Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Downside of the Upside

By Karen McCullough (Guest Blogger)

I hunt for treasure in the stacks of self-published books at places like Amazon and Smashwords.

Authors are in an enviable position these days. There are so many options for getting published – presses big and small, or doing it yourself. The stigma on self-publishing has mostly disappeared, although it’s not entirely clear to me that the average quality level of self-published works has improved. And, yes, I’m one of those authors, published with a New York house, with several small presses, and self-published. More about that at the end.

Right now, though, I want to put on my reader’s hat. I was a reader long before my first actual attempt at writing a story. When I list my hobbies, reading has always been at the top of the list. It still is, though I don’t have anywhere near as much time as I’d like for it. That means that when I do have a bit of precious reading time, I want to use it reading something good--something I really like or something that moves me. And, dang it, it’s harder than ever to find those!

The fact that authors have so many more options should mean that readers have lots more options, too. And it’s true. They do. There are many more books available in a wide variety of genres due to the influx of self-published books. In fact, you can narrow your interests down by special subject areas and likely still find something that fits your bill. Genres that are out of fashion these days, like the traditional Gothic romance, or books that contain subject matter others might find offensive have seen a surge of new offerings in the last few years.

It’s a mixed blessing. Yes, there is a much wider range of choices. Yes, you can get the kind of book you like even if the big gatekeeper publishers aren’t publishing it any more—or ever have, for that matter. But you have to sort through so much poorly written, badly edited mush to find the things worth reading.

Now, that’s not to say that the big publishers don’t put out bad books. They definitely do, especially when chasing after the latest hot trend. I judged several writing contests last year and got saddled with an enormous pile of published novels all featuring vampires. Every single, darned one of them. Don’t get me wrong. I like the paranormal/urban fantasy genre. It’s why I agreed to judge that category. I’ve even read some really damned good vampire stories. One of that stack was just that—really good. The others ranged from mediocre to unbearable.

But at least they all showed signs of decent editing. They weren’t all mistake-free, but they weren’t riddled with errors in grammar, sentence structure and word usage.

Too many of the self-published books I’ve read have been. Not all, by any means. There are many authors out there who care enough about their product to learn how to use the tools of their trade—language mechanics and storytelling techniques—well and who understand the worth of a professional editing job. I’ve read some self-published books recently that were better than many of the small and large press books of the last few years.

Of course, not all readers are as picky about those things as I am, but I do think that a lot are. Poor punctuation makes a story harder to read and also tends to signal that the writer is deficient in other areas of storytelling technique as well.

I’ve learned from hard experience. If I’m not familiar with an author and their work, I download the sample chapters Amazon offers. And if the author doesn’t allow samples, I move on to the next book. I’ve wasted too much time already trying to decipher books from “authors” who have no idea where commas go in sentences, who don’t seem to know the difference between “loose” and “lose,” and have no clue how to handle point of view.

I also read through the reviews but when I see nothing but five-star reviews that all say “Gee, this book was grate!” I shy away. I actually tend to look for more of a mix of reviews and read both the highest and lowest ones. That gives me a clearer picture of the book’s strengths and weaknesses. And a few one or two-star reviews won’t necessarily drive me away. Not everyone likes the same things I do, and I allow for that. I’ve seen low reviews for books I thought were fabulous. I allow for those.

Still, that’s a lot of work to go through for every book. I do it because I’m hungry for new works in certain genres that don’t get a lot of respect from publishers these days. But I know a lot of readers who will only buy new books from authors they know they like or ones that are recommended by friends, relatives or review sites they trust.

And that’s rather a shame. There are a lot of really good books by authors you’ve never heard of waiting to be discovered. If only one didn’t have to search a lot of haystacks full of fluff and dreck to find those wonderful shiny needles.

Speaking of finding buried treasure—at least I hope so—I’m giving away an ebook copy of either A Gift for Murder or The Wizard’s Shield to one lucky commenter. Be sure to include your email address in the comment!

A Question of Fire by Karen McCullough

Not the book I’m giving away, but it is ON SALE at all fine ebook retail establishments this month for the very reasonable price of $1.99 [for a book that’s 90,000 words long]! Come on, that’s a huge bargain!


When Cathy Bennett agrees to attend an important party as a favor for her boss, she knows she won't enjoy it. But she doesn't expect to end up holding a dying man in her arms and becoming the recipient of his last message. Bobby Stark has evidence that will prove his younger brother has been framed for arson and murder. He wants that evidence to get to his brother's lawyer, and he tries to tell Cathy where he's hidden it. But he dies before he can give her more than a cryptic piece of the location.

The man who killed Bobby saw him talking to her and assumes she knows where the evidence is hidden. He wants it back and he'll do whatever it takes to get it, including following her and trying to kidnap her.

Cathy enlists the aid of attorney Peter Lowell and Danny Stark, Bobby's prickly, difficult younger brother, as well as a handsome private detective to help her find the evidence before the killers do.



The word slithered from the bushes behind her, startling Catherine Bennett out of the few wits she'd managed to recover in the peace of the dark, quiet garden. Thready strains of violin music and the buzz of voices drifted across the lawn from the open door to the house. In the light spilling out from it, she could distinguish a couple of people sitting at a table on the deck. Cathy measured the distance with her eye. A good, heavy-duty scream would be heard, even over the party noises.

"Please, miss!" Tense urgency drove the voice as it called again.

She didn't need this. The evening had been disastrous enough already and a man hiding in the garden spelled trouble with capital letters. She got up and backed away, while turning to face the source of the call.

"Don't run away, please," the voice begged. "I won't hurt you. I promise. I just want to ask you something."

A ring of sincerity in the pleading tone kept her from sprinting straight back to the house, an action the more cautious part of her brain urged. Cathy strained for a look at the person in the shrubbery. The voice was male and adult, though probably not very old. "Come out where I can see you," she demanded.

"Shhh!" he ordered in a fierce whisper. Leaves rustled, and a slender shape detached itself from the bushes. In the darkness she couldn't distinguish his features.

A light breeze in her face set her shivering. "What do you want?" She backed another step away. They both jumped when a particularly loud laugh rang across the yard.

He turned to face the house. "You been at the party?"

At it, not of it, Cathy thought. She didn't say so; the young man wouldn't understand the distinction. "Yes," she answered.

"You know a guy named Peter Lowell?"

"Yes," Cathy admitted, wondering where this was leading.

The young man's indrawn breath sounded almost like a sob. "He's in there, ain't he?"


"Could you ask him to come out here?"

"I don't know. We just met tonight and I. . . I don't think he liked me very much. He might not come."

"Please. It's real important. You gotta try." A quiver shook the young man's body and voice.

Tension or fear -- or both? Whichever it was, he sounded near the breaking point.

"All right. Who should I tell him is here?"

The clouds drifted apart and the moon emerged from their shadow. A sliver of light fell across the man's cheek and glinted off the sheen of perspiration there. "Tell him . . . Tell him it's Bobby. He'll come, I promise."

Cathy sighed. "All right, I'll try. Wait here." She turned toward the house when another noise sounded behind them -- the crackle of twigs or dried leaves underfoot.

Bobby's head jerked around toward the bushes, then he called again, "Wait!" There was no mistaking the sheer desperation in his voice now. "Please. Wait." He looked from her face to the shrubbery and back again. "I better give you the message. Tell this to Mr. Lowell, and no one else. Promise you won't tell anyone else?"

Cathy went back to him, found one of his arms, and pulled him back into the shadow of a large boxwood. The arm she held was trembling. "All right," she said. "What's the message?"
The young man looked around the yard and took a couple of quick, shallow breaths. "Tell him Danny was framed. I got the proof. Tell him--"

Another rustle shook the bushes, followed by a sudden, sharp crack which reverberated for a few seconds afterward. Bobby groaned and collapsed, sagging against Cathy. The abrupt burden of his weight drove her to the ground, where she found herself half crushed by the young man's bulk. She moved out from under him, a rush of adrenalin sharpening her senses so that she could hear, over Bobby's ragged breathing, the squish of a footstep in the shrubbery and the churning of leaves and branches fading rapidly as the gunman retreated.

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About Karen

Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published novels and novellas, which range across the mystery, romantic suspense, paranormal, and fantasy genres. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Recently she’s been collecting rights to some of her back-list books and re-releasing them as ebooks. Among those are romantic suspense novels, A Question of Fire and Programmed for Danger, and the paranormal novellas, A Vampire’s Christmas Carol and Guardian of the Grimoire.

Monday, April 21, 2014

You Don't Have to be Neurotic to Work Here…But it Helps

By Jorja Lovett (Guest Blogger)

How much do you let fear rule your life? For me, personally, worrying is a way of life for me. As the eldest of three girls I was the sensible one, looking out for my sisters and never taking risks. I'm not ashamed to say I was a boring teenager. Apart from the odd outpouring of teenage angst, there was no real rebellious stage. The most outrageous thing I did was get engaged at eighteen, whilst I was still in school. Even then I didn't tell anyone for fear I'd get into trouble.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was married at twenty, pregnant at twenty-one, and quite happy being at home. Still not wildly exciting I'm sure you'll agree, and anyone who met me would always describe me as quiet (boring).

Strangely enough my turning point came when my mum passed away aged only fifty-three. Something inside me decided enough was enough. Life was too short to spend doing housework and wondering what could have been. So, I started writing again. It was something I'd done on and off for years, but never really committed to.

Family never really pressed to ask what I was writing and I think everyone saw it as nothing more than a past-time. Writing opened me up to a whole new life. I met my crit group online who gave me so much confidence, as a person, and a writer. And soon publishers were sending me contracts for my work. It was a wonderful feeling but I still kept it quiet. Why? Because I write erotic romance. I couldn't possibly tell anyone what I did without dying of embarrassment.

For two years I wrote and published books as Jorja Lovett in secret. Only my husband and my best friends knew my saucy secret. I was convinced if people knew they would only use it to humiliate me and I couldn't bear to have something I loved into a joke. But, the more people I let into my secret, the more interesting I seemed to become. Friends these days rarely talk to me about anything other than my books and sex and I'm loving my new found notoriety.

I've also had the confidence to go travelling to meet my crit group in London and Scotland, and someday I hope to go further afield. Once upon a time I would've been afraid to travel abroad because I didn't know the language or the area, but these days I can't wait to go exploring. We've only got one life to live and I intend to pursue my dreams. If things don't work out, I know at least I've tried, and that's got to be better than a lifetime of regret.

How about you? What big dreams do you have? Leave a comment and you could be in with a chance of winning a copy of my new book, Titanic's Ondine.

[What a coincidence! My most recent release, Rough Weather, also features a water spirit, who happens to be named Ondine! So to sweeten the pie, I'll also give away a copy of Rough Weather to some lucky person who comments on today's post! (Not the same person as Jorja's winner!) ~ Lisabet]


Can a water nymph save her true love from the Titanic or are they both doomed forever?

Water nymph Madeleine has spent a lifetime searching for the human she can marry to become mortal. Finally, she finds true love with Joe Marlowe, but the romance is put on hold when he signs up as crew for the Titanic.

Joe never expects to see Maddy on board the ship but she's a welcome sight during the voyage. He knows she's keeping a secret from him but it doesn't diminish his love for her. They have the rest of their lives to discover each other. After an unforgettable night together in the Titanic's indoor pool he knows he's found the woman he wants to marry.
As the liner sails towards its fate, can Madeleine save Joe, and find her happy ever after?


I find the setting perfect for a romantic affair. Glamorous liners bound for faraway places, carrying young men with fire in their bellies. Why it’s enough to get any young lady’s pulse racing.” She ran a fingertip down his white shirt to distract him from his questioning. That slight contact with the man she loved was enough to start a fiery lust consuming her from the inside out.

Madeleine—” The ragged manner in which Joe addressed her didn’t sound like a scolding, or an attempt to stop her.

Shh!” A finger on his lips and a coy smile was all it took for him to discard his gentlemanly manners and let his passion take hold.

He was deceptively masterful in the seduction stakes. His firm lips staked their claim with a series of breath-taking kisses that almost made her mourn the time they had wasted thus far in their chaste courtship.

Crushed against the rough fabric of his jacket—Madeleine’s nipples hardened beneath the thin silk of her green dress—sensitized and begging to be noticed. Joe didn’t disappoint. He traced his thumb over one prominent peak. The simple over-the-clothing contact sent her body into raptures and generated an ache in her loins that she wanted him to remedy.

Her head told her to go carefully. He thought of her as a lady—pure and innocent—and not one to give herself away before her wedding night. But that other, sinful part of her wanted him regardless of the consequences. And that craving won out. She pressed herself closer to him until she was left with no doubt he felt the same. The ridged evidence in his trousers nestled into the skirts of her dress and she couldn’t stop herself from running her hand along the impressive length of him.

She half expected him to back away in shock or disgust. So when he took it one step further by cupping her breast firmly in his hand, her legs all but buckled beneath her. He scooped her breast from her dress, exposing it to the cool April air. Her pussy swelled with need. With each massage he gave her flesh, she came one step closer to nirvana, moaning as the moisture from her arousal soaked her skin and clothes.

Joe backed her away from the main walkway and pinned her against the wall of a ramshackle wooden building, creating a scenario Madeleine wouldn’t have believed possible. Of course, she imagined her reserved Joe to be a considerate lover, but she hadn’t expected their explosive chemistry to lead them to the point of making love outdoors.

Joe lifted her skirts, skimming his hand along the tops of her stockings, and then grabbed her ass to pull her onto his still imprisoned cock. Driven by mounting impatience, Madeleine reached to undo the buttons of his trousers and take the next step in their relationship.

It turned out to be a step too far. Moments later, the strong arms around her pushed where they once pulled her to him. Joe wrenched his mouth away.

I’m sorry. Please forgive me,” he pleaded, voice unsteady.

You have nothing to apologize for,” she told him.

Except, perhaps, being too chivalrous. One brief encounter with the saviour of her long-lost virtue wasn’t nearly enough, but she dared not raise his suspicions with further unladylike behaviour.

You deserve more than a rushed fumble by the docks, Maddy. When the time comes, I want it to be something special, a memory to be cherished forever. Though I don’t know how I’ll get through these next weeks without even kissing you again.”

Joe rested his forehead against hers. His was beaded with sweat from the effort of his restraint.

Not on my account, she wanted to scream, but the moment had passed. She adjusted her clothes.

He behaved as though the last ten minutes had not happened and picked up the conversation regarding his departure. But all she wanted to do was move farther into his embrace, make this night last forever.

Will you wave me off when I leave?”

As much as he deserved a teary farewell, she shook her head. “It’s not my place.”

She wouldn’t encroach on the intimate family moment which accompanied his every journey.
That was their time. This was hers.

Let’s say our goodbyes now.” Madeleine stood on tiptoe to offer up her lips.

This time, Joe’s kiss was a slow exploration mapping out the contours of her lips, as though he were memorizing her taste. That sensuous perusal finally eroded the jaded view she harboured for the male species. Joe didn’t demand, simply took what she willingly gave, and he returned it with love. He respected her, cherished her, and, for the first time in decades, Madeleine let herself trust.

* * * *

Don't forget to leave a comment with your email address. You've got two chances to win!

Available Now From TotallyBound, AllRomance, Amazon

About Jorja

Jorja Lovett is a British author with both Irish and Scottish roots, which makes for a very dry sense of humour. Writing since she was old enough to wield a pen, it wasn't until she joined her crit group, UCW, that she pursued her passion seriously.

Now, with Joe Manganiello as her permanent muse, if she can leave the pause button on her Magic Mike dvd long enough, she hopes to spend the rest of her days writing steamy romances.

Author Links:

Or Twitter: @jorjalovett

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Switching Gears

By Aurelia T. Evans (Guest Blogger)

Thank you so much for letting me guestblog today, Lisabet!

Winter Howl was my first novel and features a young woman who suffers from agoraphobia and accompanying panic attacks. Renee requires a service dog to get around outside her property—a service dog who is also a canine shapeshifter and her best friend and lover, but a service dog nonetheless around the rest of the world’s population.

Renee is the only person who lives at the sanctuary who’s human. Everyone else is a shapeshifter or a werewolf, and so she’s used to being the least powerful in the room (practically speaking). She’s awkward around people and doesn’t think much of her abilities and worth, the events of Winter Howl notwithstanding. She thinks she depends a great deal on her core pack of shapeshifters that help her run the sanctuary, and she’ll defend her sanctuary and its inhabitants to the death long before she’ll fight for herself. (None of those were spoilers for Winter Howl’s ending. They’re descriptions established in the first chapter of the novel.)

Enter Kelly in Cry Wolf, the second book in the Sanctuary series and a bit of a standalone, although it features significant spoilers for Winter Howl. It starts a few months after Winter Howl ends and directly deals with some of the repercussions of it.

Winter Howl was written from Renee’s perspective, and Call for Blood, the last book in the series (as far as I know), will also be written from Renee’s perspective, because in the end, the series is about Renee and her sanctuary. However, to understand Renee better, we have to bring in Kelly and tell her story, stepping back a little from Renee’s head and seeing her and her sanctuary through a different set of eyes.

If Renee’s a small, scared little girl in a big world, Kelly switches gears almost entirely. She’s a witch who was turned into a werewolf and really has more power than she knows what to do with, so she tamps down as much as she can. And she’s just left her werewolf pack after killing the alpha in order to protect Renee, and because she’s a bitch, she can’t just take alpha’s place, natch (there’s some serious misogyny ingrained in the werewolf pack dynamics, but that’s “just the way things are”). She could have been killed for it, but she had to be exiled instead because everyone else was afraid to take her on, although they’d never say so out loud.

Seems like the polar opposite to Renee, and in some ways, Kelly has to be for this series. But while it was a true pleasure to write someone with shitloads of power who got to choose to defer, choose to submit or dominate, choose to join a pack or not—all these different choices that a girl gets to make when she can kill you with her brain or her teeth or any number of ways like a mystical Swiss Army Knife—one of the big themes of the Sanctuary series is fear. Fear that requires the need of a sanctuary in the first place. And while Renee’s fear stems a great deal from seeing herself as weak, Kelly’s is the flip side of that coin—she’s just too darn powerful. Renee fears not having control, and Kelly, of course, fears losing it. Renee fears she doesn’t have any power. Kelly fears she has too damn much.

It’s really no wonder why they get along, or why telling Kelly’s story also tells a little bit of Renee’s as well. And fear, my friends, is something that I truly love—it is a destructive love, but addictive nonetheless—and so I need to write about.

Cry Wolf Blurb

As a werewolf and witch, Kelly belongs to neither pack nor coven, making her a perfect addition to the ragtag collection of dogs, humans and canine shapeshifters at the Chambers Dog Sanctuary.

After recently being transformed against his will, Malcolm—one of the Sanctuary residents—wants nothing more than to shed his werewolf skin and return to his shapeshifter pack. Kelly tries to help him accept his new wolf nature, but then some of the shapeshifters discover Salvation, an organization that claims to cure magical hybrids. Kelly has long since made peace with lycanthropy, which tempers her volatile magic, but when Malcolm begs Kelly to accompany him for one last attempt to resume his old life, she agrees for his sake.

Upon arriving at Salvation, however, the already shaky balance of her life becomes even more tenuous, forcing Kelly to decide which part of herself, wolf or witch, she loves—or fears—more.


Kelly and Malcolm have already had the wild, crazy, naked, woodsy sex with the feral edge that Kelly loves and Malcolm’s getting accustomed to. Now Kelly gets to experience something she’s not used to and isn’t sure about at all—tenderness.

Although she had been unconscious for several hours, she was actually tired by the time she made it to her trailer. When Malcolm stepped out from behind it, she was fully prepared to tell him that she just wanted to go to sleep. Surely he could run on his own.

But he smelled of the forest. He had already been running.

What—?” Kelly began.

Malcolm took her hands in his, his hands swallowing hers as he leaned down and pressed his lips against hers. As slow and gentle as his kiss, he pushed her up against the trailer. His erection was an insistent bulge confined in his jeans, yet his actions were anything but urgent. His body seared her with the most delicious kind of heat.

When he broke the unhurried kiss, Kelly followed his lips.

He smiled then pulled her closer against his strong, lean body. He used his height to his advantage, standing straight so that she could not reach him. Kelly was dizzy with the kiss. His taste mingled with the whiskey that still hazed her head and coated her tongue.

What are you doing?” she asked, surprised by the tremble in her voice.

Malcolm put one finger on her lips. “Shhh. I just want to know if I still can.”

He reached behind her and opened the door to her trailer then lifted her up so that they did not have to separate. As soon as they had made it in, Malcolm captured her mouth again, sliding his tongue deliciously over hers. She expected him to bite sharp teeth on her lip, but he didn’t.

He smoothed his maddening hands over her back and thighs through the fabric of her dress. The fact that Malcolm could not stand up straight in the short-ceilinged trailer served as an excellent pretext to bend her over his arms, to take control of the kiss but not dominate. Kelly’s legs grew weaker the deeper he kissed her, but beyond the pleasured mists in her mind was deep-seated confusion she could not articulate.

Butch Cassidy yowled for attention on the kitchen counter. Kelly automatically held a hand out for him to rub his cheek over her fingers.

Malcolm tried not to laugh. He relinquished her mouth to look around for Butch Cassidy’s food container. He poured a little into the empty bowl. Butch Cassidy gave the interloper a glare, but he accepted Malcolm’s gift with a flip of his mostly lame tail—limp from an early injury.

Where were we?” Malcolm murmured against her cheek.

I’m not entirely sure,” Kelly said.

I may be wrong, but I think we were headed to bed,” Malcolm said. He kissed her chastely on the lips before moving less chastely down to her neck.

As his hot, wet mouth did the most sinful things to her neck from ear to collarbone, he unbuttoned the front of her dress. He made quick work of each small, pearly button with surprisingly deft fingers. Again, Kelly kept waiting for the teeth, to feel his canines rake across her flesh and spike the simmering excitement in her blood, but although he bit at her, they were nothing more than nips.

Once he had unbuttoned the dress past her waist, he pushed the sleeves down over her shoulders and let gravity do the rest. Kelly had to let go of him to shed the dress in favor of skin, the long length of pale, inked limbs. The moonlight came in through her bedroom window and illuminated the rumpled bed.

She tingled all over. As soon as she could, she tangled her fingers in his black hair, raked her nails over his back, but he pulled that hand off.

I don’t understand,” Kelly said, another quaver in her voice. She realized that she was near tears, though she didn’t know why.

This is how I made love,” Malcolm murmured, twining their fingers and pressing an open-mouthed kiss to the black ink on her sternum. “When I needed it, this was what I did. I need to know if I still can.”

But why don’t you—?” Kelly began.

Just relax, Kelly,” Malcolm said. He flicked the tip of his tongue over her nipple, catching slightly on the bar piercing through it. “Just relax and let me try. Let me take care of you.”

Kelly’s eyebrows drew together, but she combed her free hand through his hair down to the back of his neck and bit her lip, nodding.

Get your own copy of Cry Wolf

About Aurelia

Aurelia T. Evans is a hopefully up-and-coming erotica writer with a penchant for horror and the supernatural. She’s had short stories featured in Amber Dawn’s Fist of the Spider Woman, Kristina Wright’s Fairy Tale Lust, and Mitzi Szereto’s Thrones of Desire. Her first novel about shapeshifters, werewolves, and the woman who loves them, Winter Howl, debuted November 2012. The sequel, Cry Wolf, was released February 2014.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Three in the Bed Have a Life of Their Own

By M.Q. Barber (Guest Blogger)

We call them “characters,” as if the book were a stage and the author an actor in the wings, donning the new persona for the length of the scene and discarding it afterward.

But we know that’s not true. A book is a cultivated narrative. Bits and pieces chosen for their combined effect. The author tries to include the meaningful pieces and discard the rest.

Sometimes, stray bits creep in. Those little lines that allude to the lives characters lead when they aren’t onstage. They aren’t meaningless so much as they aren’t relevant to the current tale.

They’re side stories. Back stories. Road-not-taken stories.

And I’m addicted to them.

As a reader, I love glimpsing the edges of untold stories and imagining how they played out. Naturally, I hate it, too. Those offhand references to offstage events become challenging puzzles with no one true answer. They expand the world. They remind me that these “characters” have lives I’m not seeing.

Detective stories are lousy with references to other cases. Sherlock Holmes, anyone? And fantasy stories make references to historical events to firmly plant their imagined worlds in their own realities.

But enjoying the richness and depth as a reader never quite prepares one for the experience as an author. The writing’s going well, the words are flowing, the scene is almost—

This is like that time my sister got hit by a line drive and fractured her collarbone.”

Wait, what? Where did that come from?

Sometimes I think the characters like to wrest control away from the author just to prove they can. They drop a surprise in the center of the writing headspace and watch the dominos fall.

The Neighborly Affection series focuses on the growing relationship between single, independent gal Alice and her neighbors Henry and Jay. In the first book, Playing the Game, Henry offers her a chance for sexual adventure – an intro course in dominance and submission, more or less. 

Because the story is from Alice’s point of view, it could have had long stretches without interaction between the main characters. Her “classtime” is only every other Friday. Following every minute of her life would’ve meant chapter after chapter of Alice at her day job. And while mechanical engineering is an interesting discipline, watching Alice work through computer-aided modeling, testing metal thickness and angles and curves, doesn’t add meaning to the romance going on in her personal life.

Deciding not to include that part of her life in the book, or to show it only in glimpses, was easy.

But then Alice went and made an offhand remark about Jay, and I had a tough decision to make. I don’t doubt that she’s correct when she says she and Jay have lunch every Tuesday. The character is always right, even when the author doesn’t know why yet. The problem was whether to make those lunches part of the main stage production.

Ultimately, they ended up becoming one of those things mentioned but never shown. Not because they aren’t meaningful, but because they aren’t Alice’s story to tell. The changes in her, the strides she is making in her romantic life, are all shown through her nights with Henry and Jay.

The lunches? Those belong to Jay. They’re a central piece of his story, not hers. Eventually, he started opening up and sharing what they meant to him. They don’t graduate to the main stage until the third book, Healing the Wounds, when Alice needs to ask Jay a question away from Henry’s dominating presence. 


Until then, those secrets are Jay’s to keep. He’s told me a few – including one I’m sharing with newsletter subscribers this month -- and held some others close to the vest, but that’s all right. The characters don’t have to share everything with me. I’m only the author, after all. The life is theirs.

Crossing the Lines (Neighborly Affection #2) by M.Q. Barber

A safeword won’t save her from love.

After six months of cavorting in her neighbors’ bed, Alice admits signing the contract to be Henry’s sexual submissive is the best decision she’s ever made. He delivers on his promise to give her sexual satisfaction. But submitting to his dominance alongside his long-term lover shows her the sharp line between sex and love. Henry loves goofy, eager-to-please Jay. Neither man has promised to love her.

Hiding her feelings grows harder every night she spends with them. As they struggle with wounds old and new, her emotional turmoil threatens to shred their arrangement. Is it time to bow out before they show her the door? Or can a triangle be the shape of true love?

Crossing the Lines (Neighborly Affection #2) excerpt

Silver metal attachment points dangled from brown leather straps dark as a liver chestnut and loose-wrapped in deep green silk. Green like the cloth peeking out of Henry’s pocket. Green like Jay’s ring. She bounced on the balls of her feet, giddy with relief. These cuffs were hers. She belonged.

Do you remember your safeword, Alice?”

Yes, Henry.” Yes, yes, I know it, please put those on me.

Tell it to me now, please.”

Pistachio.” I won’t need it.

Good girl.”

She struggled to restrain her impatience under his thoughtful gaze.

Hold out your arms for—”

Thrusting her arms forward, she offered her hands side by side and loosely fisted.


Henry raised his hand until his palm brushed her fingers where they curled under her hands. He bent at the waist and bestowed two gentle kisses, one to the back of each hand. He revealed a slight smile as he straightened. “Your eagerness pleases me. Perhaps it’s been too long for us.”

Always. Two weeks of waiting and wanting, and such a short time when fulfilling her sexual desires became a joyful hobby for him. He’d taken a year to make the decision, to agree to invite her into his relationship with Jay. How hard had Jay pushed to make that happen? Gratitude flooded her, both for Jay’s interest and Henry’s willingness to play along.

Henry slipped the cuffs on her and tightened the straps. The silk slid over her skin. Two inches of chain separated her wrists. Henry lifted them over her head, extending her arms until the stretch hurt before lowering them a smidge. “Is this position comfortable, Alice? Be truthful, or our time together will end early tonight.”

Jesus. Was he trying to scare her? His voice held a sharp edge of command. A safety reason, muscle strain, probably, had to be the cause, but to threaten to end the night early… “It pulls a little on my shoulders, but it doesn’t hurt.”

He lowered her wrists another fraction of an inch. “Better?”

Yes, Henry.”

Good. Be still for me.”

She complied while he made adjustments above her. Metal spun, whirring like screw locks on carabiners.

Henry backed away to the edge of the light. “Relax your shoulders, Alice.”

She lowered her shoulders as best she could and shivered at the secure grip of the cuffs around her wrists.

Rotate your hands for me. Wiggle your fingers.”

She obeyed without question. His safety concerns were for her benefit, and she wouldn’t interfere no matter how desperate she grew to feel his touch. Having the length of his body grazing hers as he’d held her arms above her head hadn’t helped. Holding still had been difficult when she’d wanted to rub herself against him like a cat.

He circled her, always at the edge of the light, prowling. Jay stood somewhere in the darkness, his role in this game as shrouded as his body.

You’re a very good girl, Alice.” Henry spoke in conversational, relaxed tones. He stepped in front of her, a foot away, and unbuttoned his jacket. “I want you to understand that now, before we begin. You haven’t displeased me in any way. Do you understand?”

He held his coat out behind him, and Jay stepped from the darkness to take it.

Yes, Henry. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Henry unbuttoned his shirt cuffs and rolled his sleeves to the elbow.

Correct.” He leaned in and kissed her, hard, one hand on her chin holding her in place as he nipped at her lips. “This is not a punishment but a pleasure.”


Leave me a comment that includes your email address, and you could win an e-copy of each of the first two books in the series, Playing the Game and Crossing the Lines. In fact, I'll pick two winners!

About M.Q. Barber and the Neighborly Affection series

Henry, Alice, and Jay’s romance began in Playing the Game (Neighborly Affection #1) and continued in Crossing the Lines (Neighborly Affection #2). The trio will be back June 2 in Healing the Wounds (Neighborly Affection #3).

M.Q. Barber likes to get lost in thought. She writes things down so she can find herself again.

Often found staring off into space or frantically scratching words on sticky notes, M.Q. lives with one very tolerant, easily amused husband and one very tolerant, easily amused puppy.

She has a soft spot for romances that explore the inner workings of the heart and mind alongside all that steamy physical exertion. She loves memorable characters, witty banter, and heartfelt emotion in any genre.

The former Midwestern gal is the author of the Neighborly Affection contemporary romance series. Pick a safeword, grab a partner or two, and jump in.

Keep up with the series via M.Q. Barber’s website (, Facebook page (, Goodreads profile ( or Twitter feed (

Monday, April 14, 2014


By C.A. Szarek (Guest Blogger)

Villains are tough. 

They’re people. People are flawed. Even the hero and heroine of any given story isn’t perfect. (I find I don’t like a story when they are anyway.)

So, back to the bad guy.

He/she has an important role to the story, especially in romantic suspense. The villain has to be real, but he or she can’t be SO awful that the reader skips sections of the book to get back to the love story.

They have a necessary place, and their place needs to be well articulated. The author has to explain what the villain wants, why, and how they’re going to get it. (Or how they think they’ll succeed. Hopefully our hero has something to say about that).

No one is 100% evil, so sometimes a villain has a redeemable quality or two. Or at least something the reader can relate to. They have to be interesting in some light. Quirky maybe. Or heck, even funny.

Something that keeps the reader going until we get back to “the good stuff” in a story.

Not to slight the villains (they tend to get testy about that). Sometimes “the good stuff” very much involves our love-to-hate person in the book—action, danger, heck, maybe even a little sex. (Or a lot of sex?)

They have to be multifaceted enough to make the reader want to turn that page. After all, that’s the goal, right?

The villains I love most to read about ride that line between good and bad—right and wrong.
They make choices that make me cringe, but they have to feel (and have it be credible) that they’re making the decision(s) for a good reason.

We love to hate a good villain—or even better, have a hard time hating them, when we feel like we should.
It’s even better when they’re hot, too. Just a personal choice. It complicates the feelings for them, because pretty things shouldn’t be bad, right? *snicker*


So what’s your favorite quality in a villain? What’s a peeve about a villain?

Two winners will be selected from all the commenters, and I will give away an ebook of The Tartan MP3 Player to each!

I’m excited to see what makes a good villain to you guys!

The Tartan MP3 Player by C.A. Szarek


Book One in the time travel, fantasy romance series, Highland Secrets!

She never believed in magic…

Claire McGowan, Scotophile and historical romance novel addict, finally saves up enough for her dream vacation to Scotland.

She never imagines she’ll get sucked back to the seventeenth century while running on the beach—that’s what she gets for exercising when she should be relaxing.

He knows with a harsh certainty magic exists...

The Fae have taken his brother—Laird of his clan. Duncan MacLeod finds a bonnie naked and confused lass. He’s convinced Claire arrived in 1672 through the Faery Stones—a magical portal he’s been scouring the lands for over the past six months.

At last, he has someone who’s been through the Faery Stones and can help him find them—and get his brother back.

Duncan promises to help Claire get home, even though his desire to have her wars with his vow.

Torn between familiarity of the present and what she wants in the past, can Claire help Duncan find his brother and get back to the future? Will she even want to?


“Who goes there?” A deep, accented voice made her jump.

Her MP3 player crashed to the sand, the wires from her headphones ripping over her shoulders as they flew away from her body, but she didn’t go after the devices.

Claire’s heart kicked into overdrive, and she shot her arm across her naked breasts. Plastered her palm over her bare sex.

“Okay, don’t like this dream anymore.” Her voice jumped up an octave.

Why can’t I wake up?

Maybe a touch of fright would make her wake the hell up.

“Ummm….hello?” Claire ventured even though her pulse pounded in her temples. She didn’t see the voice’s owner, but she was stuck now.

Not like I can run and hide.

She wasn’t fond of a stranger seeing her nude, even if gym time had given her a rockin’ body.
Claire smirked. Her sister would’ve declared her egotistical right then and there.

Three figures came into view, standing atop a grassy overhang and staring down at her. Two men and a boy.

“Lass?” One asked.


Okay, no more Scottish Highlander romance novels before bed for you, Claire McGowan. But at least she’d placed the accent.

All three were dressed in period clothing. Like—seventeen hundreds or something. The tallest one had a tartan kilt on.

The man who’d spoken was older, wearing a thick grey beard he was currently scratching, as if he was trying to figure her out.

Well, duh. Naked girl on the beach at the ass crack of dawn should do it every time.

The boy looked about ten. He scrambled down the incline, stopping about three feet from her and staring. Wide blue eyes. Dark, messy hair that needed a good cut.

Claire backed up, squeezing her eyes shut. “Seriously, wake up.” Though she should pat herself on the back for the vivid imagination—if she didn’t have to cover her tender parts—she would’ve so been on that.

This place looked and felt real.

“Are ye Fae?” The kid’s brogue was thick, but his voice was high, making him sound younger than she’d guessed.

“Wh-what?” Claire asked, taking another step back.

“Angus, hush.” The last man admonished. His voice was familiar; he’d been the one who’d called out first.

He jumped down to the beach with little effort.

Claire almost forgot to cover herself as she gazed up at him.

Had to be about six-five or six-six.

Definitely had a foot on her, for sure.

Blue eyes, like the kid. Long black hair that flowed in the wind. He was wearing a kilt, and had the same tartan pattern strewn across his body, shoulder to waist and held down with a belt, but no shirt beneath. A huge, defined pec peeked out and her stomach fluttered.

Good job, Claire. At least you dreamt up someone yummy.

The model on the cover of the book she’d been reading before bed had nothing on this guy.

“Lass? Are ye all right?” His voice was concerned, as was his expression. He spoke gently.


Way to go on the stutter, Clair-bear. Her sister’s nickname popped into her head with ease. It should’ve grounded her, but she still didn’t wake up.

“She talks funny, uncle!”

How can he tell?

She’d said two words, literally.

“Where am I?” Claire whispered. The sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach made her shift on her feet.

“Isle of Skye.” The boy jumped up and down. “We were supposed to go fishing. But I found ye, instead.”

“Hush, Angus MacLeod,” the man said, but there was amusement in his tone. However, he didn’t take his eyes off Claire.

A tremor slid down her spine when his gaze travelled her frame.

Still. Naked.

She wanted to sink into the sand, her earlier confidence about her body gone. Claire shivered, her teeth chattered.

“Jesu, lass. Yer freezin’.” The huge man unbelted the plaid from his waist and whipped it off his torso. It was a separate piece from his kilt, and now he stood before her bare chested. His accent was as thick as the boy’s, but she could make his words out clearer.

Sexy as hell.

“Yeah, kinda naked over here.” A nervous titter fell from her lips and made Claire wince.

“Is she Fae, uncle?” Angus asked.

“Ye’ve been spending too much time with my father. Da, stop clouding the lad’s head with faery tales,” the man called.

The old guy on the hill chuckled. “Och, then ye shouldna leave the lad with me when you go off.”
“Like I have a choice.”

Buylinks for The Tartan MP3 Player:

Author Bio

Multigenre, award winning and bestselling author, C.A. is originally from Ohio, but got to Texas as soon as she could. She is married and has a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice.
She works with kids when she’s not writing.

She’s always wanted to be a writer and is overjoyed to share her stories with the world.

Where to find C.A.:
Twitter: @caszarek