December Holidays

I believe in life-long learning. As an educator, I believe in the power of knowledge to help us make good decisions. Hence this post….Apologies if this is stuff you already know.:)

As a kid, I had a friend who was Jewish, so from an early time I was aware of the differences and the similarities between Jews and Christians. One of my older daughter’s best friends when she was growing up was Jewish. As an adult, I have many Jewish friends.th4XL733K8

Those Jewish friends are just finishing their celebration of Hanukkah, which this year ran Sunday, December 6 through Monday, December 14.

Hannukkah From Wikipedia we read:

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem….Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.

Muslims celebrate Mawlid around this time of year, though their calendar is a lunar one and changes more than the Gregorian calendar.

From my friend Wikipedia:

Mawlid (Arabic: مَولِد النَّبِي‎ mawlidu n-nabiyyi, “Birth of the Prophet”, …. is the observance of the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad which is celebrated in 2015 on December 23 by the Sunis and December 28 by the Shias.

I’m sorry. I couldn’t find a good symbol for Islam. Perhaps one of our readers could share that.

As a principal in a public school, I became aware of Kwanza. Again from Wikipedia, we read:

Kwanzaa (/ˈkwɑːnzə/) is a week-long celebration held in the United States and in other nations of the Western African diaspora in the Americas. The celebration honors African heritage in African-American culture, and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving.[1] Kwanzaa has seven core principles (Nguzo Saba). It was created by Maulana Karenga, and was first celebrated in 1966–67

http://officialkwanzaawebsite.org/symbols.shtml

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Picture is from Maulana Karenga
Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture

2008, Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press
(www.sankorepress.com)

Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 ending the season of Advent. All across the world, people celebrate Christmas and Santa Clause and all that goes with the season. (In fact, the celebration of Santa Clause begins before we celebrate Halloween, but that’s a subject for another blog post. :)) IMG_2548

I find it remarkable that all these groups, separate though they may be, have major celebrations around the same time of year. In a recent series of Sunday school classes, we looked at the similarities and differences between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Frankly, my mouth fell open more times than I could count because of all the similarities. Why have we been killing each other for centuries?

Take a moment a look at the principals of Kwanza. Who could really argue with the Self-determination, Faith, or Collective Work and Responsibility to name a few?

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this and what was I thinking to jump into religion as a topic for the SOS blog. I always try to write about something that is timely. What is more timely in December, especially this December.

As a principal, I strove to be inclusive, to not do or say anything that made others feel uncomfortable. Our country was founded on belief in religious freedom. That means to me that everyone is free to worship (or not) how they’d like without others putting them down or worse threatening them or forcing their beliefs on others. In my schools, we had Christmas trees, but also  Menorahs. We hung Kwanza posters around and were careful about serving alternatives to pork in the cafeteria for our Jewish and Muslim students.

Lots of folks struggle with this period when all purports to be so joyful, but yet we have people starving, thousands of refugees, worldwide terrorist tragedies, and in the US, almost monthly domestic gun violence events. How much worse is it going to get before it gets better?

IMG_1191 My husband gave me a small plaque that says: “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not the end.” This gives me great comfort.

My prayer for our world is that more of us would act out of a sense of love for those sharing this planet with us, rather than fear. That we’d respect each other and allow for those differences that really make us all stronger and richer.

What people of different faiths or nationalities do you know? How do you deal with the inconsistencies that seem more graphic at this time of year than others? Was this maybe too deep for this blog? Maybe I should’ve just said, “Happy holidays, y’all.” Love to hear your thoughts.

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Sneak a Peek Under The Author Cape

Readers seem to want to know more about the person inside the author. So I asked my fellow authors about Gratitude. Do you keep a jar? Do you keep a journal? Could you share just one day’s entry with us?

 

Kathryn Jane

I make a gratitude post on Facebook every evening. Here’s one from last week.

Gratitude – for the ocean being a part of my life every day,006 for a new home to keep us warm, dry and healthy, for family, and for Bear purring in my lap as I write this post.


 

Jacquie Biggar

I’m grateful for the gift of living close enough to my grandson Aiden's 2nd place medal for hockey 2016 to pick him up from school and learn about his day as we head to hockey practice. I’m grateful that technology has given him the opportunity to thrive with type 1 Diabetes, and I’m grateful that we live close enough to be an integral part of his life.

 

 


 

Sam Bradley w/a McKenna Sinclair

Gratitude for the opportunity to be closer to family and have a place to spread my wings in beautiful Colorado.SOS blog photo - Sam - Gratitude

Gratitude for moving from an overabundant work schedule to time for reading, crafts and, most importantly, writing.

Gratitude for getting back to the parts of me I haven’t experienced for a long time.


 

Jo-Ann Carson

Gratitude. . .  for the taste of snowflakes falling softly on my tongue in the pre-dawn light, for the sound of wintering ducks swimming in the river and the heronSoS - Blog - group - Gratitude - Jo-Ann heron who stands as a sentinel in my little patch of wilderness (written on a cold January morning)

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Melissa Keir

I don’t do a gratitude journal but instead one good friend (my best friend from high school) and I send each other texts each day saying what we are grateful for. This started as we both deal with depression and some life changes. She’s had some major medical problems stemming from a broken neck years ago and while I don’t have the medical issues, I have life changes. Over the last fifteen years, I lost my grandparents, and mom from various illnesses, changed careers more than once and recovered from a divorce. We’ve found that by focusing on the positive in our lives we see that there are more positives.
M: I am grateful for rain rather than snow.Melissa Keir - author pic
K: I am grateful for being able to give.
M: I am grateful for the family recipes that take me back to spending time with my family. Those wonderful years.
K: I am grateful for being able to help my parents, even though it’s not enough for what they have given me.
M: I am grateful for finding new classrooms that I love to teach in.
K: I am grateful for my friends again.
M: I am grateful for not still being married to G*. I think I would have been so much more miserable. Each time I have to interact with him, it grates on my nerves.
K: Of all things, I am most grateful for this time with my mother.
As you can see, we support each other and sometimes a text can lead to a conversation or phone call. I love being on this journey with her because she’s always known the drive to write and been one of the first people, I read my stories to.

 

Joanne Guidoccio

For over ten years, I have kept a nightly journal where I express gratitude for joyful moments and the many blessings in my life. I aim for five entries and often end up with more.Joanne Guidoccio 001

Here’s what I was grateful for on Wednesday, January 6, 2016:

1. Treating myself to a seven-cheese ravioli entrée while dining out with a good friend.

2. Reaching the 30K word mark in my WIP.

3. Having a mechanic at Toyota reassure me that the sudden appearance of the engine light on my 13-year Corolla was just a fluke.

4. Receiving several emails congratulating me on making the short list in the Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction Contest.

5. An excellent response to today’s post on my blog.

6. Picking up a copy of Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter.

 


Sarah Andre

SoS blog photo - Sarah Andre - GratitudeI’m grateful for my little hooligans, Taz (l) and Bo (r) –my life is so much more full because of their cuddles, kisses, and mischievous ways.

 


Jacqui Nelson

?I’m grateful for family and friends, those who live nearby (close enough to visit) and those who live farther away (far enough to also be grateful for today’s technology that helps us stay connected); for no one ever telling me (in regards to careers or hobbies) “you can’t do that”; for every day getting the chance to embrace my New Year’s resolution to be more positive; for finally finding the perfect gratitude/happiness jar (in an hourglass shape) for recording my journey.

 


Vicki Batman

Gratitude Journal entries from the beginning of 2016…

Vicki Batman - author pink sweater 4x300Gratitude –  Thankful for a new year.

Gratitude – Grateful I won’t have to see that movie again.

Gratitude – Happy to see my church friends today.

Gratitude – Enjoying being back in the swing of writing by starting book 3.

Gratitude – Strength in my husband.

Gratitude – Happy to be blogging about a Christmas project I made.

 


 

Sharon Wray

Every morning, while I make breakfast for my kids, I am grateful. sos blog photo - Sharon Wray - GratitudeGrateful because I prayed for 13 years to have children and when I got pregnant, I found out I was having twins. I’m grateful for the past 16 years of laughter and tears and hugs. I’m grateful for my beautiful family. No matter what else I accomplish in my life, nothing will bring the joy they brought with them when they came into my life.

 


Veronica Forand

Gratitude for the wisdom and confidence I’ve gained over the years.Sos blog photo - Veronica - Gratitude I’m finally brave enough to live my dream and in doing so, I’ve met the most wonderful friends and have never felt more at peace with who I am. Part of me wishes that I’d had the guts to set forth in this direction a long, long time ago, but I hadn’t been ready. I have more patience now for the long road ahead of me and I’m able to withstand the critics and the naysayers. And my life experiences both the good and the bad fill my head with the rainbow of emotion felt by my characters.


Diana Belchase

I’m grateful for the rain that makes my grass so green, even in January.

I’m grateful for the sliver of the moon that appears in the round window at the bottom of my stairs.

I’m grateful for the sunset that streaks bright swaths of salmon and violet behind the old maple in my neighbors’ yard.

I’m grateful for deadlines that force me to work and bring back creative juices.Sos blog - diana - gratitude

I’m grateful for those who praise my work and for awards that give me the confidence to keep writing.

I’m grateful for criticism from critique partners and judges — they make me strive to be a better writer.

I’m grateful for a new year and a new start where I can put the past behind me and look forward to a bright new future.

I’m grateful for all my mistakes because they’ve brought me to where I am now, made me who I am today, and I like the path I’m on because of them.

Most of all I’m grateful for my husband who makes every day a pleasure and is my partner in this life’s journey. Babe I don’t know what I do without you.

 

 


 Marsha R. West
sos blog photo - marsha - gratitudeGratitude for Family members (including Charley, The Dog) who love me, for work that fulfills,
for writer friends who support me,
for beautiful lake house views, soothing and inspiring my soul.

S.A.Taylor
Gratitude for each time I step in the classroom and the opportunity I have to make a small impact on my students’ lives;S.A. Taylor for chocolate, music, wine, and laughter that smooth out even the most challenging days; for my wonderful writing friends who inspire me every day and push me to be a better writer; and lastly for my family who laugh at my bad jokes, don’t think I’m crazy when I talk to them about the characters in my head, and most importantly, provide their continuous love and support during each new adventure.

Jeannie Hall

I am grateful for having patience as I search for a new writing-friendly day job.

I am grateful – so very grateful – for RWA, KOD, and SOS for helping me learn enough about writing to become a published author.

I am grateful that my father is beginning his physical therapy at home as he starts to heal from his recent stroke.

I am grateful for the unconditional love I receive every day from my family, friends, and pets.😊
SOS blog photo - Jeannie- Gratitude
I am grateful for the beauty of the universe and that it is visible to me, even though I spend 60-80 hours at my day job.

Life is good.





What about you?
We’d love it if you’d share some of your gratitude with us!

Momentous Occasions

Celebration

Those can be anniversaries, birthdays, getting a new job, losing a job, getting engaged, getting married, having a baby, losing a pet. They rip your heart in two or make you feel like you’re on the top of a mountain. Last week I was fortunate to have two momentous occasions, both wonderful. I shared a very special BD with my cousin and on the same day celebrated the release of my 4th book, ACT OF TRUST, Book 2, The Second Chances Series. This book about a Texan is set in my favorite state, Maine.

Act of Trust 500x750

Here’s the blurb:

A widow since 9/11 and a mother of grown daughter, Kate Thompson wants to keep her and her daughter safe, but the inheritance of land in Maine pushes her out of her comfort zone in Texas and into the arms of a Maine lawyer.

Maine lawyer and environmentalist, Jim Donovan wants to protect Aunt Liddy’s land and keep it from falling into the hands of the developers, but first he has to convince Kate Thompson she should hold on to the family land when she doesn’t even want to go look at it. However, he’s unprepared for the attraction each feels for the other, but denies exists.

Will they be able to settle the land deal before anyone else is killed or they break each other’s hearts?

This story is personal to me, since my younger daughter and her husband moved to NYC the Sunday before 9/11. A portion of the sale of each book will go to the 9/11 Memorial Museum and Gardens.

photo(73)

You’d like an excerpt, you say? How about this one?

Sunday, August 18

“Who do you know in Maine?” Kate Thompson’s friend Devon Moore fanned the two legal size envelopes she held in her hands. They made a snapping sound, punctuating the quiet of the evening.

Kate glanced at her friend, who’d driven to Fort Worth from her home in Dallas, but she didn’t respond.

“You haven’t opened either one, Kate. The return label reads, James Donovan, Esq., Griffin Harbor, Maine. You keeping secrets, my friend?”

“Oh, foot. I’ve been busy with house showings and just forgot. I got one last week and then the other letter arrived today.” She nibbled at a cuticle on her thumb.

“You realize the Esq. means he’s a lawyer, right?” Devon said.

“You’re going to make me open them, right?”

“Of course.” Devon flipped the envelopes against her thigh.

Kate’s puff of frustration sounded louder than she’d intended. Dealing with a lawyer in a real estate transaction was one thing, but otherwise she’d prefer to keep her distance from lawyers. Red bloomed on her thumb where she’d picked at the cuticle on her left hand again. She grabbed a tissue to stop the bleeding.

She’d had enough of lawyers when settling her husband’s affairs. Time to change the subject. “Where do you want to go for dinner?”

“Anything’s fine with me. You or Addie pick. You know the places here in Fort Worth better than I do. Too bad Kim couldn’t get away from Wichita Falls for a quick visit.”

“She had a family obligation.” Kate couldn’t stop the grin from forming. “You know I’ll pick Italian if it’s up to me.”

Devon handed over an envelope. “Open. You’ll have to stop picking then.” Despite all the products from her make-up company Devon had given her over the years, Kate still picked at her cuticles.

“Okay, okay,” she lowered the drop leaf on the hall desk and lifted out an old letter opener handed down from her grandfather. She slid the long silver blade across the edge of the envelope, the ripping sound grating on her ears. Then she pulled out the one page missive and scanned the words.

“Oh, my goodness.”

“What’s the matter?”

“John’s Aunt Liddy died.”

#####

photo(11) Fall in Maine.

Here are the Buy Links.

Amazon http://amzn.to/1Qn9v7J

Amazon print http://amzn.to/1KrBwEK

KOBO   http://bit.ly/1SxFweL

Apple iTunes http://apple.co/1QoeJjA

B & N http://bit.ly/1PO4pgb

What are the names of some series you read/have read? What is it you like about a series over an entirely stand-alone book? A random commenter will be eligible to win an e-copy of this book. I’ll announce the winner on Thursday on my website and on FB.:)

You can contact me at marsha@marsharwest.com or through my web site http://www.marsharwest.com or at https://sistersofsuspense.com/

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http://www.marsharwest.com/category/blog/ for Thoughts on Thursday https://www.facebook.com/#!/marsha.r.west @marsha.r.west

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I’d love to hear from you.

 

Is your workspace creating a health hazard?

shutterstock_244605118

I am sure this won’t come as a big surprise to anyone when I say – we sit a lot these days. But did you know the length of time we spend at our workspaces, and how we sit there, can actually create several health hazards?

In an article from The Washington Post, four experts outlined what really happens to our bodies when we sit for eight hours a day. They mentioned a variety of problems including heart disease, an overactive pancreas which can lead to diabetes, soft bones, poor circulation, muscle degeneration, and a host of orthopedic problems like neck and back strain to name a few.

Sitting-2

 

So what’s the solution?

Here’s a 5-tip checklist with several quick and easy solutions to create a “healthier” workspace.


TIP #1: OVERALL SET-UP

  • Is your computer monitor or laptop screen at eye level? Close enough you don’t have to lean forward or squint to see what’s on the screen?
  • Can your elbows rest on the arms of a chair or are your forearms supported on a flat surface?
  • Is your keyboard on a pull-out tray? If not, is it placed at an angle that keeps the elbows bent at 90 degrees and the wrists slightly flexed?
  • Is your computer mouse located close to your keyboard?
  • Do your feet touch the floor while sitting in the desk chair?

Solution: Here’s a short video with great tips on how to set-up an ergonomic deskspace.


TIP #2: POSTURE

  • Are your shoulders rounded or head leaning forward to look down at an electronic device or a computer screen?
  • Is your lower back pressed firmly against the chair?

Solution: It is important to maintain the natural curves of your spine. Leaning forward with slumped shoulders can lead to headaches and neck problems. Try sitting on a physioball, switching to a standing desk, or adding a rolled towel to maintain the natural curve at your lower back while seated in a chair.

Take frequent stretch breaks to sit up tall, stretch your arms overhead, and roll your wrists clockwise/counterclockwise.


TIP #3: DRINKS/SNACKING

  • Are you fueling your creative process with energy drinks or massive amounts of caffeine?
  • Are your go-to snacks high in sugar?

Solution: Balance the consumption of caffeine with plenty of water. Keep a water bottle handy and infuse flavor with fresh fruits like lemon, lime, or even strawberries and sliced cucumbers for a creative twist.

Picking a snack high in sugar and a low nutritional value may give you a power surge for about 15 minutes, but then you will crash soon after. Choose snacks that nourish your mind, as well as your body, and ward off hunger.

I found six interesting brain foods to consider: blackcurrants, nuts, broccoli, sweet potato crisps, fish, and dark chocolate (my favorite).


TIP #4: ACTIVITY/FITNESS 

  • How often do you stand and take breaks?
  • Are you unable to fit exercise into your busy work routine?

Solution: Set a timer as a reminder to stand and move around. Go for a walk, do the laundry, or even schedule an exercise sprint with a friend. There are several cool computer apps designed to help get you moving. I recently downloaded the Stand up! The Work Break Timer to my phone.  This app allows me to set several time intervals, and a  notification pops up saying, “Take time to stand up. We want you to live longer!”

Need more ideas? Here’s 2 short videos demonstrating great ways to incorporate exercise at your desk and to prevent overuse injuries often found with computer work.

 


TIP #5: DESK SPACE HYGIENE 

When is the last time you cleaned your workspace surfaces? How about your keyboard and mouse? Your phone?

According to Medical Daily, there are millions of bacteria lurking around on our keyboards, computer mice, and telephones, actually more than the average toilet seat.

GROSS!

In a study performed by University of Arizona professor Charles Gerba, women’s workspaces might look cleaner, but they carry more germs, three to four times more than men. The reason might be “prime germ-transfer agents” such as hand lotions, purses, knickknacks, and cosmetic cases.

Solution: This one is easy to fix . . . clean the workspace regularly. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer handy and use disinfectant wipes on keyboards, the computer mouse, and all desk surfaces.


One of my resolutions this new year was to revamp my work space, both at my day job, and my home writing space. As a daily reminder, I created an infographic to hang near my desk.

Tips for Healthier Workspace

 

Click here for a downloadable copy: Tips for Healthier Workspace


I would love to hear from you. Do you have any quick and easy tips to share?

Click on the banner to check out the cool prizes in this month’s giveaway and enter to win:

SoS-JanGiveaway-ForFBandPinterest.1200x628


 

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Memories of Valentine’s Days…Was it all Love and Roses? #Rsos @melissa_keir

hearts-01
Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many places throughout the world. A time for sharingyour love with others. According to Wikipedia Valentine’s Day “…was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines“). In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart”, as well as to children, in order to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine’s Malady).[6] Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.[7]

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We thought to find out about the Sisters of Suspense…What was their memories of Valentine’s Day…Was it wine and roses? Or was it tears and frustration? What would make a memorable gift?

Tina Medlock I’m going to make a confession. Valentine’s Day is probably one of my least favorite holidays. I know that’s a weird comment from someone who writes about romance, but I have a very good reason. Every boy I ever dated dumped me on Valentine’s Day. Seriously. It could give a girl a complex. I spent years watching other women get bouquets of roses until, one year, I started buying my own flowers. I was my own Valentine. Then I met my husband and, as our first V-Day together approached, I thought “Finally! Romance!” He got me a manicure kit. I cried.  However, he followed up with flowers and he’s never missed a year since then – because he knows I love them. He still gets me the practical gifts, and does more than his share of the housework so I can write on the weekends, and keeps my e-reader stocked with gift cards. He also had my first book cover framed as a Christmas gift. Because for him, love is practical. And those things last far longer than flowers. (By the way: I still use the manicure kit.) From Mia Kay–Sister of Plot Twists

 

Joanne Guidoccio 001 I can recall so many lovely Valentine’s Day meals. While memories of the entrées have faded, I can easily call to mind the many decadent desserts I have enjoyed over the years. My favorite – Tiramisù. For anyone who has never tasted this dessert, imagine the following… A light-mocha-flavored-whipped-cream concoction on lady finger pastry soaked in strong espresso with a tantalizing hint of amaretto liqueur. The perfect ending to a Valentine’s Day meal! From Joanne Guidoccio–Sister of Reinvention

 tiramisu
Diana PR Thumbnail photo Going out with boyfriend or spouse is always what we hope for Valentine’s Day, but it’s hard when you don’t have that special someone. I invited women who didn’t have Valentine’s Day plans to my home one year — I decked the table with roses I had bought for myself and my best and most sparkliest china. We each contributed a different course — appetizers, salad, veggies, entree, dessert, wine, soda — and had our own special manless feast. Love starts with loving yourself and being with friends sure beats being alone and sad. Reading a great romance can also go a long way to perking up this holiday.  From Diana Belchase–Sister of Secrets
 Jacqui Nelson Author Photo A surefire way to make Valentine’s Day (or any day) memorable is by giving the gift of spending time with someone. That and flowers. One can never go wrong with giving or receiving flowers. Especially pink peonies, which are my favorite:) From Jacqui Nelson–Sister of Wild West Suspense
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Vicki Batman - author pink sweater 4x300 As a single gal, I dated plenty. Some gave me flowers for no specific occasion except for the best one, they thought of me. So V-Day was a little unusual when I wasn’t with someone steady, but was okay with it because my dad still gave me a heart-shaped box of chocolates. One rainy V-Day, I came home from work and as I moved closer to my front door, I saw something white stuck in the jam.  I tugged the paper out and opened it, scanning quickly and found a Dear John letter. I was like WHAT???!!! I reread the note, and all of the sudden, I was livid. I felt like a cartoon character with steam emanating from my ears, my face a purplish red. And why? Because if this chump would do it to me, he’d do it to other women, and on behalf of them, he would be getting a piece of my mind. I phoned and phoned. And phoned and phoned. He didn’t answer. All the while my ire increased.  So a friend popped by just to chat, and I thrust the note in her hand. I explained what I felt and done. She burst out laughing and when sober, said, “I have an idea.” She stuck out her hand. “Give me a match.” I got it. And retrieved the match. She walked over to the fireplace, laid the note on the hearth, struck the match and lit one corner. Then she sang, “Feelings.” I –literally—shook with laughter.  I couldn’t let her sing along. “Nothing more than…feelings.” And you may not believe this, but I wrote a story about the whole enchilada (names were changed. LOL) and it was published by the Trues. From Vicki Batman–Sister of Sassy Writing

 

Pat Amsden We all have Valentine’s Day memories built up over the years. Today I’ll share my Valentine’s Day memory from my first year after my 20+ year marriage had ended. It might have been my choice but that’s beside the point. Valentine’s Day was like a huge open wound to me.  Write HEAs? I think not. I picked that year to start my Death By Chocolate mystery series. And I spent Valentine’s Day choosing the perfect knife to kill someone and then writing the murder scene. Fortunately a girlfriend decided I needed a break and dragged me out to a Sushi bar. So we ate Sushi and drank – I can’t  remember what. I seem to remember a discussion of Japanese Sushi knives but the memory is somewhat foggy. From Pat Amsden–Sister of Romance and Mystery

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Marsha R West Memorable Valentine’s Day??? Not for me so much. My sweet husband sends flowers, which I really enjoy. But my emotions around this day are tainted by the many times I was the new kid in school before the days when teachers and principals insisted if you send cards, you must send one for everyone. Too many times my bag was empty or only held a couple of cards. If you don’t know someone as well as the ones you’d been in school with for several years, you’re just not as inclined to give a card. That small, lonely kid still hides inside. For the most part she only makes an appearance on this holiday. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, not a role I usually play. From Marsha West–Sister of Second Chances

Claire_2522 Valentine’s Day 1985. I was 8 months pregnant with our twins, and HUGE. My husband sent me a balloon that was a giant pair of red lips – at work. If you think I didn’t get ribbed a bit about that! From Claire Gem–Sister of New Gothic Romance

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IMG_1611 My favorite thing about Valentine’s Day is simply the card I receive from hubby. He treats me like a goddess every day, so I’ve been adamant that we celebrate this and our anniversary simply- dinner and a card. He’s one of those old-fashioned gentlemen, a man’s man, who isn’t great at expressing feelings or waxing poetically about his love for me. But boy, can he write about it! So on Valentine’s Day I’ll stumble across several cards in odd spots throughout the day (propped against the coffee pot, in the drawer where I keep my make up,) and the words of love and commitment he’s written inside bring tears to my eyes.  Yeah-I’m the luckiest woman alive. From Sarah Andre–Sister of Riveting Suspense

 

Sharon Wray Years ago my husband and I were invited to a holiday party at a friend’s house in another state. It was a winter party—a cross between Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s day. It was a catered, semi-formal party in our friends’ new house in the country (re: gorgeous estate). After a five hour drive to the party, and settling into the guest room, I realized I’d forgotten my dress!!! I literally arrived in yoga pants and the only other thing I had to wear was a Rutgers sweatshirt and a pair of jeans for the drive home. Since it was snowing, our friends’ house (re: gorgeous estate) was in the middle of nowhere, and it was about an hour before the party started, I had to resign myself to wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. (and the hostess was a size 0. Yes, apparently, that is a size which means I couldn’t borrow anything) Even though I have pretty good self-esteem, we were seeing a lot of people at this party that we hadn’t seen since we’d left the state a few years earlier. So it’s fair to say I was very upset.  So, while my husband was in the shower, I put on jeans and my sweatshirt and went downstairs to help greet the guests. A few minutes later, I looked up and saw my husband coming down the stairs—in jeans and an old olive green Army T-shirt. Although he’d been out of the army for a few years, he still wore the old cotton T-shirts when he worked around the house.  So he came down the party as if he owned the house (re: gorgeous estate), got me a glass of champagne, and stood by my side. After I whispered Thank you, he whispered back, “Happy Valentine’s Day”.  After almost 30 years of marriage, it’s still one of the best Valentine’s Day gifts he’s ever given me. And I’ve never forgotten it. From Sharon Wray–Sister of Military Romantic Suspense

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Veronica Modified My favorite Valentine’s Day memory is from college. My boyfriend (now husband) surprised me with a romantic dinner on the roof of my dorm. He even had a gas burner to heat dinner. It was so amazing to eat on a cold night under the stars with the coolest guy around! From Veronica Forand–Sister of Heart-Stopping Suspense

 

Kathryn Jane My funniest Valentines memory came when we were vacationing on the Oregon coast and completely forgot about the significance of the date. Valentines fell on a weekend that year, and we nearly had to spend the night in our car because all the hotels, motels, and B & B’s in Gold Beach were fully booked for the big event. It was a scramble, but we got a room on a cancellation, and in the end, even managed to get a dinner reservation! From Kathryn Jane–Sister of Psychological Suspense

Melissa Keir - author pic Valentine’s Day is just another day around my house. We don’t do anything special because we strive to celebrate our love each day. But one year my husband had flowers sent to my work for me. I didn’t know that they were coming and I’m teaching when our secretary comes in with this huge bouquet of flowers. The children were all excited and in awe and I was in tears. From Melissa Keir–Sister of Small Town Suspense

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What are your favorite memories of Valentine’s Day? What was your best (or worst) gift?
 ~*~

It’s party time. The Sisters of Suspense are having a FB party with a grand prize of a hundred dollar gift certificate to a restaurant. Check it out here.

 

SWAG, BOOK SIGNINGS, GIVEAWAYS

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Everybody loves to get free things, right? Authors give away free things and we call it “SWAG.” That’s important to me right now because I went to a book signing at the Haltom City Public Library on Feb. 12.

Every year they have a Romance night around Valentines. Lots of fun for the readers because besides meeting authors and buying books, they have a chance to win stuff. I gave two baskets each with two of my books in them, plus other stuff including a $15 GC for a restaurant and some “Valentiney” type stuff—coffee mugs with hearts, hot chocolate packs, a small stuffed animal, chocolate candy, and all the stuff that goes in my swag bags. (Forgot to take pictures of these!😦 )

I spent a day getting ready. Other than buying fresh chocolate (it can go bad, you know), I had all the other ingredients I need to make up my SWAG Bags. After becoming published and before going to my first book signing (when I only had e-books—not fun at all), I struggled with what to use for swag. The first thing I purchased was bookmarks, even if “everyone” now reads e-books and they don’t need bookmarks. It was something concrete to get my name & web site out there.bookmark-2inx8in-h-front (2)

Then people told me you should give away something related to your book. Well, I came up with bags of smelly stuff because that was the scent in the crystal store my heroine in VERMONT ESCAPE bought and crystal droplets—crystal store, got it? I ordered the scents from Amazon (it was the first time I’d ever ordered from Amazon.) At first I tried antique store for the crystals, but that was toooo expensive, so I settled on Michaels. I still have some of these.

Then I decided I wanted to give something that would be useful. I hit on small packs of tissues and note pads, and of course pens. IMG_3179I’m on my third pen now. I had a green one, then black, and now I’ve got turquoise (my signature color). Having a signature color is helpful in a large room of authors. Readers begin to associate you with your color so even when you’re not around when they see that color they think of you.

Here’s what goes into my small swag bags: tissue, notepads, Bitty Booklets, and Bookmarks (from my first two books.) Now I just make the Bitty Booklets. Get them from www.ninthmoon. She does great work. The Bitty Booklets were especially important to me because I didn’t have print books to begin with. Now they’re just a great tease.:) IMG_3176

Would you like to know the approximate cost for each bag?

Here’s the breakdown.

Notepads from Walmart-4 to a pack for 88 cents. So rounded up to .19.

Tissues 3 to a pack from the Dollar Store = 33 cents.

Stickers are 300 for $50 = rounded up to 17 cents

Bitty Booklets 43 cents.

Bags about 20 cents (this varies depending on the bags. I have super cheap ones right now, but I like that their colorful and they are turquoise.

IMG_3180  Sheets of the stickers also from ninthmoon.

Total cost per bag: $1.42 plus chocolates:)

They key is to buy in large numbers to keep the price lower. So you’re out some considerable money, but the product lasts a long time.

Always, always give away chocolate, even if you don’t give anything else.

To begin with, I gave the bags to everyone—yee gods, but that was expensive. Now you have to buy a book to get the bag, but everyone who walks up to my table gets Bitty Booklets and chocolate.

I also gave away books. Four to the library, the three I didn’t have last year, and then an extra copy of my first one, VERMONT ESCAPE when the librarian said they couldn’t keep it on the shelves.:) Boy did that make my day.

Last year I had severe banner envy. Not anymore.

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I’m sharing pics of a few of my fellow authors so you can see their swag.

IMG_3183 Kym Roberts

IMG_3182 Jerrie Alexander

IMG_3190 CA Szarek, The Queen of Swag

Click on the pictures to make the larger so you can see the details.

The library event was Friday night. On Saturday, I went to a friend’s book club. Each of them had purchased a print copy of SECOND ACT, book 1 The Second Chances Series, which I released last spring.Second Act 200x300  One of the women was on the board of a local library and asked if I could give her copies. Of course, I did. She and my friend also bought a copy of my latest book. I’m donating $2.00 of each print copy of ACT OF TRUST to  9/11 Memorial.org.

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I’ll write off all the Giveaway books. Having them out in libraries is just super. I’m not making money in the writing business. Yet. I hope to, of course. I have friends who do. I write a niche book. It’s not your typical romantic suspense. I have characters in their 40s and 50s. But I like writing about them. We all have to find what works for us.

I’m not an expert in any of this business, so I hope you’ll share some of what you do for marketing, especially in the SWAG, territory. Or maybe you don’t do SWAG. That would be interesting to hear about, too. If you’re a reader what kinds of things do you like to get? Love to hear from you.

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Spring Flings by the Sisters of Suspense

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This second week of March is usually Spring Break for most school districts in Texas. Though I’ve heard a few jumped the gun and celebrated last week. Anyway, I thought you might find it interesting to hear about some of the sisters’ spring break adventures and misadventures. Let’s see what they have to say.

Vicki Batman, Sister of Sassy Writing

Spring-Bustin’ out All Over! IMG_0285 Vicki Pic

I have to confess, when I grew up, my schools didn’t have Spring Break. Usually, an extra day was added around Easter. My boys had a Spring Break, but not a Fall Break. We didn’t go anywhere because our lives were centered on the company business and my hubby’s travels. When the company first began, we had little money. I did work part-time doing the odd and end jobs at the office, but took off break days so we could go to the zoo, play at the park, etc. Just the fun stuff!

For me, Spring Break is really the blossoming of Spring Time. It all begins in February when the flowering quince outside my office window bursts into dark peachy-pink blooms. Soon the tiniest bees arrive and flit and float from flower to flower. Then the bulbs push from the ground. The flowering peach, pear and plum trees spread their beauty. The grass changes from straw to soft turf.

Spring is breaking soon

Love this description, Vicki! Almost lyrical.

 

Melissa Keir, Sister of Small Town Suspense

Award winning and best-selling author  www.melissakeir.com

I don’t take vacations during Spring Break because as a teacher, I liked having the week to enjoy with my family. However, we did drive down to Florida one year, shortly after I remarried. Imagine being in a small SUV with four children for the 24 hour drive to Florida to visit my new in-laws. We stayed in some rough hotels along the drive (bugs included) and once we got to my in-laws, we all shared a bedroom, the six of us! Of course, since I had work to do…my computer came with me. A teacher’s job is never done! We did get to enjoy the Florida sunshine but the crowds were too much at Disney. And while we had a nice visit, it wasn’t a vacation we’ve done again.

That’s quite a story, Melissa. Ooooh, bugs!!

Jeannie Hall, Sister of Dark Angsty Suspense

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I was never one who went to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break – I was always a very serious student, so I spent the spring breaks of my youth at home resting and relaxing. However, when I was a teacher, hubby and I always planned a vacation during this time. One of those was to Nags Head, NC. It is so gorgeous there on the beach. There’s so much to do with the Bodie Island Lighthouse, the dunes, and the Wright Brothers Museum  1668116601. We really enjoyed it, and I look forward to going back.

That’s my not-really-wild story! LOL!

Maybe not wild, Jeannie, but very sweet.

Kathryn Jane, Sister of Psychological Suspense

Spring Break hadn’t been invented when I was in school, just Christmas, then Easter.

But when it did first start, I had a friend with a boarding stable who asked if I would like to help him occupy the little girls who’d be hanging out all week at the barn. You can only ride and groom for so many hours, and lots of the girls were dropped off for the day while their parents worked. Plus, lots of the kids shared the school horses.

This, is was my first experience with a captive audience. And let me just say, Wow, I was hooked!

I taught special skills such as how to apply proper leg wraps, special foot care, and a bunch more fun stuff. They sopped it up like giant sponges, and were amazingly quick studies.

I was also very impressed by the school horses and ponies who stood so patiently while having all four legs wrapped by a gaggle of kids ranging from eight to sixteen years old.

I found myself looking forward to Spring Break every year, and a new batch of kids. I haven’t done this now for many years, but satisfy my need to teach by offering a wide variety of online workshops for writers. http://kathrynjane.com/workshops-and-online-courses/

How cool that you got to recognize and use your gift of teaching so soon, Kathryn. This seems like such a perfect Spring Break for you.:)

Stephanie Taylor, sister of Southern Inspired Suspense

My “Unpopular” Spring Break Destination

It was the spring break of 1986. Most of my high school friends headed to popular (and unsupervised) spring break destinations. I chose a trip with my best friend, Jenny, and visited my grandmother, who had just moved to Bradenton, Florida.

One might think a vacation spent in a retirement community wouldn’t sound like much fun. However, my spunky grandmother busted that myth. She had planned a full week of adventure for us, including daily beach trips to Anna Maria Island, several jaunts to flea markets in search of the perfect shell necklace and ring, a Royal Lipizzan Stallion horse show, and even took a boat cruise in the Bay.

I returned home sunburned, loaded down with shell rings and necklaces, and very spoiled from overindulging in the best freshly, squeezed orange juice around. It’s been exactly one year since I lost my grandmother. Those memories spent with her and my best friend are absolutely priceless and a trip I will never forget.

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Wow, Stephanie, what a super grandma! She had planned such fun things for y’all to do! I’m sorry for your loss, but what great memories she provided you.

Jacqui Nelson, Sister of Wild West Suspense

Two years ago in February-March 2014, I swapped 28 days of wild spring weather (wind, rain and some fleeting sunshine) in my current hometown of Victoria (on the west coast of Canada) for summer in New Zealand. Having a friend living there made the trip extra easy and enjoyable. We did loads of walking and water activities. We treated ourselves to fine wines, food and some essential cold beer when the heat became a challenge. Every day made for a brilliant memory with too many pictures to share, but here are some highlights: touring the Hobbiton movie set on secluded farmland near Matamata; visiting Rotorua’s Wai-O-Tapu hot springs, boiling mud pools and green sulfur-acid lakes; hiking up Robinson Crusoe type islands (where a boat dropped us off and only came back at the end of the day, fingers crossed); and drinking beer while waiting for a ferry to deliver us to our next adventure. It was one of the most amazing springs I’ve ever had the good fortune to experience.

JacquiNelson-Hobbiton Movie Set JacquiNelson-Robinson Crusoe Island

JacquiNelson-Beer While Waiting For Next Adventure

 These pictures are awesome, Jacqui, and you get the prize for going the farthest!

 

Marsha R. West, Sister of Second Chances

My story is similar to some of the others. I didn’t grow up going on spring break vacations. My family wasn’t poor, but we didn’t have extra money for vacations. Our trips were always connected to moving from one place to another.

It wasn’t until I was married and we had children that I learned about spring break trips. My older daughter came home from school asking, “Where are we going for spring break?” because so many of her friends were going someplace. Thus began the annual trips somewhere. When the girls were little we frequently went to Corpus Christi, TX. Beaches, Sand, Boats, and eating lots of fish. Fond memories.

About fifteen years ago we started a series of Spring Break trips with five couples. Each couple took a turn picking and setting up the trip. We’ve had some awesome Texas trips, Salado, Galveston, Boerne, Fredricksburng, Jefferson,  Granbury. Here are a few pictures. Bluebonnets at Fredricksburg, TX.

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MRW iPhone 5-14-12 101 Birds carved from trees killed during Hurricane Ike in Galveston, TX We saw a slew of these creations. Amazing.

So is Spring Break a part of your life? What are some of the best places you’ve gone? We’d love to hear from you.

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A Visit from British Author Helena Fairfax

edinburgh castle

My second day in a row here at SOS. I’m excited to ask you to welcome my good friend from Great Britain, Helena Fairfax. Helena (and the accent is on the first syllable) and I got to know each other because our first books were published by a small Canadian e-press, MuseItUpPublishing. We both joined the team about the same time and though we have gone on to other opportunities, we keep up with and support each other.

Helena Fairfax photo

Thanks to our sister Kathryn Jane for these great questions. 

Hello, Helena, and welcome to the SOS Blog.

 

What’s always within arm’s reach when you’re writing? (Post-it Notes? Pens? Coffee? The dog/cat?)

I always have a cup of tea within reach. I drink a lot of tea – I think it’s my Irish heritage!

My dog, Lexi, always sleeps next to me. She’s a rescue dog, and after being abandoned as a puppy she’s formed a very tight bond. Where I go, she likes to go, too.

What time of day do you find the best for writing?

My routine is to take Lexi for a walk – usually on the moors near where I live – and then when I get home, I catch up with emails, social media stuff, etc. Then mid-morning, I start writing and write for as long as I can think straight. I find writing the first draft a tortuous process, and so my words start coming out as mush by late afternoon.

How about editing, is that different?

For me, editing is a lot easier than writing the first draft. I can edit at any time of day, even when I’m tired. Somehow my brain seems to know just what is needed to improve the text I have down. This is a part of the process I enjoy, and in fact, I’ve recently started offering editing services to other indie authors. I’ve also just joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

How much time do you put into marketing?

That depends on whether I have a release coming out or not. With a new release, it feels like far too much time has to be spent on marketing. I can spend a whole week or more not even doing any writing at all. I wish I didn’t have to market and sell my own books, as I’m not very good at it, but that’s the way of the world now for all authors – even if you are with a big publisher.

Where do your ideas come from?

They come from a lot of different places. With my novel A Way from Heart to Heart, for example, I was watching the film Love, Actually, and I was struck by the young man in love with Keira Knightley, who had just married his best friend. I wondered how he could possibly bear the pain of that in secret over the years that followed, and what would happen to him after the film finished. My story grew out of asking myself that question. (This is a beautiful story, Helena.)

The idea for The Scottish Diamond grew out of the setting. Edinburgh Castleedinburgh castle houses the Crown Jewels (worn by the Queen for state occasions) and so I had the idea that my bodyguard hero is given the job of guarding the Scottish Diamond – a magnificent jewel belonging to the fictional royal family of Montverrier, lent by them for display in Scotland. This story contains a lot of treachery and some twists to surprise the reader along the way. It enjoyed writing it, and I fell in love my hero, Léon, more than any other hero I’ve written.

Do you fall in love with your characters?

Yes – see my answer above! They say all romance authors fall in love with their characters, and I think that’s true. It’s what I love both about writing and reading romance. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend time getting to know the brilliant characters that populate romance novels?

Why do you write romance/suspense?

Actually, I usually write contemporary romance. I wrote my first romantic suspense novella – Palace of Deception – last year because I had an idea for a story that I just had to get down. I thought this novella would be a one-off, but I loved it so much – and loved the hero – that I brought him back in The Scottish Diamond. Both these novellas have been such fun to write, I plan to write more in the future.

Do you always have a bad guy?

Not always. I did in my romantic suspense books, and there is a bad guy in my contemporary romance The Antique Love. I do enjoy writing bad guys (and bad girls), though – and they certainly add interest to the story.

Where do you write, and why does that spot work for you?

I write sitting on the settee in my sitting-room. It works for me in a lot of ways. If I work at my desk, no matter what I do I start to get repetitive strain after a while. I’ve tried all sorts, but nothing has worked, and I find it very tiring to sit in front of a computer in this way for long periods. The way I work now, I’ve never suffered at all, and I can work for long stretches at a time without feeling any aches or pains.

As I said, my dog loves to be with me at all times. This way, she can sit next to me while I work, and she often has her nose pressed right against my knee.

Do you read reviews of your work?

Yes! I’m lucky in that I’ve very rarely had negative reviews. If I consistently received negative reviews for a book, I’d have to take the book off sale and try and work out what was wrong with it. I do listen to what readers say.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

My father-in-law saw a photo of my mother-in-law when they were both teenagers – before he met her – and he said that was the person he wanted to marry. This year they celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. So it can happen. (Love this real life love story. Thanks for sharing.)

On the other side of the coin, my husband and I had nothing good to say to one another when we first met:) It was a typical romance novel situation, where he thought I was snooty and I thought he was a pain in the butt. It was only after a very long while we gradually realised maybe we’d underestimated one another. Love grew from a most unlikely start!

One final question, just for fun… Boots, tennis shoes, or flip flops?

In the weather we’ve been having in England this winter, it’s definitely boots. I dream of the days of flip-flops…!

* * *

Léon and Lizzie, the hero and heroine of The Scottish Diamond, met first in my novella Palace of Deception. I’m giving away a FREE copy of Palace of Deception to all new subscribers to my newsletter. You can sign up here: http://eepurl.com/bRQtsT

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Here is the blurb to The Scottish Diamond:

What do you do when nothing is what it seems…even the man you love?
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair…”  When Lizzie Smith starts rehearsing Macbeth with her theatre group in Edinburgh, she’s convinced the witches’ spells are the cause of a run of terrible luck. Lizzie’s bodyguard boyfriend, Léon, is mysteriously turned down for every job he applies for, until he’s finally offered the job of guarding “The Scottish Diamond,” a fabulous jewel from the country of Montverrier.
But the diamond’s previous guard has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The Scottish Diamond has a history of intrigue and bloody murder, and Lizzie is plagued by nightmares in which Macbeth’s witches are warning her of danger.
Then Lizzie discovers she’s being followed through the streets of Edinburgh, and it seems her worst fears are about to be realised…

(Love the theatre background for this book.)

And here’s an excerpt:

He picked up one of my hands in both of his. ‘Now this is why I didn’t say anything,’ he said, with his down-turned smile. ‘I didn’t want you to be worrying. And you’re right – who on earth would want to follow me? I’m worrying about nothing. I’ve just had too much time on my hands.’

I continued to frown up at him, troubled. He took my face in his hands and kissed me. ‘I know what it is,’ he said, his eyes twinkling. ‘It’s all your talk of witches and ghosts. Your Scottish superstitions are rubbing off on me and I’m seeing things in this gloomy weather that aren’t there at all.’

He swung me into his arms and kissed me again.

After that, Léon dismissed his vigilance as something brought on by the strangeness of his new city. And once he began his new job at the Castle, he didn’t mention being followed again, and in fact, all the tension he’d been showing disappeared, and he became almost his old self. He left the house with a sense of purpose that had been lacking in his previous aimless wanderings around Edinburgh. And the best thing was, he was beginning to understand more and more of our Scottish brogue every day.

I later discovered it wasn’t just our Scottish way of speaking he was mastering. A few days after he started work, I was in the kitchen preparing our evening meal, when I heard the front door close and Léon’s light tread in the hall. Usually he went straight upstairs to change, but this evening he came directly to the kitchen and put his head round the door. His eyes brimmed with amusement.

I stepped closer to give him a kiss, and he pushed the door wide. My mouth fell open. He was dressed in a kilt. The green tartan cloth was thrown over one broad shoulder in Highland fashion, and the pleated skirt revealed an inch or two of tanned, muscular leg above a pair of thick, cream-coloured socks.

‘Wow,’ I stuttered. ‘You look…’ I breathed out in a long whistle. ‘You look amazing.’

He smiled broadly, showing his white, even teeth in one of the first real smiles I’d seen him give since we left Europe.

‘This is my new uniform.’ He spread his arms a little, glancing down at himself. ‘Not a bad effort for a half-Italian, half-Montverrian. What do you think?’

‘Not bad at all.’ My face decided right then and there to turn a decided pink, and to hide the fact that I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, I threw my arms around his neck and planted a kiss below his ear.

His arms encircled me, and he murmured, ‘Ever made love to a man in a kilt?’

And after that, everything between us was perfect again. All my worries about Léon wanting to go home to Italy, and all his former tension vanished, and we were just as we had been during those idyllic two weeks we’d spent at his home on the Amalfi coast that summer.

But of course, perfect times can’t last forever. Everything changed when I realised it wasn’t Léon who was being followed. It was me.

* * *

Author bio

Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her first novel, The Silk Romance, was a contender for the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme Award and a runner-up in the Global Ebook Awards, and she was recently shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize.
Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

The Scottish Diamond is available from Amazon

Buy link: http://mybook.to/ScottishDiamond

If you’d like to get in touch, or find out more about my books, writing, and photos of my settings or the Yorkshire moors where I live, please follow my newsletter by subscribing here http://eepurl.com/bRQtsT

And don’t forget, all new subscribers will receive a FREE copy of Palace of Deception

You can also visit me on my website at www.helenafairfax.com, or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HelenaFairfax/, or Twitter https://twitter.com/HelenaFairfax

Please do get in touch. I love to hear from people!

*

Thanks very much to the wonderful Sisters of Suspense for inviting me today. I enjoyed answering your questions very much!

Delighted to have you visit, Helena.

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Guest Susan Bernhardt

Guest Susan Bernhardt

MurderByFireworks-LARGE

Welcome my good friend Susan Bernhardt. Susan and I got to know each other because our first books were published by a small Canadian e-press, MuseItUp Publishing. We both joined the team about the same time and though I’m publishing my own books now, we keep up with and support each other.

Thanks to our sister Kathryn Jane for these great questions.

Hello, Susan, and welcome to the SOS Blog. Susan Book

Thank you, Marsha. I appreciate being here today on the wonderful Sisters of Suspense blog. I have been following the SOS posts since you joined. You have a great group of authors.

What’s always within arm’s reach when you’re writing? (Post-it Notes? Pens? Coffee? The dog/cat?)

Notebooks. Lots and lots of notebooks. I keep one in my shower, on my bedside table, in my purse, etc. and so on writing days, I collect them and they are sitting on the coffee table in my living room for easy reference. I have a make-shift side table, a Red Wing Pottery crock, right next to me where I keep my coffee mug or teacup filled. And when I’m not watching my carbs, I often have a scone next to the mug or teacup slathered with lemon curd and clotted cream.

What time of day do you find the best for writing?

On writing days, I start in the morning around 9 o’clock after an hour of promoting on social media. I take a short break for lunch and will continue until around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Then I take my three mile daily walk.

How about editing, is that different?

Most of what I do is editing. After the first draft of the book is written, it’s all editing from then on. I consider editing and writing to be synonymous.

How much time do you put into marketing?

A lot of time. I am constantly thinking of ways to market no matter what I’m doing. It’s like second nature. I send at least two hours on social media each day, as I mentioned in the morning and then in the evening.

Where do your ideas come from?

All of my ideas come from real life experiences. For example, my idea for my first mystery, The Ginseng Conspiracy came to me when we were in Germany. I met a couple there who had a ginseng farm in Wisconsin a few hours from where we live. 95% of all cultivated American ginseng is grown in Wisconsin. They mentioned about businessmen from China coming to look over their fields. Also we live three blocks from the university in our town. A professor walks past our home daily often talking into a recorder. In my mystery he became a professor of agriculture who was doing research and writing a book about the ginseng in the area. He came upon some misdoings on one farm and was the first victim of the book and a strange, almost Da Vinci Code like conspiracy.

Do you fall in love with your characters?

I come to like my characters very much. In the third mystery, one of the main characters married and left on her honeymoon. That was to be her last appearance in the book. I took it extremely hard and was quite upset, even cried…lol. She had been with me for years. I had to write her back into the story. I didn’t have a choice.

Why do you write cozy mysteries?

I write cozy mysteries because that’s what I read. While rereading my favorite cozy author’s first mystery, The Quiche of Death, I thought, I could write a mystery as good as this one. I took several writing classes while writing my first mystery, The Ginseng Conspiracy which took over three years. Even though all of my novels are mysteries that involve multiple murders and attempted murders, they are still bright and fun, contain a lot of humor, art, and music.

Do you always have a bad guy?

Definitely. Even though each mystery has between two to three murders, I usually try to give the murderer, the bad guy, some kind of redeeming value, even if they are the scum of the earth. :)

Where do you write, and why does that spot work for you?

I usually write sitting on my sofa in the living room with my laptop typing away. There’s a wall-sized window where I can look out over the neighborhood or watch the birds build their nests in our yew tree a couple of feet away. The room is bright and comfortable. If I want a change of scenery, I go into our sun-room which faces our backyard. We have flower gardens and many trees and beyond the fence, a woods.

Do you read reviews of your work?

Always. Every morning I look to see if I have any new reviews.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

I’ve never thought about it, but I believe I do. I met my husband at a party my first year of college. We didn’t say much to each other, in fact I talked with his friend who he arrived with much more, but I definitely noticed him. That year in college composition I wrote a story about Bill and me in San Francisco together. I remember a part about riding on a cable car with him and my long hair flying behind me. He moved to Boulder Colorado to go to graduate school for philosophy and said he often thought about me as well. We met up again a couple of years later at an outdoor concert at my college and the rest is history.

One final question, just for fun… Boots, tennis shoes, or flip flops?

I would choose tennis shoes because of walking each day. Otherwise I wear leather shoes or sandals, not flip flops.

Now for the Blurbs and her great book covers!

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The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 1)

On her way to attend a Halloween Ball, Kay Driscoll, a newcomer to town, witnesses the murder of a local professor. When the official coroner’s report rules the cause of death to be accidental and the community accepts the judgement, Kay decides to uncover the truth for herself. Through her personal investigations, Kay exposes a complex conspiracy, woven deep within the thriving local ginseng industry, that involves some of the more prominent figures and families of Sudbury Falls.

With her new friends, the free-spirited herbalist Deirdre and the untamed modern woman Elizabeth, Kay discusses new clues over tea and pastries at Sweet Marissa’s Patisserie, their crime-fighting headquarters. As Kay gets closer to the heart of the conspiracy, additional murders happen in quick succession. Before long, Kay learns that the villains are gunning for her, too. Phil, her musically talented but preoccupied husband, determined to keep her safe, withholds from her the one thing she needs most: the truth.

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Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2)

While Kay attends a Christmas tea at Hawthorne Hills Retirement Home, a beloved caretaker dies from an allergic reaction to peanuts. When the official coroner’s report rules the cause of death to be accidental, a small group of residents suspect foul play and call upon Kay to investigate.

Kay uncovers sinister plots of fraud, revenge, and corruption at the Home. During this season of peace on earth, good will to men, additional murders occur. Despite multiple attempts on her life, and with the support once again of her best friends, Elizabeth and Deirdre, Kay continues her quest for bringing justice for the victims. Kay’s first Christmas in Sudbury Falls is an unforgettable one, with equal amounts of celebration and danger. Tis the season to be sleuthing!

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Murder by Fireworks (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 3)

 Wedding bells are in the air, and so is murder.

Kay Driscoll’s son’s wedding reception for two hundred guests is in her backyard. As if that wasn’t enough, a precocious and troubled twelve-year-old is foisted on her two days before the wedding. When the happy day arrives, one of the guests disrupts the event and is asked to leave: a womanizing member of Kay’s book club.

A few days later, after a Fourth of July fireworks show, he is found dead on the beach. Kay and her ever-present friends, Elizabeth and Deirdre, investigate the death, which at first is declared a suicide. They believe this is a cover-up and go about to prove their theory, an arduous task because the potential suspects are many, and few (if any) will regret the victim’s death.

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BIO

Susan’s town in northern Wisconsin was an inspiration for the quaint setting of her novels. Like Kay Driscoll in her cozy mysteries, Susan is a retired nurse who volunteers at her local free clinic.

An avid reader of mysteries, she is a member of Sisters in Crime, Inc. and the Wisconsin Writers Association. Her published works include: The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 1), Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2), Murder by Fireworks (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 3), “October 31st”, “Midsummer”, and “John and Madeline.”

When not writing, Susan loves to travel, bicycle, kayak, and create culinary magic in her kitchen. She works in stained-glass, daydreams in her organic garden, stays up late reading mysteries, and eats lots of chocolate.

Buy Links:

The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 1) – http://amzn.to/1oPTsiw

Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2) – http://amzn.to/1tC5krR

Murder by Fireworks (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 3) – http://amzn.to/1MBKRd4

Besides Amazon, the mysteries are also available on iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and MIU Publishing.

Social Media Links:

Website: www.susanbernhardt.com

Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/TheGinsengConspiracyBySusanKBernhardt

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/skbernha/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7255617.Susan_Bernhardt

Twitter: @SusanBernhardt1

Superheroes Don’t Always Wear Capes #HappyMothersDay #RSos

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Mothers are the first people we meet. They shape us into the people we become and can sometimes be our best friends or our arch-nemesis (sometimes both in the same day). Grandmothers and Great-Grandmothers are also vital to our growth as they lead us down life’s path. Sisters of Suspense takes a look at those amazing women who have shaped lives.

Marsha R. West-Sister of Second Chances~~ My mother passed away about thirteen years ago. I still miss her. If you’ve lost your mother, you know what I mean.

We are in the process of downsizing so I’ve been going through lots of boxes in closets and in the garage. As we lost parents and aunts and uncles, we inherited lots of their “stuff.”

IMG_1459Despite the fact my parents and I moved a lot, Mom kept lots of remembrances. I’m so glad she did. It’s been fun and tearful going through and reading notes from various friends and bosses over the years. Mom was not a stay-at-home mom. She was a top-notch Civil Service secretary and worked for many high-powered wing and base commanders. They all adored her. She was very good at her job.

I also ran across more of her writings, short stories and even her journaling after my father died. Pretty gut-wrenching reading, but I’m glad she saved it. I didn’t throw it away.

She took great care of herself, doing a manicure every Sunday evening so her hands would look good at work and slathering on moisturizer every evening. It paid off. She always looked at least ten years younger than her age. She dressed in a stylish professional manner. A perfectionist, she had high expectations for those around her.

One of the things she saved was a tiny gift card to her from my dad. I don’t know what the gift was or when he gave it to her. They had a life-long love affair.

I’ve always loved and admired my mother. It made me proud to read how many others did, too. She set a really high standard for me to live up to. I’m trying, Mom.

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Katherine Jane-Sister of Psychological Suspense~~I loved my great grandmother, an extremely strong woman. I was always aware that her name was Annie, but she was my Nana. I loved to visit her, and I can’t even say why. But I’d get on the bus alone at the age of eight, and ride the mile or so to her house and spend an hour with her. She loved her dog, and her soap opera. No one called her or visited when it was on. It was a rule. When I think of her, try to conjure up her image, instead I hear her voice.

mothers_day_4394x2775It was very distinct. Rather like a cello. Years after she was gone it occurred to me that her voice had been influenced by the accents of her parents, from the Canadian Maritimes, and her husband who was from a German family. But when her youngest daughter got to be the age Nana was when I knew her best, my great aunt had a very similar voice.

So for my mother’s day memory, I will say that the music of my Nana’s voice still lingers in my mind, more than thirty years since her passing.

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Jeannie Hall-Sister of Dark, Angsty Suspense~~ My mom has always been there for me. During my childhood, she was a stay-at-home mom, which meant I could depend on her always. From the picture, you can tell she loves to fish and camp. She and I have always loved the outdoors and nature in general. Despite having some health setbacks in her life, she continues to be a devoted wife to my dad and a wonderful mother to my sister and me – even though we’ve both been grown and married for over twenty years now.

mom She is actually the first person who told me I should write – an idea I rather flippantly blew off until my thirties. But she was right. Once I gave writing a try, I fell in love – madly in love. I am fortunate enough to still have my mom, and she has been so thrilled to watch me become a published author. She squeed along with me when I got “the call,” received my first cover art, and was given my first release date. Being able to physically hand her an autographed copy ranks right up there with falling in love with my hubby, my wedding day, and discovering my love of writing in the first place. I love her to pieces and am overwhelmingly blessed to have her.

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Melissa Keir-Sister of Small Town Suspense~~We were like oil and water, butting heads and shedding tears over our conflicts. Everyone said we were too much alike. I think that as the oldest of five girls, I took a lot on my shoulders, while Mom cared for my sisters. I had to be the responsible one. It wasn’t until I was almost 18 that we connected. She became my best friend and closest confidant. Sadly, I didn’t have her very long.

dawneShe’s been gone for over fifteen years. Each time, I visit my hometown, I stop by the cemetery to visit her. We talk about everything still today. I share my highs and lows. Yet, there are so many things I wish had been different. Life does have regrets–I regret that my mom never got to really know my children nor my husband. She never saw me become an author (a dream of her own) and she missed out on so much of life.

Just yesterday, I received a package from my sister. My dad is downsizing his home and cleaning out the attic. A box filled with memories was sorted and I received my old school report cards, test scores, immunization card…but best of all- some homemade cards I made for my mom. It helped remind me that even though we were often at odds, we still loved each other unconditionally and with our whole hearts.

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We at the Sisters of Suspense hope that all Mothers, Grandmothers and special women have a fabulous day! Enjoy the many blessings of your life!