Sweet Saturday — National Day of the Cowboy!

In honor of the National Day of the Cowboy, I ought to be talking about traditional cowboys and how their grit, courage and honor have kept them firmly in American history – past and present. But today I’m scheduled to share an excerpt of Double Crossing, my 2012 Spur Award winner for Best First Novel (from Western Writers of America) But first…

What’s the difference between these two films of Charles Portis’ novel?

Um, can we say JOHN WAYNE? What an actor! What a great cowboy, and yes, I’m a big fan. But I’m also a huge fan of the TRUE GRIT novel, which is focused on Mattie Ross’s journey — and I was so glad to see the remake closer to the novel. Jeff Bridges did a fine job as Rooster Cogburn, too.

Charles Portis, who lives in Arkansas, did a *fabulous* job at dialogue, the setting of Indian Territory, the time frame, the specific details, and the characters from Rooster Cogburn to LaBoeuf to Mattie Ross to the hanging judge to the bandits in Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang. If you haven’t read the book, and get it!

And what about another cowboy? My hero, Ace Diamond, just happens to “resemble”PETE DUEL from the TV show Alias Smith and Jones. Uh, yeah. Sure.

I loved this show and never missed an episode. Sadly, Pete Duel struggled with depression and chose suicide before he finished filming the show’s second season. But I loved his smile, his mischievous character and thought he was a wonderful actor. And his brother Geoffrey also was an actor, and played Billy the Kid in Chisum with John Wayne!

Here’s a photo to prove it! Geoff looks a lot like his brother Pete, in fact. Photo courtesy of this website ASJCollection.com … So I can dream that “Ace” and Duke “met” at some point in the old west, right? LOL…

Okay, here’s my excerpt!! The second meeting in Omaha, when Lily takes Kate to find Ace Diamond with an interesting proposal…

Ducking under a low hanging tree branch, we crept through the stable’s open doorway. I had to stifle a sneeze at the musty scent of hay and dust. Sunlight streamed into the stalls where several horses nickered. In an empty one, we found Ace Diamond sleeping on his stomach. When I prodded him with my foot, he rolled over with a loud pig’s grunt and squinted up at us both. A glass bottle lay in the dirty hay.

“Uh, wh-what time is it? Who the devil—ouch,” he said and touched the crusty stitches on his forehead. “Dagnabbit. My head feels like a squished melon.”

“Do you remember our meeting yesterday, Mr. Diamond?” I asked. Kate peered over my shoulder. “I see you found a doctor as well as some whiskey.”

“Needed it to cut the pain.” Ace sat up and scratched his soiled shirt. “Thought you was headin’ to California.”

“I am leaving in a few hours, yes. This is Miss Kimball, she’s also traveling on the Union Pacific.” I brushed sawdust off my split skirt and jacket. “I spoke to Mrs. Burkett, your landlady, who sounded quite unhappy with you.”

“That dried-up prune?” Scrambling to his feet, he weaved sideways until grabbing the half wall. A horse nuzzled his arm. “Never satisfied, no matter what I do.”

“Not if you’re prone to drink.”

Ace rubbed his eyes with the back of one hand. “I don’t suppose this is a social call, miss. Or that you’d lend me two bits. I got a powerful headache.”

I eyed him from head to foot. A beggar would look more presentable. “You wished to go to California. Miss Kimball and I need protection on the Union Pacific. Perhaps we can come to an agreement, Mr. Diamond. Is that your real name?”

He dodged the question. “What are your terms, miss? Sorry, I forgot your name.”

“Miss Granville. I’ll provide you with a ticket now and twenty dollars when we arrive safe in Sacramento. Provided no harm comes to us, that is.”

He stared with bleary eyes. “Why would two pretty fillies need me to ride shotgun? It’s a far sight safer on a train than travelin’ by stagecoach.”

“I’m tracking a murderer—”

“Whoa,” Ace cut in, fully alert now. “Who was murdered?”

Double Crossing Only 99c!

Don’t you love a sweet bargain?? Double Crossing, Western Writers of America’s 2012 Spur Award Winner for Best First Novel, is ONLY 99c !!! WOW! It’s a blend of True Gritand Murder on the Orient Express. Here’s a glimpse of heroine Lily Granville, the sheltered 19-year-old whose father is murdered. Lily decides to track the murderer from Illinois to California on the 1869 transcontinental railroad to seek justice.

My hero, Ace Diamond, just happens to resemble PETE DUEL from the TV show Alias Smith and Jones. He bargains with Lily who needs protection on the journey, but ends up with far more to handle than he expected.

Here’s an excerpt to wet your whistle… This is their second meeting in Omaha, when Lily takes Kate to find Ace Diamond…

Ducking under a low hanging tree branch, we crept through the stable’s open doorway. I had to stifle a sneeze at the musty scent of hay and dust. Sunlight streamed into the stalls where several horses nickered. In an empty one, we found Ace Diamond sleeping on his stomach. When I prodded him with my foot, he rolled over with a loud pig’s grunt and squinted up at us both. A glass bottle lay in the dirty hay.

“Uh, wh-what time is it? Who the devil—ouch,” he said and touched the crusty stitches on his forehead. “Dagnabbit. My head feels like a squished melon.”

“Do you remember our meeting yesterday, Mr. Diamond?” I asked. Kate peered over my shoulder. “I see you found a doctor as well as some whiskey.”

“Needed it to cut the pain.” Ace sat up and scratched his soiled shirt. “Thought you was headin’ to California.”

“I am leaving in a few hours, yes. This is Miss Kimball, she’s also traveling on the Union Pacific.” I brushed sawdust off my split skirt and jacket. “I spoke to Mrs. Burkett, your landlady, who sounded quite unhappy with you.”

“That dried-up prune?” Scrambling to his feet, he weaved sideways until grabbing the half wall. A horse nuzzled his arm. “Never satisfied, no matter what I do.”

“Not if you’re prone to drink.”

Ace rubbed his eyes with the back of one hand. “I don’t suppose this is a social call, miss. Or that you’d lend me two bits. I got a powerful headache.”

I eyed him from head to foot. A beggar would look more presentable. “You wished to go to California. Miss Kimball and I need protection on the Union Pacific. Perhaps we can come to an agreement, Mr. Diamond. Is that your real name?”

He dodged the question. “What are your terms, miss? Sorry, I forgot your name.”

“Miss Granville. I’ll provide you with a ticket now and twenty dollars when we arrive safe in Sacramento. Provided no harm comes to us, that is.”

He stared with bleary eyes. “Why would two pretty fillies need me to ride shotgun? It’s a far sight safer on a train than travelin’ by stagecoach.”

“I’m tracking a murderer—”

“Whoa,” Ace cut in, fully alert now. “Who was murdered?”

Wednesday Spotlight – Samantha Combs

Today the spotlight shines on fellow Astraea Press author Samantha Combs. She’s written several books so far, Spellbound, my Global Ebook Award-Winning debut title, Everspell and Ghostly. Her next book is due out September 7th from Musa Publishing. Samantha lives in California with her husband and two children. She admits to being a reality TV, Food Network and shoe addict. Samantha says, “I truly believe I can accomplish anything if I have the right pair of shoes.”

Welcome, Samantha! Tell us about your latest release.

Waterdancer is a very different kind of “mermaid” book.  What makes this book special for me? Unlike my other stories, a lot of autobiographical detail is in the pages. Like the main protagonist, Bailey, I grew up in a beach-town and had to navigate a new school, a new stepfather and boys (boys!) all at the same time.  And like Bailey, the whole growing up thing–getting boobs, an awesome perm and my first boyfriend in the same summer–was both exhilarating and paralyzingly frightening! I remember those years with such clarity, it is actually fun to put them down in words.

Even though I have been happy as a pig in slop in the horror genre lately, YA is really my first love and represents my introduction to my writing and publishing world. Having a young adult voice is both easy and challenging. Easy because during that time of my life, I had the joy of discovering my strengths, my quirks and my pluck, and yet I still couldn’t define my place in life. Writing YA is always challenging, because writing for teens demands such honesty.  If you hold back, or fudge on anything, your fans with SKEWER you. Any disingenuous prose will bleed through every sentence and you will jeopardize your principals, your morals, and even your integrity.

Waterdancer is the story of one girl’s journey to self-discovery, love of one’s self, and, ultimately, self-acceptance.  Here’s an excerpt — look for the complete novel the first week of September at awesome ebook outlets everywhere.

As soon as I got home, I went downstairs where the bedrooms were.  I could see the two suitcases stacked up in the hallway leading to my bedroom.  Subtle reminder, Mom.  I still hadn’t put away most of my clothes yet.  I picked one up and carried it down the hall to my room.  Opening the door, I laid it on my bed.  I unpacked quickly until on the floor across the room, there were piles of neatly folded clothes; one pile of shirts, one pile of pants, another of shorts, underwear, socks, everything lined up and ready to put in the drawers in perfect, anal-retentive order.  Probably the same way they had come out of the drawers at the old house.  I fought the urge to kick the clothes all over the room.

            I closed the door and flopped down on my bed.  I didn’t even look at my suitcase again.  I had a date with a daydream.  Jack West.  Even his name had a dreamy quality.  I hadn’t asked but I was sure he was a junior.  What was a junior doing even talking to a freshman?  Wasn’t that against some kind of high school rule or something?  I giggled a little and hugged my knees to my chest when I remembered the looks on those girls’ faces.  Like I had invaded their territory and come back with a prize.  And he had asked me out!  Wait.  He had asked me surfing. 

            I jumped off the bed.  I didn’t know how to surf.  I was going to be killed.  Worse, I was going to be killed in an ill-fitting bathing suit!  I ran to my dresser and sank to my knees.  Yanking open the bottom drawer, I pulled out clothing items I had already put away until I got to my suit.  My poor, pathetic, excuse of a suit.  A one-piece.  An oh-you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me one-piece.  I knew, without even checking, that no one on that beach tomorrow morning was going to have on a one-piece.  I straightened up and dragged myself over to the flimsy mirror on the back of the bathroom door.  Barely able to open my eyes, I held the one-piece monstrosity in front of me and peeked through slitted eyes.  And gagged.  It was as bad as I thought it would be.  What was I going to do?

            “Honey!  We’re home!”  My mom’s voice rang out upstairs and immediately after that I could hear two pairs of footsteps on the kitchen floor above me.  Would she understand?  I had to try.  I flung the offending bathing suit aside and took the stairs two at a time to get to the top.  Rounding the corner to the dining area, I almost smacked into Warren.

            “Hey, slow down!” he hollered, in an annoyed voice, the one he used most when addressing me.

            “Sorry,” I muttered and continued barreling through the kitchen, looking for my mom.  I found her in the garage, admiring their new car.

            “Isn’t it beautiful, Sweetie?”  And it was.  It looked like Mom finally had the car of her dreams, a topless Chrysler, the color of a cream puff.  She was in the front seat, busily transferring cd’s from the company car to her new one.  “You won’t believe the deal Warren got.  He has such a head for finance.”  That part was true.  What he lacked in human emotion, he more than made up for in business acumen.  Like a robot would.

            “Wow, mom.  It’s great.  Want to take it for a spin?  Like to the mall?”  I told her what happened at registration and with Jack.  If I expected her to give me any static, I was wrong.  She stared at me for a few minutes, then without taking her eyes off mine, she called out, “Warren?  Bailey and I have to run an errand.  I’m taking the new Chrysler.  We’ll be about an hour or so.  We can go to dinner when we get home, okay?”  Warren’s muffled response didn’t seem to matter at all.  I jumped in her new car and we took off.

Thanks for sharing, Samantha! Check out the other books while you’re waiting forWaterdancer, a YA paranormal, coming in early September.

Wednesday Spotlight – Sherry Gloag

Once again the spotlight shines on a fellow Astraea Press author, Sherry Gloag, who lives “across the pond” in England. Anyone watching the Olympics can glimpse what that wonderful country is like! Take it away, Sherry.

I was brought up in the Scottish lowland countryside, a mile away from the county-town, and Loch Leven where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned, and have never lost my love and need for wide open spaces. Now I live in England, not far from the Royal Estate of Sandringham! Although I’m a cat lover, I no longer have one as the wild birds have made it plain they tolerate sharing their space with us, and have us properly trained when it comes to supplies of food and accommodation. I’ve lost count of the number of feeding stations and bird boxes we have around the place.

For more than a decade we shared our home with a couple of chipmunks, who, year upon year provided us with several offspring.  One became so convinced she was a human she became part of the family. Another, the fourth, was a rescue animal, bought from a pet shop because of the atrocious conditions.  It took us months to teach her to climb!  Happily she met the challenge, and though always a timid little soul, blossomed beyond our wildest dreams into a happy, active little critter. I can’t remember a time when animals have not been a part of our life.

My crystal craft work is a big part of me, and gives me a wonderful sense of serenity when I am working with it.

Wow, Sherry, that is a lot of critters. And your crystal wands are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing the excitement of your very *first* publishing experience in a magazine.

Back in the late ‘80’s, early ‘90s the government of the day decided in their wisdom to change the business rates. We ended up with a 1005 increase, which meant we were, in our small seaside town, faced with bills larger than in some London boroughs without the pass-through customers. It was a tough time to run your own small business, and stress levels were high. Working on the principle of using writing as a means of releasing stress, I found myself pouring out all my frustrations onto ‘paper.’  

When I’d finished and was about to throw it away, a customer gave me a copy of Annabelle, a popular magazine of the time. Inside they were running a feature.  Write a true-life article and if accepted you’d win £50.00 and get a clock. Using a pen name, Nina James, derived from juggling the letters in DH’s name, I studied the rules, took out my ‘rant’ and set about tweaking it to fit the remit. They wanted pictures, so I offered them a couple of photographs too.

Woohoo! They accepted it. And when it came out I found myself among some very distinguished company, with Princess Di on the cover and a large feature article inside, plus another feature story about her grandmother — the writer Barbara Cartland! Since I’d read most of Ms. Cartland’s novels many years previously, I was well pleased.  That was my first ever experience of being published.

How exciting, Sherry! Tell us about your current projects.

For as long as I can remember I have loved all things “Georgette Heyer.” At one time I had every one of her books on my shelves.  A few years ago, and tongue in cheek, I decided to have a crack at writing a Regency romance.  A self-challenge I found daunting, since after all Heyer was the Queen of Regency in her time and has many followers since.  What was I doing putting myself out there in such awesome company? It didn’t put me off. Although the challenge took several years to complete, I’m still waiting on final details for my upcoming Regency Romance,No Job For a Woman.

Instead I’ll talk about a book I am still working on for Astraea Press’s Christmas collection. Vidal’s Honor is another Regency Romance which is split between war-torn Spain in 1812 and London high society–busy enjoying the social life in the run-up to Christmas.

I’m not a natural historian, so I wondered whether my choice of basing the story round the Wars in the Peninsula was a tad ambitious. I set about my research and soon became engrossed to the point that I realized I’d not written a word of my story! And time was passing. For a punster like me, seeing the deadline looming ever closer, the next thing I did was panic! I’m still cutting it a bit fine, but unlike a few days ago, I’m pretty confident I’ll finish in time.

Here’s Sherry’s blurb for Vidal’s Honor — it sounds wonderful!

When dreams turn to dust, Honor finds herself not knowing who to trust. Two strangers and her late husband’s best friend are charged with her safety, but are their motives for putting their lives on the line for her? Only two people have captured Charles Vidal’s heart; his lifelong friend, Devlin Chiltern, the late Lord Beaumont, and his widow, Honor, Lady Beaumont. When Devlin is betrayed it falls to Charles to rescue Honor, but even he refuses to acknowledge his motives.

And here’s an excerpt from Sherry’s upcoming Christmas Regency, Vidal’s Honor!

London – August 1812

While he joked with his cousin, Vidal scanned the room.  The smell of fine wine, whiskey and cigar smoke blended into a rich aroma that was as much a part of Whites, as the card games, the background chatter and outbreaks of lewd laughter from the younger members of the club.

One member in particular interested Vidal tonight, and he watched Robert Dundas, 2nd Viscount Melville, and First Lord of the Admiralty, take leave of his friends and head in his direction.

Why had the man spent the best part of the night watching his every move, Vidal wondered, and paused in the act of fobbing his snuff box while he waited for the viscount to join him.

“Take a walk with me?” Although couched as a question, Vidal heard the quiet steel of command in the other man’s voice.  Dundas laid a hand on his arm; a companionable gesture for anyone interested enough to watch the two men leave the club together. “I’d appreciate your company, and this is not the place for such a discussion.  I believe I live not far beyond your own house.”

A man’s club was no setting for private conversation, and it was plain the man wanted to talk about something away from flapping ears.

With an indolent twist of the wrist Vidal returned the modish lacquered box, unopened, to his pocket and nodded agreement…

Best of luck with getting that Regency finished! Check out Sherry’s published books in the Gasquet Princes series, From Now Until Forever and His Chosen Bride, are both available now.

Wednesday Spotlight – Stephanie Taylor of Astraea Press

Today the spotlight shines on Stephanie Taylor, owner/publisher of Astraea Press.

She lives in Alabama with her husband Bryan and three kids. The family has two cats — a blue-eyed Siamese stray named Luna, who made us fall in love with her before she popped out five kittens in a short six weeks — and a solid blue-gray, the only male of the litter (who got to stay, despite our best intentions to give away her kittens.) They love to sleep, beg for food, catch a stray piece of ice from the ice maker, and torture Bryan — who absolutely despises cats. He also doesn’t like getting caught petting Luna.

Stephanie is also an author and writes whenever she’s finished homeschooling every morning, cooking dinner every evening and keeping the family happy. She attends church every Sunday, appreciates what she has, and prays to live by example.Stephanie was gracious enough to answer my questions about founding Astraea Press.

Why did you start your publishing company?

The seed for Astraea germinated after I spent six months editing erotica. I saw a huge gap in the market for sweeter or even mainstream stories. As a Christian, I can enjoy a good Inspirational when it’s done right. I also like mainstream stories that deal with situations that are more real and allow a little more grit. Thus, Astraea Press was born. It’s more of a challenge to write without the erotic elements but it can be done. I’ve been out to prove it. Sensuality and sexy does NOT have to be compromised to write clean. So write something for us, or read something by one of our bestselling authors. I dare you!

Please explain the innovative Astraea Press Book Club on Facebook.

We have over 160 titles of choices across multiple genres that’s sure to feed your love for books. Or maybe even begin a new type of obsession – with clean reads! Our Book Club is an open group on Facebook where you get a free book each month by one of our fabulous authors. At the end of the month, you can chat with the author and get to know him/her. All we ask for in return is for you to post an HONEST review of the book on Amazon, B&N, and Goodreads. Send a request to Opal Campbell via reviewcoordinator@att.net

This month’s book is The Picture. Here’s the book’s blurb and an excerpt:

Sophie lives her life as a hospice nurse running from her past and over-compensating for her sins. She wants nothing more than to help others the way someone once helped her. But she never expected to get so attached to one of her patients. Nicholas is suddenly looking for more meaning in his life than money, fast women and flashing lights. Life as a rocker has left him empty. Only Emily filled the gaping hole in his heart and with her death, his soul is broken into pieces.

When two lives collide, Sophie and Nicholas know they’ll never be the same. Together, they try to figure out a message Emily has left behind. Can they succeed before the realities of life tear them apart?

I first saw him in 2007, at a cancer fundraiser concert in Atlanta, Georgia. I drove four hours from Alabama to see him because my curiosity was stronger than my common sense.

He wasn’t what I expected, to be honest. He was just as famous for his blue eyes as he was for his voice, and I wondered why disappointment filled me. I guess he just wasn’t quite what I’d imagined. Sitting across the auditorium, I couldn’t tell much about him except his face was a little scruffy and his dark hair longer than Emily had described.

I stood there, among all his fans, watching him. I felt like a stalker with the picture tucked securely in my back pocket. But I didn’t want to think about the picture at that moment. I wanted to see him for the man he really was.

He sang their latest ballad, his voice a scratchy, honeyed whiskey. The girls up front swayed as they waved their cell phones and lighters. I rolled my eyes but couldn’t stop the grin. If I had been a little younger, I might have been tempted to join in. My twenty-eight years owned too much sadness for me to feel so carefree.

As he sang, my heart broke a little more. Emily would have smiled her brilliant smile and been so excited, because after all, I knew now the song was about her.

I’ll breathe life into you
Just tell me when you need me to.
I’ll give you what you need
If only you’ll believe in me.

Tears shone on his face from across the stadium. I could hear the tremble in his voice as he sang the words. This was Emily’s song, and it was obvious he sang it for her, no matter who else listened. His eyes were closed and occasionally his fingertips tapped his heart.

When the song was over, tears streamed down my face and I clapped until my hands hurt. I looked around me at the unfamiliar faces and pretended I didn’t know the story behind the song. Almost everyone was here for entertainment. The occasional few might have come out of support for a loved one with cancer. But I was here for a reason.

I just wished I knew what it was.

CLICK HERE to access the Astraea Press Book Club on Facebook.

What’s next for Astraea Press?

The company is growing so much and so fast that I’ve been overwhelmed by the response for clean reads. Overwhelmed in a good way! Every year, Astraea ups production by two books a month. Beginning in 2013, we’ll be producing an average of 12 books a month. We’re also exploring the possibility of audio books, and a new printer to get our books’ printed copies into brick and mortar stores.

Astraea Press Submission Guidelines:

  • All genres of fiction accepted
  • No open door sex (unless they’re married) and even then no “pink parts”. Sexual tension is more than acceptable, as is kissing and playing, providing there are no “pink parts.” No pre-martial sex allowed unless consequences are involved (such as a baby or ruined relationship).
  • No coarse language, no graphic violence
  • Happily For Now is acceptable

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR IS ANY GENRE OF ROMANCE OR SUB-GENRE OF ROMANCE: Short stories, Inspirational fiction, YA, Amish romance… Fiction of all shapes and sizes… Manuscripts without coarse language or graphic sex.

Please send your full, edited manuscript, along with a 2-4 page synopsis and query letter to submissions@astraeapress.com. Please double space your submission, and save your file as TITLE_LAST NAME, and send in .rtf format.

Thanks for visiting, Stephanie! Best wishes on Astraea Press’s continued success!