Pen Names

Choosing A Pen Name . . .

For many authors, choosing a pen name is one of the most difficult choices they'll ever make because the name they select becomes their trademark. I recall getting a plethora of advice from other authors about choosing a pen name. Several warned me against picking a long name because the longer the name, the smaller the letters will be on your book cover. That little morsel of advice made me dump my first choice: Shay McCandless and look for something short and sweet.

I'm known to be indecisive at times, so I skipped naming myself and began writing my first women's fiction novel, confident a name would come to me. The setting for the series was based in the west part of Texas, and when I recalled how much my father-in-law loved his Zane Grey westerns, the wheels began turning. Grey--hmm--it had a ring to it and was short enough to ensure my name would be in large print on the book's cover. Not wanting to trick anyone into believing I might be Zane's kin, I changed the spelling of the last name and it became Gray. Ah, but I didn't have a first name. As I continued writing the series, my frisky sheltie would lie at my feet and stay within inches of me all day long. She was my constant companion. As I rose from my chair one day, I nearly tripped over her. "Tessa, get out of the way!" Hmm--Tessa. That's short enough. Tessa Gray--it had a nice ring to it.

P1010713Of course, when you don't use your real name, crazy things can happen. I recently discovered that another author has books with a character name Tessa Gray. And then I began Googling my beloved pen name only to discover that someone named Tessa Gray who lived in the UK was serving a prison term. But that was after I'd published two books under the pen name. For the time being, I'm perfectly happy with the name Tessa Gray, and one of my readers recently told me she thought my pen name suited me well. 

A word of advice here: Google the pen name you're considering using and make sure no one with that name is in the slammer. It could come back to bite you! 





The Real Scoop on Tessa’s Writing Space . . .


This week’s prompt is an important one. Authors were asked to discuss their writing space and talk about an area they’ve carved out for themselves to create well written novels. Since my Dream Catchers Series is based on my experiences at the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine, Texas, I snagged one of our spare bedrooms and set up my cowboy headquarters. Decorating it to match the themes in my books was an enjoyable way for me to not only brand myself, but helped my settings become more authentic.

Tessa's Cowboy Quilt (2)

Tessa's Office (2)

The daybed shows off the cowboy quilt I made to go along with my series. My daughter-in-law’s stepmother, Kim, who is a big supporter of my writing endeavors, gave me the fabric, and I think of her generosity every time I look over at the daybed. I love the subtle colors and it makes me almost feel like I’m not working when I look over at the bed. Sometimes my husband comes in to keep me company and relaxes here as I write. The desk is a new addition to the room and I place all the things that inspire me here: my cowboy poetry coffee mug, a picture of my husband and I at my first book signing, and my cowboy lamp. The picture hanging above my desk is of the 25th Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and just looking at it briefly brings back a flood of memories. Changing the ambience of where I write has doubled my productivity. For that reason, I encourage all of you to try and carve out that special writing space.

And now let’s take a minute to see what author Brenda Margriet does to create her perfect space. I encourage you to view her website and read her contemporary and romantic suspense novels with “happily ever after” endings!

Tessa’s New & Improved Philosophy for 2015 . . .

Debra, Patty and us (500x375)
Is it just me or are there way too many weight loss ads on television on January 1st?! Truth be told, only 8% of those making New Year’s resolutions actually keep them. I have to confess that I’m one of the 92% who fail at keeping those resolutions. Having said that, I’m posting 3 resolutions that I do intend to keep; resolutions that quite possibly may give my life more balance. And isn’t that really what we struggle with? Creating balance?

Resolution #1: Let go of failure – In March of 2013, I had my first book signing ever. I packed the house and over forty people attended. The book store ran out of books (I sold nearly 2 dozen). When I tried to collect the monies I was owed, the bookstore had gone out of business. Although I went through the right channels to get my money back, I was never reimbursed and lost several hundred dollars. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was heartbroken about what happened, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. This was out of my control, and for that reason, I poured myself a chardonnay, vented to close friends, and moved on.

Resolution #2: Surround myself with people who challenge me mentally. That’s important to me as I age because I don’t want to be considered one of those old, cantankerous people the young folks detest being around. I teach college writing and learn so very much from my younger students. Their thirst for knowledge impresses, as well as nourishes me mentally. Having to be on my toes–to be up to date on things that concern students keeps my brain growing. When I visited the childhood home of Louisa May Alcott, I was impressed by a building behind her home. It was called The Philosophy House and became a place where poets, members of the clergy and intellectuals met in order to challenge themselves mentally. Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott were just a few of the people who met there. As we all know, many of them went on to do great things and left a lasting legacy.
House of Philosophy Built by Branson Alcott

Here’s my final resolution–Resolution #3: Create Playtime! Many of you know of a very famous author named Debbie Macomber. This is a prolific author who writes many books a year. I read an article about her several years ago, and it maintained that she sets aside one day per week to hang out with her friends and just have a good time. This resolution will be on I’ll work the hardest at, but two things I adore are quilting and singing. I promise myself to make at least 2 quilts a year with my friends, Holly and Diane. We have so much fun getting together, and it seems to be something I always put on the back burner. I need to remember the look of pure delight on my daughter, Megan’s face when I presented her with a memory quilt.My theory is that a happy person makes for a happy writer. I’ll continue singing with friends, as well, aware that music is God’s gift to me and He expects me to use it and be grateful. I wish all of you a productive and Happy 2015. May we all sour to new heights this year!
Megan & Elsie with the Quilt

Wishing you a Joyful 2015,


Christmas . . . Magical Memories

Megan & Susan's Wedding 016Megan & Susan's Wedding 017
Our two children are all grown up now, and like many of you, we’ve turned those precious Christmas ornaments from their childhoods over to them so they can share those memories with their own families. Okay—we’ve turned MOST of those ornaments over to them. I did manage to keep Matt’s little elf guy, along with Megan’s little angel. Those are the ornaments I love most because of the memories they hold.

Thirty years ago we drove to the beautiful little town of Flemington, NJ and rode the train about the town. We enjoyed the beautiful, magical sites of Christmas time and enjoyed browsing about the shops, selecting the perfect gifts for the children’s teachers. Perhaps it was the fact that the train ride was so enjoyable–filled with young families excited about the wonder of Christmas; or perhaps it was because it gave us all such pleasure to select and purchase appropriate gifts for their teachers–all I know is that this particular Christmas stands out in my bank of memories as one of the best.

As I gaze some thirty years later at my $3 Christmas ornaments from New Jersey, it’s a reminder that sometimes the simplest things give us the most joy. It’s a cliché that the simplest things in life are the best, but it’s true. Last Sunday as I watched the children in my hand bell choir play “Silent Night” for the first time on the bells, I still have the magical expression on their faces etched in my memory. While I’ll resist the temptation to regurgitate what many ministers will say from the pulpit this Christmas season, reminding us all to remember the true meaning of Christmas, I’ll simply look at the elf and little angel adorning our tree and realize that Christmas is less about the trappings, and more about happy memories. Have a blessed Christmas and enjoy creating those magical memories.

Christmas Blessings,

This Long and Winding Road called Life . . .

Orchard House
Since author Louisa May Alcott’s birthday is this month (November 29th, to be exact), it makes perfect sense to me to post something about her on my website. Several years ago my husband and I took a trip to Massachusetts to visit our daughter, Megan. For me, the most amazing part of this vacation was when we visited the home of Louisa May Alcott (author of the beloved novel Little Women. As the tour guide led us about The Orchard House, I was mesmerized by the lush greenery of the countryside. Once inside Orchard House, we ascended the steps leading to the second floor and were delighted to gaze upon the very desk Alcott wrote from as she created this book which has stood the test of time. It impacted me profoundly that Alcott spent years caring for her ailing father as she created Little Women and I suspect creating characters in her novels that sprang from the page no doubt added pleasure to what was no doubt a very mundane time in her life.

After I said my goodbyes to the tiny town of Concord, Massachusetts, I arrived back home to Texas and made the decision to begin a series of novels about four sister’s (the Hanlon girls) who struggle with their father’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Each sister reacts differently to the diagnosis and tries to find a healthy way to coop with the family saga. As I wrote the second book in the series, MY DEAREST CLARE, I thought back to my travels when I visited The Orchard House and felt compelled to bring my heroine, Clare, back to that very special place. Like Alcott, Clare struggles to balance family obligations with her personal life–something we all do on a daily basis.

Odd, isn’t it, how the struggles of one person can mirror another’s over one hundred, fifty years later? As we all live out our lives, may be take pleasure in the accomplishments of those before us and stride to create a lasting legacy to those we love. A happy November to all of you and do take the time to offer Thanksgiving for all of those who’ve impacted your live significantly. In the end, that’s all that really matters.


Romance Weekly – Heroes, Hobbies & Payback!

This week’s questions in Romance Weekly come from Beth Carter and I absolutely love them! Great job, Beth!

1. Which type of character do you prefer writing about?
I adore writing Beta men who come from humble beginnings. They are men of integrity who have a complete grasp of what is truly important. They’re the kind of guys who are completely at ease giving up a six figure income on Wall Street—trading it in for a simpler, happier life that often involves giving back to their communities.
2. Have you ever killed off or gotten back at an ex in your writing? (On paper, of course!)
To be brutally honest, I didn’t date very much before finding the man of my dreams, so there were very few exes—none of whom deserved to be killed off in a book. However, I have gotten back at men who are disrespectful to others. Many years ago I observed a businessman dressed in an expensive suit at a carwash. He was getting his vehicle washed and polished and when the employee of the carwash kept trying to buff the car, making it shiny, this businessman blasted the worker, expressing his displeasure with the man’s work. I was so angry at how rude the businessman was that I could barely contain myself. Although I didn’t know the businessman’s name, he ultimately ended up in several of my novels. You’ll recognize him as the ex-husband who always gets dumped when his wife finally comes to her senses and realizes she’s living with an arrogant prick.
3. What hobbies do you have that you incorporate in your writing?
I’m passionate about singing and love to perform. Several women in my books are musically inclined. I believe, in part, I write musically talented people in my books because I had a childhood filled with tumult, and for me, singing was an enormously satisfying escape. In LAST CHANCE TEXAS, my heroine, Kelsey Malone is a talented singer who wows the residents of Alpine, TX at a karaoke bar—including love interest, Nathan Wainwright. Nathan is a monotone (in music circles that means you can’t carry a tune). I think that little detail made the reader chuckle at how very different two people can be and still respect one another tremendously.

In two novels of the Crescent Falls Series I’m currently working on, two of the four Hanlon sisters are musically talented: one is fabulous singer; the other plays the violin beautifully. I’m a quilter, as well, and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before I incorporate quilting. Hobbies are important, and I’m betting many writers thread them throughout their novels.

Let’s give a shout out to author Jami Denise for the comments she posted. Jami loves black and white movies, is obsessed with STAR WARS, and rescues alley cats. What’s not to love!? Check out her comments:

Wine & Sign . . . July in Granbury, Texas

The true beauty of writing is to meet other authors with a great passion for writing. Thanks to those of you who joined four Texas authors at D’Vine Wine and made our book signing a memorable event. Getting together with former student Jeanne McDonald (college attendee/author) was the highpoint of the book signing, along with fellow authors Jennifer Theriot and R.E. Hargrave was the icing on the cake. A huge thanks to Diane Hedges for organizing the event, as well as Josh, who was gracious enough to label our wines featuring our book covers! What a thrill! And, of course, we enjoyed purchasing swag for the event. My personal favorites are my great coffee mugs made by VISTA! The month of July truly rocked!

August Bonus: I’ve temporarily reduced the price of my Dreamcatchers Series ebooks available on amazon beginning tomorrow, August 1st. It’s the perfect time for a good summer read!

P1020275 (2)



Heroes: Beta or Alpha?


1.         What’s your ideal: alpha or beta and why?

I’m a huge fan of beta guys since I married one! In the second novel of my Dreamcatchers Series, college professor Adam Lightfoot offers his low income students private tutoring and refuses to accept their money. He does it quietly, without wanting to take any credit for helping them become successful. I admire men comfortable in their own skin who do great deeds without feeling the need to draw attention to it.sTARSeBOOK (2) STARS OVER TEXAS

2.         Do you have a male buddy or mate you use for confirmation or inspiration when crafting your heroes?

            My husband of nearly 41 years, Jim, is the driving force behind my beta heroes. Jim is a retired businessman who enjoys spending most of his spare time taking care of our menagerie of animals. In the first of my Dreamcatchers Series, Nathan Wainwright is my hero. Nathan is a large animal vet who goes out to the barn and care for his animals when he needs to clear his head. He feels a strong kinship with the land he owns and will do anything he can to avoid selling it off.

Chance & Button (1) LTG_Traj_LAST-CHANCE-TX_COVERGoats on picnic table 4

3.         What does any hero have to do to win your heart?

            Since we’re talking about characters in books and not real life, I have to say that my beta heroes need to be willing to sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of another individual. In Last Chance Texas, Nathan gives up part of his land so that the woman he’s in love with can have a child she so desperately wants. (If I tell you more, it’ll ruin the storyline!)

Thanks to Kim Handysides for these wonderful questions! And now…let’s give a shout out to author Dani Jace. Check out Dani’s answers to this week’s questions, as well as some beautiful lighthouses and pictures of Elizabethan Gardens on her website. They’re amazing and will make your day!

Romance Weekly-Characters . . .


How much of yourself do you write into your characters? Or do you write characHters completely opposite from you?

When developing my characters, I use The Complete Writer’s Guide to HEROES & HEROINES-Sixteen Master Archetypes by Cowden, LaFever, and Viders. Once I’ve got my village of people in place, I do incorporate some of myself into the characters; I simply can’t help it.

Has your writing helped you see events in your own life more clearly?

Yes, writing has definitely helped me see events (particularly ones during my childhood) more clearly. As I incorporate each character’s POV (point of view), it changes what I write. I think in real life we’re so caught up in our own world view that we have difficulty seeing an event from someone else’s perspective. When we, as writers, are forced to see a situation from another characters point of view, it gives clarity to the situation.

Have you written a character with more of your personal characteristics than any other? What are they?

In my novel, LAST CHANCE TEXAS, Kelsey Malone wants a child so much that she decides to become artificially inseminated rather than enter into a relationship and give birth the traditional way. Some readers see Kelsey as too desperate to have a child, but that’s the way I felt when I was younger. Although I married and had our two children the traditional way, Kelsey and I were alike in that we both couldn’t imagine life without kids because we wanted our children to have the happy childhood we didn’t have. The other glaring similarity between Kelsey and I is that we’re both musicians who love to perform.

And now, I invite you to read contemporary romance author, Victoria Barbour’s comments. Victoria has based her Heart’s Ease series in her home of Newfoundland. How many other authors do you know who were raised above their family Fish and Chips restaurant in such a beautiful location!