been writing a long, long time! I wrote several unpublished (unpublishable?) mysteries before finding a publisher for a Regency romance I had written. What followed was about six years of writing Regency romances for Kensington Zebra, then a paranormal historical romance trilogy for Berkley Sensation, then another historical romance mystery trilogy, and finally, (ta-dah!) I found an agent who specializes in cozy mystery, and we signed a deal with Berkeley for my Vintage Kitchen Mystery series. What followed has been amazing. I now have three cozy series with Berkley!

What do you like best about writing?

I love almost everything about writing: working at home and on my own timeline, writing in my pajamas (just kidding, I get dressed...most days) and using my brain. Kinda.

What’s your least favorite thing?

My least favorite part of it all is outlining!!! Grrrr. It’s boring, and I’d rather be writing, but unfortunately I’ve found that with three series, I not only need to come up with a synopsis to satisfy my editor that I know what I’m going to be writing about, but also outlining saves me from the dreaded mid-book slump when I’ve written myself into a corner and can’t think of how to get out.

Did you have any say in your cover art?

I do a fair bit to influence the cover of my books. I provide the setting, and I always include some photos so the artist can see the item they are painting. For A Deadly Grind  I sent in photos of my actual kitchen cabinet (it’s not a Hoosier cabinet, but another brand), and except for a minor detail, it is the one you see depicted! For Bowled Over, I described my dream kitchen (it’s Jaymie’s kitchen coincidentally!) and sent in photos of the Depression bowls I portray in the book, the actual murder weapon! The one the artist chose to work with is my small green one, and the set of bowls on the shelf in the window is my Primary colors set!

I have a set just like that! They were handed down from my grandmother. Are you happy with the covers?

I love the covers...the first one had Hoppy, the Yorkie-Poo from the series, on it, and the second has Denver, the crabby tabby. Freezer I’ll Shoot (Book 3 of the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, out November 5th) is going to be equally as cute!

What’s your favorite line from a book?

Jane Austen from Emma: “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

I love that. It completely explains the variety of reviews a book gets, don't you think? How do you get to know your characters?

I live with them...no, really! I live with them in my head, and I know how they would react to everyday things. When I see something on TV, I know what Jaymie would think about it, or if I’m shopping and see a particularly heinous sweater with kittens and ribbons and bows, I know Valetta Nibley would love it!

I completely understand. My characters are my imaginary friends too. I hate to ask, but here's Sophie’s choice question: Do you have a favorite of your characters?

Impossible: I always do, (have a favorite character) but if you ask that question on a different day, it would be a different character. I’ve been writing for a long time and have written a lot of books. I think the reason I’ve been able to be prolific is because I have the ability to be enthusiastic about whatever I’m writing to the exclusion of anything else. So, when I’m writing the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries, I adore Valetta Nibley. When I’m writing my Merry Muffin Mysteries (Bran New Death – September 3rd, 2013) I have a ball with Doc English. I just recently finished Book 1 of my Teapot Collector series (writing as Amanda Cooper - June 2014) and I empathized so much with cranky, irascible Thelma Mae Earnshaw.

When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?

Not completely. I have a core cast to start with, but sometimes I need a new character to fill a certain role, or to perform some function. Some memorable folk have been born that way!

I troll obituaries and keep a list of possible names when I run across one I like. How do you name your characters?

This has got to be the most fun and yet most torturous ritual of writing, the name search. It’s a balancing act. I have a few rules I go by:

1 - Nothing that makes readers stop because they can’t figure out how to pronounce it.
2 – Nothing so dumb that the reader rolls their eyes, especially if this is a character who is going to be recurring.
3 – It’s good if the name fits the character’s personality, but if it doesn’t, there should be a reason. If I’m going to name a tough girl Muffy, there should be a story behind it.
4 – The name should be logical. I’m never going to name a 90-year-old woman Tiffany.

What would your main character say about you?

Jaymie Leighton would probably say that I have a mean streak, if I’m the reason people are getting bumped off in little old Queensville Michigan, when there hadn’t been a murder there in years! But she’d also probably tell me off for creating two opposite guys for her to mull over: steady, smart, wealthy Daniel Collins, who adores Jaymie and wants to marry her, and sexy, brooding, mysterious Detective Zachary Christian, who makes her heart flutter, but who treats her like a kid.

Are you like any of your characters? How so?

I’m like Jaymie Leighton (protagonist in the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries) in that I am a very settled person. I love my neighborhood and have no desire to leave. I always say, some people are born with wings, but I was born with roots, and they are deep in the earth of my hometown.

What are your favorite books a) as a child b) as a teenager c) as an adult?

Oooh, I love talking about books!! I learned to read young and lived in a house where reading was encouraged. It’s honestly the best thing you can do for a child, to persuade them to read. I read the Freddy the Pig books by Walter Brooks when I was really young, especially Freddy the Detective.

When I was about twelve or so, my mom handed me an Agatha Christie book, and I was hooked. I read hundreds of traditional, mostly British, mysteries. As a teen I got into science fiction and read Heinlein and Asimov, but then I got interested in classic literature and read all of Jane Austen’s books. I went on to read the Brontes and Dickens.

Now I read a lot of different stuff, from traditional mysteries by my colleagues at Berkley Prime Crime, to historical mysteries by Stephanie Barron (don’t get me started on her novel A Flaw in the Blood...brilliant!!) and anything by Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. For some reason I love tough girl mysteries! I also read pseudo literary works; I adored The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Wish she’d write more.

Well, in that case, allow me to introduce you to a mystery you might like: Murder & Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction. (Sorry. Can't stop promoting.) Which author would you most like to invite to dinner, and what would you fix me? I mean, him. Or her.

LOL! Come on over any time...I love to cook. Well, I would say Sue Grafton, but she has a chef working for her and my cooking wouldn’t measure up! Janet Bolin (Threadville Mysteries) lives pretty close to me; if she came over I’d make my world famous (in my household) spaghetti.

Coincidentally, Sue Grafton doesn't live far from me. I covet her house. But I doubt she'd come for dinner. What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?

I am reading Louise Penny’s Dead Cold in trade paperback size. I have never read any of her books, but I was caught immediately by her characterization and am enjoying it so far.

How do you handle criticism of your work?

It used to crush me when someone didn’t like my work, but I have no problem anymore, and I’ll tell you a couple of the ways I got here.

First...years of criticism have left me easy about it; I have a hide like a rhino and that toughmindedness has bled over into my personal life. It’s hard to offend me. I’ve been praised, and I’ve been ripped to shreds, often for the same book. A review is a personal opinion and no two people will take away the same thing from a book, movie, piece of art or song. That is the beauty of art in every form; it stimulates discussion and makes you think. This is a good thing!

But I would advise any writer who has a problem with criticism to go to a review site like Goodreads or Amazon and find their favorite book of all time, then read all of the reviews. You will be astonished at how someone can loathe a book you adore! I did that with both A Flaw in the Blood (Stephanie Barron) and The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) and was astonished at what a different take other readers have on books I love. If that’s true of their books, how can I be upset that it happens with mine?

Exactly. That's what I meant a few minutes ago about Jane Austin's quote. And you're right. Even books that are wildly popular get a few one and two-star ratings and negative reviews. Do you have a routine for writing? Do you work better at night, in the afternoon, or in the morning?

I do have a routine. I get up in the morning, plant my butt in front of my computer and work as long as I can stand. I write best in the morning, then have lunch and do promotion work, answer letters, etc.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do when it happens?

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Maybe that’s why I never get it. If I am having trouble and the work isn’t going smoothly, then there is something wrong with my approach to the story, or I haven’t thought far enough in advance, and better planning is the solution.

Is there anything in particular that you do to help the writing flow? Music? Acting out the scene? Long showers?

Oddly enough, I have just begun to experiment with music. I put my headphones on and put on Erik Satie’s "GymnopĂ©die #1" while writing Book 2 of my Merry Muffin Mysteries, Muffin but Murder. I wrote swiftly and perfectly a really emotional scene, one I didn’t even know was in there. It was weird! Rachmaninov’s "The Isle of the Dead" is going to be on my headphones when I write a tense, scary scene. I’ve always had kind of a ‘soundtrack’ in my mind, but now I’m wondering, would readers be interested in me putting together a ‘soundtrack’ to read by?

Very possible. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I have so many hobbies and interests I’m never going to have enough time for everything. I love to collect: I collect kitchen gadgets and vintage bowls, teapots and teacups. I like crafts. I crochet and cross stitch, make jewelry, and cook. I have tried watercolor painting before, but I get so discouraged because I’m not very good. I read as much as I can, and sing!

What are you working on now?

I am writing Book 2 of my Merry Muffin Mysteries, Muffin But Murder. The Merry Muffin Mysteries are written in the first person from the protagonist, Merry Wynter’s viewpoint, and will include two or three recipes in each book. I am so anxious to know what readers think when the first book, Bran New Death, comes out on September 3rd of this year!

I'm looking forward to hearing more about it!

I thought Tess might have more in common with Victoria's Bowled Over main character, Jaymie, so I asked her to do this next interview. I think they hit it off. Read on!

Tess Tremaine talks with Jaymie Leighton

I'm not sure if I found Amy or if Amy found me. How did you first meet Victoria?

She found me! I was just living my life in Queensville, Michigan, going about my business (and healing my broken heart) when she plopped a dead body on my sun porch, or so I’ve heard. I don’t think she had anything to do with it; it just happened that way, and she wrote about it!

Did you ever think that your life would end up being in a book?

Never! I am the most boring girl of all time, and if I hadn’t bought that Hoosier cabinet at an auction (A Deadly Grind – May 2012), no one would have heard a word about me.

Lucky for us, you did buy that cabinet. Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.

Well, I don’t know if I’d call it my favorite, but there is a scary scene where I am doing my best to avoid being killed! My favorite part is that I made it out alive.

Oh my gosh, tell me about it. Is there a scene you’d like Victoria to write for you?

If anyone else has any pull, could you please tell Victoria to let the detective kiss me, for crying out loud, just so I have something to compare? I really like Daniel, and kissing him is nice, but I don’t think I’m going to get rid of the butterflies in my stomach when Detective Zack is around until I know for sure that he’s not the one.

I hear you, sister. Victoria, do you hear her?! Let the woman kiss the nice detective, please. You're killing us! Jaymie, What do you like to do when you are not being actively read somewhere?

I love love love going to garage sales, thrift stores, auctions, estate sales...anywhere I can find more kitchen stuff and/or cookbooks!

Tell the truth. What do you think of your fellow characters?

I love my sister, Becca, so much, and I’ve been a little surprised to find out that people don’t like her! She may be bossy, but she’s not nasty. For heaven’s sake, hasn’t anyone ever had a sister like that, well meaning but irritating from time to time?

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

I’d need more than a day, more like a week. If I had the free time, I would head out (probably with Valetta) on a cross state shopping tour and hit every antique mall, garage sale, thrift store and junk yard out there! My real ambition is to rent a U-haul and travel the 127 Sale, the World’s Longest Yard Sale, according to the website! Want to go with us? Check it out here.

Yes, I've heard of that and always thought it would be fun to do. 

What's the worst thing that's happened in your life? What did you learn from it?

I’ve been so lucky in my life; my parents are healthy, my sister, too, all my friends, so I have to go back a ways for one of the worst things. It’s hard to talk about, but losing a best friend in high school was awful. Kathy just stopped talking to me one day and wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. Now I know, and it just makes it worse. If you have read Bowled Over, you’ll know what this is all about. I don’t like to talk about it much, and all I can do is try to get past it, since I can’t make it better.

Tell us about your best friend.

Recently I’ve become friends with Anna and Clive Jones, who own and run the bed and breakfast next door, but Anna and I don’t have that much in common. So though I never really thought of her as such, I guess my real best friend is Valetta Nibley. She’s a lot older than I am—-she went to school with my sister Becca, who is fifteen years older than I am--but we both love thrift shops and yard sales and collecting. She’s even snoopier than I am, and she’s smart and fun to be with.

What are you most afraid of?

Losing my parents. 

What’s the best trait your author has given you?

I like to think I am responsible for my own traits, thank you very much. I’m curious and adaptable, but I get bored quickly. I guess that’s why I have about five jobs; I like bouncing around from one to the other. No two days are the same, and I like that.

Well, I don't want to burst your bubble, but Amy always reminds me that she gives me my good qualities and she can take them away. What do you like best about your boyfriend, Daniel Collins?

Daniel is a great guy; he’s patient and caring and smart. He’s a great kisser. He’s generous. But there is something there, something I just can’t put my finger on. He’s elusive about his past relationships, and I’m worried he’s just anxious to get married and have a family and sees me as a good woman to do that with, rather than being madly in love with me. I don’t want to be asked to marry someone just because I’m suitable.

Take it from me, darlin': wait for love! How do you feel about your life right now? Is there anything you'd like to change?

I’m good with where I am...I’m excited for the future, and hope one day I’ll get my cookbook finished and published. But I’m so uncertain about my love life. Everyone keeps telling me to jump on Daniel because he’s rich and a really nice guy. But I would never just leap at him because he’s got money. I like him, but is it love? If it isn’t, will it ever be? He wants an answer by Christmas, and I just don’t know what I’m going to tell him. I was burned by Joel, and I’m in no hurry to go down that path again, but Daniel wants to move forward.

Sounds like I’m obsessed with my love life, but that’s not true. Actually, Daniel spends a fair bit of time away, taking care of business, so we don’t’ spend all that much time together. I suppose my life would be perfect if dead bodies would just stop getting in my way!

I'd say move to Goose Pimple Junction, but things aren't much better here. We've had more dead bodies this year than I think they've ever had. Weird. Especially since it's such a nice friendly town. Describe the town where you live.

Queensville, Michigan is a small town on the St. Clair River, right across from Johnsonville, Ontario. We are also partly on Heartbreak Island, a little heart-shaped island in the middle of the St. Clair. It’s a great town, kinda touristy, with a century and a half old general store called the Queensville Emporium where I work part time. The people are good folks, and despite a lot of them being older, they are not as mired in the past as you would expect. I love that there are all kinds of quirky shops in Queensville, more every summer; it’s beginning to get a reputation as a good tourist stop for those who like quiet rather than bustling.

What's an average day in your life like?

There is no average day in my life! I work at the Emporium some days, and fill in at the junk store others. I run my vintage picnic basket business, and rent out our family cottage – Rose Tree Cottage - on Heartbreak Island, which requires cleaning and maintenance between guests.

Will you encourage Victoria to write a sequel?

I guess I don’t have to encourage her! Apparently there is a third book coming out in November called, for some weird reason, Freezer I’ll Shoot, and then there will be at least two more, Victoria says! I’m afraid that means my life is going to stay exciting. You know that ancient curse, ‘may you live in interesting times’? I think that’s my life for the foreseeable future!

Ooops, I have to go! There’s an estate sale in Wolverhampton, and I’ve heard they have a lot of vintage kitchen stuff for sale!

Wait for me! I'm coming too.

About the author:

Victoria Hamilton is the pseudonym for nationally bestselling author Donna Lea Simpson. As Victoria, she writes the bestselling Vintage Kitchen Mystery series (Book 1 – A Deadly Grind – May 2012) and the upcoming Merry Muffin Mysteries, also from Berkley (Book 1 – Bran New Murder – September 3rd, 2013). Victoria loves cooking and collecting vintage kitchen utensils, as well as reading and writing mysteries.

Website | Blog | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter | Publisher | Amazon

The Fantastic 4 Cozy Mystery Book Tour Giveaway

There will be four prize packages:

Prize 1 (US/Canada only)
* a Kindle Touch
* a $15 Amazon.com giftcard

Prize 2 (International)
* a Kindle copy of Topped Chef and Bowled Over
* a $15 Book Depository giftcard

Prize 3 (International)
* a Kindle copy of Murder on the First Day of Christmas & Game Drive
* a $15 Amazon.com giftcard

Prize 4 (US/Canada)
* your choice of a cozy mystery paperback (up to $25 in value)

To enter:
1. Fill in the form here.
2. There is no requirement to follow any of the blogs participating, but we hope you will support these amazing blogs by following them. They do a great job, many of whom host for us every month.
3. Giveaway ends on May 15, 2013 at midnight and the winners will be contacted via email.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Featured Author: Susan Mac Nicol

Susan Mac Nicol is here as part of her tour with Virtual Writers, to talk about Cassandra by Starlight, her contemporary romantic suspense novel published by Boroughs Publishing Group.

About the book: 

A London woman is swept off her feet into the glamorous yet surprisingly dangerous world of an up-and-coming star of stage and screen.  Unconventional though she may be, Cassandra Wallace leads the life of an average Londoner, from blind dates to rush hour traffic. Then, along comes Bennett Saville. Sensitive, charming, erudite, the up-and-coming actor is like the hero of a romantic movie. He counteracts the tragedy that brought them together, and from the tips of his Armani loafers to that scorching hot kiss he seems absolutely perfect. Only, he’s ten years younger and from the upper class, and those emerald eyes beget dangerous secrets. The world is a stage, full of hungry leading ladies, and how long can any fairy tale last before a villain appears? Yet, on Bennett’s arm each new day is an adventure, and a true romance will always find its happy ending.

Interview with Susan Mac Nicol

Susan, how long have you been writing, and how did you start?

I’ve always written whether it be short stories, poetry or songs. I have an uncompleted fantasy novel in my drawer that I started when I was 16 years old – it’s 30,000 words and hasn’t moved in *muffles voice so no can hear* years. But last year when I got the idea for Cassandra by Starlight, the words just seemed to flow. I found that elusive muse that I’d missed for so long. It took hold of me with a passion I hadn’t felt before. Now I can’t not write.

I feel I’m cheating myself if I don’t share the thoughts, characters and world creations in my head with my laptop, with the hope of eventually bringing them to the reader. It drives my family crazy as they’ve just lost their mother and their wife to the laptop and the inner workings of her own fevered brain.

The same thing happened to me! What do you like best about writing? What’s your least favorite thing?

The thing I like best is that I can create my own worlds and fantasies and populate them with characters. I try and develop them the way I want, but they don’t always do as they’re told. Sometimes they go off at a tangent and take me to places I really don’t know I was headed. And that’s fine. It’s what characters do. So this constant journey to places I’m in with people that are forever steering me in another direction--that is just such a hoot and a rush.

But it also means the rush has to end and you have to come down from the high. And that’s the bit I don’t like. I have to set aside my virtual, fantasy world and come back to reality, to eat, to make nice with real people and do the day job. And I know this sounds a little freaky and that’s also all right. I think every writer feels the same; some just don’t admit it.

I think you're right. Do you have another job outside of writing?

I have a full time job as Regulatory Compliance Officer in the lovely city of Cambridge (UK).  It’s a pretty dry and involved job which entails reading lots of European legislation and seeing how we can apply it to the business in a way that’s commercially viable. Not very exciting to an outsider, but it can be fun. I look after implementing solutions to reduce Financial Crime aspects such as Anti Money Laundering and Fraud, so it can get a little interesting.

Very interesting. How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

Contemporary London. Meet a handsome actor, a sexy older woman, a crazy  stalker, a schizophrenic mother, a gay best friend. Sheer escapism.

I'm sold! Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

I’m not a plotter. I am a pantser. I start out with an idea, the first line in fact, and then the words just flow. I do make a list of the main characters with a few lines on each about looks and character. Then as I write, I add the incidents to what I call my ‘Timeline’ sheet so I can keep track of when I had what happen. It saves reading back through the story too much. I have absolutely no idea where I’m going with the story until I get there. In the end it all seems to come together. I think the characters tend to dictate where I go. *Listens to the voices in her head* Hi guys, good to see you again.

What do you do to market your book?

Obviously this is the other part of writing a book that you have to work on. Gone are the days of you simply being the creative talent behind the story. Now you have to promote yourself and the book too.

Before I started on this caper, I didn’t have any social networks. I pooh-poohed Twitter, hated Facebook, and didn’t know about anything else out there. Wow. Was I ever a virgin. Now I know more about social media marketing than I ever wanted to learn.

I’ve learnt how to ‘Facebook.’ I have my own author page as well as a personal account which is used for my writing anyway. I’ve learn how to tweet and how to target my audience for best impact. I use Pinterest to show my book in pictures. I’m on Linkedin. I use Amazon Author Pages, Goodreads to showcase my books and tell people about what I’m reading. I have my own website. I run two blogs, one in Wordpress linked to my site and one in tumblr to target other audience mix. I have a book trailer. I’ve been interviewed by local newspapers, been on a local radio station and had e-book signings at libraries. I comment on my publisher’s blogs, contribute to their newsletters and showcase stuff on their Facebook page. In short, I think I’ve done everything I can to try and get my work out there.

When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?

No, I have no idea. I know who the main three or four might be, and I have a vague idea what I want them to be like. But the others tend to creep up on me when I’m not looking.

Take Dylan Donahue, for example. He simply and very rudely insinuated himself into the conversation in the car on Bennett and Cassie’s first date. I had no idea he was popping in, and once he was there, it was very hard not to write the character of a more mature friend to Bennett, who was gay, Irish, totally wicked and a complete nutter for the most part. He’s got no shame in shooting his mouth off, much to the eternal shame of his long suffering partner, Alec, whom he tends to embarrass every time he gets the chance. He and Bennett have this incredible relationship as a straight man and a gay man and it was a lot of fun to write.

What would Cassandra say about you?

Hmm. It probably wouldn’t start off complimentary. Driven, focused, obsessive, impatient, control freak, and total arsehole when it comes to shutting people out and writing, ignoring them at all costs. But I’d also hope they might say creative, warm, humorous, aspiring to be more considerate, loyal, principled, and a good writer. I guess that’s up to him. He can be a bit of an arrogant tosser himself, mind you.

Are any of your characters inspired by real people? Who?

And this is where I effuse...the lead man, Bennett Saville, was inspired by a wonderful British actor we have the honour to have here in the UK. He goes by the rather unlikely name of Benedict Cumberbatch. The BBC TV series, ‘Sherlock,’ in which he performed opened my eyes to this young actor, and I confess I’m a bit of a fan girl of his. So when I was looking for a lead man, where better to base him than in London, in the acting and film profession, and modeled (very loosely, she hastens to add) on Mr. Cumberbatch. My book dedication even mentions him as I thank ‘Mr BC’ - without the inspiration for Bennett, I don’t think I’d have been as enthused to write the story.

As for Cassie- the book refers to her looking like Michelle Pfeiffer, although Cassie is younger than Ms. Pfeiffer. So while that might not be the ideal choice, I think the beautiful Naomi Watts might be. She would certainly bring the sexy and alluring Cassie to life and seeing Benedict Cumberbatch and Naomi together in the main roles seems like a match made in heaven.

Are you like any of your characters? How so?

Yes. Cassie is very much modeled on my experiences and my character. Physically, we’re certainly not alike, I wish I looked like her, but there are definite similarities. I was in a car accident and suffered the same injury she did, the broken femur. A lot of my own beliefs and opinions come out of her mouth, the reason she holds back emotionally is something I suffered and overall, her general feistiness and strength and of course, weaknesses, are my own too. We like the same music, read the same books and hold the same dreams. In the second book of the series we find out how she practiced Wicca, something I do too.

What song would you pick to go with your book?

The whole Starlight series was written to the music of Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds album. The song If I had A Gun is Cassie and Bennett’s song. It’s the song that’s playing in the car on the first date, and it’s the song Bennett (who’s not much of a dancer) requests at the end of the third book, to celebrate his and Cassie’s momentous  w****** event. I’ll leave this to your imagination as I don’t want to spoil it.

I loved the words to this particular song, seeing in my mind’s eye Cassie watching Bennett and almost agreeing with the words as to how ‘Godlike' he was to her when she first met him. It’s really sexy.

How do you handle criticism of your work?

I have to confess I’ve been fortunate in not having to tackle too much negativity so far. Yes, there has been the occasional review which didn’t please me, but you know what? It’s a personal choice for a reviewer and not everyone sees the world or my book like I do. I’ve been honoured to have reviews that for the most part like my writing and my stories and have said as much. I’m actually not one to let a bad review affect me too much. I’d rather shrug it off and get over it. The good stuff people say far outweighs the bad.

Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?

My writing tends to get done when I arrive home after six pm each day. I’ll have a quick Coke or a cup of tea, watch someone make dinner (I don’t cook much, the husband and kids prefer to do that so I’m fortunate in that respect) then settle down in the lounge in the corner of the couch with my laptop on my knees. The family talk around me, the TV blares, the dog throws his ball at me in the hope I’ll throw it for him--but I shut the world out and simply write. Often to the detriment of said family who stare at me in frustration when they haven’t yet had an answer to a question. Sorry, guys. You know what I’m like.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do when it happens?

So far I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve always had the inspiration and the story has simply been written. I did struggle a little on the last one, the crime thriller, as it was something new, and I was out of my romance comfort zone. But it didn’t take long and the words flowed again. I tend to simply leave something to stew when it isn’t working, do something else then go back to it.

If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? (Don’t worry about the money. Your publisher is paying. )

I want to go New England in the US and go to Maine. I’m a huge Stephen King fan, and I want to visit his rather quirky house and go meet him for a cool drink on the porch. I have an affinity for this part of the States even though I’ve never been there before. I love the look, sight and sound of it and I’d really love to visit it and spend more time there. I want to eat the famous lobster, look at the beautiful New England scenery, especially in the fall, and admire the architecture and cool colours of the New England houses.

I'm with you there. Maine is one of my favorite places. Although I've never met Steven King. What are you working on now?

I currently have the last book in the Starlight series waiting at my editor, along with three other full length books she’s going to be busy with.

Saving Alexandria is a tale about a woman with a violent past who needs a saviour to help her fight her demons and find peace. It’s a rather erotic and spicy novel with elements of S and M, based again in the film world with a handsome lead actor called Sage and Alex, a woman who simply wants to be loved.

Then there’s a two book series called Double Alchemy, which is a paranormal romance suspense involving Wicca, Warlocks, and witchcraft and set close to home in my home county of Essex. The story of a powerful Warlock, Quinn, and his independent and fiery partner, Kate, will take the reader into seventeenth century witch hunts, dark alter egos and modern reincarnations of historical villains.

Then as I’ve mentioned, there’s Born Human, my detective/crime thriller with a rather contentious theme that a reader will either agree or disagree with, the theme of retribution. Finally, I’m trying my hand at writing a gay romance (male/male) called Loving Matthew with what I hope is an engaging storyline and believable characters. It’s a first for me, and I have some help in the guise of a male gay friend who will help me with *ahem* reviewing the sex scenes for realism. It’s a win win situation for both of us....

Wow. You've put me to shame. Do come back when these books are released. I'd love to hear more about them.

Excerpt from Cassandra By Starlight

Chapter 1

The day the sky fell changed Cassie Wallace’s world forever. She woke up that morning with the expectation that this day would be like any other. She also had a slight hangover from the abundance of wine she’d drunk the night before to try and get through a blind date organised by her work colleague, Sarah.

The evening had been a total disaster. Not only had the man been an absolute misogynist, one of the cardinal male sins on Cassie’s unwritten list, he’d also had a habit of leering at her chest every time he spoke as if he thought it might talk back to him.

She’d smiled politely whilst thinking she’d like to take his smarmy public school tie and shove it down his throat. When she’d finally left at around eleven, she hadn’t been able to get away fast enough.

She stood in her bedroom, checking her outfit in the mirror and sighed.

Was it too much to ask to find a decent man just to share things with and have a good time? They all seemed to be absolute idiots and in the old but true cliché, only interested in one thing.

Cassie had been out on a few dates in the past few months but somehow she never made it past the first one. A previous date gone wrong had told her she was too independent and perhaps a little bit ‘emotionally challenged, not affectionate enough’ for him.

She’d shrugged this off but it had hurt her deep down especially as she knew it to be true.

My bloody expectations aren’t even that high, she thought in exasperation as she fastened her necklace. It’s not as if I’m such a great bloody catch myself! Middle-aged and not really all that exciting. I’ll take what I can get within reason.

Cassie smoothed her skirt down over her hips and picked up her handbag.

When she left the house at six thirty, it was a typical dark English winter morning. Forty- five minutes later she was sitting in the traffic on the motorway, listening to the news bulletin.

“Bloody idiot,” she mumbled in between bites of a banana that she had hastily grabbed on her way out. “He wouldn’t know a bloody budget if his life depended on it. Silly sod has got no idea how to run a bloody country.”

She crept forward in her Honda Jazz at about two miles an hour, watching the traffic in front which seemed to have ground to a halt for no reason at all.

I really need to try and find something closer to home, she thought, not for the first time. This travelling lark is really starting to piss me off. Four hours a day in traffic is not my idea of time well spent.

Cassie wasn’t sure what other quality pastimes she’d be engaging in if she did have more free time, given her current ‘lack of male’ situation but she supposed she’d find something. Join a book club perhaps, or find more time to get to the gym. She might even start writing that novel she’d always planned on doing.

Her fingers impatiently drummed on the steering wheel in time to a melody on the radio. In response to another bulletin by the newscaster regarding the level of binge drinking in the county, she burst into a further diatribe. “For God’s sake, let the bloody idiots lay where they fall. If they had any brains they wouldn’t let it get that far so they needed an ambulance to take them to A and E. It’s my taxpaying money that’s looking after these morons!”

She glanced at the clock on the display. Seven thirty a.m. She’d be lucky to make it in on time today.

The story of my life, she thought resignedly. Slow death by traffic jam.

The traffic still seemed to show no signs of moving any time soon. She switched off the engine and took out her Kindle. She may as well catch up on her reading whilst she had nothing better to do.

Her concentration span was low as she tried to read. Last night’s ‘date’ kept replaying itself in random snippets of conversation. Cassie could still hear Ron’s supercilious comment about women needing to have a man in their lives to keep them focused on what was important—the man and the provision of all his needs.

She’d almost choked on her wine when she’d heard this and only just stopped herself retorting sarcastically that as a man’s needs were so simple, the only ‘provision’ they really needed was a soft toy shaped like a pair of boobs to play with and talk at. As she had very little money in her purse other than her taxi fare home, she’d stopped herself.
After the hell she’d been through sitting and listening to Ron’s drivel, the least she’d make him do was pay for dinner. Cassie had made a decision after last night. She’d stay home with her own company for the near future, with a bottle of wine and a couple of decent movies. She’d rather drool over a virtual Mark Harmon in NCIS than a real life douche bag like the Ronalds of his world. As for sex—well, that was what vibrators were made for.

It was nearly ten minutes later before the car in front of her re-started its engine and she followed suit and sped up to about twenty miles an hour as the queue took flight. She settled in as it got back up to the more respectable speed of fifty miles an hour.

As she drove she glanced idly up at the foot bridges to see the people strolling with dogs, on bicycles and footing it on their way to work.

At the bridge just ahead she saw a solitary figure leaning over looking down at the motorway below. She slowed down a little. Ever since those incidents a few weeks ago when someone had thrown a concrete bucket off the bridge at a passing car, she tended to be wary of people standing watching the traffic.

The figure didn’t appear to have anything in its hands but then she had only caught a glimpse of it before turning her eyes back to the road. She increased her speed as the traffic flowed easier.

There was no warning, just a sudden deafening bang of metal as the windscreen of her car collapsed inwards. Cassie screamed in terror as glass flew towards her like wafer thin slivers from a frozen icicle. Her hands left the steering wheel in panic, her foot pressing down on the accelerator.

The Honda Jazz went out of control, spinning around like a dirt dervish. Debris from the windscreen flew like lethal missiles around the interior of the car. Cassie cried out in pain as she was subject to a vicious assault by anything lying loose in her vehicle. She tried to cover her face in an instinctive reflex but her left arm seemed unresponsive. The pain horrifying. She whimpered as she glanced down and saw the bone shard sticking out.
In her pain and terror she didn’t notice that the car had stopped spinning. Everything went quiet. Cassie lay slumped in the driver seat, dazed and unresponsive as the shock set in. She could hear the sounds of people shouting and heard someone asking her if she was all right.

She vaguely registered the sound of screeching metal as someone tried to pull the driver door open. It was as if everything was being done underwater. The sounds were muted and her brain was sluggish.

The older man looking in at her from the road was speaking but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. Cassie looked at him blankly. She couldn’t see clearly, as if a can of fine red spray-paint had been aimed at her and the nozzle depressed, coating her eyes. She tried to move her body but the pain in her right leg was excruciating.

She watched dully as the man outside starting pulling away metal struts and twisted the door to get inside to her. She could hear his voice vaguely now, a rough London Cockney accent as he spoke reassuringly whilst trying to free her.

“All right, darling? Just stay calm and I’ll try and get to you. The ambulance is on its way. They’ve told me not to move you so I just want to try get in and keep you company till they arrive. You look as if you could do with a bit of company. Just stay with me now. Don’t go anywhere.”

He smiled at her, trying to keep her reassured. With a final tug at the door, he made enough of a space to squeeze in slightly and he took her right hand, avoiding the bad condition of her left arm with its broken bone. Her hand was freezing and he rubbed it gently.

“There we go. That should feel better. You just stay calm now and we’ll have you back to your old man in no time.” He continued holding her hand, talking to her as she slipped in and out of consciousness.

In one of her lucid periods she raised an unsteady hand to her face to wipe her eyes. The fog cleared a little and she was able to focus, then desperately wished she hadn’t. Lying in front of her, across the bonnet, was a face, pulped and looking as if dark sticky jam had been smeared all over it.

She could see the eyes open, looking at her and she could see the mouth forming words before she screamed and screamed and eventually the fog of blackness claimed her and the face could be seen no more.

Doctor Ian Spencer frowned as he read the patient chart in his hand. He glanced at the patient, an old man in his seventies, matted grey hair curling around his face like tendrils of an octopus, framing a bucolic face of cherry red, his bulbous nose caked with fresh snot.

“Up to your old tricks again, Terry?” the ER doctor asked resignedly. “I thought perhaps last time we had reached an understanding of sorts?”

The old man chuckled hoarsely.

“The drink beckoned again, Doctor, I’ve told you before, cider waits for no man.” He coughed, his body wracked with spasms. The doctor motioned with a hand to the waiting nurse who offered Terry a glass of water. He drank it greedily and lay back in the hospital bed.

Ian Spencer made a notation in his patient’s chart.

“You realise this time, Terry, you’ve really outdone yourself? You had what we call a minor varicose bleed which basically means your insides leaked with blood because they couldn’t do what they were supposed to do. I managed to stabilise you and you’ve been in intensive care for two days. Given the state of your liver you were very lucky not to have it worse. As it is, you’ll need to be here a few more days before I can release you.”

“I’m very grateful to you, Doctor.” Terry leered at the nurse who moved out of the way of his groping left hand. “I can always count on you to put me right.”

“Not always, Terry, not always.” Ian passed the chart to the nurse and continued on his way.

He’d just completed his surgical rounds and was walking down the hospital corridor when he heard an ambulance arrive and saw the frenetic activity bursting through the double doors. He heard the ambulance staff calling out their incoming triage procedures to the attending doctor and watched as a trolley with a woman covered in blood was wheeled into the waiting operating theatre.

One of the staff nurses, Judy, a good friend, hurried past him.

“I don’t believe this one,” she muttered to him. “Some poor woman minding her own business on the motorway and somebody falls on top of her car. We were lucky no one else was hurt as well when she spun around or we’d be running out of space this morning.”

“What about the man who fell?”

“He’s dead, poor bugger.” Judy’s voice was terse as she hurried off.

It was some hours later in passing Ian saw his colleague, fellow trauma surgeon Phil Moodley, come out of the operating theatre where the woman had been wheeled.

“Phil!” Ian hurried to catch up with him. “Wait up.”

Phil turned and proffered a tired smile when he saw Ian.

“Ian, how are things? I’m just on my way to catch a few minutes doze. It’s been a long day.”

“How did things go in there?” Ian motioned to the OR. “I heard she was hit by a man falling on her car.”

“Yes, it was very bad. The poor woman has a ruptured spleen, a hairline skull fracture, a
broken femur and radius, and a wealth of lacerations and internal bruising.” He frowned.
“She also has a small foreign body embedded in her left temple. It’s in an awkward place and fairly deep. I’ve recommended not removing it at this time. I’m not sure it would be prudent. It doesn’t appear itself to be life threatening. She’ll be in intensive care for some time. I need to keep an eye on her for any possible embolism. She’ll probably need some physical therapy afterwards if there are no complications.”

He squinted at Ian with tired eyes. “You seem interested in this one, Ian? Did you know anyone involved?”

Ian shook his head. “I was involved in a similar situation some years ago when I was at Lakeview Hospital and that one—that one I did know. The person that fell though, not the victim.”

Phil nodded his head.

“This woman was very lucky, the young man was not. He was dead at the scene. His relatives are on their way.”

Ian nodded. “Thanks, Phil. You’d best get off and get that sleep, you look all out of it.”

Phil patted Ian’s arm and wandered down towards the staff room. Ian wouldn’t tell Phil the real reason for his interest. It was too personal and no one in the hospital knew anything about his reason for leaving Lakeview three years ago and joining Tilhurst Hospital on the outskirts of Essex.

In 2009, his wife Sandra had jumped off a foot bridge straight into the path of a passing mini-van. To this day he had no idea why. The mini-van driver, a young man called Freddy Clifford, who had just become a father, had died in the incident with Sandy. The feelings of guilt for both Sandy’s and the man’s death (he should’ve known what was going on in his own marriage for God’s sake!) had never left him.

He’d left Lakeview and started again where no one knew his history and no one could feel sympathy for him. He felt he didn’t deserve it. He was sure a psychiatrist would have some insight to offer on his reaction but he had never engaged with one, preferring as he did to manage it himself.

Ian made his way over to the nurses’ station outside intensive care. He saw Nurse Angie, a bubbly young woman with bleached blonde hair and a Carry On set of breasts, sitting behind the desk. She smiled as she saw him approach.

There were more than a couple of nurses who’d tried to form a relationship with him but none of them had been successful so far.

“Doctor. What can I do for you?”

“The woman that Dr. Patel has just operated on—can you tell me a little bit about her? How’s she doing?”

Angie consulted her notes.
“Let me see. Hmm, she’s in a private ICU room, so she must have great insurance. Room 310. Cassie Wallace, forty-seven years old, divorced. Her sister is coming in to see her. She’s on her way from Kent.”

She looked at Ian enquiringly. “Has Dr. Patel asked you to keep an eye on her?”

Ian shook his head. “No, just curious about how she’s doing. It just seems so tragic, minding your own business then POW! You find yourself in this situation. Thanks for the info, Angie.”

Ian made his way towards Room 310. He couldn’t say why he was so interested in this woman, only that he felt he had to find out more about her.

He clothed himself up with a mask and gloves and nodded at the ICU nurses as he walked through the main ward to the private ones at the back. The hum of machines and the absolute quiet in the ward was strangely restful. Ian reached Room 310, opened the door and slipped in.

Cassie Wallace lay on her back, surrounded by soft light from the equipment. The constant beep of the life support machines and monitoring equipment comforted Ian. This unit was dedicated to keeping people alive with the best care the hospital could provide. Cassie Wallace was in good hands.

Cassie had her left arm in a splint, her fingers cold and pale like soft, limp white gloves. Her right leg with its broken femur rested on the bed covers. Ian guessed she had pins and rods inside keeping it together.

Her face was battered and bruised from the accident. He could see the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Her pale strawberry blonde hair was spread across the pillow like soft gold straw, with a large bald patch on the left side where Dr Patel had shaved her skull.

Even through the cuts and bruises, Ian could see she was a very attractive woman. Not just pretty or beautiful, but with a look of her own that even under current circumstances made her look younger than her forty-seven years. She reminded him very much of a curvier Michelle Pfeiffer. A noise at the door made him turn. Judy stood there, looking surprised to see him.

“Ian? What are you doing in here?” she whispered.

“I was just checking up on her. I know I’m not her doctor but I really wanted to see how she was doing.”

“It’s all right, Ian.” Judy patted him on the arm. “She can do with all the help she can get. I need to check her vital signs now. Do you want to stick around?”

“No Judes, I’ll let you get on with your job. Thanks.” Ian left the nurse with her patient and made his way back towards the main reception.

About the author:

Sue Mac Nicol was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. At the age of eight, her family moved to Johannesburg, South Africa where she stayed for nearly thirty years before arriving back in the UK in December 2000.

Sue works full time in the field of regulatory compliance for a company in the financial services industry in Cambridge. But she still finds time to work until the small hours of the morning doing what she loves best – writing. Since her first novel, Cassandra by Starlight, was penned, Sue has written the other two books in her Starlight trilogy, four other novels, two short stories, and a screen play based on Cassandra. Her passion is keeping herself busy creating worlds and characters for her readers to enjoy.

Sue is a member of Romance Writers of America and Romantic Novelists Association in the UK. She is also a member of a rather unique writing group, called the Talliston Writer’s Circle, which in itself has a story all of its own to tell, and lives in the rural village of Bocking, in Essex, with her family.

Connect with Susan:
Website | Blog | Publisher | Twitter | Facebook | Facebook page Cassandra by Starlight
Pinterest | Linkedin

Buy the book:
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Author Page US | Author Page UK | Goodsread    

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Featured Author: Mitzi Kelly

I'm happy to have another fellow cozy mystery writer, Mitzi Kelly, here today on her Cozy Mystery Book Review tour for her novel, Deadly Policy. She also brought along her main character, Trish Anderson, and she's giving us a sneak peek. Grab your sweet tea and settle in!

About the book:

When a sudden rash of stolen cars brings Millie Morrow’s daughter under suspicion for conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, Millie convinces her two best friends, Trish Anderson and Edna Radcliff, to help her find out who is trying to frame Michelle. Knowing the odds are against them in discovering the thugs, Trish and Edna nevertheless go through the motions of investigating, hoping Millie will feel productive in helping her daughter while the police do the real detective work.

But the situation becomes much more serious when a body is found in front of the insurance office Michelle works for. And even though the evidence pointing to an inside job is purely circumstantial, it could still destroy Michelle, something the ladies are determined to prevent. They’re going to have to work fast to present a different theory for the police to consider, though, since Millie has once again alienated Henry Espinoza, the chief of police.  And she’s alienated someone else, too, if the suspicious incidents suddenly plaguing her are anything to go by.

Keeping Millie out of trouble while attempting to clear her daughter’s name will take every ounce of skill . . . or luck . . . the amateur sleuths possess.

Interview with Mitzi Kelly    

How did you create the plot for this book?

This idea literally just popped into my head one day when I was in the middle of the first book in the series. The main characters are such characters, that I could see them delving into the mystery of the stolen cars with determination, and maybe a little too much confidence.   

Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

When I first start a novel, I spend a lot of time outlining. I do a quick synopsis of the overall story, then I break down the details chapter by chapter. Finally, I anxiously sit down to write, expecting the process to flow smoothly since I already know the story.  Silly me. Inevitably, the characters take over somewhere in the second or third chapter and they take me on twists and turns I wasn’t expecting. At this point, the shredder gets a good workout as I destroy what I thought the novel was going to be and start over. This happens several times before the novel is complete and it’s really quite fun . . . albeit frustrating, as well.   

How do you get to know your characters?

In this particular series, I knew the characters before I ever started writing. They were as real to me as my real friends, and I knew their personality quirks and their physical traits. Character development is usually pretty easy for me, but I’ve never known characters so well before starting to write as I did these three ladies. What never fails to thrill me is when readers comment that they know people in their own life who are similar to the Silver Sleuths!

When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?

This is another case of the characters taking over the story. I always think I have the entire cast laid out, but always—always—someone pops into the story who I didn’t know.  It’s not a big problem because when they do appear, it’s a natural flow to the plot, and I know why they are there.

Which character did you most enjoy writing?

I hate to choose favorites, but I have to admit Millie is the most fun to write.  Because of her age—82 and counting!—she can do and say anything, unapologetically. It doesn’t matter how bizarre the situation, when you have someone as spunky as Millie is to work with, and you see the scene through her eyes, it adds an element of fun that I don’t think would be possible with a younger protagonist. 

I’m constantly on the lookout for new names. How do you name your characters?

When I’m stuck trying to find a name, I use the phone book. I close my eyes, flip open the massive white pages, and point my finger. If I land on a name like “Magillacuddy,” I repeat the process . . .  

Are any of your characters inspired by real people?

Each of the main characters in the Silver Sleuths Series have combined traits from people I dearly love. Friends, family, casual acquaintances, they have all contributed to the creation of the characters. I have been blessed with a family that has the ability to see the humor in any situation while simultaneously having great compassion and an abundance of love. My friends are so eclectic; they come from all walks of life and backgrounds, but with a common thread running through them—-a deep sense of loyalty. It was an honor to ‘steal’ these traits to develop my characters and to be able to use the good—-and the not-so-good—stuff to round them out as realistic people.   

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?

Oh, yeah . . . once again, it’s Millie. She falls into both categories as she is always saying and doing things I wish I could, and never would. She doesn’t worry about what anybody thinks—-ever! And, given the benefit of her age, there are seldom any consequences to pay. She’s obnoxious, and you can take her or leave her . . . she doesn’t care. But if you do ‘take’ her, she’ll enrich your friendship with love and loyalty. She’ll also add excitement to your life. I mean, how often can you say you dodged going to jail??

Not often, hopefully. Who are your favorite authors?

Since I enjoy reading anything and everything, I have many favorite authors. I have to say, though, that I will rush to read anything by James Patterson and Sue Grafton. It’s not often that I pick up a book and just can’t get into it. If the story grabs me, I always admire the talent of the writer and look forward to reading more of their work, regardless of the genre.

What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?

I’m just finishing up James Patterson’s 10th Anniversary in the Women’s Murder Club series. I know it’s been out for a while, but I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like. I love this series! And, everything I read right now is in paperback or hardcover.  I’ve been collecting hardcover books for quite a while now—-you should see my bookcases!  So many books, so little time . . . 

How do you handle criticism of your work?

I actually appreciate any thoughtful criticism of my work. I always learn something from both good and bad comments. I know that what I write is not going to appeal to everybody, but when someone takes the time to explain why they did or didn’t care for one of my books, I listen carefully to what they are saying because their input is valuable.  

Do you have a routine for writing? Do you work better at night, in the afternoon, or in the morning?

In a perfect world, I would get up each morning, dress, down a pot of coffee, and write for 8 hours straight. Unfortunately, my world isn’t perfect! I don’t have a set routine right now because my life is so crazy. I write when I can, as often as I can, and sometimes that means jotting down a few sentences while the roast is in the oven!   

Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?

I have a wonderful environment to do my writing. My husband built our home a few years ago, and he included a private office that holds all of my ‘dreams and desires.’ I even have a small frig and microwave for those infrequent times when I can spend hours working. I have tons of windows, room to stretch, and complete privacy. The only thing missing is a bed . . .

Sounds wonderful. Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do when it happens?

I don’t really get writer’s block, per se. But my mind does get bogged down in thinking of other stuff that needs to get done. I have a lot of trouble writing fiction when reality refuses to leave me alone for a while. When this happens, I’ve found that the best thing for me is to go outside and work in the yard for a little while. We have several acres, so there is always something that needs to be done, and it’s amazing how pulling a few weeds will get you motivated to write!   

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

My very favorite is “The only way to learn the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.” We too often think we can’t accomplish something before we even try. I find this quote inspiring.  

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up the third book in the Silver Sleuths Mystery Series, and I’m also working on the second book in a romance trilogy. I have to be careful when working on both that I don’t let the heroine in the romance novel fall in love with the bad guy in the mystery series!

That could be a problem! Stop back in when your next book is out.

Interview with Trish Anderson from Deadly Policy    

About Trish: 

Trish Anderson is in her mid-forties, divorced, and starting to put on some pounds. She’s a contract bookkeeper, which forces her to sit for many hours working on her computer, but she has a phobia about physical activity. She does consider house cleaning exercise, though. She also has no self-discipline when it comes to satisfying the munchies. She’s lived in Grand River for several years now and loves the small community.    

Trish, I'm so glad Mitzi let you talk to me. How did you first meet her?

I was minding my own business, just getting ready to enjoy a cup of coffee with some cookies, when Mitzi Kelly plucked me up and dumped me in the middle of a murder mystery.  I wasn’t very happy about it, but I have to admit I have been having fun. I just don’t appreciate having all my secrets revealed . . .  

Can't blame you there. Want to get even and dish about Mitzi?

Well, now that you mention it, I am a little upset that she has to tell everybody about my battle with the bulge. I mean, really, I wonder if she’s looked in a mirror recently!

Did you ever think that your life would end up being in a book?

Never in a million years. If I had known, I would have worked hard to make sure my life would be described as glamorous and exciting, with men fighting for my attention and all my friends envious of my success. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. 

Always. Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.

Actually, there are several adrenaline-pumping moments in the book, but I have to say when Millie’s property was vandalized, it was actually a rather fun scene. It was late, and I had just prepared a hot bubble bath to relax in when I heard this horrible crash. I ran to my front window, but it was dark and overcast and I couldn’t see a thing.  Still, I knew I had heard something. So, dressed in my robe and shower cap, I quietly opened my front door and peeked outside. That’s when I noticed that across the street, Millie Morrow’s trashcan had been rammed into her mailbox, effectively destroying both. It didn’t seem like the noise had awakened any of the other neighbors, so the task fell on my shoulders to gather the trash that had been strewn across the street and in Millie’s yard. I could have waited until morning, but the thought of stray animals making the mess worse had me hurrying across the street.

I had almost finished when I had the daylights scared out of me. Out of nowhere this deep, raspy voice demanded that I stand still because the police were on their way. It took a moment for me to realize that the voice was Millie’s. Her attempt at disguising it had only worked long enough for my heart to settle back down to a regular beat. When I turned, though, I received another jolt. Believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen tiny Millie, wearing a purple robe and yellow “bear” slippers, standing with a shotgun almost as big as she is. I tried hard not to laugh, I really did. In the end, we figured it was just kids out on a joyride, having fun at someone else’s expense.  At the time, there was no way we could have known how wrong we were . . .

Did you have a hard time convincing your author to write any particular scenes for you?

As a matter of fact, I did. Originally, Mitzi wanted my other best friend, Edna Radcliff, to be the one who was driving the car when we followed the bad guys into Mexico. It took a while for me to convince her that sweet Edna would have been scared silly, making the situation much more dangerous than it already was. It made much more sense for me to do the driving. After a while, Mitzi capitulated and, thankfully, we survived the ordeal...barely. 
What do you like to do when you are not being actively read somewhere?

I really enjoy working in my yard. Unfortunately, between my bookkeeping work and trying to keep Millie out of trouble, I don’t get to do it often. In our first book, Classic Revenge, Millie hired a yard man for me, but that was only due to the fact that we thought he was a suspect. I had to let him go once the case was solved because a yard man was definitely not in my budget. If I don’t find some free time to start doing it myself, though, I’m going to have to call him back. And then I’ll send the bill to Millie for babysitting services.

If you could rewrite anything in your book, what would it be?

I’d definitely rewrite the scene where I fell while walking around the block with Millie and Edna. That wasn’t one of my finer moments. It might not have been so embarrassing if that wasn’t the precise moment I met my single and attractive new neighbor, Pat. I still turn red when I think about it.
I'll bet. Tell the truth. What do you think of your fellow characters?
I am blessed beyond belief to have friends like Millie and Edna. I know that they would have my back in any situation, and I hope they know the same about me. There is a certain security going through life knowing there are people who you can count on, regardless. You can say and do anything without having to worry if you’ve offended them because there is a special trust forming the foundation of the friendship. Millie and Edna have such different personalities that it often amazes me that we all get along so well, but maybe being different is what keeps the friendship strong. I can certainly say that life with them is never dull . . . ever!

Do have any secret aspirations Mitzi doesn’t know about?

Yes, there is one, and I’m going to be bringing it up to Mitzi soon. I want to take a course in self-defense. I’ve been thinking of karate, and I’d like to be good enough to reach a black belt status. I think Millie and Edna would benefit from this, too, especially if we’re going to continue to hunt down bad guys. Scratch that. On second thought, Millie already thinks she’s invincible. Knowing karate would only make her attitude more dangerous.

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

I would close my blinds, turn out all the lights and just sleep!!  Lame, I know, but being friends with Millie is not conducive to many restful nights.

Oh my. What's the worst thing that's happened in your life? What did you learn from it?
Oh, most definitely, it was my divorce. It was horrible. I really thought I was madly in love. Wow, was I an idiot. Looking back, I know that there had been signs of my husband’s infidelity, but I had either been too afraid of Ed leaving me, or my self-confidence had been so low that I ignored the situation. When we bought the new house in Grand River, I thought that would bring us closer again. Ed had definitely grown closer, just not with me. I caught him in bed—-our bed!—-with another woman. I was happy with the way I handled the situation, though. Very calmly, I got two gallons of the bottled water Ed insisted we keep on hand, and a packet of matches. I set the water by the bedroom door, and then walked straight up to the bed where I lit the bedspread on fire.  Ed found the water before too much damage had been done.

From that experience, I regained the stubborn, independent streak I had lost somewhere along the way. I also learned the old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is very true. Ed had a wonderful covering, but he was full of blank pages inside. I’m happy living alone, I’m perfectly capable of supporting myself, and I have strong, important relationships that my previous marriage can’t begin to compare with. Life is good!

Good for you, Trish! You're a strong, independent woman. Now, tell me what you're most afraid of.

Until recently, I would have said I’m really not afraid of anything. However, now I’m starting to worry daily about protecting my friends—especially Millie. Millie is intent on searching out crimes to solve. It’s like a game to her, and I’m not sure she realizes there are some seriously dangerous criminals out there. But my dear friend is fearless, and she charges in without any thought to the consequences. I’m worried I won’t be able to save her from herself, and I’m worried I could go crazy by even trying!

What’s the best trait your author has given you? What’s the worst?

I’m really grateful Mitzi has shown what a loyal friend I am. With my personality, it’s not always easy for people to understand how much I value my friends. I think Mitzi’s done a good job, though. I’m not quite as thrilled, however, that she felt the need to reveal my weakness for junk food. I mean, why is that even important to the story?  

I think I'd better let you and Mitzi work that one out. What aspect of her writing style do you like best?

I really like the casualness of Mitzi’s writing. It fits perfectly with the peculiarities of the main characters. I’m glad our story is not written with what some would describe as formal and proper. That just wouldn’t be real, as we are definitely not formal and proper!     

Will you encourage your author to write a sequel?

At first, I argued against it because, as I mentioned before, I’m worried about keeping my friends safe. But Millie and Edna are 100% for a sequel, so I’ll have to participate just to make sure things don’t spin out of control . . .

Excerpt from Deadly Policy

Yawning, Trish checked for incoming messages one last time, thankfully noting that Millie must have finally called it a night. Twenty-five test messages from mmorrow007 had been more than a little frustrating. She had just slipped into her robe, pulled her hair up under a shower cap and added fragrant bubble bath to the water when she heard a loud crash followed by the sound of squealing tires. What in the world?

She rushed down the hallway and hurried to the large window in the living room, pulling the curtains back just enough to peer outside. The streetlight at the corner cast just enough light to make out the road and the edges of several yards in front of dark, quiet homes. The moon peeked out occasionally through floating clouds, its light forcing the shadows from huge oak trees and mature shrubs to dance erratically for a few moments before softly disappearing into thick darkness.

Trish shivered. This was a quiet street, the residents retiring early behind the solace of their doors, comfortable in their belief that this was a secure, safe neighborhood, untouched by the perils and unrest of the big city. Nothing ever happened here.
Except that one of their neighbors had recently been murdered in her own home in broad daylight.

The smart thing to do would be to call the police and let them make a quick run down the street to ensure everything was as it should be. But then she would probably have to wait for them to arrive, and then wait for them to report they hadn’t seen anything amiss. She was much too tired to do all that waiting. She decided to take a quick look outside, just for her peace of mind. Otherwise, she wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight. There had been a definite crash, but she couldn’t really swear the sound had come from her own street. She’d verify everything was okay in her immediate world and then put the incident out of her mind.

Trish squinted through the darkness from the safety of her porch. All was quiet except the gentle sound of branches thick with leaves swaying in the mild breeze. She couldn’t see a thing outside the circle of light from her porch. But then the clouds parted, allowing the moonlight to reveal what had obviously caused the commotion.

“Oh, for goodness sake!” Trish exclaimed. Across the street, she could see that Millie’s garbage can had been crushed and pushed into her mailbox, which was now leaning sideways at an awkward angle. Trash had spewed out in the yard and in the street.

Terrific. Millie would be furious when she saw the damage to her trashcan and mailbox. Trish debated whether she should go pick up the trash. It didn’t appear as if anyone else had heard the crash, though, and if it stayed out all night, every stray dog within a mile would be parked out in front of Millie’s house having a picnic.

With a loud sigh, she pulled her robe tight and hurried across the street. She yanked at the ruined garbage can until it pulled away from the mailbox. It made a loud scraping noise but she wasn’t worried. If the original crash hadn’t awakened the neighbors, then the ruckus she was making certainly wouldn’t. Muttering under her breath, Trish started picking up the trash, at least what she could see of it.

Millie certainly ate a lot of fruit, Trish thought with a grimace as her bare hand closed around a banana peel for the third time. The thought had no sooner left her mind when she froze.  The unmistakable sound of a shotgun being cocked right behind her was immediately followed by a beam of light.

“Hold it right there, buster!” a deep, gruff voice commanded. “The police are on the way.”

Trish instantly recognized the camouflaged voice. She turned and faced the miniature Rambo. “Millie!  For God’s sake, put that gun down! And lower that flashlight!”

“Trish?” The voice was normal now, and deeply surprised. “What are you doing digging in my trash?”

Trish couldn’t see a thing with the light blinding her. “If you’ve still got that gun aimed at me I’m going to kick your tail end!”

“Oh,” Millie said, as if she were holding nothing more than a squirt gun. Abruptly, the light shining from the flashlight veered up and down and sideways in a spasmodic dance of fitfulness as Millie struggled to heft the shotgun over her shoulder. “Don’t worry. It’s not loaded,” she grunted.

“You just about gave me a heart attack!” Trish said, and she wasn’t exaggerating. She could actually count the rapid beats of her heart pounding against her chest. “What are you doing carrying a shotgun?”

“Protecting my property, that’s what! And, by the way, that’s not much of a disguise you’re wearing. I’ve seen that shower cap before. I knew it was you the minute you turned around.”  

Trish prayed for patience. “I am not wearing a disguise, you crazy old bat! I was doing you a favor. I heard a loud crash, and when I looked outside, your trash was all over the place. So I came over here–concerned friend that I am–and tried to pick it up so you wouldn’t have to deal with it. I certainly didn’t expect to get shot for my efforts, though!”

“I told you it wasn’t loaded,” Millie said. “Besides, I saw what happened.”

“You did?” Trish dropped the banana peel in the can.

“Yep,” Millie nodded. “I had just turned off the computer and happened to look outside when I saw headlights veering straight for my driveway. I thought it was a runaway car,” she said, her eyes getting big, “but after it hit my trashcan, it backed up and rammed it again right into my mailbox!”

Trish was stunned. “Are you sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure! That’s why I got my gun. I figured if the car came back, I was going to shoot out the tires. But when I got back to the window I saw someone going through my trash. I thought you were the car–er, I mean, I thought you were the driver of the car.”

“Thanks for clarifying,” Trish said wryly. “Wait a minute! I thought you said the gun wasn’t loaded.”

“It’s not,” Millie grinned sheepishly. “I forgot to grab the shells.”

About the author:

I started writing way back in middle school. I loved creating short stories for assignments, and my teacher at the time encouraged me to keep it up. When I was older, I started writing feature articles for a couple of magazines, but I never really enjoyed it. I wanted to create – not report on what someone else was doing. It was at that point that I started working seriously on novels. In the middle of re-working a romance novel, I came up with the idea for the Silver Sleuths. Pushing the romance novel aside, I immediately began to work on Classic Revenge, which became my first published book, and is the first book in the Silver Sleuths Mystery Series. Deadly Policy followed a year later.

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