Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Author Guest Post - Jenny Gardiner

Readers, please join me welcoming Author Jenny Gardiner who will be guest blogging here today!
By Jenny Gardiner 

One time I heard a radio interview in which an author was promoting her book about sex. Sorry, I haven’t the slightest idea of the title of the book. But I did get a good laugh when she talked about a few studies in which researchers tested rats (or was it mice?) while they were getting it on.

Rat foreplay

Now first off, there is something particularly unseemly about being a voyeur to rat fornication. On so many levels. Not the least of which is because rodents having sex means even more rodents on the horizon. And those rodents will then repeat this wildly reproductive behavior, and so on, and so on. Having fended off my share of mouse infestations over the years, I believe that anything involving insidious rodent procreation should be vigorously avoided at all costs.

But also, there’s a very strong ick factor involved. Little teeny rats (or worse yet, bloated possum-sized black ones like from the movie Ben) doing it in a laboratory simply elicits a sense of repulsion in me. Especially when I learned that one of the tests the scientists performed involved the rats donning polyester pants---miniature rodent disco-wear---so that they could determine the effect of polyester on sperm count.

Believe it or not, I found this online!

I wonder who drew the short straw to have to count the rat sperm? And probably worse yet, who had to ensure there was rat sperm to count? I know I'd have volunteered immediately to whip up a few hundred pair of the tiny pants on my sewing machine at home---far, far away from the lab---thus assiduously avoiding those other menial tasks, such as rat-wanking. Though I do love the idea of watching researchers with PhDs hoisting plaid polyester pants onto rat bodies, securing them with Jethro Bodine-like rope ties at the waist.

By the way, in case you were wondering, polyester did in fact decrease sperm count. So there you go, Tony Manero Rat. Disco must be dead for a reason.

But the test I especially enjoyed learning about involved the little buggers in the midst of mousely mating (in the heat of passion, if there is such thing as rodent ardor), only to have the scientists introduce a diversion.

You see, there the mice/rats/whatever were, in lock-and-load mode, when the researchers dropped in some yummy cheese to see what would happen. While the boy rats just kept on doing the nasty, the girl rats? Well, consider it the "filing-your-nails-while-in-the-missionary-position" tactic. Yes, they were far more girls interested in chomping cheese than getting some lovin' from their man. They walked away in flagranto delicto in favor of in flagranto delicious! Talk about coitus interruptus! All for a little Velveeta. I don’t know about any other women out there, but I think I’d have held out for something a little more upscale. Say, a chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise sauce.

girl rats shunning sex for cheese

Nevertheless, I think those researchers were onto something. And if it takes luring vulnerable girl rats away from their paramours to prove it, well, then, so be it.

Because I suspect we human females have something in common with our rodent cousins. And it's not whiskers (as long as there's waxing, tweezing and electrolysis at our disposal), nor twitching pink noses, and certainly not creepy snake-like tails. None of that. We don't particularly crave cheese either. Except perhaps those women who eschew carbs and then what’s left to eat but cheese?

What we do share is this: females don't want a wham-bam-thank-you-rat experience. They want to be wooed. Wined and dined, made to feel wanted, to feel as if they are the most important thing in the world to their man. Sure, any old creature can get it on. But copulation without representation is not the goal. Well, you know what I mean: sex without passion, without amore, without a modicum of emotion, or (dare I say) adoration, and certainly respect. I'd say most of us would settle for the cheese over that and tell that dirty rat “Good day, mate.” Most days, at any rate.

Any old rodent can have a quickie on the petrie dish (that would be the rat version of doing it on the kitchen table). But when it comes to the long haul, perhaps a lot of men can learn from this rat survey, and figure out how to appeal to the cheese-lover in their woman.

Thank you for that HILARIOUS post, dear Author! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book Excerpt - Equality: The Quest for the Happy Marriage

About the Book  (In the Author's own Words)

The journey through “Equality: The Quest for the Happy Marriage” includes a trip through history, where the most significant lessons civilization has learned over the last few thousand years are used to demonstrate not only the way to set up a positive relationship, but the causes of that relationship turning negative.

Additionally, I dive into the science of psychology to answer the most basic question anyone asks who goes through the pain of divorce, “why didn’t we work out”?

The basic premise of the book is that we have a 50% divorce rate yet there doesn’t appear to be anything happening to help solve this problem. Just because divorce has become a significant part of our culture doesn’t mean we should simply sit back while countless families suffer through the agony of splitting up.

The toll to society tomorrow because of our culture of divorce today is impossible to determine but future generations will have to deal with this change to the culture that has occurred over the last two generations.

For the first time in history I elaborate on a psychological solution to our psychological problems so that couples can learn how to change the direction of their negative relationships. In essence, the psychological objective is to understand what happens mentally between two people who make one of the most important decisions of their lives, to get married.

The objective of this book is to provide real, logical help to couples so that they can learn how to stay out of the divorce trap. The bottom line is to learn how to set up your relationship so that you can maintain a happy, healthy, harmonious, loving, affectionate, intimate marriage.

About the Author

Renowned Wall Street analyst Tim Kellis takes on what could be considered society’s biggest problem today: divorce. The journey that led to him tackling such a significant issue was both personal and professional. After a successful career that eventually landed him on Wall Street, Tim met what he thought was the girl of his dreams, only to see that relationship end with bitterness and anger. The journey included work with a marital therapist, and after he discovered the therapist wasn’t really helping decided to tackle the issue himself.

Ambition and a strong aptitude for math helped lead Kellis to discover how to make relationships work. His math skills led directly to an engineering degree, nine years in the telecommunications industry, an MBA in finance, and finally on to Wall Street, where he became the very first semiconductor analyst to focus on the communications market.

After publishing a 300-page initiation piece entitled Initiating Coverage of the Semiconductor Industry: Riding the Bandwidth Wave, Kellis became a leading semiconductor analyst at one of the biggest firms on Wall Street. The experience he gained as a Wall Street analyst provided an excellent backdrop for becoming an expert on relationships, and resulted in his relationship book entitled Equality: The Quest for the Happy Marriage.

You can visit his website at or his blog at

Book Excerpt


Even the least knowledge of things superior is of greater value than the most extensive knowledge of things inferior - Thomas Aquinas

A most remarkable and curious fact about our society today is that in consideration of all our collective accomplishments- specifically, our democratic system of government, our discoveries in medicine, in science, in technology, along with our unprecedented material success, particularly in the last twenty years where we experienced growth not seen since the fifties and, before that, the twenties- that we have not yet cracked the code of the relationship! Today the concept of the relationship remains an enigma, one that can have devastating social impact if not resolved. Yet, even in light of these societal developments, our relationships today are more troubled than they have been in the history of human civilization. We have dug such a deep hole for ourselves that today fifty percent of people who utter those infamous words, “for better or worse,” decide that they can’t make it. These people take a fork in the road of life that leads them from the bliss of falling in love to the devastation of divorce. What an incredibly sad fact.

This incredibly important problem in our society has not been understood yet because it is much larger than a psychological problem. Philosophy actually gives us the solution, which includes psychology, but also, history, sociology, politics, religion, culture, education, capitalism, even anthropology, mythology, alchemy. Happiness is a philosophy, not a psychology. Happiness has been a part of civilization from the very beginning, thousands of years ago. Using the author’s love of history, the text enlightens the reader with societal issues from ancient civilizations to our modern world. From education to capitalism, from politics to religion, the book offers every conceivable reference upon which to draw the ultimate conclusion of just how to achieve a happy, lifelong relationship.

In truth, relationships do develop from the “falling in love” stage to the “staying in love” stage, yet ambiguity lies in each individual’s definition of love. All relationships get to a fork in the road during this transition where they can decide to take one path, a path to harmony and happiness, or the other path, that path to bitterness, anger, and sadness. If we are going to get to the bottom of the unrest of the relationship struggle then we must examine and learn about this proverbial fork, so that we may have the knowledge to make the right decision. Fortunately, the answer lies right under our nose, there for the taking.

The objective of the journey you are about to embark on is a simple one. The underlying concept of our wonderful democratic system of government is that happiness and freedom can only occur when we think and feel equally, and we have one more final step to take. The root cause of our marital troubles today is one last fight for inequality and that is within our troubled relationships. For the traditional patriarchy concept of the relationship, a concept that has defined relationships for thousands of years, held that the man was in charge of the household, was responsible for the thinking part, while the woman was responsible for the development of the emotional bond, the feeling side of the psyche. Thanks to the equal rights movement, and the subsequent education and employment of women, and the development of the pill, which resulted in dating and man experiencing real feelings for the first time in history, imbalanced relationships have struggled dealing with the transition. True freedom and true equality can only occur when the two involved get to share equally in both the feeling side and the thinking side of the psyche of the relationship. You are about to learn how to do that.

For thousands of years we have been developing a most basic concept, one that simply presents the ability to resolve this perplexing issue. We have been learning the notion of common sense since the dawn of time and now we get to use it. Common sense, the antecedent to common law, is society’s definition of how we are supposed to think, feel and behave. Common sense is not something that should be sneered at but, instead, something that should be grasped as the basis for how two people are going to come together in love to take on life’s many, many, many challenges. Life’s struggles occur on a daily basis; and the great thing about common sense is that it leads to two people taking on the world instead of each other.

A great man once said that once you have knowledge then you cannot return it, and the knowledge does exist. As it turns out, history provides the key link for getting to the root of the problem because with history comes lessons, and boy we have had many. History enables learning, both individually and as a collective society. One of the most significant elements of the journey you are about to embark on is the lessons of history, what was learned with some of the most significant experiences civilization has gone through as it developed, as it grew up. If you want to understand not only how to have a successful relationship but what are the causes of unsuccessful relationships you can gain the best insight by looking at the big picture. Yes, the stories you are about to read present large examples of society becoming civilized and these stories present the best examples for each and every one of us to learn from.

And so, we have been learning to think. Over the last hundred years we have had an unprecedented number of individuals who have developed the ability to think. This shouldn’t be taken lightly, for it has never happened before to so many people. We can think to the point that many of us know how to use a computer. Could you imagine going back in time and telling individuals that eventually the masses would understand how to use a computer? They would have probably laughed at you. Today things are different. Thinking is such a wonderful mental experience. Of course, feelings can be just as wonderful, if we could only understand how to develop the right ones. One of the great discoveries of science is that, contrary to the conventional wisdom of research, we as individuals do have free will, the ability to decide one path over the other. Yes, we can think.

The most basic requirement for understanding how to make a relationship work is to understand how the mind works. Remarkably, research into the mind has discovered only truly how the mind works over the last two decades, but the knowledge is finally here. Additionally, we have the work of the greatest psychologist who ever lived but whose work, unfortunately, has been lost to history because of its contradiction to the mainstream school of thought. Combining the work of the modern scientists and this great psychologist, Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, provides us with a wealth of information on how the mind works. And this is absolutely essential to getting to the root of the causes of the conflicts in so many relationships. Contrary to the teachings of modern psychology we are not biological beasts but psychological beings.

The journey into understanding the workings of the relationship and the working of the mind is incredibly rewarding. If we place our life’s priorities in proper perspective, then we get to accomplish the ultimate goal, and that is the goal of happiness. Happiness is not a thing; it is a life process, a very challenging life process. But the rewards are very much worth the effort. With the proper relationship not only do the two people in it get to find individual happiness but happiness as a couple. Believe me, the rewards are worth it.

But we must pinpoint the ultimate issue that needs to be examined if we are going to make this venture a helpful one, and that is the struggle between faultfinding versus problem solving, the very foundation that provides the difference between success or failure. For the people who take the fork in the road that leads to divorce do so through faultfinding. Those who are successful face life’s many challenges through problem solving. And today, since we possess the ability to think, together we can figure out the solutions to these problems.

Common sense would tell us that the problems in our relationships can be resolved through an industry that has been developed whose function is supposed to be to help those with troubles, and that is psychology. Unfortunately, though, mainstream psychology remains one of the last bastions of society today that has yet to comprehend its ultimate function. The psychology industry has been struggling to develop a concise function because of the prejudices that have existed since the very beginning when the psychologist most associated with the industry by the common man and woman, Dr. Sigmund Freud, hypothesized that our behavior is determined by our biology, by our brain, which we are born with. This hypothesis has led to the conclusion that we are born with our troubles and there is nothing we can do about it. Every other element of society, from religion to capitalism, exists for the main purpose of helping its “customers” find some form of happiness. Capitalism itself exists because individual companies develop some product or service that helps some portion of its customer base’s life, helps makes its customers happy. Happiness is the key here. Common sense has held that happiness is the goal of life since the very beginning of civilization. When the very first cities accomplished the most amazing feat in history by discovering irrigation, society was able to successfully feed itself for the very first time. This discovery also led to the development of the ego, a development that we have been trying to learn how to balance since then.

If we are going to get to the bottom of our relationship troubles then we must develop within our own personal psyches the path to happiness, which requires us to understand the working of the mind. Mainstream psychology may believe that the mind is nothing more than the firing of neurons in the brain, but knowledge does exist which proves the exact opposite. Not only do we know that the mind exists, but we also know the components of the mind thanks to Carl Jung. As it turns out, Freud’s designated heir-apparent, Dr. Carl Jung, spent his entire life delving into the workings of the mind, which led to his understanding of the working of the most complex element of our minds, our unconscious. In order to solve our troubled relationships we must re-introduce Jung’s great discoveries of the working of the unconscious so that we can get to the root causes of the troubles within each of us that results in our relationships taking the wrong fork in the road.

To be sure, as any of us who have fallen in love knows, relationships are psychological experiences. The only possible way for anyone in an unhappy relationship to understand how to change the path of the relationship is to understand the basic components of the working of the mind, which is what this project is all about. To begin with, there are three components to all of us two internal and one external. The external component is our behavior and the internal components are our thoughts and feelings. And you are about to embark on a journey to discover the development behind all three. The key word here is development because behind our behaviors lie thoughts and feelings that have been developing since we were born. This journey that you are about to undertake looks at development from the perspective of the individual and of civilization.

We begin our journey by looking at the very beginning of each of our relationships, back to the time when our love life began, back to the time when our lives were irrevocably changed. For those of us who married for the right reasons, not because of looks or money, this part of the journey will be an emotionally charged one. Granted you may and probably do fall in love with someone because of looks and/or money but you stay in love because of something much more important, character. We then begin the examination of that fork, the pivotal point in all of our relationships when we decide which direction we want to take it in. We elaborate on the definition of happiness, the ideal path and the one that common sense would tell us to take. Our first example demonstrates the ideal situation, one where the two people involved learn to work together as a team.

Next we will take a look at the basis of the development of our behaviors, thoughts and feelings. We begin by looking at the concept that society has been trying to teach each and every one of us about the proper way to behave, common sense. We may look at common sense as a basic concept and that is because we as a society have done such a good job teaching it. The best way to explore the notion of common sense is by looking at a time when this notion was about to have its biggest change in the history of civilization, for the entire notion of democracy was a completely revolutionary idea. We get the clearest understanding of the change in common sense by looking at the revolutionary pamphlet published in 1776 entitled Common Sense, by Thomas Paine.

Next we briefly look at the fundamental cause of problems in negative relationships. One discovery of mine is that the difference between successful relationships and unsuccessful ones is the concept of problem solving vs. faultfinding as couples learn to behave together. Completing our journey into behavior we examine the root cause of each of our individual behavior, character. Before we can explore a way to redirect our behavior in a positive manner we must understand the root causes behind it. Before our democratic and capitalistic society became so successful character was a significant part of individuals of society. We simply need to relearn this concept.

Next we explore that proverbial fork in the road, where couples learn to either handle the inevitable conflicts that most certainly arise when you bring two independent people together as one as disagreements or arguments. We begin the discussion by looking at examples of the greatest disagreements civilization has ever seen that did not lead to wars, the disagreements between corporations and our system of democracy. We are talking about disagreements that led to the antitrust movement, the development of monopolies. Then we begin exploring the other side of the disagreement vs. argument question by looking at the feelings behind the experience of fault finding. Afterwards we break down arguments into their components in what I have termed The Hierarchy of the Argument.

We then begin our journey into the inside of our minds. First we look at the components of consciousness within each and every one of us. We look at the development of our thoughts and feelings. We begin by looking at the development of the logical side of society by examining the development of our education system. After all, it is much more logical to look at the development of thoughts than the development of feelings. After looking at the big picture we will then look at an individual example of the development of thinking, and that is my personal journey. This is then followed by the personal development of the feeling side of my psyche. I then elaborate on my personal experience in a relationship that I had originally thought would go the distance, one that didn’t but provided me with the lessons elaborated here, which led to the writing of this book. I end this section by elaborating on my personal experience with a relationship that takes the path to bitterness and unhappiness. I end with asking the ultimate question that anyone who goes through this pain must ask. Why?

And then we get into the psychological discussion, beginning with a look at the history of the industry. Yes, we elaborate on the basic concepts of Freud, as well as the further development of those concepts. This then brings us to the current state of the art of psychology today, one that is most focused on trying to mend unhealthy relationships but has yet been unsuccessful. One of the basic premises behind this entire book is that we still have a fifty percent divorce rate and there doesn’t yet appear to be any improvement in that statistic. But there is help. Ironically, the most significant part of your journey will be in undertaking the discoveries of Jung. Dr. Carl Gustav Jung was such an accomplished psychologist that Freud had appointed him his heir-apparent referring to Jung as his son, before Jung broke with Freud over Freud’s basic theories. We end this section with the work of modern scientists who have only recently scientifically proven the notion that we as individuals think, providing the final key to helping each of us as individuals and couples. For the first time in history we will use the work of previous scientists to formulate a psychological solution to our psychological problems.

This brings us to the exciting part where we look into the question of why. Why are we supposed to have happy and healthy relationships? We then end with my personal example of never ending love. Yes, contrary to all of the skeptics out there, it is possible to fall in love and stay in love.

In essence the objective of your journey here is to make one of the most remarkable journeys any individual can make, the journey to discover yourself. The first and most important step for any successful relationship is for the individual to be happy with him or herself and this can only be accomplished by you realizing that you are, well you. This allows you to appreciate your strengths and work to overcome your weakness. And let me make a most emphatic point here. The definition of the individual has nothing to do with how much money or how beautiful he or she is, or the opposite. For the definition of the self is the internal quality of the individual. The objective is to appreciate the good qualities while working on the negative ones.

What in essence is done here is to demonstrate the differences between the positive relationship and the negative one. This requires not only elaborating on wonderful examples through the lessons of history but also includes my own personal journey. The names have been changed in the personal stories that are used to highlight a point, where the story can be construed as negative. Therefore, I have changed the name of my ex-fiancée to Suzanne. The name of the therapist we went to hoping to get help for our troubles has been changed to Dr. Willis. The names have not been changed in stories where there are not negative connotations.

The motivation behind taking on a project of this scale was a very personal one. Although I had had a successful career and a healthy social life, I had never met the girl who captured my heart until I met Suzanne, at 36 years of age. We fell in love, decided to get married, fought and broke up. The pain from that experience led to the writing of this book. My objective was to learn from this experience so that hopefully I could help others so they wouldn’t have to experience that pain. Just because we have a 50% divorce rate doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to figure out why. What you are about to read is my attempt at resolving that enigma.

Hopefully what you are about to read is helpful for you in your life. Enjoy the journey, you may just find your relationship back to its very wonderful beginnings, back when the two of you fell completely and madly in love.

Good luck!

Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.
This Book Excerpt is part of this book's virtual tour, courtesy Pump Up Your Book Promotion.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book Excerpt - Internet Dating Is Not Like Ordering a Pizza

About the Book

Internet Dating Is Not Like Ordering a Pizza  by Cherie Burbach

Have you become frustrated with Internet dating?

If you've tried online dating and given up, or even if you thought the Internet wasn't right for you, this book will give you the courage to try again, this time armed with specific illustrations on what really works - from the profile through the dating stage. Don't waste another minute wondering why some people seem to have Internet dating success while you're still waiting for a response to your online ad. Through dozens of concrete examples, dating expert Cherie Burbach will show you how to write an eye-catching profile, search for, and meet the right person online.

About the Author

Cherie Burbach used her experience with meeting her husband online to pen At the Coffee Shop, a humorous look at the world of Internet dating. Cherie went on over 60 coffee dates in just six months. She met lots of great people and one of those turned out to be the guy she would marry just one year later.

She is the Dating Feature Writer for Suite101, an online magazine with over 10 million views monthly, and also the author of three poetry books, including A New Dish and The Difference Now. Her latest, Father's Eyes, has received the 2008 Editor's Choice Award by Allbooks Review. Cherie blogs at Jennifer Lopez, Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, Career and Kids, Celebrity Apprentice, Gossip on Sports, and Diabetes Notes.

For poets looking for a review of their book, check out Cherie's new site Bonjour Poetry Reviews.

Readers have resonated with Cherie's honest and inspirational "This I Believe" essay, which is the second-most popular out of over 32,000 entries on the NPR website. For more information, please visit Cherie's website at or

Book Excerpt

The key to a great essay is making it describe you. Not just listing things about you, but writing in a way that will allow potential dates to envision you going about your daily life. After all, every unique aspect about you is what is going to attract someone. So don’t be afraid to let your personality show, and make sure you write about your life in a way in which potential matches can not only envision you but also picture themselves going on a date with you. People are visual creatures by nature, so you can’t just tell us about something. You’ve got to show us.

Of course, rules that apply in a profile apply to an essay as well. For example, no negativity. No yakking about ex’s, and no cheesy phrasing that mentions walks on the beach or holdings hands (and especially not holding hands while walking on the beach). And by all means, don’t wonder what’s wrong with women or why there aren’t any more nice guys in the world as part of your profile either. Your profile isn't the place to ponder why you're single.

Simply put: any kind of negative ponderings or self-talk turn people off. Besides that, nobody really wants to hear it because we could all complain endlessly if we wanted to. But why do that? Instead, focus on the next exciting stage of your dating life: finding the right person. The tone of your essay gives as much of an impression as burping and farting do on a date. Show your best self until someone really gets to know you.

Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.

This Book Excerpt posted here is part of this book's virtual tour, courtesy Pump Up Your Book Promotion.
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Author Guest Post : The History of Murano by Marina Fiorato

The History of Murano : An Original Essay by Marina Fiorato

"Murano is the glass heart of Venice."

When writing the historical strand of The Glassblower of Murano it was important to me to get some sense of the significance of glass in Venice at the end of the seventeenth century. And when you visit, the evidence is before your eyes; the city seems to be almost made of glass. As well as boasting the most beautiful windows in the world, exquisite chandeliers hang from the frescoed ceilings of every palazzo, the basilica is clothed in jewellike mosaics comprised of nuggets of glass covered in lapis and gold; and at the other end of the scale the streets in the Merceria dell’Orologio behind San Marco are crowded with bijoux little shops crammed with glass fancies, beads, and bonbons.

But it is Murano, one of the trio of islands set far into the Venetian lagoon, which is and was the glass heart of Venice. In 1291, an edict of the Great Council, Venice’s ruling body, decreed that all glass furnaces should be moved to the island after a series of serious fires which threatened the city. In the Renaissance period, glass was a priceless monopoly for the Republic of Venice, and at the heart of their mystery was the closely guarded secret of how to make mirrors. The manufacture of mirrors of reasonable size and reflectivity was deeply problematic until the glassblowers of Murano stumbled across the optimum method through an accident of glassblowing. Thereafter they began to make mirrors brighter, clearer, and larger than any in the world. Venetian mirrors quickly became the Republic’s most valuable commodity, more precious than saffron; more costly than gold.

The Council of Ten, the vicious ruling junta of Venice’s Great Council, quickly realized the value of the glassblowers of Murano, and threatened them with death if they ever divulged their methods. Often, the glassblowers’ entire families were kept as hostages by the state. Venetian law was very clear on the matter: If any worker or artist should transport his talents to another country, and if he does not obey the order to return, all of his closest relatives will be put in prison.

Incredibly, despite such threats, some of the glassblowers of Murano did betray their secrets and their city. In the 1680s, Louis XIV, the Sun King, was in the throes of his Grand Design: the Palace of Versailles, for which he planned to construct a great chamber made entirely out of mirrors, and needed assistance from the best of the best. Thus, many of Murano’s glassblowers were secretly transported to Paris. Recruited by Pierre de Bonzi, the French Ambassador to Venice, they were tempted by tales of foreign lands, exotic women, and great riches. By the autumn of 1665, twenty Murano fugitives had been spirited away to Paris where they began work upon the task of making the dream of a king a reality.

“It’s great to be, in some small way, part of such a wonderful tradition.”

As we now know, the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles was built and remains for all to see—a cathedral of glass that is undeniably one of the modern wonders of the architectural world. Not only does the work mitigate the treachery of those brave souls from Murano, it is also a tribute to the craftsmen of France, who would
someday become the forerunners for the genius of Baccarat and Lalique.

On a more personal note, I made a discovery of my own while researching the history of glassmaking in Murano: I was delighted to discover that Fiorato, my Venetian family name (which means “floral”), is also the name for a type of Murano glass. Fiorato glass features tiny glass flowers enameled and fused into beads. Fiorato beads are tiny, but they are beautiful. It felt great to be, in some small way, part of such a wonderful tradition.

A portion of the essay originally appeared in Italian magazine (© 2008). Reprinted with permission from the author.
** Reprinted here by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.**
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Monday, April 20, 2009

Book Excerpt - Butterfly Tattoo by Deidre Knight

Butterfly Tattoo
by Deidre Knight
 Samhain, E-Book, Releasing April 21, 2009
About the Book

Michael Warner has been drifting in a numb haze since his lover was killed by a drunk driver. As the anniversary of the wreck approaches, Michael’s grief grows more suffocating. Yet he must find a way through the maze of pain and secrets to live for their troubled young daughter who struggles with guilt that she survived the crash.

Out of the darkness comes a voice, a lifeline he never expected to find—Rebecca O’Neill, a development executive in the studio where Michael works as an electrician.

Rebecca, a former sitcom celebrity left scarred from a crazed fan’s attack, has retreated from the limelight and from life in general, certain no man can ever get past her disfigurement. The instant sparks between her and Michael, who arrives to help her during a power outage, come as a complete surprise—and so does her uncanny bond with his daughter.

For the first time, all three feel compelled to examine their inner and outer scars in the light of love. But trust is hard to come by, especially when you’re not sure what to believe when you look in the mirror. The scars? Or the truth?


A loud banging sound jars me right out of my seat. For a moment I do nothing, remembering the earlier sensation of someone following me. My heart thunders, causing my chest to rise in quick panting breaths of fear. Nobody should be knocking on the bungalow door on a Saturday. Nobody.

Carefully, I step away from my desk and into the hallway, and glimpse a large stranger there at the door. He’s leaning close, shielding his eyes to look inside; I swallow hard to calm the fear, walking toward the intercom with cautious determination.

“Yes?” I say into the speaker, and the man steps back. He sees me and gives an uncertain wave, then hits the exterior intercom button. I don’t recognize him, and that he looks a little rough and slouchy only unsettles me all the more.

“Ms. O’Neill?”

“Yes?” I repeat, more firmly this time. Who is this man? How does he know me?

“Um, it’s Michael Warner.” He sounds vaguely apologetic as he removes a baseball cap and mops his brow. “Sorry to bother you.” That’s when I recognize him as the electrician from yesterday. I sigh in relief, and open the door a crack, though not all the way. Although he’s not a stranger, I’m still jumpy from the adrenaline rush.

“Sorry, I didn’t really think about how much of an intrusion this might be.” He gives me a slight smile. God, he may be slouchy today, but he’s even more beautiful in the shocking daylight, especially his eyes, which are an unusual golden brown color. He has the kind of intense gaze that penetrates you on the molecular level, and I blink beneath it.

“No problem.” I swallow hard. “What’s up?”

“Just wondering if the power is working okay? Any more trouble?” Now this seems like a thinly veiled excuse to me. All the feelings from yesterday, the sense that some kind of connection was forming between us, well it all comes rushing back, as I lean my head sideways against the doorframe. Maybe that way he won’t notice the scars so much.

“You know, it’s going great,” I answer brightly, forcing myself not to smile at him. Instead I hope he’ll see enthusiasm flickering in my eyes, even as I wrap my arms around myself protectively.

“You mind?” He gestures over my shoulder, toward the interior of the building. “You know, if I come in? Just for a second.”

Without meaning to, I stare back at him. Maybe because I’m surprised at how direct he’s being, or even more likely because I’m getting a really strange vibe from him. Like he’s interested in me, but not quite sure how to go about it. I wish I’d gotten a clearer answer about his marital status from Andrea yesterday. As sexy as he is, I’m not down with seeing a married man, and if he is married, I’m feeling way too much attraction flickering between us.

“Ms. O’Neill?” The brown eyes narrow a bit, as uncertainty flashes across his face.

“Sure, sure, come on in,” I rush to say, opening the door wide. “Where’s my southern hospitality when I need it most?”

“Back in Georgia?” he says, shoving his hands deep into his jeans pockets as I fasten the lock back in place.

“Let’s hope not.” I break into a true smile, and I feel the way the muscles pull at the corners of my mouth. God, why does he light me up this way? And he gives me such a glorious smile in return, one that fills his whole face.

“Sorry for being a little cautious,” I say in embarrassment. “It kind of weirds me out being here alone on the weekends, that’s all. It’s creepy quiet.”

“You didn’t recognize me?” He seems genuinely surprised, and I don’t want to admit that he looks a little more ragged than I pictured him being, wearing old jeans and a faded Harley Davidson shirt. Still, he’s undeniably handsome, with those keen brown eyes that transmit so much energy.

“Well, it was dark yesterday, you know.” I lead him into my office.

His voice gets softer, fuller. “But I recognized you.” I don’t know how to respond to that, so I nod, my ponytail bobbing rhythmically. I feel him behind me, his presence; am aware of his body and how tall he is, as he shadows me all the way into my office.

“Please, sit down.” I make my way to the other side of my desk. Maybe if I stick to my usual professional role, I can regain my composure here. I run a smoothing palm down the front of my khakis as I primly take my seat. Then, folding my hands in front of me, sitting very upright, I meet his magnetic, golden-eyed gaze. Oh, yes, he’s too beautiful for me—by many long miles. Plus, he’s got to be married.

Surreptitiously, I glance at his hand, but it’s obscured behind the stack of manuscripts on my desk. Okay, no answer to the Big Question yet.

“So.” I clear my throat. “What’re you doing here on a Saturday? Don’t tell me you’re this dedicated to keeping my lights on.” As soon as the double entendre is out of my mouth, I regret its accidental escape. Thank God Michael doesn’t even seem to notice.

“Oh,” is all he says, like he hadn’t thought about it before now. “Just forgot my paycheck, that’s all.”

He reaches absently for a paperweight on the corner of my desk, moving it from hand to hand, which is when I begin to wonder precisely why he’s come to visit me. He looks down at the domed glass, studying the picture within. “Your family?”

I wince because it’s an old picture of me, one that predates my attack. No scars, just me—as beautiful, I suppose, as I once used to be. “Yeah, me and my parents.”

He squints down at the magnified image, studying it intently. I notice the way the edges of his eyes crinkle into smile lines.

“Horse farm?” He turns the picture toward me, although I know the image by heart.

“I was raised on one, yes.” I’m not sure why, but I don’t want to reveal anything personal—at least not anything more than he’s already gotten out of me. Certainly not that my retired parents live just a few miles away, over in Santa Monica, or that they came here three years ago to nurse me back from the brink.

He returns my paperweight to my desk guiltily, giving it a reassuring pat. Again, I wonder precisely why Michael Warner has come to see me, why he keeps fidgeting this way. I try a new tack. “Andrea is a precious girl. We had a really good time yesterday.”

“That’s what I heard. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you did.”

“It was nothing.”

He looks intensely at me. “No, that’s not true. It was really important to her.” His voice grows quieter. “And me.”

“Well, your stepdaughter was an angel.”

“My stepdaughter,” he repeats, frowning.

“Well isn’t she? That’s what she told me.”

His whole expression darkens like a storm cloud. “Actually Andrea’s why I wanted to see you today. Don’t know how to ask this, so I’ll just do it.” Those words always seem to pave the way for bad news, and I tense immediately. “Did Andie mention her scar?”

I relax again, relieved to know what’s on his mind. “A little, yeah.”

“What about the accident? Did she talk any about that?”

I shake my head no, and it hurts me the way his face kind of falls. “Oh, okay.” He nods thoughtfully, the thick dark brows knitting together into a melancholy scowl. “I had hoped maybe so.”

“What happened to her?”

His gaze tracks back to me. “She was in a bad car accident. Something she doesn’t talk about much,” he admits. “Hasn’t talked to anyone about it, honestly. It was pretty traumatic.”

“I see.” I’m starting to understand now. I’m also starting to understand why it was so hard for him to come to me, the awkwardness in his approach. Without even trying, I apparently did what nobody else has been able to do. “You wanted to know what she said to me.”

“That’s right, Ms. O’Neill.”


I see him studying my scars: it’s in the slight, unobtrusive way the eyes shift sideways, then dart back again. I see it every day, especially around here. Nobody has the courage to ask, yet they all wonder what happened to leave me looking this way.

Michael rises unexpectedly to his feet, sliding his baseball cap onto his head decisively. “Want to go grab some coffee?”


“I’m going over to Borders on La Cienega. We can get some there.” Again the winning smile, accented by a single dimple that I hadn’t noticed before, and I completely cave. He’s got me in the palm of his hand already, damn it. I can’t believe that he’s seen the visible scars, but he’s just asked me out anyway.

“I’ll follow you there.”

The trouble is, if I’m not careful, I know I just might follow him anywhere. Oh, please, please, don’t be married, Michael Warner.


"Heard this one's interesting." From the shelf, he removes a face-out copy of Julian Kingsley's recent novel Beautiful, But Me. What editorial genius thought that title was a good idea?

“I don’t care for the guy.”

He turns to me in clear surprise. “You know him?”

“Well.” I sigh, taking the book out of his hand, studying the expensively designed dust jacket, inlaid with gold foil. “Let’s just say he broke my best friend’s heart.”

“Guess she hates him, huh?”

“Actually, he doesn’t.” I flip over the book to reveal Julian’s disgustingly perfect author photo on the back of the cover. Another good reason to loathe him: no man should be so absolutely gorgeous. Who knows? Maybe this latest title’s directed to the world at large as a form of honest apology.

“Oooh, he does look like a heartbreaker.” He gives a strange kind of laugh that I don’t quite know how to read. I think of Trevor’s first assessment of Michael, that he was gay. Because I can’t imagine that most straight guys would describe Julian as a “heartbreaker”.

Once again, I cast a covert glance at his ring finger, curious. Only this time I don’t like what I see—a silver band glinting beneath the streamlined bookstore lights. “Would your wife think so, too?”

“I’m sorry?” The bushy dark eyebrows draw together in genuine confusion.

“Your wife,” I repeat firmly, this time gesturing toward his hand. “You are married, right?” I ask, folding my arms across my chest. No guy’s going to play me, no sir. “You’ve got a wedding band on, after all.”

He stares down at his hand, extending his fingers as if he’s never noticed the ring before, and I’m cool as possible, proud of myself for having been a smart girl, until he answers softly, “Uh, widowed. Actually.”

“Oh, God. I’m so sorry,” I blurt, feeling embarrassed and sad all at once. Sad because of the dark pain that fills his eyes. It’s so obvious, only a fool could miss it.

“No, I’m glad you asked.” He picks up another copy of Julian’s book absently. “Wouldn’t want you to think I was playing around or anything.”

“I didn’t.”

“’Cause I’m not that kind of guy,” he presses, offering me a gentle smile. The thing is, I don’t know precisely what kind of guy he is. A melancholy one. A beautiful one. My kind of guy… maybe. With that quiet realization, I give my ponytail an anxious tug as he leans close, lowering his voice. “But that doesn’t explain what you’re doing, Rebecca O’Neill.”


He gestures toward the floor, at my sandal-clad feet. “You’re clearly off the market.” I stare down, confused, until I realize he’s pointing at my silver toe ring, a series of hearts knit together, circling my second digit. “You’re wearing a band, yet you’re talking to me in a bookstore.” He laughs low and throatily. “Unchaperoned, at that.”

“We’re downright risqué.”

“So that is your ring toe?” he asks, studying me closely. “Like your ring finger?”

“Oh, the same general rules apply for feet.” I giggle, staring at the floor. “My foot is happily spoken for, thank you very much.”

“Who’s the lucky guy? He wearing a band inside his loafer? Did the pair of you run off to Vegas together?”

“Who says it’s a wedding ring?” I tease, avoiding his gaze. “Maybe Foot is only engaged.”

“True,” he observes. “Foot is very sexy, so I can’t blame the guy, but I do think she’s worthy of true commitment.”

I haven’t felt this beautiful in years.

I glance upward shyly. Lord, he’s tall, too—I hadn’t realized just how tall until now, when I find myself craning upward to meet his dark gaze. “Truth is,” I say, rising to my full five feet two inches of height. “Toe thinks she’s Cinderella, and she’s still searching for her glass slipper.”

“It’s good to dream,” he says, but sadness veils his eyes again despite our repartee. I wonder if his wife loved fairy tales. I wonder if she believed in happily-ever-after, like I used to once upon a time.

And I wonder if it’s still good for me to dream. Because standing here with Michael Warner, some lost part of me thinks that maybe it is.

“Do you?” I ask, surprising even myself with my directness. “Dream, I mean?”

A scowl forms on his face as he considers my question in silence. Moments spread out, long and eternal, until I wonder if he’ll ever reply.

He removes his baseball cap, slapping it again into his palm with a sigh. “I used to, yeah,” he answers thoughtfully. “But not anymore.” It’s all he says, and then he walks away from me, ambling toward the coffee bar, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such heaviness on anyone’s shoulders before.

For some reason, watching his retreat makes me recall a bit of wisdom my daddy’s always quoted to me. Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

Daddy would say we’re two virtual strangers with the exact same disease.

Readers, if you've read this book or want to, I want to hear it!

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Jamie Ford
I had the pleasure of meeting author Jamie Ford on his recent book tour through the Pacific Northwest and wanted to spread the word about his fantastic first novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Last week, Hotel reached the New York Times list and is currently in a fifth printing.

This book is a classic love story against a much larger story (the removal of the Japanese from Seattle during World War II) and this simple, lyrical, haunting, and beautiful story will stick with you. I don’t give away endings, but it’s something worth reading the book for.

In the flashbacks, the protagonist, Henry Lee, twelve years old, is Chinese, but it’s 1942 and the folks living on the West Coast of the United States are feeling just a bit vulnerable. When Henry’s staunchly nationalistic father pins an “I am Chinese” button to his son’s shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instant—and forbidden—bond. As their friendship forms, the backdrop of early 1940s Seattle comes to life, complete with jazz greats playing the international district’s most lively bars and restaurants. It’s this music that becomes the greatest tangible evidence that their friendship existed. 

In real-time (mid-1980s), Henry relives the loss of his friend, Keiko after the surprise discovery in the basement of a shut-up hotel the belongings of several Japanese families who were evacuated in 1942. As he remembers, we see the experiences through his childhood eyes and we know, instantly, the trauma of war, as well as the unsettling relocation for thousands of Americans who looked too much like the enemy. 

I couldn’t put this book down and when it ended, I felt as if the author had handed the world a gift. A memory of a time when the world quivered under the pressure of war, treachery, and death, and how two young children’s lives (along with so many others) would never quite be the same again.

Guest blogger bio: Trish Lawrence is an editor, writer, and social media addict, and blogs about her writing life (and the social media it often includes) at

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Author Guest Post - Matt Rees

Readers, please join me welcoming Matt Beynon Rees, Author of The Omar Yussef Mysteries, who will be guest blogging here, again, today!

Fiction more real than journalism
By Matt Beynon Rees

     In a cabbage patch on the edge of Bethlehem, the wife of a Palestinian killed there the previous night described hearing the fatal shot from the rifle of an Israeli sniper. The dead man’s mother raged and told me she had recognized his body in the dark by the denim jacket she recently bought him. I listened and thought: “This is great material. Too good, in fact.” It was 2001 and I was Jerusalem bureau chief for Time Magazine, covering the violence of the intifada. The dramatic story of this family ended up as the kind of colorful lead you read frequently in a newsmagazine, followed by something along the lines of this: “To be sure, the Israelis say this and the State Department says that and the Palestinians--surprise--disagree.” In that cabbage patch, as the winter wind came cold off the Judean Desert, I knew I had to write a novel.

     The opening murder in my crime novel The Collaborator of Bethlehem is based on the death in that cabbage patch. Since the first time I set foot in the West Bank in 1996, I have grown steadily disillusioned with the ability of journalism to convey the depth of what I had learn about the Palestinians. Back then, I visited the family of a Nablus man tortured to death in one of Yasser Arafat’s jails. The news article I wrote was a good one, uncovering the internal Palestinian violence so often overshadowed by the more spectacular conflict with Israel. But my impressions were much deeper. I was struck by the candor and dignity with which the dead youth’s family spoke to me. The sheer alienness of the place thrilled me. At the entrance to the family’s house in the casbah, an old oil drum held black flags and palm fronds, symbols of Islamic mourning. Men sat around smoking under a dark awning. I felt a powerful sense of adventure, as though I had uncovered an unknown culture.

     Fiction is set up to handle gray areas, because unlike journalism it doesn’t depend on what characters say--it gets at what they feel, gets inside their heads. The gray matter in there isn’t subject to self-censorship. It forces a writer to build a character who’ll seem real, a detective whose every thought and concern marks him out as belonging to his own society, not a stereotyped journalistic sketch. I came across the man who would be the basis of my sleuth, Omar Yussef, in Bethlehem. This man, whom I don’t name because it might endanger him, is an independent thinker in a world of fearful groupthink, an honorable man in a dark reality. I believe readers will like Omar even at his most irascible, because they’ll understand how frustrating it would be for a man of such integrity to face his dreadful, corrupt world--that’s why I was drawn to the real Omar over the years.

     The lawlessness of Palestinian life also gave me great material for my villains. Unfortunately there are many Palestinians who have strong motivations to kill each other. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years with some of these men, trying to learn why they take the path of violence. I think it makes for a deeper characterization of the villains in my books.

     Of course, I had an advantage over many other journalists in the Middle East--both in reporting and in developing a deep enough knowledge to be able to write fictional Palestinian characters--because I learned the local languages. I considered it important to learn Arabic and Hebrew, because I wanted access to places I’d never have imagined going and people whose perspectives seemed utterly unlike mine. In the Middle East, I realized that at heart I was an anthropologist. Every time I go to a Palestinian town, I feel alive and stimulated.

     That sense of excitement led me as far inside Palestinian society as I could get, listening to ordinary Palestinians, no matter how bloodthirstily and lengthily they spoke to me. I also sought out the Palestinian military leaders who’d been passed over for promotion in favor of Arafat yes-men. They became my best sources about what really happened inside the Palestinian Authority. I was able to write about the way Arafat’s regime of patronage undermined and divided Palestinian society at a time when the stories of most foreign correspondents could have been summarized as “today good/bad for peace process [delete one]”.

     Ultimately it’s the expression of the true feelings of the Palestinians I most admire that, for me, makes fiction a better measure of reality than journalism. They aren’t official spokesmen, they aren’t powerful, they aren’t even quotable because they would be in fear of their lives. But they’ve told me what’s in their hearts, and none of them are the cartoon victims or one-dimensional villains you’d find in the newspapers.

Matt Beynon Rees’s latest Palestinian crime novel The Samaritan’s Secret is published by Soho Press. His website is

Thank you, Matt (and Sarah!) for guest blogging here today! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Author Guest Post - Amelia Grey

Today A Book Blogger's Diary is happy to host Amelia Grey, author of  A Duke to Die For: The Rogues' Dynasty, courtesy Danielle of Sourcebooks Publicity.

Friends for Life
by Amelia Grey

It might sound downright corny but one of the most unexpected joys of my writing career has given me has been some of the best friends a person can have. When I started writing, it never entered my mind that I would meet some of the most wonderful ladies in the world.

I was so unsure of myself when I wrote my first book that I never told anyone about it until the book was complete and I actually started trying to sell it. As I continued to write I started attending conferences and going to workshops, such as through the Romance Writers of America. And naturally, I started meeting people, mostly women and seeing the same ones at some of the same conferences and before I knew it I had author friends who I could call and chat with about the frustrations, fears, and the joys of writing.

Some of my best friends in the business I met twenty years ago when we were unpublished. And yes, we like to reminisce about the good old days. Unfortunately, I’ve lost touch with some of the women through the years, but then others are still my best friends. And it’s not that we are just conference friends. I have and enjoy some of those, too. But my best friends, we travel to see each other and visit in each others’ homes. And that’s not always easy as it’s not like we are neighbors. Some do live in Florida where I live, but I have other close knit author friends who live in states like Idaho, New York, California, and Montana.

So writing has done so much more for me than give me a feeling of fulfillment, accomplishment and contentment. It has given me one of life’s greatest gifts—friendship. Have you ever found friendship in unexpected places or with unexpected people?

Thank you for that insightful post, dear Author! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Author Guest Post - Donna Russo Morin (and a Giveaway!)

Readers, please join me welcoming Author Donna Russo Morin who will be guest blogging here today! Her debut novel, The Courtier's Secret, a historical adventure from Kensington has just released.

About the Author (In the Author's own words)

Ironically, my first story was a romance. Oh yes, the numbers 2 and 4 were madly, desperately in love, but the pesky number 3 kept getting in the way. I was six years old. My mother still has the story, and others like it, folded neatly in a box, yellowing and crinkly. I turned eleven in 1969, the Summer of Love, and my writing turned to anti-war poetry and treatises on equality for women (I’d have burned my bra had they made one small enough to fit me).

I read all the time and I kept writing, even if only between the well-worn, splotched pages of a psychedelic flower covered diary. Oh the drama, oh the humanity. Surely such soul searing prose and gut wrenching poetry meant I was destined to be the next great American author.

In the mid-seventies, a new author took the book world by storm and I followed the King down the twisted, intestine-strewn path that is horror. I spent many years in this perverse world, the gore becoming tempered with mythical creatures as I discovered C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. (Years later two of those horror shorts appeared in critically acclaimed, if poorly read anthologies.) During these nebulous years, I also somehow managed to obtain a degree in Communications from URI.

In 1988 I read a book review on Toni Morrison’s Beloved in the Providence Journal and so stridently disagreed with it, I wrote a letter to the editor. To my astonishment he not only responded, he offered me an opportunity to be a reviewer. My first review was of James Michener’s Alaska and with it came a whole new venue for my writing. My reviews have appeared in the Providence Journal, The Milwaukee Journal, and The Hartford Courant. I’ve served on staff at Mystery Notebook, Inside Books (both now defunct), and where I also served as editor. I continue to write reviews for Foreword Magazine. This past summer I celebrated my sixtieth published review…but would I be forever the reviewer, never the reviewed.

It took me seven years to write my first novel--giving birth to two boys at the same time--a medieval fantasy liberally laced with horror. It sits in my hope chest still, though I still have ‘hope’ for it.

In the summer of 2002, I came down with what I thought was the flu. After two and a half years and more doctors than I care to remember, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Six weeks later, my father passed away from cancer. I retreated from the world and into my books and writing. I re-watched The Three Musketeers (1973 version) and remembered how much I loved it and all the Musketeer stories. I remembered how I wanted to look like Rachel Welch/Constance (who doesn’t?) but I wanted to be Michael York/D’Artagnan; he had all the adventures. The idea for my first book, THE COURTIER’S SECRET (Kensington), set to hit book shelves January 27, was born.

In it, Jeanne Yvette Mas du Bois is ousted from the convent for irreverent behavior, and returned to her family at the Chateau Versailles in 1682, the year the Sun King makes the palace the center of all French life. Jeanne must fight against an arranged marriage to an effeminate man of her father’s choosing. When disguised as a man, ‘Jean Luc’ fights with a small, dedicated group of Musketeers to save the life of the Queen. And through all her adventures, she fights for the true love of her life.

My second book, THE SECRET OF THE GLASS is about the glassmakers of Venice at the turn of the 17th century and is scheduled for an early 2010 release. As I sit here staring out at the snow covered farm land that abuts my home in North Kingstown, I’m dreaming of the next book and where in time I may end up.

Book Excerpt (The Author says :"This is one of my favorite scenes in the book. Jeanne’s uncle is giving her another secret fencing lesson in the basement of the Chateau Versailles. It really is the launching point for all of Jeanne/Jean Luc’s adventures.")

The Courtier's Secret Donna Russo Morin
384 p, Kensington, ISBN: 0758226918
"To retreat is not to be defeated, but to step back, once or twice, is to throw your opponent off his guard, oui?" Jules spoke from behind his headgear, his voice echoing against its hard shell as it echoed in the empty basement chamber.

Jeanne understood, nodded. She thanked the good Lord for her oncle this morning and these lessons that drove all the disquieting thoughts of the night before from her mind.

"Ah, oui. Then, en garde. Bon, bon." Her uncle acknowledged her proper form of the starting position.

"Now, retreat." He ordered.

Jeanne's back foot began to lift off the ground as her front rolled to the heel, then quick and together they moved with a flash and she moved a step backward.

"Bien. Retreat, retreat." Jules gave the order for her to make the same move again, twice.

Back, back she moved. On the second step, first one foot moved and then the other, completely out of sync and Jeanne stumbled, sword arm lowering as she tumbled, leaving her body open to attack.

With an advance, lunge and thrust, three moves executed as a single dance maneuver, Jules brought the blunt tip of his foil hard against Jeanne's chest. Her head dropped, chin to chest, as she stared at the finishing point in defeat.

"You are dead, mon cher."

"Oui, mononcle, you speak the truth."

Jules removed his helmet, allowing his long curly white hair to flow freely down his back. Cupping it under one arm, he lowered his sword and closed the space between them with a few small steps.

"What vexes you, dear Jeanne? You are here but your spirit lies elsewhere."

Jeanne looked at Jules through the round holes of her helmet, eyes heavy with sadness and despair.

"My father has sealed my fate. He has arranged my marriage to Percy de Polignac, son of the Baron l'Haire."

"Percy de Polignac?" Jules mused, chin wrinkling in consideration. "Tall, string bean of a fellow?"

Jeanne smiled faintly. "Oui, you have him to rights, oncle."

"What can be so bad? One day and one night together, then you each go your separate ways, live your separate lives." Jules gave a natural shrug of his shoulders; such a marriage was so typical in their world.

"Lives? What life will I have?" Jeanne took a step toward her uncle with the same aggression as if they still dueled. "Floundering around, following in my husband's footsteps wherever they may lead. Watching while the insipid man does nothing to better himself or the world in which he lives."

Jules shook his head. "You should not have been born a woman."

"Perhaps, but I am glad to be a woman; I do long to feel life growing within me and to nourish that life into a grand human being. But why can I not have a more productive and satisfying life as well?" Jeanne rolled her eyes dramatically. "A female courtier has no real life, she has naught to do but be social. We play cards, listen to music, dance, attend the King's ballets and operas...and talk. Endless hours of conversation, mostly about each other or the King."

Jules looked behind him as if someone entered the small reclusive chamber. "You shouldn't say such things."

"Of course not," Jeanne responded bitterly, her arms flaying the air about her as her harangue continued. "The King even controls the words from our tongues. Heaven forbid anyone should talk of the condition of our country or its people. We would be on the King's naughty list for months if we did. No, men must talk only of hunting and horses while women are limited to scandal and frocks and nothing more."

Jules stepped to within inches of his niece. He tapered his eyes, searching into the holes of Jeanne's headgear, searching her face for something he found elusive.

Jeanne felt her skin warm under his intense stare and moisture formed on her skin under the heavy, padded protective gear she wore. She squirmed under his gaze. She knew she should be embarrassed by her emotional outburst but their words lit her anger and she refused to feel ashamed.

"Where does such deep satisfaction come from, mon petite?"

Jeanne touched her fisted, gloved hand to her chest.

"From here, mon oncle, from deep inside my very soul."

Jules brought a hand up to her shoulder, squeezing it with gentle reassurance. There it was, the depth of her fathomless sadness mirrored in the endless pool of her deep brown orbs.

"Then you leave me no choice." Jules lowered his hand and turned from Jeanne, striding toward the long, bulging bag of gear he brought with him to every practice.

Jeanne almost cried out, thinking he meant to leave, thinking he would never again partake in these lessons, her only respite in a life filled with disappointment and delusion.

"Non, bon oncle, non," she ran behind him.

But instead of putting his sword away, Jules reached into the well-worn canvas bag and pulled out a long rosewood box. The reflection of his smiling face shimmered on the deep, rich, highly polished surface.

"I was going to wait to give you this, but I think now is the time." Jules reached over and took Jeanne's sword out of her right hand and thrust the dark red shining box at her.

Jeanne accepted the gift in stunned silence, looking down and seeing her own confused countenance in its mirror-like surface.

"Go on, mon petite, open it." Jules’ smile shone wide beneath his white bushy mustache.

The box opened in half on smooth, silent hinges.

"Sacré bleu!"

Jeanne's mind doubted what her eyes beheld even as they burst wide open in shock and pleasure. Upon the lush mahogany colored velvet lining the box's interior, laid a brand new sword. With her left hand she held the box still while with the right she retrieved the sword from its depths, handling it as tenderly as she would a new born babe.

"It is a Colichemarde." Jules announced proudly.

"Oh, good oncle," Jeanne whispered reverently, looking into the face of the dearest man she ever knew. "A Colichemarde! This must have cost you a thousand pistoles!"

Not only was the sword new, the first new sword she had ever possessed, it was of the newest, highly coveted style, the most popular type among Frenchmen at the moment. A strong parrying weapon with an agile point, it was perfect for double time fencing so in vogue of late. Heavy at the hilt, it was one-third size by the point, perfect for the now accepted parry-riposte method.

"It is perfect for your height." Jules said, shaking his head at the size of his niece. "So tall, five feet and four, amazing. As tall as most of the young men; certainly taller than us old ones. And you fight just as well, my dear. Come. Come let us try it out shall we?"

Jules retrieved his own sword, pulling on the hard headgear and taking his place in the middle of the room.

Jeanne turned the sword back and forth in her hand, delighting in the weight of it and the gold and silver pommel that fit so perfectly in her hand. She swung it left, then right, hearing the wonderful whish as it cut the air, the sound like a single, perfectly tuned instrument playing her favorite song. The control she felt on the smaller sword in opposition to the lack of it that she felt in her life.

She lowered the weapon to her side, unable to stop herself from glancing down to see it there so close to her body. With complete abandon, she ran across the room, threw her arms around the startled man, her headgear banging roughly against his.

"Dear, dear uncle, you are too good to me." Jeanne said, the front of her helmet pressed against his shoulder, her voice deep with emotion.

"You are pleased, dear one, yes?" Jules' own voice cracked.

Pulling just a smidgen away, their smiling eyes met through the holes of their gear.

"Magnificently so." Jeanne leaned forward another inch, helmet touching helmet, eyebrows rising in a mischievous tic. "Gardes vous?"

"Ha!" Jules yelled, pushing her from him, flashing into position as did Jeanne.

Steel hit steel in a resounding ching, Jeanne felt more powerful than ever with such a splendid tool in her hand, advancing step after step, moving her uncle around the room as if she controlled a puppet by its strings.

To the corner she brought him, now if she could just force him to--

"This way, Henri, quick!"

The shout came from outside their door and, on its heel, more shouts, grunts and the clanging of steel upon steel.

Jeanne and Jules froze, listening in wonder and confusion. Jules understood first and threw off his helmet. Running to the door, followed quickly by his niece, he threw open the portal.

In the wide, dim corridor, four darkly garbed, dirty and scruffy men attacked two Musketeers with brutal intent. No manners or polite dueling this, they slashed, thrust, punched and pushed with great ferocity. Grunting with effort and exertion, the two Musketeers fought with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other to keep their outnumbering foes at bay, their arms swinging and stabbing so fast they were a blur.

One of the Musketeers found his back forced to the opposite wall, facing Jules and Jeanne who stood rooted in the doorway. With a jerk of his head, he lashed gold sweat sodden hair out of his eyes.

"Help us, for the love of God, help!"

Jeanne lunged out the door. Jules grabbed for her but found nothing but empty air.

"Corboeuf!" Jules swore and with a bounce on his feet launched himself into the fray.

Jeanne threw up her sword, intercepting a villain's thrash aimed toward the golden-haired Musketeer, successfully pulling him off so that the soldier battled only one foe. She fought with every iota of inner strength she possessed. No pretty form and thoughtful choreographed movements, just naked aggression and defense.

A hand wrapped itself around her heart, squeezing and clenching; it beat with erratic palpitations. Another hand found her guts and gruelingly twisted and constricted her intestines into knots. Jeanne wanted to double over from the pain of it. Sweat broke out on her smooth brow. Her opponent's sword kept coming, driven on in a relentless quest to sever whatever part of her it could find.

Concentrate, concentrate. Her brain ordered, speaking to her in her uncle's voice.

Parry, parry, advance...thrust! The words became her subconscious prayer. Her arm screamed as the muscles twitched, but she refused to listen to that particular wail.

Retreat, jump, thrust, retreat.

Jeanne leaped and lurched as the steel foil led her about the space. Her bulging eyes flickered between the sword and the eyes of the one who held it, looking for the tell; the sign revealing where next he planned to flail it. There it was. She saw him lean justly slightly to his right.

Advance, advance, thrust!

She struck bone, she felt it. The jolt of collision juddered through her hands and up her arms, as if the man's life force escaped through her weapon and out her limb. Her arm froze as it pulled back from the thrust. At her feet lay her foe. She looked at his chest, where a maroon stain appeared, flooding the room with the fetid odor of blood, to her own torso, expecting to find the same such growth, to the tip of her sword, stained with scarlet liquid. Her rapid breath echoed in the hollowness of her helmet and her heart beat loud in her ears. She remained, to her vast surprise, unharmed.

I have killed and lived, she thought and such a thought sent her blood boiling through her veins. With a warrior's cry she turned to the villain beside her. For a second she watched as the scoundrel attacked the other Musketeer. The foe appeared stronger and much more skilled than the man whose life she'd just taken but she had tasted the puissance of spilt blood and she thirsted for more. With a stunning overhead blow and grunt of exertion, the miscreant staggered the Musketeer to the floor. A small, sneering smile appeared on the man's face as he stepped forward, raising his sword above his head, it's point aimed directly downward over his opponent's body.

Jeanne leaped into the space between sword tip and body, raising her own sword to deflect the downward thrust aimed to end the Musketeer's life. Sword locked with sword, muscles burst with adrenaline-driven strength, Jeanne pushed at her large adversary, holding him at bay for a few precious seconds, seconds in which the fallen Musketeer regained both his senses and his feet.

"OFF!" The King's guard screamed and somehow Jeanne knew. With shocking abruptness she released all force toward her opponent and took one quick step to her left. The bandit's mouth fell open in shock, yellow, ragged teeth gaping from the hole, his body frozen, poised forward as if falling from a precipice, finding instead the tip of the Musketeer's weapon. He continued to fall as the soldier drove home the sharp steel and together they dropped. The villain lay dead, the Musketeer's sword run completely through his heart, on top of the dazed but unharmed soldier.

"Off!" The young man yelled again but this time he spoke to the dead, heavy body as he shoved it off his chest.

Jeanne reached a hand down to help the Musketeer to his feet. The young man clasped Jeanne's shoulder in gratitude, the only thanks they had time for. Together they turned to help Jules and the other Musketeer still engaged in combat. But the numbers had turned and the strongest of the criminals lay dead, it was but a few thrusts of swords and a few short moments until the remaining two evildoers threw up their arms in surrender.

"Forsake your weapons," cried one of the Musketeers and the two nefarious men dropped their foils to the floor and stepped back, raising their hands in abnegation. At the same time Jules rushed to Jeanne's side, throwing off his helmet in his haste to ascertain her condition.

Jeanne's hand reached for her own helmet, but her uncle, roughly pushed the protective device back down as he narrowed his eyes with a small, warning shake of his head.

"Are you all right? Are you harmed?"

Jeanne answered with her own shake, realizing that to expose her sex would be to reveal their activities and condemn them both.

"I'm fine," she said, forcing her normally low female voice two octaves lower.

"You were brilliant." A hand slapped Jeanne's shoulder so hard she stumbled two steps forward. Righting her self she turned to the man behind her.

The golden-haired Musketeer stood with his hand thrust out in greeting. Without a word, Jeanne took it, only to find her arm pumped roughly and repeatedly.

"It would appear I owe you my life. I can not thank you enough." Keeping Jeanne's gloved hand in his, the young man made a deep bow. "I am at your orders, Monsieur."

Jeanne fought against years of training and instead of curtseying, dropped a small bow of her own. "It was my greatest pleasure," she said in her deep voice, almost laughing at the truth of the statement. The thrill of the fight thrummed loudly in her veins and her head buzzed from the surge of power she had experienced for the first time. Jeanne felt her uncle's intent stare as he stood stiffly by her side, but refused to even look his way.

"Do you train to be a Musketeer?" The soldier asked.

"It has always been my greatest desire," Jeanne replied huskily with complete and utter sincerity.

"Come, Henri, with must get these reprobates to the Bastille." The other Musketeer kept the two criminals in check by sword point and began to lead them back along the cement corridor.

"Oui, Antoine, I am right behind you." Henri raised a hand in acknowledgment but turned back to Jeanne. "To be a Musketeer is your wish, is it? Then I will make you my protégé. Meet us at the Café de le Oiseau tonight. I will buy you dinner and we will see what my friends and I can do for you. The Musketeers are always in need of a sword as talented as yours. Especially now it would seem."

With a rough, masculine cuff to Jeanne's shoulder, Henri made a quick bow and sprinted, sword still in hand, down the hallway, his majestic gray trimmed, royal blue tunic swaying as he went.

Jeanne and Jules stood together watching the cavaliers lead the criminals away. The drip of seeping moisture through a crack in the cement rang in the silence like the gong of a bell.

"You can not do this," Jules whispered, knowing his niece's thoughts all too well.

"I can and I will." Jeanne pulled off her headgear and threw it to the ground. Reaching up, she pulled all the pins out of her coiffure, allowing her hair to fall in waves to just past her shoulders, the loose chocolate brown curls twirling around her face.

"All the young chevaliers wear their own hair, not the periwigs." She turned to face Jules with hands firmly planted on her hips. "How many times have I heard that when I wear my hair down, all I would need is a mustache to look just like Raol?" Jeanne, insisted, referring to her older sibling.

"Oui, oui," Jules stammered, "but--"

"No buts, mon oncle, not this time, please." Jeanne grabbed the befuddled man by both shoulders. "If you love me, you will find me a mustache."

Thank you for that entertaining post, dear Author! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.

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