The Black Sheep – Meg Benjamin

Long Time Gone by Meg BenjaminErik Toleffson was just a name in my first Konigsburg book, Venus In Blue Jeans. Cal Toleffson, the hero, mentioned his big brother Erik who’d been a bully to his younger sibs. Frankly, I never intended to do much more with him, sort of like Tom Ames’s criminal brother Burton, who’s mentioned in passing in Brand New Me (note to readers: don’t look for Burton to show up anytime soon, or possibly ever). But when I finished book 2, Wedding Bell Blues, I felt like something was missing. I’d gotten two more Toleffson brothers on board, Pete (the hero) and Lars, but the story just didn’t seem complete. I realized then that I was missing Erik.

So he came to the wedding, although his brothers really didn’t want him there. At first, I just wanted him to make an appearance, the Big Brother From Hell trying to make amends. But he kept doing things—rescuing Janie Dupree from her ex-boyfriend, talking Lars’s nightmare of a wife out of ruining Cal’s wedding reception. It turned out he was a character who had a lot more layers than I’d originally thought.

It was only natural that Erik played a more important part in Be My Baby. I’d decided to make him a cop at the end of Wedding Bell Blues, and a cop was badly needed in Be My Baby, given all the nefarious doings in town (including an attempted kidnapping and a dangerously psycho mother-in-law). He’s sort of an assistant hero in the novel, although Lars is the man with the plan and the happy ending.

So then it was time for Erik to have his own book: Long Time Gone. By now, I had a good idea of the kind of man he was. I knew he’d been a real bastard in the past and that he needed to make up for it. I knew he wanted the respect of his brothers, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever deserve it. I knew he was a man with demons to conquer and that the book would have to let him confront them. Erik is the chief of police, but he may not be able to hold onto the job. He falls in love with a wonderful girl, but he may not be able to hold onto her either. Of all my heroes, Erik is the most complex. But he’s also the most deserving of a happy ending. I hope you’ll give him a try.

Here’s the blurb for Long Time Gone, now available in print:

Konigsburg, Book 4

Erik Toleffson wasn’t looking to become Chief of Police. He’s got enough trouble trying to rebuild his relationship with this three brothers who, until just recently, ran the other way when he approached. He’s not the bully they grew up with, but bad memories are tough to overcome.

Morgan Barrett is as worn out as a vat full of crushed grape skins. She never planned to run Cedar Creek Winery, but there’s no one else to shoulder the load as her father recovers from an injury. All she needs is a little sleep. Just a five-minute nap in the booth at the Dew Drop Inn…if that guy across the bar would stop staring at her as if putting her head down on the table is a crime.

After Morgan yawns in Erik’s face, there’s nowhere to go but up. With time, though, their relationship warms like a perfectly blended Bordeaux. Until the shady mayor digs into Erik’s past and dredges up information that could drive a permanent wedge between him and his brothers—and sour any chance of a future with Morgan.

Warning:  Contains hot sex with mango sherbet, crooked politicians, yuppy bikers, Bored Ducks, and a Maine Coon Cat with attitude


Posted in Genre: Contemporary. Comments Off on The Black Sheep – Meg Benjamin

“Lessons on Love and Marriage from King Henry VIII” by Laura Navarre

As a man six times married and the veteran of numerous illicit affairs, King Henry VIII must have had the opportunity to learn quite  a bit about what NOT to do in his love life.  Henry only appears in a cameo role in my dark Tudor romance, The Devil’s Mistress. After all, I didn’t want him to steal the show from my hero, Sir Joscelin Boleyn!  But Henry couldn’t resist making a few overtures toward my heroine, Italian perfumer and apothecary Allegra Grimaldi–never realizing, of course, that she’s a reluctant lady assassin blackmailed to poison Anne Boleyn.

It’s true that Henry was never the most self-aware of kings.  Still, he WAS known for his intellect, so maybe he would have figured a few things out.  If I could have interviewed the guy and asked him to give Samhain readers a few tips on love and marriage, he would probably have said the following:

1. THOU SHALT NOT COVE T THY BROTHER’S WIFE.   Henry made his first mistakes in love when he was still a kid, destined for a career in the clergy, and his older brother Arthur married Isabelle of Castile’s beautiful and stately daughter, Katherine of Aragon.  The young Henry, who would have been in fourth grade in the modern world, had to escort the splendid young redhead down the aisle at her wedding.  Thus began the youthful infatuation that would sustain him through Katherine’s brief and unsuccessful marriage to Henry’s brother Arthur, and several years of her subsequent widowhood.  We all know how this (Henry’s first marriage) ended:  with Katherine’s abandonment and divorce (very much under protest) so Henry could marry that bewitching upstart, Anne Boleyn.  Still, Henry and Katherine were married with all apparent amity for twenty years before that time, and they were arguably the happiest twenty years of Henry’s life.

2. THOU SHALT NOT MARRY TO EASE THY CODPIECE.  When Henry fell in love with Anne Boleyn, who led him a merry chase for six years without succumbing to his charms, Henry claimed his marriage to Katherine was invalid due to consanguinity—in other words, the fact that she’s been married to his brother.  Closer to the mark, Henry was dissatisfied because Katherine could produce only a string of miscarriages and stillbirths except for one inadequate daughter, Princess Mary (the same Mary who would later become Bloody Mary Tudor).  But most of all, Henry made life a merry hell his councilors, people and Pope because he needed that divorce in order to marry Anne Boleyn, and coax the reluctant temptress finally into his bed.  And we all know how THAT marriage ended.  Anne too could produce only miscarriages and a lone daughter, (who would subsequently rise to glory as the virgin queen Elizabeth.  Besides, Anne’s sharp tongue grated on Henry’s nerves.  Thus, Henry found he needed another wife. This time, he didn’t fiddle around with popes and excommunication and protracted divorce proceedings.

3. THOU SHALT NOT MURDER ONE WIFE AND RUSH ON TO THE NEXT.  Unfortunate Anne was the first wife Henry beheaded.  Well before Anne’s arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of London, Henry had fallen in love again—this time with Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour.  Meek and modest, this Plain Jane was the perfect antidote to the temperamental and challenging Anne.  Of course, Jane modestly declined to succumb to Henry’s blandishments outside the sanctity of the marriage bed.  He wooed her eagerly even before Anne’s beheading, and the two married shortly thereafter.  History doesn’t record what she thought about the proceeding, but Jane dutifully produced Henry’s only legitimate son, the fragile and fanatical Protestant boy who would become King Edward VI.  When Henry died, Edward became King of England at the age of nine, but would rule for only six years before he died of a wasting illness.  As for Jane, she succumbed to puerperal fever mere days after giving birth, plunging poor Henry into grief again.  However, one sickly son was a fragile legacy on which to hang the future of the Tudor dynasty, so Henry decided to marry again, and quickly…

4. THOU SHALT NOT MARRY SIGHT UNSEEN.  This time, Henry chose to marry a foreign princess.  Trouble was, no one would have him, because by this time the position of Henry’s wife was considered to be decidedly unlucky!  One candidate for the role stated publicly that if she’d had two heads, one would be at Henry’s disposal.  Finally, German noblewoman Anne of Cleves was pushed into the role by her strait-laced Protestant brother the Duke of Cleves.   Henry agreed to the marriage on the basis of a flattering painting by Hans Holbein the Younger.  When the lady traveled in state to England for the wedding, and it was too late to back down, Henry found her appearance and demeanor disappointing.  (Among other shortcomings, she wore unflattering fashions and spoke no English, and Henry complained she exuded “evil smells”.)  I can’t imagine she was much disappointed when Henry refused to consummate the marriage, and she wisely granted him a quick divorce.  Afterwards, she lived prosperously and singly in England, and was treated as Henry’s sister.

5. THOU SHALT NOT MARRY A WOMAN ONE-THIRD THY AGE.  Mere months after his whirlwind marriage and divorce from Anne of Cleves, the indefatigable Henry fell in love AGAIN.  In the now-familiar pattern, fifteen-year-old beauty Katherine Howard refused his amorous advances, forcing the lustful Henry to marry a fifth time.  Although she was certainly beautiful, Katherine Howard was not wise.  Like the sophomore in high school she would have been in modern times, Kat was fickle in love.  Understandably, the enormously fat forty-nine year old king failed to enchant her.  It followed that the unfortunate Kat had at least one affair with dashing courtier Thomas Culpeper, and it further emerged that she hadn’t arrived a virgin in Henry’s bed.  Heartbroken and enraged, his Tudor pride smarting, Henry ordered her beheaded.  Reportedly, Kat was only seventeen when she died.

6. IF THOU SHOULD MARRY FIVE TIMES AND FIVE TIMES FIND DISASTER, THOU SHALT NOT MARRY AGAIN AT ALL.  From Henry’s perspective, the situation by now was desperate.  At this time, he was fifty-one and his health was failing, and still he had only one legitimate son to succeed him.  Moreover, Kat’s infidelities had bruised his famous ego.  Wealthy widow Catherine Parr was the antidote for flighty and girlish Kat Howard.  Already in love with another man, a mature and well-educated woman of independent means, Catherine can’t have found much incentive to marry the notorious king, but of course Henry would have his way.  Thus, Catherine Parr became Henry’s sixth wife.  Although they were married for only four years, Henry still found time to draw up an arrest warrant for her on religious grounds, but she managed to persuade him of her innocence.  Still, Henry’s ill health claimed him before he could enjoy the marriage for long, freeing Catherine to marry her prior love.

So, a summary for the novice Tudor scholar.  The tale of Henry’s six wives:  divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.  If he himself had survived, Henry could probably have written a few self-help books and given a lecture tour on his lessons in love and marriage.  Since he didn’t, we can only speculate what (if anything) he may have learned!

Hope you enjoyed the read. 🙂

Laura Navarre

The Devil’s Mistress

Desire has never been so dangerous.

Finding a Story

Well, apparently I was supposed to blog yesterday. Unfortunately, I was a bit dead to the world; thirty-six hours spent in various airports and on planes will do that do you. Not to mention the different time zones.

I just returned yesterday from visiting my sister. I spent an entire week with her up in Fairbanks, Alaska. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be show and tell complete with vacation photos. But I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to give an inside peek at how a story is first conceived, or at least how I do it. Inspiration can come from anywhere or anything, but vacations, new places, are an excellent foundation. Bear with me here as I walk you through the beginning of my trip…

Flying into Anchorage, the mountains slowly appear out of the clouds. The city isn’t visible over the wing of the plane, just miles of ragged, ice-covered ocean. It looks so much closer than it actually is, the plane dipping low, as if about to land in the frigid water. A man, quiet and reserved, clutching the arm of his seat. What is he thinking? How did he get here? Not many people relocate to Alaska. Perhaps he followed his lover here…yes, that works. His lover is big, strong, self-sufficient. They met on the job, when the Alaska native came to consult. Whatever possessed a quiet accountant to follow him home?

Anchorage looks modern, progressive. But they aren’t stopping in Anchorage. He waits in the tiny airport for the flight that will take him north. The flight itself is almost awkward. The stewardess greets passengers by name, coos over how big a baby has grown. Everyone knows each other; they make this flight multiple times in a year and Fairbanks is a small town. He gets sideways looks from some people, wondering about the newcomer. It’s uncomfortable, but he reminds himself why he’s doing this, about a handsome face and boisterous laugh.

It’s colder here than it was in Anchorage, the air freezing in his lungs as he follows the small crowd of people across the snow-covered tarmac. A discreet thermometer reads -34 degrees. When he realizes that’s in Fahrenheit, he wonders if he should have brought a pair of long underwear. Everything is coated in ice and snow, the air hanging heavy and low. Air quality is a problem in Fairbanks. Smoke and exhaust lingers overhead in the still air of the valley, smoke plumes rising from the buildings. It not only feels cold, it looks cold.

What has he gotten himself into?

This is a pretty even mix of actual events and descriptions, woven in with my (admittedly) overly-active imagination. But it gives me a start, a character. Different locations give me hints of scenes: the small, insular community of Fairbanks. The isolationist, anti-government sentiments of the people. The utter loneliness that is going to be an integral issue for my developing story.

I was there over Valentine’s Day, but the city was quiet. A huge portion of Fort Wainwright – nearly 4000 troops – were out on a training exercise. It lent a depressing air to the holiday, so many couples apart. But on the opposite end, we visited Chena Springs (never thought I’d be outside in a swimsuit in -30 degree weather!). It was night, the mist enclosing the springs, making it impossible to see a few feet away on the surface of the warm water. A perfect place for a romantic scene, for a character to remember why the loneliness and isolation just might be worth it.

It’s how I start, with an idea, a place, but most often with a character. I generally don’t write the story in a linear fashion; I’ll think of a scene, an event, and play connect the dots. It works for me, following the inspiration and letting my imagination roam. My trip to Fairbanks wasn’t intended to be a research trip. I was mainly going to keep my sister company while her husband (one of those 4000 troops) was away. But there’s a story in everything when you’re a writer and every experience is fodder for the imagination. Alaska in winter is a bit depressing, dreary, but there’s so much beauty there, as well. It will be my job to help my quiet, out of place accountant find that beauty. And that? Is what makes writing so much fun for me. Taking my characters along a journey that changes them, either fundamentally or their view of the world around them.

And now I’m off to do just that. Happy journeying!

One Writer’s Journey: Honing the corkscrew brain

Come with me on a dangerous trek, a journey through my writer’s brain.

Ever do those maze puzzles?  Your job is to get from point A to point B through a series of baffling twists. There are a zillion ways to go from point A, each turn multiplying the possibilities. They’re frustrating and fun and before I finish I inevitably want to scream at the guy who drew all those *&@!! twists.

That’s a writer’s job in a nutshell: to write those screaming twists.

Last month I talked about verbing. Today I’m contorting the average storyline into something more–interesting. I’m taking my example from Biting Me Softly, because it’s handy and I know how I changed it. Oh, and because it just released in paperback this month (wink-wink, nudge-nudge say no more). “I” in this case is Liese, a girl-next-door computer geek. Logan is six-three of golden graceful vampire. Liese has followed Logan into a dark sewer, lured by odd howling. She has tripped and fallen.

Here’s the original.

I breathed deep, put my hand out to push up and encountered boot leather. Was this what tripped me?

This goes from A to B to C. Breathe, hand out, boot leather. No surprises.

Here’s the updated version. Note the expectation set explicitly, A, expecting B, getting C:

I put my hand out to push myself up. Instead of cold concrete my palm hit leather. I froze. Was this what tripped me?

And from there:

I brushed tentative fingers along the leather, identified a work boot attached to something. Stiff fabric, like jeans. Moving farther I encountered what felt like a leatherette coat.

A man? If so, he wasn’t moving, like…a dead body. I panicked, scrambled on hands and knees to find the neck, to find the pulse.

Where there should have been a neck, there was nothing.

This is pretty good, especially the part where she searches for a pulse and not only doesn’t find one–she doesn’t even find a neck.

My secret for solving those *&@!! maze puzzles is to start at the end and work my way backwards. And that’s the secret to writing those lovely twists too! Decide what you want to have happen, and set a different expectation first. Simple, but not easy. :) Easiest is to set the opposite expectation, like expecting concrete and getting a boot. Harder but sometimes more satisfying is veering slightly off, like a car chase where you’re expecting a car to chase Our Hero but instead a monster truck screams onto the road. Or if you’re going for humor, a unicycle.

What about you? If you write, how do you create twists? If you read, what are your favorite twists?

Posted in Genre: Paranormal, Genre: Red Hot. Tags: , . Comments Off on One Writer’s Journey: Honing the corkscrew brain

One Writer’s Journey: Verbing

Cars chasing, crashing, exploding. Fireworks shooting, color splashing in the sky. A fire licking in the fireplace on a cold winter night.

Motion attracts us. I learned this early in my marriage, when I had to compete with a flickering television for my tired husband’s attention after a long day’s work. To be fair, he had to also compete for mine. 🙂

We writers can’t make words physically dance across the page. Or at least, not yet 🙂 For now we have to evoke motion with strong clean verbs.

Last month I talked about immediacy. Today I’m pushing (shoving forcing selling driving thrusting) verbs. I’m taking my example from Biting Me Softly, because it’s handy and I know how I changed it—and okay, because it’s coming out in paperback February 1 (bats eyelashes appealingly). “I” in this case is Liese, a girl-next-door computer geek. Logan is six-three of golden graceful vampire. They’ve just met but the attraction is instant and explosive.

 I squeaked, trembling between cold hard steel and hot hard Steel. My lips parted on a gasp and in that instant Logan’s mouth claimed mine.

His kiss was hungry, deep and driving, like he wanted to eat me to my toes. I was instantly on fire. I wrapped my arms around his neck, tried to fuse with his scorching strength to burn more. My breasts rasped against his thrust of chest, my nipples cinching. Logan’s fingers found the hard nubs, tightened around them like vises. Lightning bolts of need streaked through me. My respiration shot into overdrive. I swallowed a cry and arched into his palms. Logan’s fingers clamped harder. I shrieked.

Dropped, eat, fuse, and rasped are good strong verbs. I personally like squeak because it conveys character too. But I “was” on fire? Logan’s fingers “found” the hard nubs?

What verbs would you use instead? How about swept, grabbed, seized?

Fire swept my body, melting bones and muscles. I wrapped my arms around his neck to save myself from liquefying into a puddle of 10W-Liese at his feet. My breasts rasped against the thrust of his chest, my nipples cinched at the scorching heat. He grabbed my breasts two-handed, long fingers seizing the hard nubs and pinching them like vises.

What verbs would you choose? What are your favorites, and why?

BOTTOMS UP Manifesto

Anyone else feeling a little blue? Months of Holiday excitement – beasts to roast, gifts to buy, parties to rock – then suddenly it’s Boxing Day. (Actually it isn’t. Little know fact: if Boxing Day falls on a Sunday it gets moved to Monday. Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to effect the activity at the malls today!) We now have one week to get ready for the last party of the year, one week to make New Year’s resolutions, one week to decide how best to change our lives for the better. It’s enough to make a girl want to crawl back into bed!

How about… not? I just don’t think I can do it this year. I don’t want to take a good look at this self who has been indulging in fruitcake, chocolate truffle bars, Chex mix and booze and say, “You must go the the gym three times a week in 2011! You must put away the laundry immediately! You must read to your children and not let them play Wii all day over break!” I don’t know about you, but as a general rule, I’m pretty hard on myself ALL the time, due to a lifetime spent trying to gain my father’s approval. (WHEN will I grow out of that? Ugh.) Instead of examining my life for flaws and resolving to fix them, I’m going to look at my life and say, “Good job, you!” Trust me, that’s going to be much harder than making a list of New Years resolutions.

For example, just yesterday I was freaking out because my father-in-law sent out a mass e-mail telling all the relatives about Bottoms Up, my first-ever release which is coming out on December 28th – my kinky, twisted, deviant, angst-ridden BDSM love story. I hope at least a few of you cocked your heads in interest. You are my target audience, after all! However, the relatives? Ahhhhhhh! While I was assimilating this info by reading the e-mail aloud to my husband, he suddenly said, “Enough!” I swiveled around in the computer chair and found him glaring at me. “You are doing what you always do, finding something to feel bad about in the middle of something fantastic. Quit it. You have a book coming out on Tuesday. You worked really hard to make this happen. Be proud, and don’t make excuses for the kink- even to my relatives!”

I love that man.  That is why Bottoms Up is dedicated to him. A few minutes later, my manifesto was born.

I hope you’ll join me this year in focusing on the positives instead of emphasizing the negatives. Let’s end the year believing in our abilities, our prospects and our people. Life isn’t perfect, neither are we – but it’s all good. And let me be the first to say, “Good job, you!”

For a chance to win the first author copy of Bottoms Up, enter Miranda’s Contest.

After the NaNo Holidays–AND A GIFT FOR YOU

Did you do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? Or are you mid-holiday frenzy? Both explode a lot of energy through a short time.

Here’s my question: What do you do when it’s all over? Are you like me, and find cleanup a little dull after all the excitement? How do you combat that?

How about a *FREE* Kindle or Nook story for you? Five Angel Recommended Read* star The Bite of Silence, my short erotic vampire action-filled New Year’s Eve themed romance is FREE at Amazon and Barnes & Noble for a limited time.The Bite of Silence

Well, sure, that’s one way :)

After running full out I only have so much oomph, so I tackle the post-holiday jumble one small item at a time. The shards of wrapping paper are first. Then the boxes and plastic packaging my kids inevitably leave strewn around the living room.  The kitchen is next, putting away dishes from the feast. Decorations and cards come down anywhere from a week to a month laterbhey, they’re not in the way, right?

And after the NaNo? What do you do after pouring out fifty thousand words in thirty days? Maybe your prose is gorgeous, neat and complete. Maybe it looks like my house after the holidays. There’s a nifty book on how to handle that written by the NaNo guy called No Plot? No Problem! But this wouldn’t be a blog if I didn’t throw in my own two cents, one small item at a time.

Last month I wrote about The Bra Maneuver (Separate and Lift). Today I’m pimping IMMEDIACY. I’m taking my example from Biting Nixie, because it happens to be handy and I know how I changed it. “I” in this case is Nixie, a five-foot-nothing punk rock musician. Julian is a six-plus vampire lawyer. He’s really hot. Trust me. In this scene they’re getting attacked by bad-guy vamps.

In the dark beyond [Julian] I caught the impression of movement.  Blurs, two of them, coming in fast.  I couldn’t see much, sequestered behind Julian.  He was lean, yes.  But big.  His chest was solid and his shoulders broad.  His waist was easily as big as my hips.  That lean, flat waist.

In front of me, Julian’s arms jerked.  Cut through the air, hard.  His hands almost whistled with the force he used.  If he’d held knives, whatever he hit was now sliced, diced, and julienned.

Okay, there are two problems. Can you spot them? First, two good guys, two villains. How much tension is there with even odds? Second, you see the bad guys swooping in, and the next thing you see is Julian fighting. But where is the immediate cause of Julian’s slice-’n-dice?

Here’s the revision:

In the dark beyond him I caught the impression of movement.  Blurs, three of them, coming in fast.  I couldn’t see much, sequestered behind Julian.  He was lean, yes.  But big.  His chest was solid and his shoulders broad.  His waist was easily as big as my hips.  That lean, flat waist.

“Get him!” someone growled.

In front of me, Julian’s arms jerked.  Cut through the air, hard.  His hands almost whistled with the force he used.  If he’d held knives, whatever he hit was now sliced, diced, and julienned.

I’ve bolded the fixes. The frosting on the cake is GET HIM. Yes, I could have also elicited Julian’s response by shoving the bad guy right in his face. But dialog is fast, immediate. Command imperative is even more so. For more impact, show the threat as immediate before responding.

What about you? What do you do after the holidays? Or after the NaNo?

* Reviewed by Hayley for Fallen Angel Reviews