Author spotlight and a book giveaway!

As most of you know, in July/August 2011 I took Kristen Lamb’s blogging to build a brand course (go sign up for her next class) with about 40 other writers/bloggers. Our class was called WANA711 and you can find most my fellow classmates in my Circle of Friends on the right-hand menu.

Given that so many of our classmates are published (traditional and self) authors, the WANA711 class has decided to do book/blog promotion throughout February and March. So watch for more author spotlights, book giveaways, and blog guest postings among the Circle of Friends.

Elena Aitken

It gives me great pleasure today to welcome Elena Aitken to my blog digs! Elena is a writer, a mother of twins, a swimmer, a wife, a volunteer, a runner, a friend, a triathlete, a daughter, a sister, a Brownie leader (recently retired), an auntie, a cyclist, employee…she’s doing it all!

She’s been writing in one form or another since elementary school. She turned to non-fiction for a number of years and was a regular contributor to local parenting magazines, published in four Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, and a compilation by Seal Press. It wasn’t until 2005 that she tried her hand at writing fiction and wrote her first novel. It’s buried on her hard drive but she’s written four more that she shares with the world:

  • Drawing Free: sometimes Mom loses herself in the daily struggle. What would happen if one day, Mom just kept driving? (her latest release)
  • Nothing Stays In Vegas: a contemporary romance novel spanning the bright lights of Las Vegas to the tranquil Canadian Rockies.
  • Unexpected Gifts: a Christmas romance.
  • Betty & Veronica: a touching short story showcasing the power of best friends.

Welcome Elena! I am thrilled to spotlight you on my blog. I recently read both Drawing Free and Nothing Stays In Vegas and I have to tell you, I was totally blown away and more than a little jealous. The story lines popped, the plots and subplots were interesting (with a couple of twists I did NOT see coming), the writing was smooth and flowing, and the characters were amazing (believable, authentic and so real they jumped off the pages).

Thanks, Natalie for having me over here on your blog. I’m super excited to hang out with you. Even if it’s only virtual.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? What’s your writing process?

Is it cheating if I say I’m both? I actually am a bit of both. I do like to have a somewhat clear idea of what’s going to happen in a story before I start, and I’ve recently started using a technique called storyboarding that’s really helped me develop all the key points of a story. BUT…it’s never that straight forward because every single time I start writing, the characters kind of take on a life of their own, and lead the story in a different path. Inevitably, I end up adjusting my original plan. For me, the key is to be fluid and listen to the characters. And yes, I realize that makes me just a wee bit crazy.

How do you come up with your story ideas? I mean from the very start; how do you brainstorm, pick a final idea to run with, and then develop the idea with a plot and subplots?

That’s a tricky question. Story ideas have never been a problem for me. They tend to pop in my head at all times, always have. I’ve always made up stories in the strangest places, but in the car, while driving longer distances has always been my favourite place to brainstorm, which is handy because I drive a lot. As for picking the final idea, that’s harder. I usually go with the idea that won’t leave me alone. I work it, developing it in my head, creating scenarios, etc. If it works, I’ll try sketching it out. Sometimes, I stall out at that stage, which just means I’m not ready for that book at that time. But other times, it works. It’s usually the story that keeps nagging and won’t leave me alone that makes it to the planning stage and ultimately the writing stage. I have to love an idea.

How do you develop your characters?

Oh, another tough one. Character creation usually comes from an amalgamation of traits I observe from those around me and of course, my imagination. What I usually do is sketch out a few details and then just start writing and the character develops itself. Of course this almost always means I have to throw out the first few thousand words I write, but that’s okay. Because I write women’s fiction, all of my characters are usually someone I’d be friends with or at least know in real life. Even if it’s someone whose actions I don’t agree with all the time, I have to relate to them in some way.

How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?

That totally depends on the book. With Unexpected Gifts, my Christmas story, it was fast. Really fast. I think I wrote the first draft in five or six weeks. But with Drawing Free, I wrestled with that one for almost three years. It got three complete and total rewrites, a whole lot of stress, and a ton of angst. But I couldn’t give up with that one. For me, Becca’s story in Drawing Free, needed to be told. Nothing Stays In Vegas was a pretty fast write for me as well. I think the first draft took a total of three months. Of course there are edits and rewrites after that. I’m fairly prolific which is good because I have a lot of ideas!

What’s your advice to writers JUST starting out, like me? What do you wish you would have known when you started out?

Hmm…I think the best advice I could give is to write what matters to you. Fall in love with your characters and love your story. You have to want to go to the keyboard everyday and totally immerse yourself with these people/characters. I think too many writers fall in the trap of writing what’s ‘hot’ or what they think agents and editors want. Don’t. Write what YOU want. I wish that someone would have told me earlier to trust my own voice. But even if they did, I probably wasn’t ready to listen. Another good piece of advice… find a quality writing group. Write. Submit. Learn. Repeat. Always write. Always. It’s the only way to get better and find your own voice.

What’s coming up next from you?

I’m really excited about my next project. It’s tentatively titled ‘Sugar Crash’ also known as ‘The Diabetes Book’. It’s the story of Darci, a single mom who doesn’t need anyone and can do it all. When her daughter Taylor is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, they’re forced to adjust to a new lifestyle and Darci has to learn that it’s okay to let others in. It’s a powerful and raw look at diabetes, but of course there’s a love interest and a few twists thrown in as well!

I’m so enthusiastic about this book because it’s based loosely on one of my dearest friends and her personal experience and I’ll be donating a portion of the proceeds to Team Diabetes in support of much needed diabetes research.

What’s your favourite Urban Word? Ever used it?

Hmm… I love all your urban words. BUT I really liked Vajazzle. That word made me giggle every time I read it. Also, I’m a huge fan of making up words that work. Bring em’ on, Natalie!

Would you share an excerpt from Nothing Stays In Vegas?

I would LOVE to! I thought I’d share something a little fun, and dive into a little bit of Chapter Six.

Leo took the key from my fingers and slid it into the slot on the door. I had a flash of something.

Hesitation? Uncertainty? I knew I was being very forward, brazen really. The total opposite from how I normally act. But when I looked into his dark eyes, I didn’t care.

We’d barely stepped inside, and Leo grabbed me and spun me so I was pressed against the door. And this time when his lips met mine, I was ready for the way my body would react to him.

At least I thought I was. His lips melted into mine the same way they had earlier, my body responded with a thrill and I pulled him closer, securing my hands around his waist.  As the kiss grew deeper, I needed more.

It wasn’t enough.

Everything I thought I knew about myself went out of the window and I bit down on his lip in what I hoped was an invitation for more. I thought my body might explode from the heat.

Leo kissed me deeper and this time I didn’t over think it. I let myself open up to each one of the sensations he stirred inside of me. As long as we were kissing, I didn’t think.

I couldn’t think.

It was as if all of my energy and focus was channeled into Leo. But when he broke the kiss, sucking on my lower lip as he pulled away, a million unwanted thoughts came crashing into my brain.

Should I be doing this? I didn’t even know this man. I was still legally married. Am I making a smart decision?

If my uncertainty showed on my face, he didn’t notice. His back was turned and he led me across the floor to one of the queen sized beds.

“This one’s yours,” he said. It wasn’t a question. 

I smiled, my concerns forgotten as I looked at the two beds. The one closest to the window was covered in clothing. Shoes, blouses, a dress and two purses lay on the comforter. It looked like that half of the room had been ransacked. Or, someone couldn’t decide what to wear. The bed we were standing in front of was freshly made from housekeeping. The novel I was reading earlier lay open on the pillow.

“Only you would bring a book to Vegas,” he said. He lifted it, marked the page with a napkin and placed it on the bedside table before turning back to me. He ran his thumb down the side of my face, until it touched the corner of my mouth. I closed my mind to everything except him. When he touched me, I no longer cared if I was making a smart decision, every nerve ending in my body sparked and reacted to him. That was all I needed.

I ran my hands down his chest, feeling his muscles through his shirt. His hands were on me as well. They moved down my bare arms and my skin tightened in response to his warm touch.

He didn’t kiss me, but instead looked into my eyes. Somehow the connection between us intensified with the anticipation. Feeling bold, my fingers found the buttons on his shirt and began to work them free. I took my time as I undid the first two, but my pace quickened when the fabric parted, exposing his bare chest. Impatient I yanked the fabric, popping the bottom buttons free. He still didn’t break eye contact with me, but I could see his lips turn up into a smile.

His hands came to rest on my upper arms, his thumbs worked slow circles on my skin.               

With a small smile of my own, I pushed my hands beneath the open fabric of his shirt and slid them up his chest. The feel of his smooth skin, chiseled from what? Time at the gym? Physical work?

It didn’t matter.

The feel of him under my fingers cranked up the level of my desire. I moved further up and over his shoulders, pushing the shirt down and then before I realized what I was doing, I took half a step forward and bent my head so my lips pressed onto his bare skin. With small kisses and nibbles, I worked my way from his neck down his torso. His grip on my arms tightened, and he let out a moan. When I got to his waist and his belt buckle I straightened up and looked straight into his eyes again.

“Jesus, Lexi,” he groaned and crushed me to him. His lips were no longer soft or slow, but full of heat and need. His hands released my arms and reached behind my neck, untying the halter. The soft fabric fluttered down, revealing my bare breasts. He stripped himself of his own ruined shirt before his hands found me again.

God, he was beautiful.

There was no time to study his perfect form, the touch of his hands on my chest distracted me from all thought as he slid them down my chest and between my breasts leaving a trail of heat as he went. Leo’s hands didn’t stop moving. In a quick motion, he unzipped the back of my dress and pushed it over my hips. It pooled to the floor and I stepped out of it.

“You’re gorgeous,” Leo said and he pulled back to look at me. I was thankful for the red satin panties set Nicole had urged me to buy instead of wearing my usual cotton. With my hair falling over my shoulder, I felt sexy and not the slightest bit insecure.

“Kiss me,” I whispered. I needed to feel his lips again. He obliged by pulling me towards him, but instead of kissing my mouth, his lips touched the sensitive spot on my neck, just below my jaw. I shivered and a moan escaped my lips. He used one hand to hold me to him while the other ran through my hair, gently tugging my head to the side, exposing the length of my neck. He nibbled and kissed his way down to the swell of my breasts. My body shuddered with anticipation and he stood up, meeting my gaze that I’m sure was clouded with lust.

“Your turn,” I said and I moved my hands to his belt buckle and slid the leather through. My fingers fumbled with the button but I managed to push it through and moved the zipper down. Before I could think twice, I plunged my hands into the fabric.  

Love it! Hot Hot HOT! I think you left my readers not just wanting, but dying, for MORE!

Thank you so much for swinging by my blog digs Elena. I can’t wait for your next book to come out. I’ll definitely be first in line to purchase. I wish you all the success in the world.

Enjoyed Elena so much you want more?! You can:

What about you; any questions for Elena? How does your writing process differ from hers?

Book Giveaway Details


How do you win?

  • The book giveaway is open all week; February 6-11, 2012 (until 11:59 pm AST).
  • You will earn one entry into the draw each time you comment on one of my blog posts this week.
  • Tweet about this post and earn an additional entry (be sure to put my twitter handle @nataliehartford in your tweet so I know).
  • On February 12, 2012, I will put all the names in a hat and hubby will draw the names of the winners.
  • Check back February 13, 2012 where I will announce the winners.

Please note: Elena will be on vacation when I make the draw so she will get in touch with winners upon her return February 25, 2012.

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