May 28, 2010

What You Didn't Know About Hungary and THE HUNGARIAN

Please welcome my friend and guest, Stephanie Burkhart, former military vet and world traveler. Comment to win a beautiful postcard!

Dani, thanks so much for having me. I'm very excited to be here today and I'm looking forward to talking about my time in the military and my latest release, my paranormal romance, "The Hungarian."

I discovered my love for Hungary when I was deployed to the Taszur Air Base near Kaposvar in 1997 for Operation Joint Guard. Taszur, was a staging base that the military used to process troops in and out of the Bosnian theatre. It was used because it had an airfield large enough to support the really big aircraft such as civilian Boeing 747's and military C-5 Galaxy planes. It was close to the theatre of operations as well.

Before the Americans Taszur was a Soviet Air Base in Hungary and there was still proud remains of that past. In front of the main admin building, there were four Mig airplanes from the oldest model to the newest. In the Rec Center, which was off base, there were a series of photos starting in the 1950's up until the time the Soviets left in the early 1990's.

For Taszur, Hungary, and the Americans, the air base was important. The Hungarians wanted to embrace the Western way of life now that the Soviets were gone and the Americans wanted a foothold to use.

The Hungarians were the owners of the air base and had leased it to us when I was there in 1997. I found it sad they had only two Migs and both were in such disrepair they couldn't fly.

Taszur itself was a rural town and in the middle of the old Soviet civilian housing was a monument to the Hungarian World War I veterans. Kaposvar was the nearest big city. I would say it was medium sized. There were bars and night clubs and it was a nice place to visit. The middle of town had a pedestrian area with cobblestones. Only walkers, no cars, were allowed.

My job was the base physical security NCO and I checked the base for physical security measures.

On my off time I worked out at the gym, read, watched videos and took rec trips all over Hungary.

One led me to Budapest.

The trip was sponsored by the USO and it was a three day weekend in Budapest. I stayed at a hotel on Margaret Island, which was between Buda and Pest in the Danube River. The room was small, but affordable.

Buda and Pest used to be two distinct cities until they merged to become Budapest. Buda was on the hill overlooking the Danube which the castle district was in. Landmarks in Buda include the king's castle, St. Matthias church and Fisherman's Bastian. St. Matthias church was were the kings of Hungary were crowned. Hungary is mostly a Catholic nation, but the Muslim and Orthodox religions were also represented in the country. Fisherman's Bastian was finished in 1902 and was a ½ mile wall at the entrance to the castle district. There are 7 towers representing the 7 Magyar tribes. The Széchenyi Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges built. It was constructed in the 1840's and connects Buda to Pest as it sprawls over the Danube.

Landmarks in Pest include the Parliament building, the train station, downtown pedestrian area, and opera house.

Hungarians were friendly people and most spoke English which was nice because I hardly understood Hungarian. Our translators were very accommodating and eager to help us with the language. It has Russian-Finish roots though, which makes it a challenging language to acquire. Szia means hello and Zarva means closed, as in closed for business. That's all I can really remember.

I saw all the major attractions in Budapest, falling in love with the city. It's presence and the friendly Hungarian people resonated with me throughout the years. When I was in the plotting and research stage of "The Hungarian," turning to Hungary for my setting seemed perfect. It offered the unique blend of modernization and old world myths that my hero, Matthias, is caught between.

The Blurb:

Katherine Archibald is in search of a grand adventure. A young woman in late Victorian England, she wants to open up a book store in London and travel Europe hunting down rare books. Love isn't on her map.

Enter Matthias Duma. The Hungarian count captures Katherine's attention like no other man before him with his unusual gold-malachite eyes, his exotic features, and his command of the night sky.

After a night of intrigue during Katherine's birthday, she discovers the map does include love in the legend, but will the map lead her to Budapest and the dark, brooding Hungarian she's just met?


"Now it's time for you and Miss Archibald to dance," said Resa.

Katherine waved her hands. "I couldn't dance that."

"You don't have to. We can dance the Csándás," said Matthias.

Resa clapped her hands again. "Yes, it's perfect."

"I don't know how."

"I'll show you," said Resa.

"Go on, Kate," said Liz, smiling. "Give it a try."

Katherine took Matthias's hand, and he helped her to her feet. Martin and János played their music at a slow tempo. Resa showed her a couple of steps at a time. It took about ten minutes, but Katherine seemed to pick it up. Matthias danced it slow for her the first time. There wasn't much jumping, but it was a rather square-type dance, and there was clapping involved. When the song ended, Resa approached.

"Let me dance with Count Duma at the normal pace. Watch me. Try to twirl the skirt when I do."

Katherine nodded her head. Again, the music started, and Matthias danced with Resa. From time to time Resa would look at Katherine to make sure she was watching. Matthias was pleased at how Resa was trying to help Katherine learn the dance.

The dance finished in a flurry of moves, with Matthias wrapping his hands around Resa's waist and Resa resting her head against his shoulder. She quickly parted from him and looked at Katherine. "Remember, it starts off slow but builds up to a quick ending."

"All right," Katherine said.

Matthias took Katherine's hand again. The music began. They danced in front of the fire. Liz and Paul clapped to the beat. They danced around the pit, laughing and clapping. The guitar played faster, the flute hit higher notes. Resa sang in Hungarian. They danced quicker, and when the Csándás ended, Resa threw powder into the fire. The fire crackled. It hissed loudly and then the flames turned colors -- purple, blue, green, and white before slowly returning to yellow. Matthias held Katherine tight against his muscular body. He felt her heart pulsing with energy just like his was.

"How did you do that?" asked Paul.

"Magic," replied Resa.

"Well done, Resa," said Matthias. Then he looked down into Katherine's eyes. "I've enjoyed myself tonight."

"So have I."

"Ah-hum," said Liz.

Katherine reluctantly tore herself away from Matthias's all-consuming stare. He wasn't ready to let the moment die. They sat down and he offered her a glass of wine. Their hands touched. He felt a warm tingle slide down his arm. Encouraged, he leaned closer to her.

"Did you like the dance?"

"It's different."

"I haven't danced like that since--" he paused. "Since my wife died."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought her up."

"She was a part of your life."

"But she is no longer. You're here now," he said.

Goodie Time: I'll be giving away two autographed postcards of the cover to two lucky posters. To be eligible to win, just post. I'll pick the winners out of a hat and announce the winners on the blog no later than the next day.

Link to the Book Trailer:

Links for the Books:

Desert Breeze Website:

All Romance eBooks

Amazon for Kindle

Sony Ebooks

Visit Stephanie at:


Romance Under the Moonlight Blog



May 21, 2010

Please Welcome Shawna K. Williams

The American Christian Fiction Writers have chosen Shawna K. Williams first release, NO OTHER, as a featured book for their book club. Congratulations!

Hi Shawna,

Thanks so much for visiting The Balanced Writer today. I'm excited to have you share info about your new release, and how you balance writing into your life. How about a little introduction about you and where you're from?

I'm Shawna Williams, but my author name is Shawna K. Williams, (my maiden name is Kail.) I've been married to a really sweet guy I met way back in college for eighteen and a half years, and we have three fantastic kids. We live on a ranch in Mena, AR with our extended family of cattle, horses, dogs, cats, goats and rabbits. I know there are all kinds of rumors about Arkansas -- and I suspect some of them are true -- but it's the one of the most beautiful places in the world, I think, and full of wonderful, down-to-earth, warm-hearted people – for the most part.

Is NO OTHER your first book?

Yep! It sure is, but I currently have two more under contract. I also have several short stories that have been published.

How long have you been writing?

I was struck with the desire to write about eight years ago after a really bizarre dream, unlike any I'd ever had. Prior to that, this wasn't something I'd never considered doing.

The dream was a complete story, in scenes, of a man and woman's life. First as they fell in love, then as young parents, then they faced the challenges of career and family, and last was from the perspective of an old woman, who watched her children from afar because she was a stranger to them. Weird, huh?

I couldn't stop thinking about it. For about six months I pondered on it, trying to fill in gaps about how they met, why did they choose certain career paths, why did she end up estranged from her family? It eventually grew so complex in my mind that I couldn't keep track and had to start writing. When I first began I didn't want to tell anyone, including my husband, because I thought they'd think I was crazy. As the story progressed though I eventually shared it with my husband, who was supportive from the start, then a few close friends.

By the time I was done, the book was around 167,000 words. And it was awful! I just didn't know it at the time. Over the next six years I revised, put away, pulled out and revised again, put away. Finally, a little over two years ago I felt like God was telling me it was time to get serious. That's when I started studying the craft of writing through books and critique groups. I also started submitting short stories, and was blessed to have several accepted for publication right away. That gave me the encouragement to rewrite the first part of my awful novel into a separate book, which comes out in May, and the sequel will release in November.

Do you feel you've had to make sacrifices to be an author? What kind?

Yes, but I think that's the case for anything you hope to achieve. Most things don't just happen without a lot of hard work, and hard work takes time. There are only so many hours in a day, so when we devote a lot of time to one goal, there's not as much for other obligations and interests. I try to compensate by doing a lot of my writing at night, but with the deadlines for two more books approaching, plus the extraordinary amount of time that promotion requires, writing related activities do take up a large chunk of my day too. My kids are older and that helps. But there are things that I want to do, or feel like I should be doing that get put on the backburner. Plus, there's the lack of sleep. But that's just how it is with any goal – rewards and sacrifices go hand in hand.

Tell us a little more about the new release.

No Other is a 20th Century Historical, Inspirational Romance. It’s set in a coastal Texas town during 1947, a couple of years after WWII. I really enjoyed writing a story set in this time period because, instead of focusing on how the nation recovered in broad terms, I was able to focus on how individuals set about recovering emotionally from such an event.

Jakob is trying to resume life and deal with his anger over the events of the past five years. His parents are German immigrants who were interned at a camp known as Crystal City during the war. As an American born child he feels betrayed and angry, not just at his community, but at himself because of an incident that he was involved in which he feels may have contributed to their arrest.

Jakob was forced to quit school in order to care for his younger sibling during the war. With the war ended and life beginning to settle, he decides to go back to school and get his diploma so he can move on to bigger and better dreams. It’s immediately awkward though because one of his teachers is a girl he previously went to high school with.

Meri comes from an affluent and socially elite family. She’s a dutiful daughter but also conflicted. On the one hand she desperately wants her parents approval — that’s the only time they offer her their love — on the other hand, she wants to be free of the control they exert over her life.

As friendship blooms and feelings develop Meri begins to understand what real love is supposed to be, and Jakob, seeing the pain her family has caused her, wants to shelter her from more. Of course, the first big obstacle is that because of the nature of their situation (her being his teacher) any type of romantic relationship is unethical, and then there’s also the social issues to consider. Meri and Jakob decide to pursue a secret romance, in which lies lead them to trouble in more ways than one. And I’ll leave the rest as a mystery.

Here's a link to the blurb and excerpt on my publisher's site.

What is your routine, if you have one? Could you share how you work non-writing responsibilities into your day?

Right now, while promoting a new book, writing or writing related stuff is most of what I do all day. The house is a wreck and we've been eating dinners I can throw together in twenty minutes or less, but fortunately I have a very understanding and supportive family.

I think balance is my biggest struggle. When I write I have to immerse myself into the characters and setting, therefore I don't even try during the day. Too much going on. I use the daylight hours for editing, reading, and promotion. Those things I can easily set aside and come back to later, so I'm still able to look after my family and take care of other needs around the house, or run kids to their events, friends' houses, appointments, etc.

The evening hours are for family. We watch a movie or do something together.

Hubby and I are late night people, and that's when we get our alone time. But I'm currently enforcing a rule that he go to bed by eleven so I can get to work. I love him, but if he's awake and watching television, he pauses it every five minute to show me something he's sure I need to see – you know, like a guy flipping his motorcycle while doing a wheely. Important stuff. Lol! So I just wait until he's asleep before I write.

It takes me a little while to switch gears, even after he's in bed I need another half an hour to get my mindset right. Then I work until 3-4am. I'm a little sleep deprived these days. I don't intend for this to be a permanent schedule. It's just necessary until I complete these next two books.

If you had it to do differently, would you have approached your writing career in any other way?

I don't think so. I might feel different in the future, but for now I'm very pleased with the ways things have turned out.

What does the future hold for you? Any new stories on the horizon?

The sequel to NO OTHER is coming out in November, and a really sweet story, called ORPHANED HEARTS, will release in December. I have several ideas brewing for stories after that. We'll see what happens.

Summer's around the corner. What's your favorite ice cream?

Hmm...I guess Cookies'n Cream. Sometimes I'm in the mood for Peach or Strawberry, too, but what I really love are those banana pops I used to get from the Ice-Cream Truck when I was a kid.

Please tell readers where they can find out more about you or buy your books:

Sure, you can find out more about me and my books on my website, or from my blog:

The name of my blog is My Father's Oldsmobile, and there's a funny story about why I named it that, Just click on the car to read it. My book can be purchase at Amazon Kindle, Books on Board, Allromance Ebooks, and the Desert Breeze storefront. In a matter of days it will also be available at Barnes&Noble, and The Sony Reader Store. In the near future it will be for sale at the iBookstore too.

Danielle, I want to give away a Kindle download, or other ebook format depending on the winner's preference. Along with that I'd like to mail the winner a freshwater pearl/inspirational bracelet, and a signed postcard. (However you want to do the drawing for this is up to you)

For the month of May I'm running a contest with three prizes – a Good one, a Great one, and a Grand one. You can enter multiple times, the details are here.

Anyone leaving a comment today gets one entry (please leave your email. I promise these will all be destroyed after the drawing) And, if you can answer this question you get another entry.

What did Jakob's brother, Joe, throw at Jakob when he entered the store? (This question is worth 3 entries)

The answer can be found near the end of the second chapter, viewable through Freado, where you can also read the first four chapters.

Or through the free sample available as a Kindle download.

That is so generous of you, Shawna. I'll hold a drawing one week from today for everyone who comments by midnight (Thursday, the 27th) and let you know the winner.

Thanks, Shawna. Best of luck with your new release!


May 7, 2010

A Time to Play

I would have to say that my other half and I fit into the "thrifty" category. We rarely buy anything without a coupon, sale, or from the clearance rack, so going on a cruise vacation may seem out of character, but we believe in getting out of town whenever possible. On a budget, of course.

Just home from a lovely trip with our college roommates and friends, I am reminded of the great effect taking time away from the computer can have. It was probably a record for me to be away from reading, writing, and answering emails for eight days, but it's already obvious that it was time well spent. I think I miss the meals the most (No clean up!), and though it's taken me almost a week to get back into the swing of things, I find my right-brain bubbling at an usually faster pace. It's great to settle back into work and feel a sense of peace—that one can walk away from all of the scurry of life and know that nothing is going to fall apart and things will run smoothly without us. I know that's hard to accept for some, but those folks need it the most.

Whether it's a day trip to a botanical garden, visiting a relative, or taking a weekend off to go to the beach, getting away is important. I truly believe it can bond families, strengthen marriages, renew friendships, and that's just the beginning. Sure, I'd love to be able to drop everything and take off to the mountains or on a sea cruise at a moment's notice, but that's just not possible with my lifestyle. What I do know is that with a little bit of planning, a lot of saving, and a cheery commitment, we can all do with a little getaway now and then.

This week I'm posting a video from our recent trip abroad with one of my special lifelong friends. We cruised from Florida to Cozumel to Playa de Maya, and had a lovely time hiking Mayan ruins and diving. Oh yeah, and eating. I will be sharing a wonderful lime-cabbage salsa recipe from my cruise buddy in this month's The Privateer Newsletter, so don't miss it. Enjoy!