A Few of Kimberly Belle’s Favorite Things

By Kimberly Belle

One thing I learned about myself when sitting down to write this blog is, I have a lot of favorite things. Sunny days on the beach. Spending time with family and friends. Sleeping in on a rainy Sunday. Salted caramel gelato! How am I to choose just three?

But then I started thinking about what defines my life beyond family and food and writing. What are three things that bring me joy, that I can’t imagine my life without? When I looked at it that way, the list suddenly got a lot shorter. Here they are, my three favorite things, in no specific order.

 

Amsterdam

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If you follow me on social media, you know I’m a little obsessed with all things Dutch. Not just because my husband was born in Holland and half my family lives there. Not just because strolling Amsterdam’s streets and canals feels like walking through a postcard. Not just because of the food and the shopping and the flowers and the museums, all of which are world class. Because of all those things and more.

I moved to Amsterdam a zillion years ago, when I was young and in love and life was an adventure, before there were babies and mortgages and sixty-hour workweeks. Maybe it’s nostalgia for that easier time, but that sense of freedom is what sticks with me the most when I think of that place, the feeling that everything and anything is possible there. You want to play your flute and pass out tulips on the street corner? Cool. Eat salted licorice and French fries with mayonnaise? Yum. Ride your bike naked through the rain? Um, you might be a little cold, but go for it. The Dutch are a little weird, a lot crazy, and always authentic, and even though we haven’t lived there for fourteen years, Amsterdam will always feel like home.

 

Yoga

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I’ve been practicing on and off now for almost a decade, and every time another fitness craze pulls me out of the studio (spinning, anyone?), I end up bored or worse, injured. Sooner or later, I always end up back on my mat.

I’ve never been one of those naturally flexible yoga bunnies who can hook her feet behind her head. In fact, my very first yoga teacher took one look at me (I’m 5’11”) and told me I was anatomically challenged. But like everything else in life, yoga is about hard work and dedication. It’s about showing up on your mat, even when you don’t feel like it. Now, all these years later I can twist myself into a pretzel with the best of them.

But strength and flexibility are not the only reasons why I practice. Ask any yogi, and they’ll tell you yoga is so much more than the physical. It’s also about the mental and the spiritual. The practice is a method of connecting the three, our bodies to our minds and souls. Yoga doesn’t just build my muscles, it balances my mind and restores my being in ways no other workout can, and it makes me a much better writer.

 

EDM

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Maybe this goes back to my love affair with Holland, but I am a huge fan of EDM (electronic dance music), which got its start in the Netherlands back when I lived there. The Dutch DJs were everywhere then, and they still are. Tiësto, Armin van Buren, Afrojack, Fedde Le Grande, Sander van Doorn…the list goes on and on. I’ve seen them all, and multiple times. Yes, I’m double the age of the typical EDM fan, but I don’t care. Have glow stick, will rave.

 

Check out Kimberly’s latest book The Marriage Lie, in stores December 27, 2016!

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To learn more about Kimberly, visit her website and follow her on Twitter at @KimberlySBelle.

Magnolia Smith On Romantic Suspense and Being A Military Spouse

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Magnolia Smith is the creator of the Black Orchid Series. Her debut novel, Tell Me No Lies publishes on May 17, 2016. She was born and raised in North Carolina where, when she isn’t writing, you can find her visiting vineyards and Civil War battlegrounds, watching her favorite shows: Scandal and Homeland, practicing hot yoga and blending her own herbal teas.

In your bio you mentioned that you are a military spouse?  What branch of the military is your husband in?

My husband is in the U.S. Marine Corps. He’s been in for almost 18 years.

Has being a military spouse influenced your writing?

I think so. I traveled abroad before I was married, but I’ve had the opportunity to really travel the world with my husband. My love for travel and diverse locations and cultures is reflected in my choices of story setting and or plot. For example in my novel TELL ME NO LIES, revolves around political intrigue and the Taiwanese government. Time spent stationed in Okinawa, Japan increased my interest in East Asian affairs.

I also enjoy making my heroes current or former military. That definitely comes from living on military bases and seeing real heroes, our Marines and our other armed forces on a daily basis. It also gives you a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices they make when they join the armed forces.

In your bio you also mention that members of the US Armed Forces and American Law Enforcement make great characters. What were some of the challenges of crafting characters in a field you respect so much?

Well, I wanted to be accurate as well as entertaining. I am writing romantic suspense. Readers of this genre are looking for escapism as well as thrills. One challenge – a fun challenge – was making sure technical details in reference to weapons, mission protocol, etc. were correct.

Early reviews of your book have said that your books feature “strong heroines.” What makes a strong heroine? 

I think a strong heroine can be different things for different people. For me, a strong heroine will be intelligent, well-informed and purposeful. As part of their character arc, they may not begin that way but they usually end up strong and determined.

One of the taglines for the men in your book is “Sexy Alpha Assassin.” What makes a “sexy alpha assassin?”

lol I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. The men of THE BLACK ORCHID are gorgeous hunks – tall with ripped muscles, gorgeous faces… and they have Alpha – dominant, take charge – personalities. But they are not all the same. There are degrees of Alpha, and so the male characters in my stories reflect the varying degrees of “Alpha-ness” from hardcore extreme to borderline Beta.

Did your military influence and strong characters, naturally guide you toward writing in the romantic suspense genre? How did you chose this genre as opposed to another?

Yes, I think so. If you just start with a character – a guy who is a former Green Beret now working as an assassin… well, there really aren’t many options are there? lol However, since I am writing romantic suspense and the general audience is women (though I think men will love this book too!!!) I focus on romance and interpersonal relationships too. Something you wouldn’t necessarily see in a thriller. And I’m a big fan of thriller writers like Brad Thor and Vince Flynn. In fact reading those authors is what gave me the idea to write romantic suspense. I would read their stories and wonder about the women in the main character’s lives. As a fan of romance, I wanted to know more about the relationship with a man who was an assassin or spy. It seemed terribly interesting to me. And that’s what compelled me to create THE BLACK ORCHID SERIES.

Do you have any tips for writers who want to craft an “edge of your seat” romantic suspense novel?

Read thrillers, watch action-packed espionage films like James Bond and Jason Bourne for inspiration. Then plot out the suspense separately from the romance – make sure it is authentic, makes sense to both the romance and the action-elements of the story. Care as much about the suspense as you do the romance. The suspense should not be an afterthought.

In your bio you mention several interests outside of reading and writing, such as herbalism, cooking, wine, and travel. How do you balance work, fun, family and writing?

It’s challenging. I have a husband and three school-age boys! Time management is key. And making sure that writing stays a priority. (Along with soccer practice, cooking meals, helping with homework… : )

Let’s talk about your interest in herbalism. Can you tell us more about that?

Sure. I got into natural medicines when I lived in Okinaway and my newborn was allergic to everything! I started researching our food supply, medicines and alternatives to synthetics remedies. I was really afraid to give my son (now 8) anything that would cause him to have reactions. At the time he was allergic to dairy and gluten – would have horrible stomach cramps, gas and eczema.

I discovered essential oils, teas and other natural remedies to combat his reactions. This also included trying to eat mostly organic, non-GMO foods and keeping our home environment clean with plants and toxin-free cleaning products, air fresheners, candles, etc. Sorry, that answer incorporated more than herbalism, didn’t it?

Do you include herbalism in your writing? If so, how?

Not so much in this particular story, but the main character Rain drinks herbal tea, does yoga, eats organic – basically lives a really clean, healthy life. I have plans to write a story featuring a character that is a natural healer, but that’s later!

You mentioned in an interview with JustRomanticSuspense.Com that you view the food and beverages in your stories as props. Tell us more about the part food plays in your stories.

Yes, I love food! I’m a foodie. But really, who doesn’t enjoy a tasty meal, right?  I think a glass of wine or a burger or chocolate truffles, whatever adds… ambience if you will, to the story. When characters are eating or drinking in my stories, I think about what they would really eat. It’s part of the character development. One guy drinks craft beer, while another drinks wine and another shots, for example.  I just pay attention to the food and beverages I write about as if they were another (albeit) secondary character in the story.

Your travels are featured in your books through settings from around the world and a diverse cast of characters. How does this add to your story? Why do you think this diversity is important?

Everyone is talking about diversity right now. But it’s not a new concept. You have only to walk outside, go to the story or work or wherever and usually your world is diverse. I think part of creating an authentic story includes writing about the people that would actually be in the story. For me, there are just naturally characters of all colors, cultures and nationalities in my stories. I don’t make a big deal about it, the characters just are. Kind of like in real life, you know?

To learn more about Magnolia, visit her website and follow her on Twitter at @HunterSmith01.