Secrets & Lies

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I’ve been fascinated with secrets and conspiracy theories ever since I was a little bitty Maria.

What’s really inside Area 51? Who are the men in black? And is Elvis living incognito at an Indianapolis retirement home?

Inquiring minds want to know.

That’s the setup in a nutshell for True Believers. If you’re a conspiracy theory junkie like me, you’ll probably recognize the brief mention of the Annunaki, ancient aliens who once visited Earth.

Have you ever heard about HAARP? It’s a real technology that enhances radio communications and surveillance. But ever since it went live there have been accusations about something even more sinister behind its creation. That’s in there too.

It’s a world full of lies and cover-ups.

Even the hero and heroine are keeping secrets. Rachel Cruz isn’t human, though she keeps up the masquerade to keep anyone from getting too close to the truth. If the wrong people ever discovered what she was, it could get her killed. Rachel is a Nephilim, a near immortal who is in danger of losing her heart to the one man who could rat her out.

Taelen Jessit is an Alturian, an alien envoy at the welcome of the US government. He’s telling lies too. He should have gone into the priesthood because he was born with a genetic ability to ‘see’ the gods in their natural state. But Jessit wasn’t crazy about the health care program. Apparently, priests are required to be castrated before they are welcomed into the fold.


There are secrets within secrets, and no way to escape.

I hope you’ll give it a try (if for nothing more than the bathing pool scene). :wink:

Be sure to stop by later today because my second post will give you a little taste of Rachel and Jessit. And my third post will give you a peek inside my life on the Texas homestead.

Your turn: Okay, help a conspiracy theory junkie out. I LOVE conspiracies real or imagined. Tell me your favorite conspiracy theory.

To buy or read an excerpt from  TRUE BELIEVERS go here.

I’m giving away a copy of True Believers to one person who comments on any of the blog posts I post today. I also have a big blog tour going on with a chance to win a Texas-sized prize. Go here for more information.

Maria Zannini used to save the world from bad advertising, but now she spends her time wrangling zombie chickens, and fighting for a piece of the bed against dogs of epic proportions.
Follow Maria on her lively Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

What’s this? Maria needs your help. Her story, “Mistress Of The Stone” is in the running for a book contract but she needs your vote.  Read the excerpts here and vote.

Hoarding and Fiction

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From chapter three of Trash Course:

I tried the door, and it opened easily on silent hinges.  The basement beyond exhaled damp, musty air that smelled of old stone.  I pointed my flashlight inside.  The area just inside the door was clear, but beyond that was a wall of . . . well, a wall of junk.  A whole bunch of shoe boxes jumbled up with a rusty rake, three shovels, and an ancient roto tiller.  A stack of old-style oil cans were piled near a mass of broken lawn chairs that looked like shattered skeletons in the bad light.  Flowerpots, half-bags of peat moss, more chairs.  Stuff that any normal person would have tossed on the trash heap years ago, and all of it piled to the ceiling beams.

“This is something else,” I said, stepping inside.  “Maybe we should–”

And then everything happened very, very fast.  Something caught my ankle at the exact moment Ms. Hawk grabbed the back of my shirt and yanked me backward.  My flashlight went flying.  I heard an explosive crash, and a cloud of dust billowed up.  I landed hard against Ms. Hawk, and we both went down.  The ground vibrated, then everything went still.  Dust clogged my mouth and nose.  I lay there, a little dazed, until I realized I was still on top of Ms. Hawk.  I rolled free, coughing, and helped her up.

“What the hell–?” I said.

Ms. Hawk, also coughing, pointed at the door.  The dust cloud cleared a bit, and beneath the haze, I could see a shin-high pile of cinder blocks occupying the space I had been standing in a moment before.


Hoarding is a serious problem for some people.  The natural human instinct to collect stuff (food, clothing, other resources) goes haywire, and the victims discover they can’t throw anything away because they might need it some day.  It’s not laziness or stupidity.  It’s a psychological illness that’s very difficult to treat.

Several years ago, I shared a neighborhood with a perfectly ordinary, two-story house shaded by lovely trees.  I passed the place regularly it on my daily run.  One day, I saw a hatchback parked near the sidewalk.  It was filled with trash.  Literal trash: fast food bags, old newspapers, ragged shoes, and more.  There was only a tiny space for the driver, and most of the windows were blocked.  No way that thing was safe to drive.  A few days after that, a big padlock had been affixed to the outside of the front door along with an official-looking sticker.  Nosiness overcame me–I dashed up to look.  The sticker came from the Health Department, and it declared the house unfit for human habitation.  Now that I was on the front porch, I could see through the windows that the place was filled, floor to ceiling, with Stuff.  Clothes and books and old magazines and junk I couldn’t identify.

A few days after that, an industrial-grade dumpster appeared in the driveway.  Workers were hauling stuff out of the house and just tossing it in.  Over the course of a week, they filled and hauled away at least three dumpsters that I counted.  I learned that the old woman who owned the house had been relocated to an assisted-living apartment, and her children were renovating and selling the house.  She had been filling it over the course of forty years, unable to throw anything away in case it turned out to be valuable.

My writer brain went to work.  What if something in there really were valuable?  What would it be?  Who would go looking for it?  And, more important, how the heck would you find it?

Ultimately, this lead me to create Hawk Enterprises, the coolest organization in the history of fiction, if I say so myself, and that allowed me to write Trash Course, in which Terry Faye goes hunting for one treasure and finds quite another.

It was an amazing ride.


Penny Drake is a retired nurse living in Michigan.  She spends her time traveling and writing the kind of novels she likes to read.  So far, she’s the author of Trash Course, available now from Carina Press.

The eReader Wars

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Kindle fights Sony, and both try to wipe out the Nook. And then Apple wades into the fight, with others waiting on the sidelines, all battling for dominance in the e-reader market. Except I know who’s going to win. I’m absolutely certain. You ready? Here it is:

The cell phone.

It’s true. The e-reader of the (very near) future will be the cell phone.

Okay, let the howling begin: “No one will read on cell phones.” “I hate reading on that little screen.”  “You can’t even get a whole paragraph.”  “It runs down the battery.”  “The e-readers offer a much better reading experience.”

Yeah, and?

Hey, I love my Kindle. Great way to buy books and read them. The Sony and the Nook have their advantages, too. I also want an iPad in a big way, and if everyone would just buy a few dozen copies of Trash Course, I could afford one.  Please?  But cell phones wipe the floor with them all in one simple, insurmountable way:


Which device do we carry with us more often, a cell phone or an e-reader? If we’re heading out to run some errands and we realize as that we’ve forgotten our cell phone, how many of us frantically run back to get it? Conversely, how many of us, upon realizing we’ve forgotten our e-reader, would say, “Ahhhh, no biggie”?


We take cell phones to the beach, to the bank, to a hotel, to the office, and to the laundromat. The phone is nearby when we find ourselves unexpectedly alone in the restaurant or on the bus. We forget our cell phones, and we feel lost. It’s like realizing we’ve forgotten a wallet or purse. The Supreme Court of Ohio, in fact, ruled last year that the police need a warrant to search through a cell phone because the material contained therein is so personal. The phone has become a part of us.

E-readers can’t compete with this. They’re (still) expensive, and they only do one thing, unlike cell phones. Most people have to make an effort to remember to grab one, if they even own one in the first place.

In Japan and China, people are already used to reading on their cell phones. Cell phone novels, or “keitai shousetsu,” are wildly popular and are considered a genre unto themselves. It’s only a matter of time before they conquer the western half of the world.

And remember cameras? People originally poo-pooed cell phone cameras. “What would you want with a phone that takes pictures?” “They take awful photos.”  “You can’t focus or zoom.”  “The memory fills up really fast.” And lo, time passed. These days when you want to take a quick picture, what do you reach for, your digital camera or your cell phone?


Cell phone cameras won simply because they were handy when people wanted to take pictures. Cell phone e-readers will win simply because they’ll be handy when people want to read. And just as cell phone cameras improved with time and demand, so will cell phone e-readers.

I guarantee it.


Penny Drake is a retired nurse living in Michigan.  She spends her time traveling and writing the kind of novels she likes to read.  So far, she’s the author of Trash Course, available now from Carina Press.

The Wrong Zodiac

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My Zodiac personality is totally wrong.  I was born a Capricorn but everyone thinks I’m an Aquarius.  I read horoscopes from several different cultures and find aspects of my personality in all the different types, really.  They’re all vague enough to fit nearly anyone.

However, the Zodiac and personality tests can be a fun twist on fiddling with fictional characters.

Read through the Zodiac personality types.  Which one fits your character best?  Is he a stubborn Taurus?  A down-to-earth Capricorn?  An energetic Gemini?  Figure it out, and then, just to be consistent with the real world, slip in some traits that don’t fit the type.

Another bit of fun is the Keirsey Personality Test.  It’s one of those things that divides all of humanity into four types (with four sub-categories in each), and is more of a party game than anything else, but it’s an interesting tool writers.  You can answer the questions as if you were one of your characters, which forces you to climb more deeply inside the person’s head.  Then you can see how closely the personality type matches.

The site wants you to fork out $20 for an in-depth analysis, but the free surface analysis is plenty interesting.  And it can give you ideas for further character development.

For the record, I took the test for Terry, the main character in Trash Course.  She turned up as a Guardian.  But of course.

Are your characters where you thought they’d be? Do you know your characters well enough to take the test?


Penny Drake is a retired nurse living in Michigan.  She spends her time traveling and writing the kind of novels she likes to read.  So far, she’s the author of Trash Course, available now from Carina Press.

Our (we think) exciting announcement, updates and news

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Yesterday we sent an email to our authors with an exciting announcement, update and some news. In the spirit of giving you a peek behind-the-scenes and keeping you up-to-date on what’s going on with Carina Press, I’m going to share that email with you, with a few small modifications–and no, I won’t always share these emails, but I think it can be fun to get a glimpse of what we’re doing and how we’re communicating with our authors, so I hope you enjoy!


Hi everyone!

To start, I’ve been teasing about some big news we have to share. We are very excited to announce that, starting in February 2011, some of the Carina Press romantic  suspense and mystery titles will be going to print via the Harlequin Direct to Customer (DTC) program. Reader Service, as it known to customers, sends a monthly shipment of 3-4 books to readers who have signed up for the service. As a result certain Carina Press titles will be printed by the DTC team and included in a monthly 2011 shipment. Those titles are:

February 2011: In Plain View by J. Wachowski (edited by Melissa Johnson)
April 2011: Presumed Dead by Shirley Wells (edited by Deborah Nemeth)
July 2011: Fatal Affair by Marie Force (edited by Jessica Schulte)

Congratulations to the initial authors.  Going forward, we will continue to recommend titles that fit the Reader Service suspense and mystery parameters and will let authors know when/if their titles are chosen—and we do anticipate having further titles chosen for Fall 2011!  We’re excited that we’re able to utilize Harlequin’s resources like this and it’s our goal to bring you similar news in the future!

As most of you know, we’ve also partnered with to release audio versions of Carina Press titles. To date, Audible has chosen approximately 40 2010 titles they feel are appropriate for their venue. These titles, which began releasing in July and will continue to release on a schedule determined by Audible, are available for purchase on, Amazon and iTunes. Carina has worked with Audible to get each author who has an audio release a certificate for 2 free downloads, so you can download and listen to your title.

Below is a list of titles that are due to release via Audible this month, many available now:

Presumed Dead by Shirley Wells
Sea of Suspicion by Toni Anderson
Exit Light by Megan Hart
Fatal Affair by Marie Force
Panther’s Lair by Esmerelda Bishop
Her Heart’s Divide by Kathleene Dienne
Scene Stealer by Elise Warner
Lovely by Kris Starr
Chasing Silver by Jamie Craig
Three Over Par by Cathryn Brunet
The Price of Freedom by Jenny Schwartz
Amethyst Bound by L. Shannon

As Audible confirms future titles, authors will receive an email alert from me.

Also, just a small informational fact for you: This week, Jenny Bullough finished production on our December 2010 titles. Now that our 2010 year is “closed” for production, we know that we’ll have 101 titles total releasing in 2010. We’re so proud of the hard work all of the staff, editors, cover artists and authors have done to make this possible. Thank you!

Yesterday on the author loop, Eleanor posted an update about the “bestseller” list on the Carina website, but I know many of you do not frequent that loop so I’d like to share that info here as well. She said:

Hey all!

As I know you’ve noticed, our bestseller list was ‘stuck’ for awhile. I’ve
managed (with the help of our ebooks commerce provider, Overdrive) to get it
unstuck. It should now refresh every 24 hours.

However, I learned something new – it’s not actually a ‘bestseller’ list…it’s
a ‘most popular’ list. Meaning the ranking is derived by an algorithm that takes
various factors into play – page views, cart additions, sales, social media
‘shares’, etc. We’ll be adjusting the header to say “Most Popular”, because as
it stands right now, it’s a little misleading (unintentionally).

Let me know if you have any questions.


Director, Digital Commerce

That’s it for our major news, though there are a few minor updates. We’ve acquired three new freelance editors (for a total of 13) and are zipping right along in submissions. If you’re curious about who the freelance editors are, you can read more about them on the Carina Press Facebook page here: If you’re curious about submissions, I do post occasional updates on the Carina blog. However, I will tell you we continue to see less contemporary romance, erotic romance and m/m romance than we do most other genres. But we’re enthusiastic about acquiring and publishing across the fiction genres and are so pleased with the manuscripts you’ve delivered to us.

Right now, we’re working on updating the website FAQ pages to be more customer oriented, and also will be changing the format of the About Us page. Word count is going to be added to the books and CP website before the end of the year. We’re also going to be re-examining our marketing via our social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, blog) so you may see some changes there in the coming months. We’re working on an author welcome package, which you’ll all receive as will new authors, which will give you insight into the different Carina processes and staff, as well as who to contact with individual questions.

Last, we’re going to be holding a live phone/web meeting for all authors the last week of October. We’ll work on getting the date and time out as soon as possible. Because we have so many new authors since we held one of these last spring, we’ll spend some time introducing ourselves and talking about our vision for Carina, as well as going over some eHarlequin Community and Commission Junction information. And, of course, answering any and all questions you may have.

To close, I have two small reminders. Don’t forget you can grab the widget here on the blog (left sidebar) for use on your blogs/websites. The content refresh is pushed direct to the widget.

Also, we have a bi-weekly newsletter that you can sign up for here, and send your readers to via social media/websites. We welcome content suggestions or ideas (you can email to me).

Thank you all for your continued enthusiasm (and your continued fantastic books!) Can you believe it’s only been 4 months since we opened our bookstore doors?


There you have it! Our exciting news, updates and a journey behind the scenes. It’s been a great week for us, and we’re glad to get to share part of it with all of you, who’ve supported us via the blog, Twitter and Facebook while we make this crazy journey.

Carina Press and my mother

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Angela James has a vision for this blog – she wants it to be an informative and entertaining place where readers and authors alike can get some insight into Carina Press and the books we publish.

Sometimes we have very different ideas about what to post here. I tend toward the more…’promotional’ topics (it is, after all, my job to sell our books!), she wants us to be true to our editorial vision. She’s usually right, but I can’t help myself! I’m a marketer at heart.

But today I’m not thinking about marketing, or sales, or web development. I’m thinking about my Mom. In fact, I’m not actually at work today – I’m at the hospital with my Mom as she undergoes her second round of chemotherapy. So, since my Mom is on my mind, I will tell you about her, and how, through her, I knew Carina Press was going to be a success.

My Mother is a reader. I don’t remember a single night of my entire childhood that she wasn’t curled up on the couch in our living room with a book in hand long after everyone else had gone to bed. She passed along her love of books to my sister and I by reading to us every night before we went to bed. I think she must have read me The Tawny Scrawny Lion at least 500 times (and that is no exaggeration!).

For someone who loves books, a job at Harlequin/Carina is a dream come true – especially since one of our perks is all of the books we have around the office! My Mom has especially enjoyed this perk – every few weeks I get the not-so-subtle hint that she “has nothing to read”. A few days later, I pass along some of my current Harlequin favourites. I’ve been tempted to slip in a Spice (Harlequin’s erotic fiction line) to see her reaction, but I haven’t quite worked up the nerve.

But other than being generally supportive and looking for a few good books to read, my Mom hasn’t been all that inquisitive about my job….until Carina Press, that is.

My Mom discovered Facebook, and when I ‘liked’ Carina Press, she did too. And then, one day on the phone we had this conversation…

Mom: So. That Carina Press. With the ebooks. How does that work?
Me: What do you mean?
Mom: Well, how do you read them? Do you need a special reader?
Me: No, you can read them right on your computer if you want. Why?
Mom: Because I want to read that book! The Scottish one!

You see, my mother is Scottish, and earlier that week, Angela had posted the cover and blurb for Sea of Suspicion, a romantic suspense set in Scotland.

It was then, long before we actually sold our first book, that I knew that Carina Press was on to something good. Publishing good stories (and with compelling covers) was enough to pique the interest of a book lover like my Mom. She’d never even contemplated ebooks before – but the draw of an interesting story was enough to ‘drag her over to the dark side’ as Angela might say.

I hope they pique your interest too.


P.S. Now, if you can, go home and give your Mom a call and tell her you love her.

P.P.S. If, like my Mom, you like all things Scottish – you’ll love Sea of Suspicion by Toni Anderson and her more recent release Storm Warning, or for a fantastic historical, give Hope Tarr’s My Lord Jack a whirl. Sorry Angela! I can’t help myself.  ;)

How do acquisitions work?

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[You can find a more recent version of this post here.]

Every so often we have someone ask, via interview, at conferences, or during conversation how our acquisitions process works at Carina Press. I’ve often wished I had a handy link that I could just say “go here for all your answers” because it’s not a short answer. So now I’m going to create one and give you some insight into our process, which will also help you get a sense of timeline as well.

To start, all submissions run through our email address. Even when a submission is sent directly to a freelance editor from a returning or referred author, the submission is forwarded to me at that address so we can track it in our system, and have a record of all submissions.

Once a submission comes in, it’s entered into the system. Generally, submissions get assigned to an editor for reading within 2-3 weeks of hitting the inbox.

Submissions are assigned based on a preference basis. This means I keep a spreadsheet (a very thorough spreadsheet) of editor genre preferences. They’ve indicated if  a genre is preferred, something they’ll read or something they don’t want to see. This allows me to match up editors and manuscripts, so no editor is reading a genre they don’t enjoy, and they are often reading genres they love. Additionally, I check in with the editors every few months to see if they want to make updates or changes, or if they’d like to see more or less of a genre. Also, I should mention that editors are paid for each step of the process, so we’re not asking for free labor from our freelancers and they have incentive to meet the deadlines (and incentive to read, read, read your submissions. It’s a win all around!)

When editors indicate they’re ready to read submissions, I send them out in batches of ten. Editors then have a week to respond with a preliminary report (of a few sentences to a paragraph for each book) based on a read of no more than 3 chapters (and often much less, as they get good at weeding through submissions). Do they recommend rejection, a full read or a look by another editor. Sometimes it’s a genre they enjoy, but a particular book is not for them but seems to have potential. For instance, we had a recent submission of dark urban fantasy that the original editor found a little too violent, but recognized as good writing, so she suggested a second editor have a look. That ended in an acquisition!

Once the editors have returned their prelim reports, they have two weeks to return reports on any manuscripts kept for full reads. Based on those reads, they recommend either acquisition, rejection or revise and resubmit (we’ll talk about revise and resubmits in a later post).

Manuscripts recommended for rejection get filed by me for response, unless the editor has worked with the author in the past, then they may send the response. Those recommended for R&R will get responses from the editor. And those recommended for acquisition get moved to a special folder and put on the agenda for our weekly acquisitions team meeting.

At the weekly meeting, I present the editor’s recommendation report and an acquisitions team member (comprised of people from marketing, production, promotion, sales, community and editorial) volunteers to read it. From that time, the team member reports within 2 weeks at a team meeting what their recommendation is. If the team member didn’t like it, it’s given to a second team member to read. Two people must say yes (the editor being one and a team member being the second) before a manuscript is acquired, but a manuscript isn’t rejected or sent for R&R without at least two acquisitions team members looking at it first, to give it a fair chance.

If you’re counting along at home, this means that once the manuscript reaches the acquisitions team, it can take up to 4-5 weeks (depending on when the report is received, especially if it’s received the day after the weekly meeting) for it to go through this step of the process. Acquisitions team members also report on the manuscript, and offer feedback.

After we’ve agreed to make an acquisition, I assign it to my list of calls/emails to make. I generally make these every 2 weeks, unless there’s an urgent deadline on a manuscript. If an author is in the US or Canada, I make the offer call. If an author is outside US/Canada, I send an offer email. And from there, a new process begins!

So, if you’ve been counting along, you can see how we come to need 12-16 weeks for some submissions. The process can be prolonged in several places: if the original editor recommends it be seen by a second editor, if the acquisition team needs more time or a second reader, if anyone in the process (the editor or me) needs more time in the process. The reports I’ve mentioned along the way, those are what I use to evaluate and send rejection letters. Sometimes the editor has included critical advice I think it will benefit the author to see. Sometimes the reports’ language is meant for my eyes only. We’ve discussed rejections in detail here and here.

And now you know the secret, behind-the-scenes acquisition/submissions process. Did it answer questions or raise more?


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Storm Warning coverSorcha Logan is looking for peace.

Recently returned to her hometown on Scotland’s craggy coast, Sorcha wants to tame the spirits that made her flee. When she finds a corpse in the surf, however, she can’t suppress the memory of discovering her father’s body. Nor can she suppress the ghosts that haunt her—or the town’s conviction that she’s dangerous, and a witch.

Ben Foley is looking for a killer.

An American DEA agent, Ben is in town to investigate the suspicious death of his partner. He’s sure that Sorcha knows more than she’s letting on—but the more time he spends with the sexy suspect, the less he can fight their illicit attraction. And the less certain he is she’s involved with a drug cartel.

But can Ben protect Sorcha from being set up? Or worse—killed?


I love this cover because somehow, mysteriously, the designer not only caught the ice-blond beauty of my heroine, but also the melancholy of her insecurity–is she truly haunted or just losing her mind?

I love the moody feel and stormy sea and the lighthouse!  Whoot!

Not to be outdone by the heroine, the hero, DEA agent Ben Foley, is equally conflicted. He’s just lost his partner and is determined to track down the drug runners responsible. Unfortunately, the trail leads thousands of miles to the misty shores of Scotland, which wouldn’t be a problem except Ben Foley is hydrophobic and is now completely surrounded by water. My poor hero.

I have personal experience with phobias. My mother is absolutely terrified of thunderstorms. As a child I was often woken in the middle of the night and forced into the cupboard beneath the stairs–Harry Potter style–with my two sisters, brother and poor hysterical mother. And, just to make sure we weren’t fried by that errant snake of lightning, we all had to wear our welly boots. Forty years on she’s still hiding in dark places when the sky lights up. My poor mom.

Thankfully Ben Foley is a more clear-headed despite the nature of his fears :)

Do you have any weird tales of fear or phobias?

I was lucky enough to consult with a psychic about this story and pick her brain about spirits picking other people’s brains.  I don’t claim any psychic powers myself but I do trust my intuition and heed any warnings I get.  What about you?  Do you believe in psychics or mediums?  Have you ever seen a ghost?

Toni Anderson is a former Marine Biologist whose first Romantic Suspense novel, HER SANCTUARY, was released in 2009 and her second book SEA OF SUSPICION was released in June.  She writes about her life and travels on her blog, facebook and twitter.  Readers can sign up for her occasional newsletter and check up on her latest releases on her website and Facebook Fan Page.

Storm Warning–born in a place ‘sacred to the Muse’

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From 1998 to 2004 my husband and I lived in the small East Neuk village of Cellardyke snuggled up to the larger metropolis of Anstruther (population 3600), Fife, Scotland. When I wasn’t changing nappies or watching reruns of Quincy on the telly, I’d grab the dogs, the kids, and battle the wind to walk along the pier (very French Lieutenant’s Woman).

I grew up on stories by Daphne DuMaurier and Mary Stewart, so is it any wonder I started seeing smugglers and heroes chasing through the shadows along the narrow wynds and misty shores? Or to conjure love stories to rival that of the Tahitian Princess who moved to Anstruther after marrying a local man? In fact, there is such a wealth of history in that small part of the world it was hard to pin down exactly what to write about. Did I use the infamous Pittemween witch trials where a local woman was stoned to death on the beach? Or rumors of a King’s sunken treasure just down the coast? The Reformation? Mary Queen of Scots (who seemed to get everywhere in those days)? The Secret Bunker just a few miles away or the spy school set up in Crail during the 1950s?

Rather than pick one aspect of the area’s history, I tried to weave that tapestry into the background for a modern-day romance filled with academics, DEA agents, drug smugglers and ghosts, and that story is STORM WARNING.

I’m not the first to be inspired by that picturesque part of the world.

“Anstruther is a place sacred to the Muse; she inspired (really to a considerable extent) Tennant’s vernacular poem ANST’ER FAIR; and I have there waited upon her myself with much devotion.” Across the Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson

By coincidence Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather designed the lighthouse on the Isle of May that I describe in STORM WARNING (see below).


BTW, did you see my cover yet? It’s coming up in the next post :) I LOVE lighthouses. So this is where the story sprung to life, in a place so achingly beautiful I still mourn the fact we had to leave. But at least I get to go back if only in my imagination. Do you have anywhere like that? A place that stole your heart so you never feel complete unless you’re actually standing there?

Toni Anderson is a former Marine Biologist whose first Romantic Suspense novel, HER SANCTUARY, was released in 2009 and SEA OF SUSPICION was released in June this year.  She writes about her life and travels on her blog, facebook and twitter.  Readers can sign up for her occasional newsletter and check up on her latest releases on her website and Facebook Fan Page.

The Birth of a Book

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The Kiss TestWriters are often asked where they get their ideas. Sometimes I’m tempted to answer, “Walmart” because it seems impossible to pinpoint one specific place where ideas come from.  A better question might be, “Where DON’T you get ideas?”

Story ideas are everywhere and often bombard me when I really wish they wouldn’t…like while on deadline to finish a different book, when I can’t possibly start thinking of a new book yet.

However, there are certain triggers for ideas, at least for me. Music is one of those triggers.  A song can evoke a mood that unfolds like a scene in my mind. Or the lyrics can tell a story that I can’t get out of my head. Often when I hear an especially idea-inducing song, I will quickly jot down my thoughts, which I save in my Someday File.

The idea for THE KISS TEST sparked from the song “Miss Independent,” Kelly Clarkson’s first hit single after winning season one of American Idol.  The main character of Margo Gentry grew from that song…independent, shocked to find herself in love, unable to conceive of giving up her autonomy in order to let a man into her life because that was just too frightening.

Another song instrumental in THE KISS TEST was “How Did I Fall In Love With You” by Backstreet Boys (hey, don’t judge!).  The words to this poignant song made me think of how scary it would be to fall in love with your best friend and how much you might lose if things went horribly wrong. Margo’s been best friends with Chris since she was a kid, and he still remains the person she turns to, even while she is in other relationships. I wondered what would happen if she found herself in love with him. How would that feel…knowing that if that love affair failed, you could lose so much more than just a lover.  From there Margo and Chris’s story blossomed.

And then there was Elvis. I was never particularly an Elvis fan or anything. But once I discovered Margo collected all things Elvis and that he would play such a big part of the book, I did a lot of research…including listening to Elvis’s songs.

Did you know Elvis recorded over 700 songs? Once I decided to use the titles of Elvis songs for the chapter titles in THE KISS TEST, I became nearly as obsessed as Margo. I had to find just the right song for every chapter.  Sometimes the songs (the titles anyway) gave me ideas for the book…which I gratefully accepted, because writers take inspiration anywhere we can get it.

Even from music.

So, am I unusual, or do other people “see” stories when they hear music, too?


Shannon McKelden writes women’s fiction with laughter and love, just the way she likes it.  You can come hang with her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.