Repairing the Perfect Beast

small-annabelThree more days of freebies over at Little Red Hen Romance, including Miss Annabel Lee and the Clockwork Wolf, the first chapter in our steampunk series. Wanna taste?

As soon as she knew they were gone, Annabel went down to the cellar. She dragged the old milk cans out of the corner, swept back the carefully strewn layer of dirt, opened the heavy trap door underneath, and took out a carpetbag she hadn’t touched since the day she arrived in Persistence.

She carried it back up to the bedroom where the Dragonfly was sleeping. “Let’s hope you’re worth it,” she muttered, setting it down. She squatted beside it and pressed a thumb to either side of the lock. “Annabel Lee MacGuffin,” she said in a clear, flat tone. “Blackwood Corporation ID number four-nine-seven-dash-three.” With a whirring of gears and a stench of burning gas, the carpetbag snapped open.

She took out her goggles (still partially charged, thank heavens), her rubber apron, and her tool/first aid kit. She tied on the apron and put the goggles on her forehead, then unrolled the kit on the bedside table. Back in the lab, she would have sprayed her hands with disinfectant and put on thin rubber gloves. Here on the Prairie, she made do with washing up with house soap then rinsing with vodka.

She pulled the goggles into place and pulled back the sheet from her patient. He was in a near-perfect state of stasis, the only movement his eyes twitching under his eyelids as if he might be dreaming. She clicked on the infrared sensor on her goggles, and he seemed to explode into fiery red light—he was burning up. “Are you malfunctioning?” she asked softly. “Or are you some kind of new model?” Whatever he was, he was beautiful. Dragonflies were always strong, but this one looked like he’d been carved from marble by a Renaissance master; every muscle and limb was in perfect proportion. And unlike most of the soldiers she’d seen in the course of her escape, he had a handsome face, too, with high cheekbones and a strong jaw under the short-cropped beard.

She ran her fingertips down his torso until she felt the thrum of his control pack under the skin just above his navel. He carried it lower than normal; most were installed just under the heart. And unlike the early models she had helped design, he apparently had no zipper access that she could find. “Sorry, soldier,” she said, taking out her scalpel. “I promise to sew you up pretty.”

As soon as the point of the scalpel touched his skin, the power pack underneath started to glow. An entire network spread out from it in lines along his neural network—a new security feature, no doubt. She withdrew the scalpel, but the glowing didn’t stop; in fact, it seemed to intensify, and his whole body began to twitch. Swearing an oath and thinking a prayer, she repeated her Blackwood security code, “Annabel Lee MacGuffin, Blackwood Corporation ID number four-nine-seven-dash-three.” The glowing immediately subsided. “Lovely,” she muttered, going back to work. “Just grand.”

The main control pack module looked mostly familiar but was twice the size of the ones she was used to, and a secondary unit like nothing she had ever seen before was mounted above it. Still, she was pretty sure his recovery protocols would be the same. If he was stable, she should be able to repair each of his systems one by one and accelerate the natural healing process at least enough to wake him up. With a tiny screwdriver, she opened up the brass plate on the main power plant and saw that yes, he was in an artificial stasis probably triggered by the impact of the crash. The miniscule crystal over his vitals gauge was cracked, but the readings were surprisingly good. The doc had been quite wrong; once his stasis was broken, his kidneys should function perfectly along with the rest of his organs. “How is that possible?” she mused aloud as she plucked out the broken crystal with tweezers. “At least some of you ought to be jelly.”

She replaced the crystal with a new one from her kit, and when she withdrew the tweezers, the very tip tapped the edge of the secondary control unit. The man spasmed all over, and the vitals gauge leapt up. She pulled her goggles back down and saw parts of him had gone even hotter—his brain, his heart, and his sex organs. “That can’t be good.” As she watched, the heat level started to fall, and the gauge dropped back to healthy stasis levels. But as it was falling, she noticed something else. A deep, nasty gash in his shoulder had started to knit itself closed.

“They didn’t,” she breathed. “They couldn’t have.” Her former mentor, Horace Blackwood, had worked for decades on a way to make his supersoldiers self-healing, but he had never cracked it. How could the apes in the military have found the answer in four short years?

She switched off the infrared sensor on her goggles and engaged the second level of magnification. The secondary unit seemed to have its own stasis failsafe attached to the man’s central nervous system. But while the primary unit had two settings, on and off, this one seemed to have at least six. The control cog was so tiny and so delicately calibrated, she could barely read it even with the goggles. Stranger still, these controls seemed to be entirely disconnected from the others; if she meant to wake him up, she’d have to turn on both.

“Secondary unit calibration test,” she said, forgetting she wasn’t in the lab being filmed. “Level one.” With one of the tiny instruments from her kit, she turned the cog up a notch. She noted a slight rise in body temperature and an increase in the REM sleep twitching, but his wounds remained unchanged. “Level two.” More heat, more twitching, and superficial skin wounds began to heal. “Level three.” The man went rigid, and she heard a rippling, crackling sound—his bones were actually healing. “I can’t believe it.” She checked the vitals gauge on the primary unit. His organs and functions all seemed to be fine; in fact, they seemed stronger.

“Level four.” She turned up the cog one more time. The man began to twitch more violently, fingers flexing, and a low moan, almost a growl, came from his throat. His jawline began to change, growing longer and thinner, and his brow began to protrude. His fingers and toes grew longer and started to curl.

“Level three,” she repeated, her scientist’s nerve kicking in, keeping her calm. As soon as she turned the cog back, the twitching stopped, and his bone structure returned to normal. “Oh good.” She ran a hand down the arm that had been shattered before and found it whole. The crackling had slowed down; his skeleton must be almost healed. “Good for you.” With rest, he would be as good as new. “Werewolf DNA,” she said, trying not to notice the tremor in her voice. “That explains it.” Some of the military consultants even back in her own day in the City had suggested splicing werewolf DNA into soldiers, but Blackwood had always refused to consider it—this issue had been one of the sticking points that had led to his downfall within the government. Apparently with him and his team out of the way, the apes had pressed on.

She set the timers on both units to keep the man in stasis another eight hours. “A good night’s sleep will fix you right up,” she said, replacing the brass cover and screwing it back into place. She pulled the edges of the incision gently closed, and before she could reach for her needle and silk, it had already started to seal itself back up. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

Furious Angels (Need Love, Too)

wetworkHe is her special angel . . . bless her heart. Wet Work, available free this week from Little Red Hen Romance:

Rosie woke up on a bed with a sombrero-shaped headboard. “Ay carimba.”

“You.” Matthias, the angel she remembered from her first night as a witch, was pacing over her. “It just had to be you.”

She sat up, all her joints still aching from the cold outside. “You recognize me?” The television was on, and a show about a pawn shop was playing—a weird choice for an angel.

“Of course I recognize you.” He was wearing the floppy overcoat she remembered, and his face was exactly the same. “I told you to be good.” A pair of men’s pants with the belt still attached was draped over the chair, and a pair of workboots with the socks stuffed inside was lined up in front of it. “I commanded you to stop using magic for good.”

“You commanded me?” She stood up, but he was still a head taller than she was. “I’ve got to pee.” If she could get out the bathroom window without him hearing, she’d at least have a head start.

“I wouldn’t if I were you.”

She opened the bathroom door and saw a naked dead man lying half in and half out of the tub. “Holy shit!”

“Be nice,” the angel said as she slammed the door. “In his condition, you’d look just as bad.” The corner of his mouth quirked. “Well, maybe not quite.”

“He’s dead!”

“Yeah.” He sounded the way she remembered him, too, dry and sarcastic. “That’s how I knew he wouldn’t get in the way.”

“You knew he was dead?” Suddenly the TV was creeping her out, and she grabbed the remote and switched it off. “How?”

“I’ve got connections.” As if on cue, there was a knock at the door, then another angel in another floppy overcoat walked straight through it without bothering to open it.

“Are you decent?” He was bulkier than Matthias with a full beard and mustache. “Well damn.” He grinned at Rosie. “Hello there.”

“Your guy’s in the tub,” Matthias said.

“You don’t say,” the other one said. “They are looking everywhere for you, by the way.” He grinned again. “Israel is so pissed.”

“He’s got the rest of eternity to get over it,” Matthias said. “You think maybe you could move this along? We could use a little privacy.”

“I’ll bet.” He was looking at Rosie again. “Should I plan to come back?”

“I’ll let you know.” Matthias was looking at her, too, but he wasn’t smiling. “I haven’t decided yet.”

“Don’t take too long. He’ll break the shield eventually.” He opened the bathroom door. “Hey buddy. How’s it hanging?” He went in, closing the door behind him, and she heard a muffled conversation. A few seconds later, the door opened, and the dead man and the angel came out. The man was now wearing boxer shorts and a tee-shirt. His color was better; in fact, he seemed to be glowing with health.

“Can I grab my pants?” he asked. He didn’t seem to notice Rosie or Matthias.

“Sure thing, bud,” the other angel said. “Whatever helps. But hustle, you’ve got an appointment.” The man seemed to pick up the pants and put them on, but they were still draped over the chair, too. The other angel gave Matthias a little salute then took his charge by the arm and led him straight through the door.

Rosie looked back in the bathroom. The corpse was still there. “So that was the angel of death?”

“One of them, yeah.” Matthias was lighting a cigarette with an old-fashioned silver lighter.

“So if he comes back, he’ll be coming after me.” He took a long drag and held it like he hadn’t had one in a while. “Because you’re going to kill me.”

He let out the smoke in a cloud. “That would be the protocol. From what I see, I should have done it the first time we met.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.” She knew a lot more now about the standard interaction between angels and witches than she had then, so much that fear dribbled down her spine like ice water. But she was sure she felt an attraction that wasn’t just her, an electricity between them dancing on her skin. The markings from her magic that looked like tattoos were tingling, reacting to his presence. If she could harness that energy and use it, she might still get out of this alive.

“Look at you,” he said, stubbing out the cigarette half-smoked. “You’re covered in Nephilim markings now. You must have done hundreds of spells.”

“Thousands, actually.” There was a spell she had learned but never used, ancient and dangerous. In her mind now, she recited the incantation.

“Black magic,” he said.

“Pretty black.” She’d spent less than an hour with him the night they’d met, and she’d been a scared, freaked out kid in the middle of a crisis. But she had never forgotten a single detail about the way he had looked or sounded. She’d never fallen in love with another human because no human could ever measure up.

“Lovely.” His scowl reminded her of how he’d looked standing over her mother and her stepfather’s bed, making her mom see the truth.

“Would it help if I said I was sorry?” She barely knew what she was saying; her mind was focused almost completely on the spell. But there was one word she had to speak aloud to make it work. “Would it help, Matthias?”

She felt the magic unfurling from her like petals, curling like tendrils of vapor, binding her to him like chains. He was walking around her, studying the markings. He touched her back with one fingertip, and she gasped. The spell was working on her, too. “How long have you had the wings?” he asked.

“Not long.” She had noticed the wing-shaped markings only the day before. She had stepped out of the shower in front of a full-length mirror in another fleabag motel, and there they were. They extended from the tops of her shoulders to the backs of her knees, and they’d shown up sometime after she’d taken possession of the artifact in her pocket now. “Are they special?” She trembled as he traced a line down her back.

“Like you don’t know.” He grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her around. “Nephilim,” he snarled, shoving her back against the wall.

“I don’t know anything,” she protested. “You didn’t tell me—“

“Do you think this is smart, Rosie?” His saying her name was as potent as her spell; her knees went weak. “Putting a love spell on an angel?” His face was so close to hers, she could feel his breath, and the fury in his eyes made her shiver. “We live forever, you know.”

“I know.”

“And we have all the same emotions as you and almost unlimited power.” He bent his head, his lips barely brushing her jaw as he spoke, and goose flesh broke out all over her. “And I am deeply, profoundly pissed.” His voice was almost a growl. “Does that sound like the perfect boyfriend?”

She looked up into his eyes. “Honestly?”

“Damn it, Rosie.”

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Comma

chasing the dragon coverAs a lot of people know, my sister, Alexandra Christian, and I are pretty much the entire standing staff of Little Red Hen Romance. We both write stories and novels for the press, and we edit one another. There are many advantages to having your beloved sister as your editor. But there are times, particularly for Lexie, when it’s a real pain in the ass.

Lex has just finished a truly amazing Sherlock Holmes novella that should be coming out in the next few weeks, and I’ve been working on the copy edit. Lex is one of the most amazing, original, intelligent writers I know, and her grammar and punctuation are almost perfect. But that girl will party hearty with a comma; she gets it drunk and lets it sprawl naked in the most ungodly places or forgets it entirely and leaves it dead in a ditch. As a former composition instructor, I tend to lose my mind about this on a regular basis. And since this is apparently becoming a hot topic issue (see here: Daniel McMahon for Business Insider 5-2-16), we thought it might instructive or at least entertaining to see our latest exchange on the subject:

THE SAME STUPID COMMA MISTAKE THREE TIMES, ALL FROM THE SAME PARAGRAPH!!!!!!!

Okay, you’re gonna learn how to do this if it kills us both.

Example Number One:

As written by the brilliant Lexie Christian:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise and this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

This sentence is two independent clauses joined by the conjunction “and.” As are all of these examples. And it’s the EASIEST FREAKIN THING IN THE WORLD TO IDENTIFY!!!!

So, what are our two clauses? How do I know we have two? We start with the verbs. What are the verbs?

1) offered

2) managed

Okay, so who or what offered? The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat – so there we have the spine of clause number one, “coat and hat offered.” Everything that tells us information about the coat and hat (whose it was [the doorman] and what he was like [unfortunate]) and what they offered and how [an easy disguise]) are part and parcel of that clause. So Clause Number One is:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise.

So our next verb is managed. Who or what managed? He, Sherlock, our intrepid hero. Everything about him and what he managed is Clause Number Two:

This time [when he managed] he managed [there’s that spine] to pass through the doors [what he managed to do] without incident [how he did it].

Because neither of these clauses begins with an adverb like when or as or because or anything else that would turn it into a dependent clause/super-adverb supporting the other that can’t stand alone, these are two independent clauses joined with nothing more than the most common and beloved of all conjunctions, and. So you put a FUCKING COMMA IN FRONT OF THE AND!!! And thus after edits it becomes:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise, and this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

SIDE NOTE ON DEPENDENT CLAUSES WHICH YOU ALMOST NEVER USE AND USUALLY GET RIGHT WHEN YOU DO: To make these the joining of a dependent clause to an independent clause, one of these clauses has to become a super-adverb. If it comes at the beginning, you need a comma:

Because the unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise, this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

But if it comes at the end, you don’t:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise when this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

Your way, the two independent clauses is MUCH BETTER; it’s stronger and gives the reader chunks of easily visualized information. It was Mark Twain’s favorite sentence construction. AND HE ALWAYS PUT THE DAMNED COMMA IN IT!!!

So on to Example Number Two. As written, thus:

A small stage had been set up along the back wall and the cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

What are the verbs:

1)had been set up

2)had been moved (accommodate is also a verb, but by adding the “to” to it, you’re using it as part of an adverb modifying had been moved; it tells why the moving was done. Lesser minds would be confused by this; I know you can see it.)

What had been set up? Stage

What had been moved? Chaises

So our two clauses are:

1) A small stage had been set up along the back wall.

2) The cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

What is joining them? There’s our lil buddy and again.

So our edited sentence becomes:

A small stage had been set up along the back wall, and the cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

And finally, coming to you live from the exact same descriptive paragraph, I bring you Example Number Three:

The entire room was swathed in red and gold and the heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

Verbs?

1) was swathed

2) hung

What was swathed? Room

What hung? Musk

Two clauses then?

1) The entire room was swathed in red and gold.

2) The heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

Add our friend and and the comma it should have rode in on:

The entire room was swathed in red and gold, and the heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

If you could ever just absorb that this is WHY this comma needs to be there, I promise, you’ll just put it there naturally without having to go through this half-assed diagraming of the sentence. But just saying, “Fuck it, I can’t do commas; sue me,” looks like a consistent, habitual amateur mistake, the kind of thing that can make less imaginative editors who don’t love you and your writing like I do dismiss you as a lightweight. And that just is not acceptable. Every one of these sentences is brilliant; you’ve compacted massive amounts of vibrant information into just a few words and created a whole scene. So just get the commas right!

If she could read his mind, love – A romance writer’s take on POV

GeminiThe biggest news in romance writing the past month or so has been the publication of Grey, author E.L. James’ follow-up to her wildly successful Fifty Shades trilogy, written from the point of view of her problematic hero, Christian Grey. When I heard this book was coming out, my first thought was, “Jeebus Krispies, you mean those first three books were all written from the POV of that dippy Ana girl?” My second thought was a suspicion that a lot of the reviews have borne out – that seen from inside his own head without Ana’s romantic projections to diffuse the light, our boy Christian is at worst a dangerous sociopath and at best just kind of an ass. Sales queen Stephanie Meyer ran into a similar problem when she thought to rewrite her Twilight series from the POV of her vampire hero, Edward – that project was so unsuccessful that it never made it to publication. A copy leaked on the internet, and the response was so hateful, she pulled the plug.

Generally speaking, romances are written to engage the tastes and instincts of the female psyche in a relationship – they know what girls like, and they give it. A lot of smart people will tell you this is why these books from the man’s side of the bed just don’t work–they can’t work because men don’t think like women want them to think about love connections; therefore, any attempt to portray the inner life of a dude in love is going to either be unrealistic or unromantic. To which I say, bullshit. It’s perfectly possible and highly desirable to show the male point of view in a female-male romance. You just have to let your guy be a guy–and a guy worth wanting. I totally understand writers who don’t want to risk it–they don’t want to write a woman with a penis or expose the hero they love to the scrutiny of readers who might not understand him the way they do. And it’s perfectly possible to write a great book entirely from one point of view; some books need that. But at some point, the romance reader needs to know how the hero feels, which means the writer has to either show him feeling it or have him say it or both. And if he’s been the strong silent type through the whole book then suddenly pops out with a love sonnet that would make Lord Byron blush, it’s going to play fake; as a reader, I’m not going to believe him. (This is where that whole ridiculous romance cliche of, “Okay, yeah, he slayed the dragon, saved my ranch, and made me orgasm four times in three minutes, but he’s never said he looooooves me!!!!!’ came from, heaven save us.) It’s much better, I think, if she’s not keeping us in the thoughts of her heroine for some other good reason, for a writer to give us at least a peek inside the poor boy’s head or heart as we go along–we need to see him falling in love at the same pace as the heroine, just not necessarily the same way. Basically, let the poor guy be a person. You know guys, right? Write one you could love not as you think every woman would want him to be but as you know he is and trust your reader to fall in love with him. Odds are good she will.

kingspossessionThree of the books we’ve got coming out this month from Little Red Hen Romance give a nicely broad spectrum on this topic. In The King’s Possession (Chapter 2 of her For the Love of the King series), Delilah Dove stays entirely in the point of view of her heroine, Catriona, a former mistress of Louis XIV who is attempting to teach his twin brother, Phillipe, to impersonate the king and hopefully replace him. And of course, in the process of doing so, she falls ever more deeply in love. Cat and Phillipe are an interesting reversal of the usual historical couple–he’s the wise, loving innocent and she’s the damaged rake. By keeping the story in her point of view and letting her discover that Phillipe really is as wonderful as he seems gives the reader a journey that a mixed point of view couldn’t.

AnnabelNew hen Malinda Mockingbird starts a new steampunk series, The Clockwork MacGuffin, July 17 with Miss Annabel Lee and the Clockwork Wolf. Annabel is a scientist turned schoolmarm who finds a gravely injured airship captain, Nick, and brings him back to almost too much health–he’s half werewolf and not entirely in his right mind when she wakes him. While most of the action in this first installment takes place from Annabel’s point of view, Nick’s perspective is presented, and seeing him come back from animal to intelligent charmer is what makes us–and Annabel–fall so hard for him.

But my favorite new story this month also presents the most interesting point of view challenge. The lovers in Gemini, a sci fi romance by Sonja Sparrow, have been bio-engineered as a symbiotic couple, created to fight as dual assassins and to be entirely interdependent emotionally as well as physically–they don’t so much love one another as need one another to survive. When the story begins, Kaia is rescuing her beloved Xander from a frozen prison, so we see the action from her perspective. But once he’s awake, their thoughts become one–they can literally see through one another’s eyes. For us mere earthbound lovers, that sounds a lot scarier than any killer robot, but these two make it work beautifully–it’s a gorgeous romance right in the center of some genuine hard sci fi world building.

The King’s Possession and Gemini are both available right now from Amazon–and they’ll be free all through the holiday weekend, so snag your copy now. Miss Annabel Lee and the Clockwork Wolf will be out July 17 and free the weekend of July 17-19.

Little Hen Romance Is Alive!

And this weekend, all the books are free to read on your handy-dandy Kindle device. Wanna see what we’ve got? (Click the image to go to the Amazon page.)

dragon gold

Celtic witch Rowan is taken from her Saxon captors by the Romans and given as a spoil of war to Titus, a Roman general.He treats her tenderly, but she is determined to be free. But when Titus is surrounded by traitors, she has to decide. Should she take advantage of the confusion and escape or use her magic to save him? Possible trigger warning: Some of the sexual activity described is not what I’d call consensual. While it falls far short of rape, readers with a particular sensitivity in this area might find it upsetting.  Paranormal historical/fantasy.

playing hamlet

A conversation with sex. Nick and Tara were drama school sweethearts before Nick became an international sensation and every geek girl’s dream. Now he’s home in London to play Hamlet opposite Tara’s Ophelia. With the help of the bard and a bottle of wine, they might find out they broke up too soon. Contemporary.

 

voodoo heartDEA Special Agent Hank West is ready to testify against the meth ring he’s just broken and leave the backwoods of Georgia behind. But on a dark and stormy night in a tin roof shack in the middle of nowhere, an ancient goddess in disguise might make him change his mind. Contemporary.

the king's tutor

As the former mistress of Louis XIV, Catriona is uniquely qualified to assist the musketeers who mean to replace him on the throne with his twin, Phillipe. While the old soldiers teach him war and politics, Cat is meant to teach him the royal methods of seduction. But when she meets her pupil, she finds herself falling in love. Episode one in an on-going series, The Sun King, based loosely on The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas. Historical.

For more information about Little Red Hen, visit our website here: http://lucybluecastle.wix.com/littleredhenromance

Because life is too short to read crap

the king's tutor coverLike more than 20 million other people, I read e-books on a Kindle, and my favorite genre is romance. A quick search on Amazon for romance titles this morning yielded me 365,065 options to choose from. I know from experience that there are treasures to be found all the way up and down the charts. But the vast majority of these 365,065 e-books calling themselves romances are total, unmitigated, stinky, slimy, sloppy crap. The Wild West world of e-publishing combined with a media that continually broadcasts romance as that world’s most popular and therefore most potentially profitable genre have shaken stuff out of the bushes that would make Grace Livingston Hill say “Fuck this noise” and switch to thrillers. Well-meaning amateurs who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper sack with a box cutter and a blowtorch have unwittingly conspired with cynical assholes who say flat out they hate romance as they write the dumbass porno to prove it. Together they’ve created a digital Bog of Eternal Stench where readers who actually love the genre can only cling to the few writers they already know they can trust and pray for daylight—and better pricing.

Life is too short to read crap. That’s the idea that inspired Little Red Hen Romance, a smallest-of-the-small-time e-book publisher that I hope will give me and readers like me a better option. The plan is to publish at least four new romance short story titles every month starting on May 1. The stories will be absolutely free for their first week of release (and only available through Amazon) then 99 cents forever thereafter (and available from B&N and iTunes, too). If things go well, we’ll do longer anthologies and maybe even full-length books, but for now, we’re trying it out with the shorties, 3000-8000 words each. But short as they are, every story will be an actual romance by a criteria that might be entirely subjective to me but that I really think a lot of readers have been missing. When I started thinking about what I wanted and wasn’t getting from new romance, I came up with a list of three things:

1 – Sparkling dialogue: Nothing kills a love connection for me faster than dull, flat, lifeless talk, and what passes for romance these days even on the bestest of bestseller lists is full of it. Before I can care about people falling in love, I have to like them; I have to want to listen to them; I have to see the sparks fly between them. Not every story has to be a laugh-a-minute romantic rollick (though there will definitely be some of that, too), but I promise, the characters in the stories from Little Red Hen will be able to carry on a conversation before they start stripping off their clothes—and after.

 2 – Tender sensuality: I love me some smut. Explicit sexuality has been a hallmark (and some would say the major selling point) for romance since the 1970s, and as a reader, I want and expect it. And I’m not squeamish about the mechanics—twosomes, threesomes, up, down and sideways, with handcuffs or without; I’ve read books that rocked my world from all of these, books that I would definitely call romance. What set them apart was the attitude of the characters getting it on toward one another, their reasons for hopping in the sack (or the haystack or the space bunk or that big ol’ hot tub full of banana puddin’) in the first place. Not every character who has sex in a Little Red Hen book will be madly in love when they start, but they’ll at least be considering it by the time they finish. The person or persons they’re sexing will have value to them as people, and their physical actions toward them will reflect that. Nobody is going to get genuinely humiliated in a LRH book (and no monster will ever “turn anybody gay” because that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of in my life, and I work at a law firm). We in the Hen House want to turn our readers on and make their toes curl but let them still feel clean and able to look their preacher in the eye afterwards.

 3 – Heart-melting romance: This one is the most important. It’s what’s most often missing from the books I hate, and I think it’s what embarrasses the haters most about romance, far more than any kind of sexual content ever could. If a story is going to be a romance by the genre definition (not the literary, which is a whole different thing involving a much wider range of happy endings), it has to be a love story; it has to be the series of events which leads the characters into (or deeper into) love. It doesn’t have to end in marriage or a marriage proposal or a declaration of eternal devotion. But it’s got to mean more than an orgasm, a contract, or the acquisition of a business partner to pay the household expenses. It’s about people touching soul to soul, something I believe in very strongly. Otherwise, for me, it’s not a romance. Every Little Red Hen story, whether it’s historical, contemporary, paranormal, steampunk, straight, LGBT, funny, dramatic, or just plain weird will be a love story by this definition.

For more information about the press or the individual titles coming up at our launch on May 1, please drop by the website at http://lucybluecastle.wix.com/littleredhenromance or come like us on Facebook. And by all means, come hang out at our Facebook launch party on Wednesday, April 29, at 8 pm EDT—yes, we’ll mention the books, and yes, there will be preview giveaway swag, but mostly it’ll be a bunch of romance lovers chatting and snarking and having fun, and we’d love to see you there: https://www.facebook.com/events/807514879343283/