I’m a writer. A fiction writer. And right now my world, and everyone else’s, has been highly modified nonfictionally by a situation I never imagined would happen: The Covid 19 pandemic.
Because I’m a fiction writer, my mind is always spiraling with ideas for new stories. At the moment I think I’ll have three new books published next year: two Harlequin Romantic Suspense novels plus a potentially stand-alone mystery that I’m currently writing.
All that keeps my mind and my fingers busy. But that mind of mine–well, when I’m not focused on what I’m writing, I’m always considering potential new ideas. They kind of just slip into my thoughts based on things I see or do, or don’t see or do but still tiptoe in and become creative plots or people or pets.
Or unusual backgrounds…
Yes, I’ve already done a blog here not too long ago about what to include, and what not to include, in stories. I focused more there on whether or not to include references in what I’m already writing to the pandemic and other current issues it has been causing.
Now, I’m wondering whether I ought to write something new that features the pandemic and how it involves a protagonist, probably in a mystery. At least my mind keeps telling me to consider it.
If I did, would people want to read it, or would they rather stay away from awful things like that which are affecting their real lives–even fictionalized versions of it?
Don’t know yet–but I’m kind of leaving my mind loose to consider it.
What do you think–would you want to read about it?
Because it’s me, the story would also most likely involve dogs, who are now being recognized as wonderful companions as we all stay far from others outside our households a whole lot more than we used to.
But of course no dogs would be harmed.
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!!
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.
I’m excited to say that this November is the month for release of my latest Harlequin Romantic Suspense book. I love them all, of course, but this one has a special twist to it.
It’s my first in the long-running Colton series for HRS.
What’s that? Well, the Colton family has been around for many years as part of HRS. It’s large and has branches all over the country, and it seems that many of its members get involved as either heroes or heroines of romantic suspense stories, usually one a month.
My book is Colton 911: Caught in the Crossfire. In it, the hero, Casey Colton, is the family member. He’s also a Deputy Sheriff in Sur County, Arizona, the story’s setting. Casey is told to go help find some cattle rustlers who have stolen some very valuable black angus cows from the town selectman.
And who’s going to help him? The story’s heroine, Melody Hayworth, a ranch hand who works on the ranch from which the cattle were stolen.
You can guess how the two of them have to get along together during many days—and nights—alone on the cattle’s trail. And… well, it is a romance, after all, despite there being suspense in the story. They need to stay careful and professional and… well, help to take care of each other.
I’m also particularly excited this month to be the Author of the Month on A Slice of Orange.
Gee, this November is one fun month!
Since my book, THE CONSPIRACY, Chase Garrett and Harper Winston’s story, is set in Texas, I thought it might be fun to talk about one of my favorite places.
There is something special about Texas. My husband and I lived in Houston for a couple of months one summer and it was a wonderful experience. The people in Texas are extremely friendly, and always seem to be in a good mood.
We stuffed ourselves on gourmet meals in some of the country’s finest restaurants, ate a ton of delicious Tex Mex, enjoyed Asian, Indian flatbread, and just about everything else. We visited art galleries, the beach, and drove past some of the beautiful ranches in the area.
That was the good news. The bad news was Houston in August is HOT. It’s also muggy and sticky and you just can’t wait for October to arrive. Or maybe September.
Two years ago, we traveled to Lubbock for a Western Writers of America conference. I was reluctant to go in the summer, but it turned out to be a really great trip—hot but dry. We visited the Museum of Texas Tech and met some fun people, including old-time movie star, Barry Corbin, who’s been in everything from Urban Cowboy to The Best Little Whore House in Texas.
For the past few years, I’ve been setting my stories in Dallas, one of my favorite cities. In THE CONSPIRACY Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Desperate to find him, Harper is forced turn to the wealthy owner of Maximum Security, private detective, Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend.
But dealing with the Winston crime family won’t be easy. With time running out, Chase must find a way to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.
Texas is a place that captured my soul long ago. If you don’t have time to visit, I hope you look for Harper and Chase in THE CONSPIRACY, out in paperback July 30th, and that you enjoy.
Till next time, all best and happy reading, Kat
New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Currently residing in Missoula, Montana with her Western-author husband, L. J. Martin, Kat has written sixty-five Historical and Contemporary Romantic Suspense novels. More than sixteen million copies of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries. Her last novel,BEYOND CONTROL, hit both big lists … NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST as well as the USA TODAY BEST-SELLING BOOKS LIST. Kat is currently at work on her next Romantic Suspense.
by Kat Martin
In the throes of wild monkey sex with Harper Winston, Chase awoke covered in a film of perspiration, an unwelcome throbbing beneath the sheet. Cursing, he sat up in bed and ran a hand over his face. Only a dream. Or in this case, a nightmare.
He shoved his fingers through his sweat-damp hair. Jesus God, he couldn’t remember a dream that had felt more real. Or ever being more aroused.
Swearing foully, he rolled out of bed. His brother Bran would get an I-told-you-so laugh out of his misery, but Chase didn’t find his unwanted attraction to a Winston the least bit funny.
Not when Harper’s father ran his world much like a Mafia don, a highly successful criminal enterprise that allowed him to get away with murder—literally. Everyone in the Dallas underworld knew that to cross Knox Winston might get you dead. The DA’s office turned a blind eye, along with the dirty cops on Knox’s payroll.
Aside from the legitimate businesses Knox now ran—from motels, restaurants, and laundries, to larger enterprises like hotel chains, no one really seemed to know how Knox had actually amassed his fortune. Since his son had once been Chase’s best friend, Chase didn’t want to know, either.
He wondered how much Harper knew about her father’s activities. Not much, he would guess, since Knox had gone to great lengths to keep his children under the illusion he was just a mega-successful businessman. And Harper had been gone from Dallas for years.
Chase had a hunch Michael had suspected, that it was part of the reason he had turned to alcohol and drugs, but they had never talked about it.
Padding naked into the bathroom, he reached into the shower and turned on the water, setting the temperature a little colder than he liked. He wanted to wash Harper’s beautiful face out of his head, the memory of her small, perfect breasts that—thank God—he had never actually seen.
Pulling on his jeans and a short-sleeved yellow Oxford shirt, he was ready to meet with Dutch, who had arranged a boat to Curacao. They could have gone by plane, but he wanted the flexibility to check, if necessary, other spots around the island once they got there.
He wished he was going by himself instead of dragging a woman into what might turn out to be a bad situation. But as he walked into the living room, Harper came out of the other bedroom, straw hat in hand, dressed and ready to go. His mind flashed back to the hot, erotic dream, and a shot of lust hit him like a fist.
Chase dragged in a lungful of air and forced himself to think of something else. Palm trees might have worked if she hadn’t walked close enough for him to catch a whiff of her soft perfume.
“Good morning,” she said. “Sleep okay?”
Jesus God, help him. He didn’t want to think of the dream, refused to allow his mind to slide back into the gutter. Chase had never been more grateful to hear his iPhone ring.
Pulling his cell out of his pocket, he recognized Tabby’s number and pressed the phone against his ear. “What have you got for me, Tab?”
“Pia’s phone pinged at the Zee Winden Marina in Curacao, same as Michael’s. Both phones are now inactive.”
Not good. He could contact the authorities in Curacao, but he could probably be there before the investigation—such as it would likely be—actually got underway. And once he got the police involved it would limit what he would be able to do.
“Not at the moment. If I get something I’ll call.”
“Thanks, Tab. You’re the best.” Chase hung up the phone, his mind back on the case. In his business, the job had to come first. People’s lives depended on it.
“What did she say?” Harper asked.
“Zee Winden Marina in Curacao, same as your brother. Call Christy and tell her, then pack an overnight bag. We might not get back tonight.”
So saying, he grabbed the duffle, now packed, he had brought empty in his carryon, something smaller, a little easier to manage. Just a dupe kit, clean underwear, a dress shirt and slacks, high-topped boots and cargo pants, things that might be useful as they moved into uncharted territory, where his search for Michael might lead.
A few minutes later, Harper walked back into the living room carrying the colorful oversized canvas bag she had carried onto the plane. It was stuffed full and zipped shut ready to go. She had pulled her hair into a ponytail, but flyaway pale blond strands floated around her face, gleaming like pale spun gold.
The heat returned to his groin. Dammit, what was there about her?
Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.
As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.
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