Category Archives: Guest Post

Spotlight, Guest Post & Giveaway: Deep Down by Mia Hopkins


About Deep Down

Sex, drugs, and spicy tuna rolls?

Resilient and disciplined, tsunami survivor Eve Ono moves to California from Japan looking for a position as a sushi chef. When she’s suddenly fired from her restaurant job, desperation drives her to find work on a fishing boat despite her fears of the ocean. To make matters worse, she’s stuck in close quarters with her new captain—a man whose raw physicality drives her out of her mind with lust.

Free-spirited and roguish, Sam Lamont is a commercial fisherman aboard his own dive boat, the Bravado. When he makes a bad deal with a deadly loan shark who threatens to take his boat, Sam is in danger of losing both his business and his way of life. On top of that, he’s got to train his new deckhand—a beautiful hard-ass who just so happens to be sexy as hell.

A female sushi chef with mad knife skills. A deep-sea diver who’s pissed off a Mexican drug cartel. Together, they’re in trouble, and the only way out is down.

Meet the Pirate Crew: The Supporting Cast of Deep Down

Guest Post

Hi, everyone! Thank you for having me as a guest today.

The poet Eustache Deschamps once wrote, “Friends are relatives you make for yourself.” The other day, my husband and I were in the car chatting about the concept of a “chosen family.” Over the years, our friends have become our family, the ones we go to first in times of loss or celebration. They’re the ones we spend the most time with, talking and laughing during road trips, dinner parties, BBQs, weddings, funerals, and quiet days at home when there’s nothing else to do but kick it with our favorite people.

In my first full-length novel, Deep Down, the concept of a “chosen family” is important. Deep Down is a red-hot contemporary romance about a female sushi chef and a commercial fisherman who must team up to outsmart a deadly loan shark. It’s got food porn galore. It’s got a shark attack. And it’s got a lot of sex—Sam and Eve are a smokin’ hot couple who play as hard as they work.

But Sam and Eve are also surrounded by a motley cast of friends and allies. I see their “chosen family” as their pirate crew, the salty group who helps see them through rough waters and who celebrates with them at the end of a long day.

Here are Sam and Eve’s closest friends, along with a few snippets from Deep Down. Meet the pirate crew!

Charlie de Winter

Tall and potbellied, Charlie de Winter had a full head of white hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He almost always wore faded Hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts.

Charlie is Sam’s salty old mentor, the retired boat captain who took Sam under his wing and showed him how to dive for sea urchin. Charlie looks a lot like Kenny Rogers. He walks with a cane and runs the local dive bar, The Compass Rose.

Judith Carrillo

Judith Carrillo, Sam’s landlady and a Compass Rose regular, sat down at the bar. Charlie poured her usual: two fingers of blueberry vodka, straight up. In her late fifties, she wore leopard print leggings and an off-shoulder sweatshirt bedazzled with rhinestones.

Judith is one of my favorite characters in Deep Down. She’s got a wicked sense of humor. She was a legendary hair band groupie in the 80’s and dresses a lot like Peggy Bundy from Married with Children.

Kyle Brautigan

The door of Sam’s hospital room swung open. In walked a rangy man wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. He was handsome in an unconventional way, with golden-brown dreadlocks and deep set dark eyes.

Kyle is Sam’s co-diver at the start of the book. An injury sidelines him and forces Sam to hire Eve as his new deckhand. Kyle is one of Sam’s closest friends, but his blithe fatalism and tendency to party too hard make him an obstacle to Sam’s ambition and a detriment to the business. He and Eve don’t trust each other.

Ken Takahashi

A tall Japanese kid dressed in chef’s whites came jogging down the dock. His dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail and he had sharp cheekbones and quick, dark eyes. He came up to Eve right away.

“Hey, sorry I’m late!”

She popped up at once, squealed, and threw her arms around him in a way that made Sam want to hit the kid with a chair.

An apprentice chef at Geisha Sushi, 21-year-old Ken is a young gun in the kitchen. He and Eve are good friends. Ken recognizes Eve’s high level of skill even though her father refuses to see it. He stays in touch with Eve after she’s fired from the restaurant.

Tiffani Dupree

Impeccably tanned and fit, Tiffani had a mane of chocolate brown hair she tossed back and forth like a pro. She was not tall, but she was built like a firecracker, with a tiny waist and beautiful dancer’s legs. It was hard to tell how old she was.

Tiffani is a professional exotic dancer. An astute businesswoman, she is in the process of opening her own business in Santa Barbara, an adult toy store called Eros Junction. As Eve’s new roommate, wise-cracking Southern belle Tiffani helps Eve cut loose and embrace her sexuality.
About Deep Down (The Wild Rose Press; November 2015)

About Mia Hopkins7700620

Mia Hopkins writes lush romances starring fun, sexy characters who love to get down and dirty. She’s a sucker for working class heroes, brainy heroines and wisecracking best friends. When she’s not lost in a story, Mia spends her time cooking, gardening, traveling, volunteering and looking for her keys. In a past life, she was a classroom teacher and still has a pretty good “teacher voice” and “teacher stare.” She lives in the heart of Los Angeles with her roguish husband and two waggish dogs. For more books, freebies and fun stuff, please visit her website or connect with her on Twitter


Enter to win a digital copy of Deep Down via the online retailer of the winner’s choice. Open Internationally. Ends 12/18/15


Spotlight & Guest Post: Blue Voyage by Diana Renn

imageBlue Voyage
by Diana Renn
Published October 13th 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Hardcover, 464 pages
ISBN13: 9780670015597

An intricately crafted mystery set in the contemporary Middle East.

Zan is a politician’s daughter and an adrenaline junkie. Whether she’s rock climbing or shoplifting, she loves to live on the edge. But she gets more of a rush than she bargained for on a forced mother–daughter bonding trip to Turkey, where she finds herself in the crosshairs of an antiquities smuggling ring. These criminals believe that Zan can lead them to an ancient treasure that’s both priceless and cursed. Until she does so, she and her family are in grave danger. Zan’s quest to save the treasure—and the lives of people she cares about—leads her from the sparkling Mediterranean, to the bustle of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, to the eerie and crumbling caves of Cappadocia. But it seems that nowhere is safe, and there’s only so high she can climb before everything comes tumbling down.

divider-transparent-2Guest Post

The Phantom Siblings in Blue Voyage

When I first started writing Blue Voyage, my main character, then named Abby, had a sister. Since my previous two novels featured only children, and since I happen to have a sister in real life, I was excited to explore this dynamic in a story.

Abby and her first-draft sister, Lauren, were polar opposites. Abby was reserved and reclusive. She thought deeply about things, and explored her feelings and impressions in a travel journal. Lauren, in contrast, was outgoing, a risk-taker, sometimes reckless. Both were reacting in different ways to their parents’ impending divorce: Abby withdrawing into her thoughts and her journal, Lauren acting out.

Their differences led to tension-infused dialogue. My story opened with a fractured family on a pleasure cruise in the Turkish Riviera, and the siblings bickered endlessly. At one point the mother, in exasperation, pounced on them for being such self-entitled spoiled brats that all they could do on an expensive vacation was argue over petty things.

The mom’s words hit me hard as soon as I wrote them. She had spoken the truth. The girls were coming across as whiny and bratty. Mom couldn’t bear to spend a three-day cruise in their company; could I, or a reader, tolerate them for four hundred pages? Rereading their dialogue, I saw they were arguing in order to highlight their differences, as well as to establish some backstory, but their spats did not propel the plot forward. If anything, they obscured the mystery plot that I was trying to get to—and hadn’t yet gotten to by page fifty.

After a great deal of soul-searching and brainstorming, I made a difficult decision. I was going to lose one of the sisters. I was disappointed because I’d wanted to write about siblings, but maybe this was not the book for that. I already had a complex mystery plot in mind, and a rich setting. The family dynamic with the parents’ reasons for divorce was deep enough without adding a sibling into the mix. Besides, I have found that it is simply easier to write a mystery without a sibling to deal with, unless the two are going to team up and become sleuths—and these two girls didn’t seem likely to do that for some reason. Maybe they were too busy fighting.

First I tried to solve the problem by making one of the sisters missing. Maybe dead. But that missing sister still took up residence in my character’s brain, and she still had to be dealt with on the page – in memories, in speculations, in missing person searches, in investigations. I like missing person stories, but that wasn’t the kind of mystery I wanted to write. I knew I wanted a missing artifact too, and the two plotlines could complete for attention. After all, what could compare with the loss of a sibling?

Then there was the question of which sister to cut. I loved Abby’s introspection, her rich inner life. I also love Lauren’s spunk and sass.

I couldn’t decide. So I took a deep breath and I started from scratch. I just wrote in one character’s voice and didn’t give her a name.

After fifty pages, I stepped back and realized this new character had elements of both Abby and Lauren. The result? A more nuanced and complex character. She was a risk-taker – a chronic shoplifter, a partier, a rock climber – who was also afraid to reveal her real self to her peers and the world. She spoke back to her mother and her wit could be acerbic, but she also withdrew into herself and experienced moments of intense reflection. She was concerned with her public image, at times superficial, but felt very deeply.

I named this hybrid character Zan, short for Alexandra. A name that had nothing to do with either of the names I’d begun with because this was a brand new person. Yet the original sisters were a part of her still, like phantoms.

Interestingly, I did get to explore a sister dynamic in the end, just not in the way I had planned. Zan’s mother has a sister, Aunt Jackie, an expatriate widow who is living in Turkey. Zan’s mother and aunt are now the bickering duo, but their arguments are less frequent, and more purposeful for the plot. Zan also meets an alluring girl about her age on a cruise, and this girl, Sage, becomes a stand-in sister during Zan’s voyage—but without the years of drama I might have to delve into with a real sibling.

Creating and then abandoning these original siblings gave me an important new tool in my writing toolbox. Now if I see siblings emerging in a story draft (especially twins) I take a hard look at them. I wonder if they both really need to be there. Are they distinct individuals? If so, great, I’ll keep them both. If one feels like a drag to write about, or their scenes aren’t energized, or I’m straying from my main story too much, I can ask myself if these two people are really just two personality elements of one complex individual. If I’m genuinely interested in a tension between them, I can look at other character duos and see if that tension could be better played out with another pair.

They say you can’t choose your family, and I guess that’s true. But the great thing about writing is that you can. If anything, choosing and changing up family dynamics can enrich the story. And the best part? Nobody’s feelings get hurt.

About Diana Rennimage

Diana Renn is the author of the young adult mystery novels TOKYO HEIST, LATITUDE ZERO and BLUE VOYAGE all published by Viking/Penguin. She is also the Fiction Editor at YARN (Young Adult Review Network), an award-winning online magazine featuring short-form writing for teens. Diana grew up in Seattle and now lives outside of Boston with her husband and son.

Connect with Diana:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Guest Post: Ally Bishop, author of Tracing the Line

Guest Post

Though erotic romance pushes boundaries, as a writer, what are YOUR boundaries when it comes to writing erotic romance?

Rules. Requests. Orders. Permission. Dominance/submission. Pain vs. pleasure. Erotic romance examines the extensive boundaries of intimate encounters that it’s hard to know where to start.

I’d never thought much about my own “rules” around writing erotic romance, largely because I’d never considered writing a book in the genre. My background is in literary fiction and creative nonfiction, and my guilty pleasure work usually centers around paranormal fiction. The first time I wrote a sex scene that would see the light of others’ eyes, I followed the interior voice of the character I’d created, without much consideration beyond what she would prefer. As I continued the series, though, I had to step back and make decisions regarding my direction and desire for the sexual components of my books.

But as Braine thoughtfully points out, we create boundaries for ourselves even in our writing without realizing it. I couldn’t have said this then, but now, having written four books in my series, I can tell you that my focus is always the exploration of sensuality and how that experience informs and shapes our lives.

For example, in my first book, Dominatrix Lux Trace has intimate encounters as part of her job. While a professional Dom doesn’t have sex with her clients, she’s privy to and part of some of their deepest fantasies. As a result, Lux embraces an open-minded view of everyone else’s sexuality…except her own. When she meets Fin MacKenzie, his fresh view of the world makes her realize how small hers has truly become.

As an erotic writer, I never want my sex scenes to exist simply to titillate. They must move the plot forward, develop the characters, show us another facet of the relationship so we can invest further into the story to see how our two lovers will address the inevitable differences and complications that crop up.

I also decided early on that while I embrace BDSM elements in my books, I want only healthy, authentic BDSM based on my own research and experience in the culture. I do not include hardcore BDSM elements (e.g. caning, bloodletting, fetish play) in my books because I write for a broad audience with many different preferences. And let’s be honest: two people (or more) in love and enjoying each other is sexy, even if you have different preferences. But I do make sure that my scenes are accurate to my understanding of the D/s relationship, and if they are not healthy at the core, those issues are addressed with gravity within the story.

I also chose early on to use language that is more delicate and sensitive to female anatomy (I avoid the more intense language often found in erotica) and to give my female and male characters normal bodies within the confines of reader expectations. That’s not to say that using more explicit language is a bad thing—far from it. But I write romance, and I want my language to fall into a softer, more romantic tone that many readers find more appealing for the romance genre. (I enjoy a little gritty erotica myself… 😉 ) And there’s nothing wrong with a hot guy and a hot girl getting it on. But attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder. So I try to offer a variety of body types and descriptions that encompass the beauty of diversity. Sure, my guys have hot, muscled bodies…but they do the work to get them, too.

I also believe our flaws are part of our beauty. Sex appeal goes much deeper than six-pack abs and big breasts. We are the result of our upbringing, our genetics, our cultural heritages, our damaging events, our limitations. In the same ways we see our children and our friends through rose-colored glasses, we do the same when we fall in love. Healthy relationships form not as a result of denial of the other’s flaws, but rather in seeing the beauty created by an imperfect design.

Those are my boundaries as an erotic writer, and they challenge as much as they guide my work. When I have scenes that don’t work, or lulls in story, it’s usually because I’ve trailed away from my initial premise: sex scenes that are germane to the plotline and necessary for the characters next step in their growth.


About Ally Bishop

When you do something effortlessly and people commend you continuously, you have found your gift.

That’s what I tell people all the time. And it’s

I get story. I always have. I started writing when I was 8 on a Smith Corona (the electronic kind — I’m not THAT old). I wrote stories in every spiral notebook I had. Eventually, I graduated to a Mac (yes, I’m one of THOSE people). I imagined new worlds, emotional conflicts, and HEAs while I waited at stoplights or wandered the grocery store. But here’s the thing: I didn’t just dream it up and write it down — I critiqued what I read. I knew when ideas were good, and when they stunk. I ran writing groups, judged creative contests, and eventually got two graduate degrees in writing. That’s right: I love it that much.

So here I am, years later, writing kickass heroines and devastating good guys, along with some mystery and vampires thrown in (I promise: THEY’RE COMING). And what’s really cool? I do what I love. Wanna write a success story for your life: I promise you, that’s it. Do what you love. And hopefully, you can make a living at it too. That’s the golden ticket, Charlie.

And chocolate doesn’t hurt, either…

The serious stuff:

I have an M.A. in creative writing, as well as an M.F.A. in creative writing with a focus in publishing. I produce two podcasts, host one, and am a freelance editor and publicist over at Upgrade Your Story. In my free time (what is that, exactly?), I read, workout, game, and converse. I’m a high introvert despite my extroverted behaviors, so you’ll find me behind my computer most days. I’m married to the wild and brilliant Billy Crash, have two dogs who are filing to change their species designation to “human,” and can often be found wandering Manhattan in search of the perfect writing spot.

You can find me at Twitter at @upgradestory & @allyabishop, Facebook, Pinterest, and my website.

Tracing-the-Line-FlatAbout Tracing the Line

They say love doesn’t hurt. But it’s a lie. I promise you, love someone long enough, and they’ll destroy your soul.

I’ve spent my life taking care of everyone else: my family, my ex-husband, my friends. Deep down, I know I should focus on myself, but how can I when I’ve got one sister about to implode while the other battles her own guilt?

The minute I met Kai Isaac, I should’ve run in the opposite direction. His business isn’t one I want any part of, and I’ve got way too much drama in my life already. But his kiss…those eyes…the raging inferno he creates when he touches me…I can’t stay away.

Life’s reeling out of control, and he’s my only refuge from the storm. My sister Lux says trusting someone means not knowing everything about them and being okay with it…but what if not knowing the truth ruins everything?

Heat rating: Super sexy, with very light kink 😉

Tracing the Line is the third book in the Without a Trace series, but may be read as a stand-alone story.

Add Tracing the Line to your TBR list on Goodreads:

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Spotlight & Guest Post: by Death at Gills Rock by Patricia Skalka

DeathatGillsRock•Hardcover, 248 pages
•Published June 23rd 2015 by University of Wisconsin Press
•ISBN13: 9780299304508

After tracking a clever killer in Death Stalks Door County, park ranger and former Chicago homicide detective Dave Cubiak is elected Door County sheriff. His newest challenge arrives as spring brings not new life but tragic death to the isolated fishing village of Gills Rock. Three prominent World War II veterans who are about to be honored for their military heroics die from carbon monoxide poisoning during a weekly card game. Blame falls to a faulty heater but Cubiak puzzles over details. When one of the widows receives a message claiming the men “got what they deserved,” he realizes that there may be more to the deaths than a simple accident.

Investigating, Cubiak discovers that the men’s veneer of success and respectability hides a trail of lies and betrayal that stems from a single, desperate act of treachery and eventually spreads a web of deceit across the peninsula. In a dark, moody tale that spans more than half a century, Cubiak encounters a host of suspects with motives for murder. Amid broken dreams, corruption, and loss, he sorts out the truth. Death at Gills Rock is the second book in Patricia Skalka’s Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series.

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Guest Post

Looking out my window at shades of gray
By Patricia Skalka

I write this sitting at a table in front of a large window looking out at a small dune of beach grass, a strip of sand and a mass of gray water that stretches to the far horizon. On a sunny day, the water will be blue, but today the water and the sky are varying shades of gray. Not fifty, but five at least. The water is calm today but still it looks oceanic, and on days when the waves crash against the shore, I can almost imagine the scent of salt in the air. But it isn’t there. This is Lake Michigan, a body of fresh water nearly 300 miles long and one of the nation’s Great Lakes, and I perch on the shore of the Door County Peninsula in northern Wisconsin captivated by its mystique.

Some days I sit on the beach and imagine the thousands of people who have walked the midland coast through time. The native Americans who trapped furs along its shores; the Scandinavians who settled here as fishermen; the early loggers; the first tourists, wealthy families that rode the train from Chicago and Milwaukee for the summer when the cities became too sultry; and the legions of artists who found inspiration in its sunsets and forests.

One sunny day, I sat on the sand, captivated by the sheer loveliness of the place. That same night, I sat in pitch blackness and shivered at the sense of foreboding that came with a cloudy, moonless night. Anything can happen here, I thought.

What happened for me was the genesis for a mystery series, the Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries. Death at Gills Rock, the second book in the series, is set in an isolated fishing village, a blip of a town, at the northern tip of the peninsula. The story revolves around treachery, secrets and lies and for these to flourish, isolation is a must. What happens when the truth is revealed? How do those most intimately affected by the deceit respond?

Well, there is murder involved and up to Cubiak to determine the particulars, including who did it. Cubiak is a brooding, burdened man forced to face his own tragic past in the first book Death Stalks Door County. My protagonist came to the peninsula with every intention of leaving after one year but Door County worked its magic on him.

If all goes according to my writer’s plan, Cubiak will stick around for another four or five books and another twenty or so fictional years. And I’ll continue sitting in a chair in front of this window looking out at the same water, taking the journey through time with him.

About Patricia Skalka200

A lifelong Chicagoan, Patricia Skalka is a former Reader’s Digest Staff Writer and award-winning freelancer, as well as one-time magazine editor, ghost writer and writing instructor. Her nonfiction book credits include Nurses On Our Own, the true-story of two pioneering, local nurse practitioners.

Connect with Patricia Website | BlogTwitter