Exposed Circle of the Red Lily Book 1 by Anna J. Stewart Genre: Romantic Suspense
Some secrets should stay buried...
Working as a Hollywood photographer means Riley Temple has seen it all, but that theory is put to the test when she finds herself staring at the chilling image of a dead woman. When her questions about the film's origin results in an assault, a murder, and an attack on Riley herself, she finds herself reluctantly turning to the only person who assures her he can help: Detective Quinn Burton. Her history with the LAPD is complicated, but to find those responsible for harming her friends and to protect those closest to her, she's willing to do anything. Even trust a cop.
After more than a decade on the job, Quinn Burton knows a dangerous situation when he sees it and Riley Temple is neck deep in trouble. But not for the reason she thinks. Those pictures she stumbled onto could very well overturn a notorious murder conviction--a conviction partially secured by Quinn's own police commissioner father. Quinn has always prided himself on being loyal, but seeing this case through means he'll have to betray someone: his job, his family, or the woman he's falling in love with.
As Quinn and Riley's relationship deepens, their investigation reveals the false conviction is only a small part of a much bigger conspiracy. They soon find themselves targeted by The Circle of the Red Lily, a secret society that for decades has maintained influence and violent control over Hollywood's powerful elite. A group that, until now, has remained hidden in the shadows.
A group that will stop at nothing to keep their secrets buried.
A geek at heart, USA Today and national bestselling author Anna J Stewart writes "refreshingly unique, quietly humorous, and profoundly moving romance." (RT Book Reviews) Her books include The Butterfly Harbor series for Harlequin Heartwarming, along with the Blackwell continuity series. She also writes the Honor Bound series for Harlequin Romantic Suspense and has written in the ongoing Colton family saga. As her first love is paranormal romance, she's published a number of novellas, including the Tome Wardens trilogy collection. EXPOSED, her first book of The Circle of the Red Lily romantic suspense series with CAEZIK Romance will be released in November of 2022. Readers can get a taste for what's to come with her Nemesis Files Trilogy (light romantic suspense), available on audio through Scribd.
NYTimes bestselling author Brenda Novak says "The talented Anna J Stewart delivers every time!"
Anna lives in Northern California where she deals with a serious Supernatural & Jason Momoa addiction, surrounds herself with friends and family and tolerates two devious cats named Sherlock and Rosie.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
Of course! I’m a life-long reader who fell in love with romance novels early on in high school (ahhh… the 80’s, LOL). Shortly after, I took a shot at writing them and it soon became my dream of a career. It took me a while, but I currently write full-time for Harlequin (Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense) as well as Caezik Romance, a division of Arc Manor (a smaller publishing house). I love all kinds of romance and write widely across the genre. My first love is paranormal, but I’m primarily published in contemporary romance, sweet contemporary romance and romantic suspense. EXPOSED, the first of my Circle of the Red Lily series is my fifty-third published work. All of my books, ALL OF THEM, are romances.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I’m a doll collector. Primarily Barbies (I have a ton of them still in their boxes), but I also have some collectibles that have a special place in my heart.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
One of my Harlequin Heartwarming novels, RECIPE FOR REDEMPTION was optioned for a TV movie back in 2019—and I didn’t find out about it until they’d already started filming! This was a huge dream come true for me (I’m a big TV junkie) so seeing CHRISTMAS RECIPE FOR ROMANCE on the small screen was a very special experience. The fact I got to travel and visit the set, and get a cameo in the film? Cherry on top.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I grew up in San Francisco—went to grammar and high school there. It was a great place to grow up. The Sunset, where I lived, had a real small-town feel to it. And it’s also where I fed my romance novel addiction thanks to a local used bookstore that was only a few blocks from my house.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
With my family and friends making sure they know how much I love them.
Who is your hero and why?
I have a number of them, actually, but I think Carrie Fisher tops the list. Not only because of her playing Princess Leia (Star Wars was pivotal for me discovering storytelling), but because of her amazing talent as a writer and her incredible sense of humor. She was a straight-shooter without a filter and always spoke the truth—to everyone. And she did it with compassion, empathy and more than a little acid.
What are you passionate about these days?
I’ve been obsessed with two TV shows for years, and it has yet to dull, LOL. SUPERNATURAL is still my favorite show of all time but moving up fast is The Great British Bake-Off. It’s just so… pleasant.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
See above answer, LOL. TV is usually my happy place, or reading the most recent JD Robb or Nora Roberts book. Discovering new authors is always a great way to spend the day. I’m hoping to start gardening next year. We’ll see how that goes.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I started obsessing over writing short stories—what they now call fan fiction. That happened my freshman year in high school. I didn’t call myself an author until my first published work was available.
Do you have a favorite movie?
I have SO many. But, my all time favorite? The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. I could watch it on a constant loop.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
It’s funny. I write from a very visual place—I tend to envision the story like a film strip, so I think a lot of my works would lend themselves well to becoming a movie. EXPOSED most definitely, though. With the imagery and the settings and it’s focus on Hollywood both today and the Golden Age of films, it’s at the top of my list.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Probably a sloth with hummingbird tendencies. I seem to move in slow motion for quite a while then speed up as the book progresses. Is there an animal that does that? My down time, even tho I’m usually thinking about the book I’m currently working definitely qualifies me as a sloth, LOL.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was so lucky that ArcManor, a smaller publishing house that until recently acquired science fiction and fantasy, wanted to branch out into romance. I’d written some short stories for one of their magazines, but when they established CAEZIK, their romance line, they asked if I’d be interested in writing a full-length romance novel for them, preferably a series. Even better, they asked “what do you want to write.” The only caveat was it couldn’t be paranormal (*sobs*). So I pitched this book as LA Confidential meets Women’s Murder Club. They bought it and the other four books in the series.
What can we expect from you in the future?
More romantic suspense! As I said, EXPOSED is the first of five books—the ongoing mystery will be resolved at the end, and each book features a different couple. I’ve also got a new sweet Hawai’i-set contemporary series from Heartwarming that will launch in June of 2023 and the last of my Honor Bound books from Harlequin Romantic Suspense will be coming out as well. I’ve also got a brand-new out of the norm idea percolating in the back of my mind that I hope I’ll be able to do something with. I just need the time to focus on it!
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
The idea came as a result of an episode of White Collar, actually. One of the secondary characters, Mozzie, bought a storage unit that had been abandoned and inside he found a ton of photography equipment. My brain just went into over-drive and I wondered what would happen if there was undeveloped film in that unit? That’s where the story began for me. What kind of character would develop that film and, more importantly, what would be on it.
The two characters developed as they often do as far as their professions and situations: they need to conflict in numerous ways so they have to grow and change and earn their HEA. Putting Riley Temple, for example, with a cop, lent itself really well after I fleshed out her backstory. He’s literally the last man she’d ever imagine ending up with.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
Character names in this series, and for EXPOSED in particular, are kind of Easter eggs. All of the heroes and heroines tie their names back to classic Hollywood actors and actresses. Riley Temple, for example, is in homage to Shirley Temple, one of my favorites growing up. Quinn Burton is a mix of Anthony Quinn and Richard Burton. I literally wrote out a list of all my favorite actors and actresses and started mixing and matching.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
So many things. First, that my editor literally said, write what you want, how you want. The only caveat was that it needed to be romance (which is a no brainer for me—everything I ever write will be romance, LOL). Secondly, that I got to bring in my love of classic Hollywood and the Golden Age. Growing up I was obsessed with the studio system and stars like Marilyn Monroe and Veronica Lake. I’m really enjoying dropping information about that kind of thing onto the page. Beyond that, just creating the entire world of Temple House and the people who live there. I love creating communities that are more family than they are strangers or even friends.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
In an unusual way for me, the title actually came before the real plot developed. I don’t plot out my books, but as I was working on ideas and I played with the photography, movie, and secrets theme, I started brainstorming out one word names I thought would catch. EXPOSED just fit so many aspects of the story that as soon as I tried it, it stuck.
Who designed your book covers?
For the Circle of the Red Lily books, it’s the fantabulous AUTHORS ON A DIME. I loved working with her as she really listens to me but also thinks outside the box.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Yes. I learned that I really really like writing dark plots and scenes. I also got to start doing a deep dive into the inner workings of the studio systems of Hollywood back in the 40’s and 50’s.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I don’t always choose inspiration pictures to refer to while I write, but I actually did for this one. I can see Keira Knightly as Riley Temple—sans the accent, of course. Someone who appears slight, but is unbelievably strong. As for Quinn Burton—it’s Chris Evans all the way—about half-way between his beard-and-non-beard phase of Captain America.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
I have a few favorite parts, actually. Firs tis the prologue, which I think might be one of the best things I’ve written in years. Secondly are the scenes that feature the core group of heroines—five best friends who join forces to solve the mystery of this series. Five completely different women all on the page at the same time. Those are always my favorite kinds of scenes to write.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
They’re all out of my imagination—maybe looks wise they’re inspired by a particular actor or actress, but character and behavior wise, they’re all out of my head.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
All the time. Especially the secondary characters who will have their own stories down the road. Laurel in particular in EXPOSED was difficult to control, probably because I’m so anxious to write her story And I have to wait until the final book to do it!
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Oh, heavens yes. I’ve got a number of paranormal romances that have yet to see the light of day. I came close with one of them, but it was just a bit too far out of the norm box for a publisher to take a chance on. All of those are parts of series that I’ve thought about turning into maybe a YA series or even connecting all them into one world and self-pubbing but… Who knows?
What did you edit out of this book?
Actually, nothing. Everything I wanted to put into it is in there.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
The idea of Temple House, the apartment building owned by my heroine Riley and her great-aunt (a former actress from the golden era) came from the old apartment buildings studios owned back in the day to house the film extras and chorus girls.
I’m learning all the secrets of this series with the readers! Like I said, I don’t plot, so when it comes to all the questions being asked in these books? Yeah… I don’t have the answers until they hit the page!
The character of Laurel Fontaine is 100% based on actress Angie Harmon of Rizzoli and Isles fame. I adore her so much I put her in my books!
These books, like all my books, focus on family found—the families we make that aren’t necessarily the families we’re born to.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Only ten?! Top of the list: Nora Roberts/JD Robb (she’s why I got hooked on romance back in the day). The entire In Death Series is my favorite of all time. Stephen King (The Stand and Carrie). Dean Koontz (The Watchers and Lightning). Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God). Sherrilyn Kenyon/McQueen (Night Play) Jayne Anne Krentz (everything she’s written, LOL). Allison Brennan’s thrillers are always must reads. Melinda Curtis and Cari Lynn Webb (two of my best friends, but I love their books). Seriously…I could go on forever.
What book do you think everyone should read?
The Stand. It’s quite possibly one of the best books ever written, IMO.
How long have you been writing?
I started when I was fourteen, so… almost forty years! Yikes.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I often have characters pop up while I’m writing a story. One of the reasons I don’t plot—I love surprises both story wise and character wise.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
Depends on the book. I like to use different types of jobs, unexpected careers or living situations. I’m more of a research as I go kind of person unless, like in EXPOSED, I had a lot of work to do getting a feel for Los Angeles and Hollywood. Happily, that meant watching a lot of movies!
Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely. It’s what I was meant to do and it’s my dream job.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
I wish publishers would take bigger chances on authors’ ideas. But it is what it is. I’m glad authors have so many options these days. For me, traditional publishing was always my goal and it continues to be, but knowing self-pubbing is out there should I choose it? That’s a good thing.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
Not as much as I used to, but I’m a life-long romance fan. Second is thrillers/suspense and horror.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I actually listen to one CD and have for years. It’s a mix of instrumental music with ocean sounds. It drops me into my zone almost immediately. I find it hard to write without it, actually.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
Once upon a time I’d write one at a time, but in recent years I’ve had to write more at a time. I think I was working on three different books while writing EXPOSED. Necessary to meet those deadlines!
Pen or typewriter or computer?
Laptop, but I love the sound of a typewriter and when I get stuck, I shift to pen and paper. Different part of the brain, LOL.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
When I first started reading romance, I would often change what I wanted to be when I grew up—or what major I’d choose in college. It finally occurred to me that as a writer, I could be anything for the length of time it took me to write a book. I could be all the things! It was absolutely the right choice for me. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Do you have any advice to offer for new authors?
Write and read. That’s really what it comes down to. Also, embrace your own thing. Write what you love. Read what you love and what anyone else thinks about either does not matter. You’re the only one who can walk your path. You may as well love what you’re doing while you’re doing it.
What makes a good story?
From a writer’s perspective, I’d say character motivation and internal conflict. Both of those elements create growth for characters and a place for the story to go. Without them? There’s no story to tell.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I don’t plot, but I have a general idea of where the story is going. I know what the conflict is between the hero and heroine. I know the changes they need to undergo to earn their happily ever after. For example, in EXPOSED, Riley has serious issues with the police, both from personal experience and from witnessing certain actions over the years. It made sense to pair her off with a cop because it would challenge her belief systems and be a catalyst for change. So if I know issues like that, it’s really all I need to start the story. I also write from word one, chapter one, straight through. I can’t skip around. Kudos to those who can, but nope. Tried it. It was a disaster, LOL.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Assuming another author’s process is going to be your process. I’m a firm believer in every author finding what works for them. By experimenting. By just sitting down and writing. As many authors as there are out there, that’s how many ways there are to write a book. No one’s process is wrong, nor will one person’s process work for someone else. Dig deep and find what does work for you and embrace it.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I’m Dory on speed. Seriously, I can be distracted by fluff in the air. The closer I get to deadline, the better and more focused I get, but I will literally clean the kitchen or do laundry before I get my butt in the chair.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Absolutely. I always want to create something a reader hasn’t seen before. I don’t want to be predictable, although sometimes that’s really difficult to avoid. If I end up with a cliché, I’ll be the one to point it out and laugh at it myself before anyone else can. But I do always strive for orginality.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Stop playing around and get to work! I don’t think I was ready to be published before I was, but I do wish I’d gotten there sooner.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from other genders?
Keeping it realistic. My heroes are definitely idealistic and romanticized—it’s how I like to think a lot of men actually are. But I always have to keep in mind that men aren’t talkers by nature—makes writing conversations and relationships quite difficult, LOL.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Most of my Harlequins are about 70,000 words. And I do track as I write. On average, they take me 34 days, writing 3-4 hours 5 days a week. Books like EXPOSED are longer—I think it came in at just over 102,000? I believe it took 40 days using the same schedule.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Before Covid I didn’t. Since? Yep. Production is reliant on focus and attention. Uncertainty and stress kills both, LOL. But I also think there’s emotional writer’s block, when the words just aren’t there and you have to set it aside, and then there’s story writer’s block—when you literally come to a dead stop and have no idea where to go with the plot. Usually that means I’ve dropped the conflict, so I do a quick read to see where it vanished. Nine times out of ten, I find it, go back and pick it up and the block resolves itself.
Follow the tourHEREfor special content and a giveaway!