Guest Author: Alyssa Alexander and The Lady and Mr. Jones

Alyssa Alexander SeatedMy guest author this month is another accomplished member of my local RWA chapter. Alyssa Alexander amazes us all with her energy – in a little less than four years, she’s written and published four books in a thrilling historical romantic suspense series, all while holding down a full-time job, caring for her family, and serving in various offices for our group. Currently, she keeps our chapter’s financial records straight, AND she organizes our monthly writing challenge, fondly known as MiWriMo (a nod to NaNoWriMo).

I read book one of Alyssa’s Spy in the Ton series when it first came out, and when book four was released a few weeks ago I immediately bought it and started reading. With holiday activities and final exams to grade, I’ve only managed to read about a quarter of the book, but I can tell you I’m eager to find out how the two main characters will overcome the villain and manage to find a happily-ever-after. As soon as I read the blurb, I invited Alyssa to come and tell us about The Lady and Mr. Jones. Here she is!

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TheLadyAndMr.Jones1600X2400_Final (1)Thank you so much for inviting me to visit! I’m thrilled to be here, and just as excited to chat about my November release, THE LADY & MR. JONES.

There were times I thought the book would never come together. I wrote myself into a corner because my hero and heroine were worlds apart, even though they were both born in London in Regency England.

Jones was born in the rookeries and Cat is—well. The lady. Jones, an elite spy, is so very honorable, almost to his detriment. He believes he is not good enough for Cat, who is heiress to one of the largest fortunes in England and can trace her lineage back five hundred years.

The problem I wrote for myself is there was no way to bring them together at the end of the book. Jones, as a spy without a drop of blue blood, would never be accepted by society. Cat could not abandon the land and people she was responsible for. There was no middle ground for them to meet on without the two of them being shunned. A critique partner suggested they elope somewhere where their differences wouldn’t be so great. I tried that—and nearly let that be the ending. But it didn’t sit well, for me for the characters.

I’m a firm believer that you can’t run away from the truth. Nor can you run away from life, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. I believe in meeting fate head on. You might be afraid of the future, you might be risking pride or vanity (or sanity!) and you might fail spectacularly. But I don’t believe in running.

Neither do Jones and Cat.

I won’t spoil the ending by telling you how they made their choice, but they do meet life head on and with their eyes open.

If you pick up a copy of The Lady & Mr. Jones, do let me know if you think they made the right choice!

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Alyssa can be found at her website as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Instagram.

The Lady and Mr. Jones is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.

About Alyssa:
Alyssa Alexander is an award-winning author who survives the cold Michigan winters by penning romance novels that always include a bit of adventure. Her books have been translated into multiple languages, received Top Picks from RT, Starred Reviews, and were nominated for RT Best First Historical and the Best First Book RITA®. She has been called a “talented newcomer” and “a rising star you won’t want to miss.”

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Robbed of a Robe

This week, a few weeks before Christmas, we are discussing the favorite gifts that we have given. The idea was mine.

When we make schedules here at 4F, 1H, we split it into three-month blocks so that we each take a quarter. We solicit ideas from each other and then schedule. The schedules are made well in advance, so the topics are sometimes in our heads for many months or even a year, can go for some time into a ‘consider for future use’ list…and I have no idea what I had in mind when I submitted this one.

I have started making notes to myself to jog my memory, unfortunately, this one has no such notation.

So I will wing it.

First of all, I love shopping. I hate the monetary constraints which have always been my lot, but I do love shopping. I grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs and man, there have always been many places to shop there. Going around, store-to-store, mall-to-mall, looking for just the right thing for each person was a thrill. My mother taught me to put great mindfulness into purchases for each person, along with affordability. (If you shop right, you can do it.) When I moved to Idaho, I had to travel far to get to much real shopping, but I did it; (there were fewer people who needed personal presents then, anyway).

When I got to Denver, the shopping was great again, and the man I moved there to marry, (an old BF from DC), loved to shop, too. We shopped all year long. We’d find perfect gifts for people on sale, (the gifts, not the people), and squirrel them away for events, especially Christmas. That way, we could afford good quality gifts and make sure they were highly suitable for each person, even when our time was limited.

On to Kentucky, and we need to travel out of town again to shop, but it used to be a pleasure. However, family needs and time became a real problem, and health issues have put a big kibosh on my store treks. I thank Heaven for online shopping and do use small businesses when I can.

But for favorites…hmmm.

I used to bake up a storm and hand-make candies. I do very little of it now, just for the close family and whatever friends come around. At one time, I used to make specialty boxes, taking each person’s tastes into account, and give them to family, friends, my husband’s office mates/fellow teachers, our sons’ Scout people or teachers and others who served us. It was very gratifying to see eyes light up when I remembered someone’s favorites or guessed it right. People who were not expecting a gift were often very touched by receiving a small sampler.

One present that sticks out in my mind is the Hogwarts robe I gave to my grandson five Christmases ago.

My grandson, indeed, all of our family, is quite taken with the Harry Potter books and movies. When I told my sister and her daughter that one of my grandson’s presents was a Hogwarts robe, my niece said that it was too bad that it wasn’t an ‘Invisibility Cloak’. It struck them both very funny and they contrived to give my grandson real gifts, but also to give him an empty box and say it was an invisibility cloak.Harry Potter Invisibility-Cloak

I thought that was a terrible idea.

I don’t care if you give someone as many gifts as Dudley got on his birthday, getting one last gift and finding that it is an empty box would be hard on anyone, let alone a 9-year-old boy. I tried to talk them out of it. They were too sure that it was going to be funny. I said that the only way it would work nicely is to give it to him as his first present; they said no, it would be funnier if it was at the end. I said the only way I would let them try that joke is if I held back the robe and give it to him right after he opened the ‘cloak’. They were upset with me and told me that I would “ruin the joke”, but I stood firm, hoping they would drop the idea altogether.

No such luck. Those two plotted away and even weighed the box so it wouldn’t appear to be empty. My grandson was understandably disappointed when he opened it. I was so glad to be able to hand him the Hogwarts robe afterward.Harry Potter robe

To this day he doesn’t like to accept gifts from my sister and niece, and will not let them live down the joke that flubbed. He still can’t see any humor in it.

The Hogwarts robe was a good gift for him, and unexpected gift for him. He still has it .He used to wear it for Halloween and for many costume occasion, including when he and his friends used to have a “Harry Potter” club, and he was suitably outfitted for those occasions for years.

However, the timing of the gift was as important, if not more so, than the gift itself. I think that is what has made it one of my favorites.

Posted in big plans, childhood, Christmas, Family, Holiday, imagination, memories, Tonette Joyce, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

It’s the Thought That Counts

Gifts That Money Can’t Buy

By Jeff Salter

This week, we’re talking about the favorite gifts we’ve given to others. When I think of this topic, I often come to that O. Henry story in which the poor young husband sells his heirloom watch to buy a comb for his lovely wife to use on her long, beautiful hair. And — also having no money — the wife cuts her hair and sells it to buy a chain for her husband’s treasured watch. Neither of them can now UTILIZE either gift, but each gave sacrificially to honor and please the other. It’s a touching story — sweet to see how much they loved each other… but sad to see that each sacrificed what they loved.

Well, I ain’t cuttin’ my hair… and my wristwatch don’t need no chains.

scrapbook-2

“A Trip on a Ship Can be Hip, if You Don’t Give Any Lip”

I think my favorite (outgoing) gifts have been the “books” I’ve created for several family members. Here are some examples:

For one of my wife’s milestone birthdays, I put together – with my daughter’s help – a photo album with colorful captions. It was before the scrapbooking craze and before we had access to computers — so it was typed directly onto thick pages and the photos were cropped and pasted into place.

For my son’s 21st birthday, I created something similar, though with completely different pictures, of course. As with the one for my wife, the focus was on a humorous framework for each photo.

For my daughter’s 18th birthday, I looked 32 years into the future, when she would be 50 and I would be 75 — and I wrote a sort of “biography” of her life to that point. A lot of it has come true, except she is not yet the Secretary of the Treasury… and she did NOT marry Joey McIntyre of the NKOTB.

For my dad’s 70th (or maybe 75th) birthday, I made a booklet similar to what I’d done for my wife and son — except this one used clip art and the wondrous production capabilities of the (now old) PageMaker software.

After the Caribbean Cruise – which my whole family went on… as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of my Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law – in 1998, I put together a commemorative booklet entitled, “A Trip on a Ship Can be Hip, if You Don’t Give Any Lip.” I made copies as gifts for the in-laws.

I’m sure there have been other examples. All were fun to do, but each took a LOT of work, time, and planning. I had nearly forgotten about these “book” gifts… until one of the Foxes posted earlier this week about some creative productions of her own.

Question:

What has been one (or some) of your favorite outgoing gifts?

[JLS # 361]

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The Gift of Wishes

When my sister says ‘I have an idea for you’, I get a little worried. I tend to be an executor where she is a dreamer. So as soon as I hear those words, my brain starts to chug through  what I am going to need to do and when it needs to be done by.

In the last few years, several of my nieces have become engaged and our family throws a bridal shower for them. My sister builds a bride as a gift. This bride is completely comprised of useable household items and usually freestanding. Mop buckets, gardening tools, table cloths, miles of clothesline, safety pins, kitchen utensils, and bed sheets are twisted and tied to make this bride. It can take the bride over half an hour to unravel and discover all the items.

 

Well, my sister thought that these brides needed something else, and that’s when she called me.

She wanted a story to go with the bride. For her daughter’s wedding, she created the bride and the groom in a horse and carriage. Items in the carriage needed to appear in the story and she wanted it to focus on a particular Bible passage. I managed to pull together a story when the bride and groom were sent on a mission by the queen to find the woman mentioned in the Bible passage. After meeting several women from our family in the story, they learned the importance of seeking the woman.

The stories became a wish and a prayer from me for their wedding and their marriage.

And a tradition was started. For the next family weddings, the mother of the bride would read the story at the shower before the bride could unravel my sister’s bridal gift. Each story picks up details about the happy couple’s hobbies and ambitions and connects to a Bible passage that fits for them.

Everyone gets a kick out of them because they recognize people or objects in the story.

After all those bridal showers, I’m sure you can guess… we are having baby showers… and more stories. One story involved getting the baby to go out, and my niece had to collect all the items from the shower guests as the story was read. My next niece is due on Christmas, so her story involved Santa circling the globe trying to deliver the baby to the correct house. We shall see if the baby arrives on Christmas morning.
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Birds of a Feather

I enjoy the holiday season. I love getting together with family and friends, talking, giving them a little something to show them that they are important to me and that I appreciate them. So shopping for others has always been enjoyable for me. As much as I enjoy shopping I have to say that I love making things even more.

So in October of 2012 when my sister and I were at the hospital and we passed a massive mobile made of origami cranes and my sister casually said, “Mom, says she wants one of those. She really likes it.” an idea formed. I ran to the store and purchased some origami paper. I spent the next few weeks teaching my children how to fold the colorful paper to make different animals. Soon, their toy room was filled with paper animals which my youngest played with constantly. When it started getting cold and December rolled around about a month and a half later I got the three kids together and each night we folded a few cranes and then put them away. Once we had a large pile of cranes I snagged a few metal hangers and string. The day before Christmas Eve I strung the birds onto the string and then hung it in my closet. It was a pain transporting it from my place to my parents’ house across town. By the time I got it inside and hid it upstairs I had to spend twenty minutes untangling it. I went back down to join the family and watched the kids open their gifts. My kids distracted their grandma while I ran upstairs to bring her gift down. She was thrilled with it, even though it was no where near as good as the one at the hospital. It hung in her window up until they got a cat a two years ago and had to take it down so the cat wouldn’t ruin it. 102_2442 (2)

Last year we made her some Christmas throw pillows. This year we bought her something that we knew she would love but next year we are making her a little Christmas quilt for her couch. I enjoy making things for people who are going to enjoy what we made. The only thing about that mobile we made that I would change would be that I would have added more cranes. The mobile is my favorite gift that I have given because it brought such a big smile from my mom and for such a long time after she would tell us how much she enjoyed it whenever we came for a visit.

Would you rather buy someone something or do you enjoy making gifts for your loved ones?

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Gifts are for Giving

This week’s holiday topic: Choosing gifts for others, and a favorite gift that I’ve given.

treeGrowing up in a small family, Christmases were generally quiet. Most of our relatives overseas don’t really celebrate the holiday, so there weren’t many gifts to wrap other than those we bought for each other and people who were important to us. I used to tease my hubby that the reason I was so eager to marry him was he came with a ready-made family (he had two boys and a girl, along with a brother, three nieces, parents, and two aunts), so that I could have more people to celebrate with! For many years, I reveled in the Christmas season. Even though I was busy teaching, performing and directing, I always looked forward to shopping and wrapping gifts for my new relatives. In recent years, however, it seems that my older grandchildren prefer to receive cash or gift cards so that they can choose the things they want. And that’s okay, because I know I’m giving them something they’ll use.

When I was old enough to earn my own money, one of my favorite things to spend it on was gifts. At first I felt frustrated because my limited income meant I couldn’t give things that amounted to much. But then I learned that inexpensive fabric and yarn could be transformed into useful gifts, and my love for crafting was born. I started sewing and crocheting a lot of Christmas and birthday gifts. One year I made a white shawl for my mom to wear when she dressed up because she was always cold. Ironically, I used it before she did – when I wore it to my prom!

snow

I took this photo from our back porch last winter. Yes, that’s our shed on the right! Sometimes our snowplows get a real workout.

I think most of us, when choosing gifts, consider the receiver’s needs and wants. But sometimes that’s difficult. Every Christmas, hubby and I would agonize for weeks over what we could possibly get for our parents, because both couples were financially able to simply get whatever they needed. I finally got some inspiration when I stopped at my parents’ home and found my dad outside snow-blowing his driveway. At the time, he was nearly 70, and the sight of him working that hard in sub-zero weather did not make me happy. After helping him finish up, I went home told my husband how frustrated I was and called several snowplow services until we found one that was licensed to work in their suburb. We made arrangements for their drive to be cleared out for the rest of the winter. They were thrilled with the gift – and a little befuddled. It had never occurred to them to spend good money to have other people do what they felt they were perfectly capable of doing. But after going through a particularly cold winter without having to worry about shoveling, they happily continued the service.

I think that qualifies as my favorite gift given: giving Mom and Dad permission to let other people do things for them.

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Sharing Spaces

This week we were asked: Who would you select as a writing partner if you were simply going to share studio space? Who would you choose if your writing partner would also be your co-author on the same manuscript?

Wow, that is a tough one!

I have never co-written with anyone, although I really must get my act together and finish the story of which my grandson proposed the premise to me. It’s a really great idea and I when I have worked on it, it came along pretty well. I have most of it in my head, ready to go. Just Wednesday morning I just had to sit down at the computer and add to a scene, even though another story should have had my full attention. Anyone who writes can understand what I mean.

However, I can’t write it with my grandson. As a teenage boy, he really doesn’t want to write a ‘romance’, plus the fact that he thought I was being too ‘wordy’. We’ll see how it comes out.

Most people know that my first earnest foray into the world of public writing found me composing song lyrics. Even though I took a very nice award, any attempt I made at having anyone collaborate to write music to them has fallen flat. If you don’t know, it is next to impossible to break into the songwriting business. It’s WHO you know, probably more than in any other business. There are stories of people who have worked for famous singers &/or songwriters for years before they had the nerve to even ask the bosses to listen to any of their songs, it’s that touchy. And most singers and songwriters treat lyrics without melodies like the plague; they won’t go near them.

A few years ago I was at a performing arts school’s rehearsal and heard a lovely young woman sing a Broadway song, which had been hitherto unknown by me. I was blown away and the next day when I heard the song at the actual recital, lightning struck me: I wanted to write a musical based on the life of someone I knew. With that in my head, I asked my friend and former guest, Diane Davis, if she’d be willing to write the music. She agreed and asked if I wanted help with the lyrics. That plan has, so far, not come to fruition. I think that although I had to stop and seriously consider the possibility of collaboration, if she lived nearby we may have been able to pull it off. Who knows? We might yet, but as far as a story is concerned, I don’t think I can have someone adding or changing it. I have enough trouble keeping my characters in line and in sync with my ideas, so I can’t imagine adding someone else’s ‘voice’ into the mix.

I wouldn’t mind sharing space with a number of good writers. I like The Hound and all of the Foxes, and would love to have them around.

I’d like to share space with Stephen King; I would love to share space with Parnell Hall, Gretchen Archer, Rosie Genova, Mary Janice Davidson….I could go on and on.

But that’s the problem: I would go on and on!

I’d never get any work done, nor would I let the other writers get any work done. It would be much to interesting to have the Hound, the Foxes, the writers I mentioned, (or so many others), that I would not stop talking or asking them to talk about anything and everything.

I know myself all too well!

A nice support group or another writer with whom I could be mutually supportive and do honest critiquing would be a bonus, I believe. But as far as I can tell, it is nearly as hard as finding a true friend or someone worth marrying.

Speaking of finding someone worth marrying, the one I found has been supportive of my writings. And comes this Sunday, we will be celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary. Like writing, it’s been work. Like writing, it’s been a joy and also a compulsion. Like writing, there are things that I wish we had researched or edited before we went to ‘print’.
And, like writing, the story really never ends.

Posted in author's life, big plans, careers, Family, musicians, Tonette Joyce, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments