I can’t believe its the beginning of a new year which means a whole lot of new books are to come that I am sure will rock my world. I have 3 picks for the month of December as well, December being a month that I enjoyed almost each and every book that I read immensely. That might have got something to do with the fact that I just read whatever I wanted and went with the flow because I never want the one thing I love to do most in the world to become a chore. So without further ado, my picks of the month ladies and gentlemen. And don’t forget to read the giveaway part to find out which exciting prizes are in store for you this January!
Pick #1: DANCING ON COALS by ELLEN O’CONNELL
Anyone who has read my reviews of the two previous books published by Ellen O’Connell would know that I just flat-out adore the way she writes. Her books aren’t the type that you can just read and forget, the characters, the setting and the romance tends to linger on with you for a long, long time even after you are done.
So it warms my heart to be able to present to you my first pick of the month for December 2011, a novel from one of my favorite authors, her latest book entitled Dancing on Coals.
MBR: Native American romance is a dying breed in the world of romance. So what made you decide to write a Native American romance as your 3rd romance novel?
EO: All my romances are stories of the kind I like to read myself and can’t find enough of. I’m a western and historical kind of woman and can get as absorbed in reading American history as in a novel. Vampires and werewolves aren’t my cup of tea. I see divorce lurking in the shadows whenever I read a contemporary. I confess when I published my first romance, Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold in April 2010 I had no expectations that it would sell more than a few copies. Conventional wisdom says westerns are out of style and western historicals are a niche subgenre hardly worth bothering about. I accepted that as true. My intention up to that time had been to concentrate on getting more books out in my cozy dog mystery series. If I had a future as a writer, that’s where I believed it would be. Still, Eyes was a finished novel. It was a finalist in two writing contests. Why not get it out and let it find a few readers rather than sit on my computer’s hard drive?
Two months later Eyes reached what I think were its highest rankings in the Kindle store – #1 in Westerns and #10 in Historical Romance – and my ideas about my future as a writer changed. Yes, western and even more so Native American romances are niche subgenres, but there obviously are enough fans in these niches with me to make it worthwhile for someone who loves the Nineteenth Century American West to write them. Of course the hope never dies that a reader who isn’t a western fan will hear good things about my books, try one, and become a convert. I have gotten emails from readers like that.
MBR: I think I have run out of words to describe Gaetan and his effect on my senses. I loved how you kept his thoughts hidden until Chapter 9, making his character a that much more mysterious one. Did Gaetan come across on paper as you envisioned him or did he morph into someone totally unexpected along the way?
EO: Yes, Gaetan is as I envisioned him. I too love the mystery of him and perhaps because of that find him unbearably sexy. For me the idea of a Native American hero who takes one look at a white woman and falls “in love” because she’s so beautiful not only smacks of racism but isn’t very realistic. And within the general limits of our genre, I wanted the story to be as realistic as possible. Telling a love story with a hero that tough was a challenge, particularly as I didn’t want love to change him. I don’t believe a man like that would change.
When the book was done, I thought I had succeeded but worried readers would be put off by Gaetan. So I sent the book out to beta readers and waited for reports, half afraid of what I was going to hear. The reports I got back ran the full gamut of reactions – for every reader who felt as you and I do there was one who wanted Gaetan different. They balanced each other in number and intensity of feeling. The reader right in the middle loved the story, didn’t want Gaetan changed but wanted more insight into his character. After long arguments with myself, I decided to listen to that person in the middle and made revisions designed not to change Gaetan but to provide more insight into what he felt and why. When I started those revisions, I was gritting my teeth, not really wanting to do it, but before long I realized the book was stronger for it and stopped dragging my fingers on the keyboard. All the revisions as to Gaetan are in the second half of the book. For instance, the paragraph you chose as a quote that begins, “If a man could taste wind and fire, they would taste like Katherine,” was part of those revisions. But I really wanted the mystery about Gaetan in the beginning. I wanted readers to wonder how on earth a man like that could be the hero, and I never yielded on that vision.
MBR: I always tend to ask this question about heroes that I just flat-out adore. If Dancing on Coals were ever to be made into a movie, is there someone in your mind who would be just a perfect rendition for Gaetan? Or does a man as such not exist in real life?
EO: I’m embarrassed to confess that I’m such a stick-in-the mud I hardly ever watch movies. The one television in the house is a small portable that only gets network channels and sometimes sits unloved and unwatched for weeks. So my knowledge of today’s movie stars is close to zilch. The faces I had in mind when writing the book come from the photos in Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and are those of the Apache chiefs, Victorio and Naiche.
MBR: I loved Katherine. No two ways about it. She is courageous, daring and bold, her childhood lending her a lot of those qualities. When you first envisioned the story, was it someone like Katherine that you had in mind for Gaetan?
EO: My stories start the way I think a lot of writers’ stories do with a what if. What if two people were in these circumstances? Then of course the people have to be of a certain kind to react to those circumstances in a way that makes a story, and finally each character has to have a background that could produce that particular person in that particular time. Just as Gaetan could not have been Gaetan unless he had spent years in the white school, Katherine could not have been Katherine unless she came from a background that had her used to facing danger, being familiar with guns, etc. So to answer your question – Gaetan came first, and he required a woman like Katherine. When I threw him into a situation where he was forced to endure the company of a white woman rather than kill her, she had to be the kind of woman he would eventually stop hating and begin loving, not because of physical beauty but because of character.
MBR: So, what’s next in line from you? Any new releases set for 2012? And what would they be?
EO: Right now I’m working on the second book in my Rottweiler mystery series. The first mystery has its fans too, and I’ve been promising them another and putting them off in favor of the romances for some time now. As I’m working on that book I’ve been outlining the next romance. Yes, another western historical. I’ll probably start on that as soon as the mystery is finished, although I also have an idea for another short story featuring Anne and Cord Bennett from Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold. So I would say at least one mystery, one romance, and one short story in 2012. I’ve always been a binge writer and am trying to become more disciplined – with mixed results so far.
Pick #2: ATTACHMENTS by RAINBOW ROWELL
I can’t express my love for all that makes up this book enough! If my gushy review wasn’t enough to drive across the point, then I guess the fact that this book landed as one of my favorite reads of 2011 would just have to be enough. This is a romance for those who love sweet and endearing heroes who just makes you go all warm inside just by their presence alone in the story.
MBR: I read from your website that Attachments is a novel that was a long time in the making. What made you write the story the way it is, using e-mails between two out of the three lead characters to develop them as endearing characters throughout the story?
RR: I think I was drawn to that sort of storytelling — sort of e-pistolary — because I really like to write dialogue. I’d never written a novel before, and I was very nervous about the narrative writing. It was hard for me to adjust to that third-person, past-tense distance. Also, I was insecure about my descriptive writing …
But I could write dialogue all day long.
I actually wrote all the emails before I wrote any of the chapters from Lincoln’s point of view, which have a much more traditional narrative.
MBR: I know that anyone who reads Attachments would irrevocably fall in love with Lincoln. How did his character come about? Is he based on any real life person/character that you know or are familiar with?
RR: Oh, thank you! I love when people love Lincoln; I have such a soft spot for him.
Lincoln isn’t based on any one person. In a lot of ways, he was written as a reaction to the heroes in most romantic comedies. When I was writing the book, I was really sick of characters who start out as insensitive, immature womanizers but then are converted into good guys by true love.
That doesn’t happen in real life. Insensitive jerks pretty much stay insensitive jerks.
So I wanted to write about a really good guy. A sensitive guy. The men in my life — my husband, my brothers, my stepfather, my friends — are loving, sensitive men. I wanted to show that guys like that aren’t boring or lame.
MBR: And I just have to ask this, if Attachments were ever to be made into a movie, who would you cast as Lincoln?
RR: Well, he’d have to be tall, wouldn’t he? I’d like an actor who can be both normal-looking and really cute, depending on the day. I kind of like Cory Monteith from Glee. He’s the right age, and he was a really thoughtful, sweetness to him. (He’s a little cute for Lincoln, but I think your could dress him down, let his eyebrows go to seed, etc.)
The other actor who I think would be great is Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreation. He’s pretty zany on that show, but he’s also got that sweet, lovable thing down.
MBR: So what’s next from Rainbow Rowell?
RR: My next book is called Eleanor & Park. It’s more of a straight-up love story than Attachments. (The characters actually meet before the last chapter …) I wanted to write a story that brings back that visceral feeling of falling in love for the first time. It’s about two misfit teenagers in 1986 who spend one school year falling in love and trying to sort each other out.
The book comes out in the UK and Australia in April — and in the U.S. in late 2012/early 2013.
Here’s some promotional copy for it:
Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.
Pick #3: SWEET DREAMS by KRISTEN ASHLEY
For me, my first experience of Kristen Ashley turned out to be a memorable one. Sweet Dreams turned out to be an outstanding read in every single way that I cannot recommend this book highly enough for everyone who loves romances. The hero is bad-ass and sexy to boot, him walking into the story just made me rejoice in everything that is female in me. And I was delighted when Kristen agreed to answer some questions about this awesome book, which I am sure fans of Tate would love to read!
MBR: Almost everyone who has read Sweet Dreams agrees with the fact that it is an outstanding read. Though a lengthy one, every single page was so worth it. As the story continues to hold a very special place in my heart, why do you think Sweet Dreams is such a roaring success with romance readers?
KA: Firstly, thank you for saying it’s an outstanding read! Secondly, it’s a surprise to me that it’s so successful. Not that I don’t love my folks in Carnal, I definitely do, just that I took a chance with this novel and wasn’t entirely certain it would be embraced. However, I’m delighted that it was embraced PRECISELY because of the chance I took.
My thought process was that I was intrigued with the idea of creating a hero who was a jerk. He had flaws, significant ones. He made poor life decisions. And he was hard to like. Then set about making people like him. Then Tate came into my head and away I went. But it was more than Tate. Those around him, too, are not cardboard cutouts and, on the face of it, not very likable either. For instance, Krystal is hard as nails. She has a soft center but she exposes that very infrequently. Bubba is more of a jerk than Tate, lovable but a total mess – he’s that guy in your life that you can’t help but like but you don’t exactly know why you do. And Jim Billy is, essentially, a functioning alcoholic.
I’m uncertain why it has been received so well but I think it might have to do with the fact that these folks are not perfect. These folks are people you know, people in your life and maybe even bits of them are in you. Readers can identify with them. There is a place for fantasy, the perfect hero who says everything right and does everything right, is unbelievably handsome, wealthy, jet-set and owns yachts and penthouses. Or he is angst-ridden and the heroine is so spunky, she breaks through and brings him bliss. And all the secondary characters are like fairy godmothers and godfathers flitting around the couple providing support and comic relief. I’ve written these too and love them as well. But then there are other fantasies, like Sweet Dreams, based more in real life that may be more fun because the reader might like their fantasy based in reality rather than the impossibly perfect knight in shining armor riding to the rescue.
And, personally, when I find characters in a book that I fall in love with, I can’t get enough of them. Silly little things like what they wear, how they redecorate a house and how they interact not just in situations that push forward the plot but everyday situations, I want to know. That is why this book is lengthy. Because I gave my readers not just a story but a town, its inhabitants, how they connect and interact, who they are and how they live. And, fortunately, I’ve been told by readers that folks enjoy that which is good because I do that in all my books!
And lastly, although our Tate is rough around the edges, the love he feels for Lauren is intensely beautiful. The way they learn to be with each other is wonderful to watch unfold. For instance, when she buys him the picture for his bedroom and he knows she’s spent a fortune on it. He knows that IF he knows what she’s spent, he’ll lose his mind. And he knows that losing his mind when she’s done something thoughtful for him will cause a fight, bad feelings, harsh words (right after they’ve had a go-’round). So he tamps that down and instead decides to look at it only as the loving gesture it was intended to be, enjoy it and the knowledge that she loves him like that. I love that Tate did that for Lauren. And (definite spoiler here), when she’s taken and he’s walking through the house, seeing her everywhere, smelling her, remembering their lives together in that house – writing that scene, I felt his pain intensely, his desperation, his understanding that at that moment while he’s walking through the house she could be enduring torture, he knows precisely what that torture entails, and these thoughts consume him. Even for a man of his strength, he is barely able to function. That’s how much he loves her. If she is killed, he will not be able to move on romantically. She’s the one, there is no other. When the villain is found, this is all Tate can think about… not only what he felt while he walked through their home but also knowing that, in a different way, his son was feeling much the same thing. Reading that scene, when they happen onto Lauren and the villain, I always have difficulty reading that Deke and Shambles see to a wounded Lauren while Tate sees to beating the crap out of the bad guy. The perfect hero would have no thought but for his heroine. But this is Tate, he is imperfect. This man caused his woman to feel fear, he hurt her, he set her running through the wood in terror and he must feel Tate’s wrath, he must pay because Tate cannot abide that his home was breached, the protection he provided for his loved one was broken and he must have vengeance. Obviously, that kind of love for a romance reader is going to be well-received :-).
MBR: Tatum Jackson has got to be one of the most awesomely fantastic and bad-ass heroes ever. I loved how realistically you portrayed his character which is I guess one reason why I fell so hopelessly for him. Is Tatum’s character based on any real life person that you know of? And I always envision Sawyer from Lost when reading about Tate. Who did you envision when you were writing his character?
KA: There you go, obviously a realistic hero is the ticket! Imperfect and real IS awesomely fantastic and badass! Love that!!!!
And kind of yes and no for Tate being based on a real life person. I went to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally a couple of years ago and met a GREAT number of bikers. There are many, many more men than women there and the crowd is very mixed. We were told, in the past, that it was very dangerous. But we experienced none of that. This is not to say there were not rough dudes there who were people we would not want to know. This is to say we met and spent time with men who were not like that and who made certain that that element did not come near us. Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by a bevy of bikers who looked out for us. If some not-so-nice biker made an approach or our biker boys sensed some danger, they would step up. They even watched our purses for us while we danced! No joke! There was something very cool about these rough and tumble men (VERY rough and tumble) who were who they were, got into what they got into but who were gentle and fiercely protective of women THEY DIDN’T EVEN KNOW that, as a writer of romance, I found utterly fascinating. And I put this in Tate.
That said, Wood is based on an actual man I met there… but Tate is not. He’s pure fantasy.
And as for envisioning someone while writing Tate or any of my characters, this doesn’t happen to me. This is because my characters come to me (in most cases) fully-formed. They live in my head. Even the secondary ones. So Tate, in my head, is a real person and I know exactly what he looks like, I hear his voice, I know how he walks, how he moves, how his clothes hang on his frame. Very recently, I was having a conversation with my husband and he asked if I could have my choice of anyone to play any of my characters in a movie, who would it be? I admitted to him that I would struggle with even selling my books to be made into films. He was surprised to hear that. But, for me, to have an actor play one of my characters would forever personify in people’s mind who that character is/what s/he looks like and I worry that my own lock on them in my head would melt away. And I love them in my head and I don’t want to lose them. That is not to say I would never entertain the notion of any of my books being made into films. I just would find that process difficult.
By the by, Sawyer from Lost… YUM! I don’t think I’d be upset if he was chosen for any of my heroes but my contract would state I have to meet him :-).
MBR: I absolutely adored Lauren’s character and I have to certainly agree with Tate on Lauren being all in a class by herself. If Sweet Dreams were ever to be made into a movie, who would you cast as Lauren?
KA: I think I answered that question above :-) (laughing to myself now because, really, I do go on). What I will say is that I would be extremely displeased if she was a 20- or 30-something size 0. I would want a beautiful actress with a curvy, woman’s body who was in her 40’s. I would want her to be true to my Lauren in those ways. And she would need to be able to pull off Lauren’s journey. It is probably not a surprise that I identified very closely with Lauren. I enjoyed her journey of self-discovery as led by Tate and the inhabitants of Carnal. And part of what I enjoyed about her is that she didn’t discover who she was or where she wanted to be early in life, as many of us don’t. I also enjoyed the fact that this woman “had it all” in the sense of materialistic things and career but had absolutely nothing because, bottom line, she had no sense of self so she was rather clueless as to all that was going on around her. I loved it that in the end a simple house, a simple job and the love of a man and his son, a small cadre of good friends and a close family was all she really needed to find happiness. Because, truthfully, just the latter two are all anyone needs – the former two are icing on the cake! And we each have our bit of special to give to the people in our lives, we just need to understand it and embrace it so we can give it more fully to those we love.
MBR: So how many books in this series is lined up for release next year?
KA: I’ve been writing as a hobby for years and had over 20 finished or nearly completed manuscripts on my hard drive with only three in print (Rock Chick, Rock Chick Rescue and Rock Chick Redemption). But in March of 2011, I decided to take an enormous chance and focus solely on writing in hopes of making a career of it. That’s why I have a huge number of books that have been released this year because I spent nine months cleaning up these manuscripts and publishing them on eBook. In the meantime, as you do, I became inspired and wrote a few more. Of that lot, I currently have six novels left to unleash, one complete and to be published very soon (Heaven and Hell) and five that I will be working on getting out there in the first 3-4 months of 2012. In that time, I also intend to move back to The ‘Burg and write Mike Haines’s story. I’m also kicking around another stand-alone romance in my head that probably will consume me and I won’t be able to deny myself the pleasure of plunging into that world. Indeed, a number of my series have books to be sorted including my Fantasyland Series and the final in the Rock Chick series.
But fortunately, I am very prolific and I write very fast. Ideas come to me all the time and I don’t think I’ll ever be at a loss for a story to tell.
As for the Colorado Mountain Series, it will continue on with at least two books. The next will be Chace and Faye and this will be set in Carnal. Then I will take readers back to Gnaw Bone of The Gamble and write Graham Reece’s story (he was introduced in For You which is in The ‘Burg series but Reece is a mountain man and he’ll be heading up to Gnaw Bone to work at The Dog). It is more than likely I will also tell the story of Maggie and Wood. Further, I’ve had readers request I move onto “the next generation” and tell the stories of the my heroes and heroines’ children and I like this idea. So, in the end, this series will have AT LEAST two more books with the current generation, likely three with Chace and Faye definitely coming out sometime in the first half of 2012. Then again, I hope to get a vacation in there so my family doesn’t think my computer has gobbled me up so end of February/early March I will be heading home to America for four to five weeks to reconnect with family and friends therefore this may cause some delays. Still, lucky for me, my “office” isn’t stationary so I can work whenever and wherever I want and I won’t be able to stay away from my people for too long!
Now, where I’ll be headed, and this is subject to change… but Chace (who was introduced in Lady Luck) has grabbed hold of me very strong. This is somewhat of a miracle since I do not have one, single blond hero (though, Mike Haines is blond too, clearly I’m expanding my horizons :-)). Chace has shared his secrets with me as to what caused him to do the things he did in Lady Luck to get trapped the way he was trapped. He is an exceptionally loyal man, so loyal, he is self-sacrificing. For some time, he’s known who is the woman for him, he was simply biding his time in going after her. But now, after the sacrifices he made and what he was forced to do, he feels the women he’s chosen is beyond his reach. I do not know if she will disagree or if she’ll give him a run for his money. Faye hasn’t really come to me yet. We shall see.
But Reece’s story is more well-formed. Understanding way too late that he was in love with February Owens (For You), then being caught in that drama and (spoiler) attacked by a serial killer, he’ll have learned his lesson and will be taking a close look at his life and how he lives it. He’ll also be taking a close look at the women in his life and how he feels about them (for Feb was not his only one). And he will make a choice and see to making her his. The thing is, by the time he does this, her life will be in disarray and she’ll be focusing on that, not falling in love. I’m looking forward to getting back to Gnaw Bone, seeing how Max and Nina’s family is growing and spending time with Arlene, Cotton, Mindy and the gang. It’ll be like going home.
Maggie and Wood, if their story is told, will be a departure for me. This will be a reunion and, as they have already been reunited in Lady Luck, it will also mean that I will probably have to go back in time. I was careful not to expose too much or get too into their reconciliation in Lady Luck because Wood is important to me and deep down, I want his story told and him to have his happy ending. But Chace and Reece are dominating my headspace so Wood and Maggie are going to have to wait.
I’d like to end by thanking you for even wanting to know the answers to these questions! And also for featuring Sweet Dreams on your site. I cannot explain how fabulous it is that people are responding to my stories. I pour a lot into them, often find I’m giggling myself stupid or crying my eyes out. I identify strongly with what John Mellencamp said during his speech when he was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “I didn’t do it for the money, but I sure like to get paid.” I enjoyed the heck out of writing these stories and often reread them again and again. But I love it even more knowing that I’m sharing these with others who love them just the same.
Thank you, MBR, for sharing Sweet Dreams with your readers. I hope they enjoy it as much as you.
So guys, I have awesome stuff to giveaway this month.
- First of all, Ellen O’Connell is giving away SIX e-copies of Dancing on Coals. How cool is that?
- Secondly Rainbow Rowell is giving away a signed bookplate to a lucky winner. And yes, this is open internationally as well!
- A 20 $ gift certificate from either Amazon, Barnes&Noble or Samhain.
- And last but not the least, an e-copy of Sweet Dreams!
So, the giveaway rules:
- Open a page of the current book that you are reading. (If you are not reading a book at the moment, open a page of the book that’s nearest to you.) And give me 3 sentences from the page you open up. Please do not forget to mention the book title and author as well. And tell me whether you like what you have read so far!
- Remember, you can enter for ALL THREE giveaways. But if you would like to enter for just one, state in the comment which one it is that you are entering for. If not I will consider you eligible for ALL THREE of them.
- Leave a valid e-mail address for a way to contact you in case you are the winner!
- Help spread the word about the giveaway! Tweet and earn 5 extra entries (use the hashtag #MBRPickofTheMonthGiveaway), recommend this post on Facebook & earn 5 extra entries. And don’t forget to mention in your comment whether you have tweeted or recommended the post on Facebook to get your extra entries.
- Like my page on Facebook to gain 5 extra more entries. If you are already a member of my page, just state so and you would gain your 5 extra entries.
- Giveaway begins at 00:00 hours January 1, 2012 and will end at 00:00 hours Maldivian time on the January 3, 2012. Winners will be contacted soon after and announced here on my blog!
As always, thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment and enter the giveaway!