Message From The Author

Author's Message

The 'Forbidden' Story

SUCCESS FINDS CHERYL HOLT --
AND SHE ANSWERS WITH A SEQUEL

By Lauren Spielberg

he life of a novelist is not for the faint of heart ... even for a former prosecutor. Just ask Cheryl Holt. After spending years arguing in courtrooms, she now works in a home office in Los Angeles, delivering two to three novels a year to publisher St. Martin's -- that's when she's not chauffeuring her two offspring to basketball games and acting classes and busy with a variety of other parental duties.

If there's one thing to be said about Holt, one of Romantic Times' Top 25 Erotic Writers of All Time, it's that she's never met a challenge she hasn't tackled with confidence and gusto. "I started out at a smaller publisher," she says, "and after buying five books from me, they let me go." After her dismissal from then-publisher Kensington, Holt found success when
St. Martin's bought her sixth novel, Love Lessons, which was named Best Erotic Romance of 2001 by the National Readers' Choice Awards.

Now, after 18 books, Holt is a bona fide star of the genre. But her first career high came when she walked into a Safeway in the small town in Oregon where she was living and found her debut novel on the shelf. "I ran home, got my camera and came back to take pictures," the author reveals. Not too long after, she notched another career achievement: Her novels hit the USA Today and Waldenbooks bestseller lists. To date, she's be on the USA Today bestseller list seven times in a row.

She may make it an eighth time with her latest book, a sequel to Complete Abandon (2003), her most successful historical romance. The pairing of a ne'er-do-well viscount reluctant to embrace his nobleman status and a vicar's daughter hoping to help shape his potential not just as a man, but also as a man of power, struck all the right chords with readers.

"To this day, Complete Abandon is my fans' favorite book," she says. "In it, the hero, John, has a half-brother, Ian, who is madly in love with an unattainable noblewoman. I had hinted at
a romance between them, but I didn't have space in the original book to finish telling what happened to them."

Holt actually left off with a fiery dispute between John and Ian that was not resolved at the end. "Even though they're not
real people, they were such wonderful characters that my fans couldn't bear to think that they didn't make up and become friends again. I couldn't bear it, either, and I decided that I had
to have them reconcile."

Four years later, Holt revisits the world of the Claytons with Forbidden Fantasy, Ian's story, due out this month from St. Martin's. Not one to publish many sequels, Holt says that it was a combination of reader demand and her own personal affection for the characters that brought the book to life.

The process was no easy feat. First came the matter of whether she could match the high levels of drama and sensuality she reached in Complete Abandon. "At times when I was writing it, it seemed like an impossible task to make Forbidden Fantasy as good as the original," Holt admits. "But I gave it my best shot, and it's a very fun, very exciting story."

The author sat down with the 350-plus-page Complete Abandon and meticulously noted past history, childhoods, wardrobe and even character mannerisms. The sequel picks up
six months after the original left off, which Holt feels was a long enough gap to start Forbidden Fantasy with innovative plot twists and some original characters -- including the heroine's dysfunctional and villainous family.

Billed as erotic romances, Holt's novels typically veer more toward family dramas. The heroine in this latest release, Lady Caroline Foster, feels trapped. Promised to a man close to her father's age, she panics and visits Ian, with whom she once shared a memorable kiss. Acting under the belief that if Ian "ruins" her, she'll no longer be desirable, Caroline pursues
Ian -- and he relents, in time, against his better judgment.

As with any great romance, the lovers face many trying and challenging obstacles. "There's a good deal of plot in my books that's instigated by villains who are very, very wicked, and they do terrible things and have terrible motives -- usually against the heroine, so that she's in grave danger," Holt says. Luckily, bad boy Ian is prepared to stand on the front line for the woman he, as it turns out, has always loved.

There's no shortage of heroes in Holt's repertoire. In two years she'll have released three stand-alone, completely unrelated "fantasy" books: Secret Fantasy (March 2007), this month's Forbidden Fantasy and the upcoming Double Fantasy (March 2008). Then in the spring 2008, St. Martin's is expected to release Sleeping With the Devil, Holt's first erotic thriller, written under the pseudonym Vanessa Marlow.

"I'm telling everyone that Marlow is my young and glamorous alter ego! It's not a romance though, so fans who dislike terror and danger should beware," she warns. Sleeping With the Devil is a dark and tumultuous tale of a young woman married to an older man, "thinking it's a great love affair, only to find that it's obsession and evil and murder."

The irony of Holt's foray into erotic thrillers is that she began her career writing suspense, only to find her stories weren't selling. "It was at the beginning of my career, when I hadn't honed my talent yet, so my stories weren't very good," she says.

"I decided to switch to romances, sell a few and establish myself in the industry. Then I planned to return to writing the suspense novels that I felt were my 'destiny.'"

Within a decade Holt was flourishing as a novelist. But those early years, spent sending out manuscripts and receiving rejection letter upon rejection letter, were heartbreaking and stressful, she says. Compounded with the births of her two children, she had her hands full. "People have an image of the novelist's life as being very easy and glamorous, but putting a novel together is a very time-consuming, labor-intensive job. I get up in the morning, get my kids off to school, then write for about seven hours, till they come home. I'm like any other small business owner. I work evenings, weekends and holidays. I never get time off."

The author is equally passionate about helping cultivate her children's success. The family moved to Los Angeles last summer to help her 14-year-old son, Sean, pursue his acting ambitions. Clearly, Sean has inherited his mother's go-get-'em spirit, scoring auditions for commercials, movies and television shows. "In January, Sean co-starred in an episode of the Nickelodeon teen comedy, Zoey 101, and we're looking forward to many such experiences in the future," says the proud mother. As for 12-year-old Molly, Holt says, "She's a star athlete in three sports, and over the summer, she's competing to be Miss Pre-Teen California."

While living in Los Angeles, Holt is looking to add another hyphenate to her name -- that of screenwriter. She's completed a screenplay and a television pilot proposal, which she hopes to use as a vehicle for her son to star in.
As always, it comes back to the books. Having turned 50, Holt has a new goal -- to get on the New York Times bestseller list.

"I always tell people that I am the living, breathing success story in American publishing," says Holt. "When I sat down to write my first book, I was so clueless! Now I'm lucky and blessed to say that I've been under continuous contracts for several years. My fan base is huge and continues to grow. My publisher, St. Martin's, has been wonderful to me, and I feel that all my dreams have come true."

Excerpt from FORBIDDEN FANTASY

With a resounding smack, he set the bottle out of reach, then he leaned in and trapped her against the cabinet.

"What do you really want?" he murmured.

"I told you: I want you
to kiss me."

"Why?"

"Because when you did
it prior, I liked it very much. I've been thinking that I'd enjoy having you do it again."

"You didn't like it, Caro."

"I did too! But it was such a long time ago.

I was wondering if it would feel the same."

He scrutinized her, struggling to deduce her objective.

"Tell me the truth," he urged. "If you're in
trouble, just say so. I'll assist you if I can."

Eventually, she admitted, "I'm going to be married."

A surge of dismay shot through him, but he tamped it down.

"Congratulations."

"Thank you."

"Who's the lucky fellow?"

"I don't know if you'd be acquainted with him. He's a friend of my father's."

"Your father's?" The earl, Bernard Foster,
was sixty if he was a day.

"Yes."

A sinking feeling crept over him. "Who is it, Caro? Who has your father chosen?"

"Mr. Edward Shelton."

Ian hid any visible reaction. While he'd had no personal dealings with Shelton, he knew of the man.

What was it to him if the Earl of Derby picked an elderly pervert to wed his spinster daughter?


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