The Jaunty Quills are excited to welcome back historical romance author Christi Caldwell. She’s consistently a bestseller, and if you’ve ever read one of her books it’s not hard to see why. She writes heartwarming, sexy, and delightful Regency romances.
Readers, keep reading to find out how to win your signed print copy of For Love of the Duke!
Shana: Welcome back, Christi! Tell us about To Trust a Rogue, the newest in the Heart of a Duke series.
Christi Caldwell: “To Trust a Rogue” is really a story about a second-chance at love. The hero, Marcus, Viscount Wessex and Eleanor Carlyle were desperately in love, until one day, she just left with nothing more than a note. That betrayal was a defining moment for both of them, and from it, Marcus fashioned himself into a carefree, charming rogue determined to never again, trust in love. Flash-forward 8 years later, and Eleanor is back, and with a daughter in tow. Now, a poor-relation living with her eccentric aunt, she is in London to face the demons of her past, and…Marcus. For me, this was an emotional book. Lots of tears were shed while I wrote this story.
Shana: From the reviews I’ve read, this book is receiving kudos for the way the emotional aspects of the story resonate so deeply with readers. How do you manage to write such powerful emotional scenes? Do you draw on past experiences or are you able to step into the characters’ shoes?
Christi Caldwell: For me, writing is a cathartic experience. I began seriously writing when my son Rory was born, and I learned his diagnosis of Down syndrome. There was so much emotion: fear, shock, pain, blended with this overwhelming love, and eventual joy. In the days after his birth, I put words onto a page, and found a sense of healing from the process.
When I write, my characters are multi-dimensional. If they know joy, I go into the greatest moments I have known. I pull from how I felt; the whole sensory experience, that is absolute happiness, and I try to paint that with words. I do the same with the fears and agonies that I knew, and still sometimes know, for my son’s struggles. There is no greater agony than seeing your child hurt or suffer. And because of that, there is never a shortage in the emotional well I have to draw from for my characters.
Shana: I know you have two little girls who, along with your son, are the light of your life. If your girls were to read your books when they got older, what would you want them to take away?
Christi Caldwell: I would want them to realize my books are about broken and imperfect people, because ultimately we are all in some way flawed, and it is those flaws that make us beautiful and unique. We struggle. Life is hard. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes cruel. And just because we might know struggle or tragedy, or pain, there is always love, which is more powerful than anything. Every person, for the hardships they know, can still find a happily-ever-after; they still deserve it.
Shana: That’s really lovely. Who are some of the authors who’ve influenced you the most and who made you want to become a writer yourself?
Christi Caldwell: I grew up on Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught, and Jude Devereaux. I was a pretty lonely girl without a ton of friends, but found a love of books, early on. I cut my teeth on romance novels at age 13, and lost myself in those stories. They were authors whose books shaped me; authors whose emotion I felt bleed off the pages. I wanted to do that. And at fifteen, my mom found my first work in progress, a Regency romance and said: “Are you writing romance novels?” I smiled and said: “Yes. Someday I’m going to be romance author.” J
Shana: Finally, tell us what you have coming next.
Christi Caldwell: February 19th, I’ll be releasing Book 3 in my Lords of Honor series titled “Rescued By a Lady’s Heart.” The story is about the Duke of Blackthorne who returned from the Napoleonic Wars without the use of one of his legs and half of his face burned. Shunned by his family and society, he’s become a recluse whispered about and feared.
Enter his heroine, Lily Benedict. She is equally broken, and motivated by reasons of revenge and desperation, she takes employment inside his household. In the process, she finds love.
This is a darker story, about two equally broken people healing one another.
Readers, now it’s your turn. One reader who comments will be randomly chosen to win a signed print copy of For Love of the Duke (U.S. and Canada only; international reader will win the ebook). The winner will be announced Sunday and contacted via email.
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It wasn’t until I reread the completed draft of my new Regency romance Listen to the Moon that I realized responses to scarcity was one of its major themes. Most of the characters in the book are dealing with the aftermath of major childhood scarcities of one kind or another.
John Toogood, my valet hero, grew up with a scarcity of praise from his hypercritical father. Sukey Grimes, my maid-of-all-work heroine, grew up with a whole range of scarcities after her own father abandoned the family: food, money, clothes, fun, openly expressed affection…but I think the lack of security is the one she still has the most trouble getting over. Things feel precarious to her, and she responds by hoarding—not any physical thing, but her own emotional integrity. As she tells John, “I want to keep my heart for myself, because I feel as if, if I give it away, I’ll—I won’t have it anymore, and I need it.”
It takes a lot of work and a lot of love for her to finally decide that, in her words, “Hearts weren’t meant to be pickled and kept on the shelf for a hard winter.” Even after she’s decided, it takes more work and courage for her to act on it.
Sukey started out as a minor character in an earlier book, Sweet Disorder, about a wounded officer trying to get a prickly widow married off to help his brother’s election campaign. Sukey was Phoebe (the widow)’s part-time maid, and the rest of the time she worked for Mrs. Humphrey, who owned the boarding house across the street.
Mrs. Humphrey was a very minor character in that book, and pretty much all I knew about her was 1) that she was very abrasive in her manner; 2) that the corners of her mouth turned down like a bulldog; 3) that she demanded lunch when Phoebe hosted a charity committee quilting bee; and 4) that, as Phoebe explained angrily after Mrs. Humphrey embarrassed her in front of the hero, “Do you know she goes through the clothes we bring and selects the least worn sections for her own quilt?” But she isn’t all bad, either: she has Phoebe’s best interests at heart.
When I had to round her out into a more prominent character in Listen to the Moon, I decided to make those bits cohere by making her pathologically cheap as a reaction to extreme childhood poverty. She’s a food hoarder, too. None of which makes her a bad person, but it does make her a very unpleasant employer for poor Sukey, who’s expected to do the grocery shopping (or foraging, in some cases) and cook dinner on a tiny budget, without snacking!
“I’m not cheap, I’m thrifty,” my mother used to say a lot. The difference, to her, was that cheap implied stinginess, a lack of willingness to share resources. Her parents were working-class children of the Depression, and they rose to the middle class over the course of her childhood. They were two of the cheapest people you could ever meet, but they were also two of the most generous, especially when they started to have more to share. My grandfather did everyone in the extended family’s taxes pro bono (he was an accountant and then a tax lawyer), and for years every car my mom and her brothers drove was his hand-me-down. When my mom taught Head Start, my grandmother bought art supplies and bathing suits for her students. They regularly hosted the extended family holidays, too.
My grandfather’s mother (whose mouth turned down like a bulldog—my mom used to call it “making a Grandma Ettie face” when someone was really cranky or disgusted, but that was Great-Grandma Ettie’s face all the time) owned a little Jewish bodega in Brooklyn, and he grew up eating the food from the store that had gone bad and couldn’t be sold. I don’t know if it was as a result, or just luck, that he had a cast-iron stomach, but he would eat anything. I remember once we had a jar of applesauce in the fridge with mold growing on it. “It’s still fine,” my mom said. “Just scrape the moldy part off the top and eat the rest.”
My grandfather, though, said, “Don’t be ridiculous, mold puts hair on your chest,” and ate the mold off with a spoon. (The story in Sweet Disorder about the rotten sausage? That was his war story, by the way. Only it was a kosher salami IRL.)
And boy, did Grandpa hoard food. If it was on deep discount, he bought it and saved it. He never threw anything away. When he died, he had an entire enormous freezer in the basement (I’m not sure I can accurately convey the sheer size of this freezer) full of freezer-burned meat he’d bought on sale. At his shiva, my cousins and I poured ourselves bowls of cereal from the cabinet only to realize it was all about four or five years out of date. (We realized by biting into it. Maybe the grossest mouthful I’ve ever taken.)
The big difference between Grandpa and Mrs. Humphrey’s reaction to scarcity was that he hoarded food, but he shared it happily. He also got very little affection from his parents, and he grew up to be a really affectionate dad and grandfather. During my reread, I realized Mrs. Humphrey’s stinginess was a foil for Sukey; that she was struggling to be generous in spite of her childhood deprivations. So was John, in his own way.
Which, again, doesn’t make Mrs. Humphrey a bad person. I’ve never been that interested in “good” and “bad person” as categories of analysis anyway. What I care about is accountability for actions. People aren’t good or bad; they just make decisions, and then they and the people around them have to deal with the consequences.
Up to this point, Sukey and John have made a lot of decisions to maintain their status quos, and now, they want to make decisions that have the potential to make them (and the people they care about) happy.
Good things are always risky. Happiness is always risky. It isn’t always safe to trust, or hope, or rely on other people, or reach for what you want. In fact, it often isn’t. But I want to believe that it’s worth it to keep trying.
I work every day to move past stuff from my childhood and past that makes it hard for me and the people around me to be happy and enjoy ourselves. I think everyone does. Romances help me believe it’s possible. Because in a romance, the risks you take for happiness always pay off.
And they lived happily ever after.
I’ll be giving away an e-book of Listen to the Moon to a commenter chosen at random. Open internationally. Void where prohibited. Open for entries through Saturday, 1/23. The winner will be posted on Sunday, 1/24.
Tell me, are you a packrat or a minimalist? Why do you think that is?
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John Toogood dreamed of being valet to a great man…before he was laid off and blacklisted. Now he’s stuck in small-town Lively St. Lemeston until London’s Season opens and he can begin his embarrassing job hunt. His instant attraction to happy-go-lucky maid Sukey Grimes couldn’t come at a worse time. Her manners are provincial, her respect for authority nonexistent, and her outdated cleaning methods—well, the less said about them, the better.
Behind John’s austere façade, Sukey catches tantalizing glimpses of a lonely man with a gift for laughter. Yet her heart warns her not to fall for a man with one foot out the door, no matter how devastating his kiss.
Then he lands a butler job in town—but there’s a catch. His employer, the vicar, insists Toogood be respectably married. Against both their better judgments, he and Sukey come to an arrangement. But the knot is barely tied when Sukey realizes she underestimated just how vexing it can be to be married to the boss…
The Jaunty Quills are excited to welcome Sarah Lyons Fleming, author of the Until the End of the World series, which I’ve heard called “zombie chick lit.” Margo Maguire, a former Jaunty and the author who recommended these books to me, calls them “Friends Meets the Zombie Apocalypse and Kristan Higgins in Zombieland” (hi, Kristan!).
I’ve totally been stalking Sarah since I started the series. I read all three books and the novella in rapid succession, and I CANNOT RECOMMEND THEM HIGHLY ENOUGH. I was completely engrossed in the story, the characters, and the world Lyons created. Even if this isn’t your typical read, give it a try. There’s romance, suspense, laughter, tears. Keep reading to find out how to win a DIGITAL copy of UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD series (3 books!).
Shana: Welcome, Sarah! Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I’m so thrilled to be able to ask you all my questions. First of all, tell our readers a bit about your books.
Sarah Lyons Fleming: Thanks, it’s my pleasure! I think you nailed the books in your great description above, but here goes: The series is about Cassie Forrest and her friends surviving in a world brought to its knees by a zombie virus. They must escape NYC for the safety of the cabin that belonged to Cassie’s parents, who were preppers (people who store food and supplies for emergencies). Add in a little lost love, sarcasm, clashing personalities and undead altercations, and there you have book one. The other books are a continuation of their journey to survive.
I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, “Eww, zombies? And romance? Why is she even on this site?!”
But I don’t really write about zombies. I write about the people facing the zombies—their fears, their strengths, their weaknesses. It allows me to explore how a devastated world and the fight for survival can change a person for the better or worse. No character is perfect. They argue and laugh—they laugh a lot—and they can be petty and generous and loyal and weak and brave at any given moment, just like us. They’re human.
The main theme of my books is love—romantic, platonic, familial, and everything in between. They’re about finding hope even when it seems impossible.
Shana: I agree 100%. The series is really so much more about hope than zombies. Can you tell us about your inspiration for the series? Did you know you were writing a “zombie chick lit” when you started the trilogy?
Sarah: My dad handed me Malevil—a novel about survivors of a nuclear holocaust—when I was ten, and I’ve been hooked on post-apocalyptic stories ever since. But, aside from YA novels, there weren’t a lot of books that featured females as the main protagonist. Most were men, and often they were military men.
I wanted so badly to read a book with an older character like me (or me ten years ago, when I was thirty *sigh*), that I decided to write it myself. And, because I’ve always loved chick lit, it was a no-brainer to include the friendships and humor often found in that genre. Also, I’m the kind of person who’ll crack a joke at any moment (or at least think of one and have to bite my tongue), so there had to be humor even at the darkest times. You can blame my Irish half for that.
Shana: I love Cassie’s humor in the series.
During the zombie apocalypse, your characters have to learn to survive without modern conveniences. How do you know so many survival skills? For example, in So Long, Lollipops, Peter is trapped in a house and dying of thirst, so he taps the hot water heater. How do you know that kind of stuff?
Sarah: Short answer—I’m a little crazy.
Long answer—I was the girl who grew up in Brooklyn, NY and read survival books on the subway ride home from high school. Even growing up in the city, I spent a lot of time in the woods during the summer, and it’s always been something I’ve felt a burning desire to know. Plus, I really like having a lot of food in my pantry, and water filters and Swiss army knives make me happy.
I guess the long answer is quite similar to the short one, eh?
Of course, I do need to research at times, but I admit I know a lot of random survival tips. I’m ready for the zombie apocalypse! Okay, maybe not ready…but I might not die until the second week.
Shana: I would so die on the first day! Wait…maybe after reading this series I could make it two days.
I loved how you used stargazing to draw Cassie close to Dan in And After, and then how you used it again in All the Stars in the Sky to bring Cassie and her “family” full circle. Are you an amateur astronomer or did you research constellations?
Sarah: That required research. I can pick out the Big Dipper, and then I’m lost. Even with all my research (of course I can now find Cassiopeia) I still get turned around up there. But I love the stars, as well as their stories, and I’ve made it my mission to find and memorize them all one of these days.
Shana: You definitely know how to figure out the worst thing that can happen to your characters and then make that happen. Avoiding spoilers, did you know from the beginning who was going to survive and who wasn’t?
Sarah: I started Until the End of the World as a standalone, so I didn’t have the whole trilogy mapped out by any means. Without giving anything away, there was a character who was slated to die when I first started Until the End of the World. And then s/he didn’t. S/he surprised me by becoming a more important character than I’d ever dreamed, so that 100 pages into writing book one, the course of the entire book changed and became a series (with a novella thrown in).
As for the other characters, they were goners from that moment on.
Shana: I read that you have kids (see, I said I was a stalker). I know the challenges of writing with a busy family. What’s your writing schedule like?
Sarah: I love stalkers! Wait…you know what I mean.
Yes, I have two kids, ages five and eight. It can be challenging, but now that they’re both in school I have more time. Because I work at home and am self-employed, I guard those six hours as much as I can. That means I ignore errands and cleaning and many times I don’t answer the phone—my boss is very strict about personal calls during work hours. And I hate cleaning, so it’s not as if that’s a hardship.
I work school days, a few hours on some weekend afternoons while my husband, Will, entertains them, and I set aside a couple/few nights a week to write when they’re in bed. The other nights I hang with the husband—can’t neglect him either!
Also, headphones are very, very wonderful inventions.
Shana: Finally, tell us what you have coming next.
Sarah: I’m at work on a zombie series that takes place in NYC, in the same world as the Until the End of the World books. Many people have written me to ask what became of some of the characters, and this will be their chance to find out!
Shana: I can’t wait! Seriously, I am tapping my fingers impatiently.
Readers, now it’s your turn. Do you have any skills to survive a zombie apocalypse? How long would you make it?
One reader who comments will be randomly chosen to win the entire series of ebooks (Three books, plus the novella). You must be able to read on Kindle, Nook, or iBooks. The winner will be announced Sunday.
Until the End of the World (Book 1)
Cassie Forrest isn’t surprised to learn that the day she’s decided to get her life together is also the day the world ends. After all, she’s been on a self-imposed losing streak since her survivalist parents died: she’s stopped painting, broken off her engagement to Adrian and dated a real jerk. Rectifying her mistakes has to wait, however, because Cassie and her friends have just enough time to escape Brooklyn for her parents’ cabin before Bornavirus LX turns them into zombies, too.
This is difficult enough, but Cassie’s tag along ex-boyfriend and her friend’s bratty sister have a knack for making everything, even the apocalypse, more unpleasant. When the two attract a threat as deadly as the undead to their safe haven, Cassie’s forced to see how far she’ll go to protect those she loves. And it’s a lot farther than she’d anticipated. This, coupled with Adrian’s distant voice on Safe Zone Radio and, of course, the living dead, threaten to put Cassie right back into the funk she just dragged herself out of.
Survival’s great and all, especially when you have leather armor, good friends and home-brewed beer, but there’s something Cassie must do besides survive: tell Adrian she still loves him. And to do that, Cassie has to find faith that she’s stronger than she thinks, she’s still a crack shot and true love never dies.
Sarah Lyons Fleming is a Laura Ingalls devotee, wannabe prepper and lover of anything pre-apocalyptic, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic—or anything in between. Add in some romance and humor, and she’s in heaven.
Besides an unhealthy obsession with home-canned food and Bug Out Bag equipment, she loves books, making artsy stuff and laughing her arse off. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, she now lives in Oregon with her family and, in her opinion, not nearly enough supplies for the zombie apocalypse. But she’s working on it.
Jaunties, welcome historical author Jessica Peterson back to the blog and read on to find out how to win your copy of her latest release Undercover Scoundrel.
What is it about scoundrels that we find so irresistible?
Scoundrel is just a fancy word for bad boy; they come in all shapes and sizes. Is it the biker dude’s devil-may-care attitude that makes our toes curl? The rake’s dangerously suave sense of confidence? The vampire’s dark looks, or his promise of an eternity sleeping next to him in his super luxe silk-lined coffin?
Sometimes there is nothing more delicious than a taste of forbidden fruit, whatever flavor you prefer.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the thoughtful, kind-hearted hero as the next reader. And I don’t think being scoundrelly and being sweet are mutually exclusive. In fact, it’s when those two things come together – when the bad boy’s good side is revealed – that the magic happens. Maybe beneath the hockey captain’s gruff exterior, he harbors a thoughtful, deeply loving heart; the secretive spy may treat his targets with amused disdain (disdain that is served shaken, not stirred, of course), but treats the target of his affections with love and respect.
There’s just something so right – so satisfying – about seeing that sweetness, that vulnerability, come out. Especially when we see the bad boy doing a good deed for his lady love. The hero of my latest Regency-set release, THE UNDERCOVER SCOUNDREL, may be a scoundrel twice over – Henry Beaton Lake is a spy with something of a rakish past – but he’s got a seriously mushy soft spot for his long lost first love, Lady Caroline. In many ways, Henry is master of his universe, but the tables are turned when he’s reunited with Caroline after a decade-long separation. Yes, he’s still a scoundrel with a wicked smile and a closet full of skeletons, but Caroline brings out his softer side.
And I don’t know about you, but I happen to think the mushy, ooey-gooey stuff can be just as sexy as the bad boy stuff.
Together, they make a pretty potent combination. I wonder what scoundrels have tickled your fancy – any particular bad boys with good hearts capture your imagination? For me, it’s gotta be the ultimate scoundrel, Rhett Butler, along with the cutie Eggsy from The Kingsman (if you haven’t seen that movie yet, rent it ASAP, if only because Colin Firth is in it!).
Please share your favorite scoundrels for a chance to win a signed copy, along with some fun author swag, of THE UNDERCOVER SCOUNDREL!
As always, a big thanks to the ladies of The Jaunty Quills for having me. It’s always fun stopping by and saying hello!
Comment below to enter to win a signed copy, along with some fun author swag, of THE UNDERCOVER SCOUNDREL (U.S. and Canada only!). Winner announced and contacted Sunday.
Please welcome historical romance author Madeline Martin!
The best part of doing research for Deception of a Highlander was my trip to Scotland where I got to stay overnight in castles, see plenty of beautiful ruins and explore, explore, explore! I could fill up an entire blog on all my adventures from that two week trip.
Today, however, I’m just going to talk about my stay on the Isle of Skye where Deception of a Highlander is set.
The Isle of Skye is on the Eastern side of Scotland, set in the Highlands. It’s a beautiful, magical place where lochs mirror the endless sky and tender, lush grass splits to reveal craggy rock beneath. The winds there are so strong, they make the waterfalls on the cliffs flow backward and billow up into the air in a spray of steamy white. It’s absolutely incredible.
While there, I did two really cool things:
1. I went to my hero’s castle, Caisteal Camus (now called Knock Castle). It was quite an adventure getting there at all. After driving up and down the road several times. (I saw the sign…but I didn’t see the castle, then I saw the sign…but didn’t see the castle, then I saw the sign…yeah, you get it….) I finally just parked and hiked a ways and then I saw it!! On the other side of a five foot stream. It was RIGHT THERE. I could have chucked a rock and hit it. Don’t worry, I didn’t. Nor did I give in to the temptation to wade across it since the middle of October is pretty chilly in Scotland. But I was determined. I marched back up and found a new way to go through a path set by a nearby hotel. I reached the end of the path and there was the castle…just about 12 feet above me. Seeing no denoted path, I began to climb over rocks. They were black and wet and so, so slippery. It’s here I confess (shamelessly) I fell. Hard. Truthfully though, it really isn’t a vacation unless I come away with a war wound – CHECK!
It was when I finally got to the top that I noticed a gentle sloping walkway I could have leisurely strolled up. (But then I wouldn’t have this story, now would I?) The view was worth the effort (and mild contusion) because it was breath-taking the way it overlooked the water. There’s one part that holds the remains of a window facing out to the sea and I could just imagine some lady staring wistfully out as she waited for her love to return (yes, that’s hopelessly romantic, I know.) There wasn’t much left of the castle to explore, but I have enough of an imagination to make Caisteal Camus hit the top ten list of my Scotland trip highlights.
2. The most interesting man in the world is not the Dos Equis guy – he’s actually a blacksmith from the Isle of Skye who still uses an anvil (passed down through his family) and has stacks of books all around his house that he’s memorized and can pinpoint knowledge from by page number. He was in the middle of making a historic dagger/sword collection for a history demonstration somewhere in Scotland and showed me everything from fancy eating daggers to wicked blades. He even made targes by hand and demonstrated how they were used in combat. The biggest influence he had on my writing was in a black-purple opalescent blade on his desk. I asked what it was and he said it just hadn’t been finished yet. Apparently forged steel is that way when it first comes out, before its ground clean to the shiny silver we know. If the black-purple is left as is, it eventually gets silvered with nicks and scratches, but for the most part remains that awesome color. I just had to put that in a book! So, Alec, my hero of Enchantment of a Highlander (introduced in Deception of a Highlander), has a black sword.
There was so much more about my trip to Scotland than just the short, two day visit to the Isle of Skye, but those memories are for other posts…and other books.
For the opportunity to win a signed copy of Deception of a Highlander, please tell me your favorite vacation war wound (or memory if you have the good fortune to not be so clumsy).
Vanessa, here. You can find out more about Madeline and her books on her website!