The Challenge of Writing For Laughs by Penelope Bloom

By Penelope Bloom

If you’ve never heard of me, I started writing romance in 2016. Since, I’ve penned just under 40 books, and about two years ago, I started diving into the world of romantic comedy. My debut rom-com series was The Objects of Attraction series, which ended up having four top ten bestselling books and has now been translated into over ten languages and even adapted for a mobile game (weird, I know).

So let me tell you from experience that writing for laughs is tricky.

If you want an easy way to imagine the way it feels, just picture yourself at a dinner party with a friend and some new potential friends. Now imagine your lovely (but misguided) best friend points at you and says, “This is Penelope. She’s absolutely hilarious. Seriously, you’ll laugh so hard you’re going to pee yourself. Go ahead, Penelope! Say something funny!”

And that’s kind of what happens when you decide to foolishly call yourself a rom-com author. Even from the first book, there’s an expectation the moment you classify your book as some form of comedy. People walk in the “door” expecting to laugh. And if you’ve never tried being funny on command, it’s a completely different thing than being funny spontaneously.

Growing up, I always felt like I was pretty good at making a little comment in school to get people to laugh. Or I could pick out something a friend said in conversation and turn it into a funny moment. But I had to almost learn how to be funny again when I wanted to inject that into my books.

And that brings me to one of the other challenges of writing for laughs. Not everybody will think you’re funny. Just go to a comedy show and watch the audience. There are always going to be the handful of people in the corners scowling with their arms crossed while everyone else laughs so hard they cry.

I had to learn not to take every review as gospel. Sure, I’d love it if every single person who read my books laughed every time I wanted them to. But that’s just not reality. There are people out there who have probably created hate shrines in their bedrooms dedicated to me, that horrible author who tried and failed to make them laugh.

So in the end, switching from plain old contemporary romance to romantic comedy has been a huge adjustment. I’ve had my feelings hurt from reviews. I’ve missed the mark and written books that weren’t as funny as I’d hoped. I’ve even felt burnt out by the expectation to be funny at times. But I have realized this style of book is what makes me happiest to write.

I love hearing about people who laughed so much in public while reading my books that they got weird looks. Or people who had their significant other come check on them to see if they were okay because they were cracking up while reading in bed. Or people who reach out to tell me I helped them smile at a time they really needed to smile.

I know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a really wonderful feeling to know I can bring happiness to people, even in small doses. So writing for laughs is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever tried to do, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.

P.S. If you want to find out if I inspire laughter in you or the desire to build hate shrines, feel free to check out my latest rom-com, My (Mostly) Secret Baby!

Penelope Bloom is the author of the new book My Mostly Secret Baby.

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Interview with Cole McCade, Author of Just Like That

What can you tell us about your new release, Just Like That?

Honestly, Just Like That is a hard book to quantify, even if you just break it down to tropes around coworkers, teachers, childhood crushes, May/December age gaps, grumpy/sunshine. I wrote it last year before COVID-19 kicked off as part of the Carina Adores line of LGBTQIA+ romance, and I’ve never deliberately set out to write fluffy, sweet, internally driven low-conflict romance before. I never really imagined that it’d end up being a book that’s kind of an escape from the world as it is right now, but it’s something of a book about unfulfilled longings and wistful fantasies suddenly turned into reality when a former student at a boarding school returns as a teaching assistant, in training to take over from the very man who used to intimidate and electrify him during the years of a boyhood crush. It’s a story about transformation, about becoming who you’re meant to be, about hope–and I feel like right now, we could all use a little hope.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

This is probably silly, but the game Final Fantasy VII (which recently got a gorgeous remake) made me realize I wanted to tell stories that evoked feeling in others. When I was in high school I saw the first cinematic trailer for the game on TV, and it filled me with this breathless sense of wonder and emotion, and I realized that not only did I want to play a game like that…I wanted to create things that gave others that same sense of their heart-strings pulling too tight.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

That’s a hard one. I read widely across so many genres and love so many authors, but at the same time I’m intensely private about what I love. But if I had to pick, really, I’d say Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman, So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane, Prey by Michael Crichton, A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole, and Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue.

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask

Mary Shelley! To me she’s the mother of science fiction, and there’s so much in the story of Frankenstein and his creation that touches on these complex layered nuances of human fears, hopes, desires, all framed by this inhuman monster. Honestly, I’d want to hear her first-person recounting of the rainy day she spent at Byron’s with her husband, swapping ghost stories that led to the birth of Frankenstein.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

It’s probably a cliche if I say “finishing the book.” Even if it’s a relief to finish, though, I think the best part is when I get so caught up in writing that I don’t notice hours passing as I churn out thousands of words at a time, completely caught up in the stories until I forget to be myself. I also sometimes forget to breathe until I get a little light-headed, but, well, autonomous systems kick in sooner or later and remind me my brain needs oxygen to function.

What is a typical day like for you?

No such thing. I’m a human chaos engine and my every day is a wreck. Every time I try to establish a consistent schedule, something throws me off and sends me into a tailspin, so I just…take each day as it comes, and steal what hours I can to write in between putting out the numerous fires burning in my life at any one point in time. I just kind of attract the unexpected, and you never know when I’ll be dealing with exploding plumbing or a neighbor having a meltdown or who even knows what else.

What scene from Just Like That was your favorite to write?

The scene where Summer comes back to apologize to Fox for kissing him impulsively and without permission, the first day he’d seen him after seven years away from his hometown. It’s not just that I think showing respect for boundaries that way is important; it’s that the conversation demonstrated who they really are. Summer is immensely shy on the surface, but he breaks that trope in the conversation to show that he’s got a hidden strength that makes him brave in his own sweet, stubborn way–while Fox, seemingly icy and hardened on the surface, shows that underneath he’s grieving and lost and has completely forgotten how to connect with other people. I like taking character archetypes and breaking them out of their mold, and what happened there resulted in an intimate, revealing moment that really let them start on new footing with each other as equals versus former teacher and student turned coworkers.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

“Shouganai.” It means “it is what it is,” loosely translated, and it’s pretty much the only way I keep moving sometimes with the endless string of catastrophes that is a life governed by Murphy’s Law. It’s a more complex concept than what it seems on the surface, but it’s basically born of a mindset that knows loss, hurt, and struggle are inevitable, but so is the ability to take a deep breath, re-assess, and rebuild what was lost or taken away. Sometimes I can get pretty bad about dwelling inside my head and blaming myself when things go wrong or I fall out of step with my goals, but when I remind myself of shouganai it’s a reminder that what’s happened has already happened and can’t be changed, so it’s time to focus on what I intend to do next.

Cole McCade is the author of the new book Just Like That.

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Interview with Dominic Jennings, Author of Oliver Winthorpe & The Race to Paris

What can you tell us about your new release, Oliver Winthorpe & The Race to Paris?

First and foremost, it’s a book written to inspire readers to look at engineering and science in a different light. Oliver Winthorpe is a fourteen-year-old boy in Edwardian London who discovers the Race to Paris, a race that the creators hope will inspire Britain’s inventors to succeed where so many before them have failed: to create the world’s first manned flying machine. With both a secret family past and a group of unlikely friends to help him on his way, he builds a pioneering airship and enters the race with only one thought in mind: to win. It’s a story that combines my passion for engineering, travel and adventure, blended into a world that is both fictional and real, at a time when Britain led the world but also faced real questions about equality. And it’s the beginning of a series that will see Oliver travel around the globe, working with some very famous inventors in the hope of unlocking the secrets of an organisation that goes back centuries. And if he can realise his destiny, he’ll create something that will change the world, and history as we know it, forever.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

I’ve written stories and poems since I was five years old, but in the last few years I turned to writing in search of a creative hobby that counter-balanced my professional life. The more I wrote, and the deeper I became entangled in the creative world I’d envisaged, the more difficult it was to stop. It’s progressed from there really.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

Great question. My book list is a curious combination of fiction and non-fiction that has helped me get to this point in my life. For that reason, the most important book I’ve ever read is Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts, followed closely by The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. Third on the list is a recent piece of fiction by an author whose writing style is a benchmark for me; A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It has the potential to be quite a limiting plot, which makes it an even greater achievement in my eyes, because it covers every emotion and ends wonderfully. Fourth on the list is Dubliners by James Joyce. My grandparents were Irish, and Éire runs through my veins, but the book was also valuable for me as a piece of writing. Joyce’s ability to create real, believable characters that are so clear it’s like they’re sitting next to you, and to then weave them into such wonderfully visual everyday moments is, again, something I’ve benchmarked for myself as an author. And rounding off the list is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. I can still remember reading those first pages as a twelve-year-old boy during my summer holidays and being transported, so vividly, to a magical (pardon the pun) world that I never wanted to leave. It’s still a wonderful example of fantasy fiction.

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask

Another great question! I’d have to say Ernest Hemingway. And the question I would ask is: “Based on your life experience, why do you think fiction writing is so important? He’s a man who lived through a lot of harrowing experiences and who suffered emotionally. So I’d like to understand why he valued fiction, both as a writer and reader.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

My favourite thing about writing is escapism. I am where I write. The nearest equal I’ve ever found to writing is within the notes of good music.

What is a typical day like for you?

I’m afraid there’s no such thing! But if the last twelve months are anything to go by, and if I can achieve my dream of becoming a full time author, then it would certainly see me wake up in a foreign city I’ve never visited before, preferably around 7am. My day would begin with some yoga exercises to stretch the post-sleep muscles, followed by a black coffee from my Moka pot I bought whilst working in Modena, Italy. After a small breakfast, I would want to be out of my apartment before 9am and in a local cafe shortly afterwards. However, If I’m somewhere new, I usually catch a tram or other public transport to a new part of town and walk the narrow streets until I’ve found a cafe that appeals. Then I bury my head in my laptop for around three hours and progress as much as I can with the book. A couple of cappuccinos are always needed, and maybe a piece of banana bread or a croissant as a treat if it’s going well. After lunch, I would spend a few hours exploring, taking photographs and writing some more, even if it’s on a park bench with my notepad. I always dinner early, around 6pm, and then in the warmer months I will race to a viewpoint with my tripod and camera for the sunset, or perhaps some nighttime shots. And then of course, at weekends, maybe a beer or a glass of wine in a local bar with my trusty Kindle. It all depends where I am in the world really.

What scene from Oliver Winthorpe & The Race to Paris was your favorite to write?

Oooh, I like this question. I would have to say… the early moments of the race, when London’s sky is filled with flying machines of all shapes, sizes and styles. It was this image that first triggered the idea for the book, and I spent considerable time ensuring that the reader could really feel the significance and the drama of those few minutes. The sense of freedom Oliver felt as the airship rose into the sky and the world shrank below is something everyone should try and experience in their lifetime.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Do it now, whilst you can. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually very positive; and it’s changed my life immeasurably in the last four years.

Dominic Jennings is the author of the new book Oliver Winthorpe & The Race to Paris.

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Interview with Stephanie M. Allen, Author of Dueling Fates

What can you tell us about your new release, Dueling Fates?

Dueling Fates is a story that has been in my imagination for a very long time. About sixteen years ago, I was driving home one night and I had a very vivid picture in my head of twin princesses who had been separated and had chosen different paths in life. I’ve worked on the novel off and on since then. It has changed drastically over the last decade and it wasn’t until six years ago, when I attended a writers conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that I really solidified the story. Dueling Fates is very special to me because it’s the story I’ve always come back to regardless of any other projects I’ve worked on. It’s the story that won’t leave my head, so to speak. As I mentioned, it centers around twin princesses, Isemay and Alena, on a continent called Erez. Both young women have to make difficult choices throughout their journey and not all of their choices are wise. But that’s the fun part of writing about teenagers. They make lots of mistakes that evolve into really fantastic conflicts!

What or who inspired you to become an author?

For as long as I can remember, I have written stories. When I was younger, they all centered around animals and, as a teenager, I started writing fan-fiction. It wasn’t until I read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer that I wanted to take my writing more seriously. By that time, I already had the bare bones story of Dueling Fates in my head so it was just a matter of sitting down in front of my computer and punching out the story. I would say a lot of my inspiration comes from authors like George R. R. Martin, Sarah J. Maas, and C. S. Lewis. I’ve always been a fantasy girl so it only made sense to me to write stories in that genre.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

I am quite the avid bookworm so it’s really difficult to narrow down my favorites to a top five! My favorite book of all time is A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. I absolutely love the romantic tension throughout the novel and I adore Rhysand! Other favorites would be The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black (yeah, I love Cardan too), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (because it was such an inspiration for me to dive into the world of YA), and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I’m currently finishing up the Caraval trilogy by Stephanie Garber and I have to say it might bump up to my favorites list!

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask

If I could invite anyone from any time period, I would ask J. R. R. Tolkien to be my first guest. He was such a master at world-building and he helped to develop the fantasy genre. I would love to ask him what his inspiration was and how he conjured up the world of Middle Earth. If I were to sit down with someone from today, it would be George R. R. Martin. Game of Thrones has become such a huge part of the fantasy world. I would love to ask him how he built his world and what inspired him to write some of the characters the way he did, especially the characters he killed off!

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

I love being able to share the stories in my head. For me, much of my writing is a product of the pictures/movies that play in my head. It’s almost as though the story is writing itself. Oftentimes, I will put something in a book that may not make much sense to me but it fits with the story so I go with it. When I’m writing the sequels, I then see how all the puzzle pieces fit together. It’s a very strange thing because it almost feels as though it’s out of my control – as though I’ve been given a glimpse into another world and I’m simply writing down what I see. There’s something really exciting about writing those moments down!

What is a typical day like for you?

Life certainly has changed since COVID-19 hit, that’s for sure! Right now, a typical day consists of getting up between 6 and 7am, working out, eating breakfast with my husband and children, waiting for my husband to go off to the tattoo shop where he tattoos, and then spending some time working on the sequel to Dueling Fates. Some days, I write anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 words. Other days, I read over what I’ve written and add little things here or there. If I’m writer blocked (as I am right now), I listen to my Spotify playlists. I create a playlist for each book I write and often, I find the inspiration I need through music. It helps me push through the block.

What scene from Dueling Fates was your favorite to write?

There are several that come to mind. I would say two stand out above all the others. The first is Alena’s wedding. It was something that was a challenge to write but it really moved the story forward. The second is the reveal of the villain in this novel. That was one of the scenes that I had never planned on. It sort of just happened. I actually had to go back through my writing and add some foreshadowing so it didn’t seem so “out of the blue”. It was a very satisfying and exciting chapter to write! Oh yes. And I think one of my favorite chapters is the celebratory ball scene. There is a very sweet moment between Isemay and Jordan that I absolutely love. Jordan is my favorite character for many reasons and this was a scene I went back and added to. Like I said, it’s a very brief, tender moment but it signifies such a pure, blossoming love – my favorite type of romance.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

For me, I feel it is so important to be a kind soul in a world that is full of division and hate. I try to treat others with kindness even when I don’t feel like it. A kind and uplifting word goes such a long way for many people. Even a smile can brighten someone’s day. That’s cliche to say, I know, but it’s a philosophy I try to live by every single day.

Stephanie M. Allen is the author of the new book Dueling Fates.

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Interview with Corey Lynn Fayman, Author of Ballast Point Breakdown

What can you tell us about your new release, Ballast Point Breakdown?

This is the fourth novel in the Rolly Waters mystery series, but the first I’ve published with Konstellation Press. Like all of the books in the series, it features the guitar-playing private eye Rolly Waters and an unusual cases he gets hired to investigate. In BPB a friend’s suicide leads Rolly the suspicious connections between a punk band, dolphin scientists, Navy SEALS, animal-rights protestors, and a harmonica-playing drifter. You don’t need to have read the previous books in the series to jump right into this one. If you’re interested in a new take on the old-fashioned gumshoe, like vivid characters and twisty, layered stories, then this book’s for you.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

From the time I was a little kid I’ve always been a big reader. I was always writing things–stories, poetry, lyrics. Then I got serious and went and got a B.A. in Creative Writing/Poetry from UCLA. But I also had a strong interest in music, so I spent my first fifteen years after college playing and performing music, as well as writing songs. It was after I stopped performing and began working for a music-related internet company called MP3.com that I first started thinking about writing a novel. The idea of a guitar-playing detective came to me and I started spending my lunch hours jotting down notes about the character and what might happen to him. It was a great stress reliever for a very stressful job and I ended up with a lot of good notes! After I left the company, I made time to work more seriously on my writing and finished the first Rolly Waters novel, Black’s Beach Shuffle. I reclaimed my creative side and I’ve never looked back.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

Gringos by Charles Portis, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald and The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler. I think there’s a bit of influence from all of those writers in my books.

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask

Well I was an English major, so if it can be anyone in history, I’m going with Shakespeare. And my first question would be “Did you know how brilliant this was or were you just making sure it rhymed?” If my guest has to be someone living, I’d go with Bob Dylan. Same question.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

One thing I’ve discovered is that creative work is essential to my own sense of self. It’s energizing and important to me as a daily practice. After quitting the music business, I needed something else to fill the void and it turned out to be writing. Any day I put together a few good pages is a great day. Even on the days I only manage to write a couple of lousy pages it makes me feel pretty good. I don’t want to get too mystical about it, but when creativity takes over, it feels like you’re tapping into something bigger than yourself. It’s a problem-solving process, too. You’re fixing problems every day (well most days) and that gives me a sense of satisfaction. The world might be blowing up all around you, but at least you managed to get that little bit of a story down on the page.

What is a typical day like for you?

Pretty quiet, especially these days. I write in the mornings, and try to get to a thousand words before noon. Some days I manage a bit more, some a bit less. I eat lunch, then go for a walk with my wife. We live near the bay in San Diego, which actually inspired some of the ideas and events in Ballast Point Breakdown. After lunch I take care of business matters for an hour or two. Late afternoons and evenings are open for music practice, reading and social get-togethers. There’s a great deal more music practice and less socializing these days because of Covid, of course. The good part is I’m reclaiming some of my old music chops, and learning a few new ones.

What scene from Ballast Point Breakdown was your favorite to write?

I’m not sure I have a favorite scene, but this is the first book in which I’ve brought Rolly’s father into the action. His parents have been divorced for some time and Rolly’s mother has been a key supporting character in the first three books. She’s still there, of course, but it was fun to describe a different relationship between Rolly and his father. I had a lot of fun creating their conversations and the dynamic between them.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Your first draft always sucks. Write another one and make it better. Apply that to your writing and everything else in your life.

Corey Lynn Fayman is the author of the new book Ballast Point Breakdown.

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Interview with E.A. Chance, Author of Solar Fury

What can you tell us about your new release, Solar Fury?

This is a project I’ve been excited about and researching for several years. I’m a huge space geek and devoted Sci-fi fan, but I wanted to write a story about an event that could happen in the real world. While the odds of the kind of event that takes place in Solar Fury are minuscule, it is possible.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

I’ve loved to read since I was very young, and I developed a passion for writing when I was ten years old, but it was a high school English teacher who encouraged me to follow my dream to become a writer. While it took many years for me to pursue a full-time writing career, I’ve never regretted it. Writing is my passion, and I feel fortunate to have a profession where I can live that passion.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

There are so many that it’s hard to choose, but I would say:

1. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (Favorite childhood book.) 2. Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier 3. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austin 4. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini 5. The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask

I think I would have to go with Stephen King. My first question would be: How did you deal with “Imposter Syndrome” in your early career, and do you still grapple with it today?

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

I love creating the worlds and characters I envision in my head on paper. The process is thrilling for me, and I wish I could do it every moment of every day.

What is a typical day like for you?

I go for a five or six-mile walk most mornings to get me creative juices flowing, then go home to complete all the usual mundane morning tasks we all have before heading upstairs to my office to write. I average six hours of writing each day, but I’ve had as many as twelve when I was on a deadline.

What scene from Solar Fury was your favorite to write?

That’s an easy one, the scene when the massive CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) strikes and the world is turned on its head.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

I live by the idea that if I believe in myself, put in the work, and eliminate the words “I can’t” from my vocabulary, I will achieve my dreams. I use mediation, affirmations, and visualizations to help keep me on track.

E.A. Chance is the author of the new book Solar Fury.

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Love is Complicated by Anastasia Alexander

By Anastasia Alexander

Okay, I have to admit love is complicated. What makes it work is a mystery. Well, for me, anyway. I know there are experts who claim to know the scientific principles of love. And yes, they can predict divorce within 97% accuracy (John Gottman). But can they predict who falls in love and why?

In science they say who we are attracted to has something to do with the way each of us smell, which is just crazy if you ask me. There has to be more than smell that brings two people together. And if smells are that powerful, why did I fall for a mechanic who is always in a garage sweating? (Does that suggest I like my men rugged and strong?)

When I was single and living in Southern California, I attended one of the how-to-attract-the-right-kind-of-man seminars. It was endlessly fascinating when our fearless leader told us the competition for the right man was fierce in LA. Since there was so much competition, we needed to dress up, wear extra high heels, and put shining stuff on our legs so we would look sexy. What???? She explained that you had to talk a certain way, look a certain way, and how to beat out the competition.

Silly me thought there were endless fish in the sea and if one didn’t work out, you go stand at the bus stop, and another one would come around in fifteen minutes. According to this leader, that wasn’t the way it worked

She explained the stages of romance. In the beginning most relationships don’t make it past the two-week point. There is another critical juncture at a month and a half, and so on.

That insight I appreciated more because I had a lot of “two-weekers.” Apparently after the first attraction, there has to be something more to keep the relationship going.

The relationship “expert” also declared that most couples got married around the year and half point of dating if they were ever going to get married.

At the time, I was getting close to dating my boyfriend for a year and a half. I wasn’t worried that we’d make a marriage commitment. From the beginning, my boyfriend had told me repeatedly that he would never get married, again. I told him that I was the type of girl who did get married.

He would pull me close and nod, hearing me, and I’d rest my head on his chest and think, “Not leaving … yet.”

There was comfort in this contradiction. I knew in my heart-of-hearts that eventually I was going to have to leave, and he knew in his heart-of-hearts, I don’t know what. He’s not the type to live in the future. He likes to stay in the present. He said he didn’t think about it and I almost believe that was true.

So, after the weekend workshop, I asked him if he wanted me to dress up more, wear heels, and have shiny legs. He gave me a curious look. “No. I live in a shop. That wouldn’t work in a shop.”

A week later he asked me to marry him and move out of state. That shocked us both.

(Have you ever noticed at these life-defining moments you learn a lot about yourself?)

After he asked, and I said, “Yes,” I realized that I didn’t after all want to get married. I liked my freedom and to be pinned down into such a big commitment, especially when a person realizes that if it doesn’t work out the government has so much say over your life (who pays who and how much, when you get to see your children, and, of course, even when you can be officially divorced.) I didn’t want to give an institution that kind of power over my life.

The day of our wedding, I was tied up in knots, shaking, and fighting back tears. I loved the man. I wanted to be with the man, but the social meaning of marriage and all the commitment a marriage symbolized seemed stifling.

I looked over at my soon-to-be in his suit, yes, the one and only time I had seen him in a suit, and he was beaming. No nerves. No second guessing. No doubt. Beaming.

As we stood in front of the justice of the peace, my shaking went into full force. My fiancé reached out and touched me, grounding me. We became married in an arboretum with butterflies swirling around us giving God-winks, encouraging us in our new union.

Every relationship has these defining moments. Whether it is a “wedding” or something not so public. These defining moments often make or break the relationship. These moments reveal a lot of about each person and what they really want.

This complexity of emotions is explored in my newest novel, The Sedona Upset. Maggie Chambers and JT Devonshire are engaged, but that doesn’t mean that the complications of trying to merge two lives of two very different people together will be easy.

I invite you on their journey through their complicated ride of love that includes, coyotes, vortexes, hot air balloons, Sedona, the extra drama of reality TV, and maybe some second guessing about their relationship and what it all means.

Here’s a little of what it is about:

Can love survive hot air balloon crashes and vortexes?

Maggie Chambers is the villain of the Millionaire Engagement reality TV show. She shocked the nation by capturing the heart of JT Devonshire, but can she keep it?

Being with JT requires moving to a rattlesnake-infested hundred and eighteen-degree desert of Tucson, Arizona.

It also includes being the outsider in a tightknit community and taking on Dee, the crafty TV producer who has no short supply of meddling tactics.

Is love worth hot air balloon crashes, vortexes, spiritual energy healers, and the ever-present cameras for the most popular TV show?

Anastasia Alexander is the author of the new book The Sedona Upset.

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The Story Behind Fate of Wizardoms by Jeffrey L. Kohanek

What inspired this book? It is a common question for authors. While we can try to toss out short summaries, the answer we wish to provide is far more complex because there are many elements to a book or series (characters, plot, worldbuilding, politics, themes, religion, magic system…). So, rather than attempt to summarize my Fate of Wizardoms series, I decided to break it down into the four key elements and the inspiration behind each.

Characters

I had to begin with characters because they are so important to me as a reader. The more I am drawn to the characters in a book, the more tolerant I am of any other aspect falling short of expectations.

Here are the key characters from Eye of Obscurance, the first book in the series.

Jerrell “Jace” Landish: I list Jace first because he is the central character, which is not easy because he is not a fierce warrior or powerful magic user. Instead, he was inspired by the likes of Mat Cauthon, Han Solo, Star Lord, Locke Lamora, and Kaz Brekker. He is clever, arrogant, and a complete rogue. As a thief for hire, his exploits have become legendary, forcing him to use alternative names or face fierce distrust from others. His sharp tongue and flamboyant nature make him a blast to write. Yes, he is a scoundrel, especially in the first book, but he has a core of loyal integrity beneath his self-centered exterior.

Rhoa Sulikani: In nature, Rhoa is similar Lyra, to the main character from my book, Rogue Legacy. She is fierce, brave, and determined. When she was nine years old, her parents were taken from her, a tragic event that molds her personality and motivations. I wrote her in as an acrobat as a plot tool, partially driven by the opening scene of the book, and because I wanted to include a menagerie (circus) as a unique element of the world. Although not an inspiration because she existed before I read the book, she is quite similar to Inej from Six of Crows.

Narine Killarius: As a princess and wizardess, Narine grew up in a different reality, pampered in every way…until you realize neither her father nor brother offer an ounce of affection(her mother died when she was a toddler). Although beautiful and curvy, she envies her bodyguard, Adyn for her lean frame and athletic prowess – classic “grass is always greener”. Narine really gets a chance to shine in the second book and beyond, joining Jace as a true “central character”. In fact, by the middle of book three, I have a total crush on Narine, and I am the author! She is a sort of conglomeration of women from Wheel of Time, combining the aspects I liked best from Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve.

Rawkobon Kragmor: Rawk is a dwarf of a different sort. Unlike his brethren, who take great pride in their beards, Rawk is hairless and has been treated as an outcast his entire life. When Rawk violates a sacred law of his people, he is cast out of his mountain home. Shy and reserved(very undwarf-like), Rawk is loyal to a fault to those he cares for. Also, he can do a special type of magic and his unique abilities become critical tools at opportune times. I very intentionally made Rawk a non-standard dwarf and needed a character who just didn’t fit in his society.

There are other characters, including scheming antagonists, power-hungry wizards, a world-traveling storyteller, a huntress, a jaded ex-soldier, dwarfs, elves, seers, and many others. Also, I happen to love dialogue, particularly banter. The interactions between these individuals is among my favorite elements of the series.

Worldbuilding

This is a big subject for epic fantasy, and like most of my favorites, this world began with a map. My love affair with fantasy maps has gone on for ~35 years. I enjoy maps, the terrain, weather, and how it affects the story. I sketched out a map as I built my world (later paid a pro to make it pretty).

Before I had a plot, I knew I wanted the world to have a long history and one where magical beings such as dwarfs, elves, dragons, and others were legendary. Having been absent from the world for 2,000 years, the general populace believes them nothing more than myth. This would enable a sense of wonder and discovery when these beings return.

The lands to the distant east are split from the wizardoms by impossibly high peaks, too high to breath even in the saddles. The only means to reach these lands is to circle around through the frigid tundra to the south or to journey through the chasms known as The Fractured Lands: The battlefield between mankind and darkspawn from the Murlands.

I also wanted this series to explore many of the most classic epic fantasy tropes, turning some on their head while explaining others in a new manner. A simple one was to set the continent in the southern hemisphere with a hot, desert land in the north, ice fields in the south. Much of the middle ground is around a sea that is very much like the Mediterranean, climates moderate throughout the year.

Each wizardom has its own culture, some more exotic than others. The capital cities are ancient, built by a lost race known only as the Makers. Each of those cities has a structure called the Tower of Devotion while the smaller cities each have an obelisk used for the same purpose. These are critical elements to both the plot and the magic system of the world.

Magic Systems

I am enthralled with magic, both mystical and defined. My love for “super human abilities” began with Marvel comics when I was five years old, and magic is an extension of that love affair. Those who have read my Issalia books might see the connection between the uses for magic and what you would find in a Marvel movie.

In the Wizardoms world, there are various types of magic. The most common is wizardly magic.

Wizards are the ruling class, those born with a natural ability to harness magic fall into this category, their very blood sparkling with the unique metals that enable this gift. Conversely, the rest of the population is simply known as “ungifted”.

Going back to Marvel, Doctor Strange was an influence on the magic wizards utilize. A wizard gathers latent energy, converting it to magic, and a slice of it is used to form a construct around their hand. Each construct is a unique pattern that will yield a specific result. The wizard funnels the remainder of the gathered magic through the construct and the spell is cast. Think of it like aiming a bright light through a lens, filtering the light into another shape or color. A heat construct with enough magic channeled through it turns to a spout of flames. Another heat construct could form a fireball…you get the idea.

While wizards have a natural ability, they must train to memorize these constructs, perfecting the patterns, learning how to use or combine these spells, and comprehending the consequences of each execution. A poorly formed construct can yield disastrous results. Overextending yourself or holding the magic too long can burn out the user, igniting the metal in their own blood.

The magic does not end there, for there is sorcery, or “blood magic, mystical magic, inherent magic abilities, and outright magical creatures in the world of wizardoms.

Gods and Wizard Lords

From the onset, I wanted gods, or the power of gods, to have a heavy hand in this world. These gods do not walk among us, but they do connect with society in a meaningful way by gifting wizard lords with extraordinary abilities.

Once a god anoints a wizard lord, the wizard becomes close to immortal, able to wield far more magic than a typical wizard while also possessing the ability to instantly heal themselves. Cut them with a poisoned blade, they will seal the wound and burn the poison from their blood in an instant. This magic extends their life, some surviving more than three centuries.

Wizard lords derive their power through the prayers of their people, citizens forced to participate in an act of Devotion every evening. How does this work? The capital city of each wizardom contains a Tower of Devotion. A persistent fire burns at the top of these towers — a magical light created by a crystal throne. When the wizard lord sits upon that throne and embraces his magic, the fire becomes a blazing inferno and beams of light connect to the other cities in the wizardom, each of which contains an obelisk with a similar fire. These magically powered pylons collect the prayers and draw them into the wizard lord. The rub: these rulers are essentially trapped in their own city, reluctant to even miss one day of Devotion should they stray too far from the tower.

Closing Comments

As we come to the end of my blog post, you likely noticed the lack of detail about the plot. I prefer to leave that arena dark until you embark on your journey. I abhor spoilers and would hate to ruin the surprises that await you. Rise of a Wizard Queen, the fifth entry in the six-book Fate of Wizardoms series is now released for your reading enjoyment. The final entry comes at the end of August. I cannot wait to share it with my loyal and eager readers.

Jeffrey L. Kohanek is the author of the new book Rise of a Wizard Queen.

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The Story Behind Full Count by Kimberly Readnour

By Kimberly Readnour

Guess what’s starting back 7/23/2020? That’s right. Baseball! Woot! I’m so ready to watch sports again. I do want my team to stay safe, but if they’re going to allow the boys of summer to play, I’m ready to watch. As we wait for that first pitch to start the long, overdue season, I have another baseball romance to discuss.

That’s right. We’re heading back to Cessna U for Garret and Lexie’s story, Full Count. Friends to lovers anyone? Yeah? Then read on!

Let me back up and start by giving you some backstory about the series. I’ll save how the series came about for Dalton’s book, though. When I first came up with the Cessna U Wildcats idea, Garret’s story was in my head before book one and two were even a thought. I knew Cara’s story had to be told first. Then, the series segued naturally into Noah and Shannon’s story. But Garret’s backstory was in my head before I even penned the first word of book one.

I couldn’t wait to write Full Count. But I also dreaded it. When I was stewing over the characters, Garret’s the one who screamed the loudest to me. Garret’s journey is heartwarmingly sweet, and I knew it would be tough for me to write. Not only is friends-to-lovers my least favorite trope (don’t judge), but Garret’s emotional wounds cut me to the core. I love this character so much! There were so many times I wanted to reach into my computer and hug him.

But hold up. We have another hero in the book known as Miller. Aw, Miller, the adorable stray who made his debut in book one. Since he plays a vital role in book three, I had to introduce him early in the series and found a way to introduce him. I have to admit, planning this entire series has been so much fun. I’m thankful for the opportunity to get to write it.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Lexie. To be the perfect partner for Garret, I needed a girl who was strong, independent, and compassionate. No one fills that role better than Lexie. She deals with her own hardships but is Garret’s perfect match in every possible way. I love these two together and can’t wait for you to read their journey. As one reviewer said, “It is a beautiful story of family love, sacrifice, guilt, and forgiveness.”

Full Count wasn’t titled by mistake. Garret’s plate starts full, and his journey is sure to give you all the feels. I hope you enjoy this latest addition to the series as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Happy reading, and stay safe!

Kimberly Readnour is the author of the new book Full Count.

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Must-Read Romance Novels | July 2020

Must-Read Romance Novels | July 2020

Looking for a hot new love story to add to your library? We think you will adore these new must-read romance novels! Don’t miss new books by Meagan Brandy, Nicole Snow, Skye Warren, Jessica Hawkins, Marni Mann, Kylie Scott, Carrie Ann Ryan, J.S. Scott, and more! Enjoy!


Be My Brayshaw

by Meagan Brandy

Release Date: June 2, 2020

The fourth book in the Brayshaw series by USA Today Bestselling Author Meagan Brandy… “You might want to sleep with one eye open.” These were the words whispered to the newest addition to Brayshaw Mansion. I might have overlooked the feisty, rebel blonde had she not placed herself right in front of me. But as soon as she did, something stirred in me and I knew I had to have her.

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The Romeo Arrangement

by Nicole Snow

Release Date: July 1, 2020

He didn’t even bother saying hello. The hot stranger had me dizzy the instant he said we were engaged. Then he chased off the bully on our heels and dragged me back to his place for the night. It’s insane, right? Wrong. You can’t let pride do the talking when you are homeless and on the run. And you definitely don’t complain when Ridge Barnet takes charge.

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Diamond in the Rough

by Skye Warren

Release Date: July 7, 2020

Diamond in the Rough is masterfully written, sinfully sexy, and utterly addictive! Skye Warren proves why she is the queen of dark and delicious romance.” – Giana Darling… I was stepping off a nine hour flight when it happened. A white van. A dark hood. Every woman’s worst nightmare. Now I am trapped in an abandoned church. The man who took me says I won’t be hurt…

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Don’t Break This Kiss

by Jessica Hawkins, Marni Mann, Kylie Scott, and Carrie Ann Ryan

Release Date: July 5, 2020

The fifth romance collection in the Top Shelf Romance series… They say a lady shouldn’t kiss and tell, but we’ll bet you’re dying to know whose between our covers… Don’t Break This Kiss includes: Explicitly Yours by Jessica Hawkins, Before You by Marni Mann, Lies by Kylie Scott, and Wrapped in Ink by Carrie Ann Ryan.

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Billionaire Undercover

by J.S. Scott

Release Date: July 7, 2020

The fifteenth book in The Billionaire’s Obsession Series by New York Times Bestselling Author J.S. Scott… After I was kidnapped while doing a geographical exploration, I thought I was destined to die in a foreign country. But then a mysterious rescuer showed up just in time to save my life. Unfortunately, my liberator is also the co-CEO of Montgomery Mining… my employer. He is definitely a billionaire with an attitude.

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Hands Down

by Mariana Zapata

Release Date: July 2, 2020

Bianca Brannen knows time heals all wounds. Including those unintentionally given to you by your once loved ones. She thought she was ready when a call has her walking back into her old friend’s life. At least as prepared as possible to see the starting quarterback in the National Football Organization. Before all this, he was just a skinny kid with a heart of gold.

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