Monday, June 29, 2009

Beginnings and Endings - Dara Girard

I was thrilled with Leena’s invitation to guest blog. I was even more amazed when she gave me the perfect date to do so. Monday, June 29th the day before the release date of ROUND THE CLOCK, the fourth and final book in The Black Stockings Society series about four women, one club, and a secret that will make all their fantasies come true.

Last year at this time (June 30, 2008) I introduced the series with the first book, POWER PLAY, and ‘mousy’ Mary whose invitation to the society turned her from a lamb into a shewolf.

Then in October 2008 I introduced ‘sultry’ Yvette in A GENTLEMAN’S OFFER who turned her invitation into a Cinderella story.

In January 2009, BODY CHEMISTRY was released. A story where ‘good girl’ Brenda gets a second chance at love with her devilish ex-husband.

And now the series comes to an end with ‘people pleaser’ Anna Marie who is ready to turn the tables on everyone—especially her high school crush, former bad boy Desmond Rockwell.

They proved to be the perfect couple to end this series. At first, I agonized about ending it because more ideas and characters came to mind and I would miss certain returning characters, but I knew the time was right. First the title, ROUND THE CLOCK, is appropriate. I didn’t think about this until much later, but the title suits the end of the series because it’s about completion. Second this novel encompasses what the society represents—dreams coming true, secret benefactors, transformation and, of course, finding true love. Lastly, I wanted to end the series on a high note. To step out in style, which with the four stars rating this book received from Romantic Times BookReviews, I believe I achieved.

So to celebrate the end of this series I’m running a fun contest on my website in July. And if you want to know more about the series watch the video on my website -

Remember never settle for less in life or love.

For more information on Dara and her books and to find out more about her contests visit

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Creative Freedom of a Fictional Setting – Sabrina Philips

I’ve always loved the extra sense of escapism offered by romances set in exotic, glamorous and beautiful destinations – so it’s no real surprise that I’ve always adored Harlequin Presents. However, I have to confess that when I started trying to write for the line, I was wary of articles about writing that champion setting too much, that even suggested the location of a book could act as a third character. Surely there was a danger that thinking in such a way could result in page after page of elaborate descriptions which would serve no real purpose other than demonstrating that I’d spent an afternoon with a thesaurus? Setting, I thought, should add a dollop of fantasy. Maybe it might occasionally be used to reflect the characters’ moods too, but I knew what mattered most was the relationship between my hero and heroine, not the shape of the trees in Tuscany.

Largely, it’s a viewpoint I still stand by, but when I came to write my second book, my whole way of thinking about setting changed. Why? Because I’d decided to fulfil my dream of writing a sheikh story, and in order to avoid the complexities of choosing an appropriate Middle Eastern country which actually existed on the map, I knew it would work best if it was set in a fictional place.

And once I started thinking about the kind of place I wanted Qwasir - my desert kingdom – to be, it occurred to me that setting is so much more than just scenery. My first story was set largely in Italy, and its Western way of life was so clearly ingrained in my mind that I didn’t even give it a second thought. Now I was inventing a whole new country, I realised that I had free reign not just over geography, but over laws and customs too. Which suddenly made me realise that setting could be far more significant than just acting a backdrop, it could inform plot, I mean, what if Kaliq Al-Zahir A’zam had to marry in order to inherit his kingdom…?

The catalysts for conflict that my fictional setting presented weren’t just external either, because what if I decided that Qwasirian men considered it immoral for women to display their bodies, and what if the woman Kaliq couldn’t get out of his head was top model Tamara Weston?

Of course, real places have plenty of sources of potential internal and external conflict lurking in their own laws and customs too – that Eastern attitude to women has its basis in reality after all – but it took my fictional kingdom to make me see how setting could be so much more than just the colour of the sky and the scent of the breeze. Besides which, creating a fictional kingdom of my own was fabulous fun!

So what about you, do you like reading or writing about fictional settings or do you prefer your romances to take place somewhere you can find on a map?

The Desert King’s Bejewelled Bride is out in the UK in July, and will be released in North America as a Presents Extra this August.

To win a signed copy and a gorgeous Swarvoski crystal necklace, please visit Sabrina’s website where she is currently running a joint contest with fellow Presents author Kate Hewitt.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reinventing the wheel

It's happened again and I have no idea how.

Yup, I'm talking about revision panic. The worst thing is, that every time I finish revising something, I swear that next time things will be better.

I will be cool, calm and collected. Oh, and I most definitely, definitely won't take my editor's or agent's one line comment to mean that I need to scrape three chapters and redo them without the X or Y or even the Z. Especially since after spending four days taking out the XYZ I will suddenly remember four chapters further along just why I had them there in the first place and so I will go back and find an original draft to cut and paste them back in, before then realizing that some of the new chapters were actually good so perhaps I should just cut and paste them into the cut and paste.

And so the crazy begins.

Fortunately I'm ending the near of the revision haze and there are only 30 pages to go (okay and about four extra essential scenes that I know my editor didn't ask for but they really help to bring the XYZ to life!). Unfortunately, at this stage I have absolutely no way of knowing if any of it is any good and my only conscious thought is - 'hmmm, where are my children? I'm sure I saw them somewhere in that mess I like to call a lounge room. But was that three days ago or four?'

So that's my lovely revision process, though please viewers, I don't recommend you try it at home unless you are fully supervised by a responsible adult (who will hopefully tell you to run a mile because my way leads to madness!)

In completely other news, in order to help celebrate the release of Tote Bags 'n' Blog's, Serena Robar's new book, 'Giving Up the V', there is a copy up for grabs over at my own blog and all you need to do is head over there and leave a comment. Oh, and if you haven't read any of Serena's books before you are in for such a treat because she rocks (and I totally bet she has a nice orderly revision process as well!)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Grandma and the Prince - Part 8

<==Grandma at 19

Something happened to me the year I turned twenty-six.

It was 1976, our Bicentennial year, a year of history and memory. A year of looking back to discover how we came to be. I suppose my family is as representative of the U.S. in the 20th century as any family could be.

Three of my four grandparents were born in other countries. Only one, my mother's father, was born in this country and he was halfChippewa.

I started thinking a lot about how my family evolved during that year, trying to weave together the disparate stories into a whole I could understand. And who better to start with than my garrulous, storytelling grandmother El?

Grandma was living in a small apartment in Elmhurst, Queens, the New York City neighborhood where I'd grown up. It wasn't much as far as apartments go, more a glorified studio than anything else. You entered into a dark and narrow hallway. The bathroom was off that hallway, along with a huge walk-in closet that also held Grandma's chifferobe and secretary desk. Everything else had been lost in the fire two years earlier that destroyed the Woodside building where she and her daughter Mona had both been living.

The moment she smelled smoke and heard the fierce sibilant hiss of flame, she grabbed her strongbox of old photos, her bankbook and jewelry, and climbed out onto the fire escape in her nightgown. The metal rungs of the ladder were slick with ice but that didn't stop Grandma. She ordered the firemen to keep their hands to themselves and made her way down two flights to safety.

When the smoke cleared, she learned she'd be traveling much lighter through life. Paintings, framed photos, furniture, clothes--gone, all of it. These days they call it simplifying your life but it was more than that. It was a tragedy.

So much of her past was lost in that fire, so many clues to her heart and soul. Of course, none of that mattered to me in 1976. I was only twenty-six and my grandmother was going to live forever. She was my constant, my North star. And she was ready to talk.

We decided I'd drive in early Sunday morning for breakfast and conversation. I had my questions all planned, fresh batteries in my cassette recorder, and a curiosity so intense that I was willing to brave the Long Island Expressway on a July Sunday in order to satisfy it.

No matter where Grandma lived, the place always looked like her. I remember the Prospect Avenue house with the steep front steps and angled roof. The small ranch house on Eckhardt Terrace with the apple trees in the back yard and the pinball machine in the basement. The address didn't matter. You'd know who lived there the second you walked through the door. She hated this apartment, her last, but still she'd made it her own. She'd found a loose pillow-back sofabed at a thrift store and stitched up a slipcover in a slightly tatty chintz fabric that seemed to give off the faint scent of Tigress. She had paintings on the walls, oils and watercolors and prints, street scenes, rainy vistas, all of them in ornate frames hung suspended from thick velvet cords. They weren't the pictures she'd carried with her from home to home but still they fit. I can see each of her homes in my mind's eye.

Grandma and I talked for hours that summer day. She was instantly comfortable with the whirring of the tape recorder, so much so that she would ask me to stop the tape when she wanted to say something incriminating or downright bitchy. But I can’t remember the words.

I remember the room and the heat and the smell of toast and bacon and the feeling of having turned a corner, of being accepted in her world as an adult and not a child. I remember the narrow little table pushed against the wall, the way you could reach the sink from your chair without even stretching very far at all. I remember the sound of people talking beneath her window, of the gentle ticking of her anniversary clock.

Whatever we talked about, I captured ninety minutes of it on tape. I remember the
cassette. Capitol Records made the blank tape and packaged it in a cardboard box
decorated with a Peter Max drawing that was all curves and primary colors. The label was red and white.

The tape is old now and a little flukey with age. I popped it in an ancient cassette player and was jolted from my chair by the sound of our laughter. I didn't remember the laughter. Isn't that ridiculous? But I remember now.

It wasn't easy but I transcribed the tape about ten years ago and while the
omissions are telling (like forgetting her first husband, the man who was my biological grandfather) the content is downright fascinating and I hope to share it with you next month.

(The photo above is Grandma El at 70.)

* * * *

Today's my birthday and to celebrate I'm giving away a signed ARC of my August
book, LACED WITH MAGIC. All you have to do is leave a comment and I'll choose one winner (thanks, Random Number Generator) on Sunday night and announce it right here and on my blog.

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Search of Serendipity

I am always amazed at the serendipitous moments in real life and in writing my stories. Many, many times, strange 'coincidences' happen and things work out in mysterious ways -- much like Robert the Bruce finding and watching the spider in that cave in Ireland when he was hiding. According to legend, it was observing the spider's relentless efforts to weave its web and inspire the Bruce onto bigger and better things....(If you magnify this photo, there's an itsy bitsy spider in the corner of one of the panes of stained glass in the Abbey at Dumfernline...)

Anyway...I believe that these moments happen and make things/my stories better. When I was writing my novella THE CLAIMING OF LADY JOANNA, I decided to use evil Prince. . er. . King John as a character but the story had to be set in Springtime in England. Well, heck, I said, as I wrote the novella and researched it as I was writing it. Amazingly, I discovered that the ONLY year King John actually held an Easter court in England was. . . the year in which I set my story!

Those kinds of things have happened lots of times in my life and my writing. Serendipity. Moments and events that I couldn't have planned but are special.

When I'd planned my first trip to Scotland, something I'd dreamed of for years and years, I ended up in the hospital. I begged my doc to let me go (once they couldn't find anything wrong with me) and I ended up joining the rest of the group a day late. Because of that, I flew to Scotland on my own, took a train across and into the Cairngorms and into a small town called Pitlochry. I also met a number of people I would never have met and was even helped from the train station by a nice young man who showed me around the town and found a ride for me (on a Sunday when no taxis were available). Pure serendipity.

One of the best examples of serendipity occurred during my first trip to Scotland when I stayed on with 2 friends - Sue-Ellen Welfonder and Lisa Trumbauer - to travel out to the Highlands. As we were on our way back to Glasgow, we passed by the sign for this castle I'd never heard of: Dunstaffnage. So, as Sue-Ellen fills me in on the history of it, we toured, climbed onto the battlements, walked the acres around it, all the time never dreaming that it would turn into a romance novel for me a few years later.

So, what's this all about? Well, I'm planning another trip to Scotland and I am in search of serendipity. I'll be driving all over the Highlands, visiting the islands and lots of places in between. And I'm hoping that something will click, something will ping, something from the cosmic universe to point me in a direction or inspire me. I suspect, with scenery like this-- -- it will happen!


While Terri is busy planning the trip, her latest Harlequin Historical - THE CONQUEROR'S LADY - is hitting the shelves. After beginning the story in her HH Undone, A NIGHT FOR HER PLEASURE in June, the Knights of Brittany return as Giles find his newly-betrothed wife marrying someone else! Visit Terri's website for more information about her upcoming novels and novellas..

(okay - yesterday in work, we were talking about Elton John's TINY DANCER and how it was sung in a movie that none of us could remember; as I'm writing this blog, I changed the channels and came upon ALMOST FAMOUS as the whole group in the bus is singing along with TINY DANCER! Serendipity in action!)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Giving Up The V - Serena Robar

My new book has a great cover. It’s fun. It’s flirty. It’s even got doodles. And the biggest compliment I get from people is how the girl on the cover isn’t anorexic looking. She looks healthy. Healthy is a great self image to project. I couldn’t agree more. Except the model on the cover of my book is supposed to represent the heroine of the book who is a ‘bigger’ teen. She’s supposed to be a size 13 and the gal on the cover is New York’s interpretation of that size. Is it still a positive body image if it’s a lie?

So I pose this question to you, dear reader. Is it worse to put a too thin model on the cover and say this is the ideal or put a healthy, normal sized girl on the cover and say she is chubby?

-Serena Robar

Giving Up The V, June 2009, Simon Pulse release

So much drama over one little letter.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Truth in Fiction

My husband and I saw The Taking of Pelham 123 last week. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the fact that there were a couple spots in the movie that were highly implausible. (I had problems with the fact that the bulk of the movie took place over the course of 1 hour, yet the city of New York was remarkably well organized, responsive, and able to pull off an amazing amount of feats in that short period of time.)

Even though I found myself thinking a couple times, "Yeah, right," my enjoyment of the movie didn't waver. It was fun, it was entertaining, and that fine line of poetic license didn't get in my way. But I know it does for some people.

I have friends and relatives who are sticklers for accuracy in fiction. Put anything in a book or movie that is of questionable plausibility and they're turned off completely. Personally, I think if you insist on 100% reality maybe fiction isn't your thing. After all, the definition of fiction is "Not True". I know from experience that in order to write an entertaining story you need certain things to happen. Take an element out and you don't have a book. Imagine the movie Speed, then consider there's no way a bus could continue traveling through the city at 50 miles an hour. It's the central core of the plot. Lose it and you have no movie. Is it realistic? Of course not. But it's not being billed as a documentary. It's entertainment. We're expected to give a little on reality.

But how much? While I'm not excessively particular for reality in fiction, like most people, I have a line I draw, as well as hot buttons. I'm more willing to give on certain subjects than others. I know cops who won't watch CSI because the procedures aren't right, yet these same people watch a James Bond film without batting an eyelash. I'm sure doctors are sticky when it comes to shows like House. I know readers of Historical romance can be very particular about getting the period details right.

I think for me, I'm more a stickler about a character's behavior than I am about plot devices. The TSTL (too stupid to live) syndrome will cause me to toss a book across the room far faster than the improbable situation they're in. Especially in romance, one of my hot buttons is when thoughts of attraction are thrown in at a completely inappropriate moment. Like if a cop is standing outside a door, gun in hand, ready to storm a room where a woman being held hostage. 3..2..1 they bust the door open to find bad guy holding a gun to victim's head, and supposed smart-hero cop's first though is, "Wow, what a babe. Look at those beautiful green eyes. I wonder if she's single."

I would have gone with you through a half-dozen bungling coincidences that got the victim there in the first place, but the moment you throw the inappropriately-timed attraction in, I'm setting the book down for good.

That's my hot button. What about you? Are you a stickler for plausibility when it comes to movies or books? Can you forgive some things but not others? And if you have hot buttons, what are they?

Lori Borrill has just finished writing her 8th novel for Harlequin Blaze. Her next release, THE PERSONAL TOUCH, will be on shelves August, 2009. For more information on Lori and her books, check out her website at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Connemara - by Abby Green

Thanks Leena for inviting me to blog! I thought that I’d like to share with you all, a very special place. I live in Dublin, which is the capital city of Ireland. It’s a tiny island, especially in comparison with the UK and the US. Special as Dublin is though, it’s not the place I’m talking about.

This April, myself and the lovely Kate Walker drove from Dublin to the west of Ireland to a place called Connemara. It’s right on the west coast and stunningly beautiful. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked down there a couple of times last year and it was so nice to be away from the hustle and bustle of Dublin for a few weeks.

Anyway, we set off on our little road trip. I had decided to go to a place called Delphi Lodge for a week to, ahem, write. In fact what I needed was a break so when Kate said she’d come too, it was the perfect excuse to make it into a holiday. I will state for the record here that Kate did encourage me to write, I just seemed to find it easier to read some of her early Mills and Boon books instead. For inspiration of course.

Delphi Lodge is a very well known fishing lodge (Prince Charles stayed there!), situated in a gloriously beautiful valley, on a lake. (It’s about a ten minute drive from Leenane where ‘The Field’ was filmed).

It is quiet and peaceful. The house is run as if it’s your own home; there are no locks on the doors, dogs come and go, and the kitchen is open for you to have tea, coffee, whatever you want, when you want. There is a small library, stacked with books and comfy chairs.

In the evening everyone who is there for dinner, meets in the lounge for aperitifs. There is an ‘honesty’ bar, where you can help yourself and write down what you have in a little book – a very dangerous state of affairs for two lady romance novelists. Having said that, I’d recommend the gin and tonics.

Then at approximately eight pm, you are called into the dining room and everyone sits down to eat at the same huge table. The lodge is renowned for its menu. In the week that we were there we had dinner with: A doctor, a barrister, a writer, a twice Oscar nominated actress (!), a Hollywood producer, a luxury car mechanic whose gorgeous girlfriend was a fan of Mills and Boon (clearly a girl with great taste ;-))…and that’s just to name drop a few!

There were lots of obsessed fly fishermen too, so we now know more about fly-fishing than we ever did. I don’t know about Kate but I haven’t quite decided how to marry fly-fishing with an Alpha male just yet…!

The place is truly magical, and I’m lucky that I got to share it with a good friend and mentor. It is absolutely perfect for a writing retreat. However, we were too busy nattering and socializing and walking and getting massages to write. (There is a place called the Delphi Mountain Resort – not linked to Delphi Lodge at all, just ten minutes walk down the road where they have a spa…say no more.)

So if anyone has a yen to get away from it all and to sit and write, in a room of one’s own, in peace and tranquility, Delphi Lodge is worth thinking, and dreaming about. Perhaps one day I’ll go back and actually write…or perhaps just go back with a friend again and relish the peace. And have more gorgeous massages…and gin and tonics.

Delphi Lodge is like the best treat you could ever give yourself…so go on, don’t you deserve it?! Check it out:


ps - I have a Harlequin Presents Extra out this June – The Spaniard’s Marriage Bargain, and in September, Mistress to the Merciless Millionaire is released as a Harlequin Presents.I have a Harlequin Presents Extra out this June – The Spaniard’s Marriage Bargain, and in September, Mistress to the Merciless Millionaire is released as a Harlequin Presents.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Makes a Father?

Father's Day is just around the corner and as I stood in the mall yesterday, contemplating what on earth I could possibly by my husband, it occurred to me how much he's changed--as a husband and as a father-- since we first got married. Our first son was a honeymoon baby, so we were married less than a year when he put in an appearance-- and neither of us had any idea of what we were doing.

From the very beginning, my husband was an enthusiastic father-- he wanted to be involved in every aspect of our son's life and was a very exciting playmate for him once he was able to sit up and crawl and run around. But despite his interest and enthusiasm, my hubby was also an immature father. One who expected the baby to only need him when it was convenient for him (i.e. no grad school tests to study for, no job to run off to), one didn't expect a kid to cost very much and one who didn't understand just how much sacrifice comes with raising a healthy, happy child.

Now, twelve years and three children later, my husband is the best father and husband I could ask for. A great provider, an interested and involved father who is still a great playmate, he does an excellent job of balancing his own needs with those of our children. I definitely consider myself one of the lucky ones.

In my June book, From Friend to Father, my main character, Reece, also has trouble with the transformation from being a man who only needs to take care of himself, to one who must step up and be a father to-- not only his own baby-- but my heroine's twin boys from a previous marriage. Becoming a dad isn't easy for Reece-- he makes a lot of mistakes along the way. But that only makes it so much sweeter when he finally gets it right with baby Rose and the boys. And it certainly makes things interesting between him and Sarah, a natural-born nurterer who doesn't believe that Reece will ever be able to make the transformation. It was great fun proving her wrong.

So, as Father's Day approaches, what about the men in your life-- father, husband, sons, friends-- makes you grateful? And if anyone has an idea for a great Father's Day present, please let me know. I left the mall empty-handed yesterday ...

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Favorite Authors - Cara Summers

My Favorite Authors—(the ones who’ve shaped me as a writer and perhaps as a person)

I’ve always been a reader. Growing up, my favorite thing to do was to curl up with a good book. And I credit my parents with my lifelong addiction to popular fiction. My dad read to relax, and he was always willing to share from the pile of paperback mysteries and westerns he kept on the table near his bed. My mom subscribed to several magazines. My favorites were Good Housekeeping and Redbook because each month in addition to short fiction they offered a full length novel. I even had a favorite place to read—a window seat that could be screened off by a curtain. I could hide there and read to my heart’s content. Whenever I had a doctor or dentist appointment, my mom would take me to a bookstore afterward and I got to choose a new book.

If I hadn’t been such an avid reader, would I have eventually become an English teacher, a college writing teacher, and a published writer? I don’t think so.

I was recently asked in an interview to name some writers who’ve influenced me, and that started me thinking…

At the top of my list is Carolyn Keene. You may not recognize the name, but Carolyn (probably a pseudonym for several authors) wrote the Nancy Drew Mysteries. My Aunt Kathleen gave me my first one when I was seven. It took me a long time to finish it, but I did. And then I was hooked. By the time I was ten, I had read every Nancy Drew book that had been written.

And Nancy became my heroine. She was bright and independent and she drove a convertible—a coupe. (I had no idea what that was, but I wanted one.) Nancy had two best friends (George and Bess), a handsome and fairly undemanding boyfriend named Ned, and a father who was supportive and rarely interfered in her life. She had exciting adventures, she solved mysteries, and she had an ingenious way of getting herself out of scrapes! Was it any wonder I wanted to grow up to be Nancy Drew? I still carry an image of Nancy in my head. She’s tied up in a locked room, and she gets herself rescued by tap dancing S.O.S. in Morse Code on the door. Amazing!

Perhaps I owe Carolyn Keene for the fact that in every single romance I write there’s always some kind of intrigue in the subplot. And I frequently put my heroines in jeopardy. (So far none of them has ever tap danced her way out of a locked room, but…)

The next writer who has influenced me is Mary Stewart who wrote several modern gothic romances before she turned her attention to the Arthurian legend. My favorite is Nine Coaches Waiting. The book is a superbly crafted, twentieth century version of Jane Eyre, and reading it reawakened my love for the Bronte sisters and also led me to read other modern writers of gothic romance such as Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Daphne DuMaurier. (If you’ve never read Nine Coaches Waiting or DuMaurier’s Rebecca, I highly recommend them.)

Two years ago, my editor invited me to write a modern sexy gothic for the Blaze line and I jumped at the chance! I set it near San Diego in a Spanish hacienda with a mysterious past. All of its mistresses had met an untimely death, and two of them had jumped from the hacienda’s tower. And, of course, that tower is where my heroine finds herself in the climactic scene! I had so much fun writing that story (aptly titled Tell Me Your Secrets…) and playing around with all the gothic elements, not the least of which was creating a hero who just might be the villain.

In addition to inspiring me with her books, Mary Stewart also influenced me to start writing. In an interview she was once asked what inspired her to write her first novel. She said that one summer she simply couldn’t put it off anymore. She had to write. I wish I could say that after hearing that I sat down and wrote my first novel. But I didn’t. Still, her answer kept coming back to me until I finally stopped finding excuses to put off the compulsion I had to write. One summer I set myself the goal of writing a romance. I wrote it on yellow legal pads, and I found that I could finish about eight pages a day. Did I sell that first book? No. It wasn’t very good. (The word dreadful comes to mind). I didn’t even word process it. But I’d written it. And I stopped putting off my dream of “becoming a writer” and wrote my second book…and my third…and all the rest.

Who are my other favorite authors? The list is a long one, but I’ll mention a few more. Charles Dickens is on the list because of his ability to create characters that stick in my mind forever. (Who could forget Scrooge or Miss Havisham, the jilted bride who never changed out of her wedding dress?) Also near the top of the list is Harper Lee who wrote one wonderful book, To Kill a Mockingbird. I taught that novel to fourteen year olds for fifteen years straight, and each time I reread it, I found something new. If you haven’t read it in a while, read it again. And I’ll end the list, for now, with William Shakespeare. His romantic comedies, with their devices of disguise and the recurring theme of appearance vs. reality, have had a huge influence on my books.

In my two Blazes that are out this summer, Twin Temptation and Twin Seduction, identical twin sisters switch places and walk around in each other’s lives for three weeks. Where do you think I got that idea? Betcha Disney got the idea for The Parent Trap from old Will too. But in my books, of course, someone is trying to kill both of the twins. (Thanks to Carolyn and Mary!)

Who are the authors who have most influenced you?


Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Temperature's Rising... - Christina Hollis

How does the weather make you feel? The last couple of summers in the UK have been so wet and miserable, I’ve had to escape. Not by travelling – well, no further than my computer keyboard, anyway! I turned my back on the grey skies and continuous rain by writing about hot summer sunshine and long lazy days. This month one of those summery books, The Tuscan Tycoon’s Pregnant Housekeeper goes on sale. It starts off with a flirtation in the South of France, the perfect antidote to the last two summers here. Then in July, The Ruthless Italian’s Inexperienced Wife is released as a Harlequin Presents Extra. In it, Marco whisks Cheryl off to his private tropical island for a relaxing break which turns into something a lot more intimate:

In one sinuous movement Marco slid an arm around her waist. He swept her into her apartment, off her feet- and onto his. Half a dozen steps in her new silver stilettos convinced them both Cheryl was no dancer. She stumbled and fell into him.

This is our first meeting all over again.’ He chuckled softly into her ear. Her cheeks pinkened with a rush of guilty pleasure. He supported her, and showed no signs of letting go. Despite the feeling she must be leaving prints all over Marco’s bare feet, Cheryl let him carry on. This chance to feel his arms around her one more time made her reckless, and she laughed.

‘Oh, dear. I’m sorry, Marco!’

‘Don’t be,’ He murmured. ‘I can’t expect you to be absolutely perfect in everything. After all, dancing isn’t part of your job description.’

Oh how I wish it was, Cheryl thought. It would be the perfect excuse to accept his arms around her at any time, without any consequences…

When I was writing that, it was so much more enjoyable to think about cocktails on the beach than to look out of my window at the thunderclouds!

This year seems to be getting off to a rather better start. We had a burst of warmth in April, and some more last month. The blizzards of February are a distant memory now. Looking back on the roaring logs fires, hot chocolate and brilliant starry nights is quite romantic. Perhaps I should try setting a romance in a ski lodge. Miles off the beaten track, with a handsome hero chopping logs for the fire – it’s almost enough to tempt me in from the sunny summer garden, and on to the computer!


Saturday, June 13, 2009

The 2009 R*BY Awards

by Anna Campbell

I had a lovely thrill last week. They announced the finalists in the Australian and New Zealand Romantic Book of the Year Awards (the R*BY) and my green monster, UNTOUCHED, is one of four finalists in the Long Romance category.

This not only means I have a chance at winning the spectacular glass trophy pictured on the left. It also means quite a lot of local publicity through Woman's Day, one of the sponsors, and the chance to write a short story for them. When I finaled last year with CLAIMING THE COURTESAN, my short story THE RETURN was published in the magazine, which is Australia's most popular. You can read THE RETURN here.

There's some really great books in the running this year. I'm flattered and proud to be counted in their number.

Here's a list of the other finalists:

Claire Baxter - The Single Dad's Patchwork Family
Melissa James - A Mother in a Million
Marion Lennox - His Island Bride
Fiona McArthur - The Midwife's Baby

Miranda Lee - The Millionaire's Inexperienced Love Slave
Carol Marinelli - Expecting His Love Child
Trish Morey - The Italian Boss's Mistress of Revenge
Paula Roe - Boardrooms and a Billionaire Heir

Karina Bliss - Second Chance Family
Anna Campbell - Untouched
Anne Gracie - The Stolen Princess
Elizabeth Rolls - A Compromised Lady

Maggie Alderson - How to Break Your Own Heart
Bronwyn Parry - As Darkness Falls
Suzanne Perazzini - Beneath The Surface
Suzanne Perazzini - Crash into Darkness

Congratulations to all the R*BY finalists and good luck for the winner announcements at the gala awards dinner at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Brisbane in August.

So that got me thinking about my best read in the last year. And I realized there were too many for me to choose just one. I wondered if you had a favorite recent read. I'm always looking to add to my towering TBR pile.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Annie West: Foreign Delights

I adore getting mail. Always have. It's an incentive to write letters, and even in these days with almost instant access to friends and acquaintances via email there's nothing I love more than getting mail. Well, not the dreaded 'window' envelopes that inevitably contain bills. My favourite of all is the parcel.

Today I received two. Fantastic. First was a special delivery: a largish box with American editions of my June Harlequin Presents release, THE GREEK'S CONVENIENT MISTRESS. Then later, with the rest of the mail, came a small padded envelope containing two copies of my latest title in Spanish: Noche de pasion con el jeque, Not speaking Spanish, I'm guessing it means something like Night of Passion with a Sheikh. I know that story as THE DESERT KING'S PREGNANT BRIDE but I think the Spanish edition has a wonderful ring to it.

One of the absolute joys of writing for Harlequin is seeing my work translated into other languages. Most of the time my linguistic skills are such that I can't read the translations but knowing that people in Brazil or Korea, Greece or Germany are reading about my characters in their own language is a thrill.

I've included here a Japanese cover and a Spanish cover for the same story. Isn't it fascinating the way each country has set its own stamp on FOR THE SHEIKH'S PLEASURE? What made this particular Japanese edition particularly interesting was that it's actually for a manga book - a cartoon book. Like other Japanese editions you read it from right to left. But unlike other editions I've received, this one has a minimum of text and most of the drama is represented in clever pictures. Once I got used to the rather interesting fashions that the heroine prefered it was rather fun to 'read'. I'm told I've suddenly become 'cool' with various teenagers of our acquaintance - no one else they know has made it into manga.

It would be lovely to think that one day I might read my books in translation but I received my first Polish edition last week and I'm afraid I'm not up to that challenge. And as for Korean...much as I love the look and feel of the book, I think I'll stick to something in an alphabet I can understand.

In the meantime I give away most of my foreign editions to libraries in areas that cater for people who's first language isn't English. It's great to think of them going to a good home.

We love foreign languages in this house. Though I'm not a good linguist I have a tiny smattering of other languages and am married to a man who's passion is languages (and me, of course!).

What languages do you know? Which appeal? If you could learn any language what would it be and why? To read a terrific book in the original text? To go travelling somewhere special? To understand every syllable when a sexy foreign lover whispers sweet nothings in your ear?

I'm currently celebrating the release of THE GREEK'S CONVENIENT MISTRESS in North America. You can visit my website to read an excerpt or enter my latest contest. Or click here to buy a copy.

I'll give away a copy of this new release today to one person who comments on this post. And, if you read Spanish, or know someone who'd appreciate it, I'll also include Noche de pasion con el jeque.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Nora Roberts Lifetime Movies

I can't say that I'm a big fan of air travel these days. But who is? Packed like sardines into uncomfortable seats, told when you can stand or use the bathroom, ordered to remove your shoes or produce your bag for inspection at someone else's whim... actually it's all a lot like being back in elementary school.

But it does give you time to read, and/or watch, for example, Nora Roberts's Lifetime Movies on your iPod. Originally, these four came out:

I don't know about you all, but I loved them all. Different from the books? Yes, of course. But who could possibly put all the richness of a Nora Roberts book into a single tv movie?

Have you all seen the latest selection?

These movies got me through serious delays at JFK, "maintenance issues" with the plane, and an unexplained wait out on the runway for no apparent reason. Not to mention the various indignities visited upon me by my seatmates. Long live the Nora Roberts Lifetime movie, I say!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Everything (Except Me!)

Downsizing is happening to an alarming degree these days, isn't it? For instance, last week I saw all these women at the pool for the first time since last summer, and they'd all downsized. Damn them, squeezed into teeny bikinis like they were. Of course that's the good type of downsizing. The rampant scaling back, the kind we hate, involves jobs and salaries and such. And groceries. And that, alas, is everywhere.

I first noticed a large and steady uptick in grocery prices a couple of years back, when practically overnight ethanol became embraced by Washington lawmakers as the alternative fuel of the future (despite its not being such a great alternative fuel).
All of a sudden those ubiquitous mono-culture corn fields draped across the heartland became fields of gold. And then the fields producing wheat, soy and oilseed crops soon got flipped over to grow yet more corn to feed the Archer Daniels Midland ethanol beast. So anything made with corn products—pretty much everything falling under the categories of food, clothing and shelter, from soda to wallpaper paste—doubled in price. And products made with flour, soy and most other staple crops also ratcheted up in price because there were half as many fields devoted to producing those crops. Remember when a trip to the bakery was the best bargain in town? Now you better re-mortgage the house before you seek out pastries, what with the cost of flour these days. That is if the bank will let you.

Now I'm no economist. In my college Econ 101 class, when asked on a test the definition of "economics," forgetting the exact answer, I replied, "Economics is the dismal science." To which my professor wrote on the margins in bold red ink, "perhaps for you it is." And he was indeed right about that.

My finance skills are equally lacking, but we'll save that for another day. But I am a grocery store economist and I can tell we're all getting hosed when I see it. And I see it. First, of course, came the rapid doubling of prices. Then came the shrinkage of products.

A roll of paper towels went from the diameter of a healthy adult's thigh to that of an anorexic gangly-legged 'tween. That pound of pasta? Now twelve ounces. Same great price; a bit less filling. And they thought we wouldn't notice how much smaller the box has gotten. It's as if food companies have decided to put America on a diet, since we are all so bad at doing it for ourselves (but for those bikini-clad moms at the pool, damn them).

I'm not a big fan of grocery shopping. There are only two things I like about it: Running into friends mid-aisle and chatting, thus temporarily forgetting that I’m grocery shopping; and the self check-out. I'll be forever grateful to Giant, despite all they have done to make their product selection less desirable to us shoppers over the past few years, for trailblazing with self check-out machines. Nothing can be more momentarily thrilling while at a grocery store (and yeah, it's not like much of anything would be thrilling at a grocery store, I'll grant you that) than being able to scan your purchases, making that bar code force a beep out of the scanner. Power at your fingertips. Till you have to pay for it, that is.

Even better? Learning your numbers and foodstuffs in Spanish. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone by checking out in Spanish, though it occasionally backfires when I don't know what certain produce items are called in Spanish. Who knew "apples" begin with an "m" (manzanita)? But I can tell you now that an awful lot of groceries end in noventa y nueve centavos (99 cents). Yeah, make it a penny less than the next highest dollar price and you don't feel so ripped off paying what you do for undersized groceries these days.

Apart from the sticker shock, the other thing that has made me loathe grocery shopping that much more these days is the less-than-subtle ways in which stores are economizing. It was bad enough when times weren't so tight—I'd shop at three stores to fulfill the grocery mandate, bulk at one place, organic another, the main things a third locale. But now most stores have sneakily swapped out national brands for their own product. It used to be that store brands were often fairly comparable. Nowadays, the store brands don’t usually tend to stack up to the name brands. I mean how else are these stores cutting costs but for cutting quality?

Sure, the packaging has come a long way from the days when generic products came in no-frills black and white boxes (remember those?). Now the outside looks great. But the inside? Not so much. So if I want to find the products I used to buy at the closest store to me? Sorry, gotta add at least one more store into the grocery round-up, often two. These days pursuit of groceries can take on part-time job status. And cost about the much as a salary from a part-time job, sadly.

I guess in a twisted way this less is more happening is a good thing. We're all learning to do more with less, and to expect less for more. Something about lowered expectations can actually make life simpler, bizarrely enough. And perhaps we'll just have to focus on that forced diet all of these grocery store shrinkages are bound to result in down the road. Who knows, maybe by next swim season I'll be the one flaunting the bikini…Although since I barely wore a bikini when I was in my twenties, perhaps I'm morphing into fairy tales now. Let's just stick with less products at the store means less time shopping. And that can't be such a bad thing, now, can it?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A full house - Donna Alward

Today is release day for my latest book, HIRED: THE ITALIAN'S BRIDE. To be honest, I nearly forgot the exact day. Things are a little busy at Chez Alward. Summer has arrived and with it weeds in the garden, lush grass that needs mowing twice a week, a pool to get up and running, and sunny days to enjoy.

There is not a day goes by that I am not thrilled to be living here. I miss people in Calgary, but I do not miss the city. I'm simply not a city girl. Right now I'm sitting in my office and I hear no traffic, no shouts, only the birds and the odd airplane as it takes off (with a husband in aviation, we always seem to live on flight paths, and I don't mind). I do tend to be awakened early in the morning as the crows and pheasants like to chat it up as the sun rises. But even then, I love it. It is much better than noisy neighbours arguing or coming home to party at 4 a.m. On any given day the only unwanted guests in our yard are bunnies, deer, and maybe the odd raccoon. The next few years promise to be fun as we have added apple trees, rhubarb, and a few strawberries to our garden. The blackberries and blueberries already run wild through the bush at the sides of our lot.

I am also blessed to have a bigger house. The last was a 1000 sq ft bungalow on a 9 metre by 30 metre lot (we now have an acre and a third, part of it treed). We had one bathroom for the four of us. When company came, the husband and I slept on a blow up mattress in the living room, which we'd have to move or deflate each morning. These days, sleeping arrangements are much more flexible.

My inlaws are currently here as my father in law is having surgery this week. They live three hours away, and I am glad that we are here so that my mother in law can stay with us for the week-plus that he will be in hospital. When we bought the house last year, we bought a good sofa bed for the sitting room. It has seen plenty visitors already.

My sister in law is also flying in tomorrow to stay for a few days and be with her mum and dad which is lovely. When we bought the house, we also bought a futon for my office. It is my reading spot and we bought a nice one which in my mind is as comfortable as any bed.

I'm not sure if any other family members are heading our way, but we also have a camper we can set up (to put this in perspective, if we set it up in Calgary, it took up our whole back yard, and it's just a small tent trailer). It can sleep five. And while our basement isn't finished, we do have a double bed that we could press into service if need be. The girls' rooms are large enough we can double them up and someone can have our eldest's bed.

This makes me happy.

So this week, while my book hits the shelves, I'm going to be doing something even more important - spending time with family. Not the best of occasions, but with my husband's families, laughs are always guaranteed.