Monday, June 27, 2011

Welcome Calvin Davis & the Mysterious Phantom Lady!

Welcome Calvin Davis and his mysterious Phantom Lady! So nice to have you as my second blog guest and my first male romance writer guest! It's a pleasure and yes, Calvin, I will be gentle!

Thank you for having me on your blog, Alison. This is a first for me—being a guest and stepping into the dynamic blogging world of romance writers. Even though I live with a romance writer, this is a new milieu for me. You will be gentle, won’t you?

We all know story ideas come from countless sources: a dream, a newspaper article, a snippet of an overheard conversation, thoughts on the human condition and so on. For me, the idea for The Phantom Lady of Paris stemmed from a theft.

I was living in Paris at the time. I’d gone there in 1968 on sabbatical to write and study French culture. What better place to do that than Left Bank cafés? I rented a studio apartment at 21 rue Galande in the 5th arrondissement (Paris is divided into neighborhoods or wards called arrondissements). I was living in the heart of the Latin Quarter, so named because centuries ago students at the Sorbonne spoke only Latin as they conversed and argued philosophies on the streets of this neighborhood.

Soon I settled into a daily routine. I’d shower, dress, snatch a few notebooks and pencils from the desk, bolt down the three flights of steps, dash up the street to the boulangerie (bakery) and buy a few croissants and then step across the street to the cremerie (dairy) for some yogurt. Purchases in hand, I’d stop in the foyer of my building to retrieve my newspaper from the mailbox. Then I’d meander the streets until I came to my favorite writing café, settle at a table, sip an espresso, read the paper and then write for several hours.

I must interject a description, at this point, of mailboxes in French buildings during this era. Mailboxes were one large, open wooden box attached to a wall in the entry foyer. There the postal person would dump the mail for all the residents of the building. Each tenant would sift through the contents, hunting for mail addressed to him or her. Outside of a weekly letter from my mother, my copy of the English Herald Tribune was my only daily mail—and I looked forward to it. My subscription was my lifeline to the English speaking world while I sat immersed in French culture. One morning, it was gone. The address band that encircled it was there, but not my paper. I was livid. Who would steal a man’s newspaper?

Once my temper cooled and my writer’s imagination heated up, I thought “hey, there might be a story in this…a teacher on sabbatical, much like me, has his newspaper stolen…and the thief has the audacity to leave a note on the bulletin board above the mailbox…yeah, a note…and the teacher leaves a reply…and then the thief leaves another note…and…” Well, all you lovely ladies know how one’s imagination takes flight on the breeze of “what-if’s.” So, thanks to a theft, the Phantom Lady was born.

Here’s an excerpt from The Phantom Lady of Paris where Paul, my hero, finds the first note from the phantom lady.

On this particular morning with a liter of milk, a croissant, and a cup of yogurt in hand, I hurried into the foyer of Twenty-One rue Galande. I glanced into the mailbox, and, to my dismay, my Herald Tribune was missing. Had the mail carrier made his rounds? He always did, religiously and on time, regardless of the weather. Besides, mail for other tenants was in the box. So why wasn’t mine?
I rummaged through the huge mound of letters, finally fishing from it an address band with the Herald’s logo on it, beneath which was my name, address, and that day’s date. I didn’t need to be a forensic scientist to realize that some midget-minded SOB had stolen my newspaper, and, to add insult to injury, brazenly left the address band in the mailbox. Of all the rotten, dirty…
With the discarded mailing band in hand, I glanced at the bulletin board that was just above the mailbox. On it was a note addressed to me, scrawled on a piece of torn notebook paper. A hastily scribbled peace sign adorned the top.
Dear Mr. Paul Lasser,
I borrowed your newspaper. I would say, Thank you, but as nice as I know you are, I don’t have to thank you. Do I? Of course not, darling. So, why bother?
And oh yes, do have a good day! I’m sure I’ll have one. Reading the morning paper always makes my day—as I’m sure it makes yours. For your information: the weatherman predicts mild temperatures, sunny, cloudless skies. Should be a gasser. So, enjoy. Peace and love.
Signed, your neighbor and fellow-newspaper-lover,
The Phantom Lady of Paris.

A suspense-filled love story, The Phantom Lady of Paris tells of American Paul Lasser and his sojourn to the City of Light, where he meets the mysterious Phantom Lady, Bonnie Silver, a woman who is more question marks than periods.

Why is she in Paris and why do the French police investigate her and her “persons of interest” friends? One friend, a flower child, overdoses on drugs. Another morphs into a terrorist, bombing cafés. Is a Communist agitator an associate of Bonnie’s?

Slowly Paul unearths answers, and even as they quench his desire to understand, they will forever haunt him.

Thanks you again for having me. You’ve been a most gracious host, Alison.

You may buy my novel from the publisher, Second Wind,

Or from

Thanks, Calvin...this sounds like a truly intriguing 'what if?'
Next week my guest is Sue Fineman.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Welcome AJ Nuest as my First Blog Guest!

As a current Wisconsinite, I am happy to welcome as my first guest former Wisconsinite, romance author AJ Nuest, discussing her fond memories of life in our state and the unique accent we Midwesterners have. She also shares an excerpt from "Jezebel's Wish," her latest book available from The Wild Rose Press. And one lucky commenter will receive a free .pdf of "Jezebel's Wish," so please enter for a chance to win!

Wisconsin, doin cha’ kno?
“Where, exactly, are you from?”
This question has plagued me more than any other throughout my life. Born and raised in the unspoiled wilderness of Northern Wisconsin, I grew up blissfully unaware of my northern twang, until I graduated from high school and moved to the center of the universe (aka Milwaukee, WI) to attend college.
But even then, my accent was most often met with mild curiosity. My assumption is most folks either didn’t hear it because they carried the same inflection themselves, or they ignored the way I sounded altogether, instinctively knowing I must be from the Great White North. Still, I got the occasional query, people asking if I hailed from Canada or Minnesota, how come I said words like door (dowr) and out (ouit) so strangely and wasn’t I cute with my quaint country lingo.
In all honesty, I hated the way I sounded. Living away from home for ten years, my ear became attuned to the way others spoke, and when I returned for a visit I was horrified to learn the true nature of my voice. Did I really sound the same as all those backwoods hicks? Did I carry that same disturbing lilt which immediately made the listener doubt my intelligence? Why couldn’t I have been born with an accent like Audrey Hepburn? Maybe I could take lessons and learn to speak like Grace Kelly? For crying out loud, how had I made any friends?
Aside: If you’ve ever seen the movie Fargo, you know exactly what I’m talking about (aboot). Although Frances McDormand portrays a quick-witted, highly intuitive police officer, when you first heard her speak, didn’t you instantly think, “Boy, she’s a couple of watts short of a bulb.” I mean, come on! Who actually says, “Is there a phone down here, do ya’ think?” People from northern Wisconsin, that’s who! Ms. McDormand nailed that accent like she’d been reared a stone’s throw away from my childhood home.
Ten years after my move to Milwaukee, I made an even larger step and moved to Chicago. With nothing more than a job interview and two hundred dollars in my pocket, this country girl was making good on her dream to live in the big city. This is when the questions began in earnest. I literally couldn’t meet someone without them asking where I was from. Being a single, young woman looking for love, I can’t tell you how annoying this was.
I tried to rid myself of the northern drawl. I thought the longer I lived away from home, the more it would fade, right? RIGHT!? No such luck. Twenty-five years later, I still carry the same silly sound.
The other night my family sat down to watch America’s Got Talent. As luck would have it, the auditions took place in Minnesota. So I wasn’t surprised when several of the contestants arrived on stage and answered the judges’ questions with the standard, “Oh, yah” we northerners like to use.
One gentleman in particular carried a very heavy accent, and when he came out in his goggles and bike helmet, everyone in my family laughed. Heck, everyone in the auditorium laughed. The guy had to be a complete doorknob. But, not so..not so, at all. Turns out he performed a special “chain reaction” talent by arranging popsicle sticks so they snapped into the air, and when he received three YES votes from the judges, I smiled and heartily applauded.
You see, now that I’m older I’ve realized something. My accent didn’t stop me from meeting the perfect guy, having two beautiful children or becoming a published author. If anything, the way I speak helps me stand out in an area where people say “warsh” for “wash” and “pin” for “pen”. I know sometimes I sound silly and people may assume I’ve got an empty noggin, but that’s okay with me. The way I speak is a part of who I am.
Now I carry my northern twang proudly, and hope that it never fades. So, go ahead and ask me where I’m from. I’ll smile proudly and answer, “Wisconsin, doin cha’ kno?”

Haunted by nightmares, tormented by guilt, Jezebel came to Redemption Ranch to escape the past—except now she's stuck in the middle of nowhere with no redemption in sight. When her mother pushes her into riding lessons with local veterinarian Matthias Saunders, Jezebel balks. Sure, the doctor is gorgeous, but he’s completely obnoxious and knows how to push every one of her buttons.

Only her deep connection with The Reverend, a gentle stallion who guards her darkest secrets, has her agreeing to spend any more time with Dr. Saunders. Caring for the stallion is the first bright spot in her life in months, and if being around the horse means she has to deal with Matthias Saunders, then so be it. Surely a city girl like her can handle one country vet—even one with disturbing blue eyes. Can't she?

Jezebel’s Wish Excerpt:
Jezzy stopped. “I thought I was having a riding lesson.”
“You are.” He nodded toward the empty paddock. “Go in.”
“Go in?” Jezzy propped a hand on her hip. “You sure you know what you’re doing? Because it was my understanding that an actual horse is needed for a riding lesson.”
“Don’t you think it would be wise at this juncture to leave the understanding up to the professionals?”
Jezzy rolled her eyes. “You’re making this way too easy. Professionals? Please. Don’t get me started.”
“Why not? Getting you started is exactly what I’m here for.”
Jezzy’s jaw dropped. She didn’t quite know how to interpret that remark.
He held out the rope. “Now go in. And take this lead line with you.” Steely blue determination glinted in his eyes. There was no way he was going to give in.
Jezzy snatched the lead line from his hand and stormed through the gate, then turned when he closed it behind her.
He put a foot on the bottom railing and rested against the gate, facing the horizon. “Take the chair to the center of the paddock and sit down.”
“And just exactly how is that supposed to teach me to ride?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You want out of the deal?”
Jezzy’s fist clenched tight around the lead line. What she wanted was to march back to the fence and smack his face.

AJ Nuest lives in northwest Indiana with her loving husband and two beautiful children. She is the author of two contemporary romance novels.
Visit her on the web at:
Facebook: Tattered Pages

Jezebel’s Wish Buy Links:
The Wild Rose Press:
Check out the trailer:

Coming June 27: Guest Blogger Calvin Davis discusses "The Phantom Lady of Paris!"

Monday, June 13, 2011

Should you Write what you Enjoy or what you Think will Sell?

If you want to imitate someone else, you probably will have a tough time. But what you could do is study the techniques of writers you enjoy and then see if there's something you can borrow from them and then restructure or rewrite it in your own voice. In advertising, there's a saying: "deconstruct" (the original idea) and "reconstruct" (refashion and reorganize it in your own words with a fresh idea).

You know that if you want to write something as long as a novel, you have to write about something you enjoy. That's really why we all started writing, isn't it? For me, it was writing about mysteries and suspense with a romantic twist added to heighten the tension and raise the stakes. The subject you write about should be something you feel comfortable with, because of your own personal experience--loss, divorce, vengeance--or something that fascinates you and you've studied or want to study. It could be a particular period in history or a place you've visited. If you've ever read the biographies of many famous authors, you realize how much of themselves they put into their work. And then you understand the focus of their writing--divers write diving and archeology books, attorneys, stories about law, etc.

No offense to vampire novelists out there, but I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to write a vampire story and the few times I've been bitten, I haven't enjoyed it. But if that's your bailiwick, go for it! It's a hot genre and if you like writing about it, great. I have always enjoyed suspense stories, not the slasher movie, car-chase, everything blows up kind, but the edge of your seat Alfred Hitchcock kind. Will the bomb go off or won't it? Will she see the murderer in the closet or won't she? Wringing out every last second of tension so that we can't turn the pages fast enough. I recently enjoyed reading Sandra Brown's Chill Factor where the main character was snowed in with someone she thought was a serial killer. Was he or wasn't he? It was a great book.

I also enjoy reading stories about lost treasure, World War II, unsolved mysteries and disasters and political assassinations--Titanic, Hindenburg, JFK, etc. I like the concept of the innocent person getting caught up in a maelstrom of trouble through a simple mistake or through no fault of his or her own. Amnesiac stories are another favorite and stories that center around vengeance, getting back at the person who wronged you. Or "Little Match Girl" stories where the heroine is a pitiful, ugly duckling mess in the beginning and then through her own gumption and tenacity, transforms herself into a tough, smart beautiful woman. I guess you could call them rooting for the underdog stories.

Just because someone made a fortune writing books about vampires or time travel or some other subject doesn't mean it can work for you, especially if you don't enjoy reading those kind of books. And perhaps that's the best advice of all--write about what you enjoy reading.

June 17, AJ Nuest will be my first blog guest!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Keeping Track of your Plot Ideas

It started out as a few scraps of paper, hastily scrawled and sometimes barely legible, then grew into a bunch of tattered newspaper clippings thrown into a shoebox or a bulging manila folder. I had no idea what any of it meant. I had forgotten why I put the things there or when. Sometimes I even forgot where I put the shoebox. I ignored the problem for a while, telling myself I'd deal with it later. But then it started to make me nervous and feel out of control, especially for an organizational freak like me, someone with an obsessive, compulsive need to know where everything is at every given moment. To lose something as important as an idea for a book or a character, drove me crazy. The next time I needed a new plot idea, what was I going to do?
So I finally began to organize my ideas with a vengeance. I bought brightly-colored three-ring binders and pasted all the newspaper articles in it, organized by topic. (World War II has always been a favorite--missing people, missing treasures--I've always wanted to write a romantic suspense novel set in that time period). Then I took all the little snibbles of paper and pasted them down in a separate section, once again, organized by topic, the best ideas toward the front. Whenever a character name popped into my head (which happens often), I consolidated all of the names in one place, along with a list of distinguishing characteristics. I made a separate piece of paper for names of places I'd dreamed up, restaurants, cities and towns, the whole imaginary gambit. And tab dividers also helped, along with the color-coded binders.
For the plots that I'd developed beyond a line or two, I took another binder and put the detailed chapter by chapter outline in it, along with a personality sketch on each character, and all the research I'd done to date, including the location where the book would be set and the history, character occupations, etc. These binders got very thick, but they certainly restored my sense of calm. Plus, I put them in an easily recognizable place, on top of or inside a bookshelf, rather than hiding them away in a desk drawer or filing cabinet. Everything was right at my fingertips and I could relax. But what about new ideas, now that the binders were finished? I left blank space in the front and back of each one, for any new kernels of story ideas or people that might pop up.
P.S. Paperless world, be damned. I still print out a hard copy of everything I write or research. Too many computer crashes or freezes convinced me this was the safest method.
So what are your suggestions? How do you keep track of all of those marvelous plot ideas that you dream up? You've got to find a safe place to stash them or they'll be gone forever.
For those of you that have tried to leave comments in previous weeks and couldn't, I apologize for the problem with Blogger. I hope the situation has been rectified.
Thought for the Day: …"we are as good as anyone else, with as much to say as the next person. The only thing that stands in our way is not saying it."--Maeve Binchy

Next week: Write about what you enjoy or write what you think will sell?