Monday, January 25, 2010

Please Meet Penelope Marzec

For Hannah Howell’s Blog:

I am so pleased to be here at Hannah Howell’s blog! It might be freezing outside, but I’m feeling the welcoming warmth from Hannah and her readers. Most people complain about winter and I have to admit it isn’t my favorite season. However, I have found that sometimes on the frostiest days there are special moments that could only happen when a bitter wind is blowing outside. There’s a special ambiance created by the soft quiet of snow falling and a flickering blaze in the fireplace.

The setting for my latest release, The Company You Keep, occurs in January on a farm in New Jersey. I wrote the book during my dark winter of the soul at a time when my usual optimism had vanished and I vacillated between anger and hopelessness. It had all started with a family crisis. I’ve endured other family crises since then, but that one in particular hit me hard.

For some it might seem pure folly to attempt to write a book in that state of mind and in truth I had written nothing for months. But as winter blew in with its long, dreary nights I found myself once more at the keyboard thinking that I might be able to write at least one page of the story which had presented itself to me many months before when I had visited a haunted historic home.

I stared at the monitor and repeated an old mantra to myself. I am a writer. Writers write. They write because they have to write. They write because they have stories to tell.

I had a story. With some hesitation I tapped out the details on the keys.

The heroine, Jennifer, is not like me—she is better than me, as I tend to think all heroines should be. She is fiery, talented and gorgeous, with long, thick hair. The hero, Nathan, is a billionaire, incredibly handsome, and thoroughly smitten with the heroine—though he refuses to admit it. He is rough around the edges, but he simply needs to be tamed and the heroine is well suited for the task!

The plot bears no resemblance to my life. I wanted fantasy when I wrote the story—not real life. I wanted to leave my troubles behind for a little while and see how my characters handled their problems, which were far, far worse than mine.

On the Brant family farm, a cursed spirit guards a deadly portal--a lethal gateway that would wreak havoc if disturbed, but Jennifer is about to lose the farm to Nathan, the billionaire developer haunted by the sins of his past. Then someone who intends to control the portal kidnaps Jennifer's brother. Jennifer must marry the wickedly handsome, but tortured, billionaire to obtain the ransom money.

There is a ghost, too, who guards the deadly portal with her small lantern. Jennifer can hear and see the ghost who dishes out advice in a Scottish brogue.

By the time I finished writing the story, spring had arrived and my positive attitude had returned.

The book has garnered much praise. Romance Junkies gave it Five Blue Ribbons. Cherokee, a reviewer for Coffee Time Romance, gave it Four Coffee Cups and said, “The suspense spills along the way, and keeps the reader engaged and on the edge-of-the-seat.”

Anastasia Cassella-Young from Mind Fog Reviews gave it 4 Bookmarks and said, “The action starts immediately and the storyline will keep you enticed. Ms. Marzec continues to keep you attached to the story by her drama packed demonic and spirit filled tale along with the underlying love story. I found that Ms. Marzec’s paranormal romance kept my attention throughout this novel from the very first chapter. I highly recommend this paranormal romance to those interested in demons, spirits, adventure and love. Penelope Marzec hits the mark dead on!”

Donna at Fallen Angel Reviews gave it Four Angels and said, “If you love paranormal and mystery, this is the book to get. Ms. Marzec has told an intriguing story that keeps you guessing until the end.”

My advice to readers, pick up The Company You Keep on a cold, winter’s night and forget about the bitter chill outside.

But first watch the video at:

Penelope Marzec

Monday, January 18, 2010

Author Brenda Gayle: Help for Haiti

Hi everyone and Happy New Year. I am so pleased to be invited to participate in Hannah Howell’s blog. I had the pleasure of staying with Hannah for a few days last spring and she is as wonderful and down-to-earth in real life as she comes across here.

Last week, I, along with the rest of the world, watched in shocked horror as images of the deadly earthquake in Haiti were relayed around the world. It is impossible not to be affected by the losses of life and livelihood wreaked on the Haitian people. But the disaster struck me in a way I hadn’t expected—it felt personal and in many ways it was.

I have never been to Haiti but spent many months immersed in its history, geography and culture as I researched and wrote my contemporary romance, SOLDIER FOR LOVE. In this book, Major Julie Collins has just been given her first overseas command. She’s leading a U.S. military force charged with helping to rebuild and stabilize the Caribbean Island of Beljou following an attempted coup by that country’s military.

Beljou is a fictional place but based very much on Haiti.

Like Haiti’s Port-au-Prince, my capital city in Beljou, Port-au-Paix, is a sprawling metropolis near the ocean with a population of more than two million people and growing as more and more people from the rural areas try to find employment in the capital. Most, however, are relegated to eking out an existence in the slums littering the hillside surrounding the city.

There is a huge discrepancy in the distribution of wealth in the city—indeed in the whole country—something Julie doesn’t fail to notice as she travels through the poverty-stricken streets to the Presidential Palace where her troops are initially housed. Accompanied by her mulatto assistant, Julie explores Port-au-Paix and learns about the country’s rich cultural heritage. But despite the outward appearance of calm, Port-au-Paix and its inhabitants sizzle with an undercurrent of tension that is ready to erupt at any moment.

This tension is exacerbated outside the capital where Lieutenant Matthew Wolf, one of Julie’s troops and a reconnaissance expert, discovers an agitator, a voodoo priest known as The Hougan, bent on stirring up the people of Beljou.

Julie is kidnapped and taken to Cap-Verte, The Hougan’s centre of power. As Matt explains during a briefing, Cap-Verte is cut off from the rest of the country, not only physically by the mountains, but economically, socially and culturally. Similar conditions in Cap-Ha├»tien, the part of Haiti on which Cap-Verte is based, have often made that part of the country an incubator for revolutionary or anti-government figures. Risking his career, Matt sets off alone to rescue Julie without igniting a political powder keg, and he does so with the help of islanders he has befriended.

I had thought originally to set SOLDIER FOR LOVE in Haiti but worried that the preconceptions many readers had about the country would overshadow the plot. Basing my fictional Beljou on Haiti allowed me to creatively tap into a wealth of information and bring the story to life in a realistic way. I was rewarded when one reviewer suggested Beljou was really Haiti in disguise and, again, when several others admitted to looking for the Beljou on a map of the Caribbean Sea.

While geography is important in helping to define a population, it is the rich history and multi-ethnic culture of Haiti that I came to appreciate most. Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion. For the last few decades, this poorest country in the western hemisphere has been struggling to undo the damage caused by unscrupulous dictators and corrupt politicians. And yet, the Haitian people have continued to show resilience and nobility in the face of adversity.

But how much can people endure?

The scope of the destruction of the January 12th earthquake is unimaginable. Striking just 16 miles from Port-au-Prince, it has destroyed or significantly damaged most of the city’s major landmarks, including the Presidential Palace (the President survived), and seriously impacted government operations and civil aid agencies. What little infrastructure there had been is gone and the repercussions are being felt far beyond the capital.
And the human cost! The International Red Cross has said that as many as three million people have been affected by the earthquake, with as many as 50,000 deaths likely. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti and the families and friends around the world. The road to recovery will be long.

I know many of you have already stepped up to help and I hope many more of you will do so in the coming weeks and months. I will be donating 25% of my book and eBook royalties from SOLDIER FOR LOVE to the Haitian relief and reconstruction effort; it is my way to give something back to the men and women who allowed me to share their world.

Brenda’s first book, SOLDIER FOR LOVE, is a Joyfully Reviewed Recommended Read. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series entitled HEART’S DESIRE, which chronicles the difficult road to finding love and family acceptance for three Graham cousins. For more about Brenda, visit her website at or follow her on Facebook (Brenda Gayle) and Twitter (Brenda_Gayle).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Meet Monica Burns and KISMET the book of her heart

This month my New York debut release, Kismet hit the shelves. It’s hard to believe that eight years ago, I was winging my way to Walt Disney World and that I had no inkling of about what was to happen. Long story short…I developed pneumonia a month later and wound up in the hospital. Got home, nothing on 250 channels and I decided to pick up my writing again. I thought it would be a piece of cake. Far from it. Rejections were numerous, not enough to paper a wall, but enough to make me want to quit a couple of times.

Although I had a fairly strong support system, it was still hard to keep going. Writing is a solitary existence until the author puts their work out into the world and allows others to read it. It can be a tough transition going from solitary confinement into a world where readers either love or hate your book. And while a writer tries not to let a book become personal, it does. Some people often liken a book to a child. I’ve never viewed my work that way. I know not everyone is going to be wild about my books. But I admit that believing that doesn’t take the sting away when someone rejects the book. It’s like that individual has said I don’t like you. And it’s human nature to want people to like you. So a writer has to develop thick skin when it comes to rejection.

Although rejections aren’t pleasant things, writers do recover from them. Some better than others. Rejections just make me mad, and I develop a stereotypical reaction along the lines of “oh yeah? Well just you wait and see. I’ll show you.” Then I would turn around and work harder. A publisher never rejected Kismet, but my agent nixed the first draft. If you think it’s tough to have a publisher say no to a work, try having your agent say it to you. But Deidre did the right thing in telling me the initial draft of Kismet wasn’t up to par.

And it wasn’t. It was some of the worst writing I’ve ever done. It was cold, forced, and just difficult to wade through. But then Kismet is a book unlike any other I’ve ever written. Kismet isn’t a book of my heart. It’s a book of my soul. When I wrote this book, I did so in hopes of writing to a trend. When I was writing the book, erotic romance and erotica was pushing the envelope in so many ways. I saw a discussion about forced seduction and how it was a fantasy for some women.

I understood why some readers might find such a fantasy exciting to read. After all, the reader is in control during a fantasy read, they can put the book down and walk away. In reality, the survivor of such an act cannot walk away. We are left with scars that sometimes don’t break open for years. Wounds that you think are healed, but really aren’t. My attempt to write a forced seduction scene was a miserable failure. But there is always a positive in every negative experience. We can learn from our pain, and the initial draft of Kismet forced me look deep inside myself. It became a cathartic experience that enabled me to deal with demons I’d not dealt with for a very long time.

The initial draft of Kismet was so painful to write that when I was finished, I wanted to push it aside and never touch it again. I wanted to write it off completely. But I’ve never been one to give up on something. So almost a year later, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book. Despite the lousy writing, I loved the characters. I pulled the manuscript out again and forced myself to read through it (or at least parts of it). To my surprise, there was almost half a book that was salvageable. Determined not to give up on the story, I rewrote the first half of Kismet. I turned it into my agent the second time then waited on pins and needles for her comments. Her initial reaction was “Taking off my agent hat and reading just for pleasure.” I could have asked for a better review. I hope readers will have the same reaction to Kismet, because it truly is the book of my soul.

Tell me about something bad that’s happened to you and how you were able to turn things around—make lemonade from the lemons.

Back cover Blurb

It was a gamble she was born to make…

Raised in a brothel at a young age, Allegra Synnford quickly learned that survival meant taking charge of her destiny. Now, a renowned courtesan skilled in the pleasures of the flesh, she chooses her lovers carefully—vowing never to be vulnerable to any one man. Until a mesmerizing Sheikh strips that control from her…

With a man who wasn’t used to losing.

Sheikh Shaheen of the Amazigh has been hiding from his past for a long time, but not enough to forget how another courtesan made him abandon his life as the Viscount Newcastle. It’s why the yearnings this dangerous temptress ignites within him are so troubling. Worse, thoughts of Allegra pervade every fantasy, threatening to undermine his cover. With old enemies circling, experience tells him he must resist her charms at all cost. In fact, he’s betting on it. That’s a risky wager when it comes to a woman of pleasure. But Allegra has her own reasons for playing games…with a man who can’t afford to lose.

What happens between them is Kismet…

What people are saying about Kismet

“This sizzling hot historical and its compelling characters will leave you panting for more! Monica Burns writes with sensitivity and panache. Don't miss this one!” — Sabrina Jeffries, NYT bestselling author

“Burns' story is hotter than the desert sands! She succeeds with a classic captive/captor romance akin to a Johanna Lindsey classic. Relax and enjoy the sizzling show -- complete with a lesson in bananas and seduction.” — RTBOOKreviews

"After reading the bio posted on her website, I was afforded a deeper understanding into the wealth of emotions she poured into Kismet. Tenacious, sassy heroines and strong, sexy heroes are her signature style and she’s boldly penned one of the best books I’ve read in years." — TwoLipsReviews

Pick up a copy of this wonderful book Amazon and BN

Monday, January 4, 2010

Introducing Katie O'Sullivan author of UNFOLDING THE SHADOWS

Greetings and Happy New Year! I’m Katie O’Sullivan, here to chat about my debut novel. I’m thrilled to be Hannah’s guest blogger today!

When I first decided to get serious about my writing, I joined the Romance Writers of America. Attending my very first chapter meeting, I felt intimidated and out of place with my first little manuscript in hand and a dream in my heart.

There was an empty seat next to Hannah, and she smiled at me as I sat down. She was very welcoming and down to earth as she introduced herself. She made me feel better about my decision to join this group.

As the meeting began, everyone took turns telling the latest news for the month. When it was her turn, Hannah whipped out several covers of new releases, foreign releases and re-releases… I had no idea who I’d been seated next to! I was both intimidated and impressed.

Someday I hope to have as many books to my credit as Hannah does. For now, I finally have one piece of cover art to show off. My debut novel Unfolding the Shadows was released as an e-book by Cerridwen Press in October 2009. It’s a tale of romantic suspense, with a reluctant psychic as my heroine. She has to come to terms with her gift and the secrets of her past in order to move forward with her life.

The back cover blurb about Unfolding the Shadows reads:

Jillian has worked hard to close the doors on her past and the psychic abilities that defined her youth. For sixteen years, she’s ignored the ghosts who still try to whisper to her. Even her controlling husband Kyle has no idea that his wife can talk to spirits. But on the day after Christmas, her great aunt’s car smashes head-on with a commuter train and Jillian finds herself on a collision course with ghosts who refuse to remain in the shadows any longer.

Long-hidden secrets are coming to light and Jillian’s life has to change to accommodate them. With the help of her friends and a substantial inheritance, she sets her life in a new direction, but Kyle’s not about to lose out on his share of Jillian’s inheritance—even if he has to kill her to get it.

* * *

I’ve loved mysteries and suspense novels ever since reading my first Nancy Drew mystery. Poor Nancy never got much more than a tight embrace from dependable Ned Nickerson! Didn’t you always hope for more? At least one not-so-chaste kiss? It’s no surprise that my first novel is in the romantic suspense genre, with a few kisses thrown in for good measure.

When you add a touch of paranormal to the suspense and romance, I’ll stay up through the night to finish reading the book! Whether it’s a kilt-clad Highland hottie, a Louisiana vampire, or a ghost whisperer fighting for her life, I can’t sleep until I know there’s a happily-ever-after in store for the heroine. Especially on these cold winter nights, a good book can help heat things up!

What makes you stay up all night turning pages? Is it the emotions spilling off the page or the action and adventure of it all? Or is it simply the fact that a good book takes you away from everyday life, letting you inhabit an extraordinary new world?

Leave a comment and tell us what you’ve been reading that keeps you glued, either to your e-reader or to the printed page!

For more information about author Katie O’Sullivan, visit her website at To purchase a copy of Unfolding the Shadows from Cerridwen Press.