Branding yourself as an author is important. Branding helps a reader know what they’re getting when they pick up a book. Meeting reader expectations is vital is helping an author gain a following. In some ways, I feel like I have a good handle on this. Yet, in others, I feel like I have a long way to go.

For the most part I write sexy romance with cozy, small town settings. My heroes have more than their fair share of down home good ol’ boy charm. There tends to be a country music reference somewhere in the story. And pick up trucks are the preferred method of transportation.

I have one book that doesn’t follow this criteria at all. No pick ups. No country music. And my hero is a world-traveling photographer. About as far from a good ol’ boy as you can get. Interestingly, when I get my royalty statements each quarter and take a look at sales listings, this book always has the least amount of sales. The book has a great cover and has gotten good reviews. But it is definitely different than most of my stories.

My Christmas novella doesn’t quite follow the pattern, but it definitely has a cozy setting, and I think holiday books fall into their own category of things sometimes. And all of my holiday stories (I have three) have a similar style to their covers, which again, goes a long way in the branding department.

As I take a look at my current book, I wonder how things will shake out for it as time goes by. It, too, falls out of the mold a bit. My hero has a pick up truck and is a blue collar worker, but then my ‘norms’ fall off a bit. It’s set in a suburb of Chicago and there’s not one mention of country music. And I still say the guy on the cover is nothing like the hero which you’ll find on the pages within. One of my friends commented that it was her favorite book of mine, and my mother-in-law said it was a nice departure from the usual country ones. Hmn?

So, do readers prefer familiarity or diversity from authors? Now granted, those particular people picked up that book because I was the author. Romance might not even be their genre of preference, so the opinion may be a bit skewed.

The next books I have planned are definitely back on ‘track’ as far as the down home theme. But I’m sure somewhere along the way I’ll have an idea that departs a bit from that…and as we all know, if an idea hits…it’s best to go with it and see where it takes you, right?

One thing I definitely need to work on with branding is my web-site. When I first created one, I used an on-line template an chose a theme from the given list, which I’ve since changed. But I’ve always just used the available themes. As I was looking at it the other day, I realized it wasn’t really working for me anymore. It wasn’t me. So at some point I need to redesign it…or at the very least, find a theme that goes better with my writing style.

What other things do you do to brand yourself? How do you meet reader expectations? Do you ever veer from the beaten path?

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Family Secrets – available now from The Wild Rose Press. Also at Amazon for Kindle.

On the Road Again!

As we prepare to drive my daughter and her dorm furnishings back to school, a four-day trek (round trip), I can’t help but be thankful to live in the 21st century. In the Victorian era, travel required a great deal more fortitude. For one thing, traveling hundreds of miles by land took weeks by coach, not days. And said vehicles lacked such delightful modern conveniences as air conditioning, radios, and shock absorbers.

In spite of this, wealthy Britons were enthusiastic travelers even before motorized travel. Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, they visited numerous cities in Europe. Young men would spend two years on the Grand Tour, encompassing Paris and Rome. Once they married, they honeymooned on the Continent or took their families to spa towns like Aix-le-Bains in France, Wiesbaden in Germany and Spa – yes, that’s why we call them spas – in Belgium. And they made these journeys at a time when a good speed on land was around 13 miles an hour.

A massive burst of speculation in the mid-1840s lead to the proliferation of railroads throughout Great Britain. At first, rail travel was considered unsafe due to accidents and uncomfortable because smoke and cinders blew into the coaches, while third class passengers had to ride on little more than an uncovered platform. However, once companies put glass in their windows and their third class passengers in actual railcars with roofs, even Queen Victoria didn’t turn her nose up at trains. She and Prince Albert took their first ride from Windsor to London, and Her Majesty was delighted with both the speed and the smoothness of the ride.

Britons followed their sovereign onto the cars and a new industry was born: travel. An enterprising fellow by the name of Thomas Cook organized an outing from Liverpool to Leicester only a few years after Victoria’s first ride. Over three hundred people signed up, paying up . He branched out to arrange tours, including lodgings and meals, to Scotland, London, Dublin, and in 1855, to Paris. The company he found now goes by the name of Thomas Cook Tours, and organizes excursions the world over.

Blackpool's Promenade

More independent travelers could simply by a train ticket and travel for an hour or two to a destination like Margate, with its sandy beaches; or Blackpool’s pier and promenade. Then at the end of the day, one could take the train back home.

To go further afield, packet boats could cross the English Channel in a day if the weather cooperated, and in the 1860s, that trip from London to Rome, which had taken 23 days in the age of the Grand Tour, could be accomplished in only two days and a half in 1860.

Most of the time, I enjoy road trips. With some coffee in the drink holder (also an amenity lacking in coaches), and some good road music coming through the speakers, I’m set.

Although taking a long journey by train is on my bucket list. If you could travel any way you wanted, in any era, where would you like to go, and how?

Till next month! Ann Stephens

Cheryl St. John–August Full Moon Guest!

When Sherri Shackelford and I made plans to go to New York for the Writers Digest Conference it seemed like a long time away, but our departure day was upon us before we knew it. Thank goodness we had the foresight to plan and purchase tickets in advance for the things we wanted to see and do, because priority lines were a snap, while others were impossibly long. Those impulsively deciding to go on a statue cruise waited hours, while we got right on the ferry.

For Nebraska girls, New York City was like another world, filled with scurrying people, cabs, buses and strollers, all vying to be first. Our introduction to the city couldn’t have been better, because two handsome young men picked us up and gave us history and geology lessons while dodging traffic like pros. I never knew Manhattan was built entirely on solid granite, except for one strip of marshland, which is The Village. The granite was clearly visible in Central Park as well as in the foundations of the Twin Towers, which remain on display at the 9-11 museum.

After the hustle and bustle of Times Square, Rockefeller Center and Grand Central Station, the 9-11 memorial was the quietest place in New York. I was especially thankful to see it opening this past Spring, knowing I’d be able to visit. There isn’t a person over 15 or 16 who doesn’t remember that day vividly. The images are familiar. The atmosphere is respectful.

The city truly never sleeps, and has a heartbeat all its own. We’ve already made plans to return. We stood on Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants entered on their way to new lives in America. We touched the names on the reflection pool which honors all those killed in the cruelest act of terrorism our country has known. We walked the streets where Funny Girl, Saturday Night Fever, Ghostbusters and You’ve Got Mail, among many, many other iconic movies were filmed. We listened to street musicians and saw a Broadway Show, ate at The Four Seasons, sat in Irish pubs, chatted with New Yorkers in delis, got separated at the top of 30 Rock, even bought metro cards took the subway, and those experiences only whetted our appetites for more.

Writers Digest plans an extremely well-organized and professional conference with a lot of energy and information. It was held in the historic Roosevelt Hotel on 45th & Madison. Agents and editors took pitches, which they call Pitch Slam. My editor was on a panel the first evening. The workshops I gave were well attended, and it was especially fun to read all the tweets containing quotes afterward. I learned all about metadata and amazon keywords and soaked in info on using social media to my advantage. In an atmosphere different than I’m used to at other conferences, I met writers from all over and enjoyed hearing their stories and about their writing. There’s nothing like getting a bunch of writers together. We get each other in a way no one else does. This was my first conference as a Writers Digest author, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Cheryl St.John is the award-winning author of fifty Harlequin and Silhouette books, which include historical romance as well as contemporary.  She was a voracious reader and admits her early passion was for horror and true crime. Eventually she read Victoria Holt and Catherine Cookson, but one fateful day browsing the book section, she took a chance on a different genre and bought Hummingbird by LaVyrle Spencer, then promptly drove back to the store for The Rainbow Season by Lisa Gregory. She was immediately taken by historical romance, enthralled by Americana, the American West and hooked for life.

And so, when she got serious and decided to write a book, it was, of course, a romance. A very badly written and poorly plotted romance. But eventually she joined Romance Writers of America and her local chapter (then Romance Authors of the Heartland), Heartland Writers Group, and was fortunate to have the late Diane Wicker Davis as her first mentor.

Her book on writing, Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict, released by Writers Digest Books, is available in print and ebook.

Cheryl believes in paying it forward, and her some of her most rewarding experiences have been sharing in the successes of writers she has coached over the years.

Cheryl loves hearing from readers.
email her at:
Visit her on the web:
Read her blog, From the Heart:
Like her Facebook author page:
She’s a Pinterest junkie!

Cheryl St. John joins us Aug. 19th!

Meow, readers! I’m thrilled to tell you one of my all time favorite authors, Cheryl St. John, will be making a return visit to the Authors By Moonlight on August 19th. Cheryl will be sharing some photos and fun from her recent and exciting trip to New York City for the Writers Digest Conference. Be sure and check it out. And if you haven’t read one of Cheryl’s books, go now and get one. She writes purrrfectly wonderful books I can’t put down! See you on the 19th!

A Visit to Arbor Lodge—Home of Arbor Day

With the county fair over, and summer quickly winding down to the start date of school, we managed to sneak in a two-and-a-half day mini vacation. That’s not enough time to do very much, but after a very hectic spring and summer, it was better than nothing, and very welcome.

Where did we go? Well, our destination was Topeka, Kansas, for a weekend long horsemanship clinic with renowned Aussie horseman Clinton Anderson during his Walkabout Tour. It was wonderful, and I’ll share more in my next post, but for today, I’m going to share about our very short visit to Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City where we stopped en route to Topeka. I’ve lived in Nebraska my entire life and I’ve never had the chance to visit Arbor Lodge. I wish we would have had more time, but I managed to squeeze in quite a bit.

The long bricked driveway with canopy of trees leading to the mansion.

I knew Arbor Lodge was big, but I never realized just how big. Now situated on 72 acres of wooded and rolling hills, the 52 room mansion can give any Southern Plantation a run for its money in grandeur and opulence. Founded in 1855 by J. Sterling Morton, Morton and his wife Caroline selected the highest point on their land to build a four room house that was the beginnings of a home that would grow exponentially over the next four and half decades. The home was completed in 1903 by the Morton’s oldest of four sons, Joy Morton, yes, Joy is the Morton of Morton Salt fame—you know, “When It Rains, It Pours”®. Check out the Morton Salt web site for information about the iconic Morton Salt girl and her 100th birthday celebration this year.

J. Sterling and Caroline were nature lovers, and soon after establishing their home, they set about planting trees and greenery on a treeless prairie. Caroline designed the original drives, walks, and gardens. She planted the first trees and oversaw the running of the farm while her husband was traveling for political reasons.

J. Sterling was a journalist by profession, and while in political office he wrote and spoke about the

One of three porticoes that grace the mansion.

benefits of trees and as early as 1872, when he was president of the State Board of Agriculture, he introduced a resolution calling for a tree planting day to be known as Arbor Day. In 1885, the Legislature made Arbor Day, April 22nd–Morton’s birthday, a legal holiday in Nebraska.

After the older Morton’s death in 1902, Joy set about one last addition to the home. For the next twenty years he and his family used the home as a summer retreat, and in 1923 he donated the house and grounds to the State of Nebraska to be preserved for future generations, and as a monument to his father. Lucky for us!

The main staircase. Joy Morton's daughter was married here surrounded by flowers.

In the house you can see Tiffany stained glass, Victorian and Empire style furniture, and a staircase that makes you think–Gone With the Wind. You can see the bedroom where President Grover Cleveland and his wife stayed, enjoy a vast sun room, and see the bowling alley in the basement. You can walk the brick paved drives under a never ending canopy of trees, and visit lush gardens where 300 varieties of lilacs grow. And the stone and brick carriage house would make any horse envious.

While touring the home my writer’s mind took hold and I couldn’t help thinking about the history that had taken place in those rooms. Oh, if the walls could talk! What a great setting Arbor Lodge would make for a ghost story, murder mystery, or a sweeping historical romance! There are so many rooms and staircases it’s easy to get lost and confused as to where you are. And talk about places for someone to hide–they abound! Although the home is so beautiful and well maintained, it’s hard to imagine anything sinister taking place there. But I can sure picture a playful ghost lurking, or two would-be lovers sneaking away for stolen moments.

The bedroom where President Grover Cleveland and his wife stayed while visiting Nebraska during his term in office.

So, if you ever get to Nebraska, be sure to put Arbor Lodge and Arbor Day Farm on your list of “must-see” spots.

Do you love trees? Do you love to plant trees? Like my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father before me, I do.  I think J. Sterling and Caroline Morton would be pleased to know how nationally know Arbor Day has become and how Nebraska isn’t quite the treeless prairie they saw when first arriving back in the mid 1800′s..

Have a great August and we’ll see you back here in September. In the meantime, go plant a tree!

Sherry James

Inspiring Book of Kells

Another favorite sight during our vacation trip to Ireland was The Book of Kells exhibit at the Trinity College Old Library (the oldest surviving college building constructed between 1712 and 1732). On our first full day in Ireland, we visited this Dublin museum that was within walking distance of our hotel. Being on the grounds of a learning institution that was founded more than 400 years ago (in 1592 by charter of Queen Elizabeth) was amazing in itself. The Book of Kells was sent to Trinity College to remain safe during the Cromwellian period around 1653.

Visitors get to view the actual manuscript that was probably created in the 9th century, and a new page is displayed every day. The book is protected within a temperature-controlled box. The Book of Kells is a manuscript that contains the four gospels in Latin with lavish and detailed drawings to accompany the text. Scholars agree the text was produced by the monks of Iona (island off the west coast of Scotland). The question remains if the manuscript was finished on Iona or after the monks moved to Kells in county Meath following a Viking attack in 806 CE. Drawing the intricate figures and designs must have provided the monks a sense of creative freedom in an otherwise structured life.

As an author, I was in awe of the sheer volume of books within the Old Library. Since 1801, a copy of all books published in Britain and Ireland can be claimed by the library. By the 1850s, the designated space was filled. In 1860, the roof was raised to allow for the construction of the barrel-vaulted ceiling and the gallery bookcases that are in the present-day visitor area. Nearly three million books are stored within eight buildings. Also on display were carved marble busts of famous literary persons.

This is a must-see exhibit for anyone visiting Dublin—book lover or not.

Linda is the author of a short story set in Ireland titled A Legend of Ireland. Maybe someday she will write a story set in Ireland that will be requested to reside in this hallowed hall.

I Guess I’m a Bit ‘Old School’

I know the current trend in publishing is electronic, and I do have a Kindle which I do some reading on, especially when I go on vacation. But for me there’s nothing more satisfying than curling up with a good book and turning pages.

Having a book in my hand is even more thrilling when it’s my own book.

This weekend a box arrived on my porch!

It was filled with copies of my latest release, Family Secrets!

This is my fifth print release, eighth overall, but having that box arrive and opening it to reveal books with MY name on them never gets old.

The official worldwide release date is this Friday, August 1, but paperback copies have been available for a couple of weeks.

Even after the death of her husband, Erika Garrett is still close to his family. She vows they’ll never discover he was cheating on her. She’s content with her play-by-the-rules life until Chase Stewart re-enters her life.
Chase is divorced from Erika’s sister-in-law and wants nothing to do with her family or they with him. If it weren’t for shared custody of his precious four-year old twins, he wouldn’t be a part of their lives at all.
He has no desire to marry again, so the only thing he can offer Erika is a secret summer fling. But when the secret is uncovered, can either of them ever face the family again?

She shook off the feeling, and once again attempted to concentrate on the movie. Soon the girls drifted off and, eager for something to do to keep her mind off forbidden topics, she rose to gather the remains of their snack. She reached for the empty popcorn bowl as Chase did the same. Her hand brushed his, and she yanked it away as if burned.

“Erika.” Her name came out soft. Husky. Never before had it sounded so intimate on a man’s lips.

“I need to get this cleaned up.” She fled to the kitchen.

She stood by the sink, the snack dishes forgotten. Her hands gripped the edge of the granite so hard her knuckles turned white.

The soft pad of Chase’s bare feet announced his arrival a moment before his hands came to rest on her shoulders. She flinched.

“Erika.” How easily she could get used to him saying her name just like that. As though velvet secrets hid in the simple syllables. She shivered under his touch. “What are you thinking?”

As if he didn’t know. She shook her head, unable to speak, or unwilling to voice her thoughts aloud.

With gentle hands he turned her to face him. “Look at me.” He lifted her chin with a finger.

She tried to tear her gaze from his, but the intensity in the dark depths of his eyes made the task impossible. The silent communication spoke to her soul in a way nothing ever had before.

Family Secrets is available through The Wild Rose Press. (Writing that is also a thrill that never gets old!)

And even though I know sales are way better for electronic copies of my books, having that particular box arrive made me second-guess submitting my latest WIP, which is almost ready to go to my editor in query form, in a length which would only allow a digital release. At this point in the process, I really am not looking to make it any longer, but let me tell you, for a moment I was tempted!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


It is one of life’s bitterest truths that bed time so often arrives just when things are really getting interesting – Lemony Snicket

As a small child, I *never* wanted to go to bed. I suspected the grown-ups were pulling a fast one on me when they insisted that I wasn’t missing out on anything fun. After all, if life after bedtime was that dull, they would be going to sleep when I did, right? I discovered the truth as I got older and was allowed to stay up later on Friday and Saturday nights. That is when I learned of the wonder that was the late night movie! (Raise your hand if you remember those from the days before talk shows and infomercials were everywhere!)

The adults were totally holding out on us kids!! ‘Murder at the Gallop’! ‘The Devil’s Brigade’! ‘The Rose Tatoo’! They were staying up to watch movies! Some classics, some B-list, but movies!

One of many reasons I loved summertime as a kid is because sometimes my mom let me stay up late and watch a movie during the week. If it was really good, I could invite my best friend Jann over to spend the night. We’d slurp down ‘clown sundaes’ – vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and salted peanuts as we watched. Some offerings must have run on a monthly basis, we saw them so often. One of those was a 1960 B-list melodrama called ‘Conspiracy of Hearts’ about Italian nuns trying to smuggle Jewish children past Nazis in World War II. I never missed it.

I also enjoyed ‘Sayonara’ with Marlon Brando. And ‘Two for the Road’ with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney when he was still young and dishy. Most of it was over my head, but that wasn’t important. The main thing is that I got to stay up and my sister still had to go to bed.

I first watched ‘Mister Roberts,  with James Cagney and Henry Fonda, on the late show, along with ‘Trapeze’ (Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis fight over Gina Lollobrigida), ‘Operation Petticoat’ (Tony Curtis and Cary Grant fight over a pink submarine) and ‘Becket’ (Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton fight over some girl from Wales and then over which of them gets to run England). Many of the broadcasts involved beach movies or old war movies, but I didn’t care. I was ten years old and I felt like I was allowed into a cool adult world.

Around the early 70s, (I think) a local station changed its Saturday night late show to horror movies, featuring a local host to introduce commercials. Although I have never had a high tolerance for gore and scary stuff, this proved a gold mine of campy horror classics. Vincent Price reigned in ‘The House of Usher’ and ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. He alternated with Godzilla, his son, and his frenemy Mothra, bad dubbing and all. My friends and I had a blast making fun of them. To this day, monster movies are just not as appealing to me without cheesy special effects.

Sigh. I think I’ll go see if there are any Burt Lancaster movies on Netflix. And maybe pick up some ice cream.

What old movies did you love to watch that you haven’t seen in ages? And by old, you’re free to include anything made before your birth. Even if it was in the 90s.

Till next month, Ann

Some Useless Facts

Okay, I admit it.  I am a useless facts junkie.  This is no doubt the reason it takes me forever to look up one tiny detail.  I get lost in learning things I didn’t know, and soon, hours have gone by.

Today, I want to share some things I just learned about my home state of Texas:

  • The oldest tree recorded in Texas is near Fulton and is approximately 1,500 years old.
  • The first open domed stadium appeared in Texas.
  • More wool is produced in Texas than any other state in the U.S.
  • Charles Alderton, a pharmacists from Waco, invented Dr Pepper in 1885.  The period after “Dr” was removed in the 1950′s.
  • The word “Texas” comes from the Hasiani Indians and means friends and allies.
  • El Paso is actually closer to California than it is to Dallas.
  • According to state law, it is illegal to: milk another person’s cow, take three sips of beer while standing, or sell one’s eye.

So tell me, do you have any useless facts about your home state you’d like to share?


An exciting new adventure!

At the end of this month, I’ll have the wonderful experience of having my publisher throw me a book launch party for the second book in my YA post-apocalyptic series The Color of Fear. The party is set for Armadillocon in Austin, Texas–two places I’ve never been–and I’m just..well, EXCITED!

The series is first of all, the book of my heart–my favorite child among the twenty novels I’ll have published by the end of the year. My editor Liz Burton asked me to take the story from one volume to three, and I’ve had so much fun fleshing out the characters and their journey.

For those of you who don’t know, the first book in the series is called WINDMILLS. The story begins in Hong Kong, in a tenement district:

Bio-terrorists release a plague in the United States that spreads to kill most of the world’s Caucasian population. As the deadly virus mutates, Tzu Shin, a renowned medical doctor and biologist, defects from China to help develop a cure. His only daughter, Lin Kwan, is left behind in Hong Kong with her aunt. Then Kwan’s father summons her from across the sea to bring him Chinese medicinal herbs he needs to develop a cure. Lonely and missing her parents, she accepts the challenge, traveling with her sensei Li Zhong to the New World. But a Chinese assassin is on her trail, determined to kill her and Li Zhong, and when Kwan discovers her father has disappeared, she sets out on a journey to find him and deliver her precious cargo, a quest that she may not survive.

Book Two takes our travelers further:

Xi San saved the life of a mysterious girl one night in his ravaged San Francisco neighborhood. He can’t get her out of his mind, but believes that she’s lost to him. When an old friend invites him to St. Louis, the new center of terrorist-decimated America, he leaves his old world behind.

Lin Kwan came to America to bring her scientist father Chinese medicinal herbs, hoping to stop the virus that killed most of the world’s Caucasians, before it mutates to infect the rest of the world. Following his trail, she meets the man who once saved her, and repays her debt.

Gathering diverse companions as they travel toward St. Louis, the two encounter deadly obstacles, including Gabriel, a self-styled religious leader and white supremacist determined to take revenge for the white man.

But Gabriel isn’t their only enemy. They have to battle nature, prejudice and even those hidden among them who wish their destruction.

Book three is due next year, and I can’t wait to get started on it! In the meantime, you can find WINDMILLS at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online sites, or you can order it in paperback to your local indie bookstore.

If you don’t want to wait, you can check out the free read The Splendid Expedition of Eddie Garrick, Esq., which is a serial companion blog detailing one of the young people’s journeys across the plague-ridden country.

Goodreads is having a giveaway for a set of WINDMILLS and DESTINATIONS, which runs from July 20-August 7, 2014. Please feel free to sign up, and enjoy! I know I will. Thanks to all my readers–I do this for all of us.  :)

The Romance Reviews The Romance Review

Full Moon Guests

Jan. 14--Sherri Shackelford
April 22--Kate Bridges
May 27--Ann Lethbridge
Aug. 19--Cheryl St. John
Nov. 11--Pam Crooks

Summer Solstice Bash Guests

June 3--Julie Miller
June 10--Victoria Alexander
June 14--Sabrina Jeffries
June 19--Laura Landon
June 26--Caroline Fyffe


Award Winners

AfterMidnight_w3440_680 300 dpi

Romance Through the Ages Award Winner
Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence Finalist
Readers Favorite Award Finalist
Long & Short Reviews Book of the Year Finalist
Book Lovers Inc A Favorite Read of 2011

Cowboy Fling by Sherry James

Ignite the Flame Finalist


Love Romance Cafe's Best of 2010 Contemporary Winner

Eight Seconds--Passionate Plume Finalist


Ticket to Write Winner


Melody of Love Contest Winner


Readers Favorite Award
Long & Short Reviews 2010 Book of the Year Finalist


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Coming Soon & New Releases


This Feels Like Home by Debra St. John


Bal Masque by Fleeta Cunningham

Another Shot At Love by Niecey Roy by Francesca Hawley





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