Texas Lightning

Anna Delaney, heroine of Gerry Bartlett’s latest romantic suspense novel, Texas Lightning, is a recent Boston to Austin transplant. She’s getting settled in her job with the software development company that bought up her previous employer—her own as yet unfinished pharmaceutical application was the major asset in the sale.

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Texas LightningBut she’s not used to Texas weather. When the temperature shoots into the eighties on a winter day, Anna, wearing a heavy wool sweater, comes close to fainting in the Capitol rotunda, only to be rescued by a handsome and well dressed, if somewhat overbearing, cowboy.

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King Sanders (fans of Bartlett’s books will remember him from Texas Fire) insists on driving his sharp-tongued damsel in distress home from her ill-fated tour of the capitol building, only to find her little dog running loose in her parking lot and her apartment ransacked, computers stolen.

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Anna and King soon realize that her computer project is even more valuable than she thought, especially to the wrong people. And those wrong people know that the unfinished program is worthless without Anna. Theft escalates to kidnapping and violence, and even the ever-changeable Texas weather seems to conspire against them as they fight to protect themselves and their friends.

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Texas Lightning rocks with both suspense and, of course, romance. It’s the first in a new three-book series from Bartlett.

 

And the Golden Heart® Goes to . . .

In mid July my friend Jo Anne Banker and I went off to the national Romance Writers of America conference in Denver planning to see lots of friends we only meet once a year, attend a few workshops, maybe speak to an agent or editor here and there, eat a lot, and sleep not so much.

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We’ve both been involved in the Golden Heart® contest for unpublished writers several times over the past few years. Jo Anne was a finalist in 2011 (that year she won in the Contemporary Series category), 2015, and 2017, and I was a finalist in 2011, 2012, 2013, and now in 2018. Between us we know a lot of GH finalists, which has become quite a sisterhood over the years.

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But having made the finals four times, with four different manuscripts, once (in 2011) in the Historical category and three times in the Paranormal category, I was not expecting to win. I write light, humorous paranormal stories, entertaining, I hope, but not dark or angsty. And humor may be the most subjective of fields. One judge might crack up over my manuscript while another wonders what on earth I’m trying to say.

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So my expectations for the conference revolved around meeting the Persisters (the 2018 “class” of GH finalists) and reconnecting with the women (although a few men have been Persisters PinGH finalists over the years, there have been none in my classes) I’ve met through the contest in previous years. The Golden Network, the RWA chapter for GH finalists, holds a retreat every year at the beginning of the conference, a morning of inspirational pep talks, panel discussions, and socializing, always one of my favorite conference activities. And of course, we planned to attend at least a few of the enormous number of workshops going on nearly nonstop from Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning.

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The presentation of the Golden Heart Awards came at lunch on Thursday. As a finalist I had a seat up front and a ticket for one friend, so Jo Anne and I settled in together to eat and watch the awards. (Two other members of the Houston Bay Area Chapter were also finalists: Leslie Marshman in Romantic Suspense and Sara Neiss in Short Contemporary.)

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“Do you have something written down?” Jo Anne asked me. “An acceptance speech?”

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“Of course not,” I said. “No way I’m going to win. I’ve read blurbs for the other entries. They’re all great, much more serious and inventive than mine.”

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“Eat your lunch,” Jo Anne said. “You don’t want to go up there with food in your teeth.”

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“I’m not going up there, Jo Anne,” I repeated. “Not a chance.”

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By the time Pintip Dunn, the Emcee of the program, reached the Paranormal category (after three industry awards and four GH categories), I had finished lunch and was curious to see what my selfie—I’ve never gotten around to having a professional head shot taken—would look like on the jumbotron (there were about two thousand people at the lunch, and very few of us could actually see the stage).

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Pintip read off the finalist manuscript titles and their authors as they showed on the jumbotron, and then opened an envelope and read, “And the Golden Heart goes to . . . Jinn on the Rocks by Kay Hudson.”

 

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I was stunned. I managed to stand up and make it to the stage without falling off. Someone took pictures of Pintip handing me the little jeweler’s box containing the—my—Golden Heart necklace and the envelope with the announcement—just like the Oscars!—and then I found myself at the podium, looking out at that huge crowd, many of whom were cheering, bless their hearts.

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“I Am Stunned.” I know I started out with that. I know I thanked my local friends who were there (making Gerry Bartlett temporarily famous for nagging me . . . and taking me shopping), my chapters, my GH groups. I think I went on to talk about RWA for a couple of minutes, but I honestly don’t remember that part. I’ll have to watch when RWA posts the recording of the ceremony. Apparently I did all right—at least I didn’t fall off the stage—because friends and total strangers told me so.

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I had intended to go to a workshop after lunch, but somehow I didn’t make it. I managed to get up on the stage again that evening, with the rest of the GH winners, when we were recognized during the RITA® Awards for published books, but fortunately we weren’t expected to say anything.

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The rest of the Conference was anything but a letdown. I went to workshops, met with Necklaceagents, had meals and visits with friends, and even got some sleep. I didn’t need to visit the local pot dispensary to stay high—I was floating. And playing with that necklace, half afraid someone would pop up and say, “Oops, we made a mistake, give it back.” I wore it for a week, and I’ll wear it again, often.

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The only disappointment at the Conference was the RWA Board’s announcement that next year will be the last Golden Heart Contest. The publishing industry is changing faster that anyone can measure, yes, but we don’t understand this decision. RWA has always been supportive of its unpublished members, and those of us who have benefited, made friends, finished manuscripts because of the Golden Heart hate to see it go.

 

Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Pride

In Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Pride, Shannon Calhoun is reeling from the revelations dogging Calhoun Petroleum, not to mention the terms of her father’s will, which have her working in a cubicle in the public relations department of the now-shaky family business. How is she going to tell her contacts in the world of high society fund raising that Calhoun can no longer afford to support their causes?

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Texas PrideThings only get stranger when Shannon walks into her sister’s office to see Billy Pagan, the boyfriend she dumped in college, now a high-powered criminal attorney brought in to help with Calhoun Petroleum’s legal woes. The old sparks are still there, but have Shannon and Billy grown up enough to fan those embers into a lasting fire–without burning each other?

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Texas Pride is full of action, from motorcycle gangs to an airplane crash, moving from high-rise Houston to rough neighborhoods and biker bars, and a cast of characters ranging from Billy’s orange-haired grandma to his Harley-riding investigator. But at the heart of the book are Shannon and Billy, searching for a path through life that they can travel together.

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It’s always fun to read a book set in a familiar place, and those of us in the Houston area will enjoy looking in on the city, the oil industry, and even an East Texas Indian reservation and casino. Gerry Bartlett is a life-long resident of the region, knows it well, and clearly enjoys writing about it.

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More books set in the world of the Calhouns, featuring some characters we’ve met and some we haven’t, will becoming from Kensington next year. I’m looking forward to more Texas suspense.

 

Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Trilogy

With Texas Heat, Gerry Bartlett begins a new contemporary romance series set in the Houston oil industry. Cassidy Calhoun has no idea she’s even distantly related to the owners of Calhoun Petroleum until she’s invited to the reading of Conrad Calhoun’s will. Texas HeatSuddenly she finds herself moving in with the three half-siblings she never knew about, required to work at the oil company for a year before collecting her inheritance, and more attracted than she should be to Mason MacKenzie, the oil field competitor who will be evaluating the performance of the Calhoun siblings. If they don’t perform well, Calhoun Petroleum may go right down the pipeline, or be devoured by Mason’s Texas Star Oil, which is facing its own share of financial problems.

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Cassidy has more to deal with than Mason’s questionable intentions. She has no idea why her mother kept her away from the Calhouns all her life, even though it meant living in near poverty for both of them. She doesn’t know who to trust, either—can her siblings be as welcoming as they seem? And what about the people at Calhoun Petroleum? And then the real danger begins.

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The Calhoun Petroleum story continues in Texas Fire, as Cassidy’s newly discovered sister, Megan Calhoun, sets out to fulfill her assignment in the will, working in theTexas Fire oilfields for a year, a tough call for someone who has changed jobs—and boyfriends—whenever boredom set in. And to make the situation touchier, she’s volunteered to go on the road with engineer Rowdy Baker, the long-time boyfriend Cassidy left behind. Rowdy has about as much love for Calhoun women as Megan does for dust storms, work boots, and cramped travel trailers.

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But Rowdy and Megan make up their minds to soldier on, even while Megan learns to live without credit cards and Rowdy finds himself saddled with an unexpected puppy. Megan’s fake ID, intended to deflect the feelings of people hurt by the downsizing of the oil industry in general and Calhoun Petroleum in particular, doesn’t last long, and she’s thrust into representing the Calhoun interests to everyone from diner waitresses to environmental protesters.

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As if that wasn’t enough, Megan has a guilty secret—she knows something about Rowdy’s past that even he doesn’t know. How in the world will these two share a year in the oilfields without killing each other or bringing another disaster down on Calhoun Petroleum?

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Texas PrideThe story continues in October with Texas Pride, when the action shifts back to company headquarters in Houston. Shannon Calhoun is struggling with her assignment, protecting Calhoun Petroleum’s image with press releases, when her old flame Billy Pagan, now a top drawer lawyer, shows up with yet another threat to the Calhoun family business.

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I’ve really enjoyed Texas Heat and Texas Fire, and I’m looking forward to Texas Pride (available October 3 from your favorite ebook source).

Two Meetings and Half a Dozen Books

I belong to two local chapters of Romance Writers of America, and this month the meetings fell as close together as they ever do, West Houston last Saturday morning and Houston Bay Area last night.  Both meetings featured interesting speakers on topics that I have yet to tackle myself.

On Saturday, West Houston heard from Alyssa Goodnight, who showed us how she is using the combined impact of several social media channels to promote her new release, Austentatious.  She has tied together input to Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, Pinterest, and her website, and claims that it takes relatively little work to maintain her online presence.  I could only watch in admiration–looks like a fulltime job to me.  And I already have one of those.

Last night Joan Reeves gave Houston Bay Area a very interesting talk about some of the technical and legal challenges involved in independent publishing, including copyright laws and piracy problems.  Check out Joan’s blog for a wealth of information on the field, and check out her popular ebook releases while you’re there.

This has been a busy month for West Houston authors, with a whole stack of new releases:

  • Real Vampires Hate Skinny Jeans is the latest in Gerry Bartlett’s very popular Glory St. Clair series.
  • How To Ravish a Rake, by Vicky Dreiling, is the third in a trilogy of charmingly funny Regency historicals.
  • The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek is the first in a new series by Jane Myers Perrine.

  • The Quakers of New Garden anthology includes “New Garden’s Inspiration” by West Houston author Claire Sanders.
  • Wanted: Undead or Alive is the latest installment in Kerrelyn Sparks’ NYT bestselling Love At Stake series.
  • The Kingdom is the second in Amanda Stevens’ Graveyard Queen series, to be followed next month by The Prophet.

I bought books for myself, and an extra copy of Jane’s book as a thank you gift for my neighbor.  Books make terrific, thoughtful, and affordable gifts.  Go out and buy one for someone you’d like to say “thank you” to.

I didn’t buy a single book today.

Of course that doesn’t mean I came home from the West Houston RWA chapter meeting without one.   I was lucky enough to win a copy of Real Vampires Don’t Wear Size Six, the latest book in Gerry Bartlett’s delightful Glory St. Clair series, the book I would have bought if Gerry hadn’t brought me a signed copy.  Glory was a bit overweight when she became a vampire a few centuries ago, and she’s been stuck with those extra pounds ever since.  Been there, done that?  As Nina Bangs describes her, “Glory is Everywoman with fangs.”

Gerry and Nina, both best-selling authors, are members of West Houston RWA, and they were our speakers today, telling us “What We’ve Learned Along the Way.”  They definitely have the experience to share, starting as critique partners and Golden Heart finalists in the 1990s.  Gerry published romantic suspense with Precious Gems and historical romance with Dorchester before finding herself the mistress of vampire humor with the Real Vampires series for Berkley.  Size Six is the seventh in the series.  Nina once thought she wanted to write contemporary series romance for Harlequin, until she sold a paranormal called An Original Sin to Dorchester.  That book came out in 1999; since then she’s written paranormal romance for Dorchester, Berkley and Avon.  Her latest release is Eternal Prey from Avon.

Members like Gerry and Nina, willing to share their experience and knowledge with others, make Romance Writers of America® and its local chapters such a wonderful resource for writers.  My own loyalty to the group overcame my instincts for self-preservation last month when West Houston was having a hard time finding someone to volunteer to be chapter president next year.  (Election of officers in the chapters I belong to generally involves sweet-talking enough people to fill the slate into volunteering.  Any actual voting is pretty much a formality.)  I told the current president, Karen Burns, that I would take the job if no one else stepped forward.  Well, that cat slipped out of the bag, and–surprise–one volunteer was plenty.

So I’ll have another job on my schedule come 2012.  In the meantime, I’ve got the contest urge again.  Time to send Bathtub Jinn out into the world, so I’ve spent the last week or two plotting the rest of the book.  Now all I have to do is write the (dreaded) synopsis and send the entries off.  By Monday evening.

 

I’m home from New York without a Golden Heart,

but my friend Jo Anne Banker brought home the Golden Heart (which is a very pretty gold charm on a necklace) in her category, Contemporary Series Romance.  It was a very exciting evening.

I managed to pack in several workshops on Friday, beginning with “Sex Through History,” at 8:30 in the morning.  When I mentioned this in an email to my critique group, Carl wanted to know if there were handouts with pictures.  No, but there were little packets of phallic candy and a very interesting Power Point presentation.  Workshop presenter Delilah Marvelle posts her research in this area once a month on her blog, A Bit o’ Muslin.

Then I attended a workshop on “The One-Page Plot,” given by multi-published author  Christie Ridgway.  If there’s anything we’re all searching for, it’s a magic formula for plotting.  Christie’s involves dividing a sheet of paper into boxes, one per chapter, and sketching in the story, with attention to turning points at measured intervals.  Very interesting.

After a stop for a granola bar (no group luncheon on Friday, alas) and a rehearsal for the awards ceremony, I went to a workshop given by Harlequin authors Donna Alward and Fiona Harper and Harlequin editor Bryony Green, on keeping emotion and sexual tension high in books with less graphic sexual content.  Do you see a trend here?  Actually, there were eight or ten workshops in every time slot, and only a few of them were about sex.  However, it was a romance conference . . .

My last workshop was on promotion through social media, and most of it went right over my head.  I slipped out when I realized I had no clue what the presenters were talking about.  I’ve gotten the hang of blogging, but Twitter and Facebook are still mysteries to me.  One of these days . . .

When I got back to our room at 4:15, I found half a pizza waiting for me, bless Jo Anne.  After I’d devoured that (the man from room service had insisted that Jo Anne eat hers hot, but mine was still delicious warm) and we’d dressed in our ceremonial finery, we joined our friends from West Houston RWA for a pre-awards drink (diet coke, as the producer of the show had begged us at the rehearsal to show up sober for the ceremony), and then met our “dates,” Gerry Bartlett and Nina Bangs, at the VIP entrance.  Gerry and Nina were Golden Heart finalists together in 1997 and are now multi-published authors; Jo Anne and I are hoping some of their talent will rub off on us if we feed them enough chocolate.  Also at our table were our other West Houston RWA finalist, Sarah Andre, and her husband Scott.

Although Sarah and I remain Golden Heart Finalists (and we’re thrilled about that), Jo Anne is now a Golden Heart Winner.  (For the full list of GH and Rita® winners, visit RWA here.)  Being completely surprised, being a Texan by choice, and mostly being herself, Jo Anne’s opening words to the crowd of more than two thousand were, “Hot damn, ain’t this fun?”  The crowd loved her.

Drinks after the ceremony were not restricted to diet soda.