Monday, January 14, 2013

Interview with Sara Walter Ellwood

Today I'm happy to have Sara Walter Ellwood stop by for a visit. Recently, I had a chance to read Gambling on a Secret and I loved it. So I was tickled to have Sara drop in. :)

Melissa: So I'll start by asking if you can you tell the readers a bit about yourself? Perhaps something we might not know about you?

Sara: Thank you, Melissa, for having me today and for the wonderful review! 

Emm... You know after you do so many of these reviews, this question is the hardest! How about I give you seven words that I’d use to describe myself?

Loyal. Dependable. Determined. Gardner. Wife. Mother. Faithful.

How’s that for different? Because I really hate repeating my bio....LOL.

Melissa: That'll work and that's understandable as well. Hmm, perhaps I'll have to rethink that question. :) So, you also write under another name, Cera Dubois, right? And paranormal romance to boot? How on earth do you have so many great idea for novels popping up in your mind?

Sara: Yes, I’m published under the pen name Cera duBois. I’ve actually written a lot of different things. I originally tried to be a historical author. It made sense since my first career was as a high school social studies teacher. But then, I started writing Star Wars fan fiction for fun. I still have an idea for a science fiction romance tucked away in the cobwebs of my mind. I’ve been a little hesitant to write it because it goes against my beliefs in where we’ve come from... The title is Back to Eden. And I don’t mean the Garden of Eden, but the planet... Let’s just leave it there.

I got into vampires after reading the Twilight series. And A Hunter’s Angel demanded to be written. Then I came up with the book that eventually became Heartstrings, my upcoming April release. The hero is a country star and it just made sense that he’d be from Texas. So, I started writing, and that was my first contemporary western.

I get ideas from everywhere. Songs, situations, the news, a line in a book, anything.

Melissa: Now you can be honest with me… Any plans to write about a cowboy vampire soon?

Sara: LOL! Actually, I kinda did. Austin Calhoun in A Hunter’s Blade is a former FBI agent from Texas and a new vampire, who is also a hunter. He buys a Colorado ranch and pretends to be a cowboy/rancher in order to catch a feisty werewolf saloon owner who might be killing humans in the small ranching town of Silver Creek.

Melissa: Well deuce! (Now would be a good time to mention to you readers, I ran off to pick up my own copy of A Hunter's Angel.) So how did you come up with the idea of your new contemporary release, Gambling on a Secret? And what made you tackle certain issues in the book such as alcohol abuse?

Sara: You are so not going to believe this—unless, of course, you’ve been following my book tour...LOL

In the summer of 2009, a yellow (or tiger) swallowtail butterfly laid eggs on some parsley I had planted in a pot on my front porch. One of the caterpillars survived long enough to form a cocoon. About 2 weeks later, it hatched, and by total fluke (because I almost never water my plants in the morning) I was out there watering one Sunday morning and watched it hatch. The story came to me while my kids and I witnessed that beautiful butterfly come out of its ugly shell.

The issues I tackle in the book kinda evolved as I wrote the book. For my metaphor—as Charli puts it in the book: the ugly worm becoming a beautiful butterfly—to work, I needed something in their lives to be ugly so that the beauty of change could shine through. Dylan’s past/present was actually easy for me. I work in an Army clinic, and I’ve sat through enough training sessions on PTSD to know its symptoms and manifestations. Alcohol abuse is just one of the ways someone with PTSD deals with the pain.

The other major issue I deal with is Charli’s life as a drug addict runaway living with an abusive gang leader/pimp. I’ve done a lot of research on this as I wrote her character, and I tried to keep it as honest as I could, and still stay within the accepted trope of what makes a romance heroine. By the time the book opens, she’s done a lot of healing, but she still has to learn to trust her gut when it comes to men—Sometimes the wrong man is the right one and the supposed right one is not so good.

Melissa: That's an awesome story. Yeah, I never get great ideas like that. Kudos to you for being able to pull a wonderful story out of butterfly eggs on parsley! :) Who knew? Maybe, I should watch the herb box more often now. So which character came to you first, Charli or Dylan?

Sara: Charli. As I watched that butterfly come out if its cocoon, she popped into my head as clear as if I’d known her all my life. Dylan soon followed and I knew they were perfect for each other.

Melissa: They really are! Come now, you don’t have to play coy with me. Please tell me you have plans to write a happily ever after for Zack and Tracy.

Sara: Oh, you’ll be happy to know it’s already in the works. Their story tentatively is set for release in September. Gambling On A Heart is book 2. Altogether, there will be 6 books in this series.

Melissa: I am happy to hear this! I'm a sucker for secondary characters. Can't explain it. :) Can you share one of your favorite excerpts from Gambling on a Secret with us? And why is it one of your favorites?

Sara: This comes from Chapter 6. I’ll admit what makes this my favorite scene (at least one that I can share without giving too much of the story away) is Dylan’s dialogue. I just love him.

Excerpt: "They left the shop and headed to a German pub he had frequented while stationed at Fort Hood. Over their meals of Bratwurst sandwiches and sauerkraut, he couldn’t hold back voicing what had bothered him ever since his cousin started working on the ranch. “Kyle seems interested in you.”

Charli set her sandwich on the plate and wiped her mouth with a paper napkin. The action drew him in like a fly to honey. What wouldn’t he do to feel those lips under his? The possibility sent a jolt straight through him.

“I would never date a man like Kyle McPherson.”

He raised a brow. “Why not? As far as I know, he’s not gay, and the girls in town seem to think he’s good-looking.”

She shrugged and sipped her sweet tea. “I don’t like men my own age.”

A terrible wicked hope burned into his heart. Hell, he was only thirty-six, and that wasn’t ancient. “Okay” was the only response he could muster.

Grinning, she gazed at him with eyes so blue-green they were like the ocean, forbidding and inviting at the same time. “I like older men. I find guys my own age to be complete immature idiots.”

She looked away, leaving him hanging somewhere between drowning in the pools of her eyes and floundering in midair.

He crashed down when he realized he wasn’t the only older man in her life. Leon might be forty-two to her twenty-four, but morals didn’t matter to him. Moreover, the lack of financial security and fear of a broken heart didn’t hold that old bastard back. “What about Leon?”

“I appreciate everything he’s done for me.” Charli picked at the sauerkraut on her plate. “I just wish he’d stop bringing me gifts every time he visits. I love the flowers, but I never have anything to repay him with.”

The instant fire climbing his neck had him breathing hard and his gut turning cold. He growled at the image of her and Leon together. “I can tell you what he wants.”

She put her fork on the plate and narrowed her cat-like eyes at him. “You aren’t going to insist he wants my land again, are you?”

He shook his head and unlocked his jaw. Picking up his glass of cola to keep from fisting his hand, he kept his tone as blase as he could. “Not at all. I’d say first he wants you in the sack as naked as the day you were born.”

Her mouth fell open and she spread her hands over the tabletop. “That is the most vulgar thing you’ve ever said to me. Whatever happened to the officer and a gentleman attitude among you military types? Because no Texas gentleman would ever speak to a woman that way.”

“First of all, I’m not a ‘military type.’ Second, I never proclaimed to be a gentleman of any kind. I just like the facts straight up. There’s no bullshit to wade through to get to the truth.”

Charli looked out the window beside them and jutted her chin a notch. “Sounds like you’re just a jerk to me.”

“You don’t think it’s true?” After taking a much-needed gulp of his soda, he set the glass down with a thud. “Fine, in nicer language here’s what I think. Leon wants you. He’s wooing you, and you’re falling for his crap hook, line, and sinker. And once you’re reeled in, he’ll take that land and leave you high and dry.”

“I’m not falling for anyone’s ‘crap’ because I’ve sworn off men after my last disastrous relationship.”

What happened to you?

She changed the subject and asked about her bathroom remodel. Good move. He was starting to act like a jealous jackass."

Melissa: Ha, I liked that excerpt too! Dylan doesn't really hold back what's on his mind. Now, I believe I read you live in Pennsylvania, right? I was a bit curious if you had grown up on a ranch or might ride horses frequently? You seemed to nail the ranch life to a tee.

Sara: Yes, I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Really? You think I nailed ranch life? D’Ann, you hear that? LOL, I have a secret weapon—I mean critique partner. The great and totally awesome D’Ann Lindun. She taught me so much while working through my first three westerns. But I did grow up on a small farm in the Appalachian Mountains, so I understand farm life, and I think that’s why I can capture ranch life.

Oh, and riding horses? I had the pleasure of riding my first horse this past summer—and I’m 43...

What’s that saying? Write what you know? Obviously, my muse hasn’t heard that rule before.

Melissa: Ha! D'Ann is an awesome lady and writer. Love her books. :) So what’s currently in the works for you? Will we be seeing more releases this year from Sara or Cera?

Sara: I have 4 books releasing in 2013. Book 2 of my Hunter’s Dagger series, A Hunter’s Blade (Cera duBois, The Wild Rose Press) officially released on January 2. Heartstrings (Sara Walter Ellwood, Lyrical Press) releases April 1. And tentatively, Gambling On A Heart, book 2 of the Colton Gamblers will release in September.

Hopefully, I’ll have book 3 of the series, Gambling On A Dream done early enough this year for a winter release. But don’t hold me to it!

Melissa: Wow! Busy lady! Well I look forward to reading every one of them. Thank you so much for dropping by today, Sara. I wish you tons of success with all your books.

Blurb: When Charli bets everything on a secret, will she find the deck stacked against her?

Former runaway-turned heiress Charli Monroe is hiding her sordid past and planning a future in Colton, Texas. Attending the local college for a degree in social work, she intends to raise cattle on her newly purchased ranch, which she plans to open as a home for troubled teens. Only a few glitches—the Victorian mansion is crumbling, the barn needs a roof, and her oilman neighbor wants more than friendship. When she meets Dylan Quinn, Charli is willing to take a chance on the town drunk to help her rebuild the rundown ranch.

Dylan has his demons, too. The former Special Forces commander can’t get past his ex-wife’s betrayal and the botched mission that left him with much more than a bad limp. Certain the greedy oilman next door to Charli wants much more than just her heart, Dylan’s even willing to stop drinking in order to protect her.

When things get dangerous and secrets of the past are revealed, is he only looking out for his new employer, or is she the new start he so desperately needs?

CONTENT WARNING: Details abuse of a minor, drug abuse, alcoholism, swearing, spicy sex, murder.

COVER QUOTE: “Full of intrigue, tangled pasts, and raw emotions, this one is guaranteed to keep you turning pages from start to finish and then wishing for one more chapter!”
Carolyn Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Just a Cowboy and His Baby.
Ms. Brown also named Gambling On A Secret as one of her favorite romance reads in 2012 in the Happy Ever After Blog on USA Today.

Excerpt: “Ferguson, what are you doing here?” Dylan barked.
Leon ambled toward them on the stone path. “I’m saving a young maiden from torment. What are you doing here, playing the part of the devil?”
“I’m Miss Monroe’s new manager.” The deadly edge of his voice matched the flintiness of his eyes. “If there’s anyone to save the young maiden from, it’s you.”
“Mr. Quinn, please.” She turned to Leon. “Leon, is there something I can do for you?”
He smiled, showing off perfect white teeth in a face handsome enough to belong to an actor. “I was just passing by on my way home and decided to stop. How are the boys working out?”
Dylan’s stance widened and his hands flexed at his slides. “What boys?”
“Charli and I have entered into a business arrangement.”
She lost the battle with the urge to wrap her arms around herself. As much as she appreciated Leon’s kindness, respected him, and was even a little attracted to him, something about him didn’t sit right with her. He represented her peers in the community. According to Mrs. Pratt, besides the Cartwrights, she and Leon were undoubtedly the wealthiest residents in the county. No one in Colton could learn about her past. It would ruin her, and Leon, no doubt, had the means to dig up the dirt.
“Really?” Dylan stepped closer to her in a protective manner. Whiskey tainted his breath as the warmth of the exhalations tickled her cheek. “What kind of business arrangement?”
She could protect herself. Dylan Quinn wasn’t any safer than Leon Ferguson. Stepping away from him, she forced her arms to her sides. “Mr. Quinn, I can handle this.”
She faced Leon. “I’m amazed by how much the men got done since starting on Monday. The foreman told me last evening they’d be reseeding another fifty acres for hay this morning. And they have the corrals fixed and started on the fencing in the north pasture.”
“Good, good.” He glanced at Dylan. “I’ll be going, unless you need a more reliable exterminator. I couldn’t help but overhear about your snake infestation. I can give you the name of the company that has gotten rid of the snakes in our lakes over on Oak Springs for years.”
Although he presented the perfect solution, she didn’t the like way Leon had looked at Dylan as he said the word exterminator. “No, Mr. Quinn is quite capable of getting rid of the snake.”
“Oh, I’m sure he is.” Leon tipped his hat. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you, Charli.” Dylan’s jaw tightened as his uncle glanced at him. “It’s good to see you up among the living again.”
Leon headed back to his Porsche. With no pretense of lowering his voice, Dylan said, “Now, there’s a snake no one wants in their garden.” Upon hearing the jibe, Leon’s shoulders jerked in mid-stride.
Rattled by Leon’s attention and the snake fiasco, she turned on Dylan. “You aren’t off the hook. I want those snakes gone.”
“We’ll see.”
“I hate snakes.” She shuddered and put her hands on her hips. “Maybe I should have asked him who the exterminator is.”

My Review: Now anyone that knows me and what I like to review, you might have noticed I tend to stick with the books I really enjoy. So typically I’m a bit leery of reviewing anything that comes as an ARC or request. But I confess, I took a gamble and it paid off. I thoroughly enjoyed Gambling on a Secret.

You guys might have also figured out, there usually are certain reasons why I will like/love certain books. Of course, that could be why I like so many. :)

Nonetheless, I have to point out some of the things that made me love this particular book.

First, the time lapse. Why you might think that’s odd to say, it was well done in my opinion. You didn’t get the “one month later” effect. It was woven into the story, so there wasn’t a dramatic shift in time that would throw the reader off. For me, that took the story a long way, because the hero and heroine needed the time for their relationship to sprout and grow. I like that the author gave our couple time to work through their issues and the time to fall in love realistically.

Second, I don’t believe I encountered a single “lull” at all. The entire book pulled me in from start to the very finish, maintaining a steady, constant pace that continually had me flipping pages to find out what was going to happen next. And now is a good time to point out, the story was cleanly written and well delivered, while the plot was attention-grabbing.

Lastly, the characters and their flaws. I’ve already mentioned the time lapsing in the story. That played a big part for me because it made these two characters’ relationship work. They both had to have the time in order to get around their own pasts and work toward their future. Charli and Dylan both had their own flaws but that just made them more endearing to me. It made them more real and made me sympathize with them and their struggles all the more. I actually really loved Charli and how she turned her life around. And I loved Dylan as well, though he could be a jerk when he wanted, but tell me a man that isn’t. :) In my opinion, these two were well suited for each other. And I think it’s through their flaws that they could find growth, appreciate each other, and reach their happily ever after together.

All in all, I thought Gambling on a Secret was a great read. I even have the itch to read everything this author has written now. By the way, if Ms. Ellwood wanted to write a story about Zack and Tracy, I wouldn’t be sad. Just saying. 

Available for purchase atAmazon 

Author Bio: Sara Walter Ellwood is an award winning author whose novel Gambling On A Secret was named by bestselling author Carolyn Brown in the Happy Ever After Blog on USA Today as one of her favorite romances of 2012. Although Sara has long ago left the farm for the glamour of the big town, she draws on her experiences growing up on a small hobby farm in West Central Pennsylvania to write her stories. She’s been married to her college sweetheart for nearly 20 years, and they have two teenagers and one very spoiled rescue cat named Penny. She longs to visit the places she writes about and jokes she’s a cowgirl at heart stuck in Pennsylvania suburbia.
She also writes paranormal romantic suspense under the pen name of Cera duBois.

Stop by and visit Sara at: Website

Now for some goodies! On each stop Sara is offering: 
~One poster from every stop will win a Gambling On A Secret ebook
~One commenter from each stop will win a piece of custom jewelry.
(The winners of these two prizes will be announced the day after the tour stop.)

She is also offering 2 Grand Prizes during her Gambling on a Secret Tour.
~First Grand Prize is a SWAG PACK, including a signed copy of Carolyn Brown’s Just a Cowboy and His Baby. Also included is a copy of D’Ann Lindun’s Shot Through the Heart, a pen, a notebook, a horse themed mini calendar, a patriotic themed day planner, and more all tucked away in a reusable tote bag at the end of my blog tour. (Books for swag pack were purchased and are given away with authors’ permission.)

~Second Grand Prize is a $10 Gift Card to either Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If you follow the tour and comment as often as possible, you increase your chances of winning!
(The winners of the Swag Pack and Gift Card will be announced on March 1, 2013.)
(Swag Pack is only eligible for US residents to win. The jewelry and gift card are eligible to US and Canada residents only. The ebook is eligible to anyone, unless prohibited by law.)
For Grand Prizes, enter here

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Enjoyed the interview ladies and loved the excerpt Sara!

    Thanks for the informative review too Melissa. I have this book on my radar...I love contemporary!!!

  2. Great interview. Love the story about the butterfly.

  3. Wonderful interview, and thanks so much for giving us the 7 words -- I know what you mean re trying to make sure you don't say the same thing :) Am saving tomorrow to read Secret -- yay!

  4. Fantastic interview. ladies. Incredible story about watching the butterfly emerge and your story at the same time.

  5. What a lovely interview. Sara, your cover is stunning. I tweeted.

  6. What an awesome interview! Another great book by Sara!!! Very cool butterfly story.

  7. Fantastic interview you two.
    Sara, I loved your butterfly story.

  8. Wonderful interview, ladies! Love the cover!

  9. Thanks everyone for stopping by. You ladies are awesome in your support...

  10. Winners!

    For the ebook: Daryl Devore
    For the jewelry: Mart Ramirez

    Remember everyone is still in for the grand prize!