Interview with Heather McCollum, author of Highland Heart
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel
Today we are welcoming Heather McCollum to the blog. She is the author of Highland Heart and is here to answer some of my questions and to share some information about her book. If this sound like the type of book that you would be interested in reading, please find some buy links at the bottom of the post and pick up a copy!
Barb – Tell us about your new release?
Heather – Thank you so much for having me in today to talk a bit about my latest romantic adventure! HIGHLAND HEART is the prequel novella to my full length Scottish Historical romance, CAPTURED HEART. HH starts about twenty five years before the full length and follows the start of one of the families involved throughout the series (HIGHLAND HEARTS series).
These adventures take place in 16th century Scotland and England around the time of Henry VIII. They involve the lush world of a traditional Scottish Historical romance but have the added spice of magic. Each woman in the Brindle family line possesses the magical ability to heal, and is marked with a dragonfly-shaped birthmark.
Barb – Tell me a little about yourself.
Heather – I am a mom of three kids (ages 14, 11, and 5) and a crazy rescued golden retriever. I’m extremely lucky to have found my own Highland hero, my husband, Braden. When I’m not writing, making meals for perpetually hungry kids, and walking my dog, I’m usually on my “soap box” educating women about ovarian cancer.
Six months ago I finished 15 months of chemo to kill that silent, sneaky, deadly beast. I’m using whatever talents I have to spread the warning about the whispered symptoms of ovarian cancer. My full length, CH, has them listed in the back.
Barb – If you wouldn’t be a writer, what you would be?
Heather – I love birthday parties, kid’s theme parties. I’m rather known in my circle of moms as the creative genius behind parties like “Life-sized Candyland” and “Storm trooper training camp.” I would definitely put together creative theme parties for groups if I wasn’t in love with writing magical novels.
Barb – Who are your cheerleaders?
Heather – Holy Pom-Poms, Batman! I have an army of cheerleaders. When I was diagnosed with cancer, people far and wide jumped in to help me and my family. They all became teal warriors (teal is the ovarian cancer color) in my fight to live. As I move on now to grow in my writing career, they continue to cheer for my successes.
My husband is at the head of the army, helping me anyway he can. Even when I was too scared about dying to write fiction, he encouraged me to write to save my sanity. So I blogged about my cancer journey on caring bridge. Now I have wonderful material that I will one day use in a cancer book to help others reeling from that blow.
Barb – What do you love about writing?
Heather – I LOVE it when a scene comes together. I’m a cross between a pantzer and a plotter. I know basically where I want to go, but I usually end somewhere a bit different. My characters become real, developing their own personalities and leading me to different end points. If I try to force them on my original track, they usually rebel and some long lost evil twin shows up. So I’ve learned to let them lead the way (or so I let them think – shhhh!!).
So when the scene comes together it is a tears-of-joy sort of feeling where I do usually shed tears of joy and jump around the house while my husband grins and shakes his head. I worked for over a decade in a corporate setting, and I never felt such satisfaction and happiness when sealing a deal as I do when all my creative twists and loops become a magnificent bow of a story.
Barb – Did you do any research before starting or during the writing of the books?
Heather – I write stories in many different time periods from the 10th century up to present day, so research is a requirement. I think late 16th century Britain is my favorite though, so I know it the best and don’t need to look up every little facet of my characters’ lives (like what they use for a toilet). But I still need to make sure that any true historical figures or events (which do show up in many of my books) follow historically accurate details, although sometimes I can twist them a bit.
I keep my historical reference books, Gaelic and Latin dictionaries, and reliable web sites close by.
Barb – Your favorite books and author?
Heather – I have so many! This is a hard question to answer. I do LOVE Karen Marie Moning’s work. Her original Highlander series, with its plethora of rugged Highlanders and Fae magic, has inspired a lot of my work. I also love her dark urban fantasy FEVER series. Jericho Barrons – YUM!
Barb – Where can readers find your books?
Heather – HIGHLAND HEART and CAPTURED HEART are available at Barnes & Noble as well as on Amazon. HH is digital only since it is short. CH is in both print and digital formats. I’m very excited to see CH in Barnes & Noble stores. I had my daughter take a picture of me by the book stack where it was shelved!
Barb – Favorite place in the world?
Heather – The Scottish Highlands, with its jutting mountains, curious “fairy rings” and marvelous castle ruins, is one of my favorite places. My family and I will be visiting there this summer, and we are terribly excited about the trip.
We also spend time on coastal Maine which reminds me a lot of Scotland. There is an obscure little beach called Jasper Beach covered with rounded river-type stones. The wind is cold, the fog curls in from around an off shore island, but the stones are always warm from the sun. I lie flat on the round rocks as the heat soaks into my back and the waves pull the stones on the waterline out to sea. They clatter against each other, tumbling into the Atlantic. It sounds just like applause. There is definitely a Maine series in my future.
Barb – What is in the works for you next?
Heather – Right now I am completing the second book in the HIGHLAND HEARTS series. It follows Ewan Brody as he travels down to Henry VIII’s English court and runs into the most complicated lass he’s ever likely to meet.
My fourth book of THE DRAGONFLY CHRONICLES series is in edits right now and I have a YA paranormal romance coming out in 2014. I’m also journaling about my recovery from cancer over this year in hopes to make that into a survival story.
Alec Munro, chieftain of the Munros, has captured the Englishman who swindled his father. Set on retribution, he’s caught off-guard by the thief’s beautiful daughter, a lass whose beauty and spirit leave him questioning the value of revenge. Rachel Brindle has a secret: she can heal people with her magic. While journeying with her father and sister into the Highlands, she becomes a prize sought between two warring clans. She must use her cunning and her healing magic to prevent the same slaughter that started the blood feud a century ago. But when her secret is exposed, will it condemn her in the eyes of the barbarian who has capture not only her family, but also her heart?
Heather can be found:
Highland Heart can be purchased:
Edge of Loch Tuinn
Highlands of Scotland
Rachel Brindle sat her mare with ease, just like any well-bred Englishwoman. She twisted an escaped strand of dark brown hair and poked it under her velvet cap. Foolish hat! It couldn’t possibly contain her wild curls.
The wagons of provisions rambled behind Rachel and her sister, Isabelle, as they skirted the large lake that glittered with a million diamond-like bits of sunlight. The water looked so cool, but their father hadn’t allowed them to wade in it. She and Isabelle had been commanded to sip water and pray while everyone else refreshed.
Rachel huffed at the rebellious strands. She looked askance to her sister. “Do you think we’re almost there?”
Isabelle shielded her eyes against the sun. “I remember the lake from when we visited with Father years ago. We’re close.”
They were traveling to Munro Keep to meet with the elderly Hamish Munro, great Highland chieftain and her father’s business partner. William Brindle brought shillings and provisions in exchange for the fine wool that the Munros grew on their herds. It had been ten years since Rachel and her sister had accompanied him to the Munros, back when he smiled, back when their mother still lived.
“I’m melting.” A trail of perspiration tickled between Rachel’s breasts. Perhaps she shouldn’t have begged their father to bring them along to escape the boredom of country life. Even with the summer heat, her father had insisted she wear long sleeves when outside their home to hide her strange dragonfly-shaped birthmark. She dabbed at her forehead and chest with a lacy handkerchief.
“If I succumb to vapors will you revive me?” Rachel teased. As usual, Isabelle frowned at any mention of their special healing abilities.
“I’ll pour water on your face,” her sister threatened.
Rachel laughed. The sound cut off as her glance strayed through the copse of thick pines on their left. Her lips opened on an unuttered gasp as her gaze locked with the intense stare of a man. He sat statue-like on his horse a hundred yards back in the thick growth. His massive chest was bare like that of a barbarian. Red-brown hair nearly reached his broad, tanned shoulders, giving him a wild look. Though the forest shadows dappled along his skin, Rachel could see sculpted muscles protecting his ribs. He held a sword in one arm, his bicep large, as if accustomed to holding its weight for long periods of time.
Narrowed eyes assessed her, judging, waiting perhaps for her outcry. But Rachel kept silent, her thudding heart the only warning. Her chin rose as she met his challenge in defiance.
“Did you see that plant?” Isabelle pointed into the high grass of the small meadow they were crossing. “I think it’s shepherd’s purse.”
Rachel forced her eyes from the man even though the effort seemed ridiculously difficult. “Nay, Isabelle, I missed it,” she murmured. Should she alert her father? Who was the barbarian? Rachel didn’t even know whose land they traveled across. She knew the Munros warred with a neighboring clan, but surely her father would have kept their route along friendly territory.
“Isabelle,” Rachel asked casually. “Do you have your arrows within reach?”
“Yes, but I don’t think father wants me hunting this close to the Munros.”
“Keep them close.” Rachel looked at her sister, her eyes intense. “Just in case.” She pulled her dagger out and set it amongst the folds of her green buckram skirt. Granted it was only one small weapon, but with a single snap she could lodge it into a man’s skull.
Theoretically, of course, since she’d only practiced with turnips at home.
Isabelle nocked an arrow into the bow she’d retrieved from behind her. She glanced around. “You saw something,” she whispered.
Rachel tipped a brief nod. “Just keep alert.”
“You should tell—”
“Munros! Batail!” The roar sliced through her sister’s words, echoing off the trees and boulders flanking them.
Rachel whirled around in her saddle, dagger poised. Men ran and jumped through the trees, not toward them, but back the way they had come.
“Ride, girls!” their father yelled from up ahead.
Rachel kicked her mount’s flanks and leaned low as it lurched forward. Isabelle raced next to her. The meadow ended and they fled into the dappled light of the thick woods. Their father waved his arm overhead to urge them to follow as he wove through the trees.
The guttural sounds and clang of steel mixed with Gaelic curses. Had the barbarian followed? Rachel glanced at Isabelle. Her sweet, dutiful younger sister; would she be murdered by marauders because Rachel had failed to warn everyone? Rachel swallowed against the dry panic in her throat as she thought of the man, his piercing eyes, his proud stare. What if he was in jeopardy?
“Watch out!” Isabelle shouted as they galloped toward a thick uprooted tree.
Rachel veered and yanked the reins to the right, while Isabelle tore off in front of her to the left. Lost in the heavy growth of trees, Rachel steered the horse in a tight circle. Her gaze wove through the dense woods as she tried to discern the sound of the battle over her thumping heart. She continued to circle, hoping to find a clear-cut path through the thickets.
“Blast!” She cursed low and looked up at the giant trees. She had absolutely no sense of direction. She shifted in her seat, breathing the moist earthy air while the halted horse quivered beneath her. Which way?
She scanned the woods, looking for any familiar path. And stopped. The barbarian stood amongst the trees. He held his blood-streaked sword ready, his legs braced apart as if waiting for another target to strike. In a fluid motion he pivoted, sharp eyes connecting once again with Rachel’s as if they were magnets. There was something…something familiar about his eyes. A distant memory fluttered in her mind. A Highland festival, a young boy several years older than she.
The man took a step toward her, dissolving the image. The whoosh of an arrow made Rachel drop low against her horse’s neck, but she watched in horror as the arrow slammed into the man’s shoulder.
“No!” Rachel screamed and pushed her horse through the undergrowth to him. She slid down into the ferns. Her little slippers found no purchase and she tripped and slipped toward him, where he lay surrounded by green fronds. He wore a kilt draped loosely around narrow hips. His eyes were closed, but he swallowed. Her breath hitched as she saw the faint line near his right ear. A scar.
Rachel forced a deep breath and looked away from the mark, her mark. The tip of the arrow protruded from his chest, its shaft all the way through.
Rachel ignored her shaking and placed her hands on his hot skin. She closed her eyes and released the bubble of power that churned behind her ribs, funneling it through him in search of physical details. She heard his blood whoosh through his veins. The hollowness of his stomach and bladder indicated they were empty. The hard echo of his pounding heart beat through her, straining with the injury. But where exactly was it? The whisper of a leak caught Rachel’s breath, a nick in the artery, blood pooling in his chest cavity.
“Holy Lord,” she whispered, and opened her eyes. In the distance she could hear shouting, guttural and fierce. She flattened her blood-smeared hands on the wet grass, pawing, searching. Yes! A rock! She clawed at the fist-sized rock at the base of a fern, dirt cramming under her nails. Her eyes dropped to the man’s jagged flesh, holding the arrow. She breathed, and hefted the rock high. “Holy Lord, help me.”
Her stomach tightened. Can I really do this? I must! Holding her breath, she slammed the rock against the protruding arrowhead.
The man gasped but didn’t wake.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, and tugged his arm. Holy Lord, he was heavy! She braced her muddied feet against the side of a large pine and used her legs to yank, turning him onto his side. In the shadows before, she hadn’t seen the crisscrossing of scars marring his skin. This man had seen battle—a lot of battle. Guilt took hold of her, lending her strength. He’d survived all this time only to be shot when she stole his attention.
The shouts crept closer. Were they looking for him? Rachel sunk lower into the ferns as she wedged her feet against his bloodied back. With a great yank, the shaft slid free. The unconscious man groaned. She straddled him, kicking her skirts out of the way. He was so broad her knees didn’t reach the ground, and she balanced on his hip while slamming one hand on each bleeding hole, front and back.
She breathed in the tang of blood, of sweat and mud, of his masculine scent as she released her magic, directing it through her splayed hands into his body. The nick first. She cringed as she felt the larger tear along the thin wall of his artery, a consequence of removing the splintery shaft. Her eyes flickered closed as she imagined the smooth lines of healthy tissue. She pushed her power into the torn muscles, moving outward, repairing, smoothing. She knit the splintered edges of a rib and healed the broken and seeping blood vessels feeding the muscles. Finally, the skin over the holes. Rachel breathed deep, feeling her energy feeding into the man. Her head swam and she slumped forward, draping him in blood-stained green buckram. Would she have enough strength to escape?
“Lass.” The whisper tickled at her ear and she felt her body lowered gently to the soft earth. Warm fingers brushed the hair from her cheeks and her eyes fluttered open. “What are ye?” Dark blue eyes stared down into her own, intense, questioning, stunning, but what captured her full focus was the telltale slice near his ear.
“There! A horse! I know I shot him. Over there!”
The barbarian glanced over his shoulder and then back at her. His sensuous lips thinned into a line of frustration. “I’ll come for ye.”
Come for her? Where was she going?
Rachel’s consciousness slipped over the edge into comfortable darkness.