J Quills: Hello! This is Jaunty P. Quills, Porcupine Extraordinaire and gold medal Olympian! I’m here with Vanessa Kelly. I won’t call her a former Quill because ”Once a Quill, Always a Quill.” Welcome back, Vanessa! What have you been up to? Win any gold medals in Rio?
Vanessa Kelly: Now that I think about it, Jaunty, I’m pretty sure I saw you in Rio. Wasn’t it at a gas station late one night, after a party? There seemed to be some sort of kerfuffle going on, which I have to say didn’t surprise me one bit. I know what porcupines can be like when they celebrate a little too, ahem, vigorously.
J Quills: Gas station? That wasn’t me. I’ve never even met Ryan Lochte! Don’t take away my pine nuts! Anyway, moving on…Our readers are already big fans of your historical romances. Tell us about your newest, My Fair Princess.
Vanessa Kelly: Jaunty, I am so excited about this book! It’s a spin-off from my bestselling Renegade Royals Series, which features heroes who are the illegitimate sons of England’s royal dukes. This new series is called The Improper Princesses, and the heroines are the half-sisters and cousins of my renegade heroes. The first book, MY FAIR PRINCESS, features an unconventional heroine. Gillian Dryden was raised in Sicily, and is something of a hellion. She’s a crack shot, carries knives in her boots, and is the scourge of bandits and smugglers everywhere. It’s up to the very sophisticated (and handsome) Duke of Leverton to turn Gillian into a proper English lady. Let’s just say that things don’t go as planned.
J Quills: It sounds pine nutlicious! You also write contemporary romances with your husband under the penname VK Sykes. Anything in the works as VK Sykes?
Vanessa Kelly: Hubby is hard at work on another baseball romance in our Philadelphia Patriots Series, and also a romantic suspense. We hope to have both of those books out in early 2017.
J Quills: This is a really important question, Vanessa. Of all the Jaunty Quills, I was always your favorite, right?
Vanessa Kelly: Jaunty, I’m shocked—shocked—that you even had to ask. Of COURSE you were always my favorite. In fact, I modeled the hero of my latest book after you. Yeah, I told my readers the inspiration was Chris Hemsworth, but that was a flat-out lie. After all, no one sports a cravat like a handsome porcupine.
J Quills: I knew it! Kristan, who is your next hero modeled after? Hmm? Let’s read an excerpt of my—I mean, Vanessa’s new book MY FAIR PRINCESS. Then keep reading to see how to win a print copy of SECRETS FOR SEDUCING A ROYAL BODYGUARD, the first Renegade Royals book, and a $10 Amazon gift card.
Vanessa Kelly: In this excerpt, my heroine is hot in pursuit of dastardly smugglers—until my hero decides that such activity is TOTALLY unladylike, not to mention dangerous:
The next thing Gillian knew, he was shoving her down onto the sand. He came down on top of her, mashing her flat.
It took her a moment to catch her breath, since there wasn’t a particle of air between them. She was certainly becoming intimately acquainted with various parts of Leverton’s impressive anatomy.
“Who is it?” She felt a spurt of hope. Perhaps some of the smugglers had returned. Now that Teddy was safely out of the way, Leverton might even help her track them. They might not see eye to eye on everything, but he would be furious that smugglers were trespassing on his lands.
“Wait,” he breathed out.
He cautiously lifted his head to peer over the rise of sand between them and the beach. The sound of a cantering horse, hooves thudding into the hard-packed flats, quickly grew and then faded away down the beach. Leverton still didn’t move, his attention focused in the direction of the mysterious rider.
“Could you please get off me,” she finally said. “You are completely squashing me.”
He looked down at her and frowned, as if surprised to see her there. Gillian raised a sardonic brow.
“I beg your pardon,” he murmured, as if they were on the dance floor and he’d simply trod on her foot.
He rolled off, but kept an arm slung across her waist. Gillian tried to push it away, but it felt like a tree trunk was pinning her down. She let out an aggrieved sigh and dropped her head back onto the sand.
“Whoever it was, he’s long gone,” she said. “Why are we still lying here?”
“I just wanted to make sure,” Leverton answered. “I think it’s now safe to get up.”
“I should hope so. I feel like I’ve spent half the night lying on this blasted beach.” With nothing to show for it but sand in her breeches and an irate duke.
Leverton rolled into a crouch and then smoothly rose. He reached down a hand to pull her up. “And whose fault is that?”
Gillian pulled the tails of her coat back in place and started brushing herself off. “Not mine. If you hadn’t shown up, I could have tracked the smugglers back to their lair. That, as you must admit, would have been very helpful.”
“Their lair? Good God, you’ve been reading too many lurid novels. Wait, I forgot,” he said, holding up a hand. “You actually believe you’re living in one. You fancy yourself some sort of heroine, dashing about, trying to right all the wrongs of the world.”
“No, I fancy myself as the hero.” She wiggled a leg, hoping to at least shake some of the sand from her backside down to her boot. “The heroines are always moaning and falling down in a faint, waiting for the men to rescue them. I don’t have time for that sort of nonsense.”
Giveaway! Vanessa’s heroine Gillian Dryden is a woman of many talents—crack shot, knife-wielder, and the scourge of bandits and smugglers. Do you have any special talents? Comment below to win a print copy of SECRETS FOR SEDUCING A ROYAL BODYGUARD, the first Renegade Royals book, and a $10 Amazon gift card.
*The winner will be chosen randomly from all comments and his/her name will be posted on Sunday.
First, Vanessa Kelly brought readers The Renegade Royals. Now, in a delightfully witty new series, she introduces The Improper Princesses—three young women descended from royalty, each bound for her own thrilling adventure . . .
Despite being the illegitimate daughter of a prince, Gillian Dryden is happily ignorant of all social graces. After growing up wild in Italy, Gillian has been ordered home to England to find a suitable husband. And Charles Valentine Penley, the excessively proper, distractingly handsome Duke of Leverton, has agreed to help transform her from a willful tomboy to a blushing debutante.
Powerful and sophisticated, Charles can make or break reputations with a well-placed word. But his new protégée, with her habit of hunting bandits and punching earls, is a walking scandal. The ton is aghast . . . but Charles is thoroughly intrigued. Tasked with taking the hoyden in hand, he longs to take her in his arms instead. Can such an outrageous attraction possibly lead to a fairytale ending?
The Book Depository: http://bit.ly/20ClmA2
Vanessa Kelly is an award-winning author who was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. The Renegade Royals, her last series, was a national bestseller. Vanessa also writes contemporary romance with her husband as VK Sykes.
Author Social Links:
The Jaunty Quills are excited to welcome Sarah Lyons Fleming back to the blog.
Sarah is the author of the Until the End of the World series, but she has a new book out titled Mordacious. I read an advance copy, and it’s just as fabulous as all of her others. If you haven’t read her books, you are missing out.
Shana: Welcome back, Sarah! Let’s start with the question foremost in many romance readers’ minds. Zombies and romance—can they inhabit the same story?
Sarah Lyons Fleming: Thanks for asking me back!
Yes, I do think romance and zombies can inhabit the same story. Just because the world has ended (and dead people are trying to eat you) doesn’t mean those feelings and urges die. In fact, I think we may be more likely to form intense emotional bonds when there are so few people left—in a case like that, you’d want to hold on to the people who are left.
Shana: Tell us a bit about Mordacious.
Sarah Lyons Fleming: Mordacious is a spin-off of my first series, Until the End of the World. It follows what happens in New York City once the bridges are down and the residents are trapped. It includes characters from the first series, a couple of whom had uncertain fates. In this series, we’ll find out what happened to them and, of course, I’ve introduced a whole new batch of characters to go along with them.
Shana: Readers, I just want to point out that Until the End of the World is free on Kindle! Free!!
Sarah, I loved how you used the word-of-the-day calendar in the book to create a fun way for Sylvie and Eric to interact. Is there a place for words and literature and reading in a post-apocalyptic world?
Sarah Lyons Fleming: Well, there definitely isn’t going to be a place for cell phones, Netflix and tablets, so I think we’d likely go back to our “old” ways of fun. Books, board games, and stories by the fire (or windup lantern). And word games, of course.
Shana: Another thing I love about your books is the large cast of characters. Friends of mine who write large casts of characters often find that the characters fall into particular roles—like the antagonist, the conscience, the tempter, etc. Joss Whedon’s series are great examples of this in TV and film. Do you think about the archetypal roles your characters will play when dealing with such a large cast?
Sarah Lyons Fleming: I don’t think about it consciously, but I think they often fall into roles. Characters just sort of appear in my mind and start acting a certain way. None of us is any one thing in real life, so I attempt to make them well-rounded. I do have to help them along and not forget about them—sometimes it’s hard to manage all those people—but I try to let them be who they are.
Shana: I really enjoyed the audio books of your first series. I actually went back and forth between ebook and audio so I could keep reading even while driving or doing laundry. Will Mordacious be made into an audio book and do you know the narrator yet?
Sarah Lyons Fleming: Yes! I signed with Audible Studios to produce the books for this series. Because The City Series is dual narrators, there will be two narrators. As of now, they’ve lined up Luke Daniels and Therese Plummer, both of whom I think will be amazing as Eric and Sylvie, respectively. It’s in production now!
Shana: What sort of research did you do for Mordacious?
Sarah Lyons Fleming: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, so I have the general outlay and scenery in mind. But I did a lot of research on the Verrazano Bridge, as it was important to one character’s story. The Verrazano is my favorite bridge, but I never thought I’d know its makeup so well. I knew NYC’s water is gravity-fed, but I did a lot of research into how it gets around the city.
A few other things off the top of my head: Opening garage doors from the outside. How those water towers on top of NYC buildings work. And though I know the east coast and Brooklyn pretty well, I learned a whole lot about Philly and roads leading to NYC, as well as some interesting places in Brooklyn I never knew about. Who knew there was a walled monastery of nuns in Brooklyn? Not me, but now I’ve seen it and it’s a very cool place.
I really enjoy research, although it can get tedious when what you really want to do is write the story. However, I hate to be wrong, so I do my best to learn as much as I can.
Shana: Finally, tell us what you have coming next.
Sarah Lyons Fleming: Next up is the second book in the series: Peripeteia. I’m hard at work on it now, and it’ll be out in 2017.
Thanks for having me here!
Readers, now it’s your turn. How would you feel if there was a zombie apocalypse?
Great! Now I have more time to read! OR Noooooo! Where is my Netflix and internet?
Two readers who comment will be randomly chosen to win a copy of Mordacious. Winners inside the U.S. have a choice of print or Kindle book. International winners receive the Kindle ebook.
Winners chosen randomly and notified Sunday.
The Jaunty Quills are excited to welcome author Lily Blackwood, author of The Beast of Clan Kincaid. I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy, and I absolutely loved it. Keep reading to find out how to win one of two copies of The Beast of Clan Kincaid (open internationally).
Shana: Welcome, Lily! Tell us about The Beast of Clan Kincaid. This is the first book in the Clan Kincaid series, right?
Lily Blackwood: Thank you so much for having me here, with The Amazing Jaunty Quills! Yes, The Beast of Clan Kincaid is the first book in my Highland Warriors Series. It tells the story of Niall Braewick, who at the age of twelve, suffers a terrible tragedy. His parents, the Laird and Lady Kincaid are horribly betrayed and murdered, and his clan, all but destroyed. He fears his two younger brothers are dead as well. Seventeen years later, he returns to the place that was once his home. Known by all as “The Beast,” a famed gallowglass mercenary, he is intent on reclaiming that which is rightfully his…however, he keeps the truth of his birth concealed. When he meets Elspeth MacClaren, his enemy’s eldest daughter, their connection is instant and electric. She’s the answer to his vengeful prayers, because…what better way to have revenge against his foe, than to seduce his daughter and use her toward his own ends? But can he have his revenge and keep the love of the woman who has, against his every wish, stolen his heart? Elspeth makes it very difficult for him.
Shana: I loved your hero, Niall Braewick (aka The Beast). He’s so deliciously alpha and so tortured. Tell us more about him. Tell me how to pronounce his name.
Lily Blackwood: I love him too! As far as pronunciation, Niall’s name is pronounced similarly to “peel”. I don’t base my characters on actors, but I took some inspiration from Rollo and Kalf on Vikings, and Game of Thrones’ Drogo. All exceedingly competent, strong men (with muscles! And tattoos! Rawr!) and very interesting as far as their personal stories go. What I loved about Niall was that despite his tragic past, and his very justifiable hate for his enemies, he is never blinded to what is right and wrong. He’s an Alpha to the core, but maintains at all times a very strong understanding of justice, and conscience, and I think in the end that makes him an admirable hero.
Shana: You previously wrote Regency romances as Lily Dalton. What drew you to writing about Scottish-set historicals?
Lily Blackwood: I love Regencies! I love Scottish! Like many historical readers and writers, I love all things historical. Like many readers, I started out reading authors like Kathleen Woodiwiss. I loved that one of her books might be a medieval, while the next was set in England…the next, Russia! So I’m pleased to be able to enjoy telling stories in different sub-genres. While on one hand, I’m totally drawn to the idea of the strict rules of society and behavioral expectations in the Regency era, I’m just as attracted to the wildness of the Highlands. Scotland is such a magnificent setting, and clan politics were so dynamic. I can only imagine how difficult it was for a man and a woman to find true happiness…true love in that time period, so I love imagining if that perfect dream came true for two very special, deeply conflicted people.
Shana: Tell us a bit about your writing schedule. I know you have a family and a day job. How do you do it all?
Lily Blackwood: It’s a challenge! I usually get up between 4:30 and 5:00 to write new pages for an hour or two before driving into the city to work. I will usually read over my pages in the evening, and do a lot of polishing and expanding then. Weekends are where I get the bulk of my writing done. I get up early! The family sleeps in. It’s just coffee, me and my time machine.
Shana: Finally, tell us what you have coming next.
Lily Blackwood: Are Niall’s two younger brothers dead? Hmmmm. Maybe…maybe not. The Rebel of Clan Kincaid releases in December, and The Warrior of Clan Kincaid in 2017. There are a lot of surprises in store! I hope readers love them.
Readers, now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite setting for historical romances? Scotland? England? France? Russia? Two readers who comment will be randomly chosen to win a copy of The Beast of Clan Kincaid. Open internationally! The winner will be announced Sunday and contacted via email.
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.
* * *
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?
* * *
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…