DiAnn Mills: Awaken My Heart – and more

diannmills-brownsweater.jpgWhen I was a kid, I used to get spanked for lying. Now I get paid for it! Ah, such is the life of a fiction writer. Hi, I’m DiAnn Mills, and I’m the new kid on the block with Avon Inspire. 

I live in Texas, the Lone Star State, where history and adventure are carved out of ordinary people and presented in novels and across the screen. Texas provides the perfect setting for tales of adventure. Here you can find cowboys and rodeos, deserts and mountains, bluebonnets and cactus, rattlesnakes and alligators, trail rides and space exploration. The romance and intrigue of those who helped build this State weave powerful stories. You name it, and Texas has it. But it’s the stories about the courageous people who stand tall and make this state what it is today that capture the readers’ attention.  

awakenmyheart-small.jpgLet me introduce you to my February release! Awaken My Heart is set in 1803, when Texas was Tejas, a colony ruled by Spain. Indians, Mestizos (native-Spanish lineage), and the elite ruling class of the Spanish lived and died here. The priests living in the Catholic missions helped educate and train the people in various crafts and how to serve God. From this culture was born my story of forbidden love. 

Which brings me to one of my greatest heroes—Zorro. Who can forget the handsome, daring masked man who championed the poor and fought the injustices of his people? His flashing sword, generous smile, and chivalry would bend the strongest woman’s resolve. It also helped Zorro’s cause to be portrayed by Antonio Bandera in The Mask of Zorro (1998) and The Legend of Zorro (2005).  

zorro.JPGIs it no wonder that I call Awaken My Heart my Zorro book? My hero, Armando Garcia, is passionate about the cause of his poverty-stricken people, but his passion also extends to Marianne Wharton, the daughter of a wealthy American rancher. The aristocrat and the peasant. The Diablo and his angel. And her daddy ain’t happy. Oops! I mean Marianne’s father is out for blood. 

This isn’t the first book I’ve written about historical Texas. The Texas Legacy Series was set in the period of the Old West when lawlessness and unscrupulous characters crawled out from under rocks and attempted to claim the state. I chose unlikely heroes and heroines who made a courageous stand for what they believed in. 

Hop into the saddle and grab the reins. This ride will keep you up all night! DiAnn Mills – Expect an Adventurewww.diannmills.com

DiAnn is giving away autographed copies of Awaken My Heart to two readers who leave comments today!  Check back to see if you’re a winner!

Award-winning author, DiAnn Mills, launched her career in 1998 with the publication of her first book. Currently she has over forty books in print and has sold more than a million copies. DiAnn believes her readers should “Expect an Adventure.” DiAnn Mills is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed novels. She is a Christy Awards finalist for 2008. She lives in sunny Houston, Texas, the home of heat, humidity and Harleys. In fact she’d own a Harley, but her legs are too short.

To order any of DiAnn’s books, click on the thumbnail covers shown here!

DiAnn Mills Coming Tomorrow!

awakenmyheart-small.jpgAh just want to remind you sweet ladies that Miss DiAnn Mills will be here in Wildflower Junction visiting tomorrow. The Fillies are itching to ask her about her fascination with Zorro and I’ll bet you are too. We’ll have lots of laughter and carrying-on when she steps into our midst. You’ll want to comment because she’s giving away two copies of her latest book. Get your name in the hat and don’t dilly-dally around!

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Keeping It In The Family

Stacey KayneThis has been a crazy week for me; wrapping up the end of the 7th and 8th grade school year with my boys–this week we’ve had band concerts, major science projects, history reports and last-minute book reports…not to mention my oldest is graduating from Junior High this year.  Top that off with my youngest fainting at school during a gory science movie garnering a nasty concussion and me in a mad dash to wrap up a book deadline…oh, and the house remodeling starting this week…and I’m thinking I have some good novel fodder 😉  By this afternoon I felt like I had a dozen spinning plates balanced on more sticks than I could handle, and then something arrived on my doorstep that turned all those spinning plates to butterflies…JUNIPER!!

My box of GUNSLINGER books are here 😀   And I can’t wait to give one away! I will be drawing a name at the end of the day to win the first book!! Isn’t that just like life…just when you think it’s all gonna come crashing down, a rainbow appears outta nowhere. My worries forgotten (and my boys likely breathing a sigh of relieve that mom was temporarily distracted from report-central), I sat down with my family and ripped open the box like an eight-year-old on Christmas morning. My family ooh’ed and ahh’ed…and being guys they had to tease about the hunky cover 😉 Taking that bit of time to step back from the craziness of life reminded me that it’s moments like those amid all the craziness of life that draws me to write series books.

Many of you know THE GUNSLNGER’S UNTAMED BRIDE is the second book in my BRIDE series.  I absolutely love writing a series, having the chance to visit with old friends while introducing new ones—to watch the whole family grow. As a reader series books are my favorite, though I never seem to read them in order, tending to stumble into a series on the last or middle book. I discovered Elizabeth Lowell’s western ONLY series with the last of four books, and then found the second, and somehow ended up with the third next…and finally, the first book in the series! It was the same for Dorothy Garlock’s western series. Lucky for me, each book is a wonderfully woven story all its own. The bonus of revisiting previous characters adds to the delight and gives a nice incentive to search out those other stories for readers new to the series. I followed the same approach with my BRIDE and WILD series. You don’t necessarily have to read in order, but the familiar faces add to the fun.

A little book teaser:  Juniper Barns first appeared as a young gunfighter in BRIDE OF SHADOW CANYON. At the tender age of fourteen he’s a damaged, disillusioned, and determined young man. Though he had only a few scenes in BRIDE OF SHADOW CANYON, his will to do good and protect the one woman who’d shown him kindness stole my heart. Twelve years later Juniper’s all grown up and haunted by his past and the lives he’d taken. When he’s faced with Lily Carrington, a woman whose father fell to his guns, Juniper doesn’t shrug responsibility—he accepts her hatred, expecting nothing less. Now a sheriff of a lumber camp under siege by outlaws and faced with the difficult task of getting Lily safely off the mountain. Lily isn’t looking for love…she’s out to put a hole in the heart of the man who killed her father and destroyed her life. My first review for this book gave a description of Lily that I just love: “Sharp, direct and with courage to spare, Lily’s not cowed by the reputation of this man—only by the unexpected gentleness she glimpses in unguarded moments.” ~LoveWesternRomances.com. It’s in those moments her misconceptions crumble and she’s forced to see his life, as well as her own, in a startling new light. During Lily and Juniper’s adventures readers also see glimpses of the family from BRIDE OF SHADOW CANYON who took Juniper in as a youth and helped to redirect his life, giving him the stability he’ll need when his past comes full circle and smacks him in the heart 😉  And for the new adventure aspect, readers are also introduced to the hero of my next BRIDE book. 

So has anyone here ever picked up a book and midway through realized it was connected to another you’d already read?  Are you in the midst of reading a series, have a favorite series? I love little cameo appearances from characters in previous books.  I remember reading THE GAMBLE by LaVeryle Spencer and toward the end of the book a couple arrives at the guest house…none other than Jesse DeFrayne and Miss Abigail from HUMMINGBIRD–a fun surprise 🙂  

One comment poster will win an advance copy of THE GUNSLINGER’S UNTAMED BRIDE!

Tonics, Powders, Salves and Oils: Guaranteed to cure what ails ya!

Although snake oil shows are perceived as American in origin, their roots can be traced back to the mountebank and zany shows that flourished throughout medieval Europe. The mountebank peddled pills, ointments and tonics from a small stage. He attracted a crowd with the assistance of a clownish partner called a zany, who gained attention by juggling and tumbling. Together, while acclaiming the marvels of their nostrums, the pair would perform farcical skits and magic tricks to the audience’s delight. It was a style of entertainment that would endure for centuries.

American medicine shows were traveling horse and buggy teams that peddled miracle medications and other products between various acts of entertainment. In most cases, patent medicine companies hired entertainers and pitchmen to sell their medicines across the country. Free shows with acts such as singers, comic sketches, jugglers, acrobats, music, magic, sword swallowing, ventriloquism and dancing drew a crowd. Sometimes there was a freak show, a flea circus, musical acts and storytelling. The shows were often the only form of entertainment a town would see, so their arrival was an event. Stores closed, school let out, and townsfolk got dressed up to go see the show. Once the people were in a jolly mood, the pitchman who often called himself a doctor or professor would be announced.

The pitchman would then pitch the medicine from the medicine company the show represented. The average medicine show generally consisted of 2 to 5 people. They did everything in the show from entertaining to the bottling of the medicine. Independent shows that didn’t represent a “patent” medicine company, made their medicine right in the back of the wagons.

Medicine shows generally traveled within a certain radius of the medicine company. Other shows traveled within a given state or states. Some shows adopted Indian names after so-called Indian remedies. These shows were often referred to as a Traveling Indian Medicine Show. The medicine that was sold seldom did what was claimed.

The product most commonly associated with medicine shows is an elixir, also known as snake oil, which was supposed to cure diseases, smooth facial wrinkles, remove stains in clothing, prolong life, grow hair or cure a multitude of ailments. Potions had names like Lydia Pinkham’s Compound For Female Weakness, Professor Low’s Liniment & Worm Syrup, Dalley’s Magical Pain Extractor, Dr. Kilmer’s Swamproot, Hood’s Sarsaparilla, Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry, Dr. King’s New Discovery, Edgar’s Cathartic Confection and Schenck’s Mandrake Pills.

So where do we get the term snake oil? True snake oil is a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat joint pain. From the research I did, I think it was most likely Snake Root or Echinacea. Chinese laborers on railroad gangs gave snake oil to Europeans with joint pain. When rubbed on the skin at the painful site, snake oil was claimed to bring relief. Rival medicine salesmen, especially those selling patent medicines, ridiculed this claim.

Rattlesnake oil, gathered at presumably great risk, was especially prized. The snake oil sold at medicine shows didn’t come from any kind of slithering reptile or a root. Over-the-counter products such as white gasoline and wintergreen oil provided the potent mix that carried the sure-sell label of snake oil.

Now the most common usage of the phrase snake oil is as a derogatory term for compounds offered as medicines that imply they are fake. The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with exaggerated marketing but questionable or unverifiable quality.

The snake oil peddler became a stock character in Western movies: a traveling “doctor” with dubious credentials, selling some medicine such as snake oil with boisterous marketing hype, often supported by bogus pseudo-scientific evidence. An accomplice in the crowd called a shill would often declare the value of the product in an effort to provoke buying enthusiasm.

The traveling doctor often provided the illusion of curing the afflicted. Faithful believers lined up at the medicine show to get that mystical cure-all.

Is your arthritis kicking up again? Medicine Show doctors offer immediate relief. How? Strong hand pressure and vigorous rubbing of the liniment dulls the pain just long enough to clinch the sale.

Hard of hearing? Showmen can make your ears audibly better. Listen closely how it’s done. Knowing that impacted earwax commonly affects hearing, the application of a few drops of oil and a deft sweep of a finger results in a loud pop and improved hearing for the appreciative customer.

Got tapeworms worth measuring? If you suspect you might, try the miracle pill guaranteed to expel more than you can imagine. The trick? The pill conceals a ball of string that will work its way out of the body as a slimy worm-like creature. Once the sales were made, the “doctor” would leave town before his customers realized that they had been cheated. This practice was also called grifting and its practitioners grifters.

 
The Big Sensation Medicine Company was an impressive show featuring thirty performers under a canvas tent with room for fifteen hundred potential customers. It drew people in with the promise of free dentistry. Hamlin Wizard Oil of Chicago had thirty shows on the road at one time, each with a large inventory of tonics, pills and cough balsam. In 1900, the Kickapoo Indian Oil Company claimed two hundred one-man shows touring the country simultaneously.

 
Over the years, Hollywood has perpetuated the notion that medicine show hucksters were men of dubious character. Professor Marvel in The Wizard of Oz and Doc Meriweather in Little Big Man are examples. But there were valid counterparts.

 
Legitimate products included Doan’s Pills, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, Geritol, Castoria, Bromo-Seltzer and Bayer Aspirin. One product, Dr. Pepper’s Tonic, wasn’t accepted as a blood purifier, but folks enjoyed it as a carbonated beverage. Both the public and the medical community are rediscovering many of the old herbal remedies sold at medicine shows. They include Chamomile, St. John’s Wort, Goldenseal and Snake Root (Echinacea).

When you think about it, it’s no different than the advertising we see and all the hype we hear today. Diet pills, hair removers, hair growth products, wrinkle removers, bust enhancers – the list goes on. Infomercials! Some of that stuff is legit, some is a waste of money. Ever been suckered into buying something that looked too good to be true–because it was?

Click on thumbnail covers to order Cheryl’s books from amazon!

DiAnn Mills Comes Calling Saturday!

awakenmyheart-small.jpgAll right all you gals, the sweet and sassy DiAnn Mills is galloping your way Saturday! The dear woman is going to fill us in on her Zorro-like hero in her latest book and talk about everything we love about the state of Texas. The Fillies are delighted to have the pleasure of Miss Mills’s company and I know you will be too. Drop by and join us for some rollicking fun. Oh, and she’ll be giving away two copies of her latest book. So get a move on and don’t lollygag around!  

Knee-Slappin’ Barbecue!

It all depends where you’re from.

With Memorial Day coming up in a few days, and May being National Barbecue Month, folks all over the country are going to be firing up their grills, smokers and ovens, stirring their spices and mixing their sauces for that first big weekend to kick off summer.

Barbecue will be the name of the game.

How you do the meat will reflect which region you live in.  Barbecue experts have narrowed these regions down to four distinct ‘cue styles. 

Carolina Style:

Dates back to colonial times.  Wild pigs were plentiful, and most folks were missing their teeth, so they cooked those hogs over a wood fire to get them good and tender–and easier to chew.  Meat was pulled right off the bone; hence, the term ‘pulled pork.’  Popular seasonings include a thin vinegar sauce, salt, pepper and flakes of red dried chili pepper. 

Memphis Style:

Known for its dry rub seasonings.  Barbecue sauce is served on the side.  Pork ribs are rubbed with a mixture of salt, pepper and paprika, and depending on taste, onion power, garlic powder, sugar, mustard, sage and ginger are added.  The sauce–tomato-based and thick, with mustard, brown sugar and vinegar.

Memphis lays claim to the famous Rendezvous restaurant, located in a basement and accessible via a dumpster-filled alley. 

 Kansas City Style: 

Now, this is my kind of ‘cue.  Sweet, sour and spicy.  Tomato-based, too.  Cooks will usually brush the sauce over the meat just before it comes off the grill.  The meat is cooked over a slow-burning fire of hickory and oak wood chips for that sweet-smoky flavor.  Be sure to have plenty of napkins near-by!

Texas Style:

When you think of Texas, do you think of beef brisket?  Or maybe pork ribs.  Either way, the meat is rubbed with blended salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder, then grilled slowly over a wood fire, often of mesquite.  Texas seasonings tend to be hotter, spicier.  Not so sweet and sour as the Kansas City style, and with more Worcestershire sauce.

Here’s a couple of easy barbecue sauce recipes:

1 part of Heinz 57 sauce

1 part honey

Blend.  Make as much or as little as you like!

 

My favorite fast food sandwich place is Arby’s, and their barbecue sauce is the best.  Here’s a recipe:

1 cup ketchup

2 tsp. water

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. Tabasco pepper sauce

 

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to boil, about 5 – 10 minutes.  Let cool.  Store in covered container in refrigerator.

 

Being in a ‘cue frame of mind, and in um, research for this blog, Doug and I went out to eat at an Omaha icon known for its barbecue–The Smoke Pit.  I visited with the wife of the owner, who first met her husband when she went to work at the restaurant.  Thirty-two years later, she’s still cooking for him and their customers, six days a week.  They cook their meat in big smoker ovens and are known for their trademark ribs.  I ordered chicken, and the meat literally falls off the bone.  She makes their barbecue sauce, which I found thinner and sweeter than most.

So, do tell.  What are you doing this Memorial Weekend?  Serving barbecue?  What’s your favorite?  Any stories to share?  Any recipes?

Let us know, and I’ll draw one lucky name who will win a bottle of barbecue sauce from Omaha’s own The Smoke Pit!

Traditions and Superstition

I recently had to do some research on this subject for the book I’m working on and was amazed at the strange superstitions and traditions that people had back since the beginning of time and still do in some instances. 

We’re all familiar with the bad luck that will come when a black cat crosses one’s path. We’ve heard never to walk under a ladder or step on any cracks or we’ll break our mother’s backs. But I wanted some unusual, colorful superstitions. I want my story to be the best it can so I went looking for things that will add depth and a level of emotion. What I found was truly amazing. 

Did you know that to give away a book with a red cover will break a friendship? I doubt it. Red is the color of anger and misunderstanding it seems. I don’t know about that, but I’ve lost some friendships because a person I loaned a book to never returned it. This is a pet peeve of mine and it taught me a valuable lesson that I adhere to no matter the circumstance. 

In the old days, ashes retaining their heat for a great length of time foretold a marriage in the family. But beware of taking ashes out of the house after nightfall or you’ll bring death in. Also, when baking bread cracks across the top it is a sign of death. And in Armenia, a baby had to be covered with a quilt when bread was put in the oven or the baby would pine away and die. 

Nature was believed to be a good predictor of weather and some is still believed today. When ducks migrate early in the fall, a difficult winter can be expected. Rain is coming when wasps, flies, or spiders come into the house. Cattle running about with their tails up in the air mean a storm is coming. But an ax stuck in the ground can “split the cloud” to keep an unwanted storm from forming. Or so they say. 

The moon has always been a mysterious force. To Native Americans it held special meaning. The phases of the moon are still important to farmers when it comes to birthing, weaning, breeding, planting, and harvesting. Among paramedics and medical personnel today, the nights of a full moon are known to bring increased trouble and number of patients. Some people used to believe that looking at the new moon over the left shoulder was a harbinger of ill fortune. I doubt that! 

Animals and birds sometimes signal ill omen. Take for instance….when a redheaded woodpecker pecks on the roof, a member of the family will die. Don’t let a buzzard cross your path or it’ll bring bad luck. Killing a wren or disturbing its nest will also cause bad luck. And some used to swear on their mama’s grave that if a centipede walks across any part of you, that part will rot to the bone and fall off. Yuck! I think I’ll stay away from those. 

Some people think a dropped dishrag, an itchy nose, or a rooster crowing through a door or window means company is coming. My parents used to say that an itchy palm meant you were going to get some money. We never did that I know anything about. 

And who hasn’t heard the one that if your ears ring it’s a sure bet someone is talking about you? That one is very common. Or if you spill salt, you throw some over your shoulder to ward off bad luck. Or breaking a mirror means you’ll have seven years of bad luck. Or the bad luck associated with the number 13. I’m not overly superstitious but I hate anything associated with the number 13. I can’t help it. 

Then, there are some superstitions to bring good luck your way: nail a horseshoe over your door; carrying a rabbit’s foot, or wishing on a falling star before it disappears.

I think I have more than enough material for my story. Now, I’d like to hear from you. Are you superstitious? Do you know of any superstitions that you’d like to share?

Judgment Day

 I am finishing revisions today.   I hope.  They are due in my editor’s office at nine on Tuesday morning. There’s still a lot to do.
Thankfully, she had few, but in re-reading the manuscript, I had a bunch. And I’ll tell you why.

Three weeks ago, I was running late in finishing the manuscript. Very late.

For those who are not writers, deadline is our hell. It’s certainly judgement Day. Every writer has those. The day the book is due. The day that is the absolutely last day you can still submit it and fulfill that nasty little clause in your contract. The day your career hangs in the balance.

But the book wasn’t working.

There are two kinds of writers. The plotters and the fly-by-the seat-of-the-pants crowd. I am of the latter persuasion.

I do not say that proudly.

The sad fact is I am one of the latter because I am lazy. The plotter spends hours upon hours plotting out their characters, conflict and plot. It is labor intensive on the front side.

Our crowd – the left side (or is it the right) of the brain group – goes in another direction. We figure that if we develop strong enough characters they will take over and do all the work. We are the optimists. Our characters are going to save us from ourselves.

I am here to tell you it doesn’t always happen. A funny thing happened on my march to this judgment day. A bit player tried to upstage my hero. He wasn’t even in the synopsis (which never bears any resemblance to the final product anyway). He was a device. A prop to make a point. However, he became intensely disgruntled with that role and shouldered his way into a secondary role.

Not to be content with that promotion, he persisted. Then everything fell apart. The hero was not a happy camper. He rebelled. He stopped telling his story.

I had a hero wanna be, a resentful hero and a heroine bemused by the whole mess. No one was doing what they were supposed to be doing.

 

Time marched on. Unfortunately the story did not. I tried bribery. I will give that wanna-be a book of his own. He knew I was lying, though. I had already decided my next historical project was to be a western series, and my nemesis was a broken down private detective.

Several days before judgment day, the stalemate continued. Nearly fifty pages to go, and I had no ending. Too late to join the plotting crowd. Try that, and I would have to write a whole new book.

Probably no one knows panic like a writer does at deadline time. It paralyzes.

So there I was at three-thirty in the morning with two days to go before the absolute last deadline. Staring at a blank screen. Remembering all those movies about writers when they sit there and crumple pages in their hand and throw them into the waste basket until the entire floor is littered. I wanted to throw the computer into that basket. Fortunately, it’s too heavy.

Okay. I admit it. I finally surrendered. I’ll give him a book of his own. As long as he stops outshining my hero and leads me back into the path of creativity again. No, I will not wait until I finish the western series. He can be next. I swear. (Fingers crossed).

The keys on the computer started to work again. Frantically. The hero shoves the interloper aside in his rush to save the heroine, but all is well, and the heroine saves them both.

Sleep didn’t exist for two days, but it was delivered on the second deadline after several all night sessions.

Do you all know what happens in all night sessions?

Characters change their names. Their hair color changes. An important plot twist isn’t answered. Surprisingly, the editor really liked the book.   She thought there were a few problems with the hurriedly written last chapter, and after reading it, I agreed. Unfortunately those changes required others, and in reading the complete manuscript, I saw lots and lots of problems, and not just those involved in the ending. There’s a quick turnaround time, thus more marathon days and nights.

Each time I finish a book, I swear to join the plotters. They do not have to cope with rebellion. They have matters under control. I am thinking this on my way to bed last night, having had six hours sleep in the past fifty hours.

My wanna-be, though is already banging on my brain. Give me my head, he says. And, sigh, I suppose I shall.

It is now three a.m. I hope you were not expecting much.