Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers - Dara Girard

Here’s an essay I wrote years ago that was inspired by a Dear Abby article.

JUST FOR TODAY I will write. I will not think about writing, dream about writing, read about writing or talk about writing. I will not brood about yesterday’s writing or obsess about tomorrow’s efforts.

JUST FOR TODAY I will have joy. Pure joy that doesn’t involve a credit card, bottle of wine or publishing contract. I will enjoy the process of writing and not worry about how it will be received. I will not dwell on industry statistics that depress me. If my mind wanders to rain, I will search for rainbows.

JUST FOR TODAY I will accept what is. Whether it is the size of my thighs or bank account, I will accept where I am in my writing career and understand things I can change and those I can’t.

JUST FOR TODAY I will improve my writing skills. I will read articles and books that expand my mind. I will treat writing as both an art and craft.

JUST FOR TODAY I will be gracious. I will congratulate those with good news and have sympathy for those who don’t. I will not gossip about others or whine about my frustrations.

JUST FOR TODAY I will be healthy. I won’t live on Pepsi, a pack of cigarettes and a pint of bon bons. I will stretch at my desk and eat well.

JUST FOR TODAY I will take responsibility of my writing dreams and let no one take them from me.

Happy New Year to all!!

Visit Dara’s website ( to find out more about her upcoming March 2010 release WORDS OF SEDUCTION.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Winter Window

In the backyard of my childhood home, there were two walnut trees. From the window of the family room--the den as we called it--I could see them both, large trees that in my mind seem more bare than full of leaves. In my memory, they are in winter, the branches arcing up like reaching fingers, the bark wet with rain. Underground, walnuts we did not often pick, some with the green skins on them, the scars of squirrel bites around their middles like belts.

I think I stare out the winter windows of all my homes, but looking for what? Spring to come? Maybe I am glad to be in winter, happy in the stasis, glad for the break. I'm glad for the winter almost upon us now. I'm writing, looking out at two different trees, cypress trees,evergreen but the branches almost as visible as those walnut trees from so long ago.

The world is in relief in winter, so much more visible, and not all of it good. In winter, the world slows down, the days grow short, and we have to pay attention to our lives. We can see them for maybe the first time in months, and often, we need to shed everything just like the trees. Leaves, walnuts--activities, tasks, events. We need to let go, to sink in, to stand behind the window and look at what is going on, what has happened, what has changed.

And then, just like the season, we will turn. We will go from the darkest day to one slightly longer and brighter. Then it will be spring, and now, writing this, I can imagine the strange dark, almost acidic smell of the walnut leaves, feel their slight sandpaper quality, see their almost lime green newness as they pushed out on the tree. Spring will come, and the moment of introspection will pass, and we will move on and into until the next time we look out the window.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays! by Caitlin Crews

Happy Holidays, to all of you celebrating!

From our house to yours!

Caitlin, Jeff (and Faye)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Grandma and the Prince - Part 13

<--Christmas 1953. From left to right on sofa: Grandma El (father's mother), Grandpa Larry (mother's father), my mother, my father, me sitting on his lap, Mona on the floor. Yes, my grandparents were dating at the time. And yes Mona has her hand on Grandpa's knee. And oh yes there's a story there!

Part 13? Uh oh. That sounds ominous. (Maybe that's why I totally and completely spaced on the date last month and blew my blog day.)

Then again, there's something about the holidays that makes me remember my grandmother in vivid technicolor complete with Dolby sound. I can see her now as clearly as I saw her when she was still alive: a vital, red-haired shrimp of a woman who was somehow larger than life in every way possible. Wickedly funny, fiercely critical, sneaky, manipulative, devoted to family (in her own way), totally independent, hungry for life and laughter and whatever adventures might be lurking around the next corner. She wore Tigress Perfume, drank gin, danced the mambo, loved men, and never, ever acknowledged the fact that she was growing old.

I often wonder how she would have felt if she'd known what a miracle her growing old really was.

Let me explain:

The bleeding started on the morning of Christmas Eve, 1979. I was twenty-nine years old. For most of my life I'd been in a battle with my reproductive organs: irregular periods, DES exposure in utero, an ovarian cyst that led to surgery when I was fifteen. "No reason to fear the worst," the doctors had said to me time after time. "Give things a chance to work
themselves out." So that's what my husband and I did. We'd been married eleven years at that point but time was on our side. We were happy. We were content. A baby would have been a wonderful addition to our lives but not wonderful enough for me to climb aboard the medical merry-go-round. Looking back, I think I knew where that quest would lead and I
didn't want to rush the inevitable.

But, of course I wasn't thinking about any of that when my last period started. I was crampy, uncomfortable, bleeding a little heavier than usual but nothing I couldn't handle. My husband was an AT&T union worker at that time, stuck with all the night shifts and holiday tours so the
workers with seniority could be home with their families. My parents decided to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, complete with Mona and Grandma and everyone else, so we could be with them.

As the day wore on, I felt worse and worse. All the women had advice to share. Aspirin. Tylenol. Hot water bottles. Heating pads. Whiskey in a cup of tea with lemon. A woman's lot. Men just don't know what pain really is.

"I used to suffer so with it," Grandma said as we sat in my old bedroom and talked after dinner. "Terrible cramps all my life, right up until my operation." She was still menstruating at 56 when a hysterectomy called a permanent halt to the proceedings.

A funny feeling came over me as I listened to her. No, I wasn't having a paranormal moment. It was that I knew more about my grandmother's surgery than she did. Grandma El had been told she had fibroid tumors at the time of the operation. The truth was, she had advanced uterine cancer. Back in the dark ages of the mid-1950s, doctors didn't have the miraculous tools available to them that they have now. Doctor Z removed her uterus and ovaries, removed as much diseased abdominal tissue as he could, then sewed Grandma up and crossed his
fingers. She never asked questions. Maybe if she'd asked, someone might have told her the truth but she never did. Not even when she was rolled under a massive radiation machine that burned the skin on her belly every week for six months. She didn't ask and they never told. And somehow it worked out.

But we didn't talk about that on Christmas Eve. She talked instead about her old friends Gracie and George Small, of how close they were. Just the two of them. "They didn't need children," Grandma said. "They had each other." She told me they had two twin beds but slept together in
one because they couldn't get close enough to satisfy their need for each other. Not even after fifty childless years.

To this day I don't know why we spoke about the Smalls that particular night. Or why I didn't realize it was my own future we were discussing.

The cramping eased up on Christmas Day but the bleeding still seemed a little heavier than usual. I curled up on the sofa and read all day while Roy was at work. I figured the worst was over but the pain started up in earnest on December 26th. Rhythmic, cramping pains that had me pacing the living room like a caged animal. I called my gynecologist but he wasn't concerned. After all, I'd just seen him three months ago and all seemed well.

It wasn't. I miscarried on the morning of December 27th. Torn between disbelief, sorrow, and absolute amazement that such a thing could actually happen--that we got that far. The D&C was routine and I was home the next morning. I felt simultaneously fragile and blessed and deeply sad. A whole new world of possibilities had suddenly opened up for us.

The telephone rang at two o'clock on the afternoon of January 2nd. I was upstairs, folding laundry in the bedroom "Doctor Soffer's office calling for Barbara," said a cautious female
voice. "Please hold for the doctor."

Trembling hard, I sat down on the edge of the bed. I grew up watching Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare. I knew what it meant when your doctor called you out of the blue. A rushing sound filled my head. I swear to you I could feel my heart slamming against my ribs, over and over, until I found it hard to breathe.

"Your path report turned up something totally unexpected," he said. "A lesion in the uterine wall. I'd like you to come into the office and we'll talk about it."

"Malignant?" I asked. Why not cut to the chase? "Is it malignant?"

He hesitated. "It's not benign," he said. He called it C-A as if the
word itself held too much power to speak aloud.

But then you didn't talk about cancer in 1979. Cancer survival rates were much lower thirty years ago and the odds were you weren't going to make it.

My grandmother never knew how much she helped me to be less afraid. My husband could hold me in the darkest part of the night and tell me he'd always be there but he couldn't tell me how to stop feeling a stranger inside my own skin. Only Grandma El could do that. I would talk
to her about surgical menopause, ask her questions, share the changes in my body and my head. But the bigger questions were questions I couldn't ask.

Were you afraid you were going to die? Were you afraid this whole wonderful crazy life would be taken away from you too soon?

I wish I could tell her that the greatest gift she ever gave me wasn't the alexandrite ring when I turned sixteen or the truth about hot flashes when I was twenty-nine. It was the gift of her survival, her long and amazing life. She had made it through and so would I.

I've told you many things about my Grandma El and I have many more to tell you. Not all of them are flattering. I didn't always like her but I always loved her and I am so deeply grateful that her strength and her resilience are part of my genetic cocktail.

The curly hair and dimpled thighs? Well, that's another story. . .

Merry Christmas, Grandma! I miss you.


If you read this far, you deserve a smile to take away with you so here's a totally embarrassing family Christmas story from the year 1979 with love from me to you:

Let me set the stage for you: it's late Christmas eve. Dinner is over. Everyone has gathered in my parents' living room to exchange presents. The games are about to begin.

My father always loved to watch Grandma and Mona trade holiday barbs and, to my shame, many's the time he made me laugh as they went at it. I'd look over at him and see his shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter and that would be all I'd need to set me off, too. He either had a well-developed sense of the absurd or a really wicked streak when it came to his mother and sister. Even he wasn't sure which. The strange thing is, nobody ever acknowledged the fact that we were howling with laughter. We'd be laughing so hard that tears rolled down our cheeks while the insanity continued around us as if we weren't even there. I've always believed that my grandmother knew exactly what we were doing and that our laughter egged her on to new heights, the same way oxygen feeds a fire. Mona was simply oblivious, caught up in her battle with the woman who'd given her life. My mother pretended she wasn't related to any of us while my husband must have thought we were all certifiable. Looking back now, I wonder what on earth I ever found funny about any of it.

Year after year, Mona would pile presents on Grandma's lap--two, three, twenty of 'em, all beautifully wrapped and ribboned. Grandma, lips pursed, would open each package the same way a demolitions expert might dismantle a bomb. She'd push aside the tissue paper, remove the present, then hold it up for all to see. A frown would pleat her brow. If her lips
pursed any more she'd be in danger of swallowing them.

After a long moment of studying the gift in question, she'd say, "What is it?"

Mona, her voice tight, would answer, "It's a nightgown, Mother."

Grandma would consider the pink flannel object again

"A...nightgown?" You'd think English was her second language, the way she said the word.

"Yes, Mother, a nightgown. Sleepwear."

"Hmm," Grandma would say, inspecting the lace around the neckline and discovering a loose thread or two. "I suppose you went to Alexander's again." Alexander's was an infamous discount clothing store in Queens, the retail equivalent of Spam.

"Actually I bought the nightgown at Macy's, Mother."

"Well," Grandma would say, "you probably overpaid."

That was the Christmas Grandma gave her then fifty-five year old daughter Spandex bicycle pants and a khaki green army blanket.

My husband and I didn't have much money back then so we made most of our gifts. Collages. House repairs. Afghans and sweaters and hats and scarves. Grandma loved my
sour cream coffee cake so each year I made one for her. (I still make it every Christmas in her honor, believe it or not. And I bake the cookies from her old recipe.)

You know what's coming now, don't you? Mona would spend God-knows-how-many-bucks, trying to gain her Mother's approval and I'd come bouncing along with a $1.50 coffee cake and rake in all of the love and affection and gratitude Mona had been hungering for since her stay in utero.

It got worse as the years went on. You wanted to take Mona and knock some sense into her. Why are you doing this? Why do you want her approval when you hate her so much? You're never going to get it, so why put yourself through the humiliation? But the presents grew more elaborate as the years went on. Television sets. Fancy phones. Carpeting. All of them
met with the same icy stare, the same what-IS-that look of puzzlement in Grandma's blue eyes. And every year my coffee cake was greeted with the excitement usually reserved for an eight carat tennis bracelet in a platinum setting.

One year Mona decided to cut her losses, at least a little, and vary her gift-giving pattern. After five or six gorgeously wrapped presents, she handed Grandma an envelope. (Did I mention that Grandma had that Depression-era reverence for money? Did I mention that she took thrift to a
new level?)

"I give up, Mother," Mona said. "If this is what you want, this is what you're going to get."

Grandma opened the envelope and removed the greeting card, read the verse--lips pursed, of course--then began extracting twenty dollar bills.


Mona leaned forward expectantly but was greeted with silence. Grandma sat there on my parents' sofa, clutching a bouquet of twenties, as silent as the Sphinx.

"Now what's wrong?" Mona exploded. "You don't like the clothes I buy for you, you don't like the appliances. Don't tell me there's something wrong with the twenties."

"There's nothing wrong," my grandmother said. "I just thought there would be more of them."

For real holiday spirit, dial 1-888-GRANDMA-EL!

PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here. Or at least you will when I start posting again. Which will be very soon. Seriously. Hope your holidays are wonderful. See you in the New Year with more stories.

Down Time

I sent off a book yesterday. If/when it comes back for revisions, it will not be until after the 1st of January. My editor promised.

So I have space. I have breathing room. I have down time.

Other, of course, than the fifty million things I need to do for Christmas in 3 days time. But that aside, I fully intend to wallow in my downtime.

I intend to read the books I've been stacking next to the bed for so long they are threatening to topple over. I'm planning to go to films I'm wanting to see and rent the ones I missed while I had my nose to the grindstone. I'll also be watching The Christmas Story for the umpteenth time. It's just one of those things we do every year.

I started baking yesterday as soon as the book left the house. And I continued today, doing it Tom Sawyer fashion, inviting neighbors in to bake and have tea and eat the cookies we were making. We made 17 dozen spritz cookies. At least 13 dozen left the house with my bakers. We had fun -- so much fun, in fact, that I think we'll do it again next year.

It was a multi-generational and multi-cultural activity (with my 86 year old neighbor showing our 25 year old Chinese friend how to make spritz while getting a lesson in how in China she uses the same sort of press to make a variety of noodles!)

Tomorrow as a part of my down time I'm going to be shoveling snow. It started falling again early this evening. We don't have anything like what they got on the east coast over the weekend, but we already had a foot from last week.

I don't mind. In fact I'll enjoy it because I won't be wrestling with characters misbehaving or plot points turning to ink blots or those annoying brick walls beyond which there is usually a story if I can ever find the loose brick.

Down time is wonderful. It's a time of replenishing the well, of simply sitting back and absorbing life as it comes. It's absolutely necessary to the creative process. Without it there wouldn't be another book. I love it. And I especially love it when it comes this time of year.

Are you having down time now or are you stressed out of your mind? Do you need down time to do the best in your work?

I wish for all of you, wherever you are, a little R&R, a chance to relax and revive your spirits. If Santa do it, so can you.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Writing Continuities

Writing is normally a solitary occupation and writers often use colourful terms such as being "shut in the cave", to describe the writing process, closing oneself off from the outside pressures and intrusions of "normal life" but riddled with the pressures from within, the ones we face alone and which feature all manner of anxieties. Whether it is your first book, your tenth, even your one hundredth, the crows of doubt can still circle overhead and peck at you, and there is the ever-present deadline hell. Depending on how well - or otherwise! - things are going, you and your characters are together and, hopefully, you are heading in the same direction to get their story told. Whatever the circumstances, they are your characters, their story has developed as you have come to know them.

Being involved in a continuity series is a completely different thing. It wouldn't suit everyone. But then it would be a very dull world if we were all the same! Some people find it less easy to work as part of a team and are better suited to the solitariness that usually makes up a writer's life. When I was first asked to take part, I was filled with a whole range of mixed emotions ranging from excitement to fear! I had never worked on a writing project with other people before, nor had I ever undertaken the task of writing a book where the basic plot, setting and characters are given to me rather than stemming from my own imagination. Could I do it? How would I put my own stamp on the story? What would it be like trying to work with others?

I had no idea what to expect. And, as a relative newbie, I was in awe of those who would be working on the project with me ... some of Mills & Boon's greatest writers of Medical Romance whose books I had long admired. I didn't think I was worthy to share shelf space with them, let alone work together on a whole series. I worried I would be the weak link and I was terrified of letting everyone down. Generally speaking, when writing on my own, missed deadlines or anything else that doesn't go to plan, affects only me. I stuff up and I take the consequences. If anything went wrong when working on the continuity, it would not just be me who was affected, and that was a responsibility I felt deeply.

I'm glad to say that I had a wonderful time and learned so much working on my first continuity series which turned out to be the very popular 12-book Brides Of Penhally Bay which ran one a month in Medical Romance throughout 2008, Mills & Boon's centenary year. We had a great time building up a real feeling of community, sharing and discussing ideas, and making each story our own while still carrying through the continuity element. Hopefully, readers would enjoy following the lives of the folk in Penhally through all 12 books, but if not, we wanted them to be able to dip in and out and still follow what was going on, so each main story was strong enough to stand alone.

I had such a great time on Penhally 1 so I was thrilled and honoured to be asked back to advance things further with a shortened mini series for Penhally 2. The 4 new books were just as much fun to write and be part of and it was a joy to return to the fictional world in Cornwall, revisit past characters and get to know new ones. There was a real feeling of familiarity and warmth which I hope will come through in the books themselves.

From my point of view, one of the best aspects of being involved in the Penhally projects, has been making some very special friendships, and for that I feel very blessed and am exceedingly grateful.

All 16 books that comprise the Brides Of Penhally Bay series are now available to download as e-books from while the books that make up the second mini series are out now in paperback in the UK and, I believe, Australia. Caroline Anderson started things off in October with the excellent The Rebel Of Penhally Bay. In November came Spanish Doctor, Pregnant Midwife by Anne Fraser while in December was Kate Hardy's Falling For The Playboy Millionaire.

The 4th book, (or 16th, depending where you are counting from!), is my own A Mother For The Italian's Twins which is on the shelves in the UK in January 2010 but is available now on the Mills & Boon website. I loved writing Luca & Polly's story and it was wonderful being part of the Penhally family again. I hope readers will enjoy all the books.

I'm lucky enough to be starting out on my third continuity project, although I am currently sworn to secrecy, so watch this space for future news on just what is being planned! Whether I am writing alone in my own little cave, lost in my fictional world of Strathlochan, or whether I am involved in a joint project with the fellow writers I admire so much, the challenge remains to make the book the best it can be and to wrestle with the crows of doubt, the deadline hell and other anxieties that are part of a writer's life. I am grateful to be able to follow the career I love so much and to lose myself in the lives of my characters. Most especially I am blessed that writing has brought me the most precious and priceless of gifts ... the friendships I have made.

Wishing you all the best for the holiday season and hoping that 2010 is filled with all good things.


Oh the Things You Can Think! (Or Do!)

Ack!!!! Forgive me, I'm late in putting this up today. Chalk it up to our having had TWO AND A HALF FEET OF SNOW (!!!!) over the past two days. [The above image is our gas grill, well before the snow stopped falling.] Seriously, things got a little hectic around our house, though not with the usual runaround stuff. Instead it was a deluge of teens hanging around the house (all needing to be fed prodigiously), and lots of playing in the snow, making paninis and pizza for lunch, chili for dinner, fire in the fireplace, heating cider on the stove, cleaning dish after dish dish piling up in the kitchen. And then ALL THOSE WET CLOTHES!!! So apologies for being late and I'm going to take advantage of my lateness by posting something that could be a neat party trick for you to try during this holiday season. Guaranteed to make you the life of the party...

I have a talent that is definitely hidden, because it’s done behind closed lips.

Now, don’t be jealous. Because you, too, can try along at home. My talent? I can tie a maraschino cherry stem in a knot with my tongue.

Aren’t you impressed? Well, I once was as well, when someone revealed to me that this was their skill. Never did I think I could achieve such a lofty goal. But then I decided to give it a try, and it was remarkably simply. So my advice to you if you’re reading this and feeling a little of the green-eyed monster lurking, just knowing that you can’t yet do it and I can, is just go for it.
Now I’d recommend buying a fresh jar of cherries—the one festering in the back of your fridge from the last time you made ice cream sundaes in 1998 is probably not ideal. I do realize that the concept of freshness and maraschino cherries seems a bit oxymoronic. I mean, do those things ever go bad? Aren’t they preserved in formaldehyde or something? But just to be on the safe side…

Once you have a cherry (and for starters, I’d recommend a longer stem), you just start working your magic. It’ll take a few passes, but unless you’ve got a diving board for a tongue, I think you’ll be able to do it. I was at a wedding when someone taught me, and everyone at our table mastered it by the end of the evening. Of course it’s important to tie the end around the stem, and not try to move the whole cherry around it. But you knew that. Didn’t you?

I used to have a lot more hidden talents. I was a competitive ice skater and did all sorts of tricky maneuvers on ice that you’d never catch me doing now. I was a human gumby as a child also, and could put my feet behind my head, could balance on my hands in a tripod position, do back walkovers down our spiral front staircase with ease. I could do ten round-off back flips in a row without getting dizzy. Now I’m lucky to hold a yoga pose for 10 breaths. But every now and then I think I might attempt something a little more ambitious. Because you just never know…
In the meantime, here's a how-to on tying that cherry stem.
Oh the thinks you can think up if only you try! Now what hidden talent do you have?

(p.s. I forgot to post this amusing little video of my crazy parrot for your entertainment...)

Friday, December 18, 2009

This December, Take Time Out To Read - Charlene Teglia

December came a lot faster than I expected this year. It’s been a busy year, with school changes and job changes and a move to Michigan. It seems like the last time I blinked, it was the first day of school. Now the Christmas break is fast approaching.

Of course, during that time I’ve had my head down writing, so it’s not surprising it went by in a blur. I’ve nearly completed a new contemporary series for Samhain along with the sequel to Animal Attraction, Red Queen. Two Knights in Camelot released from Ellora’s Cave. I participated in the Mammoth Book of Special Ops Romance that comes out in the spring of 2010, and contracted a story for the upcoming Mammoth Book of Hot Romance. I contributed to All Romance EBook’s 28 Days of Heart promotion to benefit the American Heart Association with an erotic retelling of the myth of Persephone and Hades. That’ll release in February of 2010.

On top of the new work that’s releasing in the near future, this year I’ll have had a total of 5 print releases and 3 ebooks. That’s a pretty full year.

As the year winds up, I like to look back and see what I’ve done, what’s ahead, where I might need to adjust my direction. The winter is a great time for rest, re-evaluating and planning the work for the year ahead, for celebrating all the good things the past year brought and enjoying family and friends. Winter brings a pause in nature and I think creative cycles have a pause, too. As life gets hectic that pause might be brief, but we can take moments to be still and just be. That pause is part of what brings about new growth and new work and new opportunities in the new year to come.

Reading is my favorite way to just stop the busyness and take a little time out. To encourage you to take time to pause no matter how hectic your December is, comment to win a copy of Claimed by the Wolf, available from St. Martin’s Dec. 8.


They guard humanity against supernatural threats from the five gateways into the world. The Shadow Guardians: a vampire, a werewolf, a demon, a dragon and a fae are united in brotherhood - and war. Shadow Guardian Kenrick is an alpha werewolf forever in his prime. When Sybil, a beautiful apprentice witch, unknowingly opens a realm to the Otherworld, there is a sudden influx of demons - and it's up to Kenrick to help her stop them. Soon their passion flares and Kenrick desires Sybil as his mate. But to form their union, Sybil faces the ultimate test: She must bind herself to the Shadow Guardians by sharing herself with all five warriors.

"Teglia’s prose is snappy; Sybil is a determined, witty heroine; the men are likable and distinct; and their erotic misadventures are a feast for the senses." - Publisher's Weekly

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yummy Holidays - Kimberly Lang

For me, this time of the year means food. Lots and lots of wonderful food I wouldn’t dream of eating at any other time of the year. Because I struggle with my weight and other body issues, I have a lot of guilt tied to food (twelve years of ballet will do that to you), so I’m not the one you’re going to see eating something terribly decadent in the middle of September. I look at a hot fudge lava cake and see time on the treadmill. And since I hate time on the treadmill much more than I love hot fudge lava cake, it’s something I can take one tiny bite of and happily walk away.

But from Thanksgiving and Christmas, I indulge. (It helps that my birthday is in between the two major holidays, so I can have birthday cake, too!) It’s like a reverse Lent. Instead of giving something up for forty days, I allow myself the holidays to eat all the things I don’t normally eat. And I do it without any guilt at all. None. Not even a smidge.

I crack out the family cookbooks and make comfort food. I make sweets that make dentists cringe. I use real sugar instead of Splenda, whole milk, and full-fat cream. I sprinkle chocolate chips with impunity, laugh at fat grams, and let dust collect on the treadmill. Gravy becomes my friend again. (I’m Southern; gravy is practically a religion all its own.) Pigs in Blankets, bacon-wrapped cheese, chocolate tortes. Bring it on.

Happy Holidays, indeed.

And, about the time my pants start to get a bit tight, the holidays are over. I go back to my normal routine, spend a little extra time on the horrid treadmill for a couple of weeks, and I’m good until the turkeys start to gobble again in November.

So, I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite recipes with you because this is the only time of the year I allow those dangerous recipes out of the cupboard.

Sugar Pie

6 TBS flour
1 ½ cups sugar
Dash salt
4 TBS butter
1 ½ cup whole milk (it won’t work if you use the low-fat stuff)

Mix the flour, sugar and salt together until no lumps remain. Add the milk and stir well. Pour into a deep-dish, uncooked pie shell. Cut up the butter into small pieces and float on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool before eating. (That hot sugar will take the skin off your mouth if you don’t let it cool. Not that I know from experience or anything…)
My Mamaw’s Peanut Butter Fudge

Grease a large baking dish.
In a heat-proof bowl, mix:
7oz jar of marshmallow cream
18oz jar of peanut butter

In a large pot, combine:
5 cups sugar
1 can evaporated milk.

Bring to a boil and boil for 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour hot mixture into bowl and mix well. Pour into buttered dish, cool and cut into squares. Store in fridge.
Now I’m hungry and ready to cook something scrumptious. What’s your favorite holiday treat you don’t get any other time of year? Feel free to share the recipe if you like…

Kimberly is currently cooking up ideas for her next book. Meanwhile, BOARDROOM RIVALS, BEDROOM FIREWORKS will be out in the UK in January, and MAGNATE’S MISTRESS…ACCIDENTALLY PREGNANT! will be out in the US in February. Her October book, THE MILLIONAIRE’S MISBEHAVING MISTRESS is still available at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Christmas Without Deadlines....

A Christmas without deadlines...that's what I thought I'd have.  But now I'm thinking it's truly just an urban myth!  LOL. 

I handed in my latest Harlequin Romance on November 30 - right on the due date.  Whenever a book finally leaves and crosses cyberspace to my editor, a huge sense of relief follows.  I've spent the last 2 weeks catching up on all things promotion and Christmas.  It's been great!  Doing up blogs and interviews and guesty type things I have lined up for my duet - the first book hits the shelves January 12.  I held my 3rd annual 12 Days of Christmas Contest - always so much fun!  I read - for enjoyment, sometimes in the middle of the day when I'm normally working!  I finished up my shopping, did some baking, went to Christmas concerts...without the heavy burden of a looming deadline.  Last year and the year before I had early January deadlines.  It has been wonderful not having that this year! 

But that doesn't mean I'm deadline free!  I know that I still have a book due end of February, so I can't get too lax about it all.  I have edits to do for a book coming out in April and I'm expecting revisions to hit my inbox anytime.  I'm currently editing another book that I hope to submit by the end of the month. And so deadlines are still a big part of December, even if they aren't quite as pressing.

It has struck me lately that this is a wonderful position to be in, and I feel particularly blessed.  It wasn't very long ago that I was sitting in the slush pile waiting, hoping for The Call.   These deadlines mean I have work and that is something to be very, very thankful for.

And through it all, I have held to my resolution to spend quality time with my family.  I hope all of you are blessed with the same warmth and joy of the season with those you love around you.

Now here's my gift to you - a recipe so very easy that my youngest has made it her signature "treat" she makes each year. 

Chocolate Peanut Clusters

3/4 lb semi sweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups peanuts (or nuts of your choice)
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Melt chocolate with condensed milk over low heat until smooth.  Mix in nuts and drop by spoonfuls on a baking sheet covered with waxed/parchment paper.  Cool in fridge until set.

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Time Traveling

Hi all,

Last night, my guy and I went to an 18th century Hudson River Valley mansion to take a candlelight Christmas tour. There was no electricity anywhere--just glass or tin lanterns, and the long dirt path along the quiet Croton River leading into the darkness was marked only by lanterns here and there. It took my breath away—all that silence and darkness. What is it about rivers that they always seem so much more incredibly shimmery and beautiful on nights when it’s so icy cold?

The Van Cortlandt mansion had been decked out for Christmas—which is to say it hadn’t really been decked out very much at all, since our 18th-centry brethren didn’t really do up the holidays the way we do. In fact, the mansion—which on a good day could accommodate a party of a whopping 25 people—was pretty sedate.

However, after the tour of the mansion our lantern wielding guide let us across the frozen grounds to the tenant house, where the farmers (interpreters) who rented and worked the land were celebrating 12th night.

We stood around a bonfire to get warm, then were led into a tiny anteroom in the farm house where a man dressed as a woman proclaimed himself “The Lord of Misrule” and proceeded to name us all to be players in the royal court (I for some reason was given the “drunken wench” card, and had to stumble around for a bit in the name of theatrics).

We also were led by a pretty young woman in a mobcap and a little old lady with not-so-authentic plastic glasses in a square dance, as a single fiddler played a tune in a tiny, candle-lit kitchen. Then it was outside again for some hot cider and laughs with the merry little group we ended up with.

It was a great night and was very much in the holiday spirit. I feel like I’ve got new energy to take on the holidays!

What do you do to get yourself in that holiday frame of mind?


Lisa Dale

Sunday, December 13, 2009

HO, HO…STONY SILENCE. - Christina Hollis

Look at that - it’s only the beginning of December and I’m a ho down already!

Last weekend we travelled in from the country for a pre-holiday meet with my two sisters-in-law and one brother-in-law. We’d arranged to do some shopping and have an early lunch at a big garden centre. So far, so good - until we discovered that the usually quiet venue had gone Christmas crazy. Except for fir trees, poinsettias and cyclamen in presentation wrappings, everything plant-related had been sidelined in favour of glitter and glitz. It was a miraculous makeover, attracting twenty times the usual number of customers. Each attempt to reach a shelf or display involved fighting against a tide of other people, like a salmon struggling upstream. I’m sorry to say the fourth time I was trodden on really brought out the Ebeneezer Scrooge in me. We soon decided to cut shopping to a minimum, and took refuge in the restaurant. That was packed too, but the food was both good and affordable – which is something you don’t often find these days.

Luckily, I only have a couple more presents to get, but the shops will be even busier between now and the big day. I can’t face that sort of free-for-all again, so I’ve decided to make the last few gifts via charity donations. Browsing through the online Good Gifts catalogue supplied all sorts of ideas, from funding farming projects abroad to supplying a toy for a child who would otherwise have nothing. Have you come across this before? The present giver chooses a suitable cause, makes the appropriate donation via Good Gifts and the recipient gets a card with details of the ‘present’ that has been given in their name. This way you can ‘give’ an acre of rainforest without having to worry about how to wrap it, or provide vital healthcare without needing to know anything about First Aid!

I think it’s a great idea. If you could give a blank cheque to any charity of your choice, which one would it be?

Whatever you are doing and whether you’re alone or in company, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy, peaceful and successful 2010.

Christina Hollis is spending the next twelve days being very, very good, and hoping Santa forgets the other fifty-and- a- half weeks…

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas in Australia

by Anna Campbell

It's THAT time of year again!

The parrots are shrieking in the flowering gum tree (you can see how beautiful both the tree and the birds are in the photos). The bearded dragons come out to bask in the mornings but hide away in the shade in the hottest part of the day. The pavement is too hot to walk on after early morning. You're gasping for the tiniest hint of breeze before 7am!

Yes, it's summer in Australia. And that means it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Even here, at this time of year, there's a lot of cards with snow and tinsel and robins and people curling up in front of fires. But that's not really what it's about down here. It's the hottest part of the year. It's when everybody who doesn't own a pool is flocking to the public pool or the beach or basking in air conditioning.

We don't celebrate Thanksgiving here in Australia - although I think it's a very nice idea and I'm about to start a campaign, LOL. Christmas is when we eat too much and get together as a family.

A lot of people still do the traditional English lunch at Christmas. You know, turkey and ham and roast vegetables and plum pudding and custard. A lot of (probably more sensible) people have a barbecue or seafood. I must say my family does the trad thing.

Does all that heavy food in the heat make us feel like dying? Absolutely! But that "I'll explode if I eat another roast potato - oh, all right, give me one" feeling is part of Christmas for us.

Christmas also coincides with our long summer holidays so the kids are out of school and enjoying those long, lazy days. I can remember as a teenager lying around for days on end just reading and reading and reading. And in my last summer holiday before I went to university, I got moving and wrote my first complete novel. A medieval called "Darkness Holds a Stranger", although as it was about French partisan fighters in the Hundred Years War, I fondly called it "Guerrillas in the Mist".

I still remember the absolute ecstasy of those words flooding out of me. Was it readable? I suspect not! (I haven't looked at it in years although I think it's in the garage somewhere.) Was it a special, wonderful, thrilling step on my way to becoming a writer. Definitely! I haven't written anything that left me so intoxicated with the sheer joy of putting words on paper since.

Mind you, these days, that could be because I know about point of view and emotional punch and how to construct a story!

A couple of other really hot, sweaty summers, I can remember lying in my grandmother's wooden colonial house on stilts and going through her boxes of old English Women's Weeklys. The EWW used to serialize Mills and Boons (Harlequins) so I read hundreds and hundreds of great romances by some of the classic names of the '60s and '70s.

My grandmother was a knitter (rather wasted in a place as warm as south-east Queensland, sadly) and she kept all the mags for the knitting patterns. So I had weeks and weeks of arrogant Spanish dukes and elegant English aristocrats and innocent young Englishwomen who reduced these powerful men to alpha mush. Bliss!

Summer is also storm season. Check out these two dramatic photos!

We're actually not just in the middle of a heatwave here on the Sunshine Coast right now. We're also in the middle of the longest dry spell I can remember here. When the rest of Queensland has been in drought over recent years, we've had plenty of rain. Not right now. My lawn is the color of dead straw!

But usually the sweltering heat is broken every afternoon by storms of various levels of violence. Sometimes, they can be terrifically destructive and sometimes they're just a wonderful show of thunder and lightning and heavy sheets of rain. And then it feels like the air has been washed, it's so cool and clean. Unfortunately, the whole suffocating heat saga starts up again the next day!

I spend a lot of summer in the pool just to escape the heat! And I think Santa changes into a bikini before he hits Aussie shores. All that red velvet and ermine makes him break out into a rash.

Most of these photos are courtesy of my friend Sharon Archer, who visited a couple of weeks ago with her new digital camera. Make sure you check out Sharon's Mills and Boon Medical Romances, they're fantastic! For Aussie readers, MARRIAGE REUNITED: BABY ON THE WAY is on the shelves right now. Run, don't walk to get it. It's a wonderful story!

Now, enough of my rambling - really just an excuse to share some of these photos with you! Over the next couple of weeks, there are a couple of things to look out for.

Firstly, for Australian and New Zealand readers, the beautiful trade paperback local edition of CAPTIVE OF SIN is out in the next week or so. It should be available at all good booksellers, including Target, Big W and KMart.

Secondly, my New Year Resolution contest is closing at the end of December. Two people will win a signed copy of CAPTIVE OF SIN plus a couple of other signed books out of my prize cupboard. Well worth entering and a very easy question! Check out the details on my website:

Thirdly, after last year's fun and mayhem, the Romance Bandits, where I regularly blog, are running our infamous 12 Bandita Days of Christmas again. There are prizes galore culminating in a huge hamper for one lucky commenter. The party starts on the 13th December so good luck! And no, in spite of rumors to the contrary, we're NOT giving Sven away. We might however wrap up a gladiator as a prize if we can catch one. They're devilish fast, those Roman scoundrels!

Finally, thank you to everyone who's visited this blog this year. And thank you to Leena for running such a great ship! Happy Holidays to you all!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Double Delights - Annie West

I've heard good news comes in threes. Is that familiar? But in my house I'm sure it's in pairs. So many things that are special here are in twos.

There are my kids - two gorgeous ones, even on the days they drive me to distraction (teenagers!).

There are the brilliantly coloured parrots that visit to feed on seeds and flower buds and keep me entertained when I stare out the window, working out a new scene. They come in pairs.

My blue suede boots (yes, really) and my new red summer sandals. Well, there's no point in just having one of each!

The pair of wicker chairs on the veranda where my husband and I share brewed coffee and a chat on weekends. I love that time with him and looking at those chairs, which don't get much use at other times, and the little mosaic table between them, makes me smile.

There are two pictures of Paris in my bedroom. I bought them from a sidewarlk artist on my only visit to that wonderful city and every time I see them I picture myself walking down those very streets.

And now, there's a double book release month. Right now I have two separate books on release, one in North America and one in the UK. The latter is officially a January release but it's in stores this month. Definitely double delight!

BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE (Presents Extra, North America) is a marriage of inconvenience story. The last thing Dario and Alissa want is to be saddled in marriage with someone they think represents the worst of the opposite sex. Fortunately each discovers there's a lot more to the person they married than they first imagined. I always think of this pair as a combustible twosome. From the very first sparks flew between them, not just because of their distrust, but because of their unwilling attraction. Now that was fun to explore!

FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET LOVE-CHILD (Mills and Boon Modern, UK) is a first for me - a reunion story with a twist, namely the fact that sexy, dynamic, powerful Alessandro Mattani has no recollection of Carys Wells. I love the line from the back cover:
He's forgotten their past, but not her body...

So as you see, I have two reasons to celebrate in December.

Have pairs been lucky for you? Do you have any special belongings, treats, memories that come in twos? If not, what would you like to have two of?

To mark the lauch of Annie's two new releases, she's giving a prize at random to one person who comments. It's in two parts (naturally): one of her previous releases plus chocolate to enjoy with it.

In the meantime, if you want to see the books Annie's celebrating, visit her website or order the books: BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE from Amazon or Harlequin (where you can also browse the book), and FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET LOVE-CHILD from UK Amazon.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Holiday Songs by Megan Crane

It's that time of year again.

It's actually chilly in Southern California. We are bundled up in parkas and scarves in what my East Coast relatives would call balmy spring weather. I have Serious Baking to do, which means there is far too much dangerous food in the house--chocolate chips and sugar and all the things cookies and brownies are made of. I have a stack of wrapping paper and bags of gifts that need to be wrapped and mailed. I love the holidays!

But what I love most about the holidays are the long, dark afternoons that slide into evenings. I like to be tucked up inside, something baking in the oven, putting together packages and writing out holiday cards. And what I like most of all? Is listening to holiday music.

I have traditional and new, cathedral choirs and Sufjan Stevens. I love all of it.

Here's one of my favorite holiday songs (Wizards in Winter by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra) in one of the best Christmas Light extravaganza I've ever seen:

What's your favorite holiday song? (Or what's the one you can't get out of your head?)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Release Day!!!! - Tracy Wolff

Pardon my enthusiasm, but I am thrilled to announce that today is release day for my brand new Harlequin Superromance, The Christmas Present. The story of Vivian, a lawyer from San Francisco's Nob Hill and Rafael, the owner of a teen center in the worst area of S.F., it details their struggle to save an innocent teen-ager from going to jail for a murder he didn't commit.

Vivian and Rafael's story is a story I've wanted to write for a long time, and one that seemed perfect for this holiday season. It's a story about family and forgiveness, love and redemption, and the joy that comes from putting someone else before yourself. These are the values I try to remember all year round, but that always seem a little easier to practice around the holidays.

Maybe it's because I love the holidays and everything about them. From trimming the tree to wrapping presents to visiting friends and family to donating time and money to a worthy cause to getting my boys all dressed up, I love the holidays. There's just something about this time of year that makes everything and anything seem possible.

So tell me, what do you like about the holiday season? What makes you happy about this time of year?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Favorite Book of 2009 -- Susanna Carr

How do you determine a favorite book? I think a favorite book is one that you re-read several times. This year there were a couple of books that I bought and had to immediately re-read because they were that amazing. So which book published in 2009 was my favorite?

It was tough to pick one, so I'm mentioning two. I absolutely loved The Greek Tycoon's Blackmailed Mistress by Lynne Graham, and I also adored Italian Prince, Wedlocked Wife by Jennie Lucas. Each book exceeded my expectations, but the stories also offered brilliant twists, fabulous characters and high-octane sensuality.

These books are on my keeper shelf and I'm never loaning them out to anyone. Not even my twin sister!

What was your favorite book published in 2009?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Do You Remember Your First by Kate Walker

Do you remember your first?

I’ve been thinking about some of my very favourite authors, and trying to remember how I first discovered them – and even, if I can, trying to recall the very first time I read one of their novels – the ones that got me hooked on reading everything they ever wrote.

Mary Stewart was one of the earliest ones. I remember I saw the (not very good) film version of her book The Moonspinners when I was in my teens. So when I spotted a book with the same title I just had to read it to find out if it was any better than that. It was - so so much better and I was hooked. I hunted down every Mary Stewart book I could find and devoured them all. I still love them.

I can’t recall the books that got me hooked on Georgette Heyer, but I know I found the second book in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series (Queen’s Play) in the library and , although I really enjoyed it, there were a lot of references I didn’t understand – that ws because I hadn’t read the first book, Game of Kings. So I hunted that down, and again I just had to read every word she had ever written. They are still on my favourite ever books list.

I found another favourite author because of my sister. I was staying with her in Tasmania and I had free range to raid her –extensive bookshelves. There was one author, Jodi Picoult, who I’d never heard of. My sister recommended her enthusiastically. ‘ Amazing – she writes like a dream,’ she said. ‘Try one.’ So I tried My Sister’s Keeper (well before the film came out) and I just couldn’t put ti down.

I’ve been thinking about this for a very special reason. December 2009 marks 25 years – 25! – since the very first time I ever saw one of my own books in print. December 1984 was the month that my first ever title, The Chalk Line was published by Mills & Boon in the UK. It didn’t come out in America until 1992 – my first USA title was Game of Hazard. But The Chalk Line was the book that started it all off – a career writing and publishing romance that has lasted 25 years!

So this month and throughout the coming year, I’m celebrating the fact that I’ve now reached my ‘silver’ anniversary – 25 years as a published author. And people who know me well know that when I’m celebrating I like other people – my readers – to join in too. And this time is no different. I’m running a special contest on my web site with 25 – that’s right, 25 prizes to give away. And those prizes go to readers who let me know their first – and/or their favourite ever – Kate Walker title.

Can you remember the first Kate Walker novel you ever read? Were you right there at the beginning with The Chalk Line? Or have you discovered my books much more recently?

Tell me about your first time – the first Kate Walker you read. What book was it and what was happening in your life when you found it? Did you pick it up in a shop, find it in the library – or perhaps a friend or member of your family suggested you try it?

Let me know about the first book you read and I will publish the most interesting ones on my blog. I will also give a prize to anyone whose story I publish. You can win a signed copy of one of the backlist books I have a available, together with another small gift to celebrate Christmas and this special anniversary.

Send your First Book stories to me – see the email below – with FIRST BOOK in the subject line. Closing date for all FIRST BOOK stories is December 31st 2009. But I’ll be posting some of the titles and stories before then.

Or maybe you’d like to vote for your favourites of my books – your Top % Kate Walker title? If so, check out my Contest Page for details how to do that.

And to get this celebration started, why not let me know your first ever Kate Walker right here? I have an extra prize of a signed copy of my latest book Kept For Her Baby (Harlequin Presents EXTRA) to give away to some one who posts that information in the comments section.

And I’m thrilled to be able to say that my writing career will be lasting even longer that 25 years as I already have two new title coming out in 2010 with The Konstantos Marriage Demand coming in Presents EXTRA in March and A Good Greek Wife? following that some time in the summer. (It’s out in the UK in July) So look out for those.

And I’d love to know which one was your ‘first’ – or your five favourites.

Sid took some finding to pick a winner this time - we've had visitors and he was hiding away from the active 3 years old! But I found him and the winner of a copy of Kept For Her Baby is Linda Henderson. Linda please email me kate AT with your postal address and I'll send on your prize.

And everyone else - if you want a second chance at winning, don't forget to enter the contest and vote for your Top 5 - details on the Contest page on my web site

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Happy Holidays from Jasmine Haynes!

Note to self: never give yourself a book deadline of Dec 31 again! I’m working on the third book in my Courtesans trilogy, Mine Until Morning, which will be out in Dec 2010. And doing edits for my February Loose-Id release, Take Your Pleasure. And with the holidays here, well, you can imagine. But hey, I have my dream life, writing all day. And I love writing. So it’s all good, just a little busy.

Here’s how my holiday season works. My two brothers live in Atlanta, so my mom alternates years between Atlanta and San Francisco, meaning, one year my sister and I get Thanksgiving with her, and the next year we get Christmas. This year we were down at her retirement community for a wonderful Thanksgiving feast. And I do give thanks that my mom is still in my life, healthy and active. She’s going to be 84 on Dec 15. Next year, for her 85th, the family is taking her to Tahoe for a week! We’ve rented a house for all of us to stay in (that’s 4 siblings, wives and husbands, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren!). It’s a big surprise! She doesn’t have the Internet, would have no clue how to get to this blog, so lest you think I’m giving away the surprise, I’m not! But don’t tell anyone in case it gets back to her. Anyway, I digress. Since we had Mom for Thanksgiving, we don’t get her for Christmas. So we’re doing that celebration a week early. My sister is getting a turducken. Heh. I’d never heard of it, but my husband, he said John Madden (sports announcer) loves it. It’s a roll made of turkey, duck, and chicken with stuffing wrapped in the middle. So we’ll see! I love the way we do gift exchanges now, too. There’s a limit of $20 (because seriously, at our age, we don’t need anything), and the trick is to see how many little gifts you can stretch out of that $20. The dollar store, buy one, get one free, it’s an art. And it’s loads of fun.

How do you celebrate the holidays, whatever your holiday may be, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.

Post a comment (please leave your e-mail so I can contact you) and I’ll enter you in a drawing for an autographed copy book Show and Tell. And as a teaser, here’s the cover of Laced with Desire, my February corset anthology, once again with those three wonderful ladies, Jaci, Joey, and Denise. Oh, almost forgot, if you pop by my blog today or tomorrow, I'm doing a drawing for a complete set of the Nocturne Raintree trilogy with Linda Howard, Linda Windstead Jones, and Beverly Barton. It's a wonderful series.

Happy Holidays!!

Jasmine, Jennifer and JB!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Climate Change and writing

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference is happening next week in Copenhagen (7 -18 December) and a reader of Tote Bags contacted me about the solar panel chargers she sells for ipods, mobile phone and presumably ebook readers, it seemed appropriate to talk about some of the ways I and my publisher are trying to help conserve the planet's finite resources.
Harlequin and its British counterpart have been among the first major publishers to fully embrace e-books. Their entire front list and a growing portion of their backlist is now available as e-books. One argument for e-books is that they do save on paper. Harlequin and Mills & Boon have also worked to promote the use of ebooks with various promotions including 10 free M&B books and the 16 free Harlequins to download for their 60th anniversary.
The London office where I am edited has become a nearly paperless office. They accept email submissions, and all the editors read these submissions on e readers.The editors send their thoughts via email. All copy editing is now done via the computer and authors are sent their copy edits/galley via email. We then send the corrections back via email. Five years ago, all this was done on paper. The amount of paper this saves is astronomical and when you start adding transportation cost of posting various manuscripts multiplied by the number of books they publish each year, you can see why this was a huge step towards attempting to reduce carbon footprints for the company.
Most of the Head office communication is now done via email where possible. For example, the various permission forms I have to fill out in order to put excerpts on my website were returned to me signed via email.
For me personally, I recycle the paper I do use along with cardboard from the boxes that the books come in etc. I also do little things like turning out lights and making sure that the computer is switched off at the socket at night.
And then like many others, I have done the basics around the house -- insulating the house, choosing an energy efficient combi-boiler when we had to replace the boiler, turning the thermostat down and wearing layers etc etc.
As we keep bees, we have made sure trees and flowering shrubs have been planted in the garden. In fact, I plant a tree or shrub for each book I sell. With Compromising Miss Milton (May 2010 M&B Historical), I did this by joining the Woodland Trust and having them plant the tree. The Woodland Trust own the Irthing Gorge where part of the book is set so it seemed appropriate.
Equally, I know I am not saint and there is always more I could do. Lots of little actions can make a big difference.
So what do other people do? Or is the Climate Change Conference etc just too overwhelming to think about?

Michelle Styles' latest The Viking's Captive Princess is out in the stores now. You can read an excerpt here. And an apple tree was planted in her back garden to celebrate when she sold this book.

Happy Holidays - Francis Ray

I love this time of year. One of my favorite winter past times is snuggling up with a good romance book, pecan fudge and an ice cold Pepsi. Through the bedroom window I can see the blooming Camellias, Azaleas and roses. All the hard work I put into planting, pruning, and fertilizing fade and I can just enjoy my garden.

Writing is hard work as well, but just as enjoyable. I put your heart and soul into breathing life into characters readers can care about, and then I test the love of the hero/heroine so that at the end of the book readers will know that whatever life throws at them, their love will remain strong. If you read ONE NIGHT WITH YOU, Book # 3 in the Grayson Friends Series, I hope you'll agree.

ONE NIGHT WITH YOU was book # 42 for me, but the writing never gets easier. Hearing from readers that they enjoyed my book is my emotional payoff, just as watching the garden come alive with the brilliant colors is my pay off. Please look for IF YOU WERE MY MAN, Book # 6 in the Invincible Women Series coming March 03, 2010. By then it will be time to plant Spring annuals and perennials. The cycle of planting and writing will, hopefully, continue. Life is good.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Cheryl St.John: Behind the Book

Some of my favorite shows are the programs on how movies are made. Movie Magic is one, and there’s another on Bravo. And there are all those HBO specials. They always leave an impression. And I love the out takes.

Sometimes after seeing how over budget a production is, or the how the blue screen effects were done, I go see the movie just to see how it came out. Even if I don’t have the slightest interest in a movie in the first place, after I watch one of those programs, I have to see how all the special effects and the computer imaging and fake rain and snow and all that stuff came together into 90 minutes of near-perfect cinematography and sound and lighting. The process absolutely intrigues me.

Even seeing a movie first and then watching the how-to program fascinates me, but I’d rather know the behind the scenes first, for some reason. Then I can sit and pick out all the places where I know they did a particularly wonderful job—or had an especially difficult time.

I think one reason why that intrigues me so, is because everything that looks so polished and perfect in the finished product, was actually grueling, laborious, often times FRUSTRATING work behind the scenes.

I remember for example, in the making of Jurassic Park, every time that huge stegosaurus—the one that broke through the fence and came after the kids in the car—every time it got wet in the rain scenes, the mechanical parts stopped working. The crew would have to stop, dry it down, wait, and start over. Hours and hours and hours, and in some cases DAYS of painstaking work just getting a few perfect shots.

It’s not so unlike what we writers do. Other writers and all the readers see us with our good clothes on, our hair fixed, at meetings and conferences, at signings, with stacks of the glossy finished product in front of us.

How many hours of unglamorous work went into the finished product? I hate to even think how much I’ve made an hour on some of my projects, because when I think about it, the more difficult it is, the more time it takes. And the more time it takes, the less I’m making per hour. And I must tell you I don’t get up in the morning and slip into my pink ostrich-feather trimmed negligee or dictate to my personal secretary. Some days (and nights) I do my best writing in my jammies! Now there’s a picture for ya, eh?

Finished books can represent years. They also often represent other projects that fell by the wayside in between. Not every book that a writer proposes sells. I know a lot of authors who claim they sell about one out of every three stories they come up with.

A book takes anywhere from a few months to several months to complete. Some writers take a year or more. And those words don’t flow out of our brains in perfect order. Great scenes don’t just happen without plotting and planning and playing with dialogue. I usually write a story from beginning to end. I’m a very linear writer. But sometimes I have to go back and add things I belatedly realize are needed. Many authors write in layers, with dialogue first and then go back to add body language and setting. Others write scenes out of order and then connect them like a puzzle. It always amazes me how the process differs with each person—and with each book. I don’t write every book the same way. And then there’s the middle muddle, and all kinds of things that can get a writer off track.

I’ve never asked other writers about this, but most often my books leave an impression on me—an imprint of what was happening in my life at the time it was written, be it good or bad. I remember which book I was writing when something significant happened in my life. While we’re bringing characters to life, we’re simultaneously living life.

I think I can imagine what it’s like when the director, producer and crew of a movie watch the finished product for the first time. They remember how that scene came off beautifully after the boom was repaired or how amazing it is that a shot was edited to remove a dog that shouldn’t have been there. And then I imagine they look at the film with fresh eyes and marvel at how all the parts and players came together in a satisfying and rewarding piece of work.

That’s how a book feels, too. Satisfying and rewarding, even though I know all the things that happened behind the scenes. It’s still a delight to see a new book cover for the first time. When my author copies arrive, I open the box and touch them, open them, read the first few pages. Spotting my release among all the others at Wal-Mart or the grocery store never gets boring. HER COLORADO MANis in stores now, so I’m celebrating.

Seriously, how many people can work in their jammies?