by Michelle Monkou)
Join me every week as I share a few shout-outs on romance author goings-on, related events and recommended reads.
AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Shakir Rashaan
Tomorrow (June 10), Shakir Rashaan's Legacy, the second installment of the Nubian Underworld, hits the shelves. HEA is thrilled to be part of the anticipated launch.
Let's start with who is Shakir Rashaan (courtesy of the author):
"Corrupting minds, one book at a time!" I started my journey as an author back in 2009 when I wrote The Awakening, the first book in my Nubian Underworld series. The series revolves around a world and a subject that not very many are privy to or really know about: the Fetish/BDSM/S&M world. My sophomore effort came in 2010 with Deviant Intent: Obsession. In this series, I combined my two loves: erotica and mystery/crime fiction. I relied on my background and studies in the criminal justice field, spinning off this series from my Nubian Underworld series. Both series caught the attention of Zane and Strebor/Atria Books a few years later, and I signed book deals for them in 2013. Back in 2011, I sort of pulled a split-personality shift, giving birth to my alter ego, Curtis Alexander Hamilton. With him, I've created a couple of projects, an erotic romance entitled All I Want...Is You and a paranormal romance entitled The Devil's All-American. Both projects are being pitched to major publishing houses. With any luck, Curtis may have a few more projects in the lab to entertain the reading public.
Michelle: Please elaborate on your website caption: "I am the captain of my fate."
Shakir: The quote is an amalgamation of the final two lines of the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley: "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." I took those words to heart early in life, and they have served me well. It is a reminder for me to always write the chapters of my life and not let anyone else write them for me.
Considering my actual mantra is summed up in those two lines in that poem and I could only use eight words, well, that's where the adjusted caption came from.
Michelle: What are some a-ha moments or amazing lessons learned in your life that you don't mind sharing?
Shakir: The most amazing lesson I ever learned was from my father: Expect the best, prepare for the worst, and never go into a situation without at least three alternate plans and an exit strategy. Being a Navy brat growing up, that's a lesson I've never forgotten. If there was one that I would share, that would be it.
Michelle: What's a typical writing day? Do you have a writing space (that no one else can enter) or do you go out to another place to write? Do you have any traditions around your writing before getting started?
Shakir: A typical writing day really tends to flow fluidly, depending on my kids' schedules. I'm a pretty involved father, and even more so now because my Beloved works nights, which means I'm helping with homework, cooking dinner, etc., and then once the kids are asleep, I tuck away in my "cave" and from the time they are settled in until she gets home from work, and then until the early-morning hours before heading to work in the mornings myself.
My traditional routine before I begin writing, whether by hand or typing away on my keyboard, is to grab a drink (usually a Coke or juice), some pineapple slices or peach slices, and I make sure my phone is turned off so I can zone out. With the type of characters I write and the type of story lines I create, I can't have a lot of distractions. Once I'm locked in, I flow for hours on end, literally getting in my zone.
Michelle: There is an air of confidence (clearly not arrogance) about your career focus and talent and the delivery of the combined package. What/who has instilled or developed that focus?
Shakir: My maternal grandfather had a heavy influence on my life from the time I was 5 or 6 until his passing when I was in my 20s. To me, he was larger than life, and every bit of wisdom he could impart, or anything he wanted to teach me, I was a sponge and then some. He instilled the work ethic by example, working two jobs consistently until he retired. He helped shape me into the man that I am today, and my ability to maintain focus has his influence all over it.
My father and uncles helped things along also, but my grandfather was the one who first put a book in my hands — Uncle Remus' Tales — and sat down to listen to me verbally tell the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, taking the source material and come up with a different ending. I learned then how to be a storyteller, and the bug hasn't left me since. God willing, I pray that it never does.
Michelle: Congratulations on the Nubian Underworld series. I read and recommended The Awakening to HEA's readers. And I'm thrilled to see that Legacy, the second book, is ready for prime time. Tell us about the Nubian Underworld.
Shakir: The Nubian Underworld is a semi-fictitious world where fetishes and kinks and fantasies are realized, but there are real people with real situations that most people take for granted. Sure, there's the stuff that the mainstream public gets to see: the whips and chains, the spanking and pain and reddened bottoms and all that good stuff. But what the public doesn't always get to see is the relationships, especially between Dominant and submissive or Master and slave, that are more intricate and more intimate than people give credit for. The "Nubian" part of the underworld is simply the African-American influence within the Fetish/BDSM world, in an attempt to show readers that this world is not monochromatic, that African-Americans do indulge in this corner of the alternative lifestyle paradigm.
The Awakening is an introductory book into the series, giving you a combination of education into how the characters act, speak, interact with each other regardless of station (Dominant/submissive, Master/slave, Top/bottom is what I mean by station), and taking you on an exhilarating ride into some salacious subplots and very real scenarios that a lot of the characters go through. Legacy picks up where The Awakening leaves off, giving Ramesses the stage as he works through some of the challenges that come with being a leader within the local community.
Michelle: What/who are your inspirations for the hero and heroine?
Shakir: My inspiration for Ramesses and Neferterri is based on the actual husband and wife of Ramesses II and his first wife, Nefertari. I drew a lot of inspiration from their romance, despite the fact that he, as pharaoh, did have a harem and concubines. Despite the outside relationships and children that he fathered with other women, it was only Nefertari who Ramesses had temples and statues erected in her image. I wanted my dominant couple to reflect that same strength and passion for each other, maintaining the core relationship on which their polyamorous relationships could be expanded upon.
Michelle: Please fill in the blank: Reading Legacy would be like ...
Shakir: Reading Legacy would be like being a voyeur inside of a world that a few only dare enter, and even fewer actually participate in on a real-time scale. It will take you on a journey that will help you escape, but give your senses a ride that is as unique as anything they've read before or since. In essence, Legacy would be like an experience that you will be dying to tell a friend or a co-worker you went through, only for them to give you that "look" that tells you that they don't believe a word you're saying, but the only way to believe you is to show them, so they can see for themselves that you're not making it up.
Thank you again for having me, I absolutely enjoyed myself! I hope readers will take the "red pill" (Matrix reference) so they can enter Wonderland and allow me to show them how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Michelle: I think I need a GIF with a cartoon rabbit wearing a big grin strapped into the roller coaster ready for the ride of Legacy. Happy Book Release Day!
Find out more about Shakir and his books at www.shakirrashaan.com. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter (@ShakirRashaan).
Secrets in the Sand (Fifty Gone Wild series) by Candice Poarch
National best-selling author Candice Poarch delivers the third book in the Fifty Gone Wild series with Secrets in the Sand. This series features heroines over 50 years old who shouldn't be counted out of life, passion and romance. Fifty and feisty can be used in the same sentence. Christmas Gone Wild and Slippery Slope started this series with much-needed breadth of age diversity among the typical heroines.
The author of notable titles, such as Intimate Secrets, The Last Dance, White Lightning, continues with her brand of mixing romance and mystery into a satisfying blend that make for a deliciously, cozy read.
What Secrets in the Sand is about (courtesy of the author):
Two-time divorcee Kristin Mayer moved to Wet Sands, North Carolina, to be near her sister. Her fixer-upper comes as a bargain due to an 8-year-old murder that stifles sales. But Kristin packs heats and she's fine with a bygone crime. Chase Holloman is intent on protecting his grown daughter who as a child was accused of murdering their neighbor. Now, another murder has pulled her back into police crosshairs. Meeting Kristin rocks Chase's world. Yet as Kristin plows through her home renovation, she finds mysteries deepening with every uncovered wall. Long-suppressed secrets come to life, forcing Chase and Kristin to reassess their live as bodies pile up. Can they clear Chase's daughter and remove the obstacles between them and real love?
LET'S MEET TWO GOLDEN HEART FINALISTS
Through the next few months until RWA's award ceremony in July, I will introduce you to several Golden Heart finalists from Romance Writers of America's contest for unpublished writers.
Introducing … Charis Calhoon
About Charis:I was lucky enough to work as an intern at RWA (the national trade association for romance novelists) as a college senior. After graduating with a degree in journalism, I was hired full time at RWA, and I eventually became the association's communications manager, editing RWA's trade magazine and handling PR. After eight years, I left RWA with a new baby and a new dream: write a romance novel myself.
Since that time, I've worked to balance writing with stay-at-home motherhood. I've written three complete manuscripts ... two Regency historicals and one romantic suspense ... and my current work in progress is a romantic suspense. I finaled in RWA's Golden Heart contest with my first suspense in 2011 ... and now the historical (The Earl Next Door) this year. Writing is very central to me, I'd say ... all writing ... I even take e-mail too seriously. But so is romance fiction. I'm not sure I could live without the pro-woman, pro-family (all kinds of families) undertones and hopeful, love-trumps-all theme of romance — as a writer and a reader.
Michelle: What about the historical romance genre drew you to write?
Charis: Two reasons ...
First, historicals sweep you away to another world — and not simply a ye-olde, time-gone-by historical world (which I love), but also a world of privilege and wealth. Sprawling estates, butlers and ladies' maids, dowries, lavish parties, shiny carriages, titled aristocrats — it's the glittering whirl of a bygone age ... part actual history, part fantasy. My "real life" is perfectly lovely, but how I look forward to escaping into a setting far removed from the daily grind of lurching through traffic in the Washington, D.C., rush.
The second reason is because I love dark, brooding, commanding heroes. These guys are my go-to; and they tend to fit very naturally in historical romance — the distant cousin of Mr. Darcy. Arrogant, certainly. Curt and clipped, usually. Sexy-smart. Possibly domineering. Definitely in denial about love. Alpha, alpha, alpha. It's nothing you could tolerate in real life, but if we're dealing in once-upon-a-time, why not?
Michelle: Are there any periods in history that draw your creative interest more than others?
Charis: When I describe what I write to strangers, I always say something like: "I write Jane Austen era romance. My characters ride around in carriages and go to balls and wear bonnets." It sums up the general idea very simply, and that's useful to the average ... say ... cocktail party guest who may not know what you mean by "Regency."
With this, they get it right away; and they're either with me or ... not. If you love bonnets and carriages and the English countryside, then ... you know this about yourself. I know what I love: aristocrats and the servants who care for them, manor houses, lavish balls, marriages of convenience that happen to work out, Mayfair, Cornwall, falling in love with the governess, falling in love with the secret-earl-turned-coachman, afternoon tea.
Michelle: A typical writing day for you is ...
Charis: Ugh, I fight for my writing time tooth and nail. Stay-at-home moms are walking targets for ... everything. I have to balance what I am willing to do ... with what I consider my fair share ... with those things to which I will say, "Absolutely not," and then let go.
I endeavor to write every day while my children are in school, minus an hour of exercise. ("Endeavor" being the operative word.) I make as few appointments as possible during that time and never, ever expend writing time on something like ... running errands. I can grocery shop with my children (it's not pleasant, but it can be done), whereas I cannot write with my kids around. If my children see me at the computer, they consider me "idle." And we all know children are the enemy of idleness ... or perceived idleness.
Here in the last 18 months, I have begun trading pages with a critique partner, and that has made all the difference in my writing. But this, too, takes time. I read her pages and make edits/suggestions; we brainstorm about career choices (she will embark soon on self-publishing, so I make suggestions about her covers and synopsis blurb). It's time away from words-on-the-page, but in many ways, it's just as valuable.
All that said, when 2:30 p.m. rolls around, my writing day ends ... however productive or not ... and the rest of my day belongs to my children and our family. At this season in life, I'm a mother and wife first, really. I have had to give myself permission to let the writing happen ... when it happens.
Michelle: Which three authors have shaped or inspired what you do?
Charis: Oh, so easy. Laura Kinsale because she's a literary genius. Loretta Chase because she gave us the best Regency historical ever written in Lord of the Scoundrels. And more recently, Julie Anne Long, because she takes the best of the first two and has created a new generation of historical romance that is, at the same time, literary, page-turning, brimming with romantic tension and suspense, and transporting. I read these women and am in awe.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my writing experiences with your readers. Long live romance fiction!
Introducing … Shelly Alexander
About Shelly:I earned a BBA in marketing and worked in Corporate America for several years before marriage lured me to the beautiful Southwest. While reading in the New Mexico sunshine on the banks of the Jemez River, I started to dream up stories I'd like to write myself someday.
Three kids, several pets and almost two decades passed before I finally decided it was time. That's when I bought my first laptop and started writing down my stories. My first three books were historical romantic suspense. My Golden Heart novel, Love in Living Color, is my first contemporary. Now I've found my "people," and I plan to continue writing small-town contemporary.
Michelle: What is the most important lesson that you've learned from this writing journey?
Shelly: The most important lesson I've learned from this writing journey is that I need to be a better reviser. Great writers aren't really great writers, right? They're great rewriters. I've tried to get past my fear of the delete key!
Shelly Alexander, 2014 Golden Heart finalist.(Photo: Frank Frost Photography)
Michelle: Who has been the cheerleader(s) in your corner?
Shelly: My local chapter, Land of Enchantment Romance Authors, has been a great support for me. Our members consist of writers from all levels, and everyone cheers each other on. The encouragement and camaraderie is priceless. Also, I've had some great critique partners who have been cheerleaders, critiquers, writing coaches and friends. They are the sharpening stones that make me better and keep me grounded.
Michelle: What is the most amazing thing that's happened in your writing career?
Shelly: So far, the most amazing thing that's happened in my writing career is the Golden Heart nomination. I wasn't even going to enter, until a friend of mine, Tammy Baumann, who won the Golden Heart in 2012, encouraged me to go ahead and send in my entry. What do you know?!
Michelle: What have been some of your romance purchases for 2014?
Shelly: I've recently purchased most of the 2014 RITA finalists' books. I'd encourage anyone who wants great book recommendations to visit the RWA site and scour the list of books that are nominated for this year's RITA Awards.
Find out more at shellyalexander.net and connect with Shelly on Twitter (@ShellyCAlexande).
Michelle: To both of you, I wish you good luck with your careers. Thank you for the reading recommendations — always near and dear to a bookaholic.
Michelle Monkou celebrates her Evernight urban fantasy digital release, Into the Pride . Her website is michellemonkou.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook.