Monthly Archives: January 2021

Story Behind the Story: Vengeance by Anna Alexander

Sometimes the side characters in a story just demand to be the star of their own show. For Anna Alexander, it was the Daniels brothers, a pair of telepathic twins who couldn’t be more different…and more similar. Here’s the story behind them and the woman who requested her own spotlight. (I have to state at this point that I was the copy editor for this story, so I’m sort of fond of them, too!) 

Vengeance by Anna Alexander

When you’re writing a series, there are characters who appear in books that you know will take the lead in another story. Sometimes it’s planned. They are there specifically to establish their place in the world and whet the reader’s appetite for their own story. The Daniels brothers were just such characters. What’s better than a hunky telepath? Two, or course! They were two sides of the same coin. Well dressed. Intelligent. One serious, the other more carefree. Or so it appeared on the surface. They enthralled me the moment they appeared in Genesis.

Then there are characters like Jameson Alinari. She was a side character, a needed plot device for Instinct. A friend and mentor for my heroine Alicia to run to in her time of need. Jameson ran a women’s shelter, and from the moment she opened the door, her appearance was a brilliant supernova on the page. It was obvious to me that there was more to her than a civil servant who helped women in need. And in my brain it was a natural progression that she would be a vigilante crimefighter. Go after the men that put the women in her care in their dire situation. Kick some ass and take names.

In Instinct, Jameson’s nighttime activities are only alluded to. But her story hovered in my conscious mind for years as I wrote other books. I hadn’t immediately paired her with the Daniels brothers. I hadn’t paired her with anyone for a long time. Then I had a vision of the opening chapter: Ethan and Ronan out in the city one night and hearing a cry of agony in their mind. They followed the sound to find a woman dressed in black and wielding a whip, torturing a man. She was my very own version of DC’s Catwoman. And again, not all was as it seemed—and from that vision the trio was formed. However, I struggled with elements of their story. You see, Vengeance included many things people told me I couldn’t write.

Vigilante crimefighters are too extreme, they told me. They’re not heroic but criminals. Stories that include women who have been victimized are in no way romantic (which, duh, they’re not supposed to be). And added to that, my hero was not one man but twins! You can’t have brothers as the hero, I was told. Especially if it’s not an erotic romance. Then it was, “You have twins? Why isn’t it an erotic romance?” 

Right. Let’s address having the twins be in a triad relationship. Since the Evolutioneers’ powers are a heightened version of their natural abilities, telepathic twins was the way to go. With their telepathy and empathy, it was almost as if they were one person. Having them be with two different women, feeling and hearing everything the other was doing, didn’t feel right. Just thinking about all those tangled emotions makes my head hurt.

Oh yes, there were many delicate lines to weave with those three. And while Jameson and the Daniels brothers’ destinies percolated in my head, I was working on the Sprawling A series and the first two books in the Evolutioneers series. In fact, Vengeance was to be the fourth, not the third, book in the series. Then 2019 happened.

The #MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein were big stories, and I was angry. I was angry at entitled white men and a system that gave them a free pass to be assholes. Suddenly, the extreme injustices I was plotting were all too real and front-page news. My rage needed an outlet, and Jameson and her story became more important than ever to tell. 

Let me tell you. It was difficult working the romance into the story when all I really wanted was to punish men. Oh, my imagination went into the gruesome range so many times. I found myself going back and forth worrying if I was going too far or not far enough. It was a fine line between making the situations real and not exploitative. That’s when the brothers did their part and pulled me back from the dark. 

Ronan was just so laid back. Ready with a joke or a funny quip. And Ethan…well…Ethan was so intense! When he’d turn all his attention on Jameson. Woo! The man smolders. Which was another balancing act. Not just in this book but every romance novel when you have a heroine who is determined not to fall for a man’s charm, where is the line between cute guy interested in a girl and creepy stalker dude. When is he being swoonworthy and when is he being a prick? Seriously! It’s not that easy.  

For all the struggles I had writing the book, there was also immense joy. I loved writing the Crimson Angels. Those girls made me laugh many times. I’ve even been toying with the idea of turning them into a graphic novel. And I loved bringing other characters from the Evolutioneer books into the mix—Alicia, Ripley, Sheriff Lancaster. I love thinking of new animals for Ripley to shift into. And that last scene with Jameson and Lancaster on the roof of the hotel was one I knew was going to happen, but I didn’t know how. It was cathartic pouring that rage onto the page. 

Huh. Kinds sounds as if the entire book was all rage and anger, but it wasn’t really. There were moments of strength. When men allowed women to be feel everything and just held them. Ride-and-die friendships, and girl power. There was taking charge of your destiny. The warm fuzzies of possibilities and new beginning. And love. Lots of love.

During this time of strife and uncertainty. When absolutes you believed true were nothing but false promises, and when it seems as if the world is burning every-single-day, we have our stories. Stories to fall into as we read and stories to fall into as we write. They encourage us, save us, so many times. Books will always be there in our times of need.

Aren’t we lucky.

Bio: Award winning author Anna Alexander is the author of the Heroes of Saturn and the Sprawling A Ranch series. With Hugh Jackman’s abs and Christopher Reeve’s blue eyes as inspiration, she loves spinning tales of superheroes finding love. Anna also loves to give back and has served on the board for the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America as chapter president, and is the co-founder of the Seattle UnCon and Passport to Romance Readers Event. Sign up to receive news about Anna’s latest releases at


Story Behind the Story: Life Is Too Short by Irene Vartanoff

Three women after surviving cancer. Will they have the courage to use their second chance?

Life Is Too Short by Irene Vartanoff. The cover looks so peaceful, doesn’t it?

Here’s Irene Vartanoff, whose life experiences figured into the shaping of her women’s fiction novel, Life Is Too Short, but she found that her characters surprised her as she wrote them. Here’s her Story Behind The Story. 

The theme of my women’s fiction novel, Life Is Too Short, is that it’s never too late to make changes in your life that will bring you happiness, peace, or contentment. Sadly, this story was sparked by my late sister’s third and fatal bout of cancer. I got the idea when she and two of her oldest female friends were going through cancer treatment, and my sister recounted to me that one day all three of them had attended a funeral together and compared their situations. And laughed about them. As we all know, you have to laugh or you will cry, and these three brave ladies laughed that day. To honor their spirit, I began to write a hopeful story based on their situation.

My story was not about having cancer. It was not about my sister, either, but about how a person can feel about their life and then what a person might do about their life after getting a reprieve from cancer. At first I simply set my characters in motion. 

I don’t generally have a plot outline in mind as I begin a story. What I might have is a vague sense of where my characters might end up. For Life Is Too Short, my initial thought was that my sister had absolutely loved going to see the total eclipse in 2017. She’d traveled with very good friends down south to do that, and she’d told me quite a bit about the science of the eclipse. I had taken notes. After her death I found some of the NASA handouts she had accumulated before her trip, too. 

Other than placing the action of my story in 2017 and having it culminate in a trip to see the eclipse, I had no particular ideas other than to follow my sister’s friendship story in broad outline by making all my characters her age in 2017, having grown up and gone to school together in the same neighborhood, and having remained friends all their lives. 

So far, I had no drama and no personalities. I had three women who had survived cancer, I had my opening scene of them leaving a cemetery together, and I had the eclipse. The very next thing I began to do was to differentiate their voices and their physical selves. Eileen became the sarcastic one, Kathy became the goody-goody one, and Charlotte became the one holding onto a terrible grief. As I fleshed out their stories, I started with what I knew about growing up in that place and in that time—the 1950s and 1960s in the suburban Washington, DC, area—and what that generation typically had gone through to find love and careers, have babies and still do meaningful work, please parents, live within the moral strictures of their upbringing, experience social and political upheaval, and more. 

What I totally did not expect was that Steve, a friend of their same age, would show up as a male mirror of their lives. He would not be a romantic interest as such but would have his own stories of love and loss from the pivotal years of the late 1960s and early 1970s—when the Vietnam War loomed large in any young man’s mind because of the draft, and sexual behavior suddenly became very free. 

Another utter surprise was the intensely hostile relationship one of my characters had with her aged mother. My own mother was so wonderful and kind to every one of her children and to our friends that I had no way to imagine a mean, rotten mom who tormented her child by endlessly comparing her to her sibling. Yet Eileen’s sarcasm had to spring from somewhere. I found a nonfiction book about miserable elderly people that gave advice on how their grown children could work to attain peace with such parents despite all their complaints and demands. 

Once I had my toxic mother-daughter relationship, I had a story engine that helped me push and prod at least one of my characters into making life changes. Then I had to create something that would have the same effect for the other two women. I created a dilemma and a May-December romance between my grieving woman, Charlotte, and a very much younger man. I created an opportunity for my third woman, Kathy, to come to a turning point about her marriage to an unfaithful husband. And I threw in some drama because of Steve having sired children during the hippie era. As I followed the progress of each of their stories, I knew I was stating many truths about the circumstances of growing up in that place and time and in that particular social milieu. It felt good to write them down, to say, “This was how it was, but not any longer.” 

The title of my book has a double meaning. People who have faced cancer have faced their mortality and they know that life is too short. In addition, fighting one’s whole life with a mean parent, or staying in an empty marriage, or even living wrapped up in grief, calls for the other meaning of the phrase. Life is too short to waste on those things, and that is what my characters learn. They each take steps to live better in whatever time they have remaining to them. So, despite the scary initial topic, Life Is Too Short is a story about hope and the varied paths people can take to be happy.

Award-winning author Irene Vartanoff fell in love with romances and comic books as a teenager. After working for Marvel Comics and DC Comics and Harlequin, Bantam, and Berkley, among other publishers, she now writes novels. Irene’s books so far range from women’s fiction to contemporary western romance to chicklit superhero adventure. A lifelong East Coast resident, Irene lives in a forest of tall oaks in the wilds of West Virginia. 

Life Is Too Short is available at AmazonAppleBarnes & NobleGoogle PlayKobo, and many other stores and libraries. 

Story Behind the Story: Wild About Rand by Joleen James

Here’s Joleen James, whose A Wilding Point Romance series covers the lives and loves of people in a small town in the Puget Sound region. Her Story Behind The Story has a basis in her own emotional journey. (I was the copy editor for this story, so I had a first look!)

Wild About Rand by Joleen James!

What’s the theme behind the story?

Love heals all? I know this sounds so basic, but when you put two wounded people together, and their love helps them move forward again, toward happiness—Love Heals All—works.

What’s the log line?

Secret Summer Romance.

What were you thinking about or what was happening when the idea occurred to you? 

I had the idea for the Wilding Point Romance series a while before I wrote WILD ABOUT RAND. My idea for the series centered on the area I grew up in, a town on Puget Sound in Washington State. In the book, I call the town Wilding Point. The core of the story centers around the three Wilding siblings, with each sibling featured in their own book. Their internal conflicts stem from the relationship they have with their toxic father, a hard, unloving man. The father’s illness and subsequent death brings these three estranged siblings home to Wilding Point over the course of the three books (the series has since evolved into five books). Of course, each sibling will find love, and have a happy ending.

How did the original idea change as you went along? 

At that time, prior to when I starting writing WILD ABOUT RAND, my mother got very sick and passed away. As her main caregiver and advocate, I went through her end-of-life journey with her. Helping someone die is a life-changing experience—at least it was for me. I felt honored to be with her at the end, and treasure those memories now. Those memories became a driving force in WILD ABOUT RAND. 

I always planned for the father in WILD ABOUT RAND to become sick and pass away. However, my own life shaped this story. In the book, the father’s illness and death mirrored what I went through with my mom. I poured my heart out and walked through my grief while writing the book. Writing the end of life for Lucas Wilding through the lens of my own grief was definitely not planned! However, WILD ABOUT RAND is not a book about death. In fact, it’s about living! The story centers on the secret, summer romance between Kristine Wilding and Rand Bell, two people who are both moving on from different, emotional pasts. Their relationship is about bringing romance and joy back into their lives!

How did you conceive of your characters for this story and how did they change?

I knew I wanted three Wilding siblings: Kristine, a struggling single mom, who is in the first book; Lucky, her brother, a man with a dark past who feels unworthy of love; and a secret sibling, Cam, a local boy, who suddenly finds himself part of the twisted Wilding family. I’m not sure how the stories changed. I always start my books by writing the back-cover copy (a super-short synopsis). I’m always surprised by how I stick to my original story. The synopsis usually follows the book pretty closely when I’m finished.

Are you pleased with the results, or would you have done anything differently in the story? Why or why not?

I love this series and all the characters that populate Wilding Point. I am pleased with WILD ABOUT RAND. I think most of us have suffered loss, and I hope we’ve managed to move forward and find happiness. This is a story of hope we can all identify with.

Who would play the leads in the movie if (when) you make the deal?

I think the couple on the cover of WILD ABOUT RAND would be great!

What else do you want readers to know?

I want readers to know that this series is an ongoing labor of love. I feel more connected to this series than any other I have written before. Some of my strong connection has to do with the location, some to the personal tragedy I suffered, which made its way into WILD ABOUT RAND. If you like secret, summer romance (WILD ABOUT RAND), a wounded bad boy (WILD ABOUT LUCKY), secret babies and first lovers reunited (WILD ABOUT CAM), a little mystery mixed in with your romance (ONE WILD CHRISTMAS), this series is for you! Wait, I forgot about book 5…ONE WILD KISS—a story of forbidden love, coming soon! 


Joleen James is the author of The Wilding Point Romance series, The Hometown Alaska Men series, and several stand-alone contemporary romances, including the award-winning UNDER A HARVEST MOON. Currently, she’s working on ONE WILD KISS, book 5 in the Wilding Point Romance series. LOVE UNEXPECTED is her first romance short story set in Wilding Point and the story is included in the SUMMER VIBES ROMANCE ANTHOLOGY. Visit Joleen at, or look for her on Facebook and Twitter.

Buy link:  Wild About Rand (A Wilding Point Romance Book 1) – Kindle edition by James, Joleen. Contemporary Romance Kindle eBooks @

Story Behind the Story: Space Tripping with the Shredded Orphans by Sonya Rhen

Space Tripping with the Shredded Orphans!

Here’s Sonya Rhen, whose Shredded Orphans combines a bit of David and Goliath and a bit of Red Dwarf, explains what happens when you watch sci-fi TV—and then have a very vivid dream. 

What’s the theme behind your story?

The little guy can go up against big corporations and still win. Even the smallest actions can have bigger consequences.

What’s the logline?

In a world where Corporates rule everything, the Shredded Orphans seismic rock band are literally slaves to their jobs: playing music by night and saving the Universe by day.

What were you thinking about or what was happening when the idea occurred to you?

I hate to even mention this, but it started with a dream I had of this group of people traveling through the desert. They were stranded, but they were still bantering with each other as if they were going to the mall or something. I had this dream years before I wrote the book and I think it was heavily influenced by a short-lived sci-fi show called Space Rangers. I think there were only five episodes ever shown on TV, but I was still fascinated with the camaraderie of the characters.

How did the original idea change as you went along?

I was originally thinking that they were a band of mercenaries, because it seemed that all sci-fi shows with spaceships were either mercenaries or military. Then the idea for a band started taking shape. My husband and sister were both in several bands and I had been to many of their concerts as well as a lot of other local band concerts in small venues around the Seattle area, so I felt I could get a lot of inspiration from that. I really had fun merging the sci-fi and rock star story elements.

How did you conceive of your characters for this story and how did they change?

I started with the image I had of the band of (and at the time didn’t realize how terribly cliche it was) four men and one woman walking along under the hot desert sun. I gave them all roles in the band. As I started writing, I had watched the TV show Firefly, another short-lived, but better-known TV show, and Farscape, so I think the characters were heavily influenced by both of those shows. I also really love Red Dwarf, but I don’t think I’ve achieved that level of funny.

I hope that my characters fleshed out to be more of their own personalities, with their own quirks by the time I finished writing the book. The lead singer, Lix, probably has a lot of my sensibilities, but is modeled a lot on my husband and some of the stories that he’s told me about band practice. I wanted Ophelia, the backup singer and trapeze artist (because what self-respecting band doesn’t have their own trapeze artist?), to be a tough, athletic, no-nonsense kind of woman. And while she is, a kind of softer, motherly side of her seemed to emerge throughout the book. I actually quite like that change. Chitto was supposed to be the calm meditative one, which he still is, but then he developed into a bit of comic relief for the book. Or does a humor book not have a comic relief? Anyhow, he’s a lot funnier than I had planned on.

Are you pleased with the results, or do you wish you had done anything differently in the story? Why or why not?

I’m very pleased with the way the book turned out. As a first novel I think it feels like a complete story and when I read it, I forget what I’ve written and it still makes me laugh. Probably, there are some words I would tweak now and maybe move some punctuation around, but on the whole I’m quite happy with it.

Who would play your leads in the movie if (when!) you make a deal? 

I would so love to make a movie deal for Space Tripping! I modeled Lix’s mohawk after Jared Leto’s, but I think Lix’s personality is more in line with Keanu Reeves. I could see Gillian Anderson as the tough Ophelia, but perhaps someone younger like Molly C. Quinn from TV’s Castlewould be better for the red-headed trapeze artist.

What else do you want readers to know?

If you like light and funny with a touch of sci-fi, then Space Tripping with the Shredded Orphans is the perfect book for you.

Bio: Sonya Rhen is the author of the humorous Space Tripping series. She lives east of Seattle with her husband, two children, grumpy old cat, and two manic dogs. When she’s not writing, you might find her dancing.

To check it out:

Buy link:    (This is a link to my website book page with all the buy links on it.)