Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Readers, please welcome Jannine Corti-Peska to A Writer's Life today.
Janine Corti-Peska, Author

Caroline: Welcome, Jannine. Readers love to get to know authors. Please tell us about growing up.

Jannine: I’d like to give you a taste of my home life before marriage. You might find a theme running through it.

I grew up Italian with a Sicilian mother and a father who was born on the island of Ponza off the coast of Italy. However, his family originated from Florence. It was a typical Italian house with food, lots of family dinners on Sundays, laughter, and more food. Vino flowed (yes, I was allowed wine growing up though not a glassful). Company was always welcomed. Best part, my mom could whip up a full-on Italian dinner at a moment’s notice: lasagna, Italian sausage, salad, and eggplant parmesan (In our family, it was never called that. I can’t even begin to write the word we use because I suspect it was part Sicilian and part mainland Italian. Or dialect. Some words just can’t be put into writing.), and garlic bread. Cannoli was my favorite dessert, along with N.Y. cheesecake from the bakery where my father worked.

I was quiet, shy, sheltered. But having a baker father worked wonders in the friends’ department. Actually, I had a lot of friends, but the grapefruit-size cookies, pastries and other goodies my father brought home by the box and bagful didn’t hurt. Neither did our near Olympic-size pool. Boy, was I popular. (saying that with a grin)

Did I mention food was neverending at my house? Holidays were wild, especially Christmas. Added to the Sunday meal I mentioned above were veal cutlets (my favorite—made sandwiches on fresh rolls the next day), roast, peppers and potatoes fried together in olive oil, assorted fish, sanguinaccio (a dark pudding made with pig’s blood my mother made for my father—yeah, the eeeuuuwww factor comes in here), wine, and so much more that I wish I could remember. Dessert followed, along with espresso (and not just a tiny cup for me and my dad, but a small mug).

I was athletic, somewhat a tomboy. The trouble was, all that great food had to go somewhere. Wish it wasn’t my belly…or the rest of me. I wanted to be a cheerleader so badly, mainly for the dance nature of it. Dance was my strongest ability, but no one wants to see a size 14 teenager bouncing in front of their school’s team and knocking herself out every time her boobs hit her in the face. But you should have seen the sandwiches I took for lunch. Eggplant, veal cutlets, sausage and peppers topped with homemade pasta sauce. I was considered strange by my peers.

There is a downside here. By the time I turned 18, I was quite plump. But I’d never have traded my heritage for anything else. I’ve always cooked a lot of food, enough to feed a small army, just like my mother. My three daughters and husband are rooted in traditional Italian food. In fact, my husband can’t eat lasagna in a restaurant. He says it doesn’t compare to mine. You may be thinking all that food was great, but I paid for it with my health. Recently, I’ve learned and used portion control and am now taking care of myself and my diabetes. But what I wouldn’t give for a nice big plate of fat pasta (what we called Rigatoni). For the record, spaghetti is still pasta, and never eat pizza with a fork. Buon appetito!

Caroline: Now I have this strange craving for my favorite Italian dinner, cheese-stuffed tortellini. Describe yourself in three words.

Jannine: Loyal, caring/loving/nurturing, passionate I’m like a terrier that won’t let go or give up when I become passionate about something (anything, but you can see this more clearly when the talk is about soccer—more pointedly, the Italian National team). Sometimes I go overboard. LOL, three words weren’t enough!

Now, the flip-side of that comes from my Sicilian half: vindictive.

Caroline: You’ve said you were late coming to serious writing. How long have you been writing?

Janine: I’ve been writing for 30 years, beginning when my daughters were very young. But it wasn’t until 15 years ago that I found RWA and became serious about getting published. Sold my first book to Kensington four years later.

Caroline: I remember you from the Kensington author loop. Do you use real events or persons in your stories?

Jannine: I use events, although I have included real people as minor characters. In my upcoming September release, THE LILY AND THE FALCON, the story is centered around the de’ Medici and degli Albizzi families, both vying for control of Florence. Cosimo de’ Medici and Ronaldo degli Albizzi were real people in history. At the time of the story, Ronaldo exiled Cosimo and politically took over Florence —or so he thought. The hero is a cousin of Cosimo’s (fictitious, of course), and the heroine is a cousin of Ronaldo (again, fictitious). But I did extensive research and found descriptions, mannerisms and personality traits for Cosimo and Ronaldo, which made writing their scenes easier.

Caroline: I’m curious about your research. LOVE’S SWEET WAGER and CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY are very different in subject. Did you discover any remarkable research tools for either book? Which was most time consuming to research and why?

Jannine: LOVE’S SWEET WAGER was by far the easiest of the two books to research. I found the diary of a doctor who traveled the California Trail. I used his timeline for the trip, the dates where the wagon train stopped, the descriptions of those places as well as the everyday life of the travelers, travel conditions and weather.

For me, CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY was very difficult to research. Except for a few minor details, I had absolutely no knowledge of the Gypsy culture. Even though the story is set in the 15th century Andalusia, I didn’t want to offend Gypsies by getting their history wrong. Thankfully, an online friend, who is a Gypsy, helped with mannerisms and cultural details, which I blended with my research. This book took me nearly a year to research and 7 months to write. I felt completely out of my medieval comfort zone.

Caroline: Difficult, but how interesting your research must have been. I believe that was the second book of the series. CARINA AND THE NOBLEMAN, about Charlotte's sister, was the first of that series. Gorgeous cover! What do you hope your writing brings to readers?

Jannine: A sense of warmth, joy, living the story through my characters. Cry with them, laugh, sigh, be swept away with emotion that will last long after you’ve finished reading the book.

Caroline: Don’t all authors wish that for our readers? Anyway, I wish that for my readers. And don't you love reading a book that gives you those experiences? Please tell us about your latest release.

Jannine: LOVE’S SWEET WAGER is set in 1852 along the California Trail and ends in San Francisco. Reno Hunter is a highly successful gambler. He lives, breaths, eats gambling and is always looking for the next game. When he’s accused of killing a down-on-his-luck gambler, he goes to the extreme and disguises himself (thanks to his two younger brothers) as a priest and joins a wagon train west.

Rachel Garrett followed her gambler father most of her life. Because he’s so bad at gambling, she dances and sings in saloons and dance halls of every town where he sits in on a game so they’d have money for a room and food. When her father is killed during a card game, she’s forced to join a wagon train west to San Francisco to live with her aunt, the only family Rachel has left. She also has a fiancĂ© there whom she’s never met.

Reno, being a very healthy male, nearly sabotages his disguise when he sees Rachel. And Rachel tries desperately to shake her attraction to a priest—forbidden fruit. It makes for an interesting journey, especially when one of the younger boys breaks the monotony of the trail by tormenting Reno.

Caroline: Sounds tempting. Can you give us an excerpt of LOVE'S SWEET WAGER?

Janine: Here it is:

Set up: The people Rachel travels with have no idea she's an entertainer. Neither do they know that Reno isn't a real priest. In this scene, Reno does everything he can to stop her from singing and dancing at the saloon.

“The saloon isn’t looking for a dance hall girl,” Reno said as he dogged her step for step.

“I’ll find out for myself.”

“No need to. I’ve already inquired.”

She paused her hurried steps. “You what?”

“You heard me perfectly clear.”

Rachel was ready to throttle him, but she didn’t dare with so many from their camp milling about. The improprieties of a woman smacking a priest’s face might garner too many questions. Besides, she’d be the one who people chastised.

“Mr. Hunter,” she began in a low voice, afraid a passerby might hear their argument. “What must I do to get you to understand that I don’t need your protection? Nor do I appreciate your meddlesome nose sniffing around my business.” When half his mouth lifted in a devilish grin, Rachel huffed. “You know what I mean.”

“It’s my duty as a priest to look out for you.”

“A priest?” she almost shrieked. “How dare you use that disguise as an excuse. You’re no more a priest than I am a nun.”

“I can’t argue that.” His half-grin returned.

Rachel took a fortifying breath. “All right. We will compromise.”

“I’m listening.”

“I won’t interfere with your gambling and you won’t interfere with my performing.”

He shook his dark head and pursed his lips.

“It’s a reasonable compromise.”

“What would your fiancĂ© say if he knew you traveled by wagon train, unsupervised, and entered saloons not fit for your mother?”

There was no way to win this conversation. Her best course of action was to take none. Without responding to his question, although she admitted it was a valid one, she lifted the hem of her skirt and walked straight to the saloon. She prayed he’d leave her be and give up on his self-assigned role as her protector.

Outside the swinging doors, the gambler pulled her to a stop. She tried to wrestle her arm free from his solid grip. Her gaze darted around the area. She was horrified to find a cluster of folks staring at them.

“People are watching, Father Caldwell,” She controlled the worry in her voice.

Without confirming her comment, he released her arm. “If you’re all-fire set on going into the saloon, I’m coming with you.”

The alternative was to stand here and argue until Robert returned. Since that wasn’t going to happen, Rachel flounced through the doors, taking a moment for her eyes to adjust to the change of light. The saloon was packed with soldiers and men from her camp and the other caravans that stopped near the fort for rest and to restock their provisions. She was the only female. Though it should have rattled her nerves, she felt comforted knowing Reno stood at her side, even though she’d never admit it to him.

She found the proprietor behind the bar, working alongside the barkeep. The place was hopping with business and both men poured drinks as fast as a speeding train. Conversations came to an abrupt standstill; every pair of eyes focused her way. Her smile wavered. Holding her head up, she wound her way to the bar.

The tables were placed close to fit more people in the room. She brushed against an occasional knee and forced herself to stare straight ahead at the bottles lined up on the shelf at the back of the bar. She feared what Reno would do if one of the soldiers touched her in an improper way.

“Miss,” the proprietor greeted. “Did you lose your way?”

Laughter roared behind her, turning up the heat of embarrassment. “No, sir, I did not. Perhaps we can talk where it’s more…private.”

“Will ya lookee there. The purty lady wants to talk to Tom,” a drunken soldier shouted as if he were speaking to the deaf. Rachel cringed at his inference.

“Settle down, Billy. No need to be vulgar with a lady present,” Tom said.

“She ain’t no lady.” Billy laughed uproariously. “She’s one of them women that thumps a man good in bed.”

Rachel turned a withering look up to the proprietor. “That’s not true,” she croaked out, feeling ashamed. How could they mistake her for a whore? She didn’t dress like one. Indeed, her clothes were better suited for a school teacher than for a woman who gave her body to any man with money.

“Sorry, miss. Billy isn’t quiet when he’s had too much whiskey.” He showed her to a door next to the bar.

Across the room, Reno’s tense body felt brittle enough to break. He held back thrashing the brash soldier for assuming Rachel was a prostitute. But now that she disappeared to the back room with the proprietor, his stomach twisted, causing him pain. He pushed through the bodies, nearly knocking several men off their chairs. They grumbled and complained…until they noticed his clerical collar. Reno burst through the door, stopping in time to avoid colliding with Rachel. The back room was no bigger than a jail cell. He glanced from her to the middle-aged proprietor.

“Uh…this is…Father Caldwell,” Rachel introduced with a hitch in her voice.

Tom nodded. “Father.”

Reno stared into Rachel’s stricken eyes. What was she afraid of? That he’d drag her out of the saloon? Or that he’d conjure up a lie about the reason she asked to speak to the proprietor?

“I was asked to watch after Miss Rachel while she’s in Fort Laramie. She mistakenly assumed the saloon served women as well.”

The proprietor chuckled. “Well, I won’t turn down a female. If she’s got the money, I’ll serve her.” He gave Rachel a skeptical glance. “Can’t say as I know what this little lady wants to talk about.”

Rachel spoke up. “I’m an entertainer.”

Both men turned to her, and Reno held back the urge to drag her out of the building.

“An entertainer?” Tom inquired.

“Yes, sir. I sing and dance. Nothing more, I assure you.”

The man scratched his short beard. “Well, I suppose the soldiers and travelers will take to a pretty little thing like you. Say, are you the little lady Alex Smith mentioned?”

Reno reached across the man and closed his fingers around Rachel’s forearm. “You don’t want her working this saloon. She sings like a braying donkey and dances on her two chicken legs like a bull. Really clumsy.”

Rachel’s expression oozed contempt, but Reno refused to take back what he’d said. One way or the other, he’d stop her from performing for this unruly lot of soldiers.

“Is that right? Well, don’t think that would do. Thank you, miss, for your offer. I’m afraid I’d have a riot on my hands if you sing and dance as badly as the preacher here says. Good day, ma’am, Father.”

He left the room. Reno stayed behind, his sharp eye on Rachel’s changing demeanor. He’d catch hell from her, but if thwarting her plans for the evening kept her safe, then he’d deal with her tantrum.

“Will you follow me out of the saloon, or will you show the men how a lady shouldn’t behave? It’s your choice.”

Her mouth tightened as she contemplated her choices. He was surprised that she had to think about them at all.

“Oh!” She lifted her skirt and breezed by him. “Don’t think you’ll pass through the fort gates to gamble tonight. I’ll make sure you won’t.”

Caroline: I already love this book and can't wait to read it! Anything else?

Jannine: Book Video

Caroline: Where can readers find your books?

Jannine: The Wild Rose Press


Barnes and Noble

Caroline: How can readers learn more about you?

Jannine: At my Website:

Thank you for sharing with us today, Janine. Continued good luck with your career.

Just a reminder that my backlist is available at Kindle and Smaswords. In addition, I've just added a novella to Kindle, LONG WAY HOME, from the 2009 EPIC finalist anthology NORTHERN ROSES AND SOUTHERN BELLES, set in the Civil War.
Unlike my other stories, this one does not take place in Texas, but in Georgia. Very, very loosely, it's based on events in the town (though I gave it a fictional name) where my ancestors lived in Northwest Georgia during the Civil War. Thankfully, they were not among those whose homes were burned.

I've also added at Kindle a never-before-published mystery, ALMOST HOME. This is the first of a series about Link Dixon, a former Dallas PD detective who moves back to his hometown of Cartersville, Texas after the death of his wife. Link and his son Jason live in the Victorian home he inherited from his grandmother and Link is forced to take a job as sheriff's deputy on night patrol because it's the only law enforcement job available. He knows his experience as a lawman is wasted, but he's willing to take the job to help his son recover from the loss of Jason's mom. Sure enough, Jason soon smiles again with extended family nurturing him and his cousins for playmates. But Link learns that what he remembered as a wholesome place has evolved as everywhere else, and the town he thought of as being like Mayberry is now more like Miami Vice. Isn't that the way our memories work? We filter out the bad experiences and remember all the good things. Link fights to bring his hometown back to the low crime area he remembers. In the process, he's framed for murder, beaten to a pulp, almost killed, saved by unexpected friends, and betrayed by someone he trusted. Who'd ever have guessed his worthless cousin Virgil Lee would play a key part in achieving a climax to the crimes?

Thanks to each of you who has purchased ANY one of my books! I sincerely appreciate your reading my work. I'd probably write whether I sold or not, but writing is much more fulfilling if people read what I write!

Monday, August 29, 2011


White buffalo with his mom
Last spring, on May 12, 2011 a rare non-albino white male buffalo was born in Hunt County, Texas at the Lakota Buffalo Ranch. In the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the birth made the news. Recently I saw an article on this buffalo calf with lovely photos of the naming ceremony held in June.  

Snyder, Texas statue
by Billy Hathorn

The article reminded me that years ago I had seen the statue of a white buffalo in Snyder, Texas commemorating one that was shot in 1876 by a hunter. The statue in Snyder is of a female buffalo and the skin (though over 100 years old) is preserved on a nearby ranch.

Curiosity aroused and the fact I love research, I investigated. If you read my blog frequently, you know I absolutely love western history. Turns out this myth is the same on several sites, is very long in its entirety, yet carries a nice message.

Here’s a condensed version, courtesy of Jim and Dena Riley’s, Spirit Mountain Ranch website:

The legend of the White Buffalo Calf Woman tells how the People had lost the ability to communicate with the Creator. The Creator sent the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman to teach the People how to pray with the Pipe. With that Pipe, seven sacred ceremonies were given for the people to abide in order to ensure a future with harmony, peace, and balance.

Painting by Rogue Guirey Simpson,
Isn't it beautiful?
Legend says that long ago, two young men were out hunting when from out of nowhere came a beautiful maiden dressed in white buckskin. One of the hunters looked upon her and recognizing her as a wakan, or sacred being, lowered his eyes. The second hunter approached her with lust in his eyes desiring her for his woman. White Buffalo Calf Woman beckoned the lustful warrior to her, and as he approached a cloud of dust arose around them causing them to be hidden from view. When the dust settled, nothing but a pile of bones lay next to her. As she walked toward the respectful young hunter, she explained to him that she had merely fulfilled the other man's desire, allowing him, within that brief moment, to live a lifetime, die and decay.

White Buffalo Calf Woman instructed the young man to go back to the People and tell them to prepare for her arrival to teach them of the way to pray. The young hunter obeyed. When White Buffalo Calf woman arrived with the sacred bundle (the prayer pipe) she taught the People of the seven sacred ways to pray. These prayers are through ceremonies that include the Sweat Lodge for purification; the Naming Ceremony for child naming; the Healing Ceremony to restore health to the body, mind and spirit; the adoption ceremony for making of relatives; the marriage ceremony for uniting male and female; the Vision Quest for communing with the Creator for direction and answers to one's life; and the Sundance Ceremony to pray for the well-being of all the People.

When the teaching of the sacred ways was complete, White Buffalo Calf Woman told the people she would again return for the sacred bundle that she left with them. Before leaving, she told them that within her were the four ages, and that she would look back upon the People in each age, returning at the end of the fourth age, to restore harmony and spirituality to a troubled land. She walked a short distance, she looked back towards the people and sat down. When she arose they were amazed to see she had become a black buffalo. Walking a little further, the buffalo laid down, this time arising as a yellow buffalo. The third time the buffalo walked a little further and this time arose as a red buffalo. Walking a little further it rolled on the ground and rose one last time as a white buffalo calf signaling the fulfillment of the White Buffalo Calf prophecy.

The changing of the four colors of the White Buffalo Calf Woman represents the four colors of man--white, yellow, red and black. These colors also represent the four directions, north, east, south and west. The sacred bundle that was left to the Lakota people is still with the People in a sacred place on the Cheyenne River Indian reservation in South Dakota. It is kept by a man known as the Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, Arvol Looking Horse.

Lightning Medicine Cloud
lookimg very pleased
The calf born in Texas in May lives on a ranch owned by Arby Little Soldier, the great-great-great grandson of Chief Sitting Bull. In part due to stormy weather and lightning during his birth, the calf was named Lightning Medicine Cloud. The birth of a white buffalo is allegedly a one-in-ten-million occurrence. During the naming ceremony attended by over a thousand people, Samuel Joseph Lone Wolf said the calf was a symbol calling for the unity of all people, a message that is meant to urge man to live with the understanding that all living beings are linked and interdependent.

According to Lone Wolf, this is the buffalo’s message to all people, not only Native Americans: “We, as human beings, need to quit bickering at each other. We need to forget that we’re all different colored skins, different colored hair, ‘cause when they cut us down, we’re all the same. We need to come together as one nation. Not a black nation. Not a red nation. Not a white nation. Not a yellow nation. We need to come together as it is meant to be--one nation. Think about that, carry it in your heart and work at it.”

Isn't that a nice message? It's one with which I heartily agree. Do you find myths and legends interesting? Would you like to share one here?

For those who live in the area, Lakota Buffalo Ranch will have a Pipe Ceremony at 4:00 pm on October 15, 2011 at the ranch near Greenville, Hunt County, Texas.

Thanks to everyone who read and/or commented on my 5 Heart review from The Romance Studio for my sweet contemporary romance, HOME SWEET TEXAS HOME.  Elisabeth won the PDF download of the book. Congratulations, Elizabeth, and thanks for commenting. I'll send your download right away.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Home Sweet Texas Home
Caroline Clemmons
Contemporary romance
Available from The Wild Rose Press
ISBN: 1-60154-939-3
July 2011

After the death of her mom, Courtney Madison became her younger brother's guardian. Each week they've managed to survive on the money she earns, but now she's offered the chance to change their way of life. Set to inherit two million dollars, all she has to do is abide by the rules set in the will of her friend, Sam, a dear old man that thought of her as a daughter.

Derek Corrigan doesn't have a high opinion of the woman about to inherit half of a fortune that was meant to be his. Worse yet, he hasn't even met her. Not until the day he walks into the bookstore where she works and tells her all about the will. But soon she has him changing his mind about her, however, he vows to fight his attraction for her because women are all the same -- they end up loving and leaving him.

From the start I absolutely loved this book, although the romance between Courtney and Derek remained on the sweet side when there was so much chemistry between them to be explored. The plot and dialogue was well written, and flowed nicely with the reading of a will changing many lives for the better. The characters were well developed with both Courtney and Derek being headstrong, yet knowing when enough was enough. What I liked so much about Courtney was her stubborn streak, and that she followed through with everything the will stipulated. And as for Derek, I adored how much help he gave Courtney, although at first he didn't want to because she was taking what he thought should have been his.

In conclusion, Ms. Clemmons has penned a fabulous novel in this one with some great secondary characters such as Derek's children and Courtney's brother that helped bring more ambience to the story. And lastly, this is a story I'd definitely recommend because it illustrates that no amount of money in the world brings happiness and that love does.

Overall rating: 5 Hearts
Sensuality rating: Mildly sensual

Reviewer: Bec

Thank you so much, Bec, for the wonderful review and thanks to The Romance Studio for hosting it! I hope readers will go to your site at starting August 29 to vote for my book.

Readers, thank you for reading my great review. Please leave a comment with your email address to enter my weekend drawing for a PDF download of HOME, SWEET TEXAS HOME.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Denise Belinda McDonald

Please welcome my friend, Denise Belinda McDonald. Denise and I met several years ago in a local chapter of Romance Writers of America.

Caroline: Readers love to get to know authors. Please tell us about growing up.

Denise: I grew up in North Texas with one bratty brother—we fought constantly, but we’re friends now. We have two younger brothers from my dad’s second marriage, but they’re more like nephews than sibs (having all brothers prepared me for my kids). I wasn’t much of a tomboy or a princess as a kid, kind of somewhere in between. I am married to my high school sweetheart. Often times he’s asked if he’s the “hero” in my stories. His line in return is, “Naw, I’m usually the dead body.” (It’s better than therapy, killing him from time to time). I’m the mother of four school-aged boys (see where the preparedness came in); being stuck between tomboy and princess has paid off in my favor. I’m not too girly having no one to share that with, but just girlie enough I don’t have to go camping with them. Whenever I get the hankering for something a little different out of life, I just write about it.

Caroline: Writing is better than therapy, isn’t it? And a lot cheaper. Sometimes we even make a couple of dollars. Who are your favorite authors and favorite genres?

Denise: I started out really getting into romantic suspense. I love La Nora. Karen Robards is always a fave. Other than those two ladies, there’s no one author or genre that I stick to (call it my ADD). I have a habit of picking a section at the bookstore or library and just going through it all.

Caroline: How many books do you read a month? What are you reading now?

Denise: In a good month I read 3 or 4, but with the four kids that’s not always conducive. I am currently reading a Georgette Heyer novel, FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK, on my Nook and I am reading a paperback, THE BRUSH-OFF, by Laura Bradley.

Caroline: I'm always reading more than one book and can't be without one in case I have a few minutes to kill. When you’re not writing, what’s your favorite way to relax and recharge? Hobbies?

Denise: I have done just about every craft there is. I taught myself how to knit a few years ago—every relative now has a lovely scarf. I like to quilt, but that can be too time-consuming. I do enjoy baking, but I am not very good at it—I am slightly (which read to mean *very*) impatient so I tend to skip certain points in recipes and the food can come out all wonky.

Caroline: I remember when you taught yourself to knit, clever girl. Describe yourself in three or four words.

Denise: I’ve no idea, sorry 

Caroline: I’ll do it for you--good mom, fun, and loyal. Would you like to share any guilty pleasures that feed your muse?

Denise: Definitely Lifetime movies and the Food Network. They let my brain reset, which in turn makes my muse ready to go. I also watch just about every profiler/military/detective show on TV. Something about guns and things blowing up... uh, I may have revealed too much.

Caroline: Go figure--I watch them, too, and find HGTV restful. Watching is like giving my mind a vacation. Oops, what does that say about my viewing choices? How long have you been writing?

Denise: Since I could hold a pencil. Seriously. I started novel-length writing when I was 18, but really picked it up when I was pregnant with #4 child—mostly to keep sane.

Caroline: Where do you prefer to write? Do you need quiet, music, solitude? PC or laptop?

Denise: At home, I cannot write in quiet. When my youngest finally started school I would have two TVs on. I had to have Disney Channel as well as “Grown Up” TV—I was so accustomed to the sound, I needed it to keep going. I am down to one TV now, and in the other room, to keep me from “watching” while I work. I will write just about anywhere, though: sitting in the chair at the salon, waiting in line at school to pick up this kid or that, on my laptop, long hand watching TV (I wrote half a book during commercial breaks one season) or with the Alphasmart. I just write everywhere.

Caroline: Are you a plotter or a panzer?

Denise: I like to think of myself as a Plotser. I plot very little, just have the basics, not completely thought out, but a little something.

Caroline: Do you use real events or persons in your stories or as an inspiration for stories?

Denise: Maybe for the germ of the idea, but for the most part, I just have an over active “what if…”

Caroline: “What if” is the writer’s friend! Tell us about your writing schedule. I know you’ve participated in NANO and our chapter’s writing challenges. Do you set goals? Do you write daily?

Denise: My only goal is to finish my next book. I am the type of person that will buck the “it needs to be done by…” that slows my writing to a crawl. Having said that, I am very competitive. If we have a challenge in our group, I work really hard to get it done. Coming off of summer break, I have no schedule, but once the kids are settled into the school routine, I try to write 2-3 hours a day (usually smack in the middle of the day).

Denise's previous release,
also a great read
Caroline: What do you hope your writing brings to readers?

Denise: Just the happiness it brings me to write it.

Caroline: What long-term plans do you have for your career?

Denise: As most writers, the NY Times list, etc. I’d love to be able to say I bought XYZ with my earnings (and XYZ would include a cabana boy). I enjoy writing and as long as I can keep doing it, that makes me happiest. The fact that I get to share it with other people is just a huge bonus!

Caroline: Great attitude (and good luck with the cabana boy). Would you like to tell us what you’re working on now?

Denise: Truth be told, I have 3 different projects in the works. I am working on book 3 of my Paintbrush series, I am working on a romantic suspense and I am dabbling in a time travel, which is so far out of my element, but it is fun to stretch and try something new.

Caroline: You know I loved those Paintbrush, Wyoming books, but love the Texas settings like this one more. What advice would you give to unpublished authors?

Denise: Keep at it. The more you write the more you hone your skill. When I finish a book, I immediately start another one (or three). And keep reading. I find when I am not reading enough, my writing slows down.

Caroline: Mine too. Besides, reading is studying our craft, right? Tell us about your latest release.

Denise's Latest Release
Denise: RHINESTONE COWGIRL is set in fictional Rowdy, Texas (I like making up a fictional town so I can tweak them to have just the right homey feel I want). Rowdy is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business and has an opinion in the matter. When a stranger comes to town, it’s the talk over every morning cup of coffee.

Blurb: Poppy Dumphy invades Cale Hollander’s small, west Texas town, bucking into his world like an unbroken bronc. She's abandoned her cushy, Beverly Hills lifestyle to expose a long-kept secret only to find Cale determined to keep her intentions from tearing his town apart.

“Which one?” Cale snagged Poppy’s elbow and prompted her to start walking again, but just as quickly released her, not at all happy with the little zing that ran through his hand.

“Which one what?”

“Cabin are you staying in?” He tried to keep the sigh out of his voice.

“Oh. The one on the end.”

“My old house?” He let it slip out before he could stop himself.

“I thought you lived next door. I mean, at the next ranch.” She pointed toward his spread and deviated a little too much from the path.

He grabbed her shoulders and pulled her toward him. “Watch it. You almost ran into the tiller.” She had a good foot or two clearance, but one could never be too careful near such treacherous machinery—and he’d stick to that story if anyone asked. He would never admit that he yearned to touch her again. “I left home when I was seventeen.” He let his hands linger on her shoulder then down her arm. Had he ever touched skin so soft?

“You moved out?” she asked just above a whisper.

“My dad and I weren’t getting along.”


Cale shook himself. “Never mind.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.” She was quiet for a moment. “I guess you and… Mr. Morgan are really close.”

Great, just the opportunity he needed to show this woman he would protect his friend. “We’re very close. He’s like a father to me.”

Poppy stumbled.

“Careful.” Were his hands not still on her arm, she might have tumbled to the ground. Not for the first time, Cale wondered what really brought her to Texas. To Rowdy specifically. The woman hadn’t come prepared—hell, she’d driven halfway across the county with no AC in her car. She was up to something, and he was damn sure going to find out what.

They stopped at the little cabin at the end of the row. A small wall-mounted light did little to illuminate the woman’s face as she looked up at him, but he had a remarkable memory and could fill in what the light didn’t show.

“I uh…” A coyote yipped, and she all but jumped into his arms. “How close is that?”

* * * *

“Not too, don’t worry.” Cale’s breath ruffled the top of her hair.

Poppy could stand there all night, wrapped up in this man’s strong embrace. It had been so long since she’d had someone to support her in any way. Not that Cale actually wanted to be there, he was just doing what Gerri asked him to. If anything, it reminded her she wasn’t in Texas to find a beau. She pushed away. “I’m not worried. It just caught me off guard. Back home I ran into a mountain lion once.”

He snorted. “Really?” The small light cast an ominous shadow over his face.

“Yes. I was out walking my sister’s dog.”

“Mmm-hmm.” His eyes narrowed. “Where are you from?”

“LA. Well, Beverly Hills to be exact.”

If she wasn’t mistaken, he scoffed and said something akin to “Figures.”

“Good night.” He tipped his hat.

“Thanks.” Poppy pushed through the door. A wave of hot air wafted over her face. “Boy, it’s hot in here.”

“Turn on the AC.” He called over his shoulder.

“It was on when I left. I turned it up when I was talking to my brother.”

He sighed and turned back to her. “And you left it on?”

“It was hot when I got here. I’d driven all day without AC in the car and…” She stopped herself. She knew better than to whine.

“Do you mind if I take a look at it?” Cale stepped through the doorway.

“Please.” She turned on several lamps.

“Will you hold my hat?” He handed her the hat and went to work on the window unit. He had to duck down to remove the plastic cover.

Poppy slipped off her shoes and hopped onto the huge bed to watch. He was swift with his hands. The muscles in his arms and back rippled under his shirt. Despite the heat, a shiver ran through her. “Did I mess it up?”

"Looks like the compressor froze up.” Cale straightened up and rolled his shoulders. He looked at her and stopped for a minute and just gaped at her. “Hot.”

“Pardon me?” Her tongue darted out to wet her lips.

“It’s going to be hot. Until it’s fixed. I can’t do it tonight. It needs to thaw. I can look at it sometime tomorrow.”

“Oh. Gotcha. Okay. Thanks for trying.”

“I don’t think you understand.” He moved closer to the bed. “There’s no AC.”

Poppy fanned herself, but she wasn’t sure if it was from the stifling heat or the man standing a tad too close. “I get it. Hot. I’ll be okay.”

Cale stood there and watched her for a long moment. She’d never much thought about how sexy a man in boots and tight, tight jeans looked. Poppy’s gaze darted to his mouth. The man had sexy lips, too. For a moment, her mind flashed to what it might feel like for him to lean into her, press his hot mouth to hers.

“You need me.”

“I, uh what?” Poppy swallowed hard. She did need him, in so many ways she couldn’t even say but… how could he read her thoughts so clearly?

* * * *
“You need me.”

Cale watched her eyes widen. He wanted to laugh at the look on her face. He’d give just about anything to know what the hell she’d just been thinking.

“I do?”

“Didn’t you sign up for riding lessons?”

When she nodded, he continued, “Kib’s gonna be out of pocket for a while. I can help.” He couldn’t believe he just offered to take over. Sure, at first, it was more or less to get her reaction, but once the words were out of his mouth, he didn’t want to call them back.

Caroline: Terrific excerpt. I especially enjoyed the scene following, too. Where can readers find your books?

Caroline: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

Denise: I just want to thank Caroline for interviewing me for her blog. She is and continues to be such a wonderful friend. My writing is better for having known you.

Caroline: Wow, what a nice thing to say! How can readers learn more about you?

Caroline: Thanks for stopping by to visit with us, Denise. I wish you many sales and a place on the NYT List in the near future (cabana boy optional).

Sunday, August 21, 2011


by Denise Belinda McDonald,
an August 2011 release from Siren Book Strand Romance.

Another “poor little rich girl?” Not likely! This heroine is her own woman, no matter how much money she has. Portia “Poppy” Dumphry has spent the first thirty-two years of her life in Beverly Hills, wondering why she neither looks like nor fits in with the rest of her family. Her loving mom--the only adult in her world who approved of her--died when Poppy was in high school. Rejecting her family’s enormous wealth, Poppy set out to make her own money and succeeded in the fashion world as assistant to a haute couture designer. When Walter Dumphry III, dies, Poppy finds old letters her mom wrote but never mailed to a man in Rowdy, Texas. What she learns from reading the letters explains why the Dumphry family, other than her two siblings, dislike her. She has the name of the man who is her biological father, and, at the very least, she wants to meet him and see his world firsthand. Though the people in Rowdy are suspicious of her glamorous big city looks, she proves she isn't afraid of hard work.

What is it about a sexy cowboy that makes female readers drool? Whatever it is, Cale Hollander fills the bill. Cale is a rancher and rodeo bronc rider. At thirty-eight, he’s getting too old for the rodeo circuit, but feels he has to prove himself to his late father. Cale lives with his grandfather when the man isn’t off courting his octogenarian girlfriend. Cale knows that city girls won’t stay in the rural West Texas ranch country. He learned that from his ex-wife when she left him. He certainly doesn’t plan to fall for another city girl, and you can take that to the bank.

Denise Belinda McDonald writes a sexy, fast-paced story that kept me engaged until the end. Her descriptions paint vivid images and her characters are three-dimensional. I loved both Poppy and Cale, as well as each of the secondary characters. I don’t even mind that I have Glen Campbell singing “Rhinestone Cowboy” in my head since I read this book. I’ve been a fan of Denise’s writing for several years, but I believe this is her best book. The buy link is

Join me on Wednesday, August 24th through Thursday, August 25th, when Denise Belinda McDonald will be my interview guest. Until then, happy reading.

Friday, August 19, 2011


by Virginia Campbell

Join Virginia on the porch swing
while she tells us a story or two.

I am so delighted to be visiting with you all here today at "A Writer's Life". Many thanks to our gracious and talented blog hostess, Caroline Clemmons. I  have my storytelling hat on today, and you are all invited to join me here on the porch for a day of tall tales, twisted truths, and tempting treats. Yes, refreshments will be served! I'll be settled here in my swing, but you can pull up a rocker or porch chair and make yourself right at home. I was born and raised, and still reside, in the beautiful mountains of Southwestern VA. The true tall tales of Southern mountain folk are often stranger than fiction!

My father's hometown was Jonesborough, TN, which is the oldest town in the state of Tennessee. Jonesborough is also the home of the International Storytelling Center. Each October, the town hosts the National Storytelling Festival, a world-renowned event which celebrates storytelling at its most magical .

Virginia's storytelling hat


An older gentleman, whom I knew as “Lucky”, was very outgoing and lively up until his death at age 93. I was surprised to learn that as a younger man, he had been very abrupt and somewhat “antisocial”. He had also been quite superstitious. However, this all changed after he survived being struck by lightning…on three separate occasions! After the third strike, he threw caution to the wind, set aside his fears and superstitions and began to live. He began to attend church, interacted with others, and became involved in community concerns. He met a nice woman, and they married and had four sons. Lucky considered himself to be a blessed man. If you look closely at the headstone on his grave, in one corner you’ll find a small lightning bolt.

That extra zing will make your taste buds tingle!

1-1/2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
Dash salt
1-1/2 cups water
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 pastry shell (9 inches), baked


3 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar

In a saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 additional minutes. Gradually stir in 1 cup of hot filling to egg yolks; return to saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, lemon juice, lime juice, and peel. Pour hot filling into pastry shell. For meringue, beat egg whites, vanilla and cream of tartar in a bowl at medium speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar gradually, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high until stiff and glossy. Immediately spread over pie, sealing edges to pastry. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or until meringue is golden. Cool. Store in refrigerator.

Granny Tate's home. Where's the skillet?

“Granny” Tate was an eccentric little country lady who lived off the beaten path and grew wonderful vegetables, fruit and flowers. She was wise in the ways of herbs and plants and also kept honey bees. She sold her wares at the local farmer’s market, but some who knew where she lived would just stop by her house and “go shopping”. Granny Tate also canned her produce and honey, and she usually made several quilts a year to sell. When the local sheriff started receiving calls from Granny about a prowler, he paid a duty call and told her it was probably a bear after the honeycombs. He had always thought that Granny took a nip now and then, and probably made her own “Mountain Dew”. Finally, she called and said that there was a dead man on her back porch, and she needed him removed. What the sheriff found was a live man with a large lump on his head, and one angry Granny. Southern women wield a mean skillet and rolling pin, and Granny was no exception. What made her so made was that she had used her favorite old black cast iron skillet, which had become thin on the bottom from long-time use. When she whacked the prowler on the head, it broke her prized skillet! Everyone looked at Granny with new respect. The sheriff searched high and low until he found her a good used skillet…blackened and “seasoned” just right. In return, she sent him off with a basket of preserves and home-canned goods and a large chunk of honey-on-the-comb.

One sweet way to use a skillet!
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 stick chilled butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 cup chopped walnuts

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. For the cake: Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add brown sugar and honey and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Blend in vanilla and sour cream. With a rubber spatula, fold in flour and baking powder until completely blended. Generously butter a cast iron skillet and spread the batter evenly in the pan. For the topping: Mix the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and chilled butter with your fingers until well blended. Sprinkle evenly over the cake batter. Sprinkle with walnuts over the top. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes. Serve warm.

Freed White Tail Deer

The love of my life was tall, wiry, and quick with wit, temper, and laughter. His voice was raspy and he had a goofy laugh. He had dark golden blonde hair, and the most beautiful green eyes ever! His outward bravado was matched only by the size of his heart. For me, an inner core of compassion is essential in a man. They may fuss, cuss, rant and rave, and act like spoiled little boys, but those big hearts are there when it counts. Here in the mountains of VA, hunting is a way of life (not mine) and also a necessity to thin the deer population. My guy loved the outdoors, and he was raised in a family of hunters. However, he once told me that he freed a deer which he found trapped in barbed wired. He determined that the animal was not badly injured, just caught, so he cut him free. He would hunt animals on their own turf, but he could never kill one for sport that was trapped. Sometimes the men who seem to be the most easily defined turn out to be the ones with the most layers. If they are good guys, then it is very much worth your time to work through those layers to the heart of gold found inside.


I made a version of beef stew for dinner the other evening. When I make soup, stew, pasta sauce, chili, etc, it's usually a little different each time. I sort of have a basic idea, and then use what's on hand. This time, I used two different cheaper cuts of beef that were well-marbled. I trimmed the excess fat and cut the meat into bite-sized chunks. I browned the meat well in a little olive oil with a large onion for flavor. I let the meat cook down, and then added enough water to the pan to loosen the good bits and make a nice juice. I added several bay leaves, salt, pepper, and garlic salt. I cut up at least one large potato per person into big chunks, and then added some carrots and celery, also in large chunks. The meat is better in smaller pieces, and the veggies are better in larger pieces. This is the point where you add more liquid. Water, beef broth or red wine (or some of each) are best. (One time when making beef stew, I also added a jar of mushroom gravy with some additional water and it was delicious). Simmer stew covered until meat and veggies are tender, adding more liquid if needed. If desired, you can thicken the stew with flour or corn starch which has been blended smooth with a little cold water before stirring it into the hot stew. Remove bay leaves before serving. Stew is pretty basic, and the simpler the better.


1 1/2 cups uncooked wild rice, rinsed
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
4 slices bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, sliced
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins
seasoned salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place rice, water and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer; cook 45 minutes or until tender. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Simmer for 5 additional minutes. Drain any liquid. While rice is cooking, fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and drain on paper towels. In bacon grease skillet, saute onion, celery and mushrooms until tender. Add rice, cranberries or raisins, seasoned salt, and pepper. Heat through. Place cooked rice mixture in a 2-qt. buttered casserole. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-30 minutes. Delicious with Cornish Game Hens, Roast Chicken or Roast Turkey.


1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 head medium cabbage, rough-chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 large onion, rough-chopped
1 (16 ounce) can kidney beans
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (32 ounce) carton beef broth
1/2 tsp garlic powder
several bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Brown ground beef and drain. In a large stock pot, combine remaining ingredients and add ground beef. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and cover, simmering for one hour or until vegetables are tender. Remove bay leaves before serving.

A lot of myths and tall tales started with a little nugget of truth and embellished it until it became a legend. Paranormal fiction is intriguing because it takes our fascination with fearsome things to a whole new level! Many of us have had unexplainable “supernatural” events in our lives, which leaves the door open for our imaginations. I have lived in the same house for over 30 years. My mother and I owned the house together. She passed away several years ago. I have had many paranormal experiences in my home, both before and after my mother passed away. The first experience was to glance over at a living room window late one night and see the "Scream" face looking in! I rushed to the door and turned on the front porch light, and not a "soul" was about! Another time, on Halloween night, I heard distinct footsteps on the wooden floor of the upstairs hallway. My mother and I were both downstairs and no other "human" was in the house. One night, I went upstairs to my room without turning on the stairway light. When I got to the doorway of my room, a large misty shape moved from the area of the doorway and went across the room and out the window. One bright Sunday morning, I had overslept, which is a rare occurrence. A voice from the doorway of my room said: "Are you getting up?" I looked over through sleep-filled eyes and saw the blurred image of a large friendly blonde woman dressed in red and royal blue. I answered, and then realized it wasn't my mother! The "woman" was twice the size of my mother (who was actually downstairs in the kitchen).

Since my mother passed away, I have noticed unusual scents in the house. I have smelled my grandfather's pipe tobacco, my grandmother's lily of the valley, and my mother's fingernail polish remover. All of these people are deceased, and none of those items are in the house! The time that I was the most afraid was when I came home to find my house almost in a vacuum state. There seemed to be no air, no sound, and no smell of any kind in the house. My cats were in hiding. I don't know what had been in the house, but it had some kind of mojo!


1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
1 (5.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 tbsp. instant coffee powder dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs and coffee water mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a well greased 12 cup bundt pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cake thoroughly in pan at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate If desired, dust the cake with powdered sugar.

What are your favorite family fables, local legends, and spooky stories? Any good recipes to share? I'd love to hear what you have to say : )