USA Today best-selling author of over 80 novels, and five-time winner of the coveted RITA Award including for being inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame, Justine Davis has been featured on CNN, in several local newspapers and nationwide by Associated Press. She has spoken at several national and international conferences, at the UCLA writer’s program, and is featured in North American Romance Writers, an academic reference. Along with many other awards, she is a fifteen time nominee for RT Book Review awards, has won four times, received three of their lifetime achievement awards, and had four titles on the magazine’s 200 Best of all Time list.
After years of working in law enforcement, and more years doing both, Justine now writes full time. She lives near beautiful Puget Sound in Washington State, peacefully coexisting with deer, bears, a pair of bald eagles, a tailless raccoon, and driving her prized ’67 Corvette roadster with her beloved dog as passenger.
The amazing author, Justine Davis, is here with us on A Slice of Orange. Sit back and enjoy!!
Jann: Published in 1991, an award-winning author of over eighty books—what has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Justine: Reader response and having fans who await every book is probably the most rewarding. More personally, I’m stunned that it’s still going! I’ve survived in this crazy business for almost three decades. A long way from that twenty-something with a dream. Or the kid who wrote her first story at about age six! Perhaps even more amazing, I’m busier now than ever, writing for three publishers and getting ready to put out some Indie projects I’ve been working on.
Jann: Your books are filled with amazing characters that pull the reader into your stories. In just three days, May 5th, your romantic suspense, Operation Second Chance, will be available for readers. What is the premise of this story?
Justine: Thank you! This is the 11th book in the Cutter’s Code series. I never planned on it going this long, because in other series I would be ready to wind it up after about 6-8 books, maybe 10. But darn, I love that dog and how he leads his humans around! Operation Second Chance is what I call a “loose end” story. Back in the beginning, I’d set up the Foxworth Foundation and its founder, Quinn Foxworth, with a backstory. Part of it involved a convenience store robbery where a police officer was killed and Quinn and another officer wounded. But I’d never actually told that backstory, or explained what happened to the other people involved. But it was always in the back of my mind, the curiosity about them. And so this book was born.
Jann: What challenges did you set for your main characters, Adam Kirk and Amanda Bonner to overcome?
Justine: Sheer hatred? Kidding, but Amanda is the daughter of the officer who died, and she blames his rookie partner for what happened. Who is, of course, Adam Kirk. Who blames himself as well. They have a long journey to make to get to the truth about what happened that night and their feelings about each other.
Jann: Lone Star Reunion, Texas Justice Book 4, debuted this past March. What would you like readers to know about this story?
Justine: The idea for the book—specifically the hero’s backstory—came out of a real life situation I encountered, back in my law enforcement days. It broke my heart then that there was so little I could do back then, so I decided to at least give my fictional character a happy ending. Many of my stories are born that way, out of the desire to give happy endings that I couldn’t give in real life. It’s probably why I write what I write.
Jann: Are you working on something now that you can share with us?
Justine: Absolutely! At the moment it’s a long list. I just finished the 5th and final book in the Texas Justice series, Lone Star Homecoming, the story of the long missing Highwater brother, Kane. That will be out on June 11th. Also just finished final proofing on another Coltons continuity, Colton Storm Warning, to be released in October. I’m midway into the next Cutter’s Code, lucky number 13 (as yet untitled but scheduled for December), and just agreed to a new contract for another series set in Last Stand, Texas. I’m also readying a five-book series set in the fictional northern California town of Wild Oak, to be released soon. Plus, I’m about to release one of those “books of the heart,” entitled Dark Roads, a story I’ve been writing for over a dozen years. It’s a different story from my usual, and I hope readers will give it a shot.
Other than that, I’ve been goofing off…
Jann: What Kind of writer are you? A page a day or a burst writer?
Justine: Fairly disciplined. Minimum pages per day. A lot less than in the beginning, though! Back then when I had all those stories bottled up I thought anything less than 25 pages a day (6250 words, for those who have been able to shift to word count calculations!) was dogging it. And that was when I was still working full time. Now it depends on deadlines, of course, but it’s also divided up between projects, depending on how many books I’m writing at once. (which was a transition in itself, from writing one book at a time and linearly to writing up to three at once, and not always in story order—all these years, and I’m still learning and changing!) Right now, for example, I’m working on both the next Cutter and the Indie series, and my schedule is 5 pages on Cutter and 3 on the other. Plus brainstorming my next Last Stand, Texas series, and edits on two other books. Let’s just say I stay busy!
Jann: Are there any words of inspiration on your computer, in your office or in your mind when you write?
Justine: Oh, this is a good one. Yes, I have things up all over. Besides my deadline schedule, visual boards and pub dates, I have an excerpt from a reader letter that was particularly inspiring. A boyhood picture of my late husband, with the most mischievous grin I’ve ever seen, to remind me of the heart all my heroes have. A phrase I borrowed for my hero Shane Highwater in Lone Star Lawman, which I turn to when the day’s work seems overwhelming: Start where you stand. And an old Andy Capp comic strip I’ve had for years which ends with the wisdom: “Marriages might be made in heaven, but you have to do your own maintenance.”
Jann: What are you dying to try next?
Justine: I’m dying to—and am about to—dive into the Indie pool, as I’ve mentioned. I’m starting with a 5-book series that’s almost ready. The entire series was inspired by a wood sculpture I saw in a hotel lobby, of horses swirling up out of a solid base. I was entranced by it, and knew that someday I would simply have to write it into a story. And when that beautiful hotel was sadly lost in the horrific wildfires that hit the California wine country, I became even more determined. My fictional sculptor is the hero of the first book, and it turned out he had some fascinating relatives and friends…
Jann: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Justine: Jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Hang glide off a cliff? Barrel race an unruly horse? Ride a motorcycle for years? Truth be told, it probably wasn’t any of those, but rather quitting my day job (which was really a night job most of the time) to try to be a full-time writer. That was scary, and crazy. But I was seriously tired of doing both on six hours sleep if I was lucky. Taking off the badge was hard, but I love what I do, so I have to say it’s been worth it. And as I always say, I know how lucky I am to have had two careers I love; many people don’t even get one.
Jann: Thanks for sharing with us today Justine. I really enjoyed hearing about what you have been doing these past years. I so glad you still have your red Corvette Roadster. Good luck with the debut of Operation Second Chance. It’s in my cart to purchase!!
Megan Haskell is the award-winning author of The Sanyare Chronicles, a fast-paced dark fantasy adventure featuring a kick-ass heroine, snarky carnivorous pixies, and a quest across nine faerie realms. She lives in Southern California with her phenomenally supportive husband, wicked smart daughters, and a ridiculously energetic dog. You can find her online at MeganHaskell.com.
Megan: World-building is a huge part of being a fantasy author. Somehow, you have to make the magical seem real, and the mayhem make sense. I got the idea for The Sanyare Chronicles in the summer of 2012, but I didn’t start writing the actual story until September or October of that year. In other words, I spent about three months, maybe more, doing nothing but filling notebooks with ideas for the world that my character would inhabit.
For me, it always starts with a character, and then a question. In this case, I knew my character was a human woman living as a third class citizen amongst the high elves of the fae. So I asked: Who does she live with? Where do they live? What is her occupation? Why is that job important (or not)? Who does she interact with? What are her surroundings like? I wanted the world to influence the character as much—if not more than—the events in the plot.
As I went along in this process, I developed entire civilizations, including their customs and geographies. I wrote out the rules of the magic that is an inherent part of their world. I studied ancient myths and legends, taking their creatures and twisting them to my own designs.
It was a lot of fun!
The War of the Nine Faerie Realms actually takes place in the same universe as The Sanyare Chronicles, but several thousand years earlier. Because of that, in some ways it was easier to do the world-building, but in others it was harder. I had to make sure that everything remained consistent and believable between the two stories, while introducing new characters and new settings to make it interesting.
Megan: Forged in Shadow is an epic fantasy adventure that explores how the innocent can get caught up in the chaos and politics of war. I was working on the theme that no one is blameless in war, and no one can claim all the fault.
Curuthannor is a reluctant smith’s son who would rather wield a sword than a hammer. So when the family gets a commission from the king for a powerful enchanted sword, he jumps at the chance to journey to a foreign land to broker a deal for the materials his father needs for the crafting. Along the way, he falls afoul of the foreign king and gets caught up in political chess games that not only threaten his own life, but those of his entire family.
Meanwhile, Lhéwen is the princess’s most trusted handmaiden, and proud of it. She’s a seamstress who can perform minor enchantments on physical objects, but she mostly makes small baubles and trinkets. She’s honored when the princess selects her for a special delegation to the foreign king. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize the princess has her own agenda. Lhéwen quickly becomes caught between allegiance to her home realm and her oaths to her princess, all while her skills are being used in a game she doesn’t fully understand.
Megan: Yes, Book Two is already in the works. In fact, as of right now, I have about 40k words written in the rough draft (Forged in Shadow is about 116k words). The War of the Nine Faerie Realms will be a trilogy, so this is really the second act of the overall story. It will continue to follow Curuthannor and Lhéwen as they navigate the harsh realities of their war-torn worlds, each trying to do what is right and honorable in the face of moral quandary and powerful foes.
Megan: The Sanyare Chronicles are action-adventure fantasy featuring a kick-ass heroine and her carnivorous pixie sidekicks.
Rie is a human raised by elves in the high court of faerie. Treated as a third-class citizen by everyone but her foster parents, she nevertheless rises to an honorable position in the messenger service. When assassins attack while she’s on a delivery, she’s framed for treason and sentenced to execution. To prove her innocence, she must forsake her oaths and flee into enemy lands, but the secrets she uncovers may threaten more than her honor or even her life…for war is looming in the nine faerie realms.
Thus begins The Last Descendant. The rest of the journey follows Rie as she uncovers the truth of her past to find her future.
Megan: Absolutely! Writing productivity is actually something I teach with my business partner, Greta Boris, over at The Author Wheel. I’m a firm believer that habits and schedules are key to moving forward with any story—any creative project, really—and avoiding writers’ block.
In my case, I’m a stay-at-home-mom with eight and five year-old girls. In a typical day (well, prior to COVID-19, anyway) I set aside work time from 9:30 to 11:30am when the five year-old is in preschool. I usually work either in my home office or my favorite local coffee shop (Patch Coffee off of Portola and El Toro) but location really doesn’t matter. For me to get into the writing headspace, I follow the same basic procedure:
1. Open the laptop and Scrivener (my writing application…I highly recommend it)
2. Put in my noise canceling headphones and turn the sound to Brain.FM, which plays white noise music that helps me focus
3. Re-read the last page or two of whatever I wrote in the previous writing session
4. Close my eyes and visualize the scene I want to write for a minute or two
5. Set a timer for 25 minutes
6. Write as much as I can without stopping
7. Take a five-ish minute break to stand up, go to the bathroom, get more coffee, answer an email, etc.
8. (Repeat steps 4-7 until I have to pick up the munchkin)
This small ritual tells my brain that it’s time to be creative. I don’t wait for the muse to bless me with her presence, I give her a call and invite her in for a cup of coffee.
After the girls go to bed, I’ll try to squeeze in another hour or two of working time, but usually my creative brain is pretty fried by that point so I focus more on marketing and other business activities rather than writing.
Megan: It’s not what she said, it’s what she did.
My mom lives in Colorado and she wanted me to come out and do a reading at a bookstore in Frisco (a mountain town). She set everything up and I publicized it on my website and social media and stuff, but I didn’t really expect anyone to come. I’m not famous (yet) and while I do have a strong fan base, they’re scattered all over the world. So I was shocked when one of my earliest fans and reviewers drove three hours up the mountain with her husband and sister just to meet me! It was amazing, and humbling, and inspiring all at the same time.
Megan: My website (www.meganhaskell.com) is the easiest place to keep up to date on everything that’s going on and buy signed paperbacks. You can sign up for my newsletter to get a free short story and approximately weekly newsletters that include everything from my latest goings-on to special sales and book recommendations.
I’m also frequently on Facebook . I don’t use other social media much, but I’m technically on Twitter and Instagram as well with the username @meganphaskell.
If you’re interested in learning more about the workshops I teach and want to take a fun five-minute Author Personality Quiz, you should check out The Author Wheel. We’re working on getting our courses available online soon!
As for my ebooks, Forged in Shadow will be released on April 6 to all major ebook distributors except Google. The Sanyare Chronicles are already out everywhere I can get them. You can use the universal links below to select your favorite digital book platform for download.
Jann: Megan, thank you so much for opening a window into your world. Your book covers are so engaging. Congratulations on the April 6th debut of Forged in Shadow. I can’t wait to read it.
Today we’re chatting with Frances Amati and learning how wolfhounds, holidays, and weird dreams work into a journey to publications.
Frances Amati writes fantasy/paranormal and contemporary romance. A member of the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America, she has been a finalist twice in the prestigious Orange Rose Contest and three times in the California Dreaming Conference’s Hooker Contest. Her first short story, Heart Hound, was published in the OCC-RWA Anthology Romancing the Pages.
Her debut novel, The Christmas Present, the first installment in her contemporary Holiday Hearts Series released November 29th, 2019 and is available in Kindle or print-on-demand on Amazon. The first of her fantasy/paranormal series is slated for release in spring of 2020. You can find her at www.francesamati.com or on Facebook at @FCAmati.
A full time Senior Property Manager for a real estate services firm, this mother of three grown children and “Nonna” to five darling grandchildren, keeps her sanity with large doses of humor and frequent reality checks administered by her Irish Wolfhounds. Her close-knit family inspires not only many of her characters but is an integral part of the support system that keeps her afloat in windswept ocean of activity. An avid traveler with various hobbies, Frances currently resides in Huntington Beach, California with her seventeen-month-old Irish Wolfhounds puppies, Valhalla and Valkyrie, who remind her that love is what we make it.
Jann: Tell us about your journey to publication.
Frances: I wouldn’t be a published author without my son, Evan and my Irish Wolfhound, Handsome. But that’s not really the place to start. I’ve always been close to my kids—and humor is a huge part of that. Thus my “dream” life is a running joke in my family. The narrative is “Don’t tell us you had a weird dream. Just tell us you had a dream; we’ll know it’s weird.” Stories, whether in dreams or daydreams, have always been a part of me. So, when my son Evan was preparing to leave for university, he threw me a challenge. “I’ll go to college and while I’m gone this year, you should write a book.” More, I think, to keep me out of his hair than anything else.
Through Handsome, I had met Alexis Montgomery. We were becoming good friends and spending considerable time together as she mentored me in the ways of wolfhounds. Laughingly, I recounted Evan’s challenge and she latched on like a moral eel. I hadn’t known she was a writer. She invited me to a meeting of her writing “group.” To be honest, that first time I didn’t know what I was attending, or even what OCC or RWA were. That was 2010 and I never looked back.
When OCC put out the call for short stories to be published in a fund-raising anthology, Alexis and Janis Thereault, my other new writing pal, encouraged me to submit—so I did. Heart Hound was selected and published in Romancing the Pages. I was excited, but also at a loss. Growing up in a blue-collar home where creative arts were considered fanciful pastimes, I had to get past my own limiters. The success of being selected threw me because I felt untrained and unprepared. A situation utterly “at odds” with my natural tendencies to always be prepared. But Alexis and Janis encouraged me so I started writing. So much so, that I now have bits and pieces of so many different stories tucked into journals all over my house. But I needed to learn.
I was heavy on craft sessions at conferences and meetings—and I went to plenty of them. I took a writing class with Louella Nelson. There is just so much to learn and everyone is always pushing more at you. Honestly, it was almost so overwhelming I thought I’d never get anywhere. Plus, you’re in the ring with talented people who have degrees in fields designed for this pathway. But the OCC motto kept popping up—and I kept on going. Not to mention I think Alexis would have dragged me back in chains if I tried to walk away. But that is what good friends do for you.
The one thing I repeatedly took away from meetings and conferences was to have a stockpile of material to release systematically over time when you were getting started. By then, I felt that my path was going to be through self-publication. Thus, my stockpiling commenced, but it is slow going. My day job is time consuming, eating up anywhere from forty-five to sixty or more hours a week. That ties right in with my mortgage holder who, for some strange reason, really likes my house payment on time. And let’s not forget those Irish Wolfhounds—someone has to keep them in the royal pampered style to which they have become accustomed.
The Christmas Present (TCP) is the first installment in the Holiday Hearts Series and my very first self-publication (Thank you Amazon!). I have two books written in my fantasy series that are in the editing process now. I also have a series of children’s books called The Adventures of Handsome and Marlo in the works. They are about a wolfhound and his new friend, Marlo, a mouse. And yes, Handsome is very much based on my wolfhound of the same name. I’m looking for an illustrator for those as they are destined for picture books. I am excited to continue down the road in front of me. If there is one thing to take away from this interview, it is that dreams are never too old or too dead to be revived and lived.
Jann: Your debut contemporary romance novel released on November 29, 2019—The Christmas Present. How did that feel?
Frances: How did it feel? So often things in my life have ended up being anti-climactic. This was not one of those times—even though I feared it might be. It was amazing!
Throughout the process, but monumentally more as I neared the end, was the trepidation that the long haul of writing, editing, along with all the details and prep of publishing would overshadow the actual accomplishment. However, when I hit that “Publish” button on KDP my heart leapt into my throat. This was REAL and happening NOW. There I was, sitting at my dining room table, sending texts to my family, my critique partners and close friends; all the while I kept glancing at my laptop screen thinking “I did THAT.” Even now, when I look at the Amazon page or a print copy, I almost can’t believe it. But what has made this experience even more amazing is the support and feedback I have received. So many people have given me unsolicited and wonderful feedback. People I respect professionally and whose praise is all the more meaningful because it isn’t easily earned. It beats back that little demon of self-doubt who likes to beat me up.
Jann: Let’s talk about The Christmas Present, Book One in the Holiday Hearts Series. Who are these two amazing characters, nature photographer, Alexandria Marsh and playboy Declan Ruaidhri? How do they find their HEA?
Frances: Originally, this was supposed to be a novella for publication in a Holiday anthology with my critique partners, Alexis Montgomery and Janis Thereault. But somewhere along our planning curve all three stories diverged to different life paths. TCP was actually written four years ago. I pitched it to a few houses at different conferences, and it was requested several times. But it’s not a typical holiday story and honestly, I wasn’t thrilled about putting it with a house—it didn’t fit the “profile” and I wasn’t willing to make the significant changes to storyline. To me, no matter your beliefs, Christmas is about faith and the grace of forgiveness.
In The Christmas Present, Alexandria and Declan must renew their faith in themselves and allow the grace of forgiveness to free them from the past. To not live in the present can be a serious detriment to one’s happiness. The weight of past baggage can drown you in a sea of regret and worry. Alexandria carries a burden born from her strong protective tendencies, and to find the solution she must forgive her own choices, own them and have faith in herself and her family. Declan’s encumbrance is wounded pride and family duty. Each sees the other’s problems more clearly than their own. In seeking to assist one another, they find the blessings of solving their own internal issues. Finding love along the way never hurts.
Jann: How many books are you planning for this series and when do you plan for Book Two to be available?
Frances: While all the books will have characters in common, each novel stands alone and is based on a different holiday. Currently, I have four additional stories plotted out around Valentine’s Day, Easter, Independence Day and Thanksgiving. So, a total of five. Every story resonates with a different “theme” related to its holiday association. For example, Easter, to me, is a time of hope and re-birth—which is part of both the hero and heroine’s journey in this story. I anticipate that Book 2 will be released early in the summer of 2020.
Jann: You also have a fantasy/paranormal series to coming out this year. What can you share with us today about the series?
Frances: In my mind, this series is where creation and the big bang meet. I haven’t finalized the series name yet, nor the titles of the first two books, which are complete. Part of the backstory is that the original solar system of the universe is peopled by super beings. Since the beginning they have watched over developing worlds, protecting them from the dark forces of the cosmos. But the fight between good and evil, dark and light, has gone on since the creation of the universe. This fight has taken its toll on the protectors and twelve of the most powerful warriors in the universe have been entombed—alive but in a state of crystalline stasis. They can only be awoken by another of their kind. The hunt is on for the mysterious thirteenth—the lost offspring of one of the warriors—who may be hidden here on Earth. Or maybe it was on Andar, or that other planet? The search for the missing warrior takes a rogue crew of hunky aliens into the heart of danger, and the peril of losing their hearts.
Jann: For our lovers of animals, introduce us to your Irish Wolfhounds.
Frances: You may be sorry you asked me this one. LOL. My Irish Wolfhound story is magical in my eyes, and without this journey I would not be an author today. I have always loved to read. As a child it was an escape from the life I was born to. When I was eight or nine, I read a story with a girl who had a wolfhound. He was her best friend, her protector, and the one who loved her above all others. I told my mother I wanted one. Not being an animal person, she said no, not only to a wolfhound, but to any pets. Mind you, I actually had no idea what they looked like—there was no internet back then. I only knew they were huge and loved you to no end.
Time passed, I grew up, left home, married and had a family. Like so many childhood dreams thoughts of an Irish Wolfhound fell to the wayside. Years passed, my children were adults, I was divorced and living alone. My heart reminded me of my childhood dream—and now we have the internet. Photos of majestic hounds called to me like nothing ever had in my life. I found referrals from the National Club website and spoke to a woman who referred me to Alexis Montgomery, president of the Southern California Irish Wolfhound Club. Although not a breeder for profit, she knew many people in the wolfhound community and invited me over to meet her. In hindsight, I think it was more of an interview to see if I was worthy of consideration.
It was May of 2009 when Alexis met me at her front gate with her female, Wunjo and Wunjo’s two one-year old male puppies, Bear and Handsome. All three dogs welcomed me warmly. When Alexis invited me in to sit and talk Irish Wolfhounds, Wunjo and Bear wandered off around the yard. But Handsome followed me into the house. When I sat down on the loveseat he jumped up beside me and using his paw, pulled me up against his chest. For perspective, I am 5’9” and when I sat next to him, my head barely reached his neck. He was a big boy who bent and licked my face before laying his head on top of mine and cuddling me against his chest. I fell in love that very moment. But as he was Alexis’s dog, with a show career and breeding plans laid out in front of him, I knew I could only love him from afar.
Alexis was true to her word. Welcoming me into the IW community, she put me in touch with responsible breeders and I was on the waitlist. She invited me to the Irish Fair, fun matches and countless events and walks. Then one day when we were going to take Bear and Handsome for a walk on the beach, she dropped the bomb on me. “I know you want a puppy, but would you consider taking Handsome?” I don’t cry easily, but in that moment, I was overwhelmed with emotion and could barely speak, much less function.
I couldn’t believe my ears. But she laid it out clear enough. I still remember the hitch in her voice. “That damn dog is so in love with you, he isn’t happy unless he is with you.” His happiness was paramount to her. So finally, five months after our “meet-cute”, Handsome came home to be my forever heart hound. My heart was full. Or so I thought. That was October of 2009. Two years later, Phira, a female from Bear’s litter joined us and we were a pack of three.
I lost Handsome in April of 2015 and I still cry over him. Phira crossed over in February of 2018. I will mourn them always. But life moves on and in September 2018, one of Bear’s granddaughters, Jaegar gave birth. Having asked her to give me a boy, she naturally had all females: Valhalla and Valkyrie. I was only planning on one and Hala came home in December 2018, but Valkyrie joined our family in July of 2019. The sisters love each other and are boon companions. Being the same age and closely bonded they are a handful, but worth every moment.
Hala is a wheaten with black tips and Valkyrie is a gray brindle. But those aren’t the only differences. Hala is a goof—she makes funny faces and is an absolute gladiator at play. Affection and loyal, but very independent. She adores my six-year-old grand-daughter, Evelyn, and I have found them curled up together on the dog bed more times than I can count.
Valkyrie is an absolute cuddle-bug. She will curl up in your lap—she makes herself fit—for hours if you are willing. But make no mistake, this little girl can gladiate with the best of them. And willful…I think her picture is next to the word in the dictionary.
Right now, they are around 130 pounds at seventeen months of age. They still have some growing to do. But both are clever, strong and determined—like my heroines. They are a big part of my life, so naturally they will find their way into my written world.
Jann: What’s your favorite movie?
Frances: This one is easier than it used to be. I Am Dragon. It’s a Russian movie I found a year or two ago. I don’t normally care to have the television on while I am working, but for some reason I wanted something on in the background. I figured a movie in Russian would do the trick. I don’t remember what I had intended to do, but I never got to it. I was enthralled. The cinematography and music are so incredibly beautiful. And the story! The courage to love against all odds. Loving enough to sacrifice for the benefit of one you love. I bought it and have watched it probably fifty times. There is something about it that just grabs me in a most visceral way.
Jann: If a spaceship landed in your backyard and the aliens on board offered to take you for a ride, would you go? Why or why not?
Frances: Oh, yes. I have wanted to go into space as long as I could remember. To move through the cosmos, to see a nebular cloud, experience other worlds, a trip around the sun. It would be amazing. Well, at least as long as I wasn’t on the menu for dinner. Hopefully, when they show up I will either be between wolfhounds or able to take them with me. LOL
Jann: What’s the best writing advice you ever received? What’s the worst?
Frances: The best? Never quit. Simple. Easy. Straight forward. The worst? “The rule is….” Every great book I’ve ever read breaks one rule or another. Rules box you in, limit you. You have to produce a great product—that is the end game. But there has to be room for creativity and play. Once, while I was still a newbie at my day job, I asked a previous supervisor about a form to complete this mundane task. She responded that she didn’t particularly like to be in a box. I agreed—I don’t want to live in a box either. But I do believe we have to know where the box is and how it functions so we can effectively live outside it.
We’re here today with author, Alice Duncan, or should I say author Emma Craig, Rachel Wilson, Anne Robins or Jon Sharp. A woman who started her prolific writing career in 1995.
In an effort to avoid what she knew she should be doing, Alice folk-danced professionally until her writing muse finally had its way. Now a resident of Roswell, New Mexico, Alice enjoys saying “no” to smog, “no” to crowds, and “yes” to loving her herd of wild dachshunds.
Handy Links for Alice:
Jann: Alice, what can you tell us about your writing career and your life in New Mexico.
Alice: I began writing when I still lived in Pasadena, CA. I remember the moment well, actually. My daughter Robin and I were visiting my folks in Roswell, and we decided to drive to Fort Stanton and visit Billy the Kid’s grave (hey, you take your thrills where you find ‘em). As Robin drove, I looked at the bleak landscape, and a scene suddenly leapt into my mind. So I withdrew a pad of paper and a pencil from my purse and wrote it down. This was, I think, in August of 1993. From then on, I wrote down snippets and scraps and, in October of that year, I started to write my first book. It stank, but I kept going. I was mega into historical romances at the time, so I wrote historical romances. My first book, ONE BRIGHT MORNING, set in New Mexico in the late 1800s, sold to Harper on the day of the Northridge Earthquake in January of 1994. It was published in January of 1995. I thought I was on the road to success.
Silly me. However, as I’ve always possessed more determination than sense, I’ve been writing ever since. Once I moved to Roswell (Pasadena being too expensive to live in anymore) my infatuation for the old west gradually faded, and I became nostalgic for good old Pasadena. As the mere notion of writing anything contemporary gives me the willies, I decided to write historical cozy mysteries. So that’s what I’ve been doing for nearly twenty years now. All of them, except for three books in a series called The Pecos Valley books are set in Southern California. Daisy Gumm Majesty, my favorite character of all time, lives in Pasadena.
Jann: Your Daisy Gumm Majesty and Mercy Allcutt mysteries are set in the 1920’s. Why did you select this particular time period?
Alice: The 1920s is a fascinating decade. The War to End All Wars (which, unfortunately, wasn’t) had ended in 1918; the Spanish flu pandemic (which started in a fort in Kansas, but never mind that) wiped out a third or more of the world’s population (in other words, of those remaining after the War) in 1918-1919; the automobile had been invented and was becoming a way of life; young people started to believe their lives meant nothing so they might as well drink, smoke and party; parents were freaked about their children’s loose morals; hemlines were rising; the flickers were drawing people in by the boatload and showing them lives nobody really lived but wanted to live; and, basically, the world, it was a’changing.
Jann: ePublishing Works is republishing your Mercy Allcutt historical cozy mystery series. How wonderful! Who is Mercy Allcutt? Tell us about the world you have created for this series.
Alice: Mercy Allcutt came into being when I thought Daisy Gumm Majesty was floating belly-up in the goldfish bowl of publishing. You see, My publisher at the time, Kensington, said there wasn’t enough mystery in the first Daisy book (in which conclusion they were probably correct), and decided I should take out the dead bodies, add a subsidiary romance since the heroine was already married, and they marketed them as romances. This decision flopped magisterially, which fits the name, but didn’t do the books any good. The first two Daisy book tanked, as so many of my books do, and I had to move on to another name and another historical romance series (my Titanic books which, while perfectly good romances, weren’t what I wanted to write). So there I was, stuck in 19th century romance, when I wanted to be in a good, cozy, roaring-twenties’ mystery!
Thus was born Mercy Allcutt, a Boston Brahmin who longs to live “among the people,” an opportunity for which didn’t exist in her family’s estate on Beacon Hill in Boston. She bucks family pressure, moves to Los Angeles to live with her sister Chloe and Chloe’s movie-mogul husband, and gets a job, something no other female in her family has ever done before. She wants to become a member of the worker proletariat because she yearns to write books. Gritty books. Books set on the mean streets involving “real” people.
She figures a sheltered young lady from Boston knows beans about, grit, real people or mean streets. Therefore, she gets a job as secretary to a private detective, Mr. Ernest Templeton. Mercy and Ernie have several adventures together. One of them involves a woman I modeled more or less after Aimee Semple McPherson, who was a big Gospel preacher in the 1920s and who built the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. That book was Fallen Angels, which was republished a few months back. It won the Arizona/New Mexico Book of the Year Award for mystery-suspense in 2012, which is weird because I didn’t enter it. Someone entered it for me. I don’t personally care for contests for more reasons than I want to go in to here.
Anyway, I was glad about Mercy, but I was absolutely thrilled when Five Star picked up the Daisy books. Then Five Star closed their mystery line, and I moved to ePublishing Works, a “small” publisher and the only that’s ever made any money for me! Go figure.
Jann: The reissue of Angels of Mercy will be available this month. What has Mercy gotten herself into in this book?
Alice: Mercy, who really does try to live on the income from her job as secretary to a P.I., dips into her Great-Aunt Agatha’s legacy to purchase the Bunker Hill home her sister and brother-in-law own (her parents are scandalized that Los Angeles commandeered the name Bunker Hill, by the way). Chloe and Harvey Nash (Mercy’s sister and brother-in-law) are moving to Beverly Hills. Mercy’s motives are pure. She wants to operate a boarding house for young women who, unlike her, actually have to live on their incomes as working women. All goes well until she allows a cuckoo into her nest. Then things get dicey. Mercy’s apricot-colored toy poodle plays a pivotal role in the book, too. I love dogs.
Jann: What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
Alice: Never give up. I also have a favorite quotation: “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” That’s by Henry Van Dyke. I’d leave out the “very” if it were up to me, but it isn’t. Anyway, I didn’t write “The Story of the Other Wise Man,” and Henry Van Dyke did, so what the heck.
Jann: In your books, who is your favorite character and why?
Alice: Daisy Gumm Majesty is my favorite character in my mysteries series. Daisy’s me, only with a supportive family and none of my neuroses (she has plenty of her own, so she’s not boring). And she also has a black-and-tan dachshund. I’ve collected dachshunds for most of my life, and it’s not my fault. I think a dachshund magnet was implanted in me at birth. I now belong to New Mexico Dachshund Rescue, but I managed to end up with seventy-billion wiener dogs even before that.
My favorite character from my historical romances is Loretta Linden, a wealthy San Francisco feminist who survived the sinking of Titanic. Her book, A PERFECT ROMANCE, is the middle book in my three-book Titanic series.
Jann: Do you ever run out of ideas? If so, how did you get past that?
Alice: Oh, yeah. I didn’t at first, but I’ve been doing this for 25 years or more, and I’m old and tired. In order to get past that, I ask people for suggestions! They come up with some doozies. I use them and acknowledge the donors in my books. I appreciate them so much, it’s difficult to quantify how much.
Jann: What profession would you hate to do?
Alice: I’ve pretty much hated every day job I’ve ever had, mainly because I’ve always wanted to write books. I wouldn’t have minded being a librarian, but I had to support my two daughters by myself by the time I was 19 years old, and that didn’t leave much room for writing. After my daughters grew up, writing books just seemed so hard. I mean, how do you string 400 or so pages of one story together? A friend of mine recommended historical romances, so I read them and realized that’s what I’d wanted to write since I was five. So I did.
Jann: What’s your all-time favorite book?
Alice: Oy. That’s a big job; finding one book out of thousands. However, I think my all-time favorite book is THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN, by Romain Gary. Contains elephants.
Jann: What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Alice: Not sure about a statute of limitations, but I don’t think I’d better answer that.
Jann: What turns you off?
Alice: Anachronistic language and cultural mind-sets in historical fiction. There’s a PBS series called “Frankie Drake,” which is set in Canada in the 1920s. It’s absolutely teeming with modern cultural sensibilities and modern expressions. Drives me nuts (not a long drive). But people will watch it and think that’s the way it was. It wasn’t. Trust me. I’ve done so much research into the 1920s (especially in Pasadena and Los Angeles) and the American west, and I know that’s not the way things and language were. Gah.
Jann: What’s the funniest (or sweetest or best or nicest) thing a fan ever said to you?
Alice: I’ve received several letters and emails from people who tell me my books have helped them through hard times, and that makes me glad. The most amazing one came from a woman in Australia, who was, at the time she first wrote, homeless and living in her gold VW Bug with her cat, Koto. I used her story (with her permission) for the Daisy book, Bruised Spirits. I’m happy to say she’s doing much better now, although she nearly got burned out a couple of weeks ago, thanks to Australia’s hideous drought and ghastly brushfire problems.
Jann: Alice, it has been so much fun talking with you today. Thank you for giving us peak into your writing career.
Always on the lookout for an adventure, Christina Alexandra has worked many different jobs including both medical and veterinary offices, as a service dog puppy raiser, music teacher, law enforcement instructor, emergency grief counselor, and coroner’s assistant just to name a few. Writing stories set in Georgian and Regency England she credits her varied experiences as the foundation from which she builds true-to-life characters and emotional stories with a unique twist on modern issues.
Christina lives in Southern California where she currently works as an emergency services operator for a busy police department. When not researching, writing or working, Christina spends her spare time travelling, cooking–oftentimes with a historical flair–and connecting with fans on social media. An avid trivia junkie, she is constantly on the lookout for random facts in the hopes that it will help her in her never ending quest for a spot on “Jeopardy!”
Jann: Today Christina Alexandra is going to give us a peak at her writing life and her new historical series—The Reluctant Lords.
Jann: The Reluctant Lords is a five book series. How long did it take you to develop your characters and story plots for each book?
Christina: I’ve been working on this series in one form or another for a few years. It originally started out as just the glimmer of an idea, a brief scene that somehow turned into five books. Once I had that first storyline, I didn’t take me long to come up with the rest. I think I had the entire series at least partially plotted in about a month.
Worth came about a bit differently. While part of the Reluctant Lords, it’s also part of the Common Elements Romance Project. Common Elements is a group of over 70 romance authors writing their own stories, and completely unrelated to each other. The only thing tying them together are the 5 common elements of a lightning storm, a set of lost keys, a stack of books, a haunted house (real or rumored), and a person named Max.
As I was developing the rest of the Reluctant Lords, there were some plot issues such as missing time, first meetings between characters that were unaccounted for and other things that were really holding me up. When I found the Common Elements Romance Project and saw the list, I knew immediately that this is what was needed–a first story that introduced the characters and tied up all those loose ends. The story and the characters just came together so organically and completely, that I really didn’t have to think about them too much, they were just there.
The most difficult part was factoring in the mystery that runs through the entire series and making sure that the actual historical events took place at the correct times. It’s amazing how often history does not cooperate with my stories.
Jann: The first book is The Worth of a Viscount. Lady Maxine Pearson and Adam Hawkins reconnect for a second chance at love. Why did you select this theme? What other themes are you using in the series?
Christina: I’m a sucker for a second chance at love. It’s one of my favorite tropes. When it was decided what the five elements would be for Common Elements, I started scouring the internet for images. I tend to be a very visual writer and I need to see things in order for them to become real to me. In one of my searches, I came across a photographer on Facebook who shoots a lot of historical reenactors and puts them in different scenes. Each image tells a story, and when you see the entire photo series, it’s quite impressive. I came across this one image of a couple in Regency dress cuddling on a settee, with only some candles around them. Suddenly I knew exactly what was going on. It became the first “relationship” scene in Worth, and I built the rest of the story around it. The second chance theme fit perfectly with the image and the story.
Being worthy is also a theme that runs heavy in the series. The Reluctant Lords is the story of five ordinary men–a merchant, a land steward, a soldier, a politician, and a “fixer”–who are content with their ordinary lives, when they suddenly find themselves saddled with titles, estates, and responsibilities far out of their comfort zones. They have to learn to adapt quickly to their new positions, while navigating Regency society and the drawing room politics. For these men, whose Parliamentary influence and reputations are all built on the appearance of being in control it is quite a daunting task, and only the love from the right woman can help them become all they can be.
Jann: Tell us about Maxine and Adam and their love story. Which character has the bigger arc?
Christina: They have an equal arc, really. It’s all about how they become worthy. Adam is so determined to prove his worth to the outside world, while Maxine is more concerned with becoming worthy of herself. I can’t say more without giving away too much!
Jann: Historical romance readers look for accuracy from the author. What are your favorite sources for research and how much time did you spend on research. Do you research before, while you write a first draft or after?
Christina: Oh, man… research is my drug of choice! I love hands-on research. The experiences I’ve gained through doing rather than reading give an added layer to my writing. Knowing the steps of the English country dances, or experiencing how the stench of a coal fire permeates the very walls of a Georgian era townhouse. Walking the streets of London, taking the same route as my characters with my coat turned up against the drizzle, or enjoying the feel of the sun while walking in Hyde Park on a sunny spring day.
I originally spent three years researching the Georgian and Regency time periods. During that time, I read Regency romances almost exclusively to see what worked, what didn’t, and to see how my favorite authors were making a beloved genre unique and impactful Even now, I still do spot research on individual topics, or if I need a refresher on things.
Jann: Your current day job is an Emergency Service Operator. You have also had some additional unique and interesting professions. Do you use any of your experiences in the books for The Reluctant Lords series?
Christina: Kind of, but not in the way you’d think. Regency England is so far removed to modern Southern California and all I’ve done with work, that it’s difficult to translate some things that happen here and now to the early 1800s. I do use some conversations I’ve had or phone calls I’ve taken as a starting point to come up with new story ideas, but the real impact of the Day Job comes in the form of names. Between the street names, officers’ names, and callers’ names I see on my screen all the time, I am never at a loss for what to name an estate, or make up a title, or even name a minor character or two!
Policing during the Regency didn’t really exist as we know it today. I have a historical romantic suspense series planned where the main character is a Bow Street Runner (predecessors to the modern police force), so I’m starting to look into their history and how they did things. My other love is forensics, so I am looking into what tools and techniques would have been available to him back then. It’s a much larger project then I thought it’d be!
Jann: What are you working on now? Can you tell us about your next project?
Christina: After the Reluctant Lords, I’m debating which series to start next. The first is a five book series involving some side characters from the Reluctant Lords that focuses on the heroines who are less than conventional–a dressmaker, a merchant, a librarian, a survivor of domestic violence, and a former courtesan.
The second is a four book series that I like to say is a cross between Jane Austen and the TV show The Amazing Race. It involves one eccentric octogenarian, an estate worth thousands of pounds a year, and a challenge. Since the estate is not entailed (inherited by the oldest living direct descendant), the elderly relative decides to send her four great-grandchildren on a scavenger hunt. Leaving clues all over the UK, they must race to find the next clue, going to the far corners of the country in order to do so. The first one to return to the estate with all the clues is the one who gets the estate and fortune. It’s a comedy of errors along the way. It’ll be a fun series to write, but I think it’ll take a lot more research than I have time for at the moment.
And by research I really mean traveling all over the United Kingdom to find the clues and where they’re hidden in order to make it believable.
Jann: In your books, who is your favorite character and why?
Christina: Stryker. Hands down. You meet him briefly in Worth, but he really makes his appearance in book 2 of the Reluctant Lords, The Seduction of the Duke. He’s a mystery throughout the entire series, rough around the edges, and he’s the kind of person you’d call on when you need something done without a conscience getting in the way. He can be kind of a jerk at times, but there is no one more loyal or willing to fight for what he believes in, or who he believes in. He does get his own story, but it’s like me to leave everyone hanging on his story until the end of the series!
Jann: What kind of writer are you? A page a day or a burst writer?
Christina: I am a burst writer. Between the Day Job, helping my elderly parents with stuff around the house, and day-to-day life, I tend to write whenever and wherever I can. When I have a day off from the Day Job, I set aside time to write at coffee shops where there are fewer distractions, but some of my best writing is done when I’m on the go. Oddly enough, I do most of my writing on my mobile phone. I have wicked fast thumb skills and have written on planes, waiting at the DMV. I plotted the entire story of Worth on vacation in Italy this past December on the train from Rome to Venice, and my flash fiction piece was written while standing in line a LEGOLAND with my sister and her kids.
Jann: What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Christina: If I could do any job other than the one I have right now, or one I’ve had in the past, I’d have to say photojournalist for National Geographic Magazine. I love all things travel, nature, and culture. I studies anthropology in school, and spent equal time studying different world cultures and primate behavior, and learning all I can about the animals that share our world. To see them in their natural habitat and their behaviors that have not been influenced by human interaction… <sigh>… it’s a bucket list item for sure!
Jann: Christina, it’s been fun spending time here on A Slice of Orange chatting. I’m looking forward to reading The Worth of a Viscount.
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