Jan 30, 2014

Ringing in the New Year with Mellanie Szereto!

When her fingers aren't attached to her keyboard, Mellanie Szereto enjoys hiking, Pilates, cooking, gardening, and researching for her stories. Many times, the research partners with her other hobbies, taking her from the Hocking Hills region in Ohio to the Colorado Rockies or the Adirondacks of New York. Sometimes, the trip is no farther than her garden for ingredients and her kitchen to test recipes for her latest steamy tale. Mellanie makes her home in rural Indiana with her husband of twenty-seven years, their two children, and two cats. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Indiana Romance Writers of America, Hearts Through History Romance Writers, and PASIC.

Love Served Hot
Love on the Menu

As acting director of her uncle’s retirement village, Lilith Montgomery must hire a chef for the new restaurant. She’s interviewed several candidates, but instantly decides on the sexy Irishman whose culinary creations give her foodgasms. Her rotten luck with relationships makes her determined to resist her attraction to him, even if it means sneaking into the kitchen at night for a taste of his delectable entrées.

Flynn Hastings is finally getting his life back on track after a year of anger and guilt over his sister’s death. He’s returned home to be near his family and has found the perfect job—with one small problem. His boss makes him want to cook in more than the kitchen. Putting aside his hard and fast rule about mixing business with pleasure, he sets his sights on Lilith, hoping their budding friendship turns out to be more than a flash in the pan.


Plating two modest servings of iron skillet-seared salmon on beds of rice, Flynn added a sprig of fresh dill to each. He dropped a couple handfuls of pasta into the pot of boiling water and gave it a stir. The timer in his head set itself, the ticks so automatic he no longer had to check his watch.

He returned to the dining room to set a dish at Ms. Montgomery’s place, reciting the information she’d likely want to know. “Entrée number one. Dilled Salmon with Spinach and Brown Rice Pilaf. High in Omega-3 fatty acids, complex carbs, and iron. Moderate sodium content. Most vegetables and fresh mushrooms can be substituted for the spinach. And it’ll be served with a variety of sides.”

The aroma rising from the table made his stomach rumble. Taking the seat across from her, he waited for her to taste the offering.

She lifted the fork to her lips. Several moments passed with no indication of her like or dislike of the fish. The only movement of her face was an occasional blink and rhythmic chewing.

A bite of rice followed, her reaction as stiff and bland as the first one. He might’ve expected unresponsive behavior from a food critic, but not from a potential employer.

Unable to restrain his need to know if the food warranted the lack of emotion, he flaked off a piece of salmon and settled it on his tongue. The texture was perfect—not tough or chewy. A mix of mild fish flavor, salt, black pepper, and freshly chopped dill spread over his taste buds. It tasted exactly the way it had the thousands of times he’d prepared it.

Could the rice be the problem?

He slid the fork under the grains, certain he had the right proportion of spinach to rice. Leaning over the plate, he lifted the bite to his mouth. The rice was firm but not crunchy, the spinach and seasonings adding enough hint of flavor to complement the earthy tone of the dish.

Taking a peek at his dining partner, he finished chewing. He’d no more than swallowed when she shuddered and closed her eyes. They opened again, staring straight at him with a slightly glassy look as she pulled in a shaky breath.

Please don’t tell me she’s allergic to—

“Oh my.” She fanned her fingers at her face as she squirmed in her seat.

No cayenne. No hot pepper sauce. No peppers, period—not even black in the rice—and only the lightest dusting of freshly cracked on the fish.

Sifting through the ingredients in his mind didn’t help identify the culprit.

“Are you all right?”

Her tight smile didn’t reassure him. She lifted her napkin to dab at her lips, not quite hiding her quick exhale. “Um, yes. I’m fine. Good. Shall we try the next?”

Wasn’t she going to comment on the entrée? Or had she decided to wait until she’d completed the taste testing to evaluate the samples?
“Good” could’ve referred to the dish, couldn’t it?

Pushing up from his chair, he paused before setting off for the kitchen again. The dish had been better than good, and he shouldn’t put too much stock in her response. Confidence in his cooking skills had never been an issue for him.

Drain and dish up the pasta.

Ladle the sauce.

Position the port.


He was on his way in less than two minutes.

His judge slid her now-empty plate to the side and drained her glass.


She had to have inhaled the rest of her salmon and rice while he was gone. That fact alone eliminated the possibility of a known allergy to the fish.

Her gaze seemed glued to the dishes in his grasp. “This must be entrée number two. Campanelle and Portabellas with Roma Tomato Sauce.”

Flynn bit the inside of his cheek to keep from groaning aloud as he placed the pasta dish between her utensils. Her husky tone suggested she might prefer food to sex. A combination of the two would certainly be interesting.

Just what I need—to lose this gig before I get it. Focus, damn it!

He’d already risked making a bad impression with the stupid stocking comment, no matter how sexy her legs were. Adjusting the front of his chef’s coat to hide his body’s reaction to her voice, he refilled her glass and then rounded the table to sit opposite her again.

“Thanks.” This time she hesitated a couple seconds before picking up her fork and knife. “Tell me more about the vegetarian selection.”

Curious to see if her expression became an unreadable mask, he launched into a full description. “The pasta is made from chickpea flour instead of semolina. Higher protein, fewer carbs. Whole wheat or whole grain is another possibility, but I’d add a protein to the sauce to make up the difference. The ports are seared in olive oil for good fats. Freshly grated Parmesan for vegetarian, or without for vegan.”

She held her loaded fork near her chin. “Chickpea pasta sounds fairly expensive and not readily available. What protein options would you use?”

“Cannellini works really well. Marinated and sautéed tofu is another. Black beans.”

She gave a curt nod. The ruffled edge of the sauce-covered campanelle disappeared between her teeth. She looked more thoughtful than with the first entrée, her tongue sneaking out to lick her lips. Her fork clinked against the porcelain plate, and he held his breath for her verdict.

Her sudden gasp as she grabbed the edge of the table didn’t bode well. The small squeak probably meant she was in pain, and her fingertips turned white from her death grip.

Stumbling out of his seat, he rushed to her side. “You’re not all right. I’m not a doctor, but I’d guess acute appendicitis. Or maybe a really bad case of acid reflux.”

          She shook her head, sending her strawberry-blonde ponytail swinging back and forth. “Fine. I’m fine. Really. I just, um, bit my tongue.” Her chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm as she straightened in her seat. “You’re hired. Can you start work on Monday?”


Blog Post

Every December, I sit down with paper and pencil to make a list of my writing goals for the next year.

What’s on the list?

I always include a target word count, how many manuscripts I’d like to finish, which conferences and reader events I want to attend, milestones I’d like to achieve, where I plan to submit or whether I prefer to self-publish.  My Writing Tip Wednesday posts and author spotlights on my blog are part of my yearly plan as well. At the same time, I have to keep in mind what other responsibilities I have—like volunteering in my local RWA chapter and supervising my son’s homeschooling, which involves teaching and daily transportation to and from his tutoring sessions on the local university campus.

The year 2014 is shaping up to be a busy one. I have my Love on the Menu and Love on the Menu…With Extra Spice series to complete and publish. I’ll be spending time editing and polishing the first two books in my college-town contemporary series. Overall, my estimated word count totals 350,000. Yes, that means I have to sit my backside in the chair and write. Promo, edits, and formatting will also be an important part of self-publishing these books. Thankfully, I have an awesome cover artist to handle that particular detail.

My IRWA responsibilities for 2014 have expanded, but volunteerism and giving back to the organization that helped me get published is one of my priorities. Besides continuing as webmistress, I’ve added VP of the chapter board to my list of duties and I’m presenting a program on writing craft in April based on several of my Writing Tip Wednesday craft posts from 2013.

I’m planning to attend Lori Foster’s Reader-Author Get Together in Cincinnati and RWA’s National Conference in San Antonio this year to connect with readers and other authors. Both of those events will take time from writing, but I’ve figured that into my word count. I always come home energized and ready to write!

My list of goals is never out of sight when I’m home working at my desk. Are they lofty ones? Sure. If I don’t achieve everything I wrote down, the world won’t end, though. I prefer to challenge myself rather expect too little. Whatever is left on the list can go on next year’s, and I’ll remain sane!

Behind the Scenes

Ø What inspired you to write your first book?

I had voices and stories in my head that demanded to be heard and written!

Ø How did you come up with the title?

Titles typically pop into my head as I’m writing the story, but I’ve also brainstormed with my critique group. For the Love on the Menu series, I wanted to emphasize the heat level (hot but not erotic) and have a food-related theme to help readers identify the genre. Love Served Hot took a little thought since it’s the first book in the series. Red Hot Pepper and Hot Tamale Nights formed on their own as the characters hinted at the plot and conflict. The titles for the Love on the Menu…With Extra Spice short erotic novels are a mix of aha moments and brainstorming. Again, they follow the food theme.

Ø Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers walk away with?

Don’t let the fear of what could happen stop you from taking chances. The retirees in my story have been around long enough to know life doesn’t wait for you to live it.

Ø Are there any new authors who have grasped your interest?

My to-be-read pile is a mile high, and I’m very slowly making a dent in it. Here are few newer authors I’ve recently enjoyed:

I love Nan Reinhardt’s older heroines in her series, The Women of Willow Bay. I’m impatiently waiting for the next installment!

For a new male voice in romance, I have to mention Jim Cangany and his North Star Love Stories series. He takes his characters on amazing journeys.

I’m enjoying Kate SeRine’s Transplanted Tales as well. What fairytale could be better than Little Red Riding Hood in leather?

Ø What are your current projects?

I’m deeply entrenched in the Love on the Menu series. Books 2 and 3, Red Hot Pepper and Hot Tamale Nights, are in the works, along with the accompanying erotic series, Love on the Menu…With Extra Spice.

Besides my two foodie series, I’m also working on rewrites of several contemporary romances I wrote very early in my writing career. I’ve learned a lot about writing craft since those days.

Ø Name one person you feel supported you outside of family members.
Instead of one person, I have to name a group—Indiana Romance Writers of America. I couldn’t have asked for more supportive writer-friends. I’ve made invaluable friendships and learned so much about writing and publishing from my local chapter of RWA.

Ø Do you see writing as a career?

Yes, writing isn’t just a job, and it’s far more than a hobby. I plan to write for the rest of my life, and I love it!

Ø Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My interest in writing started early with my love of reading. I still have a fourth-grade essay I wrote on what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ll give you one guess what that was!

Ø Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Flynn is a sweetheart. He’s always around when Lilith needs him—whether she’s in need of a little brawn, a shoulder to cry on, or a bit of moral support. Despite his attraction to her, he doesn’t push her to take their friendship to the next level before she’s ready.

He also has a soft spot for his nieces and the folks living at Montgomery Crossing Retirement Village.

Ø How much research do you do?

I’m a research nerd. I have books on everything from string theory to pirates to mythology to medieval armor. Since the Love on the Menu series focuses on food, I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting in the kitchen and searching for recipes online!

Ø Why do you write?

I love writing! Without it, my sanity would be questionable…

Ø What books are you reading at present?

I’m currently rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a couple chapters into A Hunka Hunka Nursing Love by new author Kathryn Maeglin.

Ø Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?

Absolutely! The book cover is part of what creates the reader’s first impression. An attractive, professional-looking cover encourages the buyer to read the blurb and, in turn, the opening chapter(s) or excerpt. Clicking the buy button gets closer with each step!

Ø What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
I’m traditionally e-published and self-published, and both have their advantages and disadvantages.

One of the biggest selling points of going through a publisher is the author doesn’t have to invest money to produce the book. By self-publishing, the author must spend money to make money. Some of those expenses can include hiring an editor, cover artist, and formatter, in addition to purchasing ISBNs and registering the copyright. While a publisher doesn’t charge the author for these services, royalty rates are lower than self-publishing and the publisher has the final say in many phases of production. Self-publishing means complete control over the process, but it also requires the author to spend time away from writing to handle the details. Not every author wants to give up writing time to research copy editors and cover artists. Others love the control of making all the decisions.

As with most aspects of writing and publishing, each author has to do what works best for her.

Flash Round

How do you feel about being the center of attention?
I’m an introvert. I don’t mind talking to people in social situations, but I have a hard time being the center of attention. If you want to give me an award, please don’t make me give a speech!

Do you have any irrational fears or phobias?
I can handle spiders, mice, and snakes, but cockroaches give me the willies. I’m not a fan of high places, either, even though I love rugged hiking.

How deeply does your job / social role define you as a person?
Being a writer is vital to who I am. It helps me maintain balance in my life, giving me an identity besides wife and mother. Much of my life revolves around homeschooling my son with Asperger’s, and writing allows me keep my sense of self.

What are you the most hopeless at?
I find keeping up with housework impossible!

What would you never do, no matter the price?
That’s an easy one! Bungie-jump. See fear of heights above…

Daily Contest: Enter to win a $10 Amazon gift card. Contest ends February 3rd at Midnight. Please leave a comment with a valid email address to enter. Don’t forget to also enter the Grand Prize Rafflecopter with the code word found above! Come back every day to get a new code word and match it with the author's name! Each author has a unique code word.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Sounds like a good read. Your a new author for me so it's great getting to know you. I can relate to the fear of roaches and heights. Sometimes when going up a staircase with no banister or even a stool I get really scared if I look down.

    humhumbum AT yahoo DOT com

    1. Great to have you here, H.B.! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Haven't read anything by this author before but this book definitely sounds like it needs to be on my wish list. :)

    carolcobun @ yahoo.com

    1. What a wonderful compliment, Beth! Thanks and good luck!

  3. Your book sounds scrumptious! I absolutely LOVE the cover! Flynn sounds like a loveable teddy bear "with teeth when needed"! Thanks for being part of this party!


    1. Flynn is one of my favorite heroes, and you described him perfectly, Evil Tammy! Glad to have you here!

  4. I really enjoyed reading the excerpt! What a tease you are leaving us hanging like that! My two favorites food and sex all rolled into one book! The cover looks amazing as well! I can't wait to read this one! Now I must go because you have made me terribly hunger with all of the yummy food talk! Thanks and have a wonderful day!

    1. So happy you enjoyed the excerpt, Amy! The story gets hotter from there! :D Good luck in the drawing!

  5. Can't wait to read. Love all of the new authors I've discovered this month.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Robin! I hope you enjoy the book and good luck in the drawing!

  6. Enjoyed the excerpt.......love a man that can cook. Thank you for the giveaway.


  7. Loved the excerpt. I have a love/hate relationship with these teasers. Need to get this book so I can find out more.

    1. Thanks, Diana! I hope you enjoy Lilith and Flynn's story!

  8. I love the way this sounds. Now I need to go add you to my need to read list. I love finding new authors to read.

  9. Love meeting new author's & new books to add to my tbr list.

    Deborah H

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Deb! Good luck in the drawing!

  10. Thanks for the amazing excerpt & giveaway!
    elizabeth @ bookattict . com

    1. Glad you enjoyed the excerpt, Book Attict! Thanks for stopping by and good luck in the drawing!