Pia Manning is an author I like very much. She has a seasoned perspective and incisive way with words. Her latest Siren romance came out this year, but I wanted you to experience the Pia Manning universe the same way I did, from her very first book.
Pia has kindly donated to the giveaway prize bundle her debut novel and first in the Star Brides series, Star Brides: Procured. This is still my favourite of hers so far, because the elements of culture woven into her heroine’s experience of leaving Earth gently stroked my first-generation migrant nerves.
But enough about me, here’s what you wanna know about Pia and her lovely book…
JL: Tell us a bit about yourself.
PIA MANNING: I always find this the hardest question to answer. I love making a connection with my readers, but I don’t want to bore anyone. So, I live in the deep, dark woods of NE Wisconsin with my spousal unit, one spoiled dog and three rotten cats. I find I love the solitude and privacy living in the middle of nowhere affords, although it can be damned inconvenient at times. I began writing for real after a number of medical issues forced my withdrawal from the workforce. At the time, I viewed the diagnoses with a jaundiced eye. It wasn’t until later that I realized what a gift I’d truly been handed. Now, I get to do what I love every day.
JL: Tell us a bit about the book in the giveaway, Star Brides: Procured. What inspired it? What kind of world should readers expect?
PIA: Anis Warner is one of my favorite characters. She’s focused, determined, disciplined… Aaand then along comes Commander Dachar of the starship Talat… Procured is, if anything, about moving forward in the face of life’s unexpected transitions. We follow Anis as she struggles to assert herself in an ever-changing alien environment.
When I wrote Procured I was recovering from surgery and learning what that meant for my life. Like Anis, I needed to adapt to the boundaries that now framed my new normal. Developing Anis’s story helped me to realize how lucky I am.
JL: I love the way you characterise Anis as she gets to know Darchar’s culture. How important have you found culture to be in the way couples relate to each other?
PIA: Culture establishes expectations and points of reference for us all. When one half of a couple is thrust into a situation where cultural boundaries have changed and nothing feels familiar, all kinds of chaos can result. Sometimes those misunderstandings are funny, other times limiting and hurtful. There is a lot of negotiating and navigating necessary before they reach their happily every after!
JL: What kinds of things do you feel strongly about that you commit to including in your writing?
PIA: Portraying the unrecognized resilience and intelligence of women from different societies is a stream (Ok, maybe more like the Mississippi or Amazon Rivers) that flows through my books. Women have voices that should never be silenced. My women have no patience with culturally imposed limitations or stereotypes. Anis is a woman who knows what she wants. Is she frustrated at times? Yep. Does she make mistakes along the way? Definitely. But, she always strives to move forward despite every obstacle the Apochian world places before her.
5. So, Star Brides: Procured is the first book in a series. What are the other books like?
PIA: The other two books in the Star Brides universe, ‘The Meat Market’ and ‘Dept. of Corrections,’ explore what happens to society when women are mistreated and marginalized. In other words Karma is a… well, you know.
Both books are also about second chances and redemption. In ‘Meat Market’ our Zuntx warriors return to find their planet in shambles. They and their newly acquired woman, Tamsin, start over on the frontier of a newly colonized planet. The trio are now forced to work together to survive. Before joining her warriors, Tamsin had worked as a very underappreciated and underpaid server. On their new world, Tamsin finds her voice. And the boys find it in their best interest to listen!
In ‘D of C’ Kadir (you’ll meet him in ‘Procured’) returns to Zuntx with former inmate, Janine. Sentenced to a length prison sentence for a crime she absolutely did commit, Janine is in need of a second chance at redemption. Kadir and his warriors are not ready to give up on their home. Together, they dig in to make their menage relationship work and change some things along the way.
JL: What sort of stuff do you like to read?
PIA: My guilty pleasure shelves include erotic romances, murder mysteries- with or without a touch of paranormal, surviving the apocalypse stories, scifi/fantasy and paranomal/horror stuff.
JL: Any parting words for readers?
PIA: Go forth and read! Or write as the mood takes you. Explore, make your mistakes. Just don’t stop moving forward in some way!
An assistant, a crafter, an essential oils boffin and a mum, Handmade Gems creator Gemma Sismey must surely be a time wizard to fit all of these things into her day.
But no, she tells me. She’s just got a knack for planning and an insatiable love for her passion projects. Her lovely handmade work is included in the giveaway prize bundle. Read on to learn more about this clever lady and her craft.
JL: Tell me a bit about yourself and what led to the creation of Handmade Gems.
GEMMA SISMEY: I have always done arty and crafty things, at school, college and uni, whilst it isn’t (yet) my full time job, that’s the dream. I have a very busy desk job for my 9–5, so I guess I feel the pull to do something creative with my spare time. When I became a mum it gave me something to do that was mine during the few nap times there were. I also loved the idea of my son wearing things I’d made and a hand made gift for others always means so much more.
JL: Where do you get inspiration from?
GEMMA: Whilst I try to cater what I make to appeal to as wide a range of people as I can, I love very natural and classic looks, a bit of old English country style which is a product of my Dorset upbringing no doubt! I love florals, wood, animals and nature prints. I’m an avid pinterester and use my train journeys to check out new ideas.
JL: What does a typical day in your creative life look like?
GEMMA: I’m a natural over organiser and planner (hence the day job of being an assistant) but it means I spend a lot of time thinking through what I want to make, what the end product would look like, etc.—likely also because I don’t get a lot of time to myself, I have to get right to business when I do!
JL: Tell us a bit about your obsession with essential oils. And what does your home smell like right this second?
GEMMA: I first came across essential oils about three years ago. I wasn’t in the best place emotionally following the birth of our son and a good friend introduced me 😊 I have grown my collection over the years and now myself and my family use them daily to support our general well-being. I literally couldn’t be without them now!
My favourites for diffusing during the day are citrus oils as they are very uplifting, wild orange, tangerine. Otherwise lavender and vetiver at night to help us sleep.
JL: What’s your all-time favourite love story?
GEMMA: I absolutely love the classics. Pride and Prejudice and The Importance of Being Ernest are my faves… Does Dirty Dancing also count?
(I reckon it does.)
Enter the giveaway!
Two lucky giveaway winners will receive a Handmade Gems zipper pouch, along with a bumper prize bundle with wares by Renée Botman and More Sundays Please, fresh and awesome Kyanite reads, amazing romances by Skye McDonald and Pia Manning, plus a signed paperback copy of my latest romance, It Starts With A Kiss.
My relationship with paranormal romance is long and strange. I think it’s because I liked it so much in my teens, that it feels like a chain that tethers me to a tumultuous time in my life.
Well, now in my late thirties, I’ve decided to just embrace it. And Forgotten Storm, by fellow Kyanite author A.R. Vagnetti, seems like the right place to start.
JL: Tell us a bit about yourself and your latest book, Forgotten Storm.
A.R. VAGNETTI: I’ve always been an avid reader, especially in the romance genre. As a teenager, I devoured second, sometimes third hand, Harlequin romances from my family, and then when I started buying my own, I graduated to romantic suspense, loving the intensity. Until I found my passion; paranormal romance. I wrote my first novel in my twenties. It was a romantic suspense. It was so horrible. LOL I threw it in the back of the closet and walked away from writing for a very long time.
It wasn’t until about 3 years ago; I picked up the proverbial pen and wrote Forgotten Storm. The first book in the Storm Series, Forgotten Storm, is about Nicole Giordano. A young woman who struggles to overcome an abusive past until the exotic man from her dreams appears on her doorstep and forces her to battle her fears, accept a destiny foretold in an ancient prophesy, and trust him with her heart, but facing her malevolent father isn’t Nicole’s greatest challenge; suppressing her dark desires for Logan could shatter her one chance with the vampire who claimed her soul.
JL: Where did the idea for the story come from? What elements did you draw from real life?
A.R.: I wanted to write a story that had all the elements of a paranormal romance, but I also needed it to convey a deeper meaning. How to let go of whatever crap life has thrown at you and take a risk; to trust.
Trust is something I’ve struggled to deal with since I was 12 years old because it was stolen from me. Forgotten Storm is about a courages woman who never gave up, continued to fight and deal with her issues in whatever way she could; combat, pain, coffee. LOL. But most importantly, Nicole learns to take the leap of faith and trust a vampire with her battered and bruised heart. I relate to Nicole, and I’ve always maintained she is me times 10. She’s everything I’ve been and hope to become.
JL: What were the easiest and the hardest parts about writing Forgotten Storm?
A.R.: I guess I would have to say the easiest parts were the times I was “in the zone” and the words just flowed like a waterfall. A whole day would pass before I would finally come up for air. Those were the times I enjoyed the most.The hardest parts, besides the dreaded marketing, were capturing Nicole’s most vulnerable moments. The way she uses sarcasm to keep people at arms length, the paralyzing fear of emotions, hers and others.
But I think the most difficult scenes were when she remembered her past. Those were powerful and heartbreaking. I remember at one point, tears streaming down my checks as my fingers flew across the keyboard. After, I was so drained, I just sat there in my office staring at nothing for long moments.
JL: They say one of the great things about fiction is that it gives us a safe space to figure out how we might deal with the things we encounter in everyday life. What are your thoughts on the role of romance fiction in this context?
A.R.: The great thing about romance fiction is in every book you get a little education on what not to do in a relationship. *smirk* You learn that communication is key and burying your head in the sand, overreacting, or jumping to conclusions only escalates the problem. I think most romance novels touch on these elements. Relationships would probably run a lot smoother if more men read romance. Hahaha
JL: Is there much similarity between what you like to read and what you like to write? What are some of your favourite books that have influenced your style?
A.R.: Oh absolutely! Paranormal Romance is my go-to genre to read. The very first one I read was “Dark Lover” by J.R. Ward. It was the first book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood Series and I fell in love with vampires. After that is was Kresley Cole’s Immortal’s After Dark Series. I must confess, I did read the Twilight books and there were numerous things I loved about them and several things I hated. (No fangs and sparkles to name a couple), and last, but certainly not least, since it’s one of my favorite non-vampire paranormal romances is Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson Series. (Little secret, I’ve read the series twice.)
JL: Finally, what’s your all-time favourite love story, and why?
A.R.: Funnily enough, my favorite love story isn’t even a paranormal romance. LOL Hands down, it’s The Stark Trilogy by J. Kenner. The intense passion between Damian and Nikki captivates you from the very beginning. The personal demons they must overcome reminds me of Nicole and Logan in Forgotten Storm.
Just five minutes chatting with Renée Botman reveals so much about her passion for a salt-of-the-earth way of life. She’s a seamstress by day, florist by other times of day, a fresh-baked mum, and some WA country town’s future treasure.
Her handmade homewares are darling, Nanna-inspired pieces that have evolved a lot over the years. I’ve had the pleasure of smelling almost every ream of fabric that’s entered her workshop, and I must say, they smell so wholesome. In the short time we were desk buddies in a shared office space, I got to watch her agonise over choosing supplies and suppliers that live up to the quality promise of her brand. And I just had to share this with you.
Let’s take five minutes with Renée…
JL: Tell me a bit about your background and career, leading up to you creating the RB label.
RENÉE BOTMAN: I studied Interactive Multimedia and Film & TV at uni and started my career as a graphic designer, which I loved for years. After a while though, I found I was no longer in love with the client work aspect of the job and it was time for a change. I’ve always loved sewing and textiles and being able to use my graphics skills to make my own patterns & products felt like the natural next step.
JL: What inspired you to create RB and what’s it been like getting established in Perth?
RENÉE: The short answer is, my Nanna. I started sewing by hand when I was about 4 years old, taught by my mum’s mum who was a seamstress all her working life. The first things I ever made were simple clothes for my mum’s Barbies that Nanna kept at her place, made out of colourful scraps of material from Nanna’s fabric stash.
The market scene in Perth is great for getting established as a small maker, I think. It can be trial and error to find out if your right demographic are attending the markets you’re working, but persistence pays off and once you find the groove, it can work wonders!
JL: What’s been the most challenging hurdle you’ve had to overcome in getting RB off the ground?
RENÉE: Making my products completely natural and biodegradable and using top quality fabrics is the cornerstone of the RB brand, and something I’m very passionate about. Finding haberdashery items such as threads, elastics and zips and even batting that are not at least partly synthetic has been a challenge and has meant ordering my most basic of supplies in from other countries at times. In the last 18 months, however, I have been pleasantly surprised to find the products I was buying from overseas, and even better options, become available through my local suppliers.
JL: How have your RB skills translated to the challenges of motherhood so far?
RENÉE: Well, being able to make matching things for myself and my daughter Imogen brings me no end of joy, so there’s that, ha ha, More seriously, though, being used to searching high and low for the right materials to make my products made finding sustainable alternatives to more modern, plastic and synthetic based baby products a breeze, meaning I could help make my mothering journey as sustainable as possible.
Also patience and perseverance. Whether I’m trying out a new market or prototyping a new product I often have to try more than once before it worked out or felt right. Motherhood and babies can be very similar, sometimes you’ve just got to keep plugging, or change your approach a couple of times before it feels right or it sticks!
JL: What advice would you give to young creatives starting on the journey towards their dreams?
RENÉE: Stick with it! Especially the vision you have for your products or art. Let me give you an example…
Using all natural materials and top quality fabrics mean that my products often fall into a higher price bracket, and at times I’ve questioned if it was necessary for me to lower my prices to what they were expecting. Thing is, what they were expecting when I said “handmade”, it means “designed here in Perth and handmade by someone who is likely being exploited”, not “handmade by me right here in WA”.
And when I say that my fabrics are top quality and include linens and other quality fibres such as hemp and organic cotton, what I mean is that all my fabrics are fair trade or made in countries with fair work conditions. But this, again, isn’t necessarily what the customer is expecting.
So by refining how I package, advertise and talk about my brand and my products I can let my customers know that what they are buying is something unique, considered and made, in a sense, the old fashioned way, to last a lifetime! Now sure this won’t be for everyone, but it is for my demographic. I stuck with my vision, and refining my message and how I talk about my brand helps me find them and them find me!
JL: What’s your all-time favourite romance?
RENÉE: I’m going to be a sap here and say the relationship my husband Chris and I have is my favourite romance! He’s my best friend, we share the same sense of humour and the same whimsy about the world. It also helps that we’re both nature loving homebodies, so even a trip to our favourite park with a flask of tea can feel like an adventure.
Other than that, I’m a total sucker for a Rom Com, any of them, really, but if it’s British so much the better!
When I realised fellow Kyanite author Crystal L. Kirkham had a semi-romantic book coming out soon after this giveaway closes, I had to add it to the prize pack. Her book, Feathers and Fae, comes out 11th October and, knowing what the publisher looks for when signing authors, I’m looking forward to an exciting read.
Crystal did me the honour of an interview. Here’s a bit about her, her book, and what reading and writing look like for her today…
JL: Tell us a bit about yourself.
CRYSTAL L. KIRKHAM: There isn’t too much to know about me. I’ve lived in western Canada my entire life and have travelled extensively throughout North America. I’m a big outdoors person, I love cooking (and eating!)—which are things that often show through in my writing. I also breed standard poodles and I compete with my dogs in show and obedience rings. Since I work full time on top of my hobbies and writing, I tend to be a little on the busy side.
JL: Tell us a bit about your upcoming book, Feathers and Fae. What inspired it?
CRYSTAL: Feathers and Fae was a story I didn’t know I was going to write. I have a whole blog post about this, but it started as a challenge. I was given three random, unrelated prompts 12 hrs before we had to start writing and I had to incorporate all three things into my story. After that, the story developed on its own with no idea what I was writing most of the time until it was written.
What I ended up writing was a story I didn’t know I needed to read. One that was not only a fantastic adventure through a beautiful world, but a story about loyalty, friendship, and sacrifice—and what that means to each of the characters involved.
JL: Tell us a bit about the friendship vs romantic chemistry between the main characters, Emmett and Kami.
CRYSTAL: These are two people who have a long, complicated history which really colours everything in their relationship—whether interpreted as friendship or romance. It’s hard to get in-depth on this topic without giving spoilers, but this is one of those things in that the chemistry between them sits at a very delicate balance throughout the entire book. Something that is only slowly revealed as you read.
This is also a relationship that I leave up to the interpretation of the reader for many reasons. One of the reasons is that not every intimate relationship is romantic in the traditional sense. So, I think it would be safe to say, that in this case there is no way to define the difference between romantic chemistry and friendship as I kept the lines intentionally blurry.
JL: Obviously, the friendship dynamic plays a big part in this story. How big a role do you feel friendships play in romantic relationships? (or any relationship for that matter)
CRYSTAL: For me, friendship is a huge part of almost any type of relationship. I think it’s important to not only love but to like the person you’re with because at the end of the day, sometimes what you need the most is a good friend who loves and respects you as much as you love and respect them.
JL: You’ve been putting work out in the wild for a long time. What are your other books like? Are there certain themes or topics you particularly enjoy writing about?
CRYSTAL: My other work is generally darker than Feathers and Fae. In my Saints and Sinners series, none of the current or planned stories have a ‘happy ever after’ or even a ‘happy for now’ ending. While the endings aren’t tragedies, they do not always end happily for the characters involved. Hints of this style do come through on Feathers and Fae, but I tried to keep it a little lighter.
One thing that I do love exploring—whether friendship, love or reluctant allies—is the relationship dynamic between people. I love exploring the different ways that people can relate to each other. I also tend to explore the consequences of the decisions and choices that people make in their lives.
JL: Do you feel bound to any particular responsibilities as a writer in this age of chaotic media?
CRYSTAL: It’s a fine line to walk being a writer in modern times. As an author, I am officially a public figure. People can look me up, see the things that I’ve been saying—things for years ago can suddenly become an issue. I feel a strong responsibility to set a good example, not only of how to be professional but of how to be a decent and kind person.
I also feel as though I need to be accessible to my readers. I’m not the kind of person who wants to be put on a pedestal of any sort. I try really hard to be not only real with those that I have interactions with, but to be encouraging and supportive of others as well. Not sure I always get that right, but I try.
JL: What sort of stuff do you like to read?
CRYSTAL: My bookshelf is extremely eclectic. What I enjoy the most is a strong, character-driven plotline. I have a lot of contemporary and historical fiction that I absolutely adore. Science fiction has long been a favourite, but I am a little pickier about my fantasy. There are not many genres that I give an absolute hard pass on. Good writing, strong plot, great characters? Yeah, I’ll read that.
JL: What are you currently reading?
CRYSTAL: Next on my reading list is Forgotten Storm by A.R. Vagnetti. Followed by several advanced reading copies that I have to review. I seriously wish I had more time for reading than I do.
JL: Any parting words for readers?
CRYSTAL: I really do love connecting with readers, so don’t hesitate to say hello to me or ask me questions about my books through any of my social media accounts. I promise I don’t usually bite.
More Sundays Please is the brainchild of local Perth artist, Katie, someone whose creative journey I’ve had the good fortune of witnessing from the very start. She’s horse-mad, formidable at Kingdomino, has a magical womance her bestie of the same name, and always seems to have her hair on point.
And her quirky, colourful polymer clay earrings were a must-have for the giveaway prize bundle.
Want to know more about this jewellery-crafting diva? Read on…
JL: Tell me a bit about yourself and what led up to the creation of More Sundays Please.
KATIE: I’m a high school teacher, animal and nature lover who’s always had a passion for crafting. My best friend KP introduced me to polymerclay and after playing with it for a bit, I developed MSP.
JL: What inspired the name, “More Sundays Please”, and what inspires your designs?
KATIE: The name comes from just the way I always feel at the end of the weekend — more needed! My designs are inspired by loads of things, but primarily nature or great colour combos I might see on fabrics.
JL: What’s it been like starting and running a business alongside your best friend at Blue Pincushion?
KATIE: Blue Pincushion and I have been best friends for 11 years. We both love to do craft courses together and used to live together and have craftanoons.
When starting separate businesses, this was only due to us having different styles and ideas. But we always support each other’s ventures and also are having our first of many to come markets together this month. It’s really fun having your best friend be in the same business and we bounce ideas off each other all the time. KP is going so well with BPC and I’m really proud of her.
JL: What advice would you give to young creatives starting on their journey to achieving their dreams?
KATIE: The advice I would give to young creatives is to just enjoy the play. That’s what I do it for. It’s not for money or notoriety. It’s for the relaxation and mindfulness behind the craft and the peace that gives you. So the number one thing is to enjoy what you are doing.
JL: What’s your all-time favourite romance? (Yeah, you can pick more than one!)
KATIE: Ooo my all time favourite romance would have to be The Notebook (I know, cliche!) or Crazy Beautiful. But I also love the love between Izzy and Tom in The Light Between Oceans and also the boy and the horse in Black Stallion haha does that count !? Not technically classified as romance though.
So, this Skye McDonald person—I’ve been following her on twitter for ages. When I found out we were releasing books within days of each other, and that her heroine is also named Celeste, I totally took it as a sign that she was a certifiably Cool Person™.
Hah, jokes, she was already cool when she tweeted about a Talisker single malt.
Her book, Not Suitable for Work, comes out 24th September. While we were chatting about giveaway particulars, she did me the honour of answering a couple of questions about her hot new web designer romance. Check it out…
JL: What inspired your latest book, Not Suitable for Work?
SKYE MCDONALD: First and mostly, Nashville inspired me! Growing up, Nashville was quiet. I longed to get away to a big city, and now that I have, Nashville has exploded into a hip, vibrant place to be. On top of that, I had a vision of an empty office with two desks facing each other and thought, who would be there and why? From there, Celeste and Ben became clear to me.
JL: How much of your own life did you draw upon for your Anti-Belle series?
SKYE: Oooh, tough question. When I read over the books, I see very clearly certain aspects of my personality that shine in my heroines. However, their journeys are very much their own. Some of my most fun side characters to write take inspiration from people I’ve known, and of course my hometown (Nashville) sits center-stage in the series. But the relationships and the romances are pure inspiration, and not at all based on my own love story/stories.
JL: Who would be your movie star picks to play Celeste and Ben?
SKYE: Haha, I don’t often model my characters on people, but if I got to choose I’d say Jennifer Lawrence and Channing Tatum.
(Bloody good choices too!)
Not Suitable For Work (Anti-Belle, #1) by Skye McDonald
Available: September 24th 2019 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
The competition is stiff. The stakes are high. And what happens on Halloween night is definitely not suitable for work.
Celeste Greene and Ben Addison didn’t realize the internship-to-hire opportunity was actually a contest, but neither of these talented web designers can afford to walk away. After betrayal destroyed her fabulous life in New York City, Celeste moved home to Nashville, Tennessee broke and broken. Restarting her career is her only goal. An ice queen who drove her partner to cheat can’t even think about friends or fun. Celeste’s talent and desperation should make the competition an easy win—if only she could stop gawking at her rival long enough to concentrate.
Ben Addison doesn’t want to be a corporate climber or live in a high-rise downtown. He just needs a steady paycheck after foolishly investing everything in a pretty face and a shot at a music career. He has no business fantasizing about his competitor, even if she is the most stunning—and guarded—woman he’s ever met.
This contest can’t rival the chemistry between these two, but is the risk worth the reward? With a haunting past and her future on the line, Celeste must decide what she wants, what she needs, and what her heart is really worth.
Skye spent a lot of her adolescence dreaming about living in a hip, urban town full of adventures that occurred outside of the local mall. (Hers was Rivergate, in case you know Nashville well!) Now that she’s been living away from Nashville for years, the once sleepy Southern city has become just that place, and she returns to visit whenever she can. Her seven-novel-and-growing Anti-Belle series is centered in her hometown, partly as a homage and partly because these days Nashville is too hip to ignore.
In the real world, Skye is an English teacher in Brooklyn, New York, and has lived there long enough to consider herself a true New Yorker—even though she proudly cheers for the Tennessee Vols (her alma mater) and loves being a GRITS (Girl Raised in the South).
Skye’s philosophy is to live with your heart and mind open. She believes in the beauty of this world and seeks adventure and joy as a daily practice. If “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” as John Lennon said, then she’d rather leave the schedule open and let life happen.
Two lucky winners will receive a digital copy of Skye McDonald’s new book, Not Suitable For Work, in the ISWAK giveaway, along with a bundle of handcrafted goodies, more fresh romance reads and a signed paperback copy of It Starts With A Kiss.
To celebrate the release of my upcoming sci-fi office romance, It Starts With A Kiss, I’m running a very special giveaway draw 💝
Two lucky winners will receive a signed paperback copy of the novel, along with a bundle of lovely treats featuring the work of local crafters Renée Botman, More Sundays Please and Handmade Gems; a digital download of Skye McDonald’s latest novel; and this year’s sweet ebook releases by fellow Kyanite authors Sophia LeRoux, A. R. Vagnetti and Crystal Kirkham.