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How Real Should Your Book Be?

All writers borrow from real life occasionally. Some may steal a snippet of conversation overheard in the grocery store line. Others may borrow a distinctive mannerism from a long-ago teacher. Our experiences as a whole help to not only fire our imagination, but sometimes fill in the gaps for us.

With graduation season looming, this is a great time of year to read Commencement, by J. Courtney Sullivan, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is a terrific portrait of friendship, as well as a lovely reminder of the halcyon days of undergrad life. That being said, I felt as if I was peeking into the author's mental underwear drawer. It was such an intimate portrait of life at Smith College, clearly peppered with many, many true life details. When you turn the last page, you feel as if you've been matriculated from Smith - the reader knows it inside and out. All its time-honored traditions, both big and small, ridiculous and rich, are exposed. Overall, it made for a deliciously layered read. But I still squirmed at the obvious pockets of reality. More importantly, I wondered how many Smithies were reading it and squirming.

When a book is set in a real place, or depicts real events and people, there is always a tightrope that must be delicately trod. There is a deep sense of responsibility to get every detail right - or else the wrath of a reader - who swears your two block walk to the ocean really takes four blocks and that ruined the whole book for her - may fall upon you. Of course, I feel that onus in my fictional locales as well. Much planning is required to convince a reader your setting is real, and even more detail for them to imagine it from scratch.

But I don't ever want the reader to feel as though they've peeked into my life. I've got a friend who constantly lobbies to be used as a character in my books. That is NEVER going to happen. Oh, he'd make a terrific character, don't get me wrong. But his larger-than-life personality would be too tempting to inflate into a caricature, and I'm quite positive hurt feelings would ensue. All the book sales in the world aren't worth that happening.

On the other side of the coin, I'm about to release a book about a wedding planner. Yes, I've got years of experience under my belt, and I've worked in a few actual vignettes. The difference (and what I hope will protect me from any threat of litigation) is that I don't believe they are singular experiences. Yes, the high maintenance mother of the bride complained the size of the meat at the reception was different than what she had at the tasting three months earlier. I worked it into a funny scene. But I'm willing to bet there are fifty caterers out there who've harbored this same complaint. The point being that it isn't just my real life on display; rather, reality in general.

Do you use real people and experiences in your books?  As a reader, has any book's obvious dip into reality made you uncomfortable?

Mystery series recommendation - murder, herbs, & smooches!

Last weekend I planted my back garden (okay, I picked out the plants and read a book while my husband killed his knees planting everything).  I figure this is the time of year for gardening to truly get underway, so this week's book recommendation leans that way.  A little.
Thyme of Death is the first book in a really terrific mystery series.  And I love hooking you guys up with a series (this one is at 20 books so far).  The heroine, China Bayles, used to be a criminal attorney - hence her ability to solve mystery after mystery.  But she threw in the towel, moved to a small town in the Texas hill country and opened an herb shop.  She grows many of the herbs she sells (see - the gardening tie in!) and you get to see lots of small town life.

There is a flamboyant best friend, who runs the neighboring New Age shop, an ex-cop boyfriend (spoiler alert - if you stick with the series, you will see their relationship develop in a very satisfying way, and yet with many surprising twists), a light-hearted tone but some very smart investigating.  As the series continues, deeper issues are covered, so it really does stay fresh.  In this book, one of China's best friends commits suicide...and yet China doesn't doesn't buy that explanation for her death...especially once more bodies start stacking up.  You will learn lots of interesting tidbits about herbs and become an instant fan of this smart, independent, wise-cracking heroine.

Pasta w/Sausage, Shrimp & Peperoncini

Absolutely scrumptious.  I waited to taste test this before posting this amazing recipe from Bon Appetit.  My husband LITERALLY licked the plate clean.  It comes together super fast.

* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1 pound spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
* 1/2 cup sliced pepperoncini plus 1 cup liquid from jar
* 1/2 cup chopped shallots
* 2 garlic cloves, chopped
* 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano
* 1 teaspoon dried basil
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1 24-ounce jar marinara sauce
* 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
* 1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
* 8 ounces penne pasta
* 3 tablespoons grated Asiago cheese
* Sliced fresh basil (for garnish)
* Additional grated Asiago cheese

Heat oil in heavy large pot over high heat. Add sausage; cook until browned, breaking into pieces, about 4 minutes. Add peperoncini, shallots, and next 6 ingredients; cook until shallots are tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add pepperoncini liquid; stir until most of liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add Marinara, cream, and shrimp. Cook until shrimp are cooked through, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
*
Meanwhile, cook pasta in another large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring often. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid.
*
Transfer pasta and 3 tablespoons cheese to pot with sauce; stir to incorporate. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with basil and additional cheese.

Tidbits from RT 2012

I regained my virgin status (briefly) with my first foray to the wild, wacky and wonderful RT Convention in Chicago last week.  With three RWA conventions under my belt, I thought I knew what to expect.  I was wrong - it is an entirely different animal.  Here are things I learned over the course of the convention.
  • It is okay to wear jeans and sassy shirts (if you aren't on a panel).  I felt overdressed much of the time.  Probably because there were so many people in full corsets and bustles, decked out in full steampunk regalia.
  • Do not write under a pen name, unless you have a STRONG reason (strict job, old-school family) to do so.  Even if you are jumping genres, many of your readers will follow you, if they can find you...by keeping your same name. 
  • For some unknown reason, people want to see shapeshifter horse stories.  They don't strike me as particularly sexy and powerful like wolves and leopards, but the people have spoken!
  • It is worth getting up at the crack of dawn to go to the mystery breakfast.  Tons of great books, but even better, wonderful stories from the thriller authors.  Rosemary Harris started writing mysteries when a mummified corpse was discovered in the woods near her house in Connecticut.  LOVE learning tidbits like that!
  • All it took was a single hour panel discussion for me to form a huge girl-crush on Nalini Singh.  Brilliant author, funny, engaging, and a fantastic Australian accent?  She's the total package.
  • When you and 2,000 other people are wearing lanyards, you're going to spend a good part of the day staring straight at someone's boobs.  And they at yours.  Don't feel weird about it, no matter how low-cut their top.  Even if they are spilling out of a corset and aren't wearing a shirt at all.
  • Book signings are absolutely thrilling - I can't tell if I had more fun as an author, or if the devoted readers had a better time grabbing every title in sight.  It is a win/win for everyone.
  • Taking my husband along was the right choice.  We didn't get to spend a ton of time together, but he still had a fun time in Chicago, and came to dinner with a bunch of us.  It gave him a great sense of scope of the convention, and brought him up to speed with everything in the writing world.
  • J.R. Ward and Jessica Andersen are a must-see panel.  If they ever swing through your town, drop everything and go see them.  They curse like sailors and are refreshingly open about their writing processes (and they drop spoilers......).
  • You WILL stand in line.  For panels, for signings, for parties.  On the other hand, standing in line forces you to chat with new and interesting people.  I, however, had the worst convention accessory ever (crutches), so lines were my enemy.  Wear comfy shoes, not cute shoes.  Trust me.
  • When you take advantage and talk to EVERYONE, opportunities open up.  You may not realize until later that you've chatted with a NYT bestselling author.  That is the beauty of networking.  If you're shy, well, suck it up.  This is your best chance to make new contacts.
  • As always, hang out in the bar and/or restaurant.  Everyone will end up walking by you and chatting.  TOTALLY worth blowing $14 on a single, watered down cocktail.

Laura Kaye’s WEST OF WANT Preview & PrizesEvent!

Happy WEST OF WANT Preview & Prizes Event, everyone! Today, April 10, was the original release date for Book 2 in my Hearts of the Anemoi series, West of Want. And then some really cool things happened: my publisher, Entangled Publishing, signed a huge deal with the nation’s biggest book distributor, which means for the first time ever, my books will be shelved in brick-and-mortar bookstores. And then, West of Want received a very nice pre-sales estimate by the booksellers and Barnes and Nobles bought it for all their stores nationwide (and it got bought for airports, too—squee!). The only bad news in this whole scenario was this: the release date got pushed back, by three LONG months! LOL So, I thought I’d celebrate the original release date with a preview of the book and a big contest, and give you a small taste to whet your appetite until the actual release date arrives.


"Laura Kaye’s captivating writing and vibrant world-building will have readers hooked on the gods of the Anemoi. WEST OF WANT is steamy, spellbinding, and a must-read for all romance fantasy fans."

~Elisabeth Naughton, author of the Eternal Guardians series

Forty sites are celebrating with me today, and there are different posts at those different sites. To see the whole list of participants, click here. Now, without further ado, here’s the book blurb and one of four different never-before-seen excerpts from the book available for you to enjoy:

WEST OF WANT BLURB:

Betrayal is all he's ever known, but in her, he'll find a love strong enough to be trusted...

When Marcella Raines' twin brother dies, she honors his request to be buried at sea, never expecting the violent storm that swamps her boat. Though she's gravely injured--and still emotionally damaged from her recent divorce--Ella fights to survive.

Zephyros Martius is the Supreme God of the West Wind and Spring, but being the strongest Anemoi hasn't protected him from betrayal and loss. Worse, he's sure his brother Eurus is behind it. When Zeph's heartbreak whips up a storm that shipwrecks a human, his guilt forces him to save her.
Ella is drawn to the vulnerability Zeph hides beneath his otherworldly masculinity and ancient blue eyes. And her honesty, empathy, and unique, calming influence leave Zeph wanting...everything. When Eurus threatens Ella, she and Zeph struggle to let go of the past, defend their future, and embrace what they most want--a love that can be trusted.

WEST OF WANT EXCERPT:

Zeph concentrated and allowed his mind to travel in search of his brother’s unique energy signature. As polar opposites, their energies were connected. Yin and yang. Life and death. West and East. So he found Eurus, easily. Within blocks of Ella’s house. Thunder rumbled around him as he flowed through the air in pursuit.
Corporeality returned in a blaze of light, his seething rage crackling around him.

“Ah, brother. I’ve been expecting you,” Eurus said. In the gloom of twilight, he lay prone on the dock in the middle of the marina where Ella’s boat had been taken that first day. Ankles crossed.  Fingers making lazy designs in the air as if he were conducting a symphony. Cold wind whipped up around them, turning the calm waters of the inlet choppy, jostling the sailboats in their slips.
His brother’s calm, casual repose was more disturbing than if Zeph had found him petulant and ranting. Because it meant he was planning. “What the fuck are you playing at, Eurus?” 
He sprung to his feet and tugged the lapels of his leather coat. “You see? I offer civility, and what do I get in return?” 
Zeph squared off and braced, ready for anything. “You don’t have a civil bone in your body.” 

Eurus pinched the bridge of his nose, shifting the wraparounds up the smallest bit. Though not enough, Zeph was relieved to see, to reveal his dead black irises. “If what you say is true, brother, whose fault exactly would that be?” 
“Not. Mine.” It was a fruitless conversation, but it was their little dance, and Zeph’s own special corner of hell. 

“Of course not yours. Not perfect Zephyros. Not the god of life and renewal. Gods forbid.” 

Zeph ignored the barb. Perfection was the last thing he believed of himself. Eurus was jealous of a figment of his imagination. “What do you want?” he finally bit out, hoping to defuse the other man, to delay the confrontation long brewing between them.
Eurus whipped off his glasses and drilled his disturbing, blank gaze into Zeph’s very soul. “Leave the woman alone.”
Pre-order West of Want on Amazon | B&N


So, what d’ya think? Want more Zephyros and Ella? Visit more participating sites to read all the excerpts, meet the characters, see the the West of Want romance trading cards, and enter to win! Thanks for reading! July 10 can’t get here soon enough for me! *grins*

~Laura Kaye

“Using ancient winter mythology as an allegory for grief, Kaye has written a sexy story that packs a powerful emotional punch. NORTH OF NEED is pure winter magic and Kaye’s sparkling talent warms the heart.”

~Stephanie Draven, author of the Mythica series about
multi-award-winning Book 1 in the Anemoi series, North of Need


WEST OF WANT PREVIEW CONTEST!
Event-Wide:

Seven participants who enter through the Rafflecopter form will win gift cards from winners’ choice of Amazon or B&N valued between $15 and $100! Those prize winners will be announced on West of Want’s release day, July 10, 2012. As a special thank you to those who have pre-ordered the print West of Want through Amazon or B&N, you'll receive extra entries - just enter your order confirmation number on the appropriate Rafflecopter line. Pre-orders are hugely important for an author because they determine how many books bookstores will actually stock and they count toward an author’s first-week sales which is when most authors have their best chance to hit the big bestseller lists. However, pre-orders/purchases are not required to enter. Commenting is the only required entry. Open to international.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Site-Specific Contest:

One commenter from each participating blog site will win a West of Want bookmark and the romance trading cards for North of Need and West of Want. Simply comment and become a follower to enter to win and be sure to leave your email address. These prizes will be announced soon after May 10. Open to international.


About Laura Kaye:

Voted Breakout Author of the Year in the 2011 GraveTells Readers’ Choice Awards, Laura is a bestselling and award-winning author paranormal and contemporary romance. Hearts in Darkness is the EPIC eBook Award Winner for Best Novella, Forever Freed won the NJRW Golden Leaf Award for Best Paranormal of 2011, and North of Need, the first book in the Hearts of the Anemoi series, was named GraveTells’ Best Book of 2011 and won their 5-STAR Gold Heart Award, and won Sizzling Hot Read of the Year at Sizzling Hot Books. Laura lives in Maryland with her husband, two daughters, and cute-but-bad dog, and appreciates her view of the Chesapeake Bay every day.



How To Get the Most Out of a Conference

I will spend this weekend packing for the Romantic Times Convention in Chicago.  Hopefully I'll see many of you there.  For those of you who are just venturing to a convention for the first time, I thought I'd share some nuggets of wisdom I've gleaned.

~ Always wear color to a conference. In a sea of 2,143 attendees at RWA last year, black was the predominant color. But I wore a ruffly purple shirt one day, and an apple green dress the next. Can't begin to tell you how many people approached me to compliment me on the color of my clothes. Why does this matter, you may ask? Because it opened a conversation. Standing in line for 15 minutes at a book signing is a perfect opportunity to chat - but sometimes it can be difficult to engage a total stranger. I had lovely chats with soooo many different people, at all different stages in their career. People opened up to me in the bathroom line, the coffee line, the book signing line...you get the picture.
~ We deserve a huge round of applause. Why? Because I learned a shocking statistic. 80% of Americans say they'd like to write a book. 2% of that 80% actually start to write. And only 5% of that 2% finish writing a book. Makes us sound rather special and elite, doesn't it? Go writers!
~ Hang out at the bar. No matter how overpriced the drinks.  Everyone who is anyone congregates there. Example:  I had a great evening with a group of women I'd never met before. Imagine my surprise the next morning when I discovered one of them was a multi-pubbed author leading my session.  You are there to network, so don't hold back!
~ Everyone is approachable. Authors, agents and editors don't care if you've only written your first chapter, or if you're on the NYT bestseller list. They respect your passion for the genre, and are happy to chat. Romance writing doesn't have the clear cut cliques or power divisions as other professions. We are an empowering, friendly sisterhood. So don't be intimidated, whether in person or on a blog post - get out there and get engaged!

Brown Sugar Bourbon Ham - An Easter Must!

Okay, Easter is right around the corner.  In my house, that means ham.  I've used a few different recipes over the years, but last year I tried one that beats all the rest, hands down.  This will be, I promise you, the BEST ham you've ever eaten.  I can't tell you enough of its deliciousness.  Looks like a lot of basting sauce at first, but it reduces down.  Trust me - scrap all your other plans and make this next weekend!

I used whiskey instead of bourbon - basically, whatever is in your liquor cabinet will work.  Thanks so much to the folks at Southern Living for dreaming this up!

Brown Sugar-Bourbon Baked Ham

Prep: 15 min.; Bake: 2 hr., 30 min.; Stand: 20 min. Delicious warm or cold, this Southern Living favorite is the ultimate make-ahead main dish. Basting delivers big flavor and a beautiful glaze with little effort.
Brown Sugar-Bourbon Baked HamPhoto by: Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas; Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine
  • YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings
  • COOK TIME:2 Hours, 30 Minutes
  • PREP TIME:15 Minutes           

Ingredients

  • 1 (6- to 8-lb.) fully cooked, bone-in ham
  • 48 whole cloves
  • 1 (16-oz.) package brown sugar
  • 1 cup spicy brown mustard (or dijon, which I used and was sublime)
  • 1 cup cola soft drink
  • 3/4 cup bourbon

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Remove skin from ham, and trim fat to 1/4-inch thickness. Make shallow cuts in fat 3/4 inch apart in a diamond pattern. Insert cloves in centers of diamonds. Place ham in a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch pan.
2. Stir together brown sugar and next 3 ingredients; spoon mixture over ham.
3. Bake at 350° on lowest oven rack 2 hours and 30 minutes, basting with pan juices every 15 to 20 minutes. Remove ham from oven, and let stand 20 minutes before slicing.