Meet Debut Novelist Laura Navarre

In her other life, Laura Navarre is a diplomat who’s lived in Russia and works on weapons of mass destruction issues. In the line of duty, she’s been trapped in an elevator in a nuclear power plant and has stalked the corridors of facilities churning out nerve agent and other apocalyptic weapons. In this capacity, she meets many of the world’s most dangerous men.

Inspired by the sinister realities of her real life, Laura writes dark medieval and Renaissance romance spiked with political intrigue. A member of Romance Writers of America®, she sold her first novel, a dark Tudor romance called The Devil’s Mistress, to Samhain. (It’s a June 1 release.) Shortly thereafter, her 2009 Golden Heart® finaling manuscript sold to Dorchester. The Devil’s Temptress, a dark Crusader romance, is due to release in November.

Laura’s degrees include an M.A. in National Security Policy from The George Washington University and a B.A. in International Relations from Michigan State University. Laura divides her time between her writing career, her MFA in creative writing, and other adventures for U.S. government clients. She lives in a small vineyard in the Pacific Northwest with her Siberian cats, Pandora and Delilah, pedigreed kitties she bought when she lived in Russia.

A compulsive traveler, Laura has spent time in most Eastern, Central, and Western European countries and a fair amount of time in Egypt, where she indulged her passion for scuba diving and antiquities. She has visited almost all of the former Soviet Union countries and had the pleasure of spending time in Beijing, Tokyo, and Kyoto. She’s one of very few Americans who’s been inside North Korea. In addition, she’s crossed the U.S. from North to South, and from East Coast to West in her little red Saturn. She’s a collector of modern art with around fifty original paintings and loves exotic cuisine.

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Since Laura is hopelessly addicted to chocolate cream pie, I’ve got the virtual bakery making regular deliveries so we don’t run out. Because Starbucks got its start in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve got them serving the beverages. Since this is on me, order whatever you’d like. Once you’ve got your pie and something to drink, I invite you to settle in and enjoy a peek into Laura’s exciting life.

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Laura Embarks on Her Journey

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•When did you get serious about writing?

Although I’ve been scribbling down stories for almost as long as I can remember, I started writing with the intent to publish in 2003. Before that, I’d been completely blocked for several years, except for journaling, so it was quite the relief finding I was able to write fiction again. I started my dark medieval The Devil’s Bargain late one night when I was up with jet lag in Uzbekistan, and I worked on The Devil’s Temptress (which some of you may know as The Devil’s Virtue, and which became my second sale) in 2005-6 while I was living in Russia.

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•What have you done to take your writing to a publishable level?

I’m a current student at the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. Stonecoast is one of the only writing programs in the country that allows and encourages you to earn a Master of Fine Arts while writing romance. And because it’s a distance learning program (only ten days/semester spent on campus, and dialogue with faculty mentors over the Internet for most of the program), it’s less expensive than many MFA programs out there. And having the flexibility to work around my other commitments has been a godsend for me.

Writing workshops that I’ve taken and can highly recommend include Robert McKee’s Story seminar, Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel workshop, and the Gotham Writers Workshop courses on romance—taught by the exceptional Leigh Michaels. I’ve also worked one-on-one with Leigh, whose valuable input was a factor that improved The Devil’s Mistress and led eventually to its sale.

Note: For those who would like to learn more about the benefits of an MFA program, I invite you to return on June 7 when I’ll publish her article, “Burning Down the Barriers:  Earning an MFA Writing Romance.”

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Laura’s Squee-worthy Successes

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•You were a contest circuit veteran in your pre-published days, taking top honors in many prestigious contests. Why did you decide to enter contests, and what did you gain from them. Of all your wins, which ones mean the most to you, and why?

I entered contests madly between 2005-2009, when I finally sold! And getting both the positive and the critical feedback was enormously helpful for me. The support and encouragement I felt when I finalled was one of the things that kept me going for six years while I struggled to find an agent and make a sale. I’d like to thank all the RWA chapters who’ve organized so many high-quality and professional contests.

One of the contest wins that meant the most to me was my First Place finish in the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Contest (historical) in 2005 for The Devil’s Bargain, because this was the first contest I ever won. 🙂 I was also really delighted to win the 2009 Golden Pen Contest (romantic suspense) for The Russian Seduction, which was the first contest that manuscript has won. Of course, winning the River City Romance Writers Duel on the Delta Contest (historical) in 2009 for The Devil’s Mistress was also really critical, because it led to my first sale!

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•On March 25, 2009 your phone rang, and an RWA® board member informed you that your entry was a Golden Heart finalist in the historical category. How did you react? What were the highpoints of attending Nationals as a GH finalist?

It was huge for me to final in the Golden Heart in 2009 (historical) for The Devil’s Temptress (which was entered as The Devil’s Virtue). I’d hoped I had a chance, because the manuscript had won a number of contests, but I’d been entering the Golden Heart since 2005, so I wasn’t holding my breath! 🙂

In great excitement, I attended the award ceremony in Washington, D.C. Although I didn’t win, it was fabulous to see my name and picture in the program and up on the screen! Little did I know at the time that I’d be receiving an offer a few weeks later…and then another one. 🙂

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•Another call came your way, The Agent Call. Is it true that pasta played a part in this story? Do tell us the rest of this terrific tale.

The way that I found my agent was pure serendipity. At the last minute, I saw an ad in Romance Writers Report for the Inland Empire Romance Writers’ writing conference in Spokane, WA. I barely saw it in time, and I almost decided not to go (as it’s several hours’ driving time for me from my little vineyard.) But I did go, and I pitched Mistress to an editor who was not overwhelmingly interested in the story.

Then, through pure coincidence I ended up standing in the lunch line behind J.D. DeWitt from The View Literary Agency, whom I recognized because she’d spoken that morning. She’d said she really likes historicals. So I just mentioned to her in passing, with the pasta ladle in my hand, that I’d written this dark historical romance. She was interested, we exchanged cards, and went our separate ways for lunch.

When I returned home the next day, I emailed her the partial as requested. Since I’d had a number of agent rejections, I figured I’d hear from her in about three months with, perhaps, a positive and personalized rejection letter—I was getting lots of those a year ago. Instead, she called me the very next day and asked me to send the full right away. I was so thrilled! And I think we signed the author-agent contract within about a week. She’s an exceptional agent and my biggest supporter—I couldn’t be happier with our agent-author relationship.

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•You sold your first two books to two different publishing houses. How did each of The Calls come about, and was your reaction to them the same?

My first Call actually came in several installments. 🙂 When Mistress finalled in the River City Romance Writers Duel on the Delta Contest in 2009, editor Deborah Nemeth at Samhain (who judged the contest) requested the full. That led to a revise & resubmit request—mostly to shorten the story—and then she bought it. 🙂 All of this happened by email, so I was able to respond pretty calmly after my initial euphoria!

Then, in January 2010, I was in the grocery store when my agent called to tell me Leah Hultenschmidt at Dorchester had made an offer for The Devil’s Temptress. I was in front of the rice cakes when I heard, which resulted in much jumping around and yelping. Several shoppers looked at me in concern, but I just kept jumping around and telling them, “I’m ok, I’m ok.”

So both experiences were really powerful and really positive for me.

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•How will you celebrate your release?

My launch party will be held in Spokane, WA this fall. It’s being coordinated by my amazing agent, J.D. DeWitt. More details to be posted on my website at www.LauraNavarre.com.

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•Most authors have little say in their covers, but you had almost total say in the cover of Devil’s Mistress. How did this happen?

Although Devil’s Mistress does not release until June 1, 2010, I had several interesting and exciting experiences leading up to the release date. In order to maximize my creative input on the cover, I requested and received permission from the art director at Samhain to shoot my own cover, with the understanding that he would have the final say on the photo to be used. Then I hired Corner Booth Productions to design and shoot the cover outside a Gothic cathedral in Spokane. The cover models came from The View Talent Agency, makeup and hair were by Paul Mitchell, and the Tudor attire came from the Spokane Civic Theater. Kristen Black was the photographer who shot the cover, and everyone did an amazing job.

The downside of shooting my own cover meant several months of effort, finding all the folks I’ve listed above, brainstorming, picking out the costumes personally, getting the props, that sort of thing. Plus the expense! I love my Mistress cover, but because it was pretty time-consuming and occasionally stressful to arrange, I decided to let the publisher (with my input) produce my next cover, for Temptress. But I love both of them!

I’ve recently posted a blog on “My Life as a Star: Shooting My Own Book Cover.”

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Laura’s Perseverance

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•How long did it take you to become an overnight success?

I started writing with the intent to publish in 2003. It took me six years, four completed novels and 63 rejections to make my first sale. And I’m still getting rejections for my Russian-set romantic thriller The Russian Seduction, which is a genre departure for me. I credit RWA, all the friends, mentors and fellow writers who supported me, and my very generous ex-husband (still a friend of mine) who supported me financially for 18 months while I pursued my dream and my MFA simultaneously.

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•You’re a full-time consultant for government clients on a range of nuclear issues, a full-time writer, and a full-time student via distance learning in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. How do you s-t-r-e-t-c-h your time to fit it all in? Or did you give up sleep some time back?

If only I didn’t need to sleep, I’d be able to fit it all in. 🙂 I get about 6 hours of sleep a night, and the rest of the time, I’m pretty much always working.  But I view it as the price I’ve paid for my success, and I feel so incredibly blessed and fortunate to be able to do everything I love.

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Laura’s Sources of Inspiration

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•Who or what sparks the ideas for your stories?

For me, every romance starts with a hero. I “see” the hero first, then find the heroine and setting that suit him best. For physical models of my sexy heroes, I usually rely on heroes from some movie I’ve loved, although sometimes they can be pretty obscure.

For the honorable Sir Joscelin Boleyn in Devil’s Mistress, I used Sean Bean’s Boromir (yum!) from Lord of the Rings. For my disgraced Muslim knight, the Devil of Damascus in Devil’s Temptress, I used a not-famous actor named Michael Wincott who played an extremely sexy Spanish villain a few years ago in 1492: Conquest of Paradise. For my renegade Russian submarine captain Victor Kostenko in The Russian Seduction (which my agent is pitching to editors right now), my physical model is indubitably Daniel Craig in Casino Royale—who still puts butterflies in my tummy whenever I see him. 🙂 If he speaks with a Russian accent (which I have no idea if he does), he’d be Victor’s perfect twin.

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Partners on Laura’s Journey

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•Who are some of your staunchest supporters?

~ The late great Ann Peach, who was the first industry professional ever to read and praise my writing. I met her at Romantic Times in St. Louis in 2005, and I was so honored to know her.

~ My Stonecoast mentor Nancy Holder, the NYT bestselling author of the Wicked series, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty so many times to give me incredibly fast and useful feedback, at all hours of the day and night, and to encourage and support me in every possible way, despite her own extremely crowded schedule.

~ My Stonecoast mentor Mike Kimball, a critically acclaimed suspense author and playwright, who had probably read not many romances before I lobbied, campaigned, and persuaded him to mentor me. He has been hugely helpful in teaching me how to build a stronger suspense element into my writing. And on so many occasions when my absolute pitiless schedule reduced me to tears, he was the one who always told me to take two weeks off, which gave me the “mental permission” to actually do it!

~ My teacher at Gotham Writers Workshop Leigh Michaels, whose pragmatic, generous and wise insights helped to strengthen so much both Mistress and Temptress and finally make my sales.

~ My ex-husband and still friend, John Williams, who patiently listened to my writing agonies for six years, provided tireless “technical support” for my website, blog and other computer-related agonies, and always took the time to make an exquisite dinner—even when he knew I’d be rushing through it with my head in the clouds, in order to go back to writing. If some classy lady out there is looking for a former senior submarine officer, tall, brilliant and incredibly kind-hearted—he’s the one for you. 🙂

~ And, finally, my first mentor, critique partner, alpha reader, best friend and greatest love Steven Denlinger, without whose support I would never have finished my first novel. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the inspiration for all my alpha heroes, either. 🙂

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Laura’s Debut Novel

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•Please tell us about The Devil’s Mistress.

Living breath-to-breath beneath the shadow of violence, Italian perfumer and apothecary Allegra Grimaldi was forced to learn the killing arts from the Hand of God—a religious assassin. She has sworn never to use her deadly skills, but now a blackmailer has her by the proverbial throat.

To save her family from an ugly death, she must do the unthinkable. Infiltrate the court of King Henry VIII, poison the heretic Anne Boleyn before she becomes queen—and frame Anne’s bastard brother for the crime. Honest and principled, Sir Joscelin is the perfect pawn.

Allegra is clever, captivating…and her warning to Anne immediately rouses Joscelin’s suspicion. Sworn to protect his sister, and striving for recognition from the powerful father who disdains him, Joscelin has no choice but to put aside his attraction to the mysterious lady and gather evidence to see her burn for witchcraft.

To avert a disaster that will change the face of Europe, this stalwart soldier of incorruptible integrity and the fallen woman who breathes deception must learn to trust each other—and discover the one truth that could save them all.

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•And can we have a sneak peak at The Devil’s Temptress, your dark Crusader romance due out in November 2010?

THE BEAUTY

In the glittering, sumptuous court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, betrayal lurks around every corner. The queen is at odds with her king, and to obey one could mean treason against the other. Even Alienore, considered the most virtuous lady at court, holds secrets: whether masquerading as a knight on the tourney field or desperately trying to keep her lands—and her maidenhead—from the Duke of Ormonde.

THE BLACK KNIGHT

He is called the Raven—his face scarred by a Saracen blade, his voice raspy with the effects of Greek fire. His parentage is unknown, his prowess legendary. And he’ll sell his sword to the highest bidder. As his piercing eyes track her every move, Alienore wonders who he’s working for now. Finding a spy for King Henry? Sent by the duke to fetch her home? Or is each heated touch, each whispered promise of pleasure part of a much more personal mission?

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Laura’s Journey Continues

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•You’ve got two books scheduled for release. What are you working on now?

I’m working to finish my dark medieval romance The Devil’s Bargain, which takes place in late Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest. It’s an unusual kind of story—two connected but stand-alone novels—a love triangle that features the same powerful and devious lady, a Viking warrior, and an enigmatic would-be bishop. I have no idea whether it will ever sell, but it drives me. And my agent has been clamoring for me to finish it. 🙂

I have another dark historical and a Russian-set romantic thriller in the hopper right now.

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Five Fun Facts About Laura, the Person

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~ I own a small vineyard and live in a Tuscan villa in the Pacific Northwest.

~ I speak fluent Russian.

~ I’m the only arms control expert/romance writer that I know. And I’ve been looking around for others for quite some time. 🙂

~ I’ve tried absinthe (legally, in Europe) several times. And every time it tastes hideous.

~ My favorite Halloween costume is a gold-braided Soviet officer’s hat and coat with vintage medals (hammer-and-sickle on a red flag, Order of Lenin, etc., for those who don’t remember that far back!)

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Five Items Laura Has at Her Fingertips When She’s Writing

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~ One seal-point Siberian cat (left side of desk, usually purring)

~ My cranberry-colored BlackBerry, because I’m a compulsive texter

~ My adored library of wall-to-wall bookshelves loaded with my thousands of books! Lots of historical romances, lots of historical fiction and romantic suspense, lots of fantasy and urban fantasy, getting to be lots of sci fi. Many, many art history books. Modern art (post-Impressionism to 1960s) is my favorite.

~ My writing Bibles are Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, Noah Lukeman’s The Plot Thickens, a Howdunit Book of Poisons and Introduction to the Chemistry of Chemical Weapons—because I’ve been writing about assassins lately. 🙂 (My heroine Allegra Grimaldi in Devil’s Mistress is an Italian perfumer and assassin. And my Russian hit man hero in The Russian Temptation is an ice-cold killer who’s been hired to kill the heroine.)

~ Sticky notes with participles/tenses/definitions for “to lay” and “to lie,” because I can never remember which is which.

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Laura’s Question for You

What is the riskiest, scariest, edgiest thing you’ve ever done, and why?

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Laura’s Drawing

Laura has generously offered to give away either an e-book version of her June release, a dark Tudor romance called The Devil’s Mistress, in whichever format your computer/reading device desires; or a framed and autographed poster of The Devil’s Mistress cover, whichever the winner chooses.

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To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Laura by midnight May 25 (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way. (Drawing limited to those with a U.S. mailing address.)

On May 26, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)

Congrats to the winner of Laura’s drawing: Linda K. Sienkiewicz.

Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.

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Laura Invites You to Learn More About Her

Visit my website and blog, and download free excerpts from my two upcoming releases at http://www.LauraNavarre.com.

I Tweet at http://www.twitter.com/LauraNavarre.

And I’m on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/LauraNavarreAuthor.

Email me at LauraNavarreAuthor@yahoo.com.

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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10 Responses to Meet Debut Novelist Laura Navarre

  1. Keli Gwyn says:

    Welcome, Laura! I thoroughly enjoyed preparing for your interview and getting to know more about you. I think you’d make an awesome heroine for someone’s romantic suspense novel. You’re a beautiful young woman and lead a very exciting life.

    I’ve answered many a guest’s question, but yours is a toughie because I’m one of the lowest risk people I know. I actually went and asked my husband if I’d ever done anything risky, scary, or edgy. He said moving to Germany was pretty scary for me.

    Gwynly is right. When he got his dream job teaching at an American military high school for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Bavaria back in 1989, I had to come to grips with living about sixty miles from the border between West Germany and what was then communist Czechoslovakia.

    What was even scarier was having our daughter in a German hospital during the four and a half years we lived there. The care was excellent, but my German wasn’t all that great and my medical German practically non-existent. When I learned I needed an emergency C-section because our overdue daughter was stressed, my fear meter was pinned. Everything worked out well, but I gained my first gray hairs from the experience. 🙂

  2. christicorbett says:

    Laura,
    Thanks for sharing your journey of success via all those rejections…it really is inspiring to read about someone who kept pushing toward, and then achieving, a goal.

    I too use sticky notes to remind myself of tenses or other things I always forget. Such a great invention!

    As for the riskiest/scariest thing I’ve ever done? I would say it was after college when I left my home, my family, and all my friends to take my first “real” job several states away. Totally worth it now, but at the time I was scared out of my mind getting on the freeway to drive out there 🙂

    Christi Corbett
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

  3. Hi Keli!

    Thank you so much for doing this interview with me. Thinking about your creative and unusual questions and my (hopefully also interesting) answers, I had more fun than a person should have while working. 🙂

    Living in Soviet-era Germany near the Iron Curtain would definitely have disconcerted me too! Have you read any John le Carre, who wrote THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD? I think he captures the atmosphere of Soviet-era Europe as well as any author out there.

  4. Hi Christi!

    Thank you so much for your positive feedback, and for answering that “scariest thing” question. Moving away from home for the first time was really difficult for me too! At the time I was only moving a two hour drive away from my parents, but it felt like I was moving to the moon. 🙂 Fortunately, the moves got easier with time.

  5. Linda K Sienkiewicz says:

    Laura, it’s wonderful to read about your success in all the blogs and interviews. I’m so impressed. Question for you: Were you the director of the photo shoot? The expressions of the actors and their physical gestures are perfect.

    I’m pretty wimpy. My life has been exciting and thrilling in its own way. I guess the riskiest thing I ever did was fly to NC to meet in person a man I’d known only online.

  6. Elisa Beatty says:

    Hi, Laura! Huge congrats on your sales, and on shooting such a beautiful cover! I’m also thrilled to hear about an MFA program that supports romance-writing.

    I’m not sure what the biggest risk of my life has been. Probably deciding with my husband to give up academic tenure in the Midwest and move back to our beloved California with a 2-year-old and no jobs (just as NASDAQ collapsed!) It all worked out, but was pretty scary at the time.

    Good luck with your books!!

  7. Linda, thanks so much for asking about the actors and acting in the photo shoot. Much of the coaching and prompting actually came from the photographer, Kristen Black. I talked to the models for a bit about their characters, which they were already somewhat familiar with after reading some chapters of the novel. I asked Allegra for dark and sultry, and Joscelin for steadiness, decency, protectiveness. And I thought they both delivered beautifully. 🙂

  8. Elisa, thanks so much for sharing your riskiest moment! It takes huge courage, in my view, to leave the familiar and safe for the unknown, especially when there isn’t already a job waiting for you at the other end. You must have felt as though you’d jumped from a plane with a parachute, and now prayed that it would open when you pulled the cord. 🙂

  9. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by and an added thanks to those who left a comment for Laura.

    I’ve held the drawing, and the winner is Linda K. Sienkiewicz.

    Congratulations, Linda! I’ll be in touch.

  10. Just wanted to say THANK YOU to all of you who commented on my blog and participated in the contest! It’s been fabulous fun chatting with all of you. THE DEVIL’S MISTRESS is out in 6 days ( !! ) and is available now for preorder on Amazon. Happy reading! 🙂

Comments are closed.