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A few months ago I gushed about a recent contemporary romance I had the opportunity to review. It was called About Last Night, and its author is not only a singularly talented and exciting new voice in the romance genre, but she’s also a pretty cool person. Today I have the pleasure of asking Ruthie a little bit about her writing process, her take on the romance genre, and just what a romance author looks for in a real life hero. Read on to see what Ruthie has to say and to enter for a chance to win an e-copy of About Last Night!

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1. Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to be an

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox

author, and an author of romance novels in particular?

Actually, no, not that I can remember. I started writing toward the end of 2010, after reading a ton of Harlequin Blaze novels. I was in a yoga class, and I had an idea for a story of my own — a vacation fling romance set in Hawaii involving a tour guide and the geeky grad student who falls for him. So I wrote that, and then I wrote another one, and another, and somewhere in there I thought, “This is really fun. I want to keep doing this.” I found an agent, and the rest is history! (That first manuscript didn’t go anywhere, by the way, but the second one was About Last Night, and the third was Ride with Me.) I’ve never considered writing anything but romance novels. They’re the only thing I want to read and write at this point in my life.

2. Who are your favorite couples from the classics, from historical romance, and from contemporary romance?

Ooh, good question. Hmm. My favorite classic couple is … Can I stretch the definition of “classic”? Because I love nineteenth-century British literature, but I can’t think of any British couples I’d consider “favorites.” I do really love Celie and Shug from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, so I’m going to go with them. From historical romance, I have to go with Will Parker and Elly Dinsmore in LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory. *swoooon* And in contemporary romance — that’s tough! One couple that’s really stuck with me is Tara and Ford from Jill Shalvis’s The Sweetest Thing. I really believed they belonged together, in the end. Or maybe that they were stuck with each other. :-)

3. Is there a character trait that tends to turn you off to the romance when you’re reading?

I don’t like characters who are mean to each other. I’m fine with them fighting if they have strong motivations for their arguments, but I can’t hang in with a hero or a heroine who’s just plain cruel when there are options other than cruelty available to them. If it’s one or two cutting remarks, I’ll wait to see where it’s going — I thought Charlotte Stein did this really well in her erotica short Restraint — but flat-out assholery is difficult to redeem, for me. (I make an exception for Cara McKenna’s psychologically interesting assholes, who aren’t mean so much as terribly, terribly broken, with their brokenness manifesting as meanness. But that’s a whole ‘nother answer.)

4. Do you find romantic inspiration in real-life events? What’s one of the romantic things someone has done for you or for someone you know?

Um, not really? Honestly, if you met me, you would probably think I was the least romantic person you’ve ever met. I don’t really like emotional spectacles of any kind, so real-life romantic gestures make me cringey. But my parents have been married for forty years, and my dad sometimes says that my mom’s been five different women since he met her. I find love that is willing to embrace challenge and change is very romantic — which is one reason that I’m on record as having a difficult time with epilogues. They often feel so static to me (Look! Everything is perfect!), whereas my idea of romance is a relationship that remains open to constant evolution. I conceive of the happy-ever-after as a brief, perfect moment at the end of the book, followed by the resumption of real life.

5. If you could piece together the perfect romantic hero Frankenstein creation from existing romance novel characters, what would he look like (personality-wise, not physically, although that’s fine too!)?

Oh, but this is what I do for a living, right — piece together perfect romantic heroes, all Frankenstein’s-monster-like? Some people use photographic inspiration to come up with their heroes, but mine exist purely in my head. One that I’m working on right now has a lot of the personality of sheriff Seth Bullock from Deadwood — he’s intense and furiously dedicated to Right with a capital “r.” Throw in a splash of Germanic orderliness and that delicious accent, à la Ralph Fiennes, plus the whole overwhelmed-single-parent dynamic from Mr. Mom and some crazy-hot skills in the sack, and you have the man who is currently occupying my stray thoughts. I’m calling him Otto Schoen. We’ll see how he turns out. :-)

6. We all have fangirl moments, so fess up; when was the last time you fangirled?

Oh, I’m a fangirling machine. Half my Twitter friends are people I’ve fangirled. Romance novelists are so nice that pretty much everyone I’ve ever gone gushy over has turned out to be someone I consider a friend. I stalked Cara McKenna in an embarrassing fashion after I read her (genius) erotica book Skin Game. First I e-mailed her, and then I joined Twitter primarily for the purpose of further stalking. Then I made friends with all her friends. Then I got the same haircut as her and started shopping everywhere she shops, and then I stole her husband. After that, I got arrested.

Wait, no, scratch the husband bit. That was a movie I saw once. But most of the rest of it is true, for realz.

Thanks for having me and for asking such great questions! This was fun.

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Ruthie has offered to send one lucky reader an e-copy (format of winner’s choice) of About Last Night. To enter, leave a comment letting me know what you’re romance hero Frankenstein’s monster would look like, along with an email address so I can contact you if you win. Contest is open until midnight, October 5.

Where You Hurt the Most demonstrates perfectly the harmony that emotional impact and intimate detail can have in well-done erotica. Brooke’s story is only about fifty pages long, yet she manages to pack a larger punch in few words than many authors I’ve read of late who have failed to make me resonate with their characters after reading an entire series’ worth of interactions.
Brooke’s story can be seen as a modern-day Beauty and the Beast tale, and as in most of the best adaptations, the “Beast” isn’t the only one who needs saving in this story. Adrian is a man seemingly content with his lot in life. He loves his career as an escort, as it allows him to indulge in his favorite activities: sex, connecting with other people, and appreciating the simpler pleasures in life.

Where You Hurt the Most by Anne Brooke

Adrian easily could have come across as shallow, but instead his innate sensitivity and sympathy lift him above the superficial definition that his career could otherwise brand him with. We don’t learn much about Adrian’s past, yet his first-person narration is an honest-enough reflection of his nature that we don’t need to know more than the spare details we’re provided with. In contrast, while we are given a good picture of the traumas and losses that Dan has endured, leading to the disfigurement that now hinders his confidence and happiness, his emotions are a bit harder to read. We see him only through Adrian’s eyes, and since the story is so short, our glimpse isn’t a particularly comprehensive one. Yet in only a few encounters, Brooke made me believe in the relationship that grows between her two characters, even if neither of them can quite account for its cause. This is the type of writing I love, simple and sparse yet used to tenderly convey a connection of spirit that defies logic or explanation.

Because the story is so brief, I hesitate to say more lest I ruin the revelations that lay within. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Brooke’s writing in the future.

 

I’ve been holding my breath for Thieftaker to come out since last year. D.B. Jackson isn’t an author I’ve read before,  yet he seems to have built himself a nice following. Thieftaker represents the subgenre of historical urban fantasy, one that I haven’t had much exposure to, and I’m sorry to say that I doubt I will be reading much of it in the future either. That shouldn’t be taken as a statement against Jackson’s abilities as a writer nor Thieftaker as a novel. This wound up being a read in which I could sense the quality of writing, but simply couldn’t connect on a personal level.

Thieftaker takes place in 18th century Boston, a setting that I never anticipated

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

being featured in an urban fantasy novel. Yet depite its unlikely locale, Thieftaker has all the trappings of the genre, in particular a skilled narrator in Ethan Kaille. Ethan reminded me of what Harry Dresden’s ancestor might have been like. That might be part of the reason why Ethan and I never clicked. (I only got through the first two books in The Dresden Files). I love reading books told from a male point-of-view, but not when the male in question exhibits that annoying habit of stoicism that so often seems to accompany the Y-chromosome. Ethan clearly has much in life that he’s passionate about: his profession as a thieftaker (a fascinating and apparently real relic of historical times), his failed engagement to a beautiful woman of his past, the question of whether to commit to the beautiful woman in his present, and the potentially lethal frustration of dealing with his main competitor, the (obviously beautiful) Sephira. Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman and so less susceptible to this particular power of suggestion, but I got a bit tired of hearing about all of the beautiful women in Ethan’s life, no matter their relationship with him. I found Sephira in particular was a tiresome character, as her continual presence causing trouble in Ethan’s life never convinced me of anything aside from her feral grace. While we are told that she is a deadly foe, I witnessed no evidence of her competence aside from the muscle exhibited by her hired goons.

Despite my grievances, the magical system that Jackson has created is rather compelling and I’m sure that many will not have the same issues relating to characters as I did. I have no doubt that Thieftaker will be one of the breakout fantasy books for the year; it just wasn’t for me.

I’ve had Anna Dressed in Blood on my TBR list for quite a while now, and with high priority. The only reason it’s taken me this long to get around to reading it is because I’m unforgivably cheap and I haven’t been able to find a copy used. So when I saw a shiny new Barnes and Noble coupon sitting in my inbox a few weeks ago, I knew what book that discount would go toward. I won’t lie; my expectations for Anna were pretty sky-high after reading nearly universal praise from my fellow bloggers. Based on the reviews I had read, I was anticipating this to be a read rather outside of my comfort zone. While I thoroughly enjoy a good Grade B horror movie, the campier the better, horror often has the capacity to freak me out, particularly that of the haunting-ghoul-in-abandoned-house/hospital/mental ward variety. From what I’d read of Anna, it seemed to fit the bill of every story that has me watching the shadows at night, and the first few chapters did nothing to dispel me of this notion. Anna‘s opening is electric, spares no punches, and quite frankly, had me doubting whether it was wise to continue reading it when I knew I’d be going to sleep all by my lonesome that night.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Unfortunately, despite my misgivings, I wish Blake had been able to sustain the sheer creepiness of the novel’s early chapters, but ultimately Anna failed to live up to its hype. I couldn’t help but be let down the further I read, especially when the book had initially promised to deliver a truly unique, mostly unexplored level of scare for the YA genre. Blake had the potential to knock it out of the park, and when Anna first appeared on the page I was sure that she had. The Anna of the early chapters is like no other protagonist I’ve read in the genre, perhaps not quite unapologetic in her wrath, yet utterly frightening nonetheless. What’s more, she had presence on the page; I anticipated her return at the same time that I feared it, and though I wanted to learn about her history that had led her down this path, I didn’t feel that I needed to. It was enough to witness rather than needing to see behind the scenes.

Cas wasn’t quite as successful a character for me, though I appreciate Blake’s contribution to an unfortunately small pool of young adult books narrated from the male perspective. It’s not as if Bake failed to create a believable male teenage voice, but I nevertheless didn’t connect with Cas. It might be due in part to the wealth of backstory that Cas relates to the readers; I tend to have difficulty getting to know a character through anecdote alone rather than by witnessing the events as they occur. Still, I loved Cas’s interactions with Anna and couldn’t wait to see how Blake would justify Cas’s feelings for someone who can be so very inhuman. Sadly, things fell apart for me around the midway point, as the qualities I had loved until this point simply vanished. Anna’s unsettling demeanor, the sense of foreboding, the potential for development of great side characters like Thomas and Carmel take a backseat as, with a bit of magic and a pinch of luck, Anna is transformed from Samara’s long lost cousin into an utterly generic teen queen.

Suffice it to say, the Anna of the book’s second half was not a character to inspire awe in the reader. I’m glad that Blake didn’t completely neuter her main character, as at least Anna retains the ability to turn freaky-eyed and fabulous, but by allowing Anna to achieve her humanity so abruptly, Blake took the easy way out. Compared to reading about Cas’s struggle to come to terms with his feelings for someone with questionable merits and dubious morals, allowing Anna to toggle between murderous wraith and sympathetic victim made the whole affair seem far too sanitized.

Today I’d like to welcome Susan Vaught, author of the recently released Freaks Like Us. When I read Freaks earlier this year, it immediately vaulted to the top of the Books for 2012. I’m so pleased to be part of her blog tour to celebrate the release of this fantastic novel.

Now, I turn things over to Susan to learn a bit about the writing process that went into Freaks.

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I have two primary types of writing experiences:  ouch and aaahhh.

Ouch is rather like a dental procedure where I dread, avoid, act like I’m in pain the entire time I struggle with the story, and usually hate what comes out for a good long time. Aaahhh feels natural and easy, with a lot of flow and even more obsessiveness, where I sit for hours and hours, writing so quickly I get my fingers tangled in the keys. I get irritable if interrupted, my family avoids me, my pets forget what I look like, and everyone at my day job is sure I’m mad at them about something because I keep a faraway, distracted look most of the time.

Freaks Like Uswas one of the natural, obsessive, wonderful, synergistic experiences.

Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught

Definitely aaahhh! I knew I wanted to write a story with a main character who had Schizophrenia, but it took several years for the right character, situation, and voice to come to me. I struggled a bit with the first chapter, trying to be sure everyone could related to Jason (Freak) as much as I could. People with Jason’s illness sometimes don’t make good connections with other people, even though they very much want to. Jason has that problem in the story. I just didn’t want readers to experience it, too. I also worked to find a way to let readers really feel and understand the impact of Jason’s hallucinations and internal distractions, which wasn’t easy to do given that I was working with print and not audiovisual media. From the moment Sunshine disappeared, everything got easier—and I didn’t know she was going to disappear until I wrote that sentence at the end of the first chapter.

Sometimes stories do that—take their own twists and turns. All I can say about that is, aaahhh!

The whole time I worked with Freaks, I could see all the people and events in my mind, clear as photographs, like I was watching a movie. The people and events felt—and still feel—very, very real to me. Readers always ask me if I based a character or a series events on real people, or things that have really happened to the patients I see. To that I have to say yes, and no. Jason and his friends aren’t copies of any one patient I’ve treated in my years of being a psychologist, but I have seen their symptoms in a lot of different folks, in a lot of different situations. I have always respected the struggle people with Schizophrenia have, day to day, just to take care of themselves and relate to other people, and I have always wanted to honor it. I believe Jason and the thousands of readers who have Jason’s issues, have a lot of strength and courage that people might not appreciate if they don’t look closely enough.

I hope readers enjoy Freaks Like Us as much as I enjoyed writing it!

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To learn more about Freaks Like Us, check out the Bloomsbury Teens Facebook page here.

When I requested a review copy of Spark, I broke one of my avowed reading rules: never read a series out of order.  Yet I knew that Spark would only remain on NetGalley for a few days longer, and I had read so many rave reviews of Storm, the first in Kemmerer’s Elementals series, that I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. Requesting Spark wound up being a good move; after reading the descriptions for the first two books in the series, I have to say that Gabriel’s bad-boy-falls-for-smart-girl trope appealed to me more than his older brother’s storyline.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I’m intrigued enough by the world Kemmerer has built to seek out the first in the series, but if I happen to come across it I’d gladly give it a go.

Kemmerer deftly works two of my favorite underused themes into her new series: control of the elements, and brotherly love.  Usually, it seems like the latter is portrayed between a pair of siblings (see Rob Thurman’s Cal Leandros series, Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon series, and Supernatural).  However, Kemmerer isn’t content with giving us a measly duo, so instead we’re treated to a horde of brothers (two of them twins, at that).  Reviewers have been praising the dynamic Kemmerer has created among this sibling gang, and while I could see the underpinnings of something sweet, I believe this might be an example of why series are best started at the beginning.  I couldn’t help but feel that the foundations of these relationships were solidly established in Storm, and that Kemmerer took it for granted a bit in Spark.  Usually, I would applaud an author for foregoing the urge to rehash and repeat past

Spark by Brigid Kemmerer

events for the sake of new readers, but when I happen to be on the other side for once, I can appreciate why authors summarize.  I followed the story just fine, though I was a bit lost on some of the finer points.  It also took me a while to figure out who was connected to whom familialy and romantically, though I was pretty confident on this point midway through.  Still, I felt that something was missing (and no, it wasn’t a spark, although that would be conveniently ironic).  While I could see that these brothers cared immensely for each other, I felt too much like a bystander to their affections without getting a sense of how their personalities really worked together.

Apart from this criticism, I quite enjoyed the story, but it never elicited enough excitement to warrant a higher rating.  Gabriel was a good narrator, if a bit typical for his stereotype.  I would have liked to see him interact more with his twin brother Nick, as I felt that this was one of the relationships for which so much importance lay in the backstory that I wasn’t privy to.  I had a more difficult time connecting with Layne, much to my surprise and disappointment, as I usually love reading about the shy, brainy chicks (I am one myself, after all).  Yet Layne just seemed a bit too self-involved, despite her air of subservience and altruism.  I did like her relationship with her brother Simon and the way that this factored into her growing regard for Gabriel.  Still, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing; it was a formula I should have loved, but it never quite got to the point where I was rooting Gabriel and Layne on.  I was more concerned with Gabriel’s potential conviction as the unknown arsonist, and felt that this storyline was insufficiently resolved.  I suppose Kemmerer intends to explore it more in the next installment.

Overall, Kemmerer’s writing feels exactly like the type I usually gravitate toward, so I struggle to pinpoint exactly what it is that prevents me from loving this series.  Perhaps I ought to give Storm a chance and see if it changes my impressions of its successor; at any rate, I think that the Elementals series is a great new addition to the young adult urban fantasy genre.

I can’t help but cast characters in my head when I’m reading. Here’s how I imagine the characters in Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series. (Warning: The pictures in my head often don’t match up to character descriptions. But it’s my vision, so change it if you don’t like it).

Celaena Sardothien

“At a passing glance, one might think her eyes blue or gray, perhaps even green, depending on the color of her clothing. Up close, though, these warring hues were offset by the brilliant ring of gold around her pupils. But it was her golden hair that caught the attention of most, hair that still maintained a glimmer in its glory.”

Dorian DeHavilliard

“Yet there was something in his eyes, strikingly blue- the color of the waters of the southern countries- and the way they contrasted with his raven-black hair that made her pause. He was achingly handsome, and couldn’t have been older than twenty.”

Chaol Westfall

“He straightened from a low bow and removed his hood, revealing close-cropped chestnut hair…Captain Westfall was not excessively handsome, but she couldn’t help finding the ruggedness of his face and the clarity of his golden-brown eyes rather appealing.”

Nehemia Ytger

“She was stunning, long and lean, each of her features perfectly formed and smooth. Her loose white dress contrasted with her creamy brown skin, and a three-plated gold torque covered much of her chest and neck.”

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