Tell Me About Yourself

Have you ever been on the other side of a job interview? Recently, I was invited to sit on a committee to interview candidates for a position open in my organization. It was a surprise, but they wanted my input for some bizarre reason. It was an interesting experience, and, of course, I translated it into something related to writing. After the interviews, I kept thinking things like, “What if I interviewed my characters? What would happen then?”

Perhaps I should interview the myriad of fictional creatures who end up carrying my stories. Myabe I should ask them that standard interview question, "Tell me about yourself." As a writer, maybe that’s the best way to determine where they need to be. Sometimes I think the heroes and heroines end up in the wrong places, perhaps even mismatched. Other times, they seem to fit perfectly. Maybe if I did a mock interview, the odds would be in my favor that I’d connect two characters who really wanted to be together.

But what kinds of questions do you ask your characters? For some reason, I keep thinking that no matter what I ask my male characters, I would somehow hire them. A hunk is a hunk, after all. My female characters, however, would have to work for it. I hate a romance with a whiny or TSTL heroine, so I think I’d be biased from the git go. I don’t want a whiny or TSTL hero, either, but usually with the male leads that’s not the problem. The problem is whether the male is an alpha or beta hero. Both have their charms and their place in literature, but if I only need one at the time, it can be tricky to pick between two hunks, regardless of their place in the food chain.

What would you do? Pick a character from a book and think about interviewing him/her for his position in that novel. Would Katniss Everdeen have made the cut in Hunger Games if she’d had to have gone through an interview first? Would Bella or Edward or Jacob been considered for the leads in Twilight if they’d had to sit down one-on-one with the author and tell her about themselves or elaborate on their skills at being a protagonist? What about Harry Potter?

A job interview for characters…hmmm.

Happy Reading!

A Trip to Duart Castle

On the Ferry

The day we visited Isle of Mull and Duart Castle was cloudy and windy. Based on the forecast, we knew the weather would only get worse, so this was our last chance to visit the island. Sure enough, the next day no ferries were running out to the islands at all because of insane winds. We parked in Oban and bought a ticket which included the ferry, bus, and castle tours all in one.

beautiful views from the ferry
I was also very sick by this time. I'd caught a cold soon after arriving in Scotland, but I was determined to not let it stop me. The ferry ride was nice with great views. You can stay outside or go inside where it's warm and have a snack or coffee. The ferry also has a gift shop, restaurant, lounge, and several other things. I sent my husband out to take pictures. :) He took these first three.

You can tell by this picture how cold it was. Everyone was dressed like winter even though it was September.

Lismore Lighthouse in the Sound of Mull

Click on the above photo to enlarge it and get a good view of the Sound of Mull. I did have to bundle up and venture outside to take some pics myself. I took several of Duart Castle as we passed by. Little did I know at the time that we would explore Duart from the ramparts to the grassy area near the shore.

Duart Castle
Duart Castle stands prominently on a cliff that overlooks the Sound of Mull. This has been the base of the Clan Maclean for over 600 years.

Approaching Duart Castle from the parking area.
Once we disembarked at Craignure on Isle of Mull we found the bus for the Duart Castle tour waiting for us. Part of the way, the road was one lane. It took ten to fifteen minutes to get to the castle.

The Courtyard.
We entered the courtyard and I thought the interior and buildings were beautiful. This castle was restored in the early 1900s, but these buildings look incredibly authentic for hundreds of years ago. The rowan tree here (above) was planted on Sir Fitzroy Maclean's 100th birthday. It's believed to ward off evil.

The Courtyard, opposite direction.
 The castle was restored between 1911 and 1914 by Colonel Sir Fitzroy Maclean, Bt., KCB, Twenty-sixth Chief of Clan Maclean. Before that, the castle lay in ruins.

Click photo to enlarge sign.
Information from other signs posted here:

"About 1150 Duart was just a courtyard. No grass then, only mud and rocks and simple wooden shacks for shelter. You would have had no shoes or socks, even in winter; long hair, no brushes or combs and your clothes would be a simple strip of woolen cloth to keep you warm."

"The Keep, which is another name for a Tower House, is where everyone lived. This one was built by Lachlan Lubanach, the 5th Chief, in 1360. The main entrance was up a short flight of stairs from the courtyard."

Next, we went by the kitchen and dungeon. Sorry, no photos were allowed of the interior. The ground floor of the castle was originally one vaulted room with two small windows.

View out one of the windows.
Experts believe a castle existed on this site long before the first walls of Duart were constructed in the mid-1200s because it is such a strategic position on a high cliff on the end of a peninsula which juts into the Sound of Mull. Duart comes from the Gaelic Dubh Ard, meaning 'Black Point'. This location allowed the Macleans to control the Sound of Mull, which runs between Mull and the mainland of Scotland, and also the entrances to Loch Linne and Loch Etive and also part of the Firth of Lorn. This site would've been of vital importance during Viking and Norse invasions. Later, the Lord of the Isles ruled this area and the Macleans were supporters. There were eight castles on each side of the Sound of Mull which could communicate with one another via a beacon.

Click the above photo to enlarge
Maclean means 'Son of Gillean.' Gillean of the Battle-Axe (Gilleathain na Tuaidh) was a warrior who lived in the 1200s. He is known to have been alive in 1263. One of his ancestors was Lorn, the brother of Fergus Mor MacErc, founder of the Dalriadic kingdom which centered in Argyll. Gilleathain fought at the Battle of Largs and his son Gillenmore is mentioned in the Ragman Roll of 1296. The Macleans supported Bruce at Bannockburn. After that, they settled on Isle of Mull and came into conflict with the MacKinnons who already lived here.

Macleans were recorded in the papal dispensation of 1367 which allowed their chief, Lachlan Lubanach (the crafty or cunning) Maclean to marry the daughter of the Lord of the Isles, Mary Macdonald. It is said this was a love match, but her father wouldn't allow her to marry Maclean until he had kidnapped her. Another account says Lachlan kidnapped the Lord of the Isles in order to marry his daughter. The Mackinnon Chief was killed during this incident, and since Macdonald was Lord of the Isles, he gave the Mackinnon land to Maclean as part of his daughter's dowry. It is said he approved of Lachlan as a husband for his daughter because of his daring during the kidnapping. This is how the Macleans ended up owning most of Mull.

Click the above photo to enlarge and see the great view from the wall walk or battlements.
Lachlan Lubanach Maclean is believed to have built the keep at Duart. The first mention of Duart was 1390. But the great curtain walls already existed from the previous century. On the more vulnerable landward side, the walls are 29 feet high and almost 10 feet thick. A ditch was cut through the rock beyond the wall for further defense. The walls facing the sea were not as thick, 5 – 8 feet.

The wall walk
Lachlan Lubanach's son was Red Hector of the Battles. He was a famous Maclean warrior who fought at the Battle of Harlaw on July 24, 1411. I mentioned him in my post on Drum Castle. Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum and Red Hector MacLean engaged in a one on one personal battle to the death. Yes, both men died. I wonder what they had against each other? Afterward, their families exchanged swords when their chiefs met.

The roof.
Hope you enjoyed the photos and info. I'll continue the tour of Duart next time.

Battle-hardened warrior Dirk MacLerie isn't who everyone thinks he is. He's Dirk MacKay, heir apparent to the MacKay chiefdom and Dunnakeil Castle on the far north coast of Scotland. When he returns home after a long absence, will his clan know him and will the duplicitous enemy who tried to murder him twelve years ago kill him in truth this time?

Lady Isobel MacKenzie is a beautiful young widow betrothed to yet another Highland chief by her brother's order. But when her future brother-in-law accosts her and threatens to kill her, she is forced to flee into a Highland snowstorm. When she runs into a rugged and imposing man she thought dead, she wonders if he will turn her over to her enemy or take her to safety.

Dirk remembers the enchanting, dark-eyed Isobel from when he was a lad, but now she is bound to another man by legal contract—an important detail she would prefer to forget. She wishes to choose her own husband and has her sights set on Dirk. But he would never steal another man's bride… would he? The tantalizing lady fires up his passions, testing his willpower and honor at every turn, even as some of his own treacherous clansmen plot his downfall.

Remember The Sacrifice

As we celebrate Memorial Day here in the US, as we go to parades, and grill outside, and get together with family and friends, and simply enjoy a day off from work and school, take a moment to remember all the military who gave their lives so we could enjoy the freedoms we have today. We wouldn't have the life we do today if they hadn't been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.


Plotting vs. Pantsing

A funny thing happened on the way to The End…

As a writer, I’m definitely a ‘pantser’ (as in, I write by the seat of my pants). Don’t get me wrong, I know how my story starts and how it ends, but I’ve always thought that the fun and creativity of writing was in getting from point A to point B.  It’s an adventure.

But for my last book, I was paralyzed by writer’s block to such a horrific extent that I *swore* I would plot out my next story down to the minutest detail. After all, one of my critique partners insists “there is no such thing as writer’s block, there’s just bad planning.” I’m not entirely convinced I believe that, but of one thing I was sure: I never again wanted to stare at a computer screen with one eye while staring down a publisher’s deadline with the other. That was an awful time.

So imagine my surprise two weeks ago when I started my newest erotic romance. I happily shut myself up in my home office with a hot cup of tea, fired up my computer, and pulled out my extensive plot outline.

The first line came easily enough:  “There was a dead body in my pool.”

After that… nothing. It didn’t seem to matter that I had the entire story sketched out on six pages sitting next to my keyboard. It didn’t matter that I knew my character’s names, their histories, their hometowns, their favorite color socks. In an insane trick of the Muse, the fact that I had already written out an abbreviated story of my story meant I couldn’t write my story!

I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I settled for a Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and tonic with lime instead. (Actually, two of them.)

Once I relaxed, I began to feel better about my book. I knew how it started and how it was supposed to end, so I threw away the outline on those six sheets of paper and just let the words flow from my fingers. The spunky heroine. The uptight detective hero. The dead body that throws them together.

I’m happy to say that the story (so far) has elements of humor, intrigue, suspense, plot twists and sexual tension. LOTS of sexual tension. Oh, who am I kidding? I write erotic romance. There’s a lot of actual sex in this story. (The result of all that sexual tension.)

But at least there’s a story. I’m writing pages. Day after day, the words are coming. Maybe my Muse was trying to tell me that writing is a leap of faith. It’s hard work, but if you show up for it every day, your Muse will, too. I don’t need an outline, I just need confidence.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself until the next time writer’s block strikes.

What about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser, and why? I’d love to hear about your process.

Leigh Court

A Visit to Oban, Scotland

Oban is probably my favorite town in Scotland. I'm not sure why but I'm drawn to it and the whole Argyll area. It feels like home. What's great about staying near Oban is there is so much to see and do. The ferries go out to the islands. There are castles and neolithic sites. If you need to buy something or eat out, there are plenty of shops and restaurants.

Wikimedia Commons. View of Oban from Druim Mor. Photographer: Dorcas Sinclair
Oban is known as the Gateway to the Islands and means "the little bay" in Gaelic. Archaeological remains say the place now known as Oban has been occupied since Mesolithic times.

Dunollie Castle
Dunollie Castle sits at the north end of the bay and, long before this castle existed, around the 7th century, the fortified site was one of the main centers of the Celtic Kingdom of Dalriada. Dunollie Castle was home to the MacDougall Clan. They were descendants of the Lord of the Isles.

Prior to the 19th century, few people lived in Oban. Its main industries were fishing, trading, ship building and quarrying. John and Hugh Stevenson were known as Oban's Founding Fathers. They established a boat building yard, a tannery and a brewery which became Oban distillery in 1794.

In 1847 Queen Victoria described Oban as "one of the finest spots we have seen." The railway followed in 1880 and Oban became a popular tourist attraction. Over a million people visit each year.

"Oban Bay, Skottland", painted by Hans Gude in 1889

Click on the above painting to see what Oban looked like in 1889.

Oban is now considered a resort town. The general population is just over 8000 but during the high season, summer, the number of inhabitants can rise to 25,000.

To me Oban is like a little city or maybe a wee city. :) The first time I started driving through it, I almost panicked because it really looks and feels like a bigger city at first. But before I knew it, we were in the country again. I was shocked at how small it actually was in terms of the space it occupies. It isn't all that difficult to drive through, but more fun than that is walking through it and looking at all the beautiful historic buildings.

We stayed in a cottage about four miles from Oban. On our first day there, we decided to explore part of Oban. We parked on the side of a street and had breakfast in a tiny cafe. Great food! After that we walked toward the waterfront to do some shopping. Oban has several grand old hotels. Above is the Caledonian.

A nice view of the waterfront. Kayakers were out. It was a beautiful day.

Boats and islands on the opposite side of the bay.

A grand Victorian hotel, the Columba Hotel.

The Iona Shop and Caledonian Hotel

Another shot of the Caledonian.
 The Caledonian Hotel was built in 1882. During World War II, it was used as a base by the Royal Navy. It has since been restored beautifully. It has 59 rooms and the waterfront location looks ideal.

More waterfront buildings.

A lovely boat or yacht and the islands beyond.

This is a view of the bay from on board the ferry as we headed out to Isle of Mull a couple days later. It was a cold, windy, cloudy day.
Clocktower outside Oban Station
When we returned it was around 5 pm. With the clouds, it wasn't very bright for my pictures, but I still enjoyed the walk. The temperature was pretty good and I was glad it wasn't raining.

View of Oban, near the harbor with McCaig's Tower in the background.
McCaig's Tower a folly and prominent landmark in Oban was built in 1897 by local banker, councillor, and Chief Magistrate, John Stuart McCaig. His intention was to provide work for the local stone masons who had been unemployed and provide a monument for the McCaig family. We didn't have time to walk up to it but I intend to in the future. I understand there are gardens inside and it provides spectacular views of Oban Bay and the islands.

 Oban was important during World War II and during the Cold War. The Transatlantic Telephone Cable came ashore at nearby Gallanach Bay. This was the hot line between the US and USSR presidents. Tourism is Oban's largest industry now. Oban also serves as an important port for the ferries going out to the Hebrides.
The Royal Hotel and the Commonwealth flags in Argyll Square
 9.4% of Oban's population speak Scottish Gaelic.
The Royal Hotel

Bossards Patisserie

I took this picture the next day when the weather was too windy and rainy to do more than shop late in the afternoon. It was so bad the ferries couldn't run. Still, it wasn't a bad day because we got to shop for goodies and souvenirs.

Hope you've enjoyed this brief visit to Oban. :)

P.S. I donated a Scotland Basket to the Brenda Novak Online Auction for Diabetes Research. It has lots of Scottish goodies in it, some of which I bought in Oban. Click the below picture to make it larger.

  Click here to check out the auction or bid!


At The Outer Banks

Sun. Surf. Sand. Shopping. And daily walks on the beach. We have two more days at the Outer Banks of North Carolina and then will be making our way back home.

Sitting on the deck overlooking the beach at our campground. Our campsite is close enough to see the water and hear the surf.

We've been really lucky with the weather. But even when the skies weren't clear blue, the clouds were beautiful.

Footprints in the sand - human and dog and bird.

I love the dunes.

Beneath Rodanthe Pier.

Standing in front of the pier, my feet in the water, wearing my new hat.

We'll be back home before we know it, but I'm relaxing and having a great time. I'm not writing, but I'm soaking up the atmosphere and taking lots of pictures. Don't be surprised if I have a few stories in the future set on the beach.



I'm going to be pretty vague in this blog since I'm not ready to reveal what the heroine of my third Love to the Extreme novel does for a living. You'd think I'd be shouting it from the rooftops since it's something I've personally never read before, but to say I worry I've bitten off more than I can chew is an understatement. Am I up for the challenge? Absolutely. Am I scared crap-less? Oh, hell yeah.

I've always wanted to write a main character who does this for a living. I'm fascinated by it. But being fascinated by it and being able to bring it to life on the page are two totally different things. I've started doing some research between blogging for my blog tours and trying to finish my last Awakening's book, and, man, there is a lot to this. I'm going to end up reaching out to professionals in the field to see if they would be willing to answer some of my questions.

I do have this giddy excitement about starting this book. It's going to be an adventure. Unfortunately, I do know my writing schedule is about to become sporadic. Yep, summer vacation. LOL. Kids and writing just don't mix. So I'll be down to writing only on my "daddy weekends." Which is significantly less than the time I spend writing per week now. My plan is to try and get a rough draft written in the ten weeks the kids are out. And it will be very, very rough. That way when they go back to school and I get my mornings back, I can spend the first couple of weeks back in my writing mode, putting the finishing touches on the MS.

So, authors, have you ever written a career field that you worry will fall flat when you try to write it?


The Azalea Garden at Biltmore

My friend and I visited Biltmore on May 2. The main reason for our visit was to see the 15 acre Azalea Garden which is spectacular at this time of year.

I loved this little bridge (above). This is the largest garden at Biltmore and it contains a thousand azaleas of all sorts of varieties, including native and hybrid.

This garden was mostly planted by Chauncey Beadle, a Cornell University graduate and horticulturist who was hired "temporarily" as a very young man in 1890. He once said that he "came to Biltmore for a month but stayed for a lifetime." He worked here for 60 years. He and his azalea hunters traveled the country looking for unique and different azalea cultivars. In 1940 he donated his huge collection of azaleas to Biltmore.

This garden has a few of these precarious crossings. This serves as a bridge across this stream. :)

I didn't get the names of any of these azaleas but I thought this one was especially lovely.

I loved this bridge and stone bench beside the little stream.

A nice collection of various colors near the woods and exit drive.

When we left the Azalea Garden, we strolled down to the bass pond. It looks more like a lake to me, it's so big.

 I was so excited to get to see and photograph the Canadian geese chicks! I saw these babies for the first time a couple weeks before but didn't get a photo until this time. They are the cutest! The parents were ever watchful to make sure we didn't grab one. :)

The walk along the bass pond is nice and relaxing. It leads down to a dam and a man-made waterfall. There are benches here and there along the way so people can sit, rest and enjoy the view. Above and below are opposite views. Below you can see the top of the boat house, which looks like a big gazebo.

After leaving the Bass Pond, we again passed through the Azalea Garden, no hardship with all the beautiful flowers and other interesting sights, like this crooked tree and a stone bench.

This is the exit to the Azalea Garden, a grand finale of blooms.

I hope you enjoyed today's garden stroll! :)

Beautiful and fiercely protective of those she loves, Lady Seona Murray captured Keegan MacKay’s attention when she first set foot in Dunnakeil Castle. Though she is a chief’s daughter and forbidden, Keegan has fallen in love with her from afar and burns to possess her. But so does the clan traitor, Haldane, an obsessive outlaw bent on murder and kidnapping.

Sinfully handsome, Keegan MacKay is a fearsome guard as well as the chief’s cousin, but Seona’s father would never consider him a worthy husband for her because he is not a titled laird. Seona has secretly watched the sensual, tawny-haired warrior from across the crowded great hall for months, but when he is tasked with escorting her across Scotland, back to her home, their simmering attraction flames into sizzling passion with just one kiss.

Though she fears she is endangering Keegan’s life, Seona cannot resist his seductive charm or his spellbinding kisses. Keegan sets fire to the memories of her sad past and shows her what it means to truly live. But her father has other plans. He’s arranged for her to marry a wealthy Lowland laird. Is Keegan daring enough to steal her away? Or will the vindictive Haldane snatch her first? Buy My Daring Highlander at Amazon,B&NiTunes and various other sites.