Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sit-Down Saturday with Cerella Sechrist (The Way Back to Erin)

Welcome to Sit-Down Saturday! Today, I'm featuring my latest release, The Way Back to Erin, the third book in my A Findlay Roads Story series.



This is the third book in the A Findlay Roads Story series. Tell us a little bit about the town of Findlay Roads.

As I mentioned in my last post, the town of Findlay Roads is loosely based on several Chesapeake Bay area towns, including Havre de Grace, MD. Because I’m a history lover, I had to create the town’s early origins, even if they never made it into the story. But I was able to use that information in Harper’s Wish when Rory talks about how Findlay Roads came to be: “…it was founded by an Irishman. Donal Findlay came over before the start of the French and Indian War and brought his entire family with him. They settled this area, and old man Findlay’s descendants have been a rich part of this town’s history, participating in the Revolution, the War of 1812 and even ferrying slaves across the bay so they could escape to Canada and find their freedom.”

If you’re a history buff like me, I’d recommend researching other Chesapeake Bay towns and their history. There are some great stories out there!

Concord Point Lighthouse, Havre de Grace, MD (photo: Cerella Sechrist)


Do you have any actors in mind for any of the characters?

Many authors have someone in mind for the characters in their novels, and I'm no exception. In fact, I have a friend who is currently reading in the book, and she asked me (as she often does when she reads my writing!) who I imagine in the hero and heroine's role. I've always thought Jewel Staite had the strength but wholesome innocence that personifies Erin. And in case you're wondering, my friend agreed!

Burke is a little trickier, and I had a couple people in mind while writing the role, but I think Dan Stevens (any Downton Abbey fans out there?) makes a good choice to reflect Burke's wounded and wary nature but also his kindness and loving heart.

I'm a Pinterest addict, and I have an entire board devoted exclusively to the Findlay Roads series, so if you want more visuals on the cast, the town, and the story, make sure you follow me there!

What was the hardest thing about writing this story?

While each of the stories in the Findlay Roads series has some difficult, true-to-life element at their core, I think this one carried a lingering weight given all the grief both Burke and Erin have experienced in their life. I didn’t expect this book to be quite as challenging, on an emotional level, as the others. The other stories deal with some devastating subject matter such as Early Onset Alzheimer’s, fractured families, and infertility. But I underestimated the power of grief, which is the central conflict for Burke and Erin. As I said in my Reader Letter at the beginning of the book:

“Grief is a tricky thing. It has no timetable. It is not bound by the constraints of a five-step process. It will catch you unawares, lulling you into a false sense of security one hour, only to strike you savagely with the reminders of your loss in the next.”

But I ended with: “Grief will tie you up, cut you deep, and hold you down. But it will not keep you there forever.”

The best, but also the hardest, thing about The Way Back to Erin was bringing both Burke and Erin through the sphere of grief they were stuck in. It was a story with no easy answers because life itself is not easy. They had to work for their happily ever after, just as the rest of us do. But it was also extremely satisfying to wrestle with them and their emotions through the book and then see where they ended up and knowing they deserved to be there. You’ll just have to read the book to see what I mean!

Do you have any interesting trivia from writing the book?

I always find it fun when authors share "behind the scenes" tidbits about their works. One from this story is that Kitt, Erin's son, nearly went through a name change in the series’ first book. One of my editors pointed out that I had a lot of gender-neutral names scattered throughout the cast of the series (Kitt, Rory, Peyton, Jamie, etc. – all of which could be used for either a male or a female.) She requested I change several of these to eliminate any confusion. I very nearly changed Kitt's name until my sister made a request that I keep it because she felt it was a good choice for his character. As I wrote the book, I was glad I did. Kitt seems to fit Erin’s son very well. (In case you're wondering, Peyton became Paige, the oldest sister in the Worth clan, and Jamie became Connor, the hero in Harper’s Wish.)


Do you have a theme song for the story?

While I wouldn't say I have a theme song for The Way Back to Erin, there is one song I listened to many times when I was writing the book. It was Heart Hope by Oh Wonder. The mood of the music just worked for so many scenes in the story. I actually listened to it repeatedly when I wrote the scene mentioned below.

Do you have a favorite scene?

I have several, but the one that probably moved me the most while writing was between Burke and great aunt Lenora, the woman who raised him after his parents died, and he and his brother had been shuffled around from home to home until Lenora took them in. Here’s a snippet:

***

She clasped her hands on the table. “I know you’ve never seen this place as your home. Gavin did. But not you.”

The knot remained lodged in his throat. “I’m not sure I could see any place as home, after my parents died.” He drew a breath. “And I’m sorry, that I wasn’t able to be more like Gavin.”

“More like Gavin?”

“Yeah. That I couldn’t…I don’t know. He just, he had a way…” Burke broke then, the tears for his brother rising unexpectedly. “He was a healer. Gavin had that gift of making the worst situation better because he had faith. I could never be like that. And I’m sorry. I know you loved him better, that everyone loved him better…and he’s the one that’s gone.”

He lowered his head and let the tears flow, so overwhelmed by his grief that he didn’t realize Aunt Lenora had moved from her chair and come to his side until he felt her lay her head on top of his.

“Oh, dear child.” He felt the weight of her small frame, leaning on him. He’d grown accustomed to her not touching him. It had never been her way. But feeling her so close to him now was soothing. “I never loved him better. Just differently. You were the one who captured my heart.”

These words stunned him. He straightened, and so did she.

“Me?”

She gave a short nod. “You and Gavin were so different. He saw the light in the world and tried to preserve it. I think that’s why he joined the army. He wanted to protect what he valued. But you…you see the truth. The only problem is you don’t always know how to live with that truth. Gavin may have made the world brighter, but you, sweet boy, make it matter.”

***

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

I love celebrating the release of a book with themed giveaways, and The Way Back to Erin is no exception! I’m participating in a group giveaway with my fellow February authors to help four lucky readers “Warm Up this Winter”, but I also have another giveaway going on exclusively for my Author News subscribers. If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, you’re eligible to enter to win the prize package featured below. Make sure you enter soon, though, the sweepstakes ends on Monday! Just click the links to enter either giveaway for a chance to win!

Click here to enter my Author Newsletter giveaway!






Click here to enter the Warm Up this Winter giveaway!


CERELLA SECHRIST lives in York, Pennsylvania with two precocious pugs, Darcy and Charlotte, named after Jane Austen literary characters. Inspired by her childhood love of stories, she was ten years old when she decided she wanted to become an author. She’s been known to post too many pug photos on both Instagram and Pinterest. You can see for yourself by finding her online at www.cerellasechrist.com. The Way Back to Erin, Book #3 in her "A Findlay Roads Story" series, is her fifth Harlequin Heartwarming novel.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Valentine's Romance Trivia ~ ala Harlequin


by Shirley Hailstock

This month, as you know from all the Valentine's Day blogs, we celebrated a day of love. Harlequin Enterprises, as the largest romance publisher, joined in the celebration of that day by sponsoring a promotion for authors and readers. They set up a program called Romance Trivia and Terri Brisbin and I hosted it. Terri writes Harlequin Historicals.




We went to a bookstore, a real store with shelves and clerks and other readers to meet in the stacks and talk about what books we've read and recommend. (The experience online is not the same.) Booktrader of Hamilton is an independent store in Hamilton, NJ owned by Joan Silvestri. She is super romance friendly and whenever I go in her store, she and her staff make me feel like a queen.

On the Saturday before Valentine's Day, Joan had put up signs, sent out texts, emails and posted on her Facebook page about the Romance Trivia event. Harlequin sent a box of materials, including the trivia questions and answers and prizes for the winners.

After Terri and I set up the area, we started the three rounds of questions. And then the fun began. Joan started passing the chocolate and cream puffs around. Terri read the questions. I partnered with one of the teams and Joan kept score.





The questions weren't always on books, some were about movies or popular culture figures (ala Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez).  There were a few questions we disagreed with, like; After seeing Niagara Falls, who said it was the second greatest disappointment for American wives? (Answer: Oscar Wilde).

There were teams who got logical and started using our old high school methods of test taking to rule out the obvious wrong answers. And in several cases, we were wrong. But the laughter was worth it.





There was also the questions on which we needed a third opinion. There was Joan with her computer open and Google ready.  When we argued over if Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward met on the set of The Long Hot Summer, Google informed us that they met in 1952. The movie was filmed in 1957.  So Harlequin's answer was correct. Do you think they used Google, too?




There was the need to find a song and let the group hear it. The question was: A popular song from the movie, The Bodyguard is I will Always Love You sung by Whitney Houston. Who wrote this song? (answer: Dolly Parton). Since the group couldn't imagine Dolly singing it (we'd heard the Whitney Houston version too many times), Joan pulled it up on Youtube and we listened.

Here's a link if you want to hear Dolly sing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_utP1mGoutQ

It was a wonderful day, with great readers. They were so good that we sat around talking for two hours after the program ended.




They were all A+ readers and trivia buffs.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

...want of learning is a calamity... - Liz Flaherty and Helen DePrima

by Liz Flaherty 
         
 I haven’t seen Helen’s post for February yet, so I apologize for us not "matching." Sometimes our row of ducks is startlingly crooked!


Shirley and Laurie mentioned Black History Month the other day. I’ve been reading a lot about it, particularly black women in history, and have been inspired. Here are a few links in case you haven’t seen them. Since I’m a retired postal worker, Mary Fields is a particular favorite. Watching the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, the heroines of Hidden Figures, was a life-changing event. Both times I've seen it. Every time I read a quote from Frederick Douglass, I am amazed by his wisdom. My favorite (and it must be everyone else's, too--it's everywhere) is "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." Amen, Mr. Douglass.

Chubby Checker came out with "The Twist," in 1960 (I was 10, so I don't

remember it all that well) and I remember watching him on "American Bandstand." I grew up in a farming community that was more diverse in its breeds of livestock than it was in races or ethnicities of its residents, and I knew very few African-Americans. But what I remember was that when I watched Chubby Checker, I just saw a cool guy who could sing and dance better than anyone I'd ever seen. It was the first time--and thankfully not the last--that I saw the person instead of his or her color without thinking about it. It was a great lesson for a 10-year-old. I'm glad it stuck.

It is a time of strife in this country. Of divisiveness. Of anger and pain and hurt. Our history, particularly that which we celebrate this month, shows that all those things have been around a long time. It's disappointing how little we've grown in some areas. And exhilarating how much we've grown in others. 


I wish I'd done more during my life to open things up. To make that anger and pain and hurt better. But I'm still enthralled by our country's history, hiccups and all. And I'm so glad I was there when Chubby Checker was on "Bandstand." You remember him. He's the cool guy who sings and dances better than anyone you've ever seen.



by Helen DePrima


February in northern New England is a test of endurance. Christmas is long past (although I haven’t gotten around to taking down my wreath), and my gardening catalogues have been studied and dog-eared for new flower and vegetable varieties. Unless you’re a winter sports enthusiast, which I’m not, February is a month to curl up beside the wood stove with a mug of coffee and a favorite book, to read or to write.

I grew up with my grandmother’s books. She read voraciously, and new books came into the house on a regular basis. I was allowed to read anything I could puzzle through, from history and poetry to essays and fairly steamy novels, for the day. One of my favorites, which I’ve reread almost to death, was Mrs. Appleyard’s Year, somewhat like today’s blogs, with chapters devoted the specialness of each month. Mrs. Appleyard was a proper and prosperous Boston matron living on the brink of World War II – little did I suspect that I would become familiar with her world, light-years removed from my grandfather’s Kentucky farm or the Colorado mountains where I worked after college. In our forty-plus of living in New Hampshire, we’ve made many trips to Boston for plays and concerts and Celtics games. Now our visits center more on the superb medical facilities, but I still delight in the pre-Revolutionary buildings rubbing elbows with modern glass and steel, the peaceful resting places of early patriots occupying prime city real estate.

Mrs. Appleyard liked that February could produce both snowballs and snowdrops. Her year must have included a mild winter, because just an hour north of Boston, we’re still a good month from seeing any kind of flowers that don’t come from the florist or blossom on my geraniums spending the winter on a south-facing windowsill. But the snow is receding around our big maple as sap begins to rise, and robins peck industriously in sunny spots thawing on the south side of the ell. Most exciting, a bluebird and his mate are visiting my suet feeder regularly; I hope they’ll decide to homestead in the birdhouse properly sited at the edge of the woods. And with luck, in a few weeks I’ll find last fall’s spinach making a brave comeback under the mulch.



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sweet Recipes for Your Valentines by Carol Ross & Amy Vastine



It’s Valentine’s Day and we’re going to help you make it a sweet one! 

That old cliché about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach is kind of spot on. At least, Amy and I think so. But we believe this holds true for just about anyone. (At least it does for us.) So, get your apron on and bake a treat for that special Valentine in your life - husband or boyfriend, wife or best girl, kids, or friend – we’ve got you covered!

For Your Sweetie Pie




My husband LOVES chocolate. If a dessert isn’t chocolate, he doesn’t see the point. There are a few exceptions, one of them being ice cream where vanilla is preferred. This decadent classic combines two of his favorites.

Hot Fudge Cake

1 cup flour
¾ cup sugar
6 Tbs cocoa powder, divided
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
½ cup milk
2 Tbs canola (or other light) oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup brown sugar – packed
1 ¾ cup hot water

Combine flour, sugar, 2 Tbs cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Stir in milk, oil, and vanilla until smooth. Spread into ungreased 9-inch square baking pan. Combine brown sugar and remaining cocoa. Sprinkle over batter. Slowly pour hot water over the mixture. Do not stir! Bake at 350° for 35 – 40 minutes. Cool slightly and serve over ice cream.

For Your Miniature Valentines (aka Kiddos)



It’s a tradition in my family to bake and decorate sugar cookies for just about any holiday. Valentine’s Day is especially fun because you can cut them into heart shapes and turn them into edible Valentines!

Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter - softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¾ cups flour
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp soda
½ tsp baking powder

Cream butter & sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Gradually add dry ingredients. Cover & chill at least 3 hours. Roll out and cut into desired shapes. Bake at 375 for 7 - 10 mins on ungreased cookie sheet until edges are very slightly brown. Do not overbake! Cool and frost.

Galentines Need Love (and Dessert) Too!



Amy and I share a mutual love for many of the same things and one of them happens to be sugary treats! We have an ongoing quest to find the most delicious dessert at RWA Nationals every year. (I’ve already googled the best ice cream in Denver.) So, I thought it only fitting to share the recipe I’d make for my cupcake-loving pal. Amy, I wish I could deliver these to you in person!

Chocolate Vanilla Cream Cupcakes

2 cups sugar
1 cup 2% or whole milk
1 cup canola oil
1 cup water
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

In a large bowl, beat the sugar, milk, oil, water, eggs and vanilla until well blended. 
Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into egg mixture until
blended.

Fill paper-lined muffin cups half full.  Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes or until a
toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from pans to wire racks to
cool completely.

 Filling:
¼ cup butter, softened
¼ cup shortening
2 cups powdered sugar
3 Tbs 2% or whole milk
1 ½ tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

In a small bowl, beat the butter, shortening, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt until fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Insert a small tip into a pastry or plastic bag with filling.  Push the tip through the top of the cupcake to fill each cupcake.  Frost with buttercream frosting.

Frosting:
1 cup butter, softened
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
1 to 2 Tbs milk or half and half
1 tsp vanilla
Beat until light and fluffy.
(This recipe originally appeared inTaste of Home magazine.)

What are you baking up this Valentine’s Day? Or are you more of a box of chocolates kind of person?

For more information about Amy Vastine and Carol Ross, including complete lists of their books, please visit their websites!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Who Decides These Things? By Patricia Forsythe


 


Once again, it’s time for Valentine’s Day, when we think about our loved ones, exchange cards and gifts, and eat too much chocolate. It has grown in popularity, and commercialism, since the mid 1800’s.

Romance writers are very fond of Valentine’s Day because it’s about love, but Valentine’s Day isn’t the only holiday in February. This year, we also have Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, which falls on Valentine’s Day. It’s also National Organ Donors Day. There’s a message in there somewhere -- maybe about eating too much chocolate?The 15th is Singles Awareness Day. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that single people are aware of the fact.

Here in the United States, we also have Groundhog Day in February, as well as George Washington’s birthday, and Abraham Lincoln’s. Maybe because the 12th is Lincoln’s birthday, it’s also National Lost Penny Day where people are encouraged to search for loose change. Turn over those sofa cushions?

One list I saw had seventy-three different awareness and celebration days in February, a heavy load for a month that only has twenty-eight days. February 1st was No Politics Day. I’m sorry I missed that one. The 3rd was Eat Ice Cream For Breakfast Day. I’m really sorry I missed that one. Some days have so many celebrations and remembrances listed, you could exhaust yourself trying to take part in them all.

It occurred to me that anyone could declare any kind of national awareness day they wanted to. Therefore, I’m going to declare February 14th as Give A Romance Writer A Hug Day. How about you? What kind of day would you like to declare?

Patricia Forsythe is the author of many romances, both traditionally and electronically published.  Her most recent Harlequin Heartwarming releases were in the Oklahoma Girls series; At Odds With The Midwife, The Husband She Can’t Forget, and His Twin Baby Surprise.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Feeling the Love by Cheryl Harper

Today, I'm in a grateful mood. I love writing, but I am not writing today. This is a celebration. When I think about how I feel, George Michael is singing "Freedom" and dancing. On Friday, I sent off a book that is going to require some heavy editorial lifting, but it's finished.

For a while, I've been in survival mode. No reading (WHAT?). No movies. Just work.

Today? I'm looking around in a Joan Wilder, "I just blew my nose on piece of paper, but I survived the deadline" haze and wondering at what point I just sell the house as-is and move to a new one instead of clearing out the dishes and laundry.

I'd like to say that's not me, but I think it might be the new me. I've always been all or nothing about life. I'll do it all (resolve to lose weight AND declutter my house AND build a strict budget AND be everything to everyone AND be happy about it) or nothing.

This year has already proven to be a lesson in learning the middle ground. I made the deadline but my house is wrecked, so destroyed I will physically fight anyone who tries to enter my kitchen at this point. I've missed some things to do something that's important to me but managed to find the time for friends when they needed me.

And today? Forget the mess. Forget the taxes. Forget the groceries I desperately need. I ordered pizza. I'm reading books. That's what I love the most. That's why I write. And that's what it takes to sit back down in front of the computer.

To my friends who write, I salute you. Thank you for learning to balance it all.
And to my friends who read, tell me what I've missed. What's the most recent book you read that was reading at its very best?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sit-down Saturday with Cynthia Thomason

SIT-DOWN SATURDAY
With Cynthia Thomason


Hi Everyone, welcome to Sit-down Saturday. Today I’m going to talk about my February release, HIGH COUNTRY COP, the first of a trilogy about the Cahills of North Carolina. So much is going on with this month’s releases of Heartwarming books including a fabulous contest for some great prize packages. But more about that later.

I have come to think of the Cahills almost as family. Mom, Cora, who lives on the family farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Son, Carter, about whom this book is written. He is chief of police in the small mountain town of Holly River. His brother, Jace, the laid-back,  guitar-playing brother who owns the local rafting expedition company. And sister Ava, whose journey will take her from corporate America back to the town she loves.

What makes this book so special?
Well, it’s the first of the series, and I’m hopeful readers will like all the stories of the Cahills. Carter is an honorable man, a “good cop,” who cares for his community and family. He’s suffered some setbacks in his life, none so profound as the loss of Miranda Jefferson, the love of his life. She moved away, married, but now is back. And Carter must decide if he will follow his heart or follow the law.

The other factor that makes this book so special is my personal love of the setting. I have been going to the small town of Banner Elk in the North Carolina High Country for several years. The town is charming, as most small towns are. The people are welcoming and friendly, as most small town people are, and the barbecue is great. If you decide to visit Banner Elk, make your reservations early. We only have one motel, but a number of beautiful bed and breakfasts.


Who is a favorite character in this book?
Now that’s not fair! I like all the characters or I wouldn’t have written about them. But aside from the hero and heroine, I suppose I like Miranda’s ten-year-old daughter, Emily, the best. She’s smart and sassy and draws conclusions that the adults sometimes miss. And she’s a whiz with a camera. Since I have a son, I always enjoy getting into the girl’s point of view.

Where did I get the idea for this book?
Research, research! I knew I wanted to write about my favorite town in my favorite mountains, so I began touring the area with an author’s eye for detail. I soon discovered a story around every corner. This one came about because I was riding in a car with a friend, and a policeman stopped us for “sliding” through a Stop sign. He was handsome and nice and let us off with a warning. Carter Cahill was born.


I hope you’ll give all the February books a read. Oh, the places you can go in Heartwarming books by Harlequin. And enter the contest at the link below.



I love to hear from readers. You can contact me at www.cynthiathomason.net
Happy reading!

Cynthia