Michelle Monkou pays tribute to Maya Angelou

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou.

Join me every week as I share a few shout-outs on romance author goings-on, related events and recommended reads.


What a life! What a full life!

Poetess, activist, wife, mother, global citizen, author, actress, director, award winner, professor, icon, just to name a few … So many labels have been earned, bestowed, and richly deserved for this phenomenal woman.

As a child, I knew of Maya Angelou because her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings had a permanent place at my mother’s bedside table, along with the current Reader’s Digest magazine. As Maya Angelou and I matured, on our own levels together, our relationship developed as role model-student, mentor-student, elder-student. You see, regardless of what she did, said, or felt, Maya Angelou always shared her knowledge, wisdom, gratitude, but most of all her humility. Though she is no longer physically with us, we have history, we have quotes, we have movies, we have poems, essays, books, recordings to remind us, but also to encourage us to tap, mine, and treasure our full potential as global citizens.

Blessed with her 86th year, Maya Angelou had truly touched the world and embraced its citizens with her gifts. May she rest in peace.


A Perfect Homecoming by Lisa Dyson.

What it’s about (courtesy of Harlequin):.

The only reason Dr. Ashleigh Wilson is back in her hometown is to help her pregnant sister–and maybe repair their relationship. She’s certainly not here to see her ex-husband, Dr. Kyle Jennings, or mend any fences with him. Too bad he doesn’t accept that. Worse, the more time they’re together, the more the old attraction flares!

Even if she still has feelings for him, Ashleigh is not staying. Because that would mean facing the past and all she left behind. Kyle, however, seems convinced they have another shot at happiness. And after a few persuasive kisses, Ashleigh begins to wonder if he’s right….

Why you should read it: Lisa Dyson has joined the Harlequin Superromance world with her debut, A Perfect Homecoming. The romance-reading world is better for it. Really. Get your book, your beverage of choice, and a comfy sofa or beach chair and enjoy.

And there’s a lot to love about this story. No wimpy heroines here. Great snappy dialogue to go with the feisty heroine. Real issues. Real motivation. Real pain. And a hero who has good measures of brawn and sensitivity.

The stellar writing comes through with great emotional scenes that power up the strong dynamics among this family. It certainly was the perfect homecoming. Well done.

Glorious Sunset by Ava Bleu.

What it’s about (courtesy of Urban Books):.

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African King Taka Olufemi has traveled over four hundred years to find the woman who holds the soul of his murdered queen and he’s a little cranky. With a ruby brooch as his vessel, the former king is forced to grant wishes to ungrateful mortals hoping to one day find, and win, the heart of his lost love.

But it will take more than good looks and an impressive pedigree to earn the love of Violet Jackson. The ambitious interior designer doesn’t remember Taka or their history. Love–with its inevitable heartbreak chaser–has no place in Violet’s immediate life plan. All the handsome “genie” can do for her is pony up on the three wishes he’s promised and try not to be a pain while he’s at it.

While the arrogant king is praying for his submissive queen and the faithless object of his affection isn’t praying at all, guardian angel, Aniweto, is praying for them both. With Ani’s help, Taka and Violet’s epic love will be rekindled and this royal couple-behaving-badly will finally earn their happily-ever-after through the grace of the Almighty.

Why you should read it:Glorious Sunset is the August release by Ava Bleu (ready for pre-order). A creative and entertaining plot reads like mythology come to life. The effect is successful due to Bleu’s ability to paint colorful, vivid scenes with her writing style. All senses are caught up in her descriptions that take you out of being a passive reader to being engaged with strong but damaged characters.

While there is a big concept theme surrounding Glorious Sunset, the delivery of the story has an easygoing and relatable approach to plot, characters, and message. Great elements worthy of book club discussion.


Through the next few months until RWA’s award ceremony in July, I will introduce you to several Golden Heart finalists from Romance Writers of America’s contest for unpublished writers.

Introducing … Erika Kelly.

Award-winning author Erika Kelly, who finaled with Too Good to Be True in the contemporary category and has since gotten The Call from Berkley, has been spinning romantic tales all her life — she just didn’t know it. Raised on the classics, she didn’t discover romantic fiction until later in life. From that moment on, she’s been devouring the genre and found her true voice as an author. Over three decades she’s written poems, screenplays, plays, short stories, and all kinds of women’s fiction novels. Married to the love of her life and raising four children, she’s lived in two countries and seven states, but give her pen and paper, a stack of good books, and a steaming mug of vanilla chai latte, and she can make her home anywhere. Her website is www.Erikakellybooks.Com.

Michelle: What’s a typical writing day?

Erika: I usually wake up with a head full of ideas for whatever book I’m working on and have to race downstairs to get it all down before I lose it. I don’t know why, but the ideas that come in dreams tend to be fleeting. Sadly, all too often I get caught up in e-mail, Facebook, and Yahoo News BEFORE I get my notes written. Slow learner? Possibly. Once I get my daughter on the bus, though, I am all work and no play. My best writing hours are in the morning. I take breaks to exercise, shower, and eat lunch, but I’m writing pretty seriously until she’s home from school at 2:30. I covet that time — no appointments or phone calls unless it’s absolutely necessary. Of course, this child is my youngest, a senior in high school so, as of next fall, I enter a whole new world. We’ll see if my rhythms change when I’ve got an empty nest. I kind of doubt it — I almost never write at night. It’s my refueling, relaxing time.

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Michelle: What’s your fave snack, music, and/or comfy clothes for writing? What’s in your writing space/office? Any knick knacks for inspiration, good luck, etc.?

Erika: I can’t wear pants when I write (please don’t judge), so I’ll either be in sweats (winter) and super comfy slippers or shorts (summer) and flip-flops. I do play music while I’m working, but nothing with lyrics. If I hear a song, my mind tunes into the lyrics and then I’m singing — and, well, then I’m lost in someone else’s story. So, I either log on to a website that plays the sound of rain or I listen to a Hammock album on YouTube. Moody, evocative, but no words to distract me. I do love me a hot mug of vanilla chai latte, so that’s what’s beside my keyboard.

I’ve got about a zillion Post-it Notes around my desk, a bookcase stuffed with books, and two candles for when I need to go Zen. But my favorite things in my office are the framed paintings of kisses. The Kiss by Francesco Hayes, Romeo and Juliet by Sir Frank Dicksee, and La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John William Waterhouse.

Michelle: Which author(s) would you like to thank for their awesome books that inspired or shaped your writing?

Erika: I read voraciously as a kid, but I didn’t know about romance. I didn’t have a mom or grandma who read it, so I wasn’t exposed to it. In retrospect, I do know that my pulse kicked up every time there was a hint of romance in a book. I’d find myself skimming to get back to the romantic tension. So when I started writing, I didn’t know I could write the stories in my heart. I wound up with a kind of hybrid of women’s fiction and romance — a little too gritty and realistic to be romantic. It wasn’t until an editor wrote on my manuscript, “Does this author know she writes romance?” That I discovered a whole world of books that didn’t require skimming to get back to the good parts. The whole book was driven by the good parts.

The first authors I read were Rachel Gibson (Truly Madly Yours made me giddy), Susan Elizabeth Philips, and Jenny Crusie. It took me years to truly find my voice as a romance author because I was so grounded in literary fiction — in telling those realistic, grittier tales. Took me awhile to figure out the whole hero thing, too — thank you, Lisa Kleypas, for giving me Sebastian in Devil in Winter. Oh, yum. So, now, I unabashedly write passionate, contemporary stories about finding your one true love.

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Michelle: Do you remember what you were doing when you got The Call from Berkley?

Erika: I don’t remember what I was doing, but I remember the feeling of quiet elation. I’d gone way off track there for a while. In the beginning, while raising four children, I wrote for myself. From the time I was a kid, I told stories in my head every night before I went to sleep. Never in my wildest imagination did I consider selling them. But a good friend encouraged me and got me started on this path. But once I did take a professional approach, I encountered a ton of rejection. Years of it caused me to start paying too much attention to the advice of critique groups and partners, editors and agents, until I wasn’t even writing the stories in my head anymore. And then in January of 2013, I decided to have some fun. I knocked out a 110,000-word manuscript in three weeks. Can I tell you how much I loved that book? And then guess what? My critique partner hated it. Can you imagine? What a blow. But I loved it, so I carried on, worked on it for months. Sent it to my agent who, thankfully, loved it. She sent it out and we got a response right away. That editor said it was “compulsively readable.” I have to tell you, more than being published, more than seeing my name on a book cover, was the deep desire to get it right. You can only face so much rejection before you wonder if maybe you just don’t have the magic. So what really drove me was the desire to hear those very words from a respected editor at a major house. When I finally got it, I felt like … Not relief so much as a profound sense of accomplishment. All my hard work, my perseverance, paid off. Days later Berkley offered. And the biggest win of all was that I’d written what I wanted, followed my gut, and it worked.

The series is set in the music industry. They are sweet love stories filled with passion — heroes who go after their women with everything they have.

Michelle: Major congratulations! And I do love your way of thinking: “And the biggest win of all was that I’d written what I wanted, followed my gut, and it worked.”.

Michelle Monkou celebrates her Evernight urban fantasy digital release, Into the Pride . Her website is michellemonkou.Com. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

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