It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

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Last year’s Christmas tree! I spent many nights reading by the light of it.

Okay, I’m just gonna come out and admit that I am an absolute nerd about the holidays. I LOVE THIS TIME OF YEAR!

I have loved Christmas time since I was little. My family celebrates Christmas,  and I love everything to do with it. Perhaps it’s the result of being a Christmas Eve baby. Or maybe it’s the holiday carols. Or maybe it’s the rituals and traditions my family observed, like going to the candlelight service or lighting the advent wreath. Whatever it was, Christmas always felt like a special time.

As I’ve gotten older, Christmas holds a different type of wonder for me. Oh, I still like that it means I’m another year older. (I’m a weirdo who loves the fact that she’s an adult and getting older.) I still like that it means holiday concerts and singing Christmas carols. I still like the rituals and traditions. But now I look forward to other things.

Like real egg-nog with booze. That’s definitely an awesome thing about being an adult.

Or playing Christmas carols in my own car and singing at the top of my lungs. That’s pretty cool, too.

You probably don't want to know just how many Christmas stories I have on this thing...

You probably don’t want to know just how many Christmas stories I have on this thing…

And the Christmas stories! I like nothing better than sitting in front of the television watching cheesy Hallmark holiday movies as I wrap gifts or make Christmas lists. I love curling up on the couch, knowing I have no responsibilities for a few hours, and reading any of the number of Christmas books I have on my Kindle. There is something about the possibility and magic of the season that gives me deep shivers of joy in my heart. I love Christmas stories of all kinds. There’s Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, of course. And the beloved “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” poem. And I will eat up just about any Christmas-time romance novel you put in front of me. From last year’s list, I loved Lorraine Heath’s novella, Deck the Halls With Love, and the Jane Austen-themed Christmas With Miss Austen by Laura Briggs. And more recently I’ve read and loved Debbie Macomber’s contemporary Starry Night and Mary Balogh’s historical A Christmas Bride.

Other people might complain about Christmas creeping up earlier and earlier into the year. And I get it. I do. It’s disconcerting to see Christmas stuff in the stores even before Halloween and it speaks to a voracious consumer culture that’s probably not doing humanity that much good.

But I have to admit that that’s not what I see when I see Christmas stuff around me. I see the magic and joy and possibility that I’ve always loved about the season. It just seems ripe for some of life’s lovely romance!

So, what about you? What Christmas-time books can you recommend? And what is your favorite part of the holiday season?

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Susanna Ives’ Wicked Little Secrets

SusannaIvesToday I welcome the lovely Susanna Ives to Teatime Romance.

Thank you for the invitation to the lovely Teatime blog and the delicious cyber scone.  I’m the author of rather naughty historicals, but I’ll try to behave myself in this proper, elegant setting.

Tell us about yourself and your release.

I feel like I’m standing in front of the classroom at show and tell, holding out my shiny brand new book Wicked Little Secrets.  Here’s its sexy blurb:

Vivacious Vivienne Taylor has finally won her family’s approval by getting engaged to the wealthy and upright John Vandergrift. But when threatened by a vicious blackmail scheme, it is to her childhood friend that Vivienne turns; the deliciously wicked Viscount Dashiell.

Lord Dashiell promised himself long ago that his friendship with Vivienne would be the one relationship with a woman that he wouldn’t ruin. He agrees to help her just to keep the little hothead safe, but soon finds that Vivienne has grown up to be very, very dangerous to all of Dash’s best intentions.

I’m Susanna Ives.  I drive my beloved children around to school or classes, help develop web pages, minimally take care of my home, and talk to my friends on Facebook (or, gasp, sometimes in person!). I’m not such a good cook, so I won’t be sharing any recipes. On the surface, I appear quite normal, if not dull, but in my fantasy, fictional writing world, I’m insanely interesting and six inches taller.

You’ve had an interesting journey to publication. Please tell us about it.

It feels like I’ve been writing a long time even though I have only two published books.  I might be approaching the famed 10,000 hours in another few months if I haven’t already. I started writing when I became a stay-at-home mother. I loved being with my children, but changing diapers, playing on the activity mat,  and keeping them from sticking their tiny fingers in electrical sockets didn’t satisfy my creative drive. So I started scribbling in notebooks while my children banged on pots. Then I joined The Beau Monde, the Regency special interest chapter of the RWA, and a fabulous group of writers. If you’re writing in or around the Regency era and you haven’t already joined this amazing group, stop reading and hurry over to the Beau Monde web page and fill out the membership form!

So, I was working on what I thought was going to be a masterpiece of romantic literature (laughs). So confident was I in my work, that I entered the first chapters in the Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot romance writing contest.  I think I received the lowest scores in the contest that year.

Nonetheless, I lurked about the chapter email loops, still scribbling on my poor misunderstood romantic masterpiece.  The next year when the Royal Ascot came around, I swore I wouldn’t enter. My feelings were too hurt.  But, and I probably shouldn’t admit this, I had to prove something to myself: I was better than the previous year’s dismal performance.

So bad Susanna wrote fifteen pages of a story about a lady who wanted to turn her clueless, farmer neighbor into a rake. I titled my entry Rakes and Radishes.  And it was a finalist! With just fifteen completed pages, I was sure that I was going to get the call. (laughs again, this time with bitter edge)

Let us put aside the rejections, a new story that fell apart, and the completed Rakes and Radishes manuscript that I hid away in a drawer, and summarize the next year and a half as “a learning experience.”

I wanted a fresh start with a different era. So I decided to write a naughty, comedic Victorian, cramming it full of Victorian clichés. And Wicked Little Secrets was begun. At that time, I was in several writing groups, getting some pretty heavy critiques, and really focusing on my craft.  About halfway into the writing process, another wonderful writer friend said she would recommend Rakes and Radishes to a new all eBook press.  After sitting quietly in some obscure folder on my hard drive, I took the old MS out, polished up its query letter and synopsis. However, the night I sent out that query, I also emailed one to another new publisher: Carina Press. I had very little hope.

Then the amazing Carina Press called and offered to publish Rakes and Radishes!

I’m going to leave out some steps here, except to say that after the Carina Press publication I spent a great deal of time revising Wicked Little Secrets. Then something amazing, Cinderella-like happened: I got a wonderful agent. Wicked Little Secrets was sold to the fabulous Sourcebooks Casablanca. Last week it was released, and I’m thrilled.

Is this book part of a series? What’s next?

It’s part of a three book series set in the Victorian Era. I’m superstitious about revealing what I’m working on, so I’ll remain silent for now.

Ah, come on! Oh well.  Everyone has their absolute favorite books that they’d save from a fire. What are your five favorites?

Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching.
My childhood copy of A Little Princess
A particular research book titled White-Collared Crime in Modern England.
My children’s signed copy of The Oddhopper Opera
One of the few printed versions of my first book Rakes and Radishes

This being a tearoom, how do you like your tea?

Yorkshire Gold with almond milk, vanilla, and sugar.

My favorite!  Wicked Little Secrets is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

WICKED LITTLE SECRETSWicked-Little-Secrets72

It’s Not Easy Being Good…

Vivacious Vivienne Taylor has finally won her family’s approval by getting engaged to the wealthy and upright John Vandergrift. But when threatened by a vicious blackmail scheme, it is to her childhood friend that Vivienne turns; the deliciously wicked Viscount Dashiell.

When Being Wicked is so Much More Exciting…

Lord Dashiell promised himself long ago that his friendship with Vivienne would be the one relationship with a woman that he wouldn’t ruin. He agrees to help her just to keep the little hothead safe, but soon finds that Vivienne has grown up to be very, very dangerous to all of Dash’s best intentions.

About Susanna

Susanna Ives grew up in the rural South, where she spent most of her youth at the local theater, acting in productions, working in the lighting booth, and building sets. Eventually she left her small town for the city lights of Atlanta, where she attended college and worked in corporations as a multimedia developer. These days she chases after her two curious, energetic children, designs web pages, and writes.

You can learn more about Susanna Ives’ work at:

 Website/Blog  | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Google+

 

Holiday Romance: An Interview with Regan Walker

Today at Teatime we’re pleased to be hosting author Regan Walker.

♥♥♥

ReganWalker_TheTwelfthNightWager800First, thank you for coming to Teatime. It’s so much fun to host authors of Christmas books because they always come up such interesting info about the holidays that we don’t know. Your novella, The Twelfth Night Wager. You’ve written about your research into Regency holiday preparations before. How did it help you set the stage for the events in your novella?

Thanks for having me, Jennelle!

What a fun first question! Well, I knew from the start the wager on which the story is based would be made at White’s Club in London, and I worked off of pictures to describe it. And since the story begins in October and the start of the theatre season, I began researching the plays and the theatres in 1818. When I found Bachelor Miseries was the lead play that October at the San Pareil Theatre (later the Adelphi), I knew I’d found the one! And then I was off to the fall season of pheasant hunting and house parties. One cannot just leap into Christmas for a ninety-day wager! For those fall activities, I set the scenes in an actual estate one can visit today, Wimpole Hall. Only after that did I work my way into Christmas and its festivities and then on to Twelfth Night. They didn’t really decorate until Christmas Eve and then it was greenery, not Christmas trees (which became popular in the Victorian era). For each of my stories, I include an Author’s Note that gives you background and some interesting historical tidbits for those who love such things like I do.

A ginger Viscount (can you hear the happy sighs from Teatime Lady Erica?) a virtuous widow with secrets (that “Oooh!” would be from me) and a bet that could, at best, be labeled “improper” and yet you manage to fit that all within the confines of a novella. Looking at the other books in the Agents of the Crown series, all of which are full-length novels, I can’t help but ask what you thought of the novella length for The Twelfth Night Wager. Easier? Harder? Mixed blessing?

You forgot the blackmail and the murder! Well, to answer your question, the size of a novella is definitely a mixed blessing. The story is all there, of course (at 42K words, it’s not a short novella), but there were some rabbit trails and some twists and turns in the murder plot that I could have added if there were more pages. Still, for a reader who wants a holiday story that doesn’t take 2 or 3 days to read, it’s perfect. My short story, The Holly & The Thistle, which follows (with an auburn haired Scot hero!) is an even shorter read for those on the go. All you need is a glass of hot-spiced cider and you’re good.

I do so love bite-sized romances and the holidays make them that much more delightful. In addition to The Twelfth Night Wager, you have other short stories that are holiday themed. Can we count on other shorts and novellas? Do you think they might follow this same holiday pattern?

4326416 9766640Probably. My publisher likes them and the holidays seem to fit those smaller stories. I’ve one in mind that I want to write at the end of the Agents of the Crown (after the prequel, To Tame the Wind is finished). It was hinted at in The Holly & The Thistle. I’m tentatively calling it the Secret Scottish Christmas and I envision all the “agents” and then some showing up to celebrate a holiday then banned in Scotland. If I can squeeze it into a novella, I might do. It will be the story of the twin Powell brothers mentioned in the last two books of the Agents of the Crown, and William Stephen’s sister mentioned in The Holly & The Thistle—two young Englishmen fighting over one young, beautiful Scot, all at Christmas!

You have additional books in the Agents of the Crown series, I see Wind Raven is scheduled for an early 2014 release. Let me just give a mighty cheer for pirate Regency, which I seem to be devouring as of late. Wind Raven is set both on land and on sea and in a variety of locations. Did you get an opportunity to travel when researching this book? I know you’ve been blessed with international travel experience. What about the other books in the series? Any travel associated with those?

1110059There is travel in all of them. I promise adventure as well as love! In Racing with the Wind, the hero and heroine journey to Paris; in Against the Wind, it’s a revolution brewing in the Midlands of England; and in Wind Raven, it’s the Atlantic, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Baltimore! I’ve been to England and Paris several times, to the Caribbean several times, including St. Thomas where the scenes are set, and to Baltimore’s inner harbor, and I’ve been on ships—but never have I been to Bermuda. I spent a week “living” in Bermuda online. My head was full of the island’s history and it’s food and traditions. At the end of my research, I felt like I had been there. (I even posted recipes on my website from those scenes, as I often do!) It’s like that sometimes. I could feel the warm tropical wind on my face, I could smell the frangipani flowers and the salt air—well, you get the picture.


In addition to
Wind Raven, you also have other works coming out and scheduled through 2015. The Red Wolf’s Prize comes out in 2014 (yay medieval England!) and your prequel for the Agents of the Crown series, To Tame the Wind is scheduled for 2015. Good lord, the organization required to manage a schedule that far out. Can you offer us up-and-comers any tips? What does it take to manage multiple, long-term schedules like this? What does a typical week look like for you?

2973025My head is always partly in the future. And, while I’m not a plotter, scenes for To Tame the Wind have been coming to me as well as issues for research. I started a folder on my desktop and a “Research” sheet where I keep url’s for the sites I need to look at later. It’s set in late 18th century France and England and on ships of the period so there’s a lot of work involved. I have a shelf in one of my bookcases that clusters the books for each of my books I’m researching. I’ve already got some books lined up for To Tame the Wind. The medieval I’m writing now, The Red Wolf’s Prize, is a William the Conqueror romance set in 1068. I actually started it after Racing with the Wind but left it half done to finish my trilogy. It was nagging me to finish it. I was fascinated by the idea of one culture conquering another and wondered what a high-spirited young Saxon woman would do. I had no idea of the challenge of researching life in the 11th century or knights and what they wore then and the kinds of horses they rode (they did not, for example, ride destriers all over the countryside!). I have stacks of research for that one all over my desk.

A typical week for me involves walking my dog each morning, some time on the computer doing social media, particularly when I’m promoting a new release like I am now with The Twelfth Night Wager, or doing posts for my Regan’s Reviews blog. Then I try to get in a chunk of time on my research or work in progress. Right now, I’m not working so I may have more time than most. Of course, there’s the usual fixing of meals, seeing friends and shopping. And church on Sunday. In the evenings, I mostly read. I’m a voracious reader and reviewer of historical romance. (I have over 600 reviews on Amazon and am also now one of the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads.) I love helping other readers find the keepers.

On your romance review site, you list some of your favorite authors and books in multiple categories (including a wonderful list that I saved for my Highlander obsession). One question that we ask all Teatime visitors is this: your house is on fire and your eReader is already slagged into a molten heap. Which five books across all those genres you love do you save from fiery death?

You can see these on my Top 10 list:

  1. Bride of the MacHugh by Jan Cox Speas (Highlander) – beautifully written
  2. The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson (Irish in America)
  3. The Windflower by Laura London (aka Sharon & Tom Curtis) (pirates!)
  4. The Dragon and the Jewel by Virginia Henley (Medieval England)
  5. Princess of Fire by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham) (11th century England)

Even choosing those was hard. There are so many more wonderful novels I truly love and will re-read—all 5-star keepers. I don’t just read eBooks (though I do love my Kindle), but I also dig for the greats that can only be purchased used. Such are #s1 and 3 on the list above. But so worth it!

Thanks for the reading suggestions. One final question, then if you don’t mind: how do you take your tea?

I drink my tea green with jasmine and stevia. I also like white tea.

Excellent! Jasmine is my favorite too. Thanks so much for stopping by, Regan!

♥♥♥

About Regan

Regan's pic for BoroughsAs a child Regan Walker loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool.
Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.

Regan can be reached in a variety of ways:

♥♥♥

An Excerpt from The Twelfth Night Wager

London, January 5, 1819

Twelfth Night

It never would have happened if he hadn’t been so terribly bored that night at White’s. Staring into the crackling fire in the parlour on this frosty night and reflecting back on the last several months, Christopher St. Ives, Viscount Eustace, recalled the evening well; the deep leather chair he sat in, the lit cheroot dangling from one hand and a brandy in the other. He had only been half listening as Hugh Redgrave, the very married Marquess of Ormond, droned on about the virtues of the leg-shackled state. Happily married men could be so tiresome. Looking back on it now, it seemed years not months since they’d traded quips in the conversation that led to the wager:

“I say, Ormond, just where are you going with this praise for the wedded state? You know me too well to believe I’m convinced.”

“You might at least consider taking a wife, Eustace. There’s much to be said for the change it would bring about in your otherwise tawdry existence of late. After all, thirty-five is past the age where dissipation wears well, don’t you think?”

Tawdry existence? Dissipation? “Surely you cannot mean those words, Ormond. I’m just after a bit of fun.”

“You go after women like you go after the fox. It’s all in the chase for you.”

“And that is wrong? Just because you have your heir and a spare at thirty-two does not mean I wish to accumulate the same baggage.” At the frown that appeared on Ormond’s face, Christopher, Lord Eustace, hastened to add, “No offense meant toward the beautiful Lady Ormond, whom I admire above all women, but I am not ready for such a change, as my recent indulgences confirm. Besides, I like women and have my own way of handling them, which suits me quite well. I see no reason for change.”

“As far as I can see, your way of ‘handling’ them is not to have one at all.”

“Ho, now that ain’t so, and well you know it! Though, being a gentleman, I’ll not disclose the number ‘had’ even if I could recall. My method, I assure you, works perfectly for me.”

“You have a method?” Ormond asked, incredulous.

“Well, perhaps not a method as you would count it. I seduce ’em, bed ’em and—”

“Leave them. Yes, I know. But not always smiling, I’ve heard.”

Christopher looked up at the chandelier above and back to his friend as he let out a sigh. “Perhaps not, but none complain till the end is in sight. Then, well…I admit things have on occasion become a bit sticky. But they are all willing players in the game.”

“Your way of handling women cannot work with all. You must have failed with some.”

“Quite the contrary, my good man. I’ve succeeded with every lady I’ve gone after.” Christopher held back a grin. He did not lack confidence when it came to his success with women. And a worthy adversary made every game more exciting.

“I would wager there is one you cannot seduce.”

“Ho! Wager? Do I hear a challenge being laid down?” Snuffing out his cheroot, Christopher leaned forward. “Who might this unassailable paragon be?”

Ormond glanced about the sparsely populated club room filled with tables and chairs. Christopher’s eyes followed, noting the small group of men at a round table engaged in muted conversation some distance away. None appeared to be eavesdropping.

Leaning forward, Ormond whispered, “Grace, the Lady Leisterfield.”

Christopher leaned back in his chair and took a sip of brandy. In his mind’s eye he saw a slim blonde in a rather modest gray gown standing next to the elderly Lady Claremont. “Yes, I recall her from the last ball of the Season. The young widow lives like a nun, or so I’ve heard.”

Ormond grinned. “That, old man, is the challenge.”

“She’s in mourning, is she not?”

“Just coming out. And a worthy contender to test your…method.”

“I see.” But did he? Was there more to this than a wager? It was clear Ormond had something in mind, and the marquess could be exceedingly cryptic at times. Still, whatever was behind the challenge, and whatever the stakes, Christopher was drawn by the opportunity, even more by the encouragement, to entice the lovely Lady Leisterfield to his bed.

“I’ve been very impressed with the lady,” his friend continued, “and I would love to see you fail miserably trying to scale her castle walls. I would consider it sweet justice for the fairer sex.” Ormond winked.

Christopher was tempted to decline, still miffed at Ormond’s comment about his tawdry existence. Yet the memory of the beautiful Lady Leisterfield permeated his thoughts. “Perhaps I shall accept your delightful challenge.”

Ormond grinned, then his expression turned serious. “One thing. If you do this, Eustace, you must promise to preserve the lady’s reputation no matter the outcome. That must be part of the challenge, as I would not see a good woman ruined at the end of it.”

“Well, I know of no woman who has suffered overmuch from being associated with me, but I assure you I will be discreet.”

“All right—and so we are clear,” said Ormond. “You must seduce, bed and walk away from the baroness, else I will have won.”

Christopher nodded, wondering all the while if he’d missed something. Ormond always seemed to have an agenda not fully disclosed. With him, much was hidden beneath the surface.

The marquess suggested with a pointed look, “Ninety days should be sufficient; do you agree?”

“We are indeed agreed. And let me add, it will be my pleasure.”

It wasn’t just the thought of bedding the lovely widow that put a grin on Christopher’s face; he was thrilled with the prospect of a real challenge with a virtuous woman. It was a wholly different sport than he normally engaged in, but Lady Leisterfield was a worthy quarry. A challenge indeed. One for which he felt himself uniquely qualified.

“Shall we reduce the wager to the book?” Ormond inquired with a wry smile. “Say, one thousand pounds to make it interesting?”

“Done.” Casting his reservations aside, Christopher set down his empty glass, reached for Ormond’s extended hand and gave it a hearty shake.

And so, that night, Christopher entered the following into White’s book:

Ld Eustace has wagered Ld Ormond 1000 pounds that by Twelfth Night he can seduce, bed and walk away from a certain lady understood between them.

 

A Lot Like Love

Let’s talk about love.

Okay, before you start humming because that totally sounds like a pop song, follow me here. So my mother visited for Thanksgiving, which was absolutely lovely. She lives in Florida so we don’t get to see each other as much since I’ve moved to North Carolina. Visiting with my mother was her fiancé and his family (son, daughter-in-law, and grandson). This was the first real holiday we’d shared as a blended family, at least for me, and I was a little nervous. My father passed two and a half years ago, and it still hurts that he’s not here to share my life. But there’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, brought on by this visit: love takes a lot of different forms.

Family = Love

Continue reading

Quick and Dirty Tips for Writing a Kick Butt Author Bio

One the most stressful parts about starting out as a writer was writing my author biography.  Making up worlds and characters somehow seemed much simpler than having to talk about ME.  I’m not all that interesting, that’s why I make interesting people up!  As someone who runs a review blog, I know the importance of a great author bio.  Here are a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way as both an author and blogger that I think help make for a kick butt author bio.

1.  Give yourself time. 

Seriously.  Don’t try to do this in a night.  Rough draft that thing and let it simmer. Continue reading

Dealing With Feedback and Critiques When All You Want To Do Is Duck And Hide

I recently had an experience that may be familiar to many of you. It is a moment we both look forward to  and dread.  When we get feedback and critiques back from contest judges, critique partners, beta readers, etc.  I have entered a few contests recently, and while I didn’t place, I did receive feedback and comments from the judges. I have also sent the first few chapters to two friends of mine, both of whom are published authors, and got comments and feedback from them as well. But surely I can’t be the only one who has such mixed feelings about getting feedback on your writing right? Continue reading