Showing posts from 2015

Answers and Winners for Chapter Notes Contest

Yes, the questions were tough and there were 31 of them. But my hard core readers were undaunted.  They pressed on and hunted down the answers one by one.  It was a test of their endurance and Internet search skills and they risked paper cuts by flipping through their piles of books for those elusive answers.  You can read the answers below.

Eleven readers earned the right to call themselves expert minions and will soon have a T-shirt to wear with pride.

Thanks to ALL who entered - I wish I had enough money to send you all a T-shirt.

Here are the WINNERS and how many questions they answered right:

Kerry Lee Holder - 31
Melissa Furber - 29
Jennifer Olsen - 28
Madison Braga - 27
Jess Furber - 26
Anastasia Jalowiec - 26
Celeste - 26
Gabriella Mullens - 26
Catherine Wen - 25
Sarah Ringer Alverson - 25
Rikke Borgaard - 25

(since there were 3 people who had 25 right, I decided they all earned a shirt, which is why there are 11 winners instead of 10 like I planned :) ).

Questions Answered!

COVER REVEAL - Australian Night Study!

And here it is!  The Australian cover for NIGHT STUDY.  Isn't it pretty and best of all MATCHES all the others.  To celebrate, I'm having a giveaway for two copies of the book.  Open to all my readers worldwide - you get extra points for commenting on this post! You can enter via the Rafflecopter form down below. (Warning - you won't get the book until sometime in 2016!)

The official in store date for the Australian edition is 25 January 2016 - a day before it hits the stores in the US and Canada.  Here's a link to the book:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


I hope you enjoyed reading all 31 chapter notes for Poison Study! Writing them all was more work that I had anticipated, but it was really fun to re-read those chapters and think about my thought process and what was going on in my life at that time. It's surprising just how much of my life is in my books!

Here are the 31 questions. Yes, some of them are hard and others...not so much. There will be 10 winners picked from the highest scorers.  The Rafflecopter will be open until November 7th.  The contest is open to ALL (yes, that means worldwide :).  I will post the winners and answers by November 10th.

1.What profession would Valek take up in a perfect world?
2.How many languages has Poison Study been translated into?
3.In the Glass books, what was Opal gifted with for completing “Spy training”?
4.What is the nickname Valek gives to Ari and Janco?
5.In the Glass series, who are Teegan and Reema?
6.How many awards has Poison Study won?
7.In Storm Watcher, what does Luke name his …



Happy Halloween!  If there were 32 days in October, I would have broke this into two notes. Instead I’m combining them.

Chapter 31 is the climax of the book.  It’s where the obstacles are huge and it appears as if the main protagonists won’t make it.  I start things rolling with Valek and Yelena joining up with Ari and Janco. They refused to help search for Valek and Yelena.  I like this exchange:
“That’s insubordination.” Valek extracted a long knife and some darts from his bag.
“That was the point. What’s a fellow have to do around here in order to get arrested and thrown in the dungeon?” Janco asked.

It’s nice to see how Ari and Janco are “all in” for their friends and are willing to be thrown into the dungeon to help them out.  And later they call her “sir.”  A few people have asked why I don’t use the female equivalent of “sir,” which is “ma’am.”  I don’t like ma’am – never did – and in my mind, “sir” is gender neutral and the Commander would approve using …



This chapter is full of action and revelations.  Yelena and Valek are locked in Brazell’s small dungeon.  Yelena believes she’s going to die from Butterfly’s Dust, but, in a twist I hope readers were not expecting (but some have told me they guessed it), Butterfly’s Dust ends up being a potion called White Fright and is not lethal.  If a person stops taking White Fright, then he/she experiences withdrawal symptoms, which are horrible cramps and vomiting. Yes, poor Yelena throws up quite a bit in this book, but have you ever been in so much pain you threw up?  And I watched enough track and field meets to see plenty of athletes vomiting after running.  I was aiming for realism, people!

Yelena tells Valek everything about her past, but doesn’t reveal that she has magic.  This is cathartic for her and she, “…purges the black stain of Reyad.”  Then she decides she’ll tell Valek about her magic when the first of many waves of painful cramps hits.

Here are a couple ways I d…



Yelena is captured and goes through the motions of tasting the Commander’s food.  The Commander is a blank slate and follows Brazell’s orders.  The Commander’s advisors are soon affected by the Criollo and Yelena realizes her time as a prop is soon coming to an abrupt end.

When I re-read the scene at the factory producing Criollo, I realize that wasn’t really necessary to advance the plot – the link between Criollo and the Commander’s strange behavior had been established.  However, I’ve visited a couple chocolate factories and done so much research, I thought it’s be fun to show how chocolate would be made by a society that didn’t have electricity and other modern technology.

Having grown up in the manor house, Yelena has an advantage, but still her escape from her room isn’t without a few problems.  Once free, she relives her days as an acrobat and focuses her magic on her surroundings.  It’s hard to describe, so I say she “projected her awareness” out into the wood…



Yelena’s on her way to Brazell’s manor house.  At the first stop for the night, she translates the symbols etched on her switchblade’s handle.  There are six silver markings.  In this graphic, designed by my friend Daniel, which I used for T-shirts, there are only three.  I cheated – I decided to keep the switchblade simple, that I would have three symbols, but each one represents two words.  As you can see, the last one has an infinity sign in it meaning forever.  I guess I could say the other three symbols are on the other side, but in Chapter 28 it’s pretty clear that they are all in a row.

A secret rendezvous turns tragic.  When she’s in the woods with Rand, she reaffirms that her first instinct is not to run, but to stand and fight.  In this scene, Rand is supposed to betray her yet again, but he can’t do it and ends up sacrificing himself to save her life.  He asks for forgiveness and she grants it.  He redeemed himself and I’m glad.  I liked Rand – he was a con…


I completely lucked out when the talented actress, Gabra Zackman was assigned to narrate all my Study books (and my Healer books as well). I remember getting a phone call from the producer. Gabra was about to record Poison Study and wanted to know how to pronounce some of the names. Right there was my first clue of Gabra's professionalism and attention to detail. Because of her, my audio books are very popular and sell well.  And when I heard her voice telling Yelena's story for the very first time, I got goose bumps!

When I first met Gabra in New York City, I had a total fan girl moment! We had a drink together and it turned into a mutual love fest that has deepened into a wonderful friendship.  I still have the postcard she signed for me!  Last January, I had the pleasure of watching her work and I recorded an introduction to Shadow Study (narrating a book is HARD work! I hadn't realized just how much went into it - I must have recorded my intro about five times before …



Rand is desperate to duplicate the Criollo recipe, but Yelena is unable to provide him with more beans so he’ll be transferred to MD-5, Brazell’s district.  This is a clue that Brazell is planning on occupying the Commander’s castle at some point.

When she returns to Valek’s suite, I have him waiting with his “sarcastic lecture” about her going to the kitchen without an escort (he’s falling for her).  I like what she thinks here, “…but logic and an empty stomach were like oil and water, they didn’t mix.”

Yet another problem arises as Yelena learns she is going to MD-5 with the Commander while Valek has been ordered to remain behind.

In this chapter, Yelena uses her magic to find what she calls her “zone of concentration.”  She senses her opponents moves before they actually move.  What she is doing is reading their thoughts, but she doesn’t know that yet.  Her use of magic drawls Irys and she gets her first lesson on how to use magic.  And Irys provides some informati…



In the beginning of this chapter, there is another hint that Criollo is based on chocolate.  It’s when Yelena says, “Eating it had lifted my spirits and given me a boost of energy. I longed for its sweet taste especially now that my chances for freedom had dwindled.”

Since my husband is a chocolate expert, he has done a great deal of research on chocolate and how it affects people’s moods and health.  In fact, he has proven that dark chocolate is good for your heart.  So eat two Dove™ Dark Promises a day to help your heart!

My husband also argued with Mary-Theresa (my editor at the time) that the “fruit” on the scale on the original cover art should be a cacao pod and not a gourd.  He really wanted it to be accurate.

There’s a feast for the Sitian Delegation in this chapter.  In my mind, the Ixians are pale with dark hair and Ixia is drab and gray and cold – like a black and white photo.  Sitia, on the other hand, is full of colors and vibrancy and is warm—its people …



Although Yelena’s been learning how to fight, she hasn’t learned anything about magic.  Mogkan is about to kill her when Valek arrives and saves her life.  Mogkan quickly discovers that Valek cares for her and Mogkan can use that knowledge to his advantage.

In this scene the reader learns that Mogkan “rescued” Yelena and brought her to General Brazell’s orphanage.  More clues that all is not right with the Commander are shown in this chapter – the fact that the Commander is unconcerned with Mogkan’s actions are telling.

Yelena takes advantage of having Ari and Janco be her bodyguards, learning as much as possible.  She also is smart enough to take advantage of Valek spending all his time with the Commander and she sneaks into his office to search for any information about the antidote to Butterfly’s Dust. At this point she feels as if time is running out and she needs answers before the southern magician returns.

Of course Valek is going to show up while she’s searchi…



Valek’s first reaction to Yelena’s touch makes sense.  He’s an assassin and was taught to react first, think later—he stiffens, but then relaxes as she kneads his muscles.  I like their exchange about what Valek would do in a perfect world—be a sculptor.  She’s drunk, and that has relaxed her past all caution, revealing a bit of her past and then…going for his belt buckle. Everything comes to a screeching halt as Valek scoops her up and tucks her into bed.  He’s a gentleman, but Yelena believes he doesn’t like her and she suffers through the pain of rejection.

To get an insight into what Valek is thinking during that little scene, you need to read Shadow Study.  Don’t have a copy yet?  Here’s a link!  ;)  Shadow Study on Amazon

Yelena wakes up later and goes outside for a drink and see’s a giant spider.  Actually it’s Valek returning from sneaking into 8 Generals’ rooms and copying each piece of the code to figure out who the Commander’s successor will be.  This part …



Yelena returns to Valek’s suite to find him…worried about her?  He covers it quickly saying Brazell’s soldiers have taken out a bounty on her and he doesn’t wish to train a new food taster.  Yeah, right ;) the damage is done – he cares for her.  How much is yet to be determined.

Yelena learns how to taste the various brandies. Why brandy? When I was younger and went camping with my friends, we’d drink blackberry brandy while sitting around the campfire.  Before the Generals’ meeting Valek appears in his dress uniform. Sigh. There’s just something about a man in uniform…come on, ladies you know what I’m talking about! ;) Yelena’s has enough brandy at this point to be not as guarded around him.  Plus he does look stunning!  I also like how he’s not comfortable with all the finery and probably would rather be climbing the walls in his sneak suit.  And only when Yelena tells him how nice he looks does he even consider that aspect.  This guy doesn’t spend much time preenin…



The beginning of this chapter is a blow to Yelena.  Just when she’s feeling stronger, making friends and trusting others—bam!  She not only finds out Rand’s leaking information to Star, but he tried to kill her! No wonder she gets sick to her stomach!

However, Valek’s there to put things into perspective.  I’ve had many readers email me and say this exchange between the two of them rang true:
“When you warned me you would test me from time to time, I thought you meant spiking my food. But it seems there’s is more than one way to poison a person’s heart, and it doesn’t even require a meal.” [Yelena says]
“Everyone makes choices in life. Some bad, some good. It’s called living, and if you want to bow out, then go right ahead. But don’t do it halfway. Don’t linger in whiner’s limbo.” 

This chapter also has Janco teaching Yelena to pick a lock.  I did my research and found out exactly how to pick a pin-tumbler lock (one that opens with a key).  The amount of information on …



Nix attacks Yelena and gets a nasty surprise!  The fight is very realistic – I’ve been taught when there is a knife at your throat the best way to stay alive is to grab the blade and wrist if possible.  I use this fight to teach writers how to write action scenes. So many new writers focus on the actions and dialogue, they forget the internal dialogue and emotions.  She also recalls Janco’s advice to “hit and git” (but we all know that comes from my karate teacher, Tom :).

This fight is also a pivotal moment for Yelena.  All her hard work and training comes to fruition – she is able to not only survive an attack from an armed opponent, but to leave as the winner.  Since age 16, she’s been victimized and this is a turning point for her.  She wasn’t the victim in this case and her comment after the fight sums it up nicely: “I bared my teeth and thought, Now who’s the rat?”

Later, when Valek bursts into the infirmary and demands answers (a clue that he cares), I enjoyed …



Chapter 20 is the chapter I tell parents to read first before they allow their kids to read Poison Study. When I wrote the book, my intended audience was adults and so when it came time to explain why Yelena murdered Reyad, I described what happened in more detail than I would have if I’d known teens and younger kids would be reading the book.  And by young, I mean 9 years old!   This was before the young adult edition was released.  And I wanted to revise this chapter before that edition went to print, but wasn’t given any time.

I knew Yelena had to have an excellent reason for killing Reyad and while rape is terrible, awful, horrible, I felt I also needed her to look beyond her own pain and suffering that when Reyad threatened her “sisters” it pushed her over the edge.  She had to save them from him.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I’ve had 9 year olds come to my book signings who enjoyed my books. At first, I was horrified, but they arrived with a parent in tow a…



How does a writer make the plot thicken?  I don’t know where that expression came from, but, to me, I see the plot as a series of obstacles that get in the way of the main protagonist’s goals.  So in chapter 19, there are lots of problems to overcome.  Margg wants Yelena to sell secrets, the Commander decides to change his successor, Valek is angry at her and she doesn’t know why, and Rand is trying to duplicate the Criollo recipe.

And Yelena is not super human—all these problems do weigh on her and it’s hard for her to maintain any optimism about her situation.  But she doesn’t give up.  When Rand mentions coffee and she thinks her mystery beans might be coffee beans, she plans to figure it out.  She doesn’t tell Margg to take a hike when asked to spy, but tries to find out more information. This aspect of Yelena’s personality is also a part of mine.  I didn’t give up on trying to find a publisher for Poison Study (you can read about it here:http://officialmariavsnyd…



I am not a runner.  As a kid, I remember running with ease around the neighborhood, playing tag, baby-in-the-air, and capture the flag.  I remember being fast, making it to first base during a softball game before the throw.  However, those skills did not follow me into adulthood and I gasp for air and feel sick after one lap.  Yelena shares this trait with me.  But unlike me, Yelena is determined to improve.  Her stubborn streak shows in this chapter and so does Nix’s efforts to deter her.

Nix came to mind when I was thinking about General Brazell.  The General would be furious that Yelena wasn’t executed, but since he wants his factory up and running he can’t do anything about it.  Not overtly.  Nix is the logical next step.  Pay someone to harass and bully her.

Maren looks like Ruth, my best friend from High School.  However her name is a combination of mine and my sister, Karen’s.  When we were little, we played around with our names, mashing them together.  Karia…



Yelena’s lessons are very similar to my experience in learning karate.  And the reason Valek loves his knives is because my teacher, Tom Palmer loved his knives, too. Tom has a collection of switchblades that he would show us in class.  He also liked to ambush me in the parking lot.  Learning self-defense in a classroom is very different than being jumped in a parking lot and he wouldn’t let go until I proved my skills.  Those extra lessons has made me very aware of my surroundings.  My one regret is not earning my black belt in Issinryu.  I’d advanced as far as a brown belt, but then I’d gotten married and had kids.

Here's me getting my brown belt from Tom:

Some of the best emails I’ve received from my readers are the ones from women of all ages who are inspired by my books and signed up for kickboxing classes or karate.  I know one reader who earned her black belt and that’s just lovely to hear.

In this chapter there is a scene with the Commander and Mia, a youn…



Ari and Janco are back. Janco has tackled and manacled Yelena, grumpy that she gave them the slip all day.  Yelena meets their captain and Nix, two more potential troublemakers.

This chapter, Yelena also gets an assignment from the Commander.  He’s acknowledged her intelligence and has gone beyond thinking of her as just the food taster.  Doing research about the mystery pods and beans, also gives her an excuse to look for more information about magic.

With all these troubles mounting for Yelena, I’d thought the poor girl needed some friends besides Rand.  And that’s where Ari and Janco become more than the guys in the woods.

Ari and Janco are opposites, both in appearance and personality, but they’ve been friends forever (or so it seems).  They started out as the stereotypical solider buddies who add humor to tense situations. I remember watching the original Battlestar Galactica back when Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, and Rick Springfield were in it! …


The editor who worked with me on Poison Study (and 11 other novels) is Mary-Theresa Hussey. She's not only a fantastic editor but a lovely lady, and was also good about not inflating my ego. I worked hard for those few smiley faces peppered throughout my manuscripts.  I asked Mary-Theresa to be a guest on my blog and to reminisce about a book by an unknown rookie that came across her desk 12 years ago!

Please welcome Mary-Theresa!

“Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, I had nothing to distract me from my memories.”

Wow, it’s hard to believe that it’s been twelve years since we put out the call for submissions for the then brand-new LUNA imprint at Harlequin. I remember the feelings of excitement, anticipation and concern about the stories that would come in. I’d always loved fantasy (and romance, of course!) and the opportunity to discover new authors and work with my favorite authors in the genre was just thrilling.

I went to conferences, contacted agents, talked …