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Rita Herron Giveaway Winner…

Thank you again, Rita Herron, for visiting with us this week. And thank you so much to all the Kiss and Thrill readers who stopped by to say hello.

RitaHerronBookCover

And now (drumroll please)…the winner of either a print or Kindle copy of Rita’s book DYING TO TELL is…

Charlotte Abel (@Charlotte_Abel) January 15th 5:00 pm)

Congratulations! To claim your prize, please email us your U.S. mailing address or email address for your Kindle gift certificate within 10 days.

Stop by next Tuesday for a very special treat. Kiss and Thrill’s very own, Sharon Wray, has a fascinating post that takes you back in romance novel time to celebrate the gothic novel!

Sharon Wray

Sharon Wray

Nine Coaches Waiting . . . for Mary Stewart, the Mother of Romantic Suspense

When I was in eighth grade, the Vice Principal called me to his office. Apparently, I had lost track of time during study hall in the school library and missed all of my afternoon classes. I’d never been in trouble before and didn’t know how to get to the Vice Principal’s office. So the librarian had to walk me down. And there I stood, trembling, with a book pressed against my chest.

The Vice Principal stood over me with a black beard and a scowl, like a dark storm cloud. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, praying he wouldn’t call my parents. “But it wasn’t my fault. I know it.” I was, after all, a straight A honor student and secretary of the Latin Club (which is probably why I didn’t have any dates until my Junior year in High School).

“What were you doing?” he asked.

Wanting to throw up, I held out my book and said, “I found this in the stacks and sat on the floor to read the first chapter to see if I liked it. And before I knew it, the last bell rang.” Then, much to my horror, I burst into tears.

The Vice Principal, a father of five girls, took the book out of my hands. “Ahh, Nine Coaches Waiting. Did you finish it?”

Finish it? I’d DEVOURED it. But I didn’t say that. I just snuffled and nodded.

Then with a wave of his hand, he dismissed me, saying, “Next time, don’t open any book by Mary Stewart until you know you have hours of free time ahead of you.”

So relieved, I ran from the office and left school. My dad usually picked me up at the public library across the street, but that day he was late and I had to wait an hour. That hour changed my life. Hidden deep in the fiction shelves, I found a world belonging to Mary Stewart, an author I’ve since learned is the “Mother of Classic Romantic Suspense”. With gothic overtones, bad boy heroes, and stories set in exotic places, I fell in love with a genre I had never heard of before. And the most wonderful thing about Mary Stewart was the number of her books on the shelf. That day, I checked out seven. And I found out the Vice Principal was right.

In less than a week, I read them all and went back for more.

Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow was born in England on September 17, 1916. After receiving a B.A. and a M.A. in English, and working as an elementary school teacher during WWII, she married Frederick Henry Stewart in 1945. Although she continued teaching part-time, her husband encouraged her to start writing. In 1953, at the urging of her husband, she sent a manuscript for Madam, Will You Talk? which was accepted for publication by Hodder and Stoughton. The book, published in 1954, received wonderful reviews. From 1955  until 1980, she published one book a year, every one a bestseller. Since 1954, her books have never been out of print and a few were made into movies.

The element that drove her success–the same element that captured me during a school day and made me miss my classes–was her ability to craft a suspenseful mystery with a love story. This blending is so masterful, that neither the love story nor the mystery can stand on its own. One drives the other in a breathless pace of action, adventure, and romance.

In a time when there were few women authors writing commercial fiction, she quickly became one of the most important twentieth-century female authors, rivaling Daphne Du Maurier and Victoria Holt (Eleanor Hibbert). She was an author ahead of her time, not just with her romantic suspense novels, but with her best-selling Arthurian Fantasy series where she broke all the rules and made Merlin–not Arthur–the protagonist.

Ivy TreePam Regis writes in a A Natural History of the Romance Novel, “Stewart’s influence extends to every writer of romantic suspense, for Stewart understood and perfected this hybrid of romance and mystery and used it as a structure for books so beautifully written that they have endured to become part of the canon of the twentieth-century romance novel.” (Ch. 14 (pgs. 143-154)–Courtship and Suspense: Mary Stewart)

Her influence can still be seen today. In 2006, when Nine Coaches Waiting was reissued, Sandra Brown (one of my favorite authors) wrote the forward, stating, “With its cast of fascinating characters, its ominous setting, and its captivating plot, this story of suspense and romance entertains today, as it did half a century ago. Generations of readers have adored it. It’s the kind of haunting novel that one rereads every year or so. Other writers, this one included, have been inspired by Ms. Stewart’s style, but her incredible use of language can never be duplicated.” (Nine Coaches Waiting, Forward by Sandra Brown, Chicago Review Press, 2006, pp. iii – iv)

And the book that got me in so much trouble? I just bought a reprint for my daughter. But after she turned up her nose saying she doesn’t like historicals (i.e. stories that take place in the twentieth century), I took an afternoon last week, curled up with a cup of tea, and reread it. By the time I put it down, I discovered my husband and kids had fed themselves dinner and gone to bed. Without notice, I’d read from 2 PM until 11:30 PM. The afternoon and most of the night were gone, and I’d finished the book. Again.

For those readers interested, here is the back cover blurb from the William Morrow edition of Nine Coaches Waiting, 1959.

“The Chateau Valmy, rising in foursquare classical dignity from a wooded plateau in the Haute-Savoie, seemed like a dream come true to Linda Martin. Young, lovely, she had had little in her life to spark a genuine gift for love and laughter, but now, as English governess to nine-year-old Comte Philippe de Valmy, it would be easy to forget the tragedy of her father and mother, the drab orphanage years, the dreary school where she had taught. But tension was in the very air–at first negligible, then building to an unbearable degree, as does a gathering storm.

At its center was the young count’s uncle, Leon de Valmy, dynamic, arrogant, yet the epitome of charm, whose paralysis seemed little hindrance as he moved noiselessly in his wheelchair from room to room–supervising, ordering, dominating everyone in sight, including his beautiful but unaccountably abstracted wife and his small, silent nephew and ward. Only his son Raoul, a handsome, sardonic young man who drove himself and his car with equal abandon, seemed able to stand up to him. To Linda, Raoul was an enigma. Though physically attracted to him, she sensed some dark twist in his nature…

And then one day deep in the woods there occurred a frightening, unaccountable incident–the first ripple to mar the calm, serene surface of an idyllic existence.”

And for those who just have to read the first line before you buy a book (which would be me), how can you not want to read a story that starts like this:

“I was thankful that nobody was there to meet me at the airport.” (Nine Coaches Waiting, Chapter 1, p. 3)

Now I’d love to know I’m not the only one who has lost time while lost in a novel. Has it ever happened to you? And which story was it?”

Welcome Suspense Bestseller: Anna DeStefano

Anna DeStefano

Remembering will save her life. But will the truth destroy their love forever?

 Shaw Cassidy’s nightmares are shredding her sanity. Her global empire, her freedom from federal prosecution for espionage, and her life are all on the line. Long-ago secrets of love and betrayal swirl like living fore through her dreams until she doesn’t know whom she can trust, or who is out to hurt her.

 Federal Marshal Cole Marino has one mission: infiltrate his former lover’s mountain retreat and force her to remember the shooting that triggered her amnesia.

 But when Shaw questions Cole’s motives, and his lies are revealed, will the connection they’ve begun to forge be torn apart, or will the soul-deep bond they once hadsave them both and crash through Shaw’s amnesia, once and for all?  Her Forgotten Betrayal.

Don’t miss this sexy, psychological thriller!

 Best-selling, award-winning author Anna DeStefano wants to you stop, look, and keep digging, until you find the soul of your own fantasies.

Her latest release, Her Forgotten Betrayal, one of the launch books for Entangled Publishing’s Dead Sexy romantic suspense line, is a psychological thriller she hopes will creep you out (she’s really playing up the Gothic imagery and spooky nightmares with this one).

But she’s also dying (heh) to inspire you with another of the happily-ever-after romance ending she’s famous for. No matter how moody the setting or impossible the dilemma, Anna’s characters and stories challenge you to hope and dream for your own exciting future, the way her strong heroines and hunky heroes do!

Read on for the answers to some of the frequently asked questions about Her Forgotten Betrayal and Anna’s unique approach to story telling. For more, follow Anna to her blog (http://www.annawrites.com/blog), which she updates several times a week on a range of topics such as The Soul of the Matter, Dream Theories, How We Write, and Things My Teenager Says.

WELCOME ANNA! Your backlist has been described as genre-bending. Do you see yourself as a writer who works “outside the box,” and is this a conscious choice you’re making for your career?

 I don’t remember making the choice to push boundaries, but I don’t think I’ve ever written a story that didn’t challenge the limits of whatever line or genre I’ve written for. I’ve won a lot of awards for my Harlequin novels. But I’ve always tended to write edgy and darker characters, often with heavy backstories, even when I wrote for the lighter Superromance “home and family” line.  I’m always searching for the emotional heart of a story, wherever that takes me.

 For example, in my very first novel, The Unknown Daughter, my heroine is terminally ill throughout the entire book. Of course she gets her happily-ever-after “cure” (this is category romance). But she’s sick the entire book…she’s so NOT your average Harlequin heroine. Oh, and that was “accidentally” my first suspense novel, too—again, in a home and family line. And it won a Gold Medal review from RT, and my first RT Reviewers Choice Award. Who knew “outside the box” was going to be my happy place from then on?

 Even my first foray into paranormal romance (my Legacy series), turned out to be more of a thriller series, and most definitely more science fiction than urban fantasy or paranormal romance. I love the science behind the metaphysics and parapsychology that Dark Legacy and Secret Legacy are based on. As I wrote, I simply couldn’t push those elements (especially the dream theory) to the background.

 So, I guess I write what inspires and motivates and challenges me, whatever genre I happen to be writing in, and hope that my readers join me for the ride.

 In Her Forgotten Betrayal, your heroine, Shaw Cassidy, battles debilitating nightmares that she has to get to the bottom of to survive. You write a lot about dreams. What fascinates you most about them?

Dreams… Where do I begin with my fascination about dreams? My agent asks every once in a while when I’m going to stop writing stories where dreams are a key theme. Not that she wants me to, really, but dreams have clearly become a running inspiration for me. My answer is usually—never ;o) I even blog most every week about dream theory. It’s been a fascination for me my entire life. That was the impetus for creating my Legacy, metaphysical fantasy world that explores the science behind dreaming.

 For my contemporary romances, my “every day” stories, dreams take on an even more powerful purpose, than in my novels where people have supernatural powers. Our everyday dreams are our minds working for us, at the subconscious level. Whether we’re sleeping or awake, our dreams talk to us about the true purpose and meaning and desires of our lives. I like to see them as the very best and worst of who we are, and I think it’s important to pay as close attention to them as we can.

 To me, honoring our dreams is another way to slow down and look deeply and really see our reality. Focusing on dreams (or any small moment of our lives), helps us process and choose. We then get to move forward a bit more deliberately. In Shaw Cassidy’s case in Her Forgotten Betrayal, her dreams are telling her exactly who her villain really is, and just how important her forgotten childhood lover (our hero, Cole Marinos) can be to not only her survival, but also the thriving, loving, magnificent future waiting for her, is she can grow and make the difficult emotional choices she’s been running from her entire life. See. Aren’t dreams lovely?

 Your heroine has amnesia through most of this novel. Is this the first of your heroines to suffer from forgetting who and what she is?

 Actually, in To Protect the Child (part of my Atlanta Heroes series for Harlequin Superromance), my deep cover operative heroine wakes with amnesia and no recollection of what she was doing on her latest mission and how important it is for her to return to it, before a little girl’s life is destroyed.

 I guess a key difference between that story and Her Forgotten Betrayal, is that my Dead Sexy launch is a psychological thriller. I’ve written fast-paced procedurals before, and loved those novels. But I wanted to do a gothic, creepy, isolated-on-the-top-of-a-winter-mountain-at-night kind of contemporary romance this time. Shaw Cassidy has been injured, but she doesn’t remember anything (except the faceless man in her dreams). Her first memories begin to return when a dangerous stranger shows up, and she has to decide whether he’s the faceless man, or a hero from her past who can help her. Her Forgotten Betrayal is just as fast-paced as my procedurals, but Shaw’s battles are mostly in her mind, and in her relationship with Cole Marinos, her hero. She’s not battling the villain himself until the very end—and it takes her the entire story to fight her nightmares and psychological demons so that she’s ready to beat the bad guy that’s been messing with her mind, at his own game. Bwahahahaha

 Your stories tend to span short periods of time, particularly your thrillers. Is this to enhance the pacing of the plot?

 I think the one running theme through all my novels has been the drive to stop and look at the world and a character as closely as I can. As a commercial fiction writer, I’m also hoping the reader is entertained and finding the story impossible to put down. But I want to take our romance journey together to a deeper level. In the midst of the action of each of my novels, I’m doing my best to deliver characters with complex backstories and multi-layered motivation. I want my readers to have a flawed but admirable heroine and hero to journey with. I want you to feel what my characters feel in each scene, as if you were living through that moment with them

 I love making that happen by writing novels with short time spans. Not only for the pacing—though, you certainly have to keep your plotting tight in order to pull something like Her Forgotten Betrayal off, where I was working with less than a 48 hour window for the heroine to believably realize she’s being stalked, have nightmares that will either drive her insane or help her regain her memory, meet the hero, wonder if this stranger is her “bad guy,” learn to trust him, fall in love with him, remember their tragic past, of COURSE then think he’s betrayed her (see, it’s a romance, really it is ;o), only to have to face the villain with him at the end, in the story’s black moment and resolution.

 Which sounds like a lot to accomplish in sixty-thousand words and less than two days of on-page time. But actually, limiting the time frame gives me the chance to slow moments down, those important relationship moments as well as the ones where Shaw must grow as a character or she’ll never succeed, so that the reader really lives them with the heroine. If I were trying to cover the passage of more time with the number of pages allotted to me, I’d have to move on more quickly, more externally, and I think some of the richness of this type of story would be missed.

 You write a lot of “returning home” stories, as well as second chances at love. What about these themes drives your imagination?

 My first title (and I never get to keep my titles), actually the novel that won the Golden Heart and was later re-titled for Harlequin Superromance, was Forever Ago. It’s a play on words that resonates with me even today. I’ll write a book with that title one day. I’m determined.

 What this and my “coming home” and “second chance” stories say to me is that you have to go back and work through the things in your past that you’ve shoved down or shouldered aside. At some point, if you want to move forward and really live the rest of your life, instead of merely fighting and existing and getting through one day at a time, you have to conquer the things you weren’t able to face when you were younger.

 My characters tend to get their happily-ever-after forever, because they finally take on the conflicts of long ago, and conquer what still needs to be resolved. It’s the same with second chances at love. I’m mesmerized by stories where couples who didn’t make it with their soul mate in the past, find the courage to face one another and their combined issues once more, stronger and with newer insight, and find a way to finally make their dreams a reality together. What could be better than that? Sigh… You’re going to DIE for Shaw and Cole’s amazing ending!

 Imagery and setting seem like an important part of Her Forgotten Betrayal. What led you to choose a gothic backdrop for your latest suspense novel?

 I’ve fallen in love with Gothic imagery, since long before I wrote my first Legacy book. I’m more of a Bronte girl, than an Austen girl ;o) Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights… These are novels that read and re-read every year.

 With Her Forgotten Betrayal, I not only got to explore this fascination within the context of a contemporary romance, but I LOVED how I was able to incorporate Shaw Cassidy’s creepy mansion and the winter weather and the darkness of the surrounding woods and so forth, as another character in the book. All of it becomes a very real threat to our heroine. Is Shaw imagining what’s happening to her? Is her mind becoming unhinged by her nightmares, so she’s seeing and hearing things that aren’t there? Is someone after her, or is she actually hurting herself in her isolated mansion? How can she possibly know the difference? That is until our hero shows up. But is he part of the spooky landscape that she can’t trust, or is he really there to help her???! Dun-dun-dunnnn! LOL!

 Playing with symbol and imagery has become one of my favorite things in novel writing. I’m even now pinning images from my stories and my personal journeys up on Pinterest. Just look for Anna DeStefano (http://pinterest.com/annadestefano/) ;o) Check out Her Forgotten Betrayal’s board, where she’ll be posting blog tour updates and other surprises.

 Thank you for being here today, Anna! Check out Anna’s other recent titles when you have a chance, including the July 1st Harlequin Heartwarming, A Sweetbrook Family, and  October Montlake release (the first in her women’s fiction/contemporary romance series) Christmas on Mimosa Lane.

From Anna: I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions, your dreams and what you love best about suspense or any other type of romance you read. Sound off in the comments for your chance to win a free digital copy of Her Forgotten Betrayal!

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