Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Character Showcase

Sir Mortimer Grubbins

            Over the next few weeks, I'll be introducing you to some of the characters coming up in my new Regency romance series The Book Club Belles Society. Today's spotlight falls upon one character who plays an important role in all my heroines' stories.

            He's handsome, well-bred, gentlemanly, proud and devoted to the ladies.

            He's Sir Mortimer Grubbins. And he happens to be a large, pampered... pig.

            'Grubbins', as he allows only his closest friends to call him, is an Oxford Sandy and Black, which is one of the oldest breeds of pig in Britain. He was born the runt of the litter and subsequently taken under the wing and into the hearts of five young ladies growing up in the fictional village of Hawcombe Prior. These young ladies, of course, become the Book Club Belles when they form a reading society to devour the novels of their favorite author, Miss Jane Austen.

            Sir Morty's first appearance comes in ONCE UPON A KISS when he ably assists in the misadventures of a wayward country miss named Justina Penny and her friend Lucy Bridges. He also takes much responsibility for the gradual undoing of a rather tightly wound, very proud gentleman from Town named Mr. Darius Wainwright, who becomes his reluctant owner thanks to those two young ladies and a playful twist of fate.

            Sir Morty is a docile fellow who trots and snuffles merrily through the series, making the occasional cameo appearance to aid the ladies in their romantic ups and downs— even, once in a while, sniffing out a reluctant, unexpected hero. Few creatures have so finely tuned senses as Sir Morty and no one can fool him when it comes to love, so they may as well not try.


            “I think we should go back, Jussy. This was another of your very bad ideas, I fear.” Seated in the bow, the young lady who uttered this caution kept one gloved hand gripping the side of the rowboat and one comforting a snorting pink snout laid in her lap.

        At the stern end, heaving on the oars with all her might, Justina Penny, lifelong adventurer—but, alas, novice mariner—exhaled her words in a stream of gusty puffs, like an overworked chimney. “Do be silent, Lucy, before you wake the entire village!”

        Moonlit ripples licked up over the rattling oar hooks as the small vessel pitched and yawed from the unsteady weight of its cargo and the violent struggles of its operator, who, despite the fact that plans very rarely succeeded for her, still refused to be anything other than indignant and surprised the moment they went awry.

            “I believe the boat leaks,” Lucy protested now, in a more hushed voice. “I am becoming very damp at the hem.”

            Although Justina also felt the slow gathering of water around her toes, seeping in through a worn hole in her nankeen boots, she was not about to let that little prob­lem stop them. “You do want to save your pig, don’t you?” she demanded.

            “Of course. But sometimes I feel your methods are more theatrical than they are effective.”

            “Do you not think a little discomfort must be suffered for the cause? After all,” she reminded her friend, “this was your idea.”

            “Not exactly,” whimpered Lucy, gathering the hem of her fine new cloak out of the puddles slowly forming in the rowboat. “I said I wished Sir Mortimer Grubbins could be saved, since he was my favorite and I hand-reared him from a runt. I didn’t suggest we requisition papa’s boat and row down the stream, in near darkness, to steal him back from Farmer Rooke before he goes to the…”—she lowered her voice even further and covered the pig’s ears with her hands—“axe. This scheme was all yours. As usual.”

            Already annoyed with her friend for attending their secret, late-night mission in that bright red cloak—of all things—Justina’s temperature rose another notch. The weed-laden oar splashed down again and she hauled it through the water, moving the boat onward with a shuddering lurch that was nothing like the smooth, speedy escape she’d envisioned. “I don’t care for your tone, Lucy. You begin to sound like a wretched ingrate who cannot bear a trifle inconvenience even to save her beloved pet from slaughter.”

            “I am merely saying there must be other ways—” An owl hoot startled them both and they jumped several inches on their wooden seats.

        Justina replied in a hasty whisper, “We must work at night to avoid being seen, and over water we cannot be tracked by hounds.”

        “But this does seem a rather extreme measure. Surely, when I get the pig home again, it’s not likely I can hide him anywhere. This level of secrecy is perhaps excessive.”

        “Miss Lucy Bridges, your adventurous spirit is consid­erably lacking lately, ever since you turned eighteen, got that fancy new scarlet cloak for your birthday, and began showing more bosom at every opportunity.”

        Lucy’s lips fell into a sulk, but it was a familiar expres­sion these days. She was despondent ever since news came that there would be no soldiers encamped nearby this winter. No doubt the indignity of Sir Mortimer Grubbins’ drool on her new cloak and wet boots on her feet were simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.

        Suddenly, a large winged shadow flew over the boat and skimmed the passengers’ heads. Lucy let out a squeal that must have woken every light sleeper in the village. Justina finally lost her embattled grip upon the oars and, as they floated away from her, the stricken vessel drifted aimlessly into another band of weeds. Here they were apprehended, firmly stalled in the midst of the stream.

        “Well, that’s done it,” Lucy somberly observed.

        There was a warning creak, followed by a splintering crackle. More cold water pooled quickly into the bottom of the boat. Nestled in the tight space between his com­panions, Sir Mortimer Grubbins, the unsuspecting pig, let out a contented grunt.

            “We shall be drowned,” said Lucy, as if she’d always known such a thing would happen. In all likelihood the girl had already picked out a gown in which to be buried and an imaginary, weak-chinned suitor to lay flowers on her grave. But they both knew the water in that spot was merely two feet deep, and what worried Justina far more than drowning was the realization that they would have to carry Sir Mortimer between them to dry land. As the fate of the boat proved, he was no little weight.

            The pig lifted his snout and grunted again, probably won­dering when it might be dinner time. She patted his back.

            “Worry not, Sir Mortimer, we’ll find somewhere to keep you safe.” She already had the very place in mind: Midwitch Manor, recently left empty upon the death of its cantankerous owner. There was a very pleasant orchard there with several small outbuildings, all cur­rently abandoned to Mother Nature. What better place to hide a pig until other arrangements were found?

            One thing was for sure, she thought crossly as cold water slowly wicked up her petticoats, no morsel of bacon or despicable sausage would ever pass her lips again after this.

            A quarter of an hour later, using Lucy’s cloak as a makeshift hammock to carry the noble Grubbins between them, the two young ladies finally struggled up the bank of the stream, through the bulrushes to dry land. They were both wet and exhausted, yet so busy arguing with one another—Lucy still protesting the use of her precious cloak in this manner—that neither heard the approach of hooves and wheels.

            As they emerged from the tall reeds and into the narrow lane, the four horses charging along it at the same moment were startled and reared up. Although the coachman took swift evasive action, he was too late to prevent damage. The coach lurched and jolted.

            The lanterns swung in wide arcs across the lane and with a tremendous creaking and groaning the vehicle finally came to rest in the opposite ditch.

        She heard the coachman inquire whether his pas­senger was hurt and a man’s voice confirmed that he was not. The door of the disabled coach opened and the apparent owner of the voice looked out. Immediately he must have seen the strange rescue party struggling with their burden. “What the devil..? You there!”

        “Fine evening, is it not, my good fellow?” Justina shouted jauntily, shuffling along and straining under the weight of the lounging pig, attempting to ignore the first fat spots of rain dropping with quickening speed to the earth around them. If they let the bundle down now, she feared they would never pick it up again. Lucy had a trying habit of breaking into giggles when she had to lift anything, which invariably made Justina laugh too. They already fought to maintain their anger with one another while at the same time holding back their help­less laughter.

        “Are you quite mad?” the stranger bellowed. “What do you think you’re doing, woman?”

        “Isn’t it obvious?” she sputtered over her shoulder. “We’re carrying a pig.”

        Lucy snorted and then made a small whimper of despair.

            A determined, angry stride followed them a short way down the lane and she hissed at Lucy to pick up speed. If they put Sir Mortimer down to let him walk, he would meander along, snuffling at the ground, delaying the journey. They’d have to carry him at least until they were within sight of the manor house.           Fortunately, the beast did not appear too distressed by his current leisurely repose.

            “Someone could have been hurt,” the man bel­lowed. “The horses might have trampled you both into the ground.”

            “Oh, dear, how dreadful. Sorry,” shouted Justina. “Can’t stop. I bid you a pleasant evening.”

            There was no time for explanations. Rain spat down on her head now with more velocity and although they couldn’t get much wetter, it would doubtless make their path much softer and more difficult. And really, what could be said about something dire that might have happened, but didn’t? Couldn’t he see she had enough immediate and actual troubles of her own?

Hope you enjoyed the excerpt! ONCE UPON A KISS will be released on June 3rd, 2014 and is available now for pre-order in e-book or paperback, from most book stores!

copyright: Jayne Fresina 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sydney Dovedale

As the release date of my second Regency series nears, I would like to celebrate by offering my readers a signed four-book set of my first series. If you'd like to win the complete set, either for yourself or as a present for a friend, please like my Facebook Author page and comment on the post.

Thanks to all of you for reading!

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Call

            I vividly remember the sunny day when I got "The Call". To anyone who has ever submitted a manuscript to a literary agent or a publisher, "The Call" means that long-yearned for phone call with the offer of a contract and an advance.

            At that point in my life as a writer I had suffered countless rejections, my hopes had been puffed up and then flattened more times than my bed pillows. To top it all off, I had just parted company with an agent who had gamely tried to sell my work to the "big" publishers for eighteen months, with no luck. I came close- I made it to the dartboard a few times, but never to the bulls eye.

            Then, out on my own again and determined not to be defeated, I began looking at publishers who accepted submissions from lowly, unagented writers. On December 9th, 2010, I sent a query to Sourcebooks.  I was advised fairly soon that they would like to read my full manuscript of "A Fallen Woman." In January, as we were all recovering from the usual over-indulgences of the season, they contacted  me again. I was asked to make some revisions and resubmit.

            And then I waited. I'd been here before— so I had learned not to get my hopes up. Meh. I feigned elaborate indifference as the days ticked by with no rejection appearing in my inbox. Of course, in the meantime, I continued sending my work out to other agents and willing publishers. The weeks passed into months.

            One day I had an email from Aubrey Poole, an editor at Sourcebooks. She liked my revisions and wanted to take "A Fallen Woman" to her acquisitions board, but first she needed to know if I had any other book ideas she could make into a series proposal.

            Did I?

            I had more ideas than I knew what to do with! More ideas than she could shake a stick at!

            So I typed up a series proposal and sent it in.

            Eventually, on March the 7th 2011, I checked  my email and there was a message from Aubrey. I almost daren't click on it to read the sad rejection I was surely about to get.

            But with a quaking heart, I clicked. And I read. How bad could it be?

            Aubrey Poole... wanted to know... when would be a... good time... to call me. Say what?! I read it several times before it sank in. I believe I walked out of my office to get another cup of coffee before I came back to read it yet again, as if I thought the message might mysteriously change into a form rejection while I was gone. Hey, one can never be too careful! Never too sure.

            When would be a good time?? Er...let me think about it...ANYTIME! It had, after all, been ten years since I started my mission to be published.

            So I sat on my bed in a warm patch of early Spring sunlight and talked to a real live editor, in person, for the first time. I felt as if I was ten years old. I don't remember what I said, but I suspect I giggled like a fool. I do remember every word she told me. Aubrey thought my book was wonderful and the acquisition board loved the series idea I had built around the fictional village of Sydney Dovedale. They wanted to offer me a three book deal with an advance.

            That same day, Aubrey emailed me the offer memo and then the contract, which was duly signed by my trembling, sweaty hand.

            All those years of struggle had finally paid off.

            The three book deal became a four book deal and then Aubrey asked me for a second series proposal which I got to work on immediately.

            I have to admit, over the years leading up to that contract, there were times when I came close to giving up. Rejections are never easy, but I started getting used to them with a dull, weary sort of acceptance. So used to them, in fact, that I began to wonder what I thought I was doing spending so much of my time typing away at a computer— typing stories no one would ever read. But I couldn't stop doing it.

            I think my family felt so sorry for me that they stopped asking about "that book" I was writing.

            But the ideas were always there, characters chattering away to me at all hours. They had to come out somehow.

            Thankfully, other people finally get to read their stories now too.

            "A Fallen Woman" was considered too serious for the title of my book, by the way, and after some discussion it was renamed "The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine". It was released online and in all good bookstores in June 2012. So that was my journey.

            And that's how Jayne Fresina finally got to see her books on a real store shelf!


The Sydney Dovedale Series (published by Sourcebooks Casablanca) includes:

The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine

The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne

Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal

Miss Molly Robbins Designs a Seduction


My first book signing at Barnes and Noble. Girly flowers courtesy of my sister.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


            A dozen years ago I wrote a story called The Poppy and the Pomegranate. It was never published— oh, it needed a lot of work, and back then I didn't know the many rules to writing in the romance genre. I didn't even know that there was such a thing as a "word count" requirement. And I typed with double spaces after all my periods and extra returns between all my paragraphs! Heaven forbid. That was how I was taught to write and type, of course.

            I'd been taught all wrong.

            But in my hopeful, newbie naiveté, I sent queries out to a few literary agents. I loved my story and my characters, particularly the two leads — Griff and Maddy. I just wanted to be a writer and thought that if I put a good story down on paper it didn't matter about silly things like POV and "head-hopping", how many characters got to tell their thoughts, or how many words I used to tell the story. After all, I'd grown up reading those doorstop-sized tomes by Judith Krantz, James Michener and Barbara Taylor-Bradford. Those epic stories were a different breed and belonged to another time in publishing, but I didn't know that. I'd also grown up with the classics— Austen, Bronte, Hardy and Du Maurier. Not that I thought I could compare to any of those writers, but they inspired me to try. I wanted to entertain people with my stories, the way those authors had always entertained me, even so many years after they were created.

            Well, I did get some interest from agents. Several asked to see the entire manuscript and I sent it off— great piles of paper in manuscript boxes, because this was before we all went "green" and email became the preferred method for submissions. One by one the rejections came back. Usually two lines typed on posh-looking letterhead. Occasionally it was just  my original cover letter with a big "NO" penned in the margins between the arc of a coffee mug stain and a cream cheese smear. Sometimes it was just my letter of inquiry, refolded and mailed back to me. I often wondered what happened to all those piles of manuscript paper I mailed to them. Were they ever looked at? I hope they were recycled!

            For a while I kept my rejection letters— a curious form of self-punishment, I suppose— but that pile soon got too large and too humiliating. Two house moves later and it's long gone.

            So is that original manuscript.

            Over the years since, Griff and Maddy's story changed many times. But the two main characters have not. They stayed just as I first wrote them and they live clearly in my mind, like old friends. Only their story has morphed into something quite different to the way it began. It had to change, because although I wanted to tell a story, the publishing folks weren't buying the one I'd written.

            So I started over.

            Catching a submission editor's interest requires many things your English teacher never told you about. You need a hook, a first paragraph, first sentence, that makes them stop and take their finger off the delete button. You need to know how to write an eye-catching query letter that hits all the bases, yet still leaves them wanting more. In a few short paragraphs. In the body of an email. Addressed to the correct person. With a polite, carefully worded salutation —nothing cheesy. No fancy fonts.

            And no attachments unless they ask for it. Don't you know that already?

            I've applied to colleges and for jobs with less requirements to remember.

            But if you want to be a published writer you also have to become a marketing guru with more shine and stubborn resilience than those strands of hair sprayed down over Donald Trump's head. They don't want just a writer. They want a brand. A sharp, tough, professional business person who won't annoy them, harass them or embarrass them. It takes perseverance and a hard head to get through that door and prove you're not their worst nightmare. You have to be hopeful and confident enough to put yourself out there, but you have to know when not to bug that person who is holding your manuscript in their sweaty, powerful hands while they ponder over its — and your—marketability.

            As a would-be writer you get advice from everyone. Even when you don't think you need it.

            Here's mine: Acquire a tough skin that lets the insults bounce off, because you will get a lot throughout your career. It's part of the territory. Grow up, put on your big girl breeches and realize that you'll never be everyone's cup of tea. And it's probably just as well. A swelled head is not becoming in this industry. No one has time for a diva. Creativity, hard work and professionalism are necessities. Publishing is a surprisingly small world and everyone knows everyone, so it's good to be polite too, watch what you say. Write every day. Learn when to let it go and don't be a "helicopter" parent.

            And that's another thing.

            I know people say that every parent thinks their child is the cutest, smartest pumpkin ever. Well, all writers feel that way about their work when they start out. But they soon learn that it's not productive to think that way and it's also quite soul-destroying if you cling to that idea. My work is not the greatest thing ever written, yet it's still important to me and I'm proud of it. I still think of each book as a child I've produced, but I don't create genius children. I'm learning with every book I write.

            Twelve years ago, when I wrote the first draft of Maddy and Griff's story, I was just beginning a long education in the world of publishing.

            This is a world of splinter-short attention spans. The story that winds itself up to a slow conclusion like a long, leisurely, bending country road is almost extinct, so I've been told. At least, it is in the romance genre. Writers are advised that readers don't have time any more to sit down and open a book that contains much more than 90,000 words. They want fewer pages, but more dialogue; more sex, but fewer characters; less internal monologue and detail, but fully developed, three-dimensional characters.

            Readers want that happily ever after and the publishing industry prefers that it comes neatly packaged within a fairly rigid structure— a plot or trope that's well-tried and a proven seller. Somewhere writers have to find a balance between the marketer's comfort zone and the reader's right not to be bored.

            When I finally acquired an agent she changed the title of my romance to "Seducing the Beast". My sisters laughed their pants off, but I swallowed my pride and said, in a very small voice, "ok". I was willing to do whatever it took to get this manuscript looked at and not just passed over in the slush pile. Eventually, I parted company with my agent, but I kept the title she'd given me and went on to get Seducing the Beast contracted, then published. It was a long road (yep, one of those winding, lingering roads "they" don't like in books any more) and I learned a great deal along the way.

            Maddy and Griff's story became a series, as I followed first Maddy's brother and then her daughter to their own happy-ever-afters. I had never imagined, twelve years ago, that this would become a series, or that so many strangers would get to read my work and enjoy it.

            A lot has changed since I typed the first sentence of the first draft. My writing, my life, my outlook— and even the publishing world itself has endured a few rocky changes to which they're still adapting. But Maddy and Griff are just what they were when I started. Like true friends they've been with me through it all, stayed genuine to the people they were when we all started out together, and because of that I know they'll always be special to me.

            I didn't say they were perfect, but they're still my babies and I'm proud of them!


The Taming the Tudor Male in Three Easy Lessons series is now available in e-book and in print.

1.         Seducing the Beast

2.         Once a Rogue

3.         The Savage and the Stiff Upper Lip.

Would you like to win a signed copy of any book in the series (you choose)? If so, please comment below or "Like" my Facebook author page and pm me there. Thanks for reading!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

SHOWCASE - Stephanie Berget

Today I'm welcoming author Stephanie Berget to my blog for a showcase of her latest Evernight Publishing release, SUGARWATER RANCH (Salt Creek Cowboys).

 * * * *

Bar-manager Catherine Silvera finds a waterlogged, unconscious cowboy freezing to death in front of the Sugarwater Bar. She saves his life--then runs faster than a jackrabbit with a coyote on its tail.  Any man who makes his living rodeoing is bad news, especially if Sean thinks partying is part of the competition. He’s everything she doesn’t want in a man, so why can’t Catherine shake her attraction to the rugged cowboy?



Just driving to the town made the trip worthwhile. The scenery was incredible, and the residents of Sisters had remade their community into a replica of a western town right out of the 1800s. The storefronts were made of wood with hitching rails running the length of the main street. Located in the shadow of the Three Sisters volcano mountain range, Sisters was a tourist town through and through. When the logging business went bust in the area, they’d encouraged tourism and saved their town when many others hit hard times. Sean had been to Sisters many times for the rodeo, and he’d always been impressed. Not only did the town ooze western hospitality, each trip he’d felt like he’d stepped into the past when cowboys ruled the area. Best of all, they put on one of the best paying and well-run rodeosin the northwest.
Today the town had been transformed. Quilts of every color and size were displayed in the windows and hung from the store railings, many with blue and red ribbons. The judging was done, and they were out for everyone to enjoy.
"Park the truck, and we’ll start at one end of town and go until you get bored,” Catherine said. She jumped out before he had the engine off and started toward the first store. “Isn’t this beautiful?”
The wonder in her voice had him hurrying to catch up and see what she’d found.
An eighteen-inch square quilt was made of half-inch pieces of cloth. Someone hand stitched all those tiny squares together to make a picture of flowers. The workmanship amazed him.
They wandered along the boardwalk, taking in the quilts and other handmade items. At the ice cream parlor they took a break.
Over ice cream cones, they discussed which quilts Cat liked best. Sean still couldn’t get over the amount of work people put into one of the handmade works of art.
“What do you think?” Catherine asked as she licked her cone. “Are you bored yet?”
“What?” Sean’s attention was riveted to the sight of Cat’s tongue licking the ice cream and he hadn’t heard her question.
“Do you like the quilts?” she asked, as the tip of her tongue slipped around the melting cone.
He forced his gaze up to her eyes. “For blankets, they sure are pretty. I’d be afraid to use them.”
Her smile told him she knew where his thoughts were. “I use one my grandmother made on my bed, but I keep the others stored in my closet because I can’t replace them. Except for sentimental value, most quilts are made to be used."
"You mentioned your grandmother and mom. Where are they now?” Sean gathered the napkins and cups then dropped them in the trash can.
When they were alone on the street, Catherine said, “My grandmother was a member of the Northern Paiute tribe. My grandfather was white. When they wanted to marry, her parents weren’t happy. My grandfather agreed to live on the reservation near Burns and learn the old ways. He became a part of the tribe. They passed away years ago. I didn’t know them well. Mom was born and raised there. When she married my father, he was white like my granddad. Everyone assumed they would stay, too.”
“I’m guessing they didn’t,” Sean said. “Where did you go?”
“It didn’t take long for my daddy to get bored on the reservation. He had other ideas. Big ideas. We wandered across much of Oregon and Idaho, chasing a dream he couldn’t quite catch. After each failure, he drank a little more. Let’s just say things went downhill from there.”
"I’m sorry,” Sean said.
 “Maybe you’ll tell me more about them sometime." But not now, Catherine thought. “What about your family?” she asked. “I know Frannie, and I knew of your mother. You come from nice people."
“Nice people, that’s my family,” he muttered, “all but me."
She glanced over to him. “You’re nice people. You just hide it well.” The giggle burst out of her. Sean had never heard her giggle. She didn’t seem like the giggling type of woman.
Then he realized what she’d said. “I hide it well? And I suppose you can see right through me to the warm chocolaty core?”
She giggled again then laughed outright. And laughter looked very good on Catherine Silvera. “Chocolaty core. Good description. I just need to lick through the hard sugar shell.”
Oh hell, the mental image just about blew him out of his boots.
He grabbed her and pulled her between the buildings to a private spot. “So you’re going to lick through the sugar shell?” It was his turn to laugh as he watched the blush spread up her neck and across her cheeks.
“I didn’t mean... You dirty-minded old man.” Even though she was blushing, she smiled.
“You’d better get started if you want to get to the chocolate tonight.”
His mouth closed on hers. She pressed against him and slipped her tongue into his mouth. She’s taking me seriously was his last thought before his brain scrambled.
They were both breathing hard, and if they’d been any closer together, they’d have been on the other side of each other. Sean cradled her head in his hands and bent to give her another soft kiss. He loved the way this woman smelled, like fresh air and oranges. Sliding his fingers through her hair, he heard her sigh. “I wish we were home,” Catherine said.
“You’re kidding me. This was your idea, and we’re going to finish the tour. This will give you time to think about your treat.” Sean turned her around, put his hands on her waist, and steered her back to the street.
Want to read more? Find Sugarwater Ranch at:

About the author:

Stephanie Berget was born loving horses and found her way to rodeo when she married the Bronc Rider. She and her husband traveled throughout the Northwest while she ran barrels and her cowboy rode bucking horses. She started writing to put a realistic view of rodeo and ranching into western romance. Stephanie and her husband live on a farm located along the Oregon/Idaho border, where they raise hay, horses and cattle, with the help of Dizzy Dottie, the Border Collie, and two Munchkin cats, Magic and Martin.