Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Fun Facts: Time for a Trailer!

TGIF, readers! For your viewing pleasure today, the trailer for Cocktail Cruises: The Collection. (Authors, check out Animoto to make free 30-second videos like this one. I love it!)


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Writers' Wednesday: Spotlight on Featured Author Marianne Sciucco

Welcome Wednesday readers! It's time to feature another of the contributing authors from Cocktail Cruises: The Collection. This week's spotlight is on Marianne Sciucco, whose first novel Blue Hydrangeas has garnered almost 100 4+ stars on Amazon and is the story of a couple facing the challenge of Alzheimer's. Marianne's cocktail recipe in the Cocktail Cruises Collection is, fittingly, the Blue Hydrangea, a twist on the traditional Cape Codder. Tempting, right?

For more about Marianne and her work, read on:

Hi Allie. Thanks so much for sharing some space with me on your blog and letting me speak to your readers. I'm so excited about my latest book project, a YA novel called Swim Season, the story of high school swimmer Aerin Keane, the new girl on the team who challenges a longstanding school record. 

I’ve been writing forever and indie-published my first novel, Blue Hydrangeas, last year. Like so many writers, I wear many hats, one of which is called “Swim Mom.”  I’ve shuttled my daughter to swim meets and swim practice for years, and now follow her across state lines during her college swimming career. All those hours sitting on cold, metal bleachers waiting to watch her swim for a minute or two gave me more than a sore you-know-what: It inspired me to write this book.

My goal was to write a story about the whole high school swimming experience, to show others who may not be as familiar with the sport how much fun it is and how hard these kids work. I started it four years ago and will soon have a completed manuscript. The plan is to publish in spring 2015. 

In Swim Season, Aerin is determined to leave her troubles behind as she starts her senior year in her third high school.  Senior year is supposed to be fun, right? Friends. Parties. Dating.  She wants to be like every other girl at Two Rivers. Except Aerin has two secrets: Her mom is not a nurse serving in Afghanistan (a twist on the truth) and she is not an average varsity swimmer (an untruth of epic proportions.) Ready to give up her dreams of a college swimming scholarship and a shot at the Olympics, Aerin decides she doesn't want to win anymore, she wants to swim for fun, it's her "therapy."  But when her desire to be just "one of the girls on the team" collides with her desire to be the best this school has ever seen, Aerin sacrifices her new friendships to challenge a longstanding school record attached to a $50,000 scholarship.

Here's a sneak peek: 

As soon as classes ended for the day, the team gathered on the pool deck dressed in our warm up suits, swimsuits underneath. The chatter was at a feverish pitch as the girls assembled into their tiny groups, the newbies huddling together at the end of the bench, watching as Coach and a few members of the boys’ team set up equipment for the meet. Some of the newbies looked terrified, including Charlie, who gave me a weak smile when I said hello. This was her first meet with the big girls, and she’d been talking about nothing else the last two days. She was petrified she’d make a mistake, be disqualified, or swim the wrong stroke. No matter how much Mel and I tried to convince her she had nothing to worry about she continued to bite her nails to the nubs and fear the worst.
The seniors staked out their own spot on the other end of the bench, joking amongst themselves, much more relaxed than the newbies. All of them had been on the team for several years, some as many as five. I was the only one who had never competed in this pool. I didn’t think it would be any different from any other swim meet. I leaned against the wall with Mel and Erica, waiting for Coach to come over and give us our pre-meet pep talk and plan of action. Our opponent had not yet arrived.
Coach walked over with his clipboard in hand. “Over here, girls,” he said, bringing us in close. “This is our first meet and we’re lucky it’s against the Hawks. We beat them most every time. This year they’re pretty thin. They lost their powerhouse senior, and haven’t replaced her with anyone as dynamic that we know of today. So, you can feel confident we’ll win again, but don’t feel too confident because I heard they’ve got a couple of foreign exchange students they’re keeping under wraps. We don’t know too much about them and they could surprise us. It’s happened before. They swim distance and butterfly, so Tatiana and Erica, you need to pay attention to what’s happening in the next lane, ok?”
He turned toward the newbies. “I want every one of you to take a few breaths.” He demonstrated some relaxation breathing. “And relax,” he said, smiling. “You’re all going to do fine. You’ll each swim one event, and some of you will swim two and a relay.” He looked at Charlie. “Just get in the water and do what you know how to do.”
They looked at him gratefully, an audible sigh of relief passing between them.
“Now, here’s the lineup,” Coach said. “I had to mix it up a little bit to cover all our bases.” He went through the order of events, announcing who would compete in each one. There were a few moans and a couple of groans from swimmers unhappy with their events. No one liked to race out of her comfort zone and many preferred to do what she did best. Only a few girls excelled in more than one stroke. I was not one of them. Coach had me in the 200 and the 500 freestyles, plus on the “B” team for the 200 and 400 free relays. No surprises. I figured I’d pace myself to a third or fourth place finish, maybe fifth, which would still earn points for the team. No way would I come in last. That never happened.
“Now, everybody in the pool for warm up,” Coach ordered.
We jumped into our assigned lanes and started easy laps, warming up our muscles, preparing ourselves for the impending races. I moved through the water languidly, stretching my arms and legs as far as possible, taking easy breaths on the third stroke. I shared my lane with four other swimmers and we stayed out of each other’s way. I executed smooth flip turns, not losing any speed, and glided from wall to wall. After about twenty laps, I stopped in the shallow end to catch my breath. Mel was in the next lane.
“Here they are,” she said, out of breath, her face red. I looked behind me and saw our opponents emerge from the visitors’ locker room in their red and white warm up suits. In minutes, they had stripped to their swimsuits.
“Wow,” I said. “They’re pretty big.”
“Not really,” said Mel. “The biggest ones are seniors and they didn’t do much last year, didn’t even make the finals in championships. That small one with the long, blonde hair is their best swimmer. She almost beat Tati in the 200 and 500 free last year. Other than that, no real threat.”
“If you girls are done with your warm up you can get out and head to the locker room for final instructions,” Coach said from the sidelines. I hadn’t noticed him sneak up on us.
Mel ducked under and headed for the ladder.
“You’re looking good, Aerin,” Coach said. “I hope to see something special from you today.”
I nodded. This was the first time he’d given me any praise or laid any expectations on me. I felt a tiny thrill and then a huge sense of foreboding. Part of me was proud to be recognized, but another part of me longed to remain anonymous. My intention to stay under the radar this season was still top priority. Gaining Coach’s attention threatened that, and made me a little uneasy.
“I’ll do my best,” I said.

Swim Season means so much to me - and to many of the swimmers and swim parents I've talked to - that I decided to do something different to ensure its success. I recently launched a campaign on Pubslush, a marketing platform that offers me a way to test the waters, build an audience, and provide start-up funds necessary to publish, distribute, and promote Swim Season. Please take a moment to check out my page  where you can read the first chapter and watch a short video where I explain my project. Then please join my team. There are lots of great incentives, including free books. You don’t even have to get wet!

About the Author

Marianne Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up, but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues. Her debut novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller, IndieReader Approved, a BookWorks featured book, and winner of IndieReCon’s Best Indie Novel Award, 2014. A native Bostonian, she lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, and when not writing works as a campus nurse at a community college. She loves books, the beach, and craft beer, and especially enjoys the three of them together. Follow Marianne’s Adventures in Publishing on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+.

You may purchase Blue Hydrangeas at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and other online booksellers.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Mentionables: It's Time for Another Free Read!

Happy Monday, everyone! It's time for your free read, this week from Chapter 1 of Between the Sheets, the third book in the Cocktail Cruise series. Enjoy!

An affair with an exotic cruise line dance instructor might be just the escape this single mother needs… 

Andrea DeMarco is determined to merge a cruise ship career and single motherhood. But that leaves zero time for sex or love, so when she has a chance for a fling with a sexy cruise ship dancer, she goes for it. 

Sebastian Vasquez enjoys a low-key life as the ship’s dance instructor, a welcome change from his previous life in Argentina as the star of a hugely popular dance show. But when Andrea sweeps into his life, everything changes. 

Will new love help him come to terms with his past, and convince her to find room in her life for another man? 

Savvy Tip of the Day:
There is nothing wrong with having a no-strings-attached fling. As long as you’re clear from the start about what you’re looking for, getting naked with someone can be the perfect way to regain your mojo after a long dry spell.

Andrea DeMarco rested her chin in one hand and finished reading today’s article on her favorite advice website, The Savvy Sex Goddess’s Guide to Life, Love, and Getting What You Want. Dry spell? She had a whole Sahara Desert stretched out in her past. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gotten naked with someone. Well over a year. Maybe even pushing two. Ugh. Depressing thought. She shut down the computer and rooted around in her makeup bag for lip gloss. She was already running late, and she had a cruise ship to catch in less than six hours. Between now and then she had to get her son off to school, pack, and stop by corporate headquarters in Tampa before boarding the Spirit of the Sea.
The cruise ship. Now there was a place filled with possibility for a no-strings-attached fling. Cocktail Cruise Lines specialized in singles’ cruises, which meant the ship was bound to be filled with men of all ages, types, heights and builds.
“Yeah, and I’m there to work,” she muttered.
She zipped her suitcase and put her laptop into its case. Even though she worked in the cruise line’s marketing department, she rarely stepped foot on any of the ships. She was sailing this time only because the CEO wanted someone from corporate to see the new itinerary. True, she wouldn’t be chained to a desk or stuck inside an office the whole time. She could mingle. She was supposed to mingle, and get passengers’ opinions, which meant she’d be talking to single men. But she wouldn’t know the first thing about going from talking to actually having a fling.
Andrea pulled on a long-sleeved pink t-shirt and rolled up the cuffs. For just an instant, the ship’s tall, sexy ballroom dance instructor flashed inside her mind’s eye. Sebastian Vasquez had been working on the Spirit of the Sea for almost a year. She’d crossed paths with him twice before, and each time he’d pulled her onto the stage for a little two-step to please the crowd. But oh, it had definitely pleased her as well. She could still recall the way he’d spun her in circles and left her weak in the knees.
Now that would be someone to have a fling with. South American and sexy as hell, she bet Sebastian had women lined up to sleep with him. That body. That accent.
She bent over her makeup bag and peered inside. She had bought a new Funky Fuchsia lip gloss, hadn't she? She could have sworn she had. She pulled her long blonde hair off her neck and reminded herself to make an appointment for a cut when she returned, because –
            Drew's screech echoed through the small, ranch-style house. Andrea dropped the makeup bag and stood straight up. Little tubes and pallets and brushes scattered across the bedroom floor.
            She dashed for the living room, heart ratcheting out of her chest. Drew never screamed like that. Ever. She skidded down the hall on bare feet. He was conscious and breathing, if he was making noise, right? He shrieked again, and she prepared herself for blood or a femur sticking through the skin or worse.
“What, baby? What's wrong?”
            Her tow-headed six-year old stood in the middle of the couch, eyes wide, pointing at the floor. “Mommy, look!” No blood. No broken bones. Her stomach righted itself.
            At that moment, the house’s resident mouse scuttled from under the coffee table to the baseboard heater. A smaller one followed. Andrea laced her hands over her eyes. There are two of them now?
            “Mommy, did you see them? Did you see both of them?” Drew clutched his hands together in the gesture that normally made her smile. Today she marched over to the couch and grabbed him under both arms.
            “Yes I did, but you scared me.” She planted him on the floor and put one finger under his chin. “Do you understand? When you yelled like that, I thought you were hurt.” Perspiration covered her face. Her heart still hadn't settled down.
            Drew's bottom lip pushed out. “I wanted you to see them. You never see them.”
            Yes, I do, she almost answered. Calling the exterminator just wasn't near the top of her list of priorities. She wasn’t hurting for money, but she was desperately short on time. She couldn’t wait around during a four-hour window for someone from Rid-a-Rats to show up. She'd hoped that putting traps in the closets would have done the trick, but it looked as though these mice weren't hungry for peanut butter.
            “Come on.” She took him by the hand and led him back down the hall. “You need to finish packing.”
            “I don't wanna go to Uncle Toby’s.” Drew's walk turned to a sliding of feet along the hardwood. He pulled at her arm. “I wanna go with you.
            “I know, baby, but you can't. Cruises are for very extra special occasions. You know Mommy is only going for work.” She'd probably made a mistake bringing him along to Cozumel last year. It was all he could talk about now: meeting the captain, getting to ride the elevators, selecting from the endless meal choices on the buffet. She rubbed the top of his head, messing his feather-light blonde hair. She'd probably made a thousand mistakes in all these years of raising him alone, and was bound to make more.
            They stopped in the doorway of his bedroom, and she dropped to her knees and hugged him. One thing she hadn't done wrong, though, and that was love him to the moon and back.
            Do you know how hard it is, raising a kid on your own?
            Ron will never be around. You'll have to sue him for child support.
            There are other options, you know. Have you thought about adoption?
            Unexpectedly pregnant one year out of high school, working a part-time job, she'd listened to her friends and family at first. She’d spent nights lying awake in tears, she’d made lists, she’d weighed her options, and then she'd ignored everyone’s advice. From the moment she felt Drew move inside her belly, she'd loved him. When the doctor laid him in her arms, pink and wet and bawling his little lungs out, she'd loved him. Every scraped knee and nightmare and tantrum, every minute of letting go as he learned to walk and talk and dress himself and climb to the top of the jungle gym, she'd loved him. She hadn't known her heart could grow with the love that filled it, that every day and week and year her heart would get bigger as Drew did. It amazed her.
            “Mommy, you're strangulating me,” he said against her shoulder, and reluctantly she pulled back. His blue eyes met hers, and she knew in a minute he'd tug her in with that don't-leave-me look. In those moments he reminded her of his father, the way he could cajole and manipulate and twist her inside out. She stood and brushed the dust from her black jeans.
His father. Damn it to hell. After five years of moving around the country, of sending the occasional post card from a commune in New Mexico or a mountain top in California, the jackass had showed up in Florida last year and announced his intentions to get to know his son.
            “Over my dead body,” she said aloud.
            Drew frowned. “What does that mean?”
            “Nothing, baby,” she said, and steered him into his room. “I was talking to myself.” Toys lay scattered across the bed and floor. His denim knapsack sat open and empty on his bed. Much as she would have liked to bring him with her, snuggle into his skin at night, point out constellations from the Aloha Deck, and have the ship's cook make him Mickey Mouse pancakes, that simply wasn’t an option this time.
            “Uncle Toby will be here in an hour to take you to school. You need to be ready to go. Decide which toys are going with you and which are staying here.”
            Drew gave a dramatic sigh and launched himself onto his bed, where he began sorting his toys into piles.
            Andrea’s cell phone rang. “Please tell me you’re not running late,” she said as she answered on the first ring. Her brother had a tendency to do that, and today was not the day for – 
            “Late for what?” came the low, scratchy voice in response.
            Oh, hell. Andrea stared at the phone, reading the number on the screen for the first time. “Ron? Why are you calling me at seven in the morning?”
            “I’m going out of town for a few days.”
            “And not coming back?” she asked hopefully.
            “And I’m hoping we can sit down when I get back and talk about working out some time for me to spend time with Drew. You didn’t return my last couple of calls.”
            Her fingers drew into a ball. As much as she wanted to refuse to see him, or to let Drew see him, she had no legal grounds. Ron had left her three months after Drew was born, but he hadn’t waived his rights. He’d always managed to send money. And in the last six months, he’d made her life miserable with threats about suing for joint custody.
            “Is that going to be a problem?” he asked when she didn’t answer. “We’ve been around and around about this. I’m tired of waiting. It’s almost Christmas. I’d like to be able to see my son for the holidays.”
            My son. How dare Ron say those words so glibly? “We’ll talk about it when you get back,” she answered around the lump in her throat. Like he could take Drew to sit on Santa’s lap and everything would be fine. 
            “I’ve already talked to my attorney about the hours you work,” Ron said.
            “You work twelve, fourteen hour days at the office. You told me that.”
            Her jaw tightened. She had, too, when she’d announced that she made a six-figure salary and provided well enough for Drew that they didn’t need Ron’s money. She’d thrown the words at him, proud that she’d worked her way up the corporate ladder and didn’t rely on anyone to support her.
            “A six year old needs his mother at home. Not at the office until nine o’clock at night.”
            “How dare you –” She stormed down the hall and into the half-bathroom by the front door. Seething, she spit the words through clenched teeth. “How dare you accuse me of neglecting my son. You think you know what a six year old needs from his mother? How about what he needs from his father? Oh, but wait. You wouldn’t know anything about that. You don’t have the first clue about raising a child, or you would’ve stuck around after he was born.” She turned on the faucet to hide her trembling voice and prayed Drew wouldn’t come looking for her.
            Ron cleared his throat. “I’m talking about the present, Andrea. I’ve made mistakes in the past. I never said I didn’t.”
            “I am not having this conversation with you right now.”
            “I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be away until the middle of next week.”
            She didn’t mention that she’d be out of town as well. Ron didn’t need to know the details of her life. If he had an issue with her staying late at the office, what would he say if he knew she was leaving Drew in the hands of his uncle for six days? He’d turn that into some shit about maternal abandonment.
            “Fine,” she said and hung up. She pulled her hair back from her face and stared into the mirror. Two pink circles burned in her cheeks, and her mascara was smudged. She didn’t imagine she’d be having any flings on board the Spirit of the Sea now, regardless of the opportunity or the Savvy Goddess’s advice. The last thing she needed was Ron finding out and twisting the facts to suit his purpose.
            Sometimes Andrea wished the Savvy Goddess had a section on her website for foolproof ways to get rid of unwanted exes and dispose of the bodies without getting caught. A small smile tugged at her lips. Or, at the very least, how to live as a single mother and not spend nights wondering if she was ever going to fall in love or feel attractive to a man again. 

Want to read more? You can order your copy of Cocktail Cruises: The Collection for only $1.99 today!