Excerpt Tuesday – BREATH ON EMBERS

BREATH ON EMBERS releases next Monday, December 3, 2012. In the following scene, Thea and Ronan have just finished checking out the Macy’s Christmas windows and are walking over to Saks 5th Avenue when they get distracted by a lingerie shop window…

A flash of red in a dimly lit window caught Thea’s eye; her steps slowed and by default, Ronan slowed with her. The mannequin wore a red silk robe stitched with intricate patterns that covered her from her chin to her wrists and ankles. Toggle fasteners held the robe closed to mid-thigh, where her white hand held the skirt open, revealing rich brown velvet inside.

“Oh, that’s gorgeous,” Thea breathed.

She pulled on the door handle but the lock held. The word Idylle was etched in ornate script on the lower right-hand corner of the window, next to a silver door adorned only with a placard listing a phone number. Ronan pulled out his phone and keyed in the number. It rang twice, then a woman answered.

“Idylle,” she said, giving the word a French lilt.

“Are you open?” Ronan asked.

“Yes,” she said. A second later the buzzer sounded on the door. Ronan opened it for Thea and followed her up the stairs to the second floor.

The interior of the shop was warm, dim and quiet. It expanded to fill the length of the row building, with polished hardwood floors and walls painted a metallic silver. Mannequins modeled more elaborate ensembles. One wore a red silk bustier and a pair of tight jeans; the next figure wore the same bustier but with a matching silk thong. A sheer green nightgown trimmed in paler green velvet draped another. Columns of wooden cubes rose behind tables displaying folded items, and more cubes along the walls held women’s undergarments. A trunk by the counter held neatly folded robes like the one displayed in the street window. At the back of the space, three six-panel doors lined the end of the long room. A brass hook on the doors held an oval sign turned to Unoccupied, so Ronan assumed those were the dressing rooms. The woman behind the counter gave them a welcoming smile then went back to her work.

Words weren’t necessary. The shop spoke for itself.

Beside him Thea pushed back her fur-trimmed hood, exposing her blond, tumbled hair. Her cheeks were pink from the cold air, her full lips slightly parted with amused fascination. “This city never fails to surprise me,” she said.

“You never know what’s behind a door. Let’s do some shopping,” he murmured in her ear.

Amusement danced in her slate-gray eyes. “Are you trying to tell me my basic black panties ruined the Santa’s helper outfit?”

“Oh yeah,” he said as he tugged off his hat. “It was horrible. Couldn’t you tell by the way I crawled all over you then lost it like a teenager?”

One corner of her mouth lifted. “I was a little uncomfortable flitting around the Upper East Side in that outfit and a thong. Anyway, you weren’t supposed to see them. You were supposed to take the blow job and send me off into the night.”

He wasn’t going to apologize for wanting more from Thea than anonymous physical release. “I’m difficult like that.”

“Yes, you are,” she replied. Some of the teasing had gone out of the banter, and to cover the new tone humming in the air she looked around the shop. “What do you like?”

“You want me to pick it out?”

“A place like this isn’t for me,” she said archly. “I’d never buy underwear here unless I was doing it for you. It’s meant to be worn for five minutes, then removed.”

“With my teeth,” he said. She actually giggled at that. He lifted his hand to her jawline, then brushed his thumb over her lips. Blood rushed to the surface of her skin, and her tongue flicked out to touch his skin. “Pick out something you think I’d like,” he said.

Read another excerpt and preorder from the retailer of your choice here!

12 Days of Christmas Goodie Bag Giveaway!

12 Days of Christmas…Great Reads and Freebies!

I cry at the drop of a hat. As Christmas approaches I’ll lose it over the Marine Corps Toys for Tots commercial, welcome home videos in which troops are reunited with their families, movies with happy, or sad, or hopeful endings, or anything that reminds me of the beauty and goodness in the world. I complement this sensitive side with a distinctly low-brow sense of humor. You know the “Eighteen crotch hits in twenty-three seconds” montages on America’s Funniest Home Videos? Those slay me. Stone cold dead.

This mix might explain why Bad Santa is my favorite holiday movie. There are two kinds of people in the world: people who love Bad Santa and people who wish they could sue Billy Bob Thornton for the two hours of their lives they wasted on the movie and will never get back. I own the former category. I love that movie. I love it for the perfectly written, scathingly delivered lines like, “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m three-feet-f-ing-tall!” I love the boxing ring scene. I love John Ritter in a really brilliant, expectation-busting performance as an uptight store manager (his last performance before his death).

But what I really love is the unsentimental way the movie reminds us that Christmas miracles come to foul-mouthed, alcoholic, law-breaking, perverse thieves as well as the George Baileys of the world. Willy Stokes, the main character, lacks a conscience, a functioning moral compass, or any other redeeming quality. He spends thirty days working as a department store Santa so he can crack the store’s safe on Christmas Eve and steal enough money to drink his way through the next eleven months. But when a fat kid and a pretty waitress come into his life, they accept him unconditionally, caring about him for exactly who he is and where he is in life. Simple, honest affection slowly changes Willy. If I had to describe his character arc, I’d say he goes from “alcoholic degenerate” to “functioning human being”.

Now that’s a Christmas miracle I can get behind.

In keeping with the idea that good things come to those who least expect them, I’ll mention that Thea Moretti, the heroine of my holiday release BREATH ON EMBERS, also gets a miracle. Hers comes in the form of a FDNY firefighter who uses every sexy weapon in his considerable arsenal to coax her through darkness, into the light.

So…yes or no to Bad Santa? Comment between now and November 26 for a chance to win a BREATH ON EMBERS goodie bag including Starbucks, iTunes, shortbread, and more!

19 Years and Counting…

Today is my 19th wedding anniversary.

Twenty-two years ago I walked into the first class of my sophomore year in college (8 a.m. American History if you’re curious) and saw a boy sitting with his long, long legs stretched out into the aisle. What flashed into my brain was That’s the man I’m going to marry. Which sounds all romantic and wonderful…except I was dating someone else and had no intention of ever getting married. I’m not prone to getting messages from the great beyond, so I just filed it away and went on with life. Two months later I asked the long-legged, quiet boy to study for a test with me. He turned me down. A few days later he said he changed his mind. Two months after that I broke up with the other guy. One year after that he asked me to marry him, and a year after that, we were married on a warm, sunny October day.

In 19 years together we’ve gone through one pregnancy, two cross-country moves, two houses, four cars (we keep ’em til they gasp out a last breath), two graduate degrees, one terrorist attack, one blackout, one transit strike, four trips abroad, and roughly six career changes between us. I’ve got gray hair. He still looks about twenty-five. This morning he told me he still gets butterflies when I walk into a room.

Happy Anniversary, Mr. C. I love you.

Hot in Handcuffs Blog Hop!

AKA: In Which Anne Explains How She Came To Write Liberating Lacey…

[ETA: The contest is now closed, and the winner is Rahab M! Thanks to all who entered!]

(If you don’t care about how Lacey came to be, I’m gifting either one Kindle version of Liberating Lacey or a paperback version to one person who comments. US residents only, please. Thanks for stopping by!)

A few years ago when I was just starting out as a writer I read an erotic romance by a really well-known author. The hero was a cop, the heroine was a shy young thing coming into her sexual own. There was emotional conflict, there was sex, there was growth, there was a scene where the heroine asks the hero to use his handcuffs on her. Pretty standard erorom stuff, right? Except the handcuffs scene lasted all of TWO PARAGRAPHS and I was freakin’ pissed.

I mean, I felt short-changed.

Because, for the love of all that’s right and holy and erotic, don’t flinch. If you’re going to go there, you should GO THERE, and you should hang out. Get the lay of the land. Take a bunch of notes. Maybe draw some sketches. All for the purpose of sending the rest of us a really detailed, explicit travelogue. It’s just kind. Polite. Like holding the door open for the next person, or offering the bread basket to your neighbor at the dinner table. It’s what your mom raised you to do, and you should do.

That author had a different story to tell, but something about the cop/handcuffs thing getting tossed into the story, almost an afterthought, caught my attention. What if everything they did, everything in the story built to that really compelling night? And what if that night was really explicitly described? How would going deep into the emotions affect the story that came before, and what happened after?

That’s how my first erotic romance novel was born.

Around the time I started writing the story, I learned Ellora’s Cave was actively seeking older woman/younger man stories (in the very initial pages of Lacey, Hunter was actually older than she was). I don’t find age to be a very interesting conflict so I mixed it up; Hunter was not only younger than Lacey, she was completely out of his league. We see that fairly frequently in “wrong side of the tracks” backstories, but usually the bad-boy-teenager has grown up to be Filthy Rich. Hunter isn’t. He’s a pretty average guy. Respectable upbringing. Decent job. Loves his dad. Hates downtime. Knows who he is, what he does, and what he has to offer.

Protects a secret that tells him no matter how much he offers, he isn’t enough for Lacey.

When I started writing that book I always knew the most important scene in the book would be that “hot in handcuffs” scene. I always knew she’d ask him to do it, and I knew it would be the demise of everything they’d built up to that point. With as much as they had going against them, a kinky role play wasn’t going to provide the foundation for a long-term relationship.

Because sometimes handcuffs aren’t enough, but being loved for who you are always is.

Let’s see…other interesting facts about Lacey. The finished book came in at 82K words, which is a bit short for a single title romance, but respectable. The book I sold to Ellora’s Cave was 31K, comprised of the initial scene at bar/parking lot, the restaurant scene where she asks him to role play a bad cop, the role play, a really horribly written breakup scene, and the reunion. That’s it. EC bought the book, and then my editor, God bless her and her children’s children, let me take the time I wanted to revise it. I started in September with the promise she’d have it by 10/1, then by 10/15, then by Halloween, then Thanksgiving. I finally delivered on Christmas Eve. I extensively revised every word of the 31K I’d submitted, and added everything else. The scene in the park with the Ultimate Frisbee game. The night at the Metropolitan Club, and its aftermath. The botched dinner date. Lacey’s mom walking in on Hunter. Whole Foods. Sweet Dreams. The scene in the rain. Even the ending was different.

And speaking of endings, I frequently get emails asking for more of Hunter and Lacey. Occasionally they kick around in my brain a little, little flashes from people I know and love. Mental postcards. They’re not done with me yet…just don’t hold your breath. 😉

Thanks for stopping by the Hot in Handcuffs blog hop. For the giveaway you can comment or tweet me @annecalhoun with Hot in Handcuffs in the tweet. Hop on over to the next blog, and thanks for stopping by!


Dirt Town

Welcome to Dirt Town. Population: one to five eight-year-old boys, depending on the play date, and dozens of Matchbox cars.

Like so many creative projects, Dirt Town came about organically. We’d built Small Boy a fabulous sandbox fashioned like a red race car. He helped us put it together, paint the silver and black wheels on the sides, assemble the steering wheel and screw handles to the storage box in the front. We filled it with the finest white sand money can buy.

He played in it a handful of times, and then it went unused. He preferred a pile of dirt sitting beside the house after a landscaping project. But the dirt pile was in the full sun, so when the weather warmed up, he stopped playing there.

When the linden tree’s roots grew more and more exposed, Mr. C decided to improve the look of our admitted ratty back yard by spreading the dirt under the tree and adding some compost and grass seed. He got as far as transferring the dirt pile from beside the house to under the tree. The next day, we had this:

It doesn’t look like much. Those are old landscaping bricks. I’m not sure where the planks came from. The boys found long nails that fell in the dirt when we re-sided the house last spring and use them for something. I’m not sure what, as I stay out of Dirt Town. There’s something a little sacred about this kind of play, scraped out with gardening tools and a dump truck. It belongs to them and while Small Boy occasionally wants to show us a new “improvement”, for the most part, that’s his space to let his imagination go.

There are funny moments. When we had a heavy rainstorm, Dirt Town suffered severe flash flooding. Small Boy kicked the dirt and said, “We should have had insurance!”

Did you have a Dirt Town as a child? I did. A tree line bordered the edges of the playground I attended when I was Small Boy’s age. This was an all-girls school, and my friends and I would drag limbs and branches into fort-shapes, and ambush each other from these forts. We moved often, and when I got older I used to make houses out of the hanging clothes boxes, lining it with a sleeping bag and pillows and stuffed animals so I could read in peace. These kinds of spaces are important to kids, and adults, too. I have my own Dirt Town in the back yard. It’s shaped like an outdoor couch, and on sunny Sunday afternoons, that’s where I read and write and nap.

We’re tearing out the sandbox next weekend with plans to sell the structure on Craig’s List to someone whose kid prefers pristine white sand and a pretty red box. Around here, we play in Dirt Town.

In Which Anne Forgets She Wrote A Book

I’m not particularly creative when it comes to titling my WIPs. I used to stress about it, but after a while I started stressing about other things, like getting an agent and writing more books. I began calling WIPs by the hero’s name. In the last year I’ve written “Adam”, Sean, Ronan, and I’m currently working on “Ben”. In May I finished “Adam”. I slapped a title on it, my agent submitted the book to various editors for their consideration, it sold very quickly, and I forgot about it.

Flash forward to today. Debut author Elyssa Patrick, a good friend who’s just published a really sweet contemporary I recommend highly, sent me a Woot! email indicating Unforgiven was now available for preorder on Amazon. I read my emails right after I get out of bed (bad habit) and this was my sleep-rumpled thought process.

1. WTF? I didn’t write a book called Unforgiven.

2. Oh. Berkley’s assigned one of Alison Kent‘s upcoming Dalton Gang Heat cowboy books to my name. I’ve read two of the three and they’re delicious, but I didn’t write them, so…WTF?

3. Oh, wait. That’s what we called Adam when we pitched it. I guess I did write a book called Unforgiven.

Long story short, you can preorder Unforgiven, my first contemporary romance that will release in June, 2013. There’s not much to look at yet, LOL – cover art, blurb, etc, all to follow, but if you’re really eager to preorder, go for it! If you’ve ever read one of my books and thought, “Boy, I wish these two would stop having so much hot sex and do stuff together, like deal with terrible mistakes and broken dreams and find their way to an emotionally satisfying new life together” this is the book for you! It’s the story of Adam Collins, a former Marine who can’t forgive himself for the devastating mistakes he’s made in his reckless past who returns home and reconnects with Marissa Brooks, the woman who always tempted him in all the wrong ways…

And now I’m going to get some Diet Coke in me, because Ben awaits.

In Which Anne Forgets To Ask Her Husband If Writing Erotic Books Is OK

I’ve been doing this for a while now, and when I tell people what I write, one of the questions they frequently ask is “What does your husband think of that?” There are usually two subtexts under this question. One is “OMG you write TRASHY SMUT and your husband must not know because if he did HE’D PUT A STOP TO IT!” The other is, “Wow. Your husband must be One Happy Man.”

Cue the eye roll.

My flippant answer to either subtext is “I didn’t ask him.” If I’d decided to write literary fiction, in which a tiger and a man discuss the meaning of life while adrift in a boat on the ocean, no one would ask me that question. If I’d decided to write essays or short stories targeted for The New Yorker, no one would ask that question. But throw a little (okay, quite a bit) of sex and an extra player or two into the mix and people get…twitchy.

It’s kind of amusing.

The truth is that my husband’s been urging me to write romance for almost the entire duration of our marriage (coming up on 19 years) because he loves me and he knew I wanted to do this before I admitted it to myself. He admires the covers (and makes soothing noises about the less attractive ones). He helps me brainstorm on date nights. He consoles me through rejections. My writing time takes priority in our house. It doesn’t make any difference to him that I might be writing a scene involving a firefighter, a widow, and an EMT, all naked and naughty. I’m writing. I’m a writer. It’s what I do, who I am. He doesn’t judge the content of my subconscious.

As for the One Happy Man…yeah, it’s totally handcuffs and riding crops and “one night of passion that changes everything” around here because I’m totally taking the most intimate moments of our married life, fictionalizing them, and selling them on the internet for money.

Sarcasm aside, we did discuss the consequences, especially when it appeared I could make a career of this. I’m not in my life alone. We have a child. People are mostly supportive and kind, but occasionally stupid and cruel. These are not good reasons to reject a desire and a talent, however modest.

The third subtext to the question “What does your husband think about this?” is a genuine, gentle curiosity, untainted by OMGSMUTSMUTSMUT or a rather lurid inquisitiveness. In those cases, I tell the truth.

He thinks it’s awesome.

Random Favorite Quote

Every so often I read something in a book written by someone else that clarifies my own thinking on what I write. One paragraph from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Komarr, does exactly that. The book is a mystery and a sci-fi adventure, but it’s also a long, detailed, brillant setup of the woman the intrepid Miles Vorkosigan is going to woo and win in A Civil Campaign (one of my favorite books of all time). Miles has many, many faults, all of Darcy’s pride packed into a malformed body, and Ekaterin’s now-dead husband, Tien, was socially conservative and fiscally heedless. She’s attracted to Miles but deathly afraid of being stifled again. In a really brilliant scene, Ekaterin asks about Miles’ past lovers, a telling question to ask any man.

Miles goes on to give a really charming, funny account of Elena, Taura, Elli, et al, and in each case he starts which who they were when he met them, and who they are now. In every case the woman has grown, changed, stretched into someone truly spectacular. Jumpship captain. Admiral. Surgeon. Empress.

To Ekaterin this is pure, cool water in the desert:

“Tien had protected her proudly, she reflected, in the little Vor-lady fortress of her household. Tien had spent a decade protecting her so hard, especially from anything resembling growth, she’d felt scarcely larger at thirty than she’d been at twenty. Whatever it was Vorkosigan had offered to this extraordinary list of lovers, it hadn’t been protection.”

Yes. Exactly.

In Which Anne Gives Up Sugar

…for a very brief time.

Let’s start over.

Hi. I’m Anne and I’m a sugar addict.

While I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, like all joking there’s an element of truth to the humor. I won’t say chocolate runs my life, but I will admit to cravings that pop up at the same time every day. The line between “dessert is one of the food groups” and addiction is thinning, rapidly. I’m also curious to test the assertions that avoiding sugar evens out the daily highs and lows, and improves sleep. So this is both a fast, and a not-quite-double-blind-controlled-study. Just one woman, and her demons, with a fridge full of raw cookie dough (thanks, Mr. C. for playing The Adversary for the next two weeks).

How am I doing so far, on Day 4? I’m a cranky bitch. Thanks for asking. I’m also a little dismayed at how badly I crave a treat after lunch, or a mid-afternoon treat, or dessert after dinner. But what I learned yesterday is that what I attributed to a post-chocolate-covered-grahams crash is actually a post-lots-of-time-with-people crash. (A good friend calls this an “interactive hangover”.) Maybe higher levels of sugar in my blood makes it harder for me to discern what’s good for me and what isn’t.

Because challenges are more fun with rewards at the end, it’s also a giveaway!

My goal is to fast from sugar until my birthday, which is just a couple of weeks away. I started the fast on Monday, August 26 ; other commitments kept me from blogging about it until now but I’m going public with the challenge. Post on any of the blog updates about The Torturous Sugar Fast of 2012 and you’re automatically entered to win your choice from my backlist. Tell me about your favorite desserts. Say something encouraging, or supportive, or even “you are CRAZY, not that I’m judging” and you’re in.

What’s in this for me? If I get through three weeks without sugar, I’ve promised myself I can make our family birthday cake, which is a triple-layer chocolate cake with whipped cream between the layers and chocolate icing. Made from scratch. I counted up the calories in this cake and stopped when I got to 10,000. It’s a towering mass of sugar-sweet delicious, and a great way to celebrate turning…well…older than I am. I might lapse into a sugar coma after three weeks without, but I’ll take that risk.

Stay tuned for daily updates. Let’s hope the cranky bitch is replaced by someone of beatific serenity, or I might end up celebrating my birthday alone. 😉

And the winners are…

Laura, Chris Bails, and @NancyHolland5 from the twitter side of the contest! Please email me your addresses and I’ll mail your copies today in the hopes they arrive for a great long weekend of reading. anne at annecalhoun dot com, with the usual substitutes 😉

Thanks for entering!