There Once Was a Girl in the Land of Reviews…


I’ve been reading a lot of reviews lately–part of it is to see what’s out there, part of it is to see how other people write reviews, and part of it is a little bit of morbid curiosity.

Now, when I’m looking for a book, I’ll always read the critical reviews. I have a certain criterion for determining which critical reviews are bunk, and which ones are actually worth something. And yes, some critical reviews are actually worth reading. They aren’t snarky, they aren’t mean-spirited. I’m totally fine with it if people have opinions, on mine, or some other author’s work

That being said, some people are just so mean.

Look, I get it: not all books are wonderful. Some are poorly written, some are poorly edited, and some are just plain weird. And I’m fine if you say that. I might not like it if you say it about my books, but I can take it.

What you aren’t entitled to? A certain lack of manners. There is a way to write reviews, and a way not to.

1. Don’t attack the writer personally. A review is a critique of a professional work. Say what you don’t like about the book, but keep your critique about the book. Don’t say she needs to take 9th grade English again–that’s not about the work itself. Don’t say, “I’m glad she kept her day job” for the very same reason. A review is a critique of that book at that moment, and nothing else.

2. Do be fair and honest in your review. People can tell when you’re blowing smoke, or tearing apart another writer’s book just because you can. Neither way is fair to the reader.

3. Don’t recommend other authors in your review. Again, a review is a critique of that book. If you want to recommend authors, there is a forum for that. It’s called Goodreads. Unless you’re in a discussion thread about a book, I think it’s impolite to mention other authors.

Not only that, but you’re probably not doing your author friends any favors, either. If you write a negative review and mention another author in that review, readers will think one of two things: 1) wow, what a bitch, and 2) I bet this was written by (insert other author name here).

If they think the latter, then you’re probably hurting two authors. If that’s your goal, then please see number one.

4. Do remember that authors are people, and most of them have put a lot of work–and I mean a lot of work–into writing the book. Be honest, be critical, but don’t completely tear their book to shreds. I have been told, “I didn’t love it. It’s not my genre, not my thing, and here’s why.” It might have stung a little, but it didn’t wound me. Honesty is good. Snark and sarcasm and totally deconstructing a book is not.

5. This is from Meggan Connors: reader. Don’t provide spoilers.

Before I ever dreamed up a story, I was a reader. What you hate about a story, I might absolutely love. But giving away the big reveal at the end, all because you didn’t like a story? That’s a low blow. It could drive people away from a book that they might otherwise like. It ruins the reading experience for other people. When you provide spoilers, you might not be changing anything for the author, but you are ruining the reading experience for other readers.

Reading is different for everyone. There is more than one way to tell a story, too. Not everyone will like every story, and that’s fine. But reviewing, like writing, is all about heart. You can go into the reviewing process with malice in your heart, with the intent to ruin the book for everyone. Or, you can keep the spoilers to yourself and review a story honestly and objectively. Your intentions are clear to the reader of the review.

Just trust me on this one.

 

THURSDAY THREADS is back! And I’m up!


It always feels weird to post my own stuff, but this week, Thursday Threads is all about me. Here’s a peek at my latest, Highland Deception.

Title: Highland Deception
Heat Rating: Sensual
Genre: Historical Romance
Buy Links:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J3D2JS6/

Blurb:

When Kenneth Mackay, long-banished rogue and thief, returns to the Mackay holding at the request of his brother, he has no idea what he might find. He certainly doesn’t expect to be confronted with his twin’s imminent death, or with the plan his brother has concocted.

Ten years before, Malcolm made a tragic mistake, and, to preserve the family name—and his own skin—he allowed Kenneth to take the fall. Now that he is dying without an heir, Malcolm plans to atone for his mistake: by giving Kenneth his life back. All Kenneth has to do is assume his brother’s identity. But complicating matters is the unexpected return of Lady Isobel Mackay, the daughter of an English marquess and the wife Malcolm didn’t want.

Isobel barely knows the husband who abandoned her even before their marriage, and she’d long since given up hope on having a real marriage with him. Yet when she returns to the Mackay holding far earlier than expected, she finds her husband a changed man. Despite the hurt between them, Isobel’s heart responds to this man who cares for his entire clan as if there were family. Who, for the first time, cares about her as if she is, too.

Falling in love with her husband had never been part of Isobel’s plan. But when their future is suddenly in peril, Isobel must find a way to save him—from himself and from the deception threatening to tear them apart.

Excerpt

She ignored Grant’s angry protests behind her and ran for her husband’s bedchamber. Slamming open the door, she stumbled inside.

Malcolm lay in the great bed. Alone.
Alone. She tried not to speculate about what meant.

His breathing was shallow, as if he’d been running. As the door bounced back and closed, his sky-bright eyes shot up and met hers.

No, not sky-bright. Darker, the color of the forget-me-nots that bloomed in the gardens in spring. The color of the night sky as it lightened with the first rays of dawn.

“Milord.” She gasped for breath.

Malcolm had never looked at her like he did now. This time, when he studied her, it was as if he didn’t dislike what he saw.

Being honest with herself, Malcolm had never disliked her. After all, the term dislike implied a depth of feeling he almost certainly lacked.

“Wife.”

Isobel flinched.

Grant was suddenly at her back. “Sir, I apologize. She’s faster than you’d think.” He laid a hand on her shoulder, as if to steer her from the room.

She shook him off.

“Indeed.” Malcolm smiled, and a charming dent in his cheek appeared.
How had she not noticed that before?

“We will leave at once.” Grant took her by the arm.

She wrenched out of his grasp. “I’m not going anywhere. Not until I have my audience.” She glanced around the room and saw no sign of Malcolm’s mistress.

“Lady Mackay,” Grant began.

Malcolm held up his hand. “‘Tis fine, Grant. I can always make time for my lady wife.”

Isobel barked a hollow laugh, alleviating the ache, just a little.

“Are you certain?” Grant’s eyes shifted from Isobel to Malcolm and back again. A wrinkle formed between his brows, and the muscle in his cheek worked as he ground his teeth together.

He’d only ever done that when he was agitated or anxious.

But there was no reason for that, as Malcolm had never truly cared enough to keep secrets from her in an attempt to spare her feelings. Nor had he ever forced others to do the same.

Malcolm’s eyes met Grant’s, and something passed between the two men. Her husband gave Grant a clipped nod. “If you’ll excuse us, Grant.”

Grant released his breath slowly. His eyes narrowed first at Malcolm, then at Isobel. Scowling, he bowed his head. “Mackay,” he said stiffly. He turned to Isobel. “Lady Mackay.”

Isobel watched him go then waited until the door had closed behind him. “So, where is she?”

Malcolm arched a dark brow. “Where is who?”

“You know. Her.”

He lifted a single shoulder, as if she didn’t have a right to know. “I doona ken.”

The silence that fell between them was deafening, damning.

Finally he said, “Your arrival was unexpected.”

She breathed a mirthless laugh. “I have no doubt.” She expected him to look ashamed, but his expression didn’t hold even the slightest hint of remorse. She swallowed against the betrayal rising in the back of her throat and tried again. “Why are you abed?”

“I’ve been ailing. Naught to fash yourself over.”

She approached his great bed tentatively. “Ailing how? Has your cough worsened?”

He glanced down at his coverlet and then brought his gaze back to her face. “For a time, aye. I believe I’m on the mend now.”

Isobel pressed her hand to his forehead, then his cheek. His skin felt cool beneath her palm, if a little damp.
His breath hitched, then he cleared his throat. “Satisfied? As you can see, I am on the mend.”

“Perhaps,” she whispered. She ran her hand around to the back of his neck, then descended to his back.

He wore a thin linen shirt, unsuitable for the cool nights of the Highlands in late fall. She placed her hands between his shoulder blades. He was thinner than she remembered, but there was no mistaking Malcolm’s unique strength.

“Breathe,” she said, and then reminded herself to do the same.
Malcolm.

“I hardly think—”

“If you want me to leave you be, you will appease my curiosity. Breathe.”
Malcolm tilted his head up and studied her.

She fought the desire to look at him for as long as she could before meeting his gaze. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw something in his eyes she hadn’t seen before.

Curiosity.

“Breathe, milord.” Heat spread up her neck to her face, and, to keep her free hand from shaking, she clenched a fist. The warmth of his body seeped through his nightshirt, scalding her hand not with fever but with something else.

The corners of his lips tilted upward before he smoothed his features. He paused for a moment too long, then held her gaze as he took an extended, deliberate breath.

She shoved the raging emotions aside and forced herself to view him as a person who needed her help.
She felt no hint of the cough that had been nagging him before she’d left.
Swallowing hard, she slid her hand between the linen and his skin, against his chest.

His heart rate kicked up.

“Breathe.” She struggled to force the word out.

I feel nothing. Nothing. He needs my help.

She closed her eyes and listened to his breathing, feeling the rise and fall of his chest beneath her hands, the steady beating of his heart. His skin scorched hers.

Her mouth dried, her tongue thick and heavy. She removed her hand. “You seem to have mended nicely.” Even to her own ears, her voice sounded strangled.

His gaze searched her face. “Aye.”

Isobel cradled her hand against her chest and stepped back from the bed, nearly tripping over her own feet. “I will leave you now, sir.”

Malcolm gave her a clipped nod. “Very well, my lady wife.”

“I—I will be in my chambers should you require me.”

He didn’t laugh, as he normally would have. “Then I shall find you there if I do. Or I will send for you.”

She backed up a few paces, bumped into a trunk, and immediately turned her attention to her skirt, trying to smooth wrinkles undoubtedly permanent from long days of travel. It was better than looking at Malcolm.

“By your leave.” Her eyes locked on the floor as she dipped into a hasty curtsy and fled.

The moment the door closed behind her, she put her back against the cold, stone wall, cradling the hand that had touched him as if she had injured it.

She’d touched his skin, felt the heat of his body, and the responding heat of hers.

He hadn’t forced her hands away. He hadn’t mocked her.

Instead, for the first time since their marriage, he’d called her wife.

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Attack of the Vanilla Bean


She’s cute. She’s cuddly. She’s a holy terror.

Our new puppy, Vanilla Bean (Nilla), is a smart girl. She knows all her basic commands. She’s as sweet as she can possibly be.

She’s a bad puppy.

I think I had forgotten how naughty labs are when left to their own devices. And while Nilla is only 1/4 lab, it’s enough.

Generally, the dogs are out outside in the morning, but that didn’t happen this morning. So today, I heard some banging and came downstairs to find:

1) an overturned coffee table, missing it’s marble top.
2) said marble top, underneath my couch.
3) half a dozen broken plastic Easter eggs, which were taken off the counter. I also found the plastic bag that used to house them. Shredded.
4) a torn up, half-eaten Starbucks cup.
5) some coffee, staining my new-to-me suede couch (the stain removal protocol I found seems to have worked at fixing that).
6) the couch blanket, wadded up in the middle of the couch.
7) a very happy puppy.

Francis, my shepherd, never took stuff off the counter. I can leave an entire turkey up there, and, if it doesn’t hit the floor, he won’t touch it.

She helps herself.

At least she’s cute.

Here’s a picture of the baby and the old man. 🙂

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Romance Weekly: Heroes and Heartbreakers


image001 Welcome back! This week’s questions are from Kim Handysides. I’ve never met Kim in person, but every time we have an online chat, I like her more! Be sure to check her out. If you’re here, hopefully you came from Steven Mitchell’s site. His books are a rollicking good time (I do enjoy my paranormals. And my historicals. And my contemporaries. Ah, heck, I just like books).

So, here are Kim’s questions:

1.What’s your ideal: alpha or beta and why?

It depends. I like to read about alphas. I prefer my men, as characters, to be strong and capable and in charge. Not because I want them to control the women in their lives, and not because I want the hero to constantly save the heroine. I just prefer strong characters.

In real life, I dated (for the relatively short time I actually dated) betas: calm, gentle boys who said the right thing and were just overall really likable. I also liked to be in control–it’s a failing, I know. Alphas terrified me, especially those in very alpha-like professions. Cops, for example. Every time I got near a police officer, I’d get so nervous, I’d do something dumb. My “I do dumb things in front of cops” thing was like a disease, which is probably why, when I was young, I was so terrified of the law that I wouldn’t even speed. I drove like an 80-year-old woman. But it was because I learned early on that, if anyone in my group was going to get caught doing something wrong, it was going to be me. And I’m so stinking honest that I confessed to everything. EVERYTHING.

I still haven’t figured out when to shut up.

So, what did I do? I married a cop. Most decidedly an alpha. In my defense, he was a computer programmer when I met him. Safely geeky. Then I went to Europe, and when I came home, he’d morphed into some sort of gun-toting cowboy. And despite my terror of all things law enforcement, I married him anyway.

2. Do you have a male buddy or mate you use for confirmation or inspiration when crafting your heroes?

I usually run them by the husband. Especially if I’m working in a genre that’s interesting to him (he had a huge hand in the fight scenes in Jessie’s War, and I ran Luke’s character past him. A lot. And I have to say, I freaking loved Luke. He’s got an awful lot of my husband in him).

3. What does any hero have to do to win your heart?

I’m pretty lenient with heroes. I fall in love with my book boyfriends pretty easily. I can forgive a man for being an a**hole in a book (and, really, in real life, too), but I have a hard time forgiving them if they’re mean to the heroine. I have to believe, on some level, that the hero in them will win out, that no matter what face they present to the world, they’re good guys underneath all that.

So, sometimes it’s the little things. She’ll catch him looking when he thinks she’s not watching. It will be in the way he looks at her, and in how he treats her. I don’t always fall for what a man says; I look at the actions of the character. Though, honestly, I have to not hate him in order to give him that chance. If I hate him too early on–if he’s too nasty, or I can’t buy into the book–I’ll put it away and not give him the chance to prove himself.

Well, I suppose that’s it for me! Why not head over to Rhenna Morgan and see what she’s up to!

Thursday Threads Welcomes Linda Pennell


Hi everyone, help me welcome Linda Pennell back to The Bodice!

Thursday Thread
Title: Confederado do Norte by Linda Bennett Pennell
Genre: Women’s Historical Fiction due for Release July, 2014

Other Books:

Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel now available from Soul Mate Publishing

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLindaBennettPennell

Website: http://www.lindapennell.com/

Twitter: @LindaPennell

Back Cover Description for Confederado do Norte:

October, 1866.
Mary Catherine is devastated when her family immigrates from Georgia to Brazil because her father and maternal uncle refuse to accept the terms of Reconstruction following the Confederacy’s defeat. Shortly after arrival in their new country, she is orphaned, leaving her in Uncle Nathan’s care. He hates Mary Catherine, blaming her for his sister’s death. She despises him because she believes Nathan murdered her father. When Mary Catherine discovers Nathan’s plan to be rid of her as well, she flees into the wilderness filled with jaguars and equally dangerous men. Finding refuge among kind peasants, she grows into a beauty, ultimately marrying the scion of a wealthy Portuguese family. Happiness and security seem assured until civil unrest brings armed marauders who have an inexplicable connection to Mary Catherine. Recreating herself has protected Mary Catherine in the past, but the latest crisis will demand all of the courage, intelligence, and creativity she posseses simply to survive.

Excerpt from Confederado do Norte

Chapter 1

I dreamt the dream again last night. In the small hours, I awoke in a tumble of bedclothes and bathed in perspiration despite the howling snowstorm blanketing the city. I rearranged quilts and plumped pillows, but sleep remained elusive. My mind refused to be quiet.

As often happens after such a night, I felt unable to rise at my usual hour and remained abed long after the maids cleared breakfast from the morning room. My daughter-in-law, bless her heart, meant well. I told her it was ridiculous to bring the doctor out on such a frigid day, but apparently the very old, like the very young, are not to be trusted in matters of judgment. After the doctor listened to my chest, a studied sympathy filled his eyes and he gently suggested that perhaps I should get my affairs in order. No doubt he wondered at my smile for he couldn’t have known I have no affairs other than my memories and the emotions they engender.

Unlike most elderly persons, I don’t revel in slogging through the past. It isn’t wrapped in pretty ribbons or surrounded by a golden aura. Instead, its voices haunt my dreams, demanding and accusatory. Until recently, I’ve resisted their intrusion into my waking life, but I now believe the past can no longer remain buried in nocturnal visions. It must be brought out into the light of day. From its earliest moments onward, the past’s substance must be gouged out, pulled apart, and examined bit by bit until its truth is exposed. While total objectivity may not be possible, I have concluded that committing the past to paper is my best hope for sorting facts from imaginings. Perhaps then I will achieve the peace that has so long hidden its face from me.
You see, when I was quite young—only a girl really—I killed four people. Two were dearly beloved, one was a hated enemy, and the last was a dangerous criminal.

Chapter 2

My story begins at the end of a terrible war, one that destroyed many lives and much property. But for that war and a handful of newspaper editorials and advertisements, my life would have turned out quite differently. Sometimes it seems no time at all has passed since I was a nine-year-old child standing on the deck of a ship watching home disappear over the horizon.

Warm Gulf breezes tugged at the brim of my bonnet, setting its ribbons dancing. Leaning over the Alyssa Jane’s railing, I stared back in the direction of Mobile Bay and pretended I could see the dock where my beloved Bess stood, probably still waving. Mama, her pretty features marred by a furrowed brow and down turned mouth, paced beside me.

“Mary Catherine MacDonald! Get down before you fall overboard. All we need right now is another crisis. And stop wiping your nose on your sleeve.”

Mama didn’t seem to understand anything anymore. Before we left home, she was calm and kind. Afterward, she snapped at the least little thing. I threw her a hateful glance, but she had already turned away, so I stubbornly leaned a little farther out over the railing. The wake trailing behind the Alyssa Jane looked like a blue-green path lined on either side by mounds of ginned cotton, a path pushing me away from the only life I had ever known. Only my sniveling broke the silence of that October morning.

A swish of crinolines brought Mama beside me. She grabbed my arm and whispered through clenched teeth, “Mary C., I told you to get off that railing. Go below and stay there until you can do as you’re told!”

I stomped across the deck, pausing once beside the mainmast to scowl over my shoulder. It was all so unfair. I hadn’t asked to be dragged along on this blasted trip. I wanted Bess. I wanted to go home, no matter how damaged it was, no matter who ran the stupid government. I wanted to be anywhere but here. But Mama turned away from me. She wasn’t even going to watch to see that I did what she said. Her indifference was like a slap in the face.

As I jumped through the open hatch leading below deck, the pungent odor of pine tar mixed with burning kerosene assailed my senses. I hated the smell. Besides making me slightly queasy, it reminded me of how final my losses were. Nothing at home smelled like the interior of that old tub. I hit the steps at a near run with plans to fling myself into my hammock and stay there forever. It would serve them right if I just upped and died. I bowled along toward the sleeping area blinded by tears and the sudden gloom of the narrow passageway.

Without warning, I crashed headlong into a pair of wool-encased legs. The trousers’ owner and I struggled momentarily in an awkward dance. With a standoff in the making, he harrumphed once, picked me up by my arms, deposited me on the other side of him, and stepped toward the hatch.

Tears forgotten, I tugged on his retreating coattails, ready to let him see my displeasure. Hooded eyes with ink black irises stared down in return. He didn’t look particularly angry, but authority hung about him like a mantle.

I swallowed, choked back what I intended to say, and instead muttered, “I’m sorry for running into you.”

He gazed at me for a moment and then simply nodded before turning away. The Reverend Jonas Williams might be a man of God, but his unsmiling countenance raised the hair at the nape of my neck as though someone stepped on my grave. Mama often fussed that Bess planted too many of her superstitions in my fertile imagination. I was now old enough to understand that some of what Mama said was true. But the Reverend Brother Williams still affected me like a haint. A slight shudder slithered down my spine, as though my body was trying to rid itself of his effect. I turned and fled down the hallway toward our sleeping quarters. Many months later, I would come to see this encounter as an omen, a foreshadowing of all that came afterward.

We passengers, immigrants one and all fleeing the defeated South, slept in a large open area that most likely was used as a cargo hold in the Alyssa Jane’s younger, more prosperous days. Most of the canvas partitions separating the fifteen or so families from one another had been drawn back in hope of allowing fresh sea breezes from the few portholes to circulate. Unfortunately, the plan wasn’t meeting with much success for the air remained stale and fetid with the odors of sweat and bodily functions.

I slumped on the edge of my hammock and kicked at the floorboards, allowing tears to drip from my chin unabated. Life wasn’t at all how it was supposed to be. It hadn’t been since the day Papa rode away to war. He looked so handsome in his gray captain’s uniform. He sat on his favorite stallion at the head of his unit and rode toward a conflict that everybody said would be over by Christmas. Everybody had been terribly wrong.

My ruminations, while sad and haunted, didn’t last long, for my mind turned to more immediate indignities and irritations. I hated staying below deck. I hated the stench. I hated the isolation. I hated the boredom. When I figured enough time had elapsed that it was safe to go above again, I bolted back into the fresh air. Mama now leaned on the stern railing, her gaze fixed on the faint line where the sky’s lighter blue met the Gulf of Mexico’s deep azure. She sniffed once as I approached and turned unusually bright eyes on me.

“Are you feeling better, child?”

When I nodded, she gripped the railing and resumed her observation of the horizon slipping away behind the Alyssa Jane. I eyed her for a moment, before sidling up beside her.

“Mama, why couldn’t Bess come with us?”

Her arm slipped around my shoulders and gave a little squeeze. “Why, darlin’, you’ve been told at least a thousand times. Bess has got to stay in Georgia.”

I jerked away from Mama’s grasp. “That’s not fair! She’s part of our family.”

A pained expression filled her eyes and her lips parted, but no words escaped. Her head lifted slightly and her gaze locked onto the space behind me.

“Mary Catherine MacDonald, you will not raise your voice to your mother.” Mama drew a quick breath as Papa strode to her and took her hand. His attention then returned to me. “No slave has ever been part of our family. It’s unthinkable! Furthermore, Brazil doesn’t allow slaves to be imported anymore. ” The more he spoke, the harder his voice sounded and the more clouded his face became. He concluded with sharper words than I had ever heard him use before. “So stop whining about that nigger mammy of yours and learn to live without her.”

Surprise made me momentarily mute, but my heart pounded and the sun was suddenly much hotter on my upturned face. I drew a couple of rapid breaths so hard that my cheeks puffed in and out. “Bess is too part of our family. I love her and she loves me. You love her too, don’t you Mama?”

A rosy flush crept over Mama’s face and her gaze darted around at the other people on deck. I ignored the warning in her eyes. “Bess took care of me all my life. That makes her part of our family.” Heady with righteous indignation, my eyes narrowed and I delivered my coup de grace. Jabbing an index finger in Papa’s direction, I yelled, “And besides, Bess isn’t a slave anymore and you damn well know it.”
My words rang across a suddenly silent deck. People turned from their own conversations, shook their heads and stared at us. The only sound I could hear was the blood thumping against my eardrums.

Papa’s face blanched. He stooped down until his eyes were level with mine and gripped my upper arms, nearly lifting me from the deck. My head snapped back and forth while he hissed, “You will not speak to anyone, most especially your mother or me, in that manner. Do you understand?” My hands went numb as his grasp tightened. “Now, stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Only when he stopped speaking did I notice tears streamed down my cheeks.

As we swayed in silence on the Alyssa Jane’s deck, Papa’s grip slackened and the fire in his eyes burned less brightly. “Besides, your aunts need Bess to cook and clean their house in town. At least that’s one thing that escaped Sherman’s destruction.”
Papa got a far off look in his eyes. His hands released me and dropped to his side as he straightened to his full height.

I knew better than to speak again. Spying a cargo box lashed to a railing on the main deck, I slunk down the steps and made my way to it. I wanted to stay up top rather than breathe the stale air below decks, but I also couldn’t bear being near my parents at that moment.

Papa’s present personality still caught me off guard. Before the war, he rarely raised his voice or hand to me. In truth, I was rather spoiled and cossetted. I begged for pretty dresses and china faced dolls by the dozens. Sometimes, I actually got them too. Now, we were on a ship bound for a place where they didn’t even speak English just because some stupid newspaper advertisements promised defeated Southerners free land. All I wanted was to go home, to have life the way it used to be.

Home. The way it used to be before Papa and Nathan decided they would not endure Yankees and carpetbaggers, our former enemies, being in charge of everything.
I was only five when the War Between the States began. Our old way of life now seemed like a gauzy dream—pleasant upon waking, but dissipating when you reached out to grasp it. Afraid of losing the last tenuous hold on that dream, I invented a little ritual, hoping it would glue fading images to the pages of my memory. Now that Papa and my mother’s only surviving brother were dragging us away from Georgia never to return, the ritual’s importance had taken on the stature of an obsession. I closed my eyes and once again conjured up my earliest memories.

In my mind’s eye, I looked down on the Oconee River from the deep porch of an unpainted dogtrot farmhouse. Cotton fields that came right up to the house stretched out as far as I could see in every direction on our side of the river. The house and the farm wouldn’t have been terribly grand by most people’s lights, but it was home and, therefore, my whole world. The clapboard house and outbuildings existed only in shadowy visions after the war. While I retained only a few hazy memories of the farm, one stands out clearly. It is of Mama’s favorite rose bush to which I did some considerable damage one spring by picking off all the buds before they even broke color and for which I received the first spanking of my life.
A few other people lived on the farm in tiny houses out back of the barn. They were the colored slaves, most of whom worked in the fields, but of their faces, it was only Bess’s that mattered to me. My Bess, who lived in the house, and who took care of me, and whom I loved as much as I did my mother.

My clearest memories of my parents before the war were that Papa spent his days with the field hands and that Mama loved music. Beautiful music filled the house when she played her pianoforte. Sometimes when Bess brought me into the parlor to say goodnight, Papa would be sitting beside Mama, kissing her neck as she played and she would be smiling at him in the special way she reserved only for him. I think they must have been very happy. They laughed a lot back then. Then, the war came. Nobody and nothing was ever the same again.

Papa had come back from the war haunted by what he had seen and the losses he had endured. For a time, we thought he had permanently lost his mind. These days, it didn’t take much to rile him. Mama said not to mind, that he just had so many worries it made him harder to live with than before. Even so, I still couldn’t understand why he spoke so cruelly about Bess of whom he’d always been so fond. My papa’s sunny nature was the most important thing destroyed by the war.

As the days under sail passed into weeks and America became nothing but a memory, Papa’s disposition evolved. To everyone’s relief he seemed more like his old prewar self. The farther we traveled, the more his mood lifted so by the time we docked in Jamaica to take on supplies, his good days outnumbered the bad. I even saw him and Mama kissing under the stars one night when they thought no one else was on deck.

The Alyssa Jane was an old clipper fallen on hard times, reduced to ferrying passengers and commodities along the trade routes extending from ports in the southern United States to destinations in the other Americas. Its confined space provided limited opportunities for me to get into trouble, so I was allowed unaccustomed freedom. The morning we sailed toward Kingston Harbor, I hung over the portside railing from the moment the city’s outline came into view.

Footsteps running up behind caused me to turn and I lost my balance. Papa grabbed a handful of my skirts. “Mary Catherine, you’re going to topple into the water if you keep this up. Get off that railing and put your feet squarely on the deck or you can go below and stay there.”

Instant compliance and a sweet smile seemed to go a long way these days, so I did as I was told. I didn’t want this new/old version of my papa to disappear again.

We passed through Kingston Harbor’s narrow mouth with sails snapping, pushed along by Caribbean breezes. In the distance, I could make out the familiar marks of human habitation trailing along the waterfront, but nothing in my experience had prepared me for Jamaica. Low emerald mountains surrounded an oval bowl of aquamarine water that rolled gently forward to kiss sand the color of cotton just breaking from the bole. Within minutes of entering the harbor, the city’s buildings became distinct and grew in size. A little thrill swept through me as the old clipper bumped against the dock and the sights and smells of Kingston spread out before us like a feast awaiting revelers.

“Papa, please, why cain’t I go with y’all?”

His mouth became a thin line. “Because Kingston isn’t particularly safe.” Then he placed his arm around my shoulders and pointed to the opposite side of the harbor. “Did you know that a wicked pirate city used to be right over there? An earthquake destroyed Port Royal. The whole city simply fell into the sea.” Papa grinned and his eyes grew big. “Why, I’ve heard you can see pirate ghosts rising from the water when the moonlight is just right.”

This was my old Papa, the one I hadn’t seen since war was declared. I slipped my arms around his waist. “Oh, Papa, you’re just so silly sometimes. Everybody knows there’s no such thing as ghosts.”

Papa smiled and picked me up, swinging me around like he used to when I was little. When he placed me on the deck again, I pressed my advantage.

“Please cain’t I go? Please?”

“You’re cutting me in half.” Papa pulled my arms away from his middle and smiled. “If it means that much to you, I guess it won’t hurt for you to go into town. But you absolutely must stay by your mama’s side. When she says it’s time to return to the boat, there will be no arguments. Understand?”

As I stretched up to plant a kiss on his cheek, angry shouts and the percussive report of a
pistol rang across the harbor.

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Romance Weekly: Why Romance?


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Welcome back to Romance Weekly. I accidentally took the week off last week–time sort of got away from me. It does that. If you’re here, hopefully you came from Kim Handysides.

Let’s get started!

  1. Have you always written Romance?

Yup. I’m dabbling outside my comfort zone of romance, but romance is what I love to write, and I don’t see myself writing anything else for long. And, even if it’s not strictly romance, everything I write has strong romantic elements.

2. How do you deal with critiques about the romance genre?

I’ll admit, it used to bother me. It used to sting when my family–not  the hub, who has always been outrageously supportive–would ask, “When are you going to write something good?” Or, the other question, “When will you write something people will actually read?” Or, even better, “I will never read anything you write. Romance is trash.”

Of all the published books in the whole entire world, the romance genre holds the largest market share. More romance books are read than any other genre. Romance readers can be voracious, reading hundreds of books per year. Any author thanks their lucky stars for readers like that.

But, I don’t say any of that. I merely smile and nod. That’s all you can do with the people who don’t like romance. Just as no one is going to make me want to read a cozy mystery, I’m not going to change anyone’s mind. The people who want to denigrate romance as a genre, who think it’s unimportant, who don’t think it’s any good, well… they’re not reading it.

I have read romance novels that have made me laugh out loud, and I’ve read others that have made me cry. And just because it’s not packaged as literary fiction doesn’t mean it’s not well-written or that it’s not important. Genres are merely a device created by people who needed to know how to shelve books. In reality, there is only nonfiction and fiction–genres exist to make a book seller’s life easier. Marketers and publicists and publishers have made literary fiction somehow more important than other genres, as if the only beauty in the whole world is encapsulated within the pages of either the classics or literary fiction (and, truth be told, some of it is beautiful and thought-provoking).

But, just as some of the romance books I’ve read are drivel, I’ve read some pretty crummy literary fiction, too. And just as some literary fiction is beautiful, there is lyricism in romance, too, and beauty in the prose.

Not only that, but there is something inexplicably compelling about a romance, about the love two people have for one another. When I need to escape from my real life, I open a romance novel. In the world of romance, I get the happy ending so many people never get. I’ll get insurmountable odds that somehow, miraculously, a couple can overcome. And maybe it gives me hope that tomorrow can be better, and the mountain I have to climb seems just a little bit smaller.

Romance novels are about hope.

So, when I hear about someone criticizing someone else for reading romance  novels, I think about how small, how sad they must be. We hear so much about how everything moves so fast, how everyone stares at their smart phones and doesn’t connect. But romance is all about finding that human connection.  It seems, on it’s most basic level, that anyone who would criticize someone else for wanting to read about hope, about romantic love, is disconnected. And that’s just sad to me.

I get not everyone wants to read a romance novel. I’m cool with that. A lot of my friends read only nonfiction, and I’m cool with that, too. But just because I like romance novels doesn’t mean I’m not intelligent enough to enjoy other genres, too. I do. I just prefer the hope I get from a romance novel, I prefer to think about the connections we make to one another.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t care what other people read. And, in a kinder, gentler world, no one would care what I read, either. In that world, all fiction is equally important.

3. What’s the one thing about our genre you’d like people to know?

As I said above, I think romance is important. I don’t think reading a romance novel gives women unrealistic expectations for our own lives. I don’t expect my husband to constantly declare his undying love for me–I suspect that would get old after awhile, and I’m just enough of a cynic to think he was lying to me if he did it too often. Or, really, ever.

That conversation would go something like this:

Him: “You are my sun and my moon. I love everything about you. I think you are perfect. We are one, you and I.”

Me: “You’ve said something like that three times today. Are you having a stroke?”

Him: “No. You move me. Without you, I am a mere shell of a man, incomplete and desolate.”

Me: “Did you just find out you’re dying?”

Him: “Of course not. The very thought of shaking off this mortal coil without you by my side makes me want to weep with despair. Our love is strong enough that we can transcend anything.”

Me: “OH MY GOD WHO DID YOU SLEEP WITH?”

So, it’s probably a good thing that he doesn’t do that.

In any case, however, reading romance isn’t about reading about sex (though I will admit that I enjoy that, too), it’s about that connection between two people. Because even though my husband doesn’t tell me that I am his sun and his moon, I suspect, somewhere in his  heart, I probably am.

Every time I read a romance novel, I feel that little spark of hope, and I remember that connection I have with him. It’s not about bodice rippers or naked men (again, I like those, too); it’s about that connection that, as humans, most of us are hardwired to seek out. We crave it. We want it. And, in the end, that need for a connection with other human beings is so strong, so ingrained in our DNA, that we are broken without it.

And if that’s not important, then I don’t know what is.

I’ve talked your ear off enough for one day. Why not check out Katherine Givens? See what she has to say…