Friday, November 30, 2012

Beaten by the Billionaire: What Is Going On???

If you go to Amazon and do a search on “billionaire domination” you will get 669 book results. If you search on “billionaire BDSM” you get 1,386. If you write a book about a gorgeous, sexy, but wounded and vulnerable billionaire who gets off on “disciplining” women but gets his clock cleaned by a sweet, virginal innocent who submits to him so sweetly that she just melts his iceberg of a heart when she looks at him “that way” when he has her naked, tied up, and paddled raw, you will likely make a fortune. These books are hotter than the scenes in them. Why? Beats me. (Maybe a poor choice of words considering the subject.) I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am totally baffled by why women are gobbling up these books.

Yesterday a guy on Facebook posted a link to an article online written by a man who had some vile things to say about women. The poster said he put it there to generate “discussion.” He agreed with the article and challenged anyone to “dare" to agree as well. After a whole lot of posts telling him how wrong the article was, the poster pitched a hissy-fit and deleted it. The article is a slobbering tirade against women with the author's main premise being that the only women who object to rape are those who are too ugly to be allowed out side. He justifies part of his argument by pointing to the popularity of romance novels. Among many things, he says:
Any moron with the sixth grade reading skills required for a romance novel can tell you this. I’d wager good money there is not a single one of those books that doesn’t have at least one scene with a woman saying “no” ten times, just before opening up like a spring flower and getting stuffed with enough c*** to make Ron Jeremy blush.
In romance novels, that is the preamble to “happily ever after.” Being taken, with some amount of force or another, is the main draw to this genre of writing. Hell, I don’t even really call them Romance Novels. I call them “Bosom Heavers.” Watch a woman read one and you will see why. By the time she gets halfway through one of those “no doesn’t mean jack shit,” scenes, her t*** will look like they have been outfitted with low-rider hydraulics, lifting and dropping sharply with each powerful thrust she is imagining in her mind.
Now, obviously this guy has a lot of problems. As a woman who grew up with three brothers who are about as masculine as it is possible to be but who would be repulsed by such talk, I learned long ago that guys like the author of this article are so filled with anger toward the opposite sex that they have convinced themselves that any man who disagrees with him has been whipped into submission by the “evil feminazies.” That baloney is an easy excuse for someone trying to justify his own pathology. HOWEVER...

I know. There she goes again. When books with titles like “Make Me Beg,” “Everything He Demands,” “Dominate Me,” and titles I can't even print here, sell by the ga-jillions it is pretty hard to make the case that women do NOT want to “get stuffed...” etc. etc. etc. Of course the difference is that, while most women who read these things cannot get enough of them, they would scream bloody murder if they were actually expected to LIVE them. Yes, I know there are people who participate in BDSM lifestyles complete with “safe” words and all that. But I suspect that the majority of women who squirmed and wiggled as they read the 50 Shades book would run like hell if their mate or most recent date suggested living that lifestyle.

There's something peculiar going on in society. On the far-right we have people trying to deny women basic rights – health care, contraception, equal pay, workplace discrimination, and protection from violence. There are idiots saying that “some girls rape easy” and talking about whether rape is legitimate or not. At the very same time we see an unprecedented rise in women gobbling up books about being dominated, disciplined, with the very clear message “if she submits to this abuse sweetly enough she will melt his heart and he will love her forever.” This is something I simply cannot understand but it seems obvious to me that there are no coincidences here. If someone can explain it to me, I'd certainly appreciate it.

Thanks for reading.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tortoises, Hares, and Independent Writers

Hugh Howey, the very successful author of the popular Wool series, asked independent authors on a forum I participate in to share their “mid-list” success stories and it has been inspiring. We are always dazzled by the super-stars, Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, E.L. James, who sky-rocket into the indie publishing stratosphere with astonishing sales, get picked up by major publishers, and get movie deals. Those folks are amazing but also few and far between. What about the authors with mid-list sales? The folks you never hear about. There are LOTS of us.

In 2010, the first year I published e-books, I cleared $192.35 for the entire year in e-book sales. I thought that was rather cool and, because I had a small handful of titles available, sort of amazing. So in 2011 I put a few more of my backlist, print titles in e-format and published 3 novellas in e-format, Arthur's Story: A Love Story, The Crazy Old Lady in theAttic, and Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter. Also, in December I published the e-book of The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood. The year had started out slow with about $200 a month in sales but even at that I was earning more a month than I had in all of 2010. Then September came and things picked up.

By the end of 2011, thanks to a great fourth quarter, my sales were 50x what they were in 2010 and nobody was more stunned than I was. So this year I released another novel, Depraved Heart, another novella, Ghosts of a Lighthouse in Autumn, and the 3 volume The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall series which is also available as a boxed set in e-format or in a single volume in paperback. I also released my 3 full-length novels in a boxed set. So far I am well over doubling last year's sales and I have 2 months to go. At the moment I am a solid mid-lister, as are dozens of other people according to Hugh's findings. What does this mean?

It means that there are a lot of people who are writing in the evenings while they work during the day, or writing at home while the kids take a nap, or work part-time (me) while they write as much as they can, and are reaping the rewards. We are not famous or household names or ready to move to the Riviera but we are happily paying bills – lots of bills – with money we make as writers. And we're thrilled about it. Can anyone do it? That depends.

I'm a firm believer that everyone has a story to tell and I always encourage people to tell their stories if they can. But they process of editing, refining, prepping manuscripts, getting artwork and then the endless process of marketing is not for the feint of heart. In various writers forums I've seen writers rant about the fact that the spent months (I've spent years) writing a book and once they uploaded it sales did not come pouring in. It just doesn't work that way. The ease of independent publishing has created an environment in which almost anyone can publish and a lot of them do. Amazon has been releasing 50,000 new books a month in 2012! This means that, yes, you can publish but be prepared for the fact that you are a very small fish in a very, very large ocean. Writing is a breeze compared to marketing! When a book is written that's it but marketing never ends. But that should not be a deterrent.

One of the boons created by e-publishing is an explosion in certain markets. Fantasy, romance, zombie, vampire, and post-apocalyptic books have sky-rocketed. They appeal to young people who are used to reading on screens and gobble up these books like M&Ms. Erotica has also exploded, especially the to-me-incomprehensible genre of billionaire discipline. I don't get it but millions appear to love that. Basically it is eroticized fairy tales substituting billionaires for handsome princes and shy, virginal young women who find being tied up and spanked to be “fascinating.” If you're into that there's tons to choose from.

And then there are those of us who write other things, mysteries, ghost stories, love stories that may or may not have HEAs. My best sellers have been psychological horror but I have learned that readers exist on a quantum scale of what constitutes horror. I've had reviewers say everything from “the climax made me sick to my stomach” to “there was nothing much to it” about the very same scene. But none of that matters. What matters is that there are readers out there for everything and if you can give them what they want and help them to find your books, you can succeed.

This has been a wonderful year for me. It has been a wonderful year because I got to spend a huge chunk of it writing and not worrying about paying the bills. I have a long way to go to be a prosperous writer but I am a successful one and that is nice.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Happy Birthday to A Brother Deeply Missed

UPDATED below!
Today would be my brother Jack's 62nd birthday. It is hard to believe he has been gone for ten years. Jack was a year younger than me and, though we fought as much as any brother and sister do, we were also very close. Jack was one of those rock-solid people. He married young, started a business, raised a family, planted gardens, canned produce, hunted, made and smoked sausage, made his own wine and beer. He lived as healthy a life as anyone I have ever known and yet he died of cancer at too young an age.
Making sausage

I was the opposite of him. I led a gypsy life moving around from place to place, having a lot of romances and a lot of adventures. I was never good at settling down and he worried about me. Whenever I called him he'd say, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?” I think he had a hard time believing we were so different. I always told him I was okay and usually that was true but I loved knowing that he cared.

Jack was a big man, 6'4” and muscular. He worked hard all his life, mostly as a full-time carpenter and part-time farmer. He made bread and wine and the hottest peppers I ever tasted in my life. When I lived in Texas he always asked me to bring him the hottest peppers I could get when I was coming home. I'd go down to a farmer's market in the Rio Grande Valley to a farmer known as the Pepper Man and ask for the hottest peppers he had. The Pepper Man warned me that the ones he sold me were powerful. I assured him they were not for me but for my brother. He said, “Well, tell your brother to be damn careful about going to the bathroom when he's cooking with them.” That cracked Jack up.

He loved to read, especially outdoor adventure books. When we were kids he was in love with Jack London and the Kazan books and he was the kind of reader who always had to talk about what he was reading. He'd tell me the entire plot – whether I was interested or not – and read passages to me. James Oliver Curwood and James Fenimore Cooper and Edgar Allen Poe. More than anything he loved the outdoors. I remember one time my mother, a devout Catholic, told him she was disappointed that he had stopped going to Mass and the sacraments and he said, “I'm nearer to God in the woods than I've ever been in any church.” He was right about that.
Jack with his children, Mark and Amy

He was a great story-teller. I never saw him or talked to him that he didn't have some story to tell me. He especially loved hunting stories. One of his roommates from college told me that, when they were bored at school, they'd go get beer and get Jack to tell stories. He could do that for hours.

I woke up this morning thinking about him and thinking about a ride we took some years back. I was home for a week from wherever I was living at the time and it was a cold snowy day. He said, “Come on, let's go for a ride.” So we got in his truck and went to DePrater's and picked up a case of beer and we took off down West Creek Road and then off up into the woods on logging trails. He knew every inch of those trails and, let me tell you, as much as I loved going “woodsing” with him, he still scared the crap out of me. We saw deer that day and turkey and the whole time we were driving he kept telling me his latest hunting stories. We drank a lot of beer.

Late in the afternoon, it was starting to get dark and the snow was coming down harder and coming down fast. The snow on those logging trails was halfway up the wheel wells and the going was getting rough. We were going slower and slower trying to get through the snow. I had no idea where we were. Finally, the snow was too deep and he stopped the truck and said, “This isn't working.” I, of course, was scared to death. He finished his beer and then said, “Guess I better turn the hubs.” He leaned over, took a pair of pliers from the glove box, got out and turned the hubs on the front wheels, and off we went through the snow. He loved doing things like that. What a jerk.
Me & Jack, 1952

I miss that jerk. So today he would have been 62. He just left the world too damn soon. I hope he is in a snowy forest somewhere with a case of beer and a truck that he can get through anything. And I hope he knows how much he was loved and how deeply missed. Happy birthday, brother.

Thanks for reading.

A couple hours after I posted this about my brother, I got an email from Glenn, the son of one of Jack's friends from high school, who now lives here in Massachusetts. He wrote,  "Jack was the strongest man I ever met." Then he told me a story about how Jack was helping some guys build the car wash out on Bucktail Trail across from his dad's shop. Somebody made a bet that Jack couldn't carry 2 16-ft. 2x12s on his shoulder up a plank to the second story. He said the guys had been carrying them one at a time up and Jack picked up 3 of them and walked them up the plank. As Glenn said, "he was one mountain of a man."

So naturally I had to tell him about the time I was downtown talking to our cousin Bobby Valentine (who was a bear of a man). A whole bunch of guys pulled up and started harassing Bobby, things escalated, and Bobby said. "Meet me out at the airport in an hour." I was scared because Bobby was all by himself so I went to a pay phone and called Jack and told him what was going on. Jack said "thanks" and hung up. Later I saw Jack and I asked what happened and he said, "nothing." Next time I ran into Bobby, he said he was there and there were 7 or 8 guys and, just as things were getting tense, a truck pulled up and out got Jack and our other cousin, Jackie. Jackie wasn't all that big but everybody knew he was nuts. Bobby said all the other guys took off. End of that fight. 

So then Glenn wrote back a story about Jackie's nephew Wally. It was great because I thought Jack  would like nothing better than to have his birthday celebrated by people telling stories.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

MORE WHISKEY! A Boy Rescued by Elk

The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 3 is now available for Kindle. The final four stories in my Secrets of Marienstadt series include The Legend of Father Cuneo's Grave, The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, Wapiti, and A Long Day's Journey into Light. Each of the stories is complete unto itself but read together and with the stories in the previous Volumes 1 and Volume 2 they create a novel with an exciting climax.
This excerpt is from Wapiti, the 10th story in the series. In it Oliver Eberstark has stopped to visit Blaise Hanes, a local taxidermist and authority on Native American lore. Oliver has been taken to task by Judge Hamilton Buerk for refusing to let hunters into Opelt's Wood during elk season. In this section Oliver tells Blaise why he is so protective of elk. 

Blaise took a stool on the other side of the table. “It's good to see you. It must be ten years. I was sorry to hear about your grandfather passing. He was a great man.”
Oliver signed the check and nodded as he passed it across the table. “That he was. He lived a good, full life but it was still sad to see him go.”
Those are the kind that leave the biggest hole when they pass on. They take a serious chunk of life with them.” He glanced at the check and widened his eyes. “Are you sure about this?”
Oliver laughed. “I charged him an arm and a leg and even that was cheap for what he got. Plus I tacked on an aggravation charge because he's been trying to talk me into letting his buddies hunt elk on my land and I won't do it.”
Good for you. Your grandfather would like that.”
Oliver let his eyes wander around the room. “It's a strange thing. I've been a hunter all my life but, other than wounded animals that needed to be put down, I've never killed one unless I planned to eat it. But where elk are concerned, I don't know... I'd have to be awfully damn hungry.” He sat silent for a minute and then said, “Grandpop always said elk were mystical beings.”
Your grandpop had a good reason for thinking that.”
Oliver looked up at him, his pale blue eyes meeting Blaise's dark ones. “I wondered if he ever told you his story.”
Blaise nodded. “Some of it. A long time ago.”
What did you think about it?” Oliver felt a chill, a familiar chill that he knew came from talking about things that made him uncomfortable.
I believe every word of it. Not just because your grandfather was a man whose word I'd trust without reservation but because I've heard stories like his before. I always suspected he told me because he knew I wouldn't be surprised.”
Oliver let out a slow breath. “I've never talked about it with anyone but him. I always thought people would think either he was a liar or that I was.”
Why don't you tell me the story the way he told it to you?”
Oliver cleared his throat.
Thaddeus Eberstark was seven years old when it happened. He was the youngest child in his family and his father, for whom Oliver was named, founded the Eberstark Sawmill. Young Thad grew up in Opelt's Wood and, from the time he could walk, he had the run of the woods. It was nothing, he told Oliver, for him to take off early in the morning with a bucket to gather berries and nuts, or with a fishing pole, and not come back until the sun was going down. He said his parents never worried about him. He wondered sometimes if they even noticed he was missing.
It was mid-November and the weather had been mild when he decided to go in search of chestnuts and wild mushrooms. He knew where there were oak trees that had hens-of-the-woods growing along their base and he took it into his head to gather some for his mother. Maybe she would fix them with some chestnuts for dinner that night. Thad loved wild mushrooms and knew more about foraging for them than most adults did. He learned how to cook them and, to his dying day, he thought there was nothing more delicious than wild mushrooms fried in butter with garlic and leeks. That morning he put on a warm sweater, grabbed his bucket, and set off through the woods. Back then most people were fair at predicting the weather but when a cold front came out of nowhere it took everyone by surprise.
He was having a good afternoon foraging. He'd found some large hens and was filling the rest of his bucket with chestnuts as it started getting dark. He knew that it was also getting colder but he was a kid and, like most kids, he could ignore the cold when he was busy having fun. Then the snow started. He said it came so hard and so fast that he was nearly blinded by it. He was a good little woodsman but he was not prepared for the storm that was bearing down on him. In the cold and the dark he was soon confused, and terrified, and a very long way from home.
He knew he was in big trouble. He was slipping and falling. He lost his bucket and all its contents. He knew that the only hope he had of staying alive was to find some place safe, out of the wind, to try to weather out the night. He crawled under a hemlock tree and huddled up against its trunk. The wind wasn't as bad there, and the snow wasn't stinging his face, but it was a lot of hours until it would be light again. He was freezing and certain he was going to die.
Then he heard something coming through the woods. He knew enough to know the sounds of a woodland creature from those of the storm and he began to tremble in genuine fear. The only thing worse, he thought, than freezing to death, would be to be eaten alive. He was quite convinced that any bear or coyote, who happened to be out wandering around, would be happy to find a nice, juicy boy – even a small, skinny one – to feast on. For the first time since the storm blew in, he began to cry. He buried his head in his arms so he didn't have to see what was coming for him and wept. He heard the animal drawing closer, snuffling through the branches of the trees. He knew they had found him when he felt the heat of a body – two bodies – one on either side of him. But nothing happened. No claws raked him, no teeth bit him, just two large, furry, and rather unpleasant smelling bodies pressed gently against his. He lifted his head and, though he could see little more than the shape of them, he recognized two female elk. They settled down quietly, sheltering him between their warm bodies.
At first he could not stop shaking as he waited for them to notice him. He waited for them to turn and take a bite out of him. He'd never heard of an elk eating a human but he was by no means sure they wouldn't. Slowly, as he nestled there in the warmth of them, he began to relax. He could feel their soft breathing and it comforted him. They stayed still and he found himself growing so limp and tired that he dropped off to sleep. He said it was one of the most peaceful nights of his life.
It was barely light when he was jostled awake by their movements as they stood up. The wind had stopped and he watched in astonishment as the two cows rose, ducked out from under the branches, and plodded off into the woods. He quickly scrambled out of the nest and got his bearings. He had not gone more than a few yards when he heard his oldest brother calling his name.
Here,” he called, running toward the sound. “I'm up here.”
His entire family had been out hunting for him since the first light. When his brother saw him he fired a shot into the air – a signal that he was found – and then hugged him so hard he lifted him off the ground. Thad said he never knew his brother cared that much about him.
You're in for a whipping,” his brother told him. “I can't believe you're alive.”
Thad told his brother the story of how he made it through the night. As he was telling it, his father and older sister came out of the trees.
Come on,” he said grabbing his father's hand and pulling him toward the hemlock tree. “You'll see.”
He said that they didn't believe his story. When they got to the hemlock tree he pulled the branches aside. There in the snow were the unmistakable imprints of a boy's boots and bottom between the enormous hollows created by a pair of five hundred pound creatures resting in the snow.
He didn't get a whipping. In fact his entire family was so dumb-struck by what had happened that they treated him with a kind of religious awe. His mother cautioned him not to tell anyone or they would think he was mad and haul him off to the looney bin. Until the day he died Thad's brother called him “Elk Boy.”
Years later, when his parents were gone and Thad took over his father's sawmill, he mortgaged the mill in order to buy Opelt's Wood from old Wenzy Opelt. For the rest of his life Thad did everything he could do to protect the lives of any elk that lived on his land.
Blaise nodded slowly as Oliver finished his story. “That's pretty much the way Thad told it to me, too.”
And you didn't doubt it?”
Not for a second. Native Americans tell lots of stories about children and babies being saved by wild animals. A lot of animals know things we never give them credit for. They recognize the helplessness of young ones. The maternal instinct isn't prejudiced by species.”
Oliver took a deep breath. “It's such a strange story. I always wanted it to be true but...”
But you were afraid people would laugh?”
Oliver nodded.
If it was my grandfather's story,” Blaise said quietly, “I'd tell it to everyone who'd listen. It's something to be proud of. It's like an honor bestowed on your family.” Read the rest of the story....

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gobble, Gobble, Everyone!

On this Thanksgiving day I especially want to thank all of you who read this blog and who read my books and give me the incentive to keep pursuing the dream of being a real, full-time writer. I am deeply grateful for this past year which was unprecedented in book sales and that means I am deeply grateful for you. Wishing each and every one of you a lovely day, spent in whatever way makes you happiest.

And now, here's Arlo.....

I am headed up to Kennebunkport for the day. Happy Thanksgiving and thank you very much for reading.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

For the Love of Story-Telling: A Dish Best Served Cold

Everybody knows how much I love stories and telling them. My whole life is about stories. So when I discovered The Moth Radio Program on WGBH I was thrilled. I was driving back from somewhere one afternoon with the radio on – I almost always have WGBH on – and someone was telling a story. I didn't know what program it was but I can't stop listening when someone tells a story. I missed most of that one but then the next one started and I was captivated.

The story-teller was a young man named Tristan Jimerson. He was an art student in Minneapolis and he told a sad tale of one thing going wrong after another climaxing when he discovered that his identity had been stolen by a woman working at a pizza shop when he ordered a pizza. Devastated by his savings being wiped out he embarked on an amateur sleuthing operation that got funnier and funnier the more he talked. I was driving along, laughing out loud as his story unfolded. It was a great story and he had a great story-telling style. Ever since I have been hooked on The Moth.

Their web site has an archive of the stories. The stories can be sad or funny or incredible or ridiculous. The only caveat is that they have to be true and they have to be told live. Slowly I am working through all of them. There are also a lot of them on YouTube. So, if you have the time, check out The Moth and listen to the stories. I suggest you start here with TristanJimerson's excellent tale of credit card fraud and sleuthing.

Thanks for reading.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Elk-aholics of Winslow Hill

Growing up in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, we were pretty much always aware of the wildlife that was so plentiful in the area. We often went "spotting deer" and I personally had 2 close encounters with black bears that I'll never forget. But elk were rare back then. At one time elk -- for which our county, Elk County, was named -- were plentiful but human habitation chased them out. I remember the first time I saw an elk, in a field out across from our tiny airport, and it was a beautiful and majestic creature.


So, naturally, when I was writing "The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall," I wrote about elk. In the book the huge, reclusive Oliver Eberstark, despite being the consummate woodsman, refuses to let hunters into Opelt's Wood during elk season. He lets them hunt and fish on his property the rest of the year but not to hunt elk. This causes him some problems with the pompous Hamilton Buerk who sponsors hunting parties in his elegant lodge. In a chapter titled "Wapiti," the Native American name for elk, Oliver tells the Native American folklorist Blaise Hanes why he is so protective of them. You can read part of the story here.

Recently a Facebook friend, Debbie Johnston Kronenwetter, posted some beautiful photographs of the elk at Winslow Hill and I asked her permission to post them here. I love these pictures -- especially because of the  misty periwinkle blue hills in the background. I can just imagine Oliver sitting in his truck with Toots, his dog, watching them exactly like this. Many thanks to Debbie for the photos.

The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, a novel told in eleven stories,all set in Elk County, is available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes & NobleThe stories are also available as a digital "boxed set" for both Kindle and Nook. All eleven stories are included. Or you can buy the 3 volumes individually for Kindle only. Volume 1Volume 2, and Volume 3.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

#SampleSunday: 3 Luscious Novels Boxed Set - Fall in Love

boxed set of my three novels -- The Old Mermaid's TaleEach Angel Burnsand Depraved Heart -- is now available from Amazon for $8.99 which is a 30% savings over buying them individually. This makes a nice gift! You can find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

The following excerpt is from Depraved Heart. Ever since she came to Hathor, Tempest has been drawn to Syd, the NFL superstar who has recently been paroled from prison. On the evening of the 4th of July he invites her to walk out to the cliffs overlooking the harbor to watch the fireworks:
Syd opened the wooden door at the back of the garden and held it for her. His hand rested lightly, briefly on her back as she stepped through and she looked back both at him and at the meticulous, formal beauty of the walled garden before stepping out into the wild tangle on the other side. Though she had passed through this door before, she had never been so struck by the difference in the two spaces. The walled garden, under his conscientious attention, had become a tapestry of old English roses climbing the brick walls, carefully sculpted yew borders, and cypress trees lining the pool. He had cleared away the weeds and replaced the missing bricks in the walkways that wove between the beds of lantana, liatras and Canterbury bells he planted because he said they attracted butterflies. Wisteria dripped down from the tops of the walls and covered the trellis over the terraces. But on the other side of the door was another world entirely.
They crossed into the shelter of a lichen-coated pergola overgrown with more wisteria, here tangled with wild grape vines. The columns were wound round with Virginia creeper and clematis. Everything that was precise and controlled inside the garden was wild and voluptuous outside.
It’s too bad that the lilacs go by so fast,” he said as he walked beside her. “Some of these can grow to be fifteen feet tall. In May and early June you can smell them all the way in the house.”
She looked up at him and nodded. “I remember.”
Watch your head.” He lifted aside a swag of hydrangea and she bent under it letting his hand on her waist guide her. The night air was soft and soothing, rich with the fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine that wound its way between the silver birch and aspen trees concealing the fairy retreats that Lisette had planted so long ago.
Anjelica tells me that there is a grotto somewhere around here where all the flowers are white and they only bloom at night. She said there are moonflowers there. Have you ever seen a moonflower?”
No,” she said, “what are they?”
A lot of courtyards in the Quarter had them when I was a kid. Anjelica says she can’t remember where it is. Maybe we should go searching for it some night.”
I’d love that,” she said.
Yes,” he said, “so would I. Over here.”
The trees turned to windswept pines sprouting out of the granite rocks along the cliffs. Banks of beach roses bordered a meadow filled with buttercups, daisies and wild asters.
It should be almost time for the fireworks.” And as he said it the boom-boom-boom that marked the beginning of the display echoed across the water and they could see the sparkling explosions of gold and blue light filling the sky above Gloucester harbor.
This might be a good place.” He led her to a patch of feathery grass where tufts of ferns grew between the rocks and spread the blanket he’d brought from the house. She sat down, folding her skirt under her and he made himself comfortable beside her, not quite touching but close enough that she could feel the warmth of his body through the fine cotton of her clothes.
Look.” She pointed. The moon was coming up over the horizon just below Eastern Point Lighthouse’s golden flash. As it rose a sparkling silvery path swept across the water. The air around them glittered with fireflies.
When I was a boy, I spent much of the summer in Galveston with my father. Sometimes when we were out on his boat late at night the moon would shine on the water and dolphins swam beside the boat, leaping up, and keeping pace with us.”
Dolphins? Really?” She turned to look at him, and he thought that in the moonlight she looked as enchanting as any mermaid that had ever emerged from the depths.
Yes. There’s a channel between the tip of Galveston Island and Boliver Point on the mainland and every time we crossed it there were dolphins everywhere. There’s a ferry that goes back and forth between the island and the mainland all the time, and people feed the dolphins. They get used to humans. They would come right up to the boat hoping for a treat. I’d feed them shrimp and little fish when my father wasn’t looking.”
That sounds beautiful,” she said.
He moved closer, caressed her jaw with his fingertips and said, “I want to kiss you.”
I want you to kiss me,” she said and leaned forward letting her body rest against his as their mouths met. He slid his hands up her back and into her hair.
You’re all I’ve thought about since Sunday,” he whispered nuzzling her neck, kissing her shoulders and caressing the soft skin along her spine.
She slipped her hands up over his arms to his shoulders and kissed him deeper, moving closer.
In the distance they could hear the explosions of fireworks and the cheers and honking of boat horns, but from their vantage point the path of moonlight sweeping over the sea seemed to direct the full beauty of its scintillating light on them and on them alone. They wound around each other in caresses that felt more intense than the thundering of the waves below and more gentle than the breeze filled with the fragrance of sea salt and beach roses and jasmine.

Get all 3 novels at Amazon or Barnes & Noble

Sibel Hodge's A Gluten-Free Taste of Turkey

British/Turkish author Sibel Hodge has written some wonderful books and now she has published a cookbook, A Gluten-Free Taste of Turkey. Today she talks about her book and offers a recipe!

Merhaba! A big Turkish-style hello to you.

I have dual Turkish Cypriot/British nationality, and although I was brought up in the UK, I now spend a lot of my time in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (it definitely beats the British weather!). My dad emigrated to the UK from Cyprus in the late 1950s when he was a teenager, and he went on to meet my English mum, so I’ve had the best of both worlds as far as cuisine and culture goes.
I’m the author of quirky romantic comedies, mysteries, and children's books (with the odd thriller thrown in), and in my spare time, I’m Wonder Woman! When I’m not writing or saving the world from dastardly demons, you can find me in the kitchen, cooking up a storm.
From an early age, I developed an interest in food and would spend hours in the kitchen with my nan, who was a fabulous chef. From about ten years old I was cooking the family dinner on a regular basis, and that’s when I learned that in order to cook well, you had to love and appreciate food.
During this time, I don’t remember seeing any ready meals or pre-cooked sauces in our house. Nan cooked everything from scratch, which actually prepared me well for when I met my husband, who just happened to be coeliac and needed to follow a gluten free diet.
‘I’m coeliac,’ he admitted sheepishly, just after I’d invited him round for dinner early on in our relationship.
‘Coeliac?’ I gave him an odd look, thinking he was trying to prepare me for some bizarre sexual quirk that sounded a bit dodgy.
Well, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, I can tell you, when he explained to me he had a disease that meant he was unable to eat gluten, not someone who wanted to dress up in lederhosen and be slapped with stinging nettles. Then I thought, unable to eat gluten? That must be really horrible, but how difficult can it be to cater for that? Well, not as easy as I first thought…
Gluten is found in barley, wheat, rye, malt, and oats, and is in most processed foods, so trying to avoid it in those days was a nightmare for a lot of people. A simple trip to the shops took hours as I scrutinized every packaged item looking at the ingredients. As well as being blatantly labelled, it’s often disguised as “thickener”, “stabilizing agent”, “shortening”, and many other things. I nearly fainted from shock because it seemed to be in everything, even the simplest of things like cereal and ice cream, and I didn’t want to accidentally bump him off with a gluten-laden knickerbocker glory (although, I must admit there have been several occasions over the years that I’ve seriously thought about it!). A gluten free aisle was unheard of back then, and he could only get gluten free bread on prescription, which was the consistency and taste of a thousand-year-old house brick. Great for renovating early nineteenth century manor houses but not so good for a nice cheese sandwich. Luckily, now there are hundreds of gluten free foods available in the supermarket and from specialist stores, which is great news, because wheat and gluten intolerance is on the rise.
Even if you’re not coeliac or gluten intolerant, many people are turning to a gluten free diet because it can have many health benefits, including an increase in energy, better digestion and elimination, improving cholesterol levels and auto-immune disorders, controlling weight and bloating, and making you super attractive to the opposite sex (OK, I made the last one up, but I bet it made you want to read on!). Whereas twenty years ago, a gluten free diet would be bland and boring, today it can be eclectic, vibrant, and delicious, which is why I wanted to mix my knowledge of tasty, easy-to-cook, and nutritious Turkish food with gluten free recipes.
Cue A Gluten Free Taste of Turkey, which is a mixture of traditional Turkish cookery, along with dishes that have a Turkish Cypriot twist to them, and my own creations. Our hectic and stressful modern lives mean we want food that not only tastes great, but is also quick to get on the table, and these are the kinds of recipes I want to introduce you to in this book.
Historically, Turkey has been a cosmopolitan melting pot of ethnic groups such as the Ottomans, Byzantines, and Persians. It’s bordered by Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, so it’s no wonder that the food is a colourful fusion of traditions, countries, tastes, and deliciousness (I don’t care if that’s not a word since it describes Turkish food perfectly). Turkish cuisine is considered among the world’s best because of the variety of dishes, the use of natural ingredients, and a huge mixture of flavours and tastes. It’s also a very healthy diet, with lots of vegetables, grains, beans, herbs, olive oil, spices, and fruit.
While it’s fantastic that nowadays we can walk into a supermarket and find any kind of item from all over the world, whatever time of year, it does have its drawbacks. In order to cope with our food demands we’re increasing the amount of chemicals in our environment. Pesticides, bulking agents, hormones, chemicals that make a fruit or vegetable look a better colour, chemicals that increase the shelf life of consumables, and the over processing of food. All these things make our immune systems more sensitive and susceptible to problems, and affect our overall health, which is why intolerance to gluten and other allergies or insensitivities are on the increase. In a North Cypriot supermarket or market you’ll find fruit and veg that have grown in the shape nature intended, unlike a supermarket in the UK, where a tomato has to pass a tomato circumference test and be colour matched to a pre-conceived idea of what shade it should be, because shock horror, no one would possibly want to eat a tomato with a knobbly bit on it, or a potato that looked like a duck (I’ve found several of those in North Cyprus, plus quite a few in the shape of a heart, which is very cute!). Essentially, the Turkish diet goes back to the basics of cooking from scratch, with an emphasis on using fresh seasonal produce, with a lot of organic methods, just like our ancestors did for thousands of years.
Turkish and Turkish Cypriot people love to eat, therefore they love to cook! Hospitality is second nature, and you can’t visit any friends or family (or even strangers) in North Cyprus without being offered something to eat and drink. The sharing of food is almost as important as the preparation and the eating of it. It’s all about vibrancy, taste, enjoyment, colour, and yet at the same time, simplicity.
Cooking, like writing, is a creative expression. You can take an ingredient, add a dash of colour, a sprinkling of spice, a few drops of imagination, and a splash of passion, and it can turn into something truly amazing. And the fantastic thing is that you can make a dish completely your own by changing some of the ingredients. The recipes included in this book should be used as a guideline because you know your taste buds better than anyone does. If you want to substitute, say, parsley for coriander, or cinnamon for cumin, then go for it. It’s all about making the food work for you. Wherever you can, please try to use organic ingredients. It’s kinder to the environment and animals, and it’s healthier for you.
The most important thing in cooking is to have fun with it, so experiment, eat, and enjoy! And, as we say in Turkish…

Affiyet olsun! (Enjoy your meal!)

Sibel xx
Turkish Style Shepherd’s Pie

This is a Turkish variation of shepherd’s pie which is topped with rice instead of mashed potatoes. A creamy goat’s cheese gives this a lovely twang, but if you don’t like the goaty variety, a mix of parmesan and cheddar works well, or whatever cheese takes your fancy. It tastes great with salad or veggies!

Vegetarian option: Use green lentils or veggie mince
  • 1 cup of rice – cooked
  • 500g of minced lamb or beef
  • 1 onion – diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic – crushed and chopped
  • 2 carrots – sliced very finely
  • ½ cup of peas
  • ¾ cup of stock or water
  • 1 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 1½ tablespoons of thyme
  • 1½ tablespoons of oregano
  • ¾ cup of yoghurt
  • 1½ cup of goat’s cheese – grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Fry the onion until soft and golden. Add the garlic and mince and fry until browned. Mix in the tomato puree, carrots, peas, thyme, salt and pepper, and stock and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Pour into a deep oven dish and press flat.
  2. Mix the rice and yoghurt together and spread on top of the meat. Sprinkle the cheese on top and cook for 25 - 35 minutes until the top is crispy and golden and the inside is bubbling – 180C/400F/Gas Mark 6
Serves 4

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Coming in Paperback

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Whiskey Bottle Paperback is Coming!

And you can pre-order it at both Barnes & Noble (for $9) and Amazon (for $17.) Why the difference in price? Beats me. But I am so happy that it will be available before Thanksgiving. The paperback contains all 11 of the stories that comprise Volumes 1, 2 and 3 of the digital edition. 

The wonderful Hawaiian novelist, Kiana Davenport, wrote about this book: Reading Valentine's stories, I understand that this is not just an entertaining collection about a fabulously rich culture. She is memorializng her people, and her town. Thus, this becomes a fascinating and educational look at a region and culture relatively unsung in American literature. THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL, VOL. 1-3, SECRETS OF MARIENSTADT, is a tribute to a people and a place, the Pennsylvania Dutch, and their contributions to American history.

With compassion and satire, and beautifully detailed writing, Valentine has delicately chiseled out of these seemingly ordinary lives, the unique, profound, and quixotic traits that make each character memorable, even epic. Please read these stories slowly, then read them again, because while we are reading about life, love, and birth and death, we are also learning the rich culture and traditions of one of the most fascinating communities in our United States.

The stories are also available as a digital "boxed set" for both Kindle and Nook. All eleven stories are included. Or you can buy the 3 volumes individually for Kindle only. Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3.

These stories are exceptionally dear to my heart because everyone of them is rooted in stories I've known most of my life. I hope that you will enjoy them.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Post by Caddy Rowland: Why I Choose to Write About a Crazy Bohemian

Today's post is by Caddy Rowland, author of the sexy and delicious Gastien series. I know you will enjoy this one.

Why I Choose to Write About a Crazy Bohemian
Caddy Rowland, Author of “The Gastien Series”
When I started to write the first book in The Gastien Series I didn’t plan on writing a series at all. In fact, I simply thought I was going to write one book about a fictional artist living during the bohemian art era (nineteenth century France). Boy was I in for a surprise! The first surprise was that the first book was over 1,000 pages long – and that was after editing! I quickly realized that there actually was a logical place to end a first book and make the darn thing into two novels. The first book would be about Gastien’s struggle to become an artist. The second would be about his life once he had achieved the dream. Both books were full stories, able to stand on their own.
Gastien Part 1: The Cost of the Dream was born. I was a new writer and didn’t think about what that title implied. Now I realize that to some people it sounds like the story is only a half of a book, so down the road I may change it to simply Gastien: The Cost of the Dream. It would make sense to, but I’ve been working like crazy to complete the series first.
You see, I knew as soon as I published the first book that this was going to be a series. I thought it was going to be a trilogy, but then the second book came out. I knew then that there were going to be five. The series would tell the story of Gastien’s family, with the fifth (and last) book closing the circle. The fourth book just came out on November 7th, and I will be working on the fifth book before Thanksgiving.
I had always wondered how authors picked their subjects, their characters, the time period their books take place in. For me, it was a no brainer. I am also an artist. I paint in oils, acrylics, water color, ink…you name it and I’ll try it. Because of this the whole bohemian art era has always fascinated me. That era was when Impressionism started, and from there painting took on all kind of new faces. This era took place the last half of the nineteenth century and lasted until about 1914.
The location was Paris, most specifically the area of Montmartre. More famous artists came from that time period than any other period in history. Renoir, Degas, van Gogh, Picasso…the list goes on and on. Why so much talent? Who knows! But I tend to think the cliché “great minds think alike” is a cliché for a reason. With so many talented men (and there were only one or two women) hanging out together painting and socializing, art was bound to get set on fire.
Plus, the camera had been invented, making it necessary to paint in new ways or become redundant. Paint in tubes was also new. Big deal? You bet it was. For the first time in history, artists could easily pick up and go paint outside. That’s how Impressionism started. Thank the camera and paint in tubes for giving us all of those wonderful artists and all of their unique painting styles.
I’m surprised that more novels and movies don’t take place during this time. It’s one of the most decadent and wild times in history. Those men didn’t only know how to paint, they knew how to party. For better or for worse, they made ancient Rome look staid – and the future Roaring 20’s would pale in comparison! That makes for a fun time period to place your characters in.
Life was hard for these artists. Extremely hard. No wonder they partied with such gusto! Yes, the bohemian artists were undisciplined, sexist, poverty-stricken, and prone to all kinds of excess…but, wow, could those men paint. Oh, yes. Those men could paint.

When young Gastien Beauchamp flees the farm for Paris, the late nineteenth century bohemian era is in full swing. Color has always called to him, beseeching him to capture it on canvas and show people a new way of seeing things. His father belittled his dream of being an artist and tried to beat him into giving it up. The dream wouldn’t die, but Gastien would have had he not left.
He also yearns to become a great lover. After the years of anguish he has endured at the hand of his father, it would be heaven to feel pleasure instead of pain.
However, the city of Paris has a ruthless agenda. Unless a man has money and connections, Paris unfeelingly crushes dreams and destroys souls. With neither of the required assets, Gastien faces living in alleys, digging in trash bins for food, and sleeping where a man is often killed for his threadbare blanket.
Left with nothing but his dreams, Gastien clings to the hope that the impossible is possible. He pushes on, regardless of the cost.


Adult fiction for men and women over age 18

Buy links for Gastien Part 1: The Cost of the Dream: For Kindle readers For NOOK readers (Part 1) For Kobo readers (Part 1) To order paperback (Part 1)
Author Blog (Writer of Fiction, Painter of Life & Energy:
Twitter: @caddyorpims
Additional books in the Gastien Series so far: