Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lorelie Brown: Rust City Book Con Featured Author


Welcome to your early-bird peek at some of the fantastic authors who are already signed up for the conference. Today I'm showcasing Lorelie Brown, who writes under her own name and also co-writes as Katie Porter.

Tell us a little about what you write, Lorelie!

I write lots of stuff, mostly because I'm easily distracted. I've written contemporary romances featuring surfers for Signet, Victorians for Samhain and co-written erotic romance as Katie Porter. My most recent release is a short story in the awesome anthology 90s Playlist.

I'm a big fan of Katie Porter -- there are a couple of reviews here and here at Alpha Heroes! I'll have to check out your solo work.  Ok, Lorelie, let's talk about RustCity!

1. Fill in the blank: "I used to be really good at shooting a 9mm pistol , but these days I'm pretty rusty." Hmmm. Let's hope you never need that particular skill outside a target range!

2. Eminem or Aretha? Explain.

Eminem. He's not my favorite, but my teenager loves him, so I hear white boy rap way more often than I do Aretha. Yes, my kids have, um, broadened my musical listening as well, for sure.

3. Choose One:
I'm confused. And not from around here.

Faygo and Vernors are locally made soft drink brands. They have followers that border on... fanatical.

4. What are you looking forward to most at the RustCity conference? Getting to know readers on a really chill, individual level!

5. Which is NOT an actual community in Michigan? (no googling!)
Bad Axe
Mullet Lake
(The correct answer is "Hero." I got very tickled at some of the names, especially when I saw that "Alpha" was one!)

6. Your latest work of fiction features a wealthy industrialist and an R&B singer. What's the first sentence? ʺI don't care how much it costs: when I say I need Josh Mercury to play at my niece's birthday party, it's your job to make it happen.ʺ

Josh Mercury! That's a great name! Related to Freddie, perhaps.

What's it about? I'm not totally sure, but the industrialist is the heroine and the R'nB artist is the hero. Coz gender flipping is how I roll. ;-) Yeah, we love that! 

7. And finally, would you like to participate in the Alpha Heroes Five Words Fiction Game? Yes please!

Yay! You get to start us off in the Steampunk category.  Your challenge words are: surf, alpha, rust, solder, groove.  The category guidelines are: set mid-nineteenth century, little or no magic, but alternate history without petroleum-fueled technology or electricity. (For more details about how the game works, refer to this post.)
Alma hadn't been home in three years.

She never would have come home if she could have avoided it.

As the train chugged to a stop at the Fairmeadow Depot, she gathered her valise and tucked her parasol under one arm. She balanced the bag against her chest. She was sweating through her lace gloves. If she dropped it, the contents would splinter into a hundred pieces and all the soldering in the world wouldn't put them back together again.

Much like Humpty Dumpty, she thought.

The depot was surprisingly busy given how small a town Alma remembered Fairmeadow as. A little village shouldn't have this many bodies on the platform. A gentleman in a fitted suit bounced off her, muttering his apologies. She clutched her case to her chest.

Her papa waited in the street, one foot on the fender of his velocimobile. "Brought trouble with you, I see already."

She threw a glance over her shoulder before realizing the very act is what would give her away. "Never, papa."

A groove dug between his salt and pepper eyebrows. "Then what have ye come back here for? Your apprenticeship isn't up for another six months."

Her stomach surfed the border between casting up her accounts and turning into a solid block of rust. Six months. She'd been only six months from being independent forever, free from the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Order of the Alpha Cross. She forced herself to smile. "I missed you, and mum, and the boys. I applied for a special visiting license."

That much was true. She had the license in her valise.

Right next to the analytical engine she'd stolen.
Wow, this story is off to a GREAT start.  I am loving these so much.  Thank you for hanging out here at Alpha Heroes and playing my game!  Where else should folks look for you?

I'm most easily found and most active at Twitter: @LorelieBrown

Be sure to keep up with all things Rust City 2016, by following it via your own personal social media drug of choice: Facebook |Twitter | Google+ | Tumblr | Instagram | RSVP at the Facebook Event.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Soup - December 13

In The Soup This Week... Penny Watson, AM Arthur, and a splash of McSweeneys

Soup Dish:  on my mind
McSweeney's had a cool rant about Jane Austen interpretations. Hat tip to Julia Quinn's Facebook feed for source.

Pretty much everything I marked over the last week or two has been a list of some sort, and I think I'm going to post a list of lists later this month, so I'm saving them up. 

What I'm reading
I never did any kind of announcement, but I have dipped a toe into reviewing elsewhere, for RT Book Reviews. I'm reviewing under my own name, so a quick search on "Onychuk" will show you what I've been up to. To see the most current stuff, you can subscribe to RT! What this means for the blog is that some of the reading I do, I can't really talk about here. So if it it seems like my reading week is pretty thin sometimes, that might be why. This week I spent quite a bit of my reading time on a chunky fantasy romance for a March review, so the rest of the Soup is about short pieces.

My main read for the week was Penny Watson's Klaus Brothers series. I bought the 'boxed set' of the first three (still on sale!). I've been posting with Penny for a long time (Facebook tells me we became friends 6 years ago!), but I wasn't too sure about the appeal of a romance hero in the context of Santa, the North pole, and magic elves. It's definitely a little quirky. In Penny's world, Santa trains for the Ironman triathlons in the off-season, and has a bit of a sharp temper along with five hunky sons who function as the executive staff, running the whole toymaking and distribution enterprise. The Klaus family expectations contribute to some of the conflict, but the warm family relations add much to the feel-good nature of the series. At times I found the juxtaposition of hot romance in the context of magical children's mythology to be a little jarring: you have to suspend disbelief around the fact that a) not all children get toys for Christmas because poverty, and b) not all people celebrate Christmas -- so in that sense, it has that simplistic children's world-building; but the romances themselves were really lovely. The characters and their chemistry are everything you want in a romance. Romance fans who also love movies like Elf and The Santa Clause should enjoy these tremendously.

Looking for some short reads, I browsed through some of the ebooks I got from RT14. The interesting thing about how this goes down is that when I look at it on my kindle list, I have a title, author, and an idea of how long it is -- that's it.  This title, "No Such Thing" said, "probably contemporary," or more accurately, "probably not paranormal," but that's kind of it. I did not recognize the author, A.M. Arthur.  I mean, it's not like I couldn't look these things up, but you know, that would've required moving from the couch.  So I opened this one up and read a few pages, then a few more, and soon I was very much drawn in.  It's an NA/mm romance, between Alessandro, a former foster kid with a bit of an undeserved delinquent reputation, and Jaime, a very sheltered guy who spent his teens surviving a near-fatal heart condition. It's not exactly a coming-out story, but there is some conflict around small-town homophobia and bashing (heartbreaking and still so f*cking common). I don't read much m/m, so I don't have a much in the way of a reference point, but I found these characters engaging and sweet and with personalities vivid enough to leap off the page. Thumbs up from me.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Laura Bickle: Rust City Book Con Featured Author

Welcome to your early-bird peek at some of the fantastic authors who are already signed up for the conference. Today I'm showcasing Laura Bickle, author of YA and adult contemporary fantasy.

Hi Laura! Tell us a little about your stuff!

Hi Nicola!  My latest release is MERCURY RETROGRADE (Harper Voyager Impuse), the second in the DARK ALCHEMY series. When I'm not writing, I'm busily serving my gang of semi-reformed feral cats.

"Semi reformed"... that sounds kind of ominous....! So let's talk about RustCity, shall we?

1. Fill in the blank: "I used to be really good at reading Tarot cards , but these days I'm pretty rusty."  (Tarot cards -- so intriguing!)

2. Eminem or Aretha? Explain.

Aretha. Because of her incredible, luminous awesomeness.

Nice answer.  I approve.

3. Choose One:
I'm confused. And not from around here.

4. What are you looking forward to most at the RustCity conference?
  I'm looking forward to getting the chance to meet folks in person that I've only met online!

5. Which is NOT an actual community in Michigan? (no googling!)
Bad Axe
Mullet Lake
(The correct answer is "Hero." I got very tickled at some of the names, especially when I saw that "Alpha" was one!)

6. Your latest work of fiction features a wealthy industrialist and an R & B singer. What's the first sentence?
  There were two dead bodies found in the trunk of Jill's rental car.

7. And finally, would you like to participate in the Alpha Heroes Five Words Fiction Game?

Yes! Can I do magical paranormal stuff, maybe some anthropomorphic lizards?

Absolutely! How about you kick us off?  Your words are:  alchemy, alpha, rust, spreadsheet, and groove.  The category guidelines are: anything goes, including paranormal, fantasy, and time-travel! (For more details about how the game works, refer to this post.)

Yay!!! Total freedom!


If you don’t tend it properly, even the best-cast alchemy will rust.

Mara peered into the fire of the athanor, stirring the flames with a piece of pipe. In the belly of the cinder-block furnace she’d built, a glass mason jar perched. Surrounded by a nest of litter she’d found in the abandoned house – yellowed spreadsheets, broken tree branches, and a handful of wine corks – it seemed like a pathetic attempt at big magic. Flames licked the glass, changing color from blue to red as they boiled the silvery liquid inside.

A fire salamander, irritated by her prodding, slipped out of the firebox and waddled across the makeshift hearth. He was clearly the alpha salamander of those inside the furnace, the king. He was the largest and most brightly-colored of the group, nearly twelve inches long and covered in a gold glittery hide. He stared up at Mara with slitted eyes, tail lashing.

“Yes. I know that I’m doing it all wrong,” she sighed. She hadn’t worked alchemy for years, and it showed. The solution in the bottle was bubbling unevenly, and a crack had formed at the lip of the jar.

“Mrrp,” the salamander agreed. She’d clearly disturbed his sleep when she’d summoned him and his fellows. Salamanders were not known to be patient.

“How about a trade for your help?” Mara reached into her pocket for a handful of unpopped popcorn. She placed it on the hearth between them. The corn was interspersed with bits of lint and a quarter. She had nothing else to offer him, but perhaps he would at least be amused.

The salamander cocked his head, then scuttled forward. He gathered the pieces of popcorn, stuffing them in his mouth like a squirrel, and scurried back to the fire.

Mara sighed. He’d accepted it. Peering into the flame, she could see him dancing with the other salamanders and flinging the corn about – he’d clearly gotten back in his groove, and happy elementals were always good magic.

The silvery liquid in the jar had begun to blacken. Sweating, Mara donned a welder’s glove and reached inside for the precious potion. She set the jar down on the hearth and stared at it, waiting for the solution to settle.

Beyond, in the fire, the popcorn began to pop, with the sound of tiny gunshots. The salamanders chortled in glee as the fire died out, springing after the bits of yummy joy before they faded back into the belly of the furnace.

Mara stared at the jar. Working up her nerve, she unscrewed the lid.

OK, that is an amazing start.  Thank you so much for playing, Laura!  

If you'd like to check out more from this storyteller, please have a look at the links below:

Come back next Thursday for more Five Words Fiction from another fabulous RustCity16 author, and don't forget to comment on last week's post for a chance at a signed book from Shelly Bell!


Be sure to keep up with all things Rust City 2016, by following it via your own personal social media drug of choice: Facebook |Twitter | Google+ | Tumblr | Instagram | RSVP at the Facebook Event.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sunday Soup - December 6

In The Soup This Week... JR Ward, Ilona Andrews, Caroline Linden, Shelly Bell, and Jayne Ann Krentz

Soup Dish:  on my mind
It's been a busy week. I'm getting a lot of holiday shopping done; a lot of reading, and a lot of thinking about the social and political happenings. There's a lot going on out there.

I've referred to Jayne Ann Krentz's Bowling Green speech a few times over the course of this blog, and at some point, sadly, it was taken down off the web.  In this week's interview, she alludes to some of the same material, about popular fiction celebrating heroic values (in the classical sense), and why that's the reason it's both popular and persistent.

Here's a pop-science approach to male characteristics that have been proven in studies to be attractive to (het) women.  Of course, none of these will surprise readers of romance, since pretty much all of them feature frequently in hero descriptions.  Although the "limbal ring" is some new vocabulary for me.

Book Riot always delivers, this time with some really lovely editions of classics for the young readers on your list

What I'm reading
JR Ward's Blood Kiss was.... ready?.... fan-freakin'-tastic.  Best thing she's written since before Phury.  I really really liked the "weed-out" scenes for the trainees.  If you're not up to speed, Blood Kiss is the first in a spinoff (that isn't really a spinoff?) series from the Black Dagger Brotherhood, that follows a younger generation of vampires who have signed up to be trained to help defend the race.  The characters are post-trans, unlike the early training days of John Matthew, Blaylock, Quinn, and Lash, which was a good choice IMO.  Some of the characters have a certain recycled feel, but overall I am very happy with this book. Great central couple, a secondary arc with Butch and Marissa, just the right amount of sequel-baiting, and a welcome lack of other multiple arcs.  A bit shorter than what we've gotten used to from JR Ward, but by no means skimpy at 350 pages or so.  Strong recommend.

What could possibly follow that act? Why, Ilona Andrews' Sweep In Peace, of course. I really loved the first book and this one was just wonderful. The magic is just so intriguing. I'd say this stands alone reasonably well, but they're both so good, if you haven't read Clean Sweep, you won't regret picking it up.   And while we're on the topic, Andrews' has an excerpt from the upcoming Kate Daniels novella posted on their site -- Chapter 1, Magic Stars.

Written in My Heart, by Caroline Linden, was a sweet little short. At 33 pages, it's more of a vignette than a fully-realized story, as there is no real conflict other than distance. It's full of longing and sweet, innocent love and made a wonderful palate cleanser between darker more intense stories.

I also read last week's featured author, Shelly Bell's, first installment in her White-Collared serial. I've been avoiding serials in general, because I'm not a big fan of cliff-hangers and the pricing can be a little off-putting when you add everything up.  I might be coming around though.  Mercy has good characters, great sexual tension, and while the ending does make you want to read on, the story itself had a satisfying resolution, even though there is an open series arc. So like everything else that I sometimes avoid or sometime seek out based on a format or trope, it [almost] always boils down to how well the author executes. I'm not exactly sure how the whole series is structured, but the first installment opens with a graphic torture/murder scene and kicks off an arc regarding the husband of the victim, his lawyer, and his legal intern.

That's it for me this week. Hope you are enjoying the holiday season!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shelly Bell: Rust City Book Con Featured Author

Welcome to your early-bird peek at some of the fantastic authors who are already signed up for the conference. Today I'm showcasing the spectacular
Shelly Bell

Hi Shelly! Tell us a little about your work.

Hi Nicola! I currently write the erotic suspense Benediction series for Avon Publishing. Known for its spine-tingling suspense, explicit love scenes and thrilling plot twists, the series centers around members of a BDSM sex club. Books include the White Collared serial, Red Handed, Blue Blooded, and the forthcoming Black Listed. I'm looking forward to the 2017 release of my Forbidden Lovers series, published with Grand Central Forever. When I'm not writing, working as a corporate attorney, or taking care of my family, I'm reading romance.

It sounds like you probably have LOTS of free time, right?  Whoa, I'm tired just reading that list. I recently downloaded the first Benediction title (it's sale-priced at the moment!) and I'm looking forward to checking it out.  I want to mention too, that you have a dedicated following among the ladies who read for the Avon Addict program. Ok, Shelly, let's talk about RustCity!

1. Fill in the blank: "I used to be really good at sleep , but these days I'm pretty rusty."  Yeah, with that list, I can see how sleep is the first thing to go...

2. Eminem or Aretha? Explain.

Although I do like a good Eminem song, my respect goes to Aretha. She is the Queen of Soul after all! I've grew up listening to her music. To me, she's more than an entertainer. She's a legend.
I see what you did there.  And I completely approve.

3. Choose One:
a) Vernors
b) Faygo
c) I'm confused. And not from around here.

4. What are you looking forward to most at the RustCity conference? Meeting readers! I love talking with those who love to read as much as I do. There's nothing like a good book to bring people together. I really love that about the small cons!

5. Which is NOT an actual community in Michigan? (no googling!)
a) Bad Axe
b) Mullet Lake
c)  Alpha
d) Hero
e) Colon
f) Kalamazoo
(The correct answer is "Hero." I got very tickled at some of the names, especially when I saw that "Alpha" was one!)

6. Your latest work of fiction features a wealthy industrialist and an R&B singer. What's the first sentence?  Tendrils of smoke curled around her neck like a boa constrictor.     

OK, I really like that. I think I got a little chill.

Optional: What's it about? Unaware of past sins that tie them together, a female industrialist and a male singer fall in love when they're targeted by the same killer.

7. And finally, would you like to participate in the Alpha Heroes Five Words Fiction Game?  Yes please! 

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee, I'm very excited about this! You get to kick off the contemporary category (present day, no paranormal elements).  Your challenge words are: benediction, alpha, rust, spreadsheet, and groove.

Perched on a bar stool, Maddie Jacobs brought the straw up to her crimson stained lips and said a silent benediction that Jenna’s lessons in seduction would work. After spending the past hour tossing her hair over her shoulder, sipping on straws to draw attention to her mouth, and touching strangers’ biceps while laughing at their terrible jokes, she’d give it another ten minutes before calling her plan a dismal failure.

Hunter had better take the bait.

Just because she’d lost sixty pounds, dyed her hair from a lackluster rust brown to a shiny onyx, and chemically smoothed her frizzy curls, didn’t mean he’d find her attractive.

Her friend Jenna kicked her shin, excitement sparkling in her eyes. “This is it, Maddie. He’s coming over.”

Old tapes of cruel taunts played in her mind. Hunter Allen may not have teased her like his friends had, but as the alpha of their high school class, he’d held the power in his hands to get them to stop. Instead he’d stood by and impassively watched as if she meant nothing to him. As if they hadn’t kissed behind the stage’s curtains after the sophomore play. As if they hadn’t lost their virginity with each other two nights later in her twin bed.

She hadn’t seen him since she’d moved across the country to attend Julliard four years ago. Living on her own in New York City and achieving academic success had given her the confidence she’d always lacked. By walking, eliminating junk food, and logging her weight loss on a spreadsheet to keep herself honest, she’d shed the extra pounds she’d carried by the end of her second year of drama school.

He’d never recognize her.

But she’d recognize him anywhere.

Flipping her hair over her shoulder again, she caught his approach in the corner of her eye. He boasted the same cocky strut he’d used walking the halls of North High. As if he didn’t have a care in the world. His corn silk blond hair was a bit longer in the back and a bit of day old scruff aligned the naturally tan skin of his jaw. The scar in the form of a groove on his right cheek was new, but somehow it managed to add an alluring ruggedness to his otherwise all-American good looks. And that wasn’t the only new thing about Hunter. Lord, he’d filled out his lanky frame with defined muscles she could see through his cerulean t-shirt. A shirt which brought out the blue of his eyes.

What a great start! I can't wait to see where this goes! 

Shelly, thank you so for much for hanging out here at Alpha Heroes.  I heard a rumor that you have a few extra copies of the brand spankin' new Benediction novel, Blue Blooded (there IS spanking, right??)

You'll have to read it to find out, won't you?!   I can't wait to meet everyone at the con!

Shelly is so spectacular, in fact, she has offered to give one Alpha Heroes reader a signed paper copy of Blue Blooded!  Open internationally.  I will choose one winner at random from comments.  To enter, leave a comment below, and for a double entry in the contest, write me ONE SENTENCE using all five of the challenge words: benediction, alpha, rust, spreadsheet, and groove.   Check back next Thursday for results.  If you leave your email, I promise to contact you.  If you'd rather not, then it's up to you to check and contact me!

If you don't want to wait to win, check out more from Shelly at the following links:

website  |  facebook  |  twitter    

 Registration is now open for #RustCity16!
I mean, you ARE coming, right?? 

Be sure to keep up with all things Rust City 2016, by following it via your own personal social media drug of choice: Facebook |Twitter | Google+ | Tumblr | Instagram | RSVP at the Facebook Event.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hey! Hey! look at this!


You guys, I had a lot of fun with the Five Words Fiction game for the Reading Until Dawn conference.  But these authors for Rust City are taking it up a notch and OMG THIS IS GONNA BE GOOD.

In the interests of keeping the Featured Author posts at a reasonable length, I thought I'd do a little introduction to the game here.

Basically, it's a fun progressive-fiction game where each author has to build on the previous story and use five challenge words chosen by the previous player.  For the kickoff posts, I gave out the challenge words.

Kickoff posts, plural? you ask? My, you are sharp.  Yes, since I'm getting a really early start on these features, I am changing the game up slightly from last time.  We'll be running three stories simultaneously, like last time we had two.  Last time, I gave each author the option of starting a new game or building on the previous ones, and no other guidelines.  I didn't know what they'd be giving me until I got it.  This time, I'm asking that each author choose in advance from one of the following three categories:

1. Straight contemporary: set today, no magical, paranormal, or supernatural elements.
2. Steampunk: set mid-nineteenth century, little or no magic, but alternate history without petroleum-fueled technology or electricity.
3. Time-travel/paranormal: pretty much anything goes here.

Having the three tracks will give me a little more scheduling flexibility-- and I gotta say, the entries I've received back are knocking this thing out of the damn park.  So come back this Thursday and every Conference Thursday to see what's got me posting gifs instead of words to properly express this level of WOW !!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Soup - November 29

In The Soup This Week... Tessa Bailey, Lavinia Kent, and Cynthia Eden, plus a review of Amazon's brick and mortar store.

Soup Dish:  on my mind
Hope those of you in the US had a lovely holiday weekend. I have been doing more laundry than reading, but since it's usually the other way around, eventually that catches up with you, right?  

So Amazon's new store is not new news anymore, but I was pretty excited by it! My favorite bookseller person from my much-lamented local Borders is now working there which makes me really happy for her, too.  I managed to work in a visit last week during my Saturday running around.

It's located in an upscale Seattle shopping center that I'd never been to before, and while I think it was a good choice of location for the store, it's probably not going to be a destination for me. A) it's far and inconvenient from my house; and B) the shopping center is really crowded with awful parking and a bit rich for my blood.  It's an interesting experience though; they really are trying to understand what makes the in-store experience different from the online experience and optimize those things in the store.

Amazon's concept of a small, highly curated selection makes sense for most brick and mortar stores these days -- I think that is one of the main things that an indie has to offer. They are facing all the books, not just featured titles, which makes for a beautiful display, especially in sections like cover art  YA and Sci-Fi Fantasy, where we are seeing some really gorgeous cover art.

However, as a romance reader, the innovations that they are trying are not ideal. If I'm browsing, I like to have a lot of choices. They also chose to split up the section into paranormal, historical, and contemporary, which in theory I like, but at that point each section was only a couple of shelves. There are three bays total for romance. Here they have erotica and historical:

one-third of the Romance section

So while this might not be the store for me, but I think it's interesting what they're doing with it. Generally, I agree with the Motley Fool's take on it: Here's Why Amazon's Move Into Physical Stores Makes Sense.  And I might be in a minority -- it was quite crowded when we were there and my contact says that they had lines out the door on opening weekend, and limiting people coming in by people going out, like a hot dance club on Saturday night...

Well-dressed crowd at the new Amazon store

I never mock the sex scenes in the books I review because a) it's such an easy target and b) what one person finds ridiculous another may find intensely erotic. The sex act really is both-- if you're lucky. But I'm always up for a good list, so here is the Chive's Worst Sex Scenes Written in 2015. I'm just going to say, in most cases, I've read worse. This one though, I'm pretty much in agreement with the article:
“Her mouth was intensely ovoid, an almond mouth, of citrus crescents. And under that sling, her breasts were like young fawns, sheep frolicking in hyssop – Psalms were about to pour out of me.” - from Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Sheep frolicking in hyssop? And son, that is not Psalms, I'm just saying.  Credit to Roselynn Cannes for the link.

OK, just because... funny. Hat tip to Lexxie Callahan for the link: Farmer's Market Hot.
"Farmer’s Market Hot is a wholesome kind of hot. Rugged but approachable."

What I'm reading
Over the last two weeks, I went through the New Adult "Broke and Beautiful" trilogy by Tessa Bailey (currently on sale for less than $7 for all 3 full sized books).  I really liked the first and the third, and the second was good character-wise except I really did NOT like the premise of an undergraduate student seducing her professor. I know I'm Officially Middle Aged here, so get off my lawn etc, but the notion that you couldn't put your hormones on ice for a month until the semester is over, when your future and his are both at risk otherwise? kinda pisses me off.  Aside from that, I enjoyed the characters and their pairings.  Think "Friends" except everyone is hot and everyone pairs off.  The angsty "I've lost her" scenes from the heroes' points of view reminded me a bit of JR Ward, though slightly less profane and you know, without the vampiric bloodlust.  I will add that reading some good NA is helping me pin down more specifically what I am not crazy about in this genre.

Bound by Bliss, by Lavinia Kent. Everything you might like about regency romance, but crossing on into erotica with some mild BDSM. I'm already a Lavinia Kent fan, and enjoyed this book a lot too.

Burn for Me, by Cynthia Eden.  Strong read. The paranormal premise is fresh and exciting -- the hero is a phoenix, who rises in fire after dying, with some demonic overtones, and the heroine is immune to fire. I feel like this should have impressed me more.  Don't get me wrong, it was a good read and I think I will read on in the series.  But the plot meandered a bit and the violence was extremely graphic and kind of relentless. That's pretty standard in paranormal/UF, but I am losing my tolerance for it. I think that's why I come back to Regency so frequently-- some of it is suspenseful, but there are rarely extended torture scenes or multiple bloody murders.

That's it for this week.  What are you reading? What's in YOUR soup?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Beauty of the Beast

When I decided to kick off Conference Thursday, I guess I miscounted, because I thought I had more Thursdays left in the year!  I was going to skip this week because these posts don't really suit the (US) Thanksgiving holiday, but I have Big Plans -- Big Big Plans, I tell you-- for December, so I thought we'd just do ConThu a day early.

Because of my mild obsession with 80s music, the title that came to mind for this story was "Ring My Belle," which, OK, was 1979, so that's a bit of a stretch, and it didn't really suit the story.  Since Belle's kickoff author, Roselynn Cannes, gave it a title already, we'll just go with that.  With thanks again for my fabulous contributing authors: Roselynn Cannes, Katee Robert, Danica Favorite, E.D. Walker (deejay extraordinaire, who knew??), Aaron Michael Ritchey, and Mario Acevedo -- here is the story in its entirety, including an ending... of sorts.

The smell of baking bread, lentil beans, and fish filtered into Belle’s awareness. It was the potency of the fish in particular that woke her, and her eyes fluttered open. Discombobulated, she tried to remember what had happened. Clearly she was in an alleyway in the market, but the memory of how or why she was there eluded her.

Fully aware of each and every pebble digging painfully into her, she sat up. With hands made clumsy by their violent shaking, Belle took a moment to attempt to fight the panic threatening by focusing on the mundane task of brushing off the gravel still sticking to her naked skin. Despite her efforts, her heart sped up, stuttering over itself. Her breath sawed in and out of her lungs. Dirt, and what looked uncannily like blood, caked itself into the creases of her knuckles and underneath her fingernails. One nail had been broken. Ripped off all the way to the midpoint and her finger throbbed in acknowledgement.

She would need to check a calendar to be sure, but she would guess that it had been exactly twenty-nine days since the last time. The last full moon. Ambivalence consumed her. Snaked its way up from her belly and threatened to choke her. She wasn’t sure if she should laugh maniacally because she might be losing her mind, or sob because she knew for a fact that she wasn’t.

Belle had to get home and she had to get home now. She pushed to her feet, her muscles shaking as if she'd run long and hard last night. For all she knew, that was exactly what she'd inadvertently done, chasing down some poor prey who hadn't stood a chance. She moved out of the alley, but froze when she heard tintinnabulation. That could only mean one thing...

They knew.

She walked as quickly as she could without actually running, heading for the willow that grew next to the massive cathedral in the center of town. It was such a strange contradiction of old world and new that normally she, like most other people in her small town, avoided it. Today, it might just be her salvation.

"Going somewhere in a hurry?"

Belle’s heart fell to her ankles. Not today, please, not today. She hurried on, hoping to appear she hadn’t heard him. Maybe, this time, he wouldn’t harass her. No such luck.

Gustavus LeGume drifted over to her, then matched her pace. His long legs fell in tromping boots. His hair didn’t move, too slicked, too black, too shiny--freshly washed and even more freshly combed. He whirled in front of her, stopping her march.

"You are such a strange girl, Belle, and yet, I am inexplicably drawn to you. Would you like some of my forbidden fruit?"

She wanted to growl. Actually, she wanted to bite.

He shoved a segment of an orange fruit into her face. "It is a ribbed clementine. For your pleasure."

Her first instinct was to slap the fruit away, punch him in the face, and run. Yet, she had to remain the unassuming maiden everyone expected her to be, however different she was. Any attention she drew to herself might be dangerous.

Belle sighed and said, "Oh Gustavus, I wish I could, but of course, since I’m an unassuming maiden, I must always be limiting what I eat. For after all, a comely face requires a trim figure."

"Of course." His knowing nod made her want to rip the lungs from his chest, fill them up with air, and parade the grisly balloons around as an example to others. Where did such thoughts come from? She knew. All too well.

She had to get away from Gustavus and get to the willow by the church as quickly and as demurely as possible. One thing about her monthly escapadesshe didn’t have to be so horrifying demure. She could horrifying in other ways.  Belle brushed past Guztavus and hurried down the street, hoping he would get the hint.

Instead he plunged after her into the street. "Where are you off to, ma Belle?" Gustavus let out a loud laugh, clearly pleased with his own cleverness. His mouth opened so wide she could see his uvula swinging at the back of his throat.

Belle restrained a low growl of annoyance. Unassuming maidens did not growl. Unassuming maidens also did not rip people's throats out. More's the pity. "I have an appointment, ah, at the church. Please, don't let me keep you from your shopping."

"Nonsense." He tossed a Clementine from one hand to the other. "I'll walk with you. It's a fine day to walk with a fine lady."

Lord spare me from the wit of Gustavus. But, seeing no graceful way out, she continued walking with him down the street. Her heart thumped with tension with each step they took together, and she glanced around, waiting to catch that ringing sound again. Maybe she'd heard wrong, maybe they hadn't found her, after all.

But, even as she had the hopeful thought, she caught the sound again, a bright ringing of soft bells. The sound should be cheerful, but it only made her stomach lump with dread. She picked her pace up again. A skittering started down the street with a flash of something that caught the sun-- a mass of small, shining ball-bearings rolling toward her. "Gustavus, look ou--"

With a flash, the ball bearings exploded around her, cutting her skin and blinding her with light. Gustavus barreled into her, knocking the two of them down to the hard pavement together. He was howling with pain or fear, a regular caterwaul of sound that grated on her nerve endings. Belle shoved at his shoulder to get him off her while he whimpered in a ball on the street.

Her clothes were torn and she bled from many cuts, but one of the few virtues of her…predicament was an accelerated healing factor. She took off at a run. Maybe there was still time, maybe she could make it to the willow--

Someone slammed into her from the side, slamming her against the wall of the nearest building. She thrashed to throw her attacker off, but he only let out a deep, warm laugh. "Now, now. I just wanted to chat."

She froze, arrested by the rich baritone of his voice. The fiend had deep blue eyes, a chiseled chin like granite from the local quarry, and the fullest, lushest, most kissable lips she'd ever seen.

"You're a very difficult woman to catch up with you know." The stranger smiled as he said it, and her heart sped a little at the sight.

She let her body melt against the wall and he instinctively relaxed his grip on her. "Is that so?"

He smiled again, pleased and smug about her compliance.

That was when she bit him.

The stranger yelped, drawing the attention of the proprietor of a nearby kiosk. A fine time for someone to notice that something might be amiss in the market. Belle shook her head. They don’t notice an explosion, but the man’s whining over a little bite suddenly has everyone on alert. She glanced over at him. Okay, maybe it wasn’t such a little bite after all. She’d feel guilty over the blood gushing from his wound, but at this point, she knew she only had a minute, if not seconds, to get away before they sent others.

"Do you need some help?" The man in charge of the kiosk, wearing a zucchini green t-shirt with the face of a dinosaur with an all-too happy grin, approached.


Ordinarily, Belle wasn’t a fan of members of the Order of the Reptile. They talked incessantly of things that were hopelessly boring, but she’d been told that in bind, they’d help her. She glanced back at the stall where he’d been hawking his wares- flimsy cast-offs that people wouldn’t pay good money for, except to support the reptilian cause. But… one item caught her eye.

"Is that your scooter?"

He looked at her like she’d just told him his dinosaur was stupid. Belle sighed. The man she’d bit moaned and started staggering to his feet. She did not have time for this. Quickly, she murmured the secret phrase that was supposed to get the cooperation of Order members.

The man cursed, but nodded, then handed her his keys.

Finally! Something was going her way!

Belle climbed on the scooter, steadied it perpendicular to the pavement, and got ready to zoom away. Problem was, the scooter wouldn’t kick over. Her jaw clenched in frustration. If it wasn’t one damn thing after another. A glance to the fuel gage told her the problem. The scooter was out of fuel, specifically blood.

"Gustavus," she purred seductively.

He crawled toward her, bleeding, his clothes shredded. Her inviting tone beckoned him, and he responded with a hopeful smile. "Yes, my darling."

The dinosaur bulled past the other man Belle had discarded. The spines on either side of the dinosaur’s top hat glowed orange as a carrot. "Really, Belle. You’ve done more than a miniscule amount of damage already."

"Blame me, of course," she snorted.

"On the other hand, you do bring some needed cachet to the proceedings," the dinosaur replied.

"Speaking of hands," Belle said as she reached for Gustavus’ outstretched arm. She seized his wrist and yanked him closer, dragging his lacerated body across the pavement. He moaned in pain.

"Hush, you," Belle ordered. She unscrewed the fuel cap, then bit off Gustavus’ hand. Blood gushed out, and she hurriedly jammed the bleeding stump into the fuel port. When the blood slowed to a trickle, she said to the dinosaur. "A little help."

He planted a large clawed foot on Gustavus’ lower back and began shifting weight from leg-to-leg to pump more blood out of the dying man. Bones crunched. Gustavus’ eyes rolled back and his mouth gaped in agony.

Belle wrung the last drops of blood from the stump and let the arm fall to the ground. She replaced the fuel cap. One quick tap on the starter button and the scooter buzzed to life.

"Belle, you’re such a hoot," the dinosaur said.

"Likewise, my friend," she replied. "Thanks for the help."

"Where to next?" he asked.

"To get some of those delicious Clementines. After all, they are ribbed for my pleasure."

~   ~   ~   ~   ~
Belle stretched against the rumpled sheets. Her iTunes alarm was going off, and she thought about snatches of the weirdest dream ever. Exploding ball bearings? Gustavus LeGume? The Order of the Reptile? She giggled, thinking that she must have pulled the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy out of her subconscious for that one.
Duran Duran wailed into the chorus and she sang along, voice scratchy with sleep: "I’m on the hunt, I’m after you… mouth is alive, juices like wine… and I’m hungry like the wolf…" She gave a thought to the stranger who’d almost kissed her in the dream and wished that the dream had gone a different direction. Then the music changed and she rolled over to turn it off but when she tried to use the touchscreen, her claw cracked the screen. Her … bloodstained ? claw?

The dream-stranger sat perched on dainty slipper chair in her bedroom, absurdly large, watching her. "Perhaps now you’re ready for my help."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Whatever Happened To Candy?

So last Thursday I showed you how I "published" Candy's and Belle's stories for the attendees of the Reading Until Dawn Conference. Those attendees all received their exclusive edition of one of those two amazing stories.

But there's something else they got that you, my readers, did not. If you followed all of those posts, you may be thinking to yourself, "But those stories weren't finished! They totally left me hanging! I really NEEEEEEED to know what happened!"

Now see, if you had come to the conference, you would already have your satisfaction.  But I won't leave you hanging.  Would I do that to you?  So today, here all in one place with no jump links, you can enjoy the story of Our Heroine Candy, with an exclusive ending:


Candy gazed at her dodecahedronical diamond ring and sighed. It really had been sweet of Jace to give it to her, but she just didn't know that the manager of the Alpha club, where she was a stripper, was really the right guy for her long-term. Granted, he had all that lush chest hair that she loved, and those brown eyes the color of burnished copper. But she'd never felt like she'd hit a home-run when they'd had sex. Something was simply missing, and she couldn't put her finger on it (or apparently in it either). Now, staring at her amazing, and really big, ring, she knew the time to make a decision had arrived.

Sighing again, Candy rolled her eyes; decisions were never easy to make. Ever. This life decision seemed like the hardest yet with the variegated sides to it. Sliding the ring on her finger just to see what it would look like, to see how it feels on her finger, Candy smiled. It sure looked good, but could she really marry him? A locker slamming nearby jolts Candy out of her musings and she jerked at the ring to pull it off. Somehow it was stuck. The superb ring that she didn't know if she could really keep since she wasn't sure if she really wanted to marry Jace, was stuck on her finger. Panicking just a bit she whirled to make sure no one was too close, she couldn’t let the word get out yet. Candy ruffled through her own locker and finally she found a bottle of talcum powder and with a bit of a relief she poured it generously on her hand not caring a bit that it fell all over the floor around her. Dropping the bottle she jerked violently at the ring, but it was still stuck. Whimpering a little since she couldn’t keep wearing the blasted thing and her shift started in twenty minutes, she briefly wondered if there was some Crisco lying around somewhere. Her finger started to throb and it seemed as if the ring were getting smaller the more she tugged. She whirled around to try cold water and cames face to chest with a very large, manly, body.

Startled, Candy stumbled a bit and slowly lifted her eyes up the hard packed, tanned, hairy chest, even as she felt large hands on her hips steadying her. Once her eyes reached his, she was gone. His eyes were the most fierce golden color she has ever seen and they were focused entirely on her. Keeping her still while her brain was telling her to run. Holding her breath unable to even form a coherent thought she could only stare at the stranger who seemed to be taking everything in, even the smell of the powder as his nose twitched. Then in a move so sudden and quick Candy was lifted into his strong arms and swept away. She realized she was being taken to a subterranean level after descending multiple stairs. The stranger smelled so wonderful, of dark woods and sunlight… such a compelling combination. The man wasn't even breathing heavily while carrying her, and without meaning to, Candy felt a stirring in her lower abdomen.

Candy's loins may have been awake, but obviously her tongue wasn't. She might have been a natural blonde under that hundred-dollar scarlet dye job, but her brain worked just fine. Either putting on that ring had made her a little bit stupid or she'd been temporarily discombobulated by Mr. Tall, Dark, and Criminal.

"Um. Excuse me?" She writhed, trying to free herself of his grip, and slammed her heels hard against his ribs.

No dice. If it weren't for his low, fierce growl, she would have thought he was completely unbothered.

She'd just have to try harder to get his attention. She wasn't the kind of girl who got carried off willy- nilly into caves by big hulking strangers who smelled like the promise of good sex and breakfast the morning after.

"I'll have you know my fiancé tracks my phone through GPS. You're leading him right to this place."

No response.

Just as well. Jace wouldn't have figured out how to track her phone even if the instructions were printed in little words on the back of a cereal box, and he'd bought the dang thing.

The farther the stranger descended into the cave-like sanctuary, the less light there was. Only his startling, wolf-like eyes were easily visible. She patted his face, found his nose, and gave it a hard, twisting yank.


"Oh, so now you talk."

He reached a landing on the long staircase and, tossing her over one broad shoulder, pulled a heavy, old-fashioned door shut, and latched it. "We can talk plenty now. Let's see if we can get that ring off you first, though. We might have a little problem if you told him yes."

Not that she had any intention of saying yes to Jace, but she really didn't like where this was going--especially since the pummeling of her fists on the man's back seemed to be having no effect whatsoever. "What kind of problem?"

"For starters, you're his sister," he responded, his tone so teasing he was almost singing the words.

"His what?"


"That's not possible. And even if it was, how would you possibly know?" She'd been adopted on the other side of the country and Jace had talked about his parents--his birth parents--on more than one occasion. Clearly her captor was full of shit. Candy bit back the curse before she gave it voice and tried a new tactic--kicking the stranger as hard as she could.

Laughing, he gripped her legs tighter and her kicking only served to send one stiletto heel clattering into the darkness. "It's more than possible, you squirmy little fish, it's certain. I only hope you have this much energy once I get you into my bed."

"Your bed? Play me another one, maestro, because there's no way I'm dancing to that song," she said, horrified at the suggestion. She might take her clothes off to make ends meet, but she didn't have sex with strangers--ever--and she'd be damned if she planned to change that rule for the brute holding her hostage, regardless of how good he smelled, much less her body's reaction to his nearness.

"Yes, little one. I'm the one you were promised to, and it will be my bed you lie in on your wedding night."

Unbelievable. A stranger - albeit a drop-dead gorgeous stranger - had taken her underground, and the biggest shock was his arrogance. Once she was out of this situation, Candy made a mental note to have her head examined.

"Excuse me, but I will most certainly not grace your bed. And just where did you get your information?"

His full lips curled up in a sensual smile. "Ah Pet, I had a feeling you'd be curious. I'll bet you were the head of your class in school."

His voice has probably caused millions of panties to go up in flames. She had to resist, and not be silly enough to fall for his sensuality. She looked all around the cavern, and tried to ignore the firm grip of the hands on her thighs.

"Yeah, no shit. You've got me down here in the Bat Cave and Bruce Wayne is nowhere to be found. Not to mention, you're under the false impression that we're going to get married. Now, you're either going to tell me what is going on, or find me a bag of pretzels because I'm starving."

Her captor grinned. He had dimples. This was wrong. Kidnappers should never have dimples. Standing, he reached for a ledge and grabbed a tube. Her eyes gaped as she recognized what was in his hand.

"Just happened to have a bottle of lube laying around?"

"Sure did. My future bride may have a kinky side. But we'll discuss that later. Give me your hand. That ring is going to cut off your circulation."

Reluctantly, she held out her hand. His fingers on hers felt incredible. Distracting herself, she looked down and saw what appeared to be old tracks. Biting back a moan at his touch, she inclined her head to the ground.

"Is this place an old mining shaft?"

Mr. Tall, Dark, and Criminal didn’t respond. He was focused on her finger which was swelling up like a segment of a clementine. So much for golden-eyed men being able to multi-task.

He squeezed the lube onto her finger, slickening the dodecahedronical diamond ring. He tugged, but it wouldn’t come off. She felt it tighten even more. Her arousal had taken a train to Gone-ville and panic had flown in on a red-eye from Cleveland.

He moved away, agile for such a large man. Candy clutched at the ring and tried as hard as she could to pull it off. Both the pain and the frustration made her scream.

Returning to her, the man held a book—well, not just any kind of book, but an ancient leather weather-stained tome. He flipped open to a page, muttered three words, and the ring fell from her finger. Only the ring didn’t fall. It drifted to the floor. She expected to hear it clatter on the stone, but instead, it remained, floating.

Candy watched it, speechless. She wanted to say something flippant, or rib her savior, but all she could do was stand, stunned, as the ring floated above the stone.

“A mine shaft, yes,” the man said. His voice, his presence, brought her back, and she found herself staring into those mesmerizing eyes.

“We of the A’hem search for what was lost but must be found. Just as I found you, you will find your love for me.” He paused. “Princess.”

“You of the A’hem. Not me.” She made a face. “Princess? No, I’m a lot of things, stripper, poet, pastry chef, Mensa member, but I am not a princess.”

“But you are.” He took her hand and rubbed the soreness from her finger. “Lost royalty. And I swore an oath to your real father, before he died, to save you.” “Which means Jace is a prince?” She made another face.

“A fallen prince, yes. He gave you the dodecahedronical ring for a reason. Not to marry you, but to kill you, so he could reign supreme. You see, the A’hem are without king, without queen, and the war with the Nah still rages in worlds unseen by mortals.”

She expected him to smirk. He didn’t.

Breathless, she looked down at the ring, still floating. “You know, I finally realize what that ring looks like. In high school, I played way too much Dungeons and Dragons. That’s a twelve-sided die.”

Candy signed. “Tell me more about the Nah, and the…” she cleared her throat… “A’hem.”

“Funny.” For the first time, Tall, Dark and Prophetic smiled.

When Candy didn’t show for her shift on the pole, Jace’s senses went on high alert. She was a lot of things, but she wasn’t a flake. Her locker was a mess—and mostly empty; she’d left it open and it had been totally ransacked. There was no reason to panic, but every instinct he had was screaming that the A’hem had found her. That asshole A’ron, probably. Who knew what kind of lies he was feeding her even now.

Oh, Jace knew Candy wasn’t for him. That had been made abundantly clear, not least by their failure to connect on a physical level. She’d be their queen, but her true consort will have chosen a different path than Jace. For starters, he’d be purer of heart, mind, and body. He’d have kept celibate, as the old ways required, while Jace been tasked with keeping her safe and hidden from the Nah… and the easiest way to make that happen was to become her significant other, though his role as the slightly bumbling, harmlessly affectionate buddy chafed.

First things first, though. Jace called James on the emergency cell, checked the coordinates coming from the engagement ring, and they teleported directly to the location.

Before Candy could say “dodecahedronical,” Jace plugged A’ron with a taser and James scooped the ring up from its suspended animation. For good measure, he grabbed the spellbook too. At Candy’s expression, Jace shook his head and said, “Did he tell you the one about how I’m your brother?”

She nodded wordlessly.

“God, that guy’s a jerk,” Jace muttered, looking at the golden-eyed dipshit, inert on the stone floor.

“Is… is he going to be ok?” Candy faltered. “Did you…”

“Kill him? Nah,” James snorted at his own joke. “The taser will keep him out cold for an hour or so, though. It scrambles those guys up on a molecular level.”

Candy didn’t know what to believe or what to think. Jace and James had been her friends, and Jace her lover, for years. She knew and trusted them, or she thought she knew them. This other guy was, well, she’d been drawn to him but the attraction suddenly had gone as inert as his frame, as though a magnetic field had powered down. He’d scared the crap out of her, and God, he really had been a jerk.

“Wait.” She pulled a permanent marker out of her purse and wrote “I AM A BIG HUGE JERK” all across her kidnapper’s face. “Call me 'Pet?' Call me ’Little one’? my sweet ass,” she muttered.

“I never said I was mature,” she said, at their mirrored, startled expressions. She capped the marker, took them each regally by an elbow, and said, “Let’s go. You need to tell me about this whole Queen of the Nah gig.”


OK, so it's somewhat of an open-ended ending. Maybe if you think of it as a prologue. I like to think that Candy went on to rule the Nah and to find that consort with the soul-deep, white hot connection; while the A'Hem took some remedial lessons on feminism. Once more, I'd like to thank the awesome authors who worked on this story: Selena Laurence, Chelsea O'Neal, Holley Trent, Seleste DeLaney, Candace Blackburn, and Aaron Michael Ritchey. The final ending was written by a reclusive, anonymous author with no writing credentials whatsoever.

Oh, and because I have 80s lyrics in my head pretty much all the time, this is where the title came from (no extra charge for the earworm):

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Soup, November 15

In The Soup This Week... Eva Leigh, miscellany

Soup Dish:  on my mind
I wish I could say something eloquent and moving about the situation in Paris, and indeed, globally.  Words fail.  Religious extremists are the bane of humanity.

I've always been unapologetic for my lack of interest in, and patience for, literary fiction, but I have to admit, this article makes me want to know more about these: Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature.

I tweeted this article earlier this week; it's a good one:  "I’m not dominating the world and you can, too." Tsh's blog, "The Art of Simple," is one I really enjoy. It's a little spot of serenity on the internet. The article is good on its own, but, fair warning, is promoting the guest author's new book, Write Without Crushing Your Soul (catchy title, no?).

The Library Journal published their "Best Romances of 2015" list this week.  A funny thing happened to me when I started blogging -- as my horizons opened up to less-known authors, I've stopped keeping up with my once-auto-buy authors.  That's not OK!  I've read shockingly few of these books but almost all of them are favorite authors.  Maybe I'll go on a binge over Thanksgiving.

What I'm reading
Well, it feels like I've done a lot of reading this week, but it turns out that the only thing I actually finished was Eve Leigh's Forever Your Earl.  My fellow Avon super-readers have be raving about this author, and when I found out that Leigh is a penname for Zoe Archer, I couldn't resist any longer. This regency really delivered, with a working class, independent woman and, of course, an Earl. While I love books that incorporate the characters' professions with their personalities, I'm always a little bit leery of heroines who are writers.  It can feel a bit self-indulgent, a bit self-referential... but like anything, in the hands of an expert, it can become a feature rather than a bug:
Of all the names he'd been called in his life --"rogue," "prodigal," "libertine" -- *rake* had always been one of his least favorite.  It implied a certain leering, cheap smuttiness. "We don't need to use that word."

"Oh, but we do," she answered, face shining. "Other than the word *duke*, nothing intrigues potential readers more than *rake*. You do want people to read the columns, don't you?"
A little inside joke for romance readers-- it made me chuckle.

I guess that's it for the week.  Clearly I need to buckle down on my reading schedule!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

That Time Alpha Heroes Became a Boutique Publishing House

Hey, it's Thursday again. Conference Thursday!  Let's talk about swag.

Here's the sad truth: I'm just not that clever about coming up with awesome swag ideas. But I really wanted to have something to put in the swag bags at the Reading Until Dawn conference.

I'm not sure where I first found out about the use of signatures in bookbinding. I think it was random topic at a writers' workshop in regards to children's books, and how picture books always had either 8, 16 or 32 pages. Fascinating! I decided to play around a little bit with bookbinding and make some chapbooks of the Five Words stories that were created just for Alpha Heroes' readers.

The first step is to learn origami. OK, not really, but kind of. I took a sheet of standard 8.5"x11" printer paper and folded it in quarters, so each page was 4.25"x5.5". Staple the vertical folded edge, and once you slit the top folded edge, you have a small, 8-page book. I numbered the pages without making that slit or stapling, and then unfolded to see what my text layout needed to be. It looks like this:

Now, maybe you are a better wizard with your word processing application of choice, but I knew right away I was going to need to do this in more of a layout program than a word processor. Someday I'll get around to learning Publisher, but for this project I used Visio.

Belle's and Candy's stories just fit into 7 and 8 text blocks, respectively, with a little tweaking. For reference, Candy was just under 2300 words, and Belle was right around 1900. To look the most like a real printed book, I set up the formatting to remove white space between paragraphs, add a first-line indent for each paragraph, and to justify to both edges of the margin.

Margins are tricky!  I used .25" margins for the top, bottom, and outside edge, and a little more space on the interior bound edge. It worked out OK, but I would leave a little more than .25" the next time because the photocopying wasn't quite as precise as I would've liked. I adjusted them a couple of times and it required a lot of editing and tweaking, partly because I found out that Visio does some funky things when pasting in from Word, so I needed to check formatting every time I pasted. Bleh. It works much better if you lock in the margins before you break it all up into individual blocks.

I got a rough sense of how the pagination was going to work out by setting the margins to 3.5". I tried to set the page height to 5" but it didn't really help me visualize the way I wanted to.  There might be a way to do it but I just moved on.

I converted from one to the other by manually creating text blocks in Visio of the width I wanted and copy/pasting from the Word doc.  If/when I do this again, I'll start by lining up the 8 blocks side by side, paste everything in, do all the formatting, and double-check that for skipped or double-pasted words or lines. Once the pages are lined up right, then I moved them into the correct location and orientation as shown above.

Once I was 100% sure that everything aligned properly, I took the master pages to Staples, where I was very happy to learn that they would not only make my copies for me, but would also fold them for a very nominal fee.  Given that I of course waited until the last minute, saving me that time and effort was golden.

Did you know that in the old days, if you bought a new book, you used a knife or a sharp letter opener to slit open the signatures? It's true! You'll have to take my word for it, because I can't find a succinct reference that backs me up, but trust me, it's true.  I thought it would be OK to leave the top fold intact and have the recipients open up their own, but this sort of confused people, and it was hard (ish) to do once the pages were sewn in.  Next time I'll go ahead and cut them.

The next thing I need to obsess about was covers. I considered leather, pleather, vinyl... anything that I wouldn't have to hem or worry about fraying.  After thinking about how much time would be involved in cutting and costing out some options, I decided to go a little more downscale with cardstock.  But I was not looking forward to cutting out covers.

Readers may recall that I am a bit of a scrapbooker, so I'm pretty familiar with the cardstock and fancy-paper section of my craft store, but I've never been that interested in making cards. But! it turns out that card blanks look a LOT like a chapbook cover.  I found a standard size that was a little more than 4.25x5.5 and ordered 100 pieces from an online store. I considered several ways to do the cover art, including a custom stamp or stickers, but I decided to go with the simplest thing and use my printer. This meant I couldn't go too dark, so I chose a medium blue color.

Yay! But the best-laid plans, and all that.  What I got were plain rectangles of 4.5x6 card stock, not folded cards.  Well, I decided to make them work, and put together about 45 books using two pieces for each book.  I bought some cute washi tape to make a binding and cover the raw edge (in a leopard pattern, for the Beauty/Beast story, get it?!)

But I had another 45 or 50 books I wanted to make, and I was out of time for ordering. So I hit up the craft store and bought a package of A2 cards in a silvery color, and held my breath to see if the printer ink would stick.  Luckily, it did! (mostly).  These cards were smaller than I wanted, measuring exactly 4.25" x 5.5". I thought the books would look better if the covers were a little bigger than the pages, but I ended up liking the closer fit better.  Here they are before binding:

How did I put them all together, you ask? How did I turn cardstock and folded printer paper into a book? I ran them up on my sewing machine! It worked very well.  I was a little worried I'd break the needle, so I bought a package of heavy-duty needles, but it was fine. I didn't even need them.  I aligned the pages with the cover, clamped them with a large binder clip, and then ran a seam up the bound edge.  Isn't it cute?

One tip, if you've never sewed piece parts before, is that you can run the books through the machine one after another and cut them apart when you're done.  You have a little chain of books connected by thread in between.  It just goes quicker than stopping and starting.

As a finishing touch, I used removable glue dots to stick one of my blog cards to the inside front cover:

My production assistant did a great job with these. (She's 11 and very crafty.)

Last comment on the whole process: the delicate washi tape binding on other books, with the separate top and bottom, didn't hold up very well.  It did look very good, but just wasn't sturdy enough. Since I liked the way the pre-folded cards looked better, I'd probably plan on just using them without the tape, but if I did want to use tape on the binding, just for cuteness, I'd probably pick a narrow DuckTM pattern.

Now, if I were a really good DIY blogger, I'd have scads of lovely photos with perfect lighting and just so styling for each step, most likely involving homemade tassles and tiny succulent plants and maybe some shiny confetti. (Errr, it's possible that I'm spending too much time on blogs like Emily Henderson's and Oh Joy!).  As it is, I can't even find any of the Beauty chapbooks to show you the difference in the finished products (dammit! they're around here somewhere!)  Next time, maybe.  But if you ever feel like making a few copies of a short story, these turned out very cute and I think the recipients at the con liked them a lot.  And I must admit, I did have fun making them!


If you thought about going to the Reading Until Dawn Conference, but for whatever reason decided against it, I would recommend that you go over the Facebook group and torture yourself with the photos of what a great time we had. (I'm assuming that if you did go to the con, you're already following the awesome photos that are going up). Like so:

Me and Super-Woman Casey

If you want to kept informed of planning for the next one, Casey has just opened up a newsletter sign up -- go subscribe and don't even think about missing the next one.  My collectible publications and I will be there.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Soup - November 8

In The Soup This Week... Julie Wetzel, Thea Harrison, Vivi Andrews, and Alyssa Cole

Soup Dish:  on my mind
I have really tuned out of online RomLand lately, by which I mean Twitter. I have a vague notion that the #NotChilled thing heated up again, and it seemed like there was a bit of an uproar over a tweet from Bobbi Dumas that sort of went all over the place.  Other than that, I've been unplugged and mostly just reading like crazy. Am I missing anything good?

What I'm reading
I picked up Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole this week based on Sarah MacLean's recommendation for a later book in the series and my growing obsession with post-apocalyptic fiction. It was OK, with plausible world-building and good characters. Sort of a twist on the classic "cabin romance," with three siblings plus the heroine cooped up in a well-stocked remote house while they wonder what is happening in the outside world.  I didn't love it, mostly due to the voicing which just sounded a bit juvenile to me. This is an example of a perfectly fine book that just didn't suit my personal taste.

On the Accidental Wings of Dragons, by Julie Wetzel. This was a BookBub freebie, which turned out to be much better than the awkward title. Imaginative and fun; combines the beautiful-princess fairy tale tradition with a modern military special-ops hero. I found the internal narration, again, a little juvenile, but the plot carried it more so than the Alyssa Cole for me. Maybe I'm just having a Get Off My Lawn week.

Or maybe it's a week for dragons, because I couldn't resist the novella from Thea Harrison, Dragos Goes To Washington. Really more of a mystery than a romance, but featuring a favorite romantic couple. I can't say their HEA was ever in question in this story, but their ongoing passion for each other forms the context for the political whodunit. Loved it, but then I always love Thea Harrison. I do sometimes get behind on the novellas, so I was happy to see that the last three (before this one) are on offer as a bundle: A Dragon Family Album, for a nice discount.

The big surprise this week was an RT thumbdrive offering from Vivi Andrews, titled "Spinning Gold."  I correctly assumed this would be a Rumplestiltskin-based re-told fairy tale, and incorrectly assumed that it would be terrible. I totally loved it. Andrews' story of the lost Golden Fae, with Midas-like abilities, turns the old tale on its head and delivers a hot paranormal romance with all the elements that a modern fan of the genre could ask for: a sensible, beautiful heroine with agency; creepy magical villains, complex magic, and a white-hot hero who helps the heroine save the day. I'm definitely going to check out Andrews' extensive backlist.


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