Saturday, January 30, 2010

My favorite movies - Melina Morel

Last night as I was trying to fall asleep after working on a follow-up to SMOLDER, my urban fantasy that just came out on January 5, I found a lovely old song running through my mind – “Somewhere My Love,” from the film Doctor Zhivago. Now why that particular song should have popped up at that precise moment is a mystery, but as it percolated through my brain, I started thinking of the movie, the big, sweeping romantic saga of a Russian family torn from a comfortable affluence under the Tsars to near destitution after a disastrous war and violent revolution. Really, is there anything prettier than the picture of Tonya dressed all in pink as she descends the train to be reunited with the young Zhivago after her education in Paris? Or anything starker than Lara, seduced by Karamovsky who walks into a lavish party and shoots the man who “ruined” her?

Watching her that night, young Doctor Zhivago and Tonya know there’s something in the air that does not bode well for their Russia. And it’s his first encounter with the woman who will play such a tumultuous role in his life.

One of the things that still makes that film fascinating is the background of one civilization dying and another harsher one rising, to destroy lives and create unspeakable misery. But on another level, it’s the lush, romantic musical score, the magnificent costumes and the fine acting that draws you in and keeps you fascinated till the end. In post World War I Russia, Zhivago, Lara and their child will never reunite, but their love will live on in the glorious poems he wrote for her. It’s a bittersweet romance, with the possibility of union pursued, but remaining always elusive, just out of reach. Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin and Julie Christie were incredible.

So, as I was thinking of this movie, I started wondering what I’d pick if I had to choose my five favorites. Sleep was not coming easily this night, and thinking about films seemed like a nice alternative to counting sheep.

Well, Doctor Zhivago would be first on the list, no rivals here. Second would have to be Lawrence of Arabia, played by the dashing, the gorgeous, the sexy young Peter O’Toole. With Omar Sharif as his co-star. (Zhivago does to the desert?) Again, a big theme, great actors, terrific costumes and fine performances and cinematography that filled up the screen with epic pictures of the desert and unresolved troubles at the end.

Now for my third choice? Well, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Again, a wonderful song, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, a terrific cast, lots of great western scenery, a buddy film with a good ol’ gal for company, fast action and that wonderful desperate end with the freeze frame at the final moment.

For number four, Newman and Redford again in The Sting. There was something so old-fashioned and small-time American about those two in their roles as hustlers, out to swindle a bigger gangster, that it made you love them. Okay, they weren’t sterling characters, but they were up against one who was far worse, and besides that they had loads of bad boy charm that made you root for them. I think they appealed to the underdog in us all – even if we’d never think of taking the path they did. And let’s not forget that catchy theme music. Just a great flick all around.

For number five, let’s see. There are so many wonderful films out there, it’s hard to name just five, isn’t it? For the last one on my list, I think I’d have to pick Indiana Jones in his introductory film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, although I really love most of them. With Indy, you get a guy who can put on a tux or beat-up pants, leather jacket and old fedora and look equally great. Harrison Ford could project erudition or bravado with a charm that left you wanting more. Well, look at that succession of movies. We really did want as much of Indy as we could get and he usually didn’t fail. He would brave any kind of danger, venture into any cave or battle any villain with gusto. The only thing that made him falter – briefly – was snakes. And we all have our vulnerabilities, right? Took me years to be able to deal with spiders and wasps on my own.

So what do you think of the list? Are any of my favorites in your top five? Or ten? I think I love big action movies with great costumes and scenery. If I were going to list ten, I guess Gone With the Wind would pop up too, since the story of Rhett and Scarlett was one of the great film romances of all time, but I’ll think about that tomorrow.
Melina Morel

Friday, January 29, 2010

Keeping Mum - Dara Girard

A lot of people are planning to make 2010 their writing year and I applaud their efforts. I also have goals that I wish to accomplish this year, but there’s only one that I’ve made public (and only to my business manager). I’ve learned that sometimes there is strength in keeping a secret, especially when it comes to your creative life.

“Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second.” Robert Frost

Over the years I’ve seen a number of writers talk the magic out of their story ideas. I’ve watched as all the enthusiasm rushes from them and disappears into the air, instead of being saved on the page. I have come to discover that talking opens onesself to the slings and arrows of well-meaning friends and associates. “Are you sure that will work?” “Didn’t (name of bestselling author) already write something like that?” “But who will want to read it?” “I’m not sure that’s a good idea, but don’t worry I’ve got a better one,” and so on…

I’ve learned to keep secrets and I think you could consider it too. Learn to preserve your spirit. I’ve written several stories that will never go anywhere, but I made the decision not someone else. So, as you progress through 2010 keep some things to yourself, especially your deepest inspirations, colorful plots, crazy or uniquely different characters or zany scenes. I promise you won’t regret it.

Coming February 23, 2010
Suzanne Rand of WORDS OF SEDUCTION knows a lot about keeping secrets. Find out more on my website:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

So What do Writers Do When They're Not Writing?

Writing is an interesting business. It's seems I'm always hurry up and then waiting. If all I did was write, I'd be nuts by now. Uh, well, I'd be more nuts by now! LOL I think the trick is (at least for me) to have other things going on. So, right now I'm waiting for my February book, A ONE-OF-A-KIND FAMILY's release, and I'm working on the next book and...

What else do I do?

I have four kids.

I could end the blog right there. I mean, even as the kids get older, they still need me. And that's a lovely feeling.

I have two dogs.

I could end the blog right there. Ethel Merman and Ella Fitzgerald and I walk at least a couple miles a day. Even in the winter. Of course, yesterday's walk wasn't all walking. There was some ice so the walk involved a bit of falling, too! LOL

Speaking of snow...I live in Erie and it's January. So there's a lot of shoveling and snow-blowing that goes on! Which leads me to another activity...I split wood. Yep, just me and my maul. It's a great exercise, and it's a sort of mindless activity that leaves me a lot of time to think about whatever book I'm working on!

And I'm crafty. Not crafty in a sly fox sort of way, or stellar crafty like Martha Stewart. I'm just crafty enough to enjoy having projects. In January I took my first basket-weaving class, and I reupholstered my third chair.

I cook. And I bake. My older kids got me my own Kitchen Aid mixer for Christmas and I've been having a blast with it! How on earth did I live without one?

That sounds like a lot, but mainly it's just my attempt to distract myself from waiting for A ONE-OF-A-KIND-FAMILY to be released. I've had a lot of books released, but I find the little-kid-waiting-for-Christmas-morning never diminishes! So, if in February, you walk into a store and see a woman clutching a book and saying, "This is mine," there's a chance it's me! LOL

So, what do you all do for fun (or distraction)?


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On His Knee, and Then The Ring

My first marriage was one created out of love and desire but also need and practicality, too. By the time we ended up in South Lake Tahoe standing in front of the drunken (he'd been at another wedding or two before ours) justice or Reverend or minister, my finally husband and I had a ten-month-old baby.

We hadn't the romance leading up to the wedding only the fact that we needed to have one. Both my husband and I felt trapped in something that we'd certainly created and were both unsure of what to do next or how to do it. I was excited and worried and nervous--he was depressed and unclear and concerned. As you might imagine, hilarity did not ensue. Not one aspect of the summer months of 1985 bring much good in terms of memory except my son.

Yet for more than twenty years from that August day in 1985, we made a go of it, and I never stopped believing in marriage even when ours ended, the divorce official in December 2007. Despite a great deal of acrimony at the end, I always knew that when marriage worked--when two people pulled together for one or more reasons--the bond was a good thing.

Plus, and, I never lost my belief in the mystery of it, the way two people are brought together quickly or over years--the way suddenly, someone knows that it is right, time, perfect.

And yet, it's not necessary when we are older, really. Unlike my husband and I in 1985, there is no biological imperative. There's usually some financial incentive or, at least, a great insurance plan on one end or the other. There's the desire to pull things together tightly, to show each other and the world what the relationship means. But careers and families are likely already made when two middle-aged (or older) people get married.

But let me tell you that on Christmas Eve night when I pulled a small ring box from my stocking, I was amazed and overjoyed and happy. Kneeling (yes, folks, on his knee), Michael asked me to marry him. In the box, a ring. On his knee, the man. In my heart the answer: Yes.

I've never been engaged like this before, an engagement based on only one thing, the true desire to bring our lives together. Four years of relationship and all the word means brought us to that place in the living room in front of our children and my mother.

"Yes," I said. "Yes."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I've had this idea - Sharon Kendrick

If there’s one question that every published author gets asked more than any other – this is it. Where do you get your ideas from? A bit like asking where I buy my tea from (Marks & Spencer!) or my delicious sheepskin boots (Ugg!).

But ideas – at least, the ones which we use to kick-start a story – are unpredictable and temperamental things, even though they can start out so promisingly. Sometimes they leap out at you in the proverbial light-bulb moment. Suddenly you can’t stop smiling. You have an idea! And then you start writing and gloom begins to descend as you realise that it just ain’t gonna work – sometimes for no apparent reason.

This can also happen when a first line jumps out at you. It is a beautiful thing – that perfect first line. Sometimes it is a line of hard and mean dialogue, bitten out by the hero – which perfectly encapsulates all the qualities which will at first infuriate and then gradually intoxicate the heroine. Or it may be a heartbreaking piece of narrative which will make you see right into the heroine’s soul. Or it will be a question that has you itching to know what the answer could possibly be.

And then you realise that this “perfect” first line is taking your characters and your story in a direction that is hopeless. Often to a dead-end which kills off your love-story. I recently wrote a first chapter in which the heroine accidentally (i.e. By a complete coincidence) came across the hero (a King) while he was gazing moodily out to sea. I could see the scene so clearly that it almost felt as if I was there! The chapter ended with him staring at her stonily and saying, “I doubt whether we shall meet again.”

Can you spot the error? If they happened to meet again it would be yet another coincidence (which would stretch credibility and make the plot very flimsy. As a reader, I always wonder what would happen if you took the coincidence away – would that leave you with no story at all? And if so, then that doesn’t auger very well for this once-in-a-lifetime love-affair, does it?). Also, if our powerful hero has said they won’t meet again – then won’t he look rather weak and foolish if they do?

So I had to junk the whole chapter and begin all over again. And this is a hard lesson that every writer has to learn. Sometimes, no matter how good the idea is – you have to let it go. Because something – no matter how well thought-out - which robs your story of passion and power is nothing but a very BAD IDEA!

But I’ll leave you with a thought….sometimes you get ideas in the most unexpected places. The recent heavy snowfall in England had me out crunching through the icy landscape with camera to hand. I took a photo of this lonely tree – simply because it was so lonely. And then….if you look closely – there is someone there. Who? I imagined the same tree in spring. In summer. In autumn – before the snows of winter came around once more….and then I imagined a woman waiting for a man, who never came…..and a story was born.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Sharon Kendrick

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Year Resolutions - Helen Bianchin

My sincere thanks to Lee for asking me to blog.
Although it's almost the end of January, I thought I'd write about my take on New Year Resolutions.
They don't work! At least not in my neck of the woods, they don't. I try. I really do.

The writing resolutions
Around November (usually when I'm hard-pressed to meet current deadline), I vow next year is going to be different.
Yessiree. I've already purchased next year's writing calendar (9"x9") featuring a different rose for every month. Very pretty.
It holds so much promise, all shiny and new (my gorgeous Birman cat has yet to gnaw the edges in), to sit on my desk.
I even take time to mark the calendar up for next year's writing projects. Thinking time, synopsis, first chapter, draft scenes, daily progress, weekly progress. OK, add it all up ... Four months should do it. I've even factored in two extra weeks to take care of any unforeseen hiccups. Plus two weeks between finishing one book and beginning the next. Piece of cake, right?

No, actually. Somewhere between organizing the writing calendar and my estimated deadline, real life happens. And believe me, allowing two weeks for unforeseen hiccups is not enough! Most authors write in their home. There's usually a room designated as a home office. With computer, printer, phone, answering machine, fax machine, copying machine, scanner. Bookcases, credenzas, filing cabinets. It looks as if work gets done in there. There's even a clutter of paperwork and notes to prove it.

The other resolutions
Maintain a healthy lifestyle, eat well, exercise. Yes, well, I do try, most of the time. This one gets a tick .... Maybe a small tick. There's that packet of chocolate biscuits in the fridge, plus those yummy Lindt chocolates ... One a day is OK (please say yes!)

Be kind to my family. Really, I am. Ask any of them. I'm happy to hunt and gather food, prepare cook and serve same for the Italian-style family dinners we host at home on a regular basis (there are fourteen of us). Be on call to mind their children during school holidays when needed. Care for their pets when they go on holiday.

Factor in "me" time to lunch or share a movie with a friend. Another tick ... "me" time is important in which to relax, enjoy, and also it comes under the heading of "research". After all, what romance writer hasn't caught a glimpse of a gorgeous guy driving a fabulous car ...who would make a perfect hero for the next work-in-progress. Wonder if he's Greek, Italian, Spanish ... Spanish sounds good, perhaps I'll call him Raoul. Or Rafael. Mental note to write this down.

Take a holiday ... This one gets a tick occasionally. Refer to writing resolutions, then move on to paragraph two and three of other resolutions.

I'd love to hear others resolutions ... Both ideal and realistic. There is a difference! And for those of you who meet your resolutions, please tell me how you do it!.

Take care, everyone, and all the best in health, happiness and success for the current year.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Marriage of Convenience by Caitlin Crews

I've always loved the idea of a marriage of convenience.

Not in my own life, of course, but in books. I should say, I love marriage of convenience stories. I love when a couple is forced to try to make a marriage work despite everything. It's such an excellent way to tell a story about how hard intimacy can be, how difficult it is to trust someone, and how terrifying it can be to promise "forever" to someone you may not know well at all.

The truth is that we never know everything there is to know about another person. How can we? There are pockets of the unknown in even those we know the best. People are complicated and mysterious. They keep their own counsel. They can surprise us even when we think we know exactly what they'll do in any given scenario.

In real life, you hopefully marry someone you know pretty well, or think you do. You hope you have the same goals. You hope you're moving in the same direction, together. But marriage is hard, because intimacy is hard. Learning someone else is hard, especially in a marriage, where you often find you learn the most about yourself from seeing the way you interact with your partner--and the things you learn are not necessarily shiny, happy things.

This is why I love these stories. I love the fact of the marriage of convenience, and the way it hangs over the hero and heroine and forces them to confront each other, and themselves, as they work their way toward a happily-ever-after. I love what the marriage they cannot end or walk away from does to them, how it forces them to change, to grow, to love.

These stories are over-the-top metaphors for our own relationships, our own marriages. If you could not leave, what would you do? How would you have to grow with this stranger who is now your spouse?

My debut book for Harlequin Presents is out now (not yet in the bookstores where I am, but maybe where you are?) and features my take on the marriage of convenience story. Luc Garnier is determined to have Princess Gabrielle as his wife, and her cold father agrees--but Gabrielle knows soon after the wedding that she's made a terrible mistake. How can she possibly make a marriage work with a complete stranger? Even one as compelling--and dangerous--as Luc?

I hope you'll check it out.

What are your favorite marriage of convenience stories?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Winter Reading - Tawny Weber

by Tawny Weber

Is winter reading different than summer reading?

It is for me!

Summer readings means the beach feeling (even if my toes never hit the sand). Its hot weather, long nights, skimpy clothes and a relaxed pace. Margaritas or iced tea reading. Reading on vacation. Reading by the pool. Reading on the beach and reading in the hammock. A little lazy, very smooth and mellow.

Winter reading? It feels cozier to me. Its fireside reading. Rain slashing at the windows, curled up under a blanket reading. Hot cocoa with tiny little marshmallows. Warm bodies, cold toes. Indoor reading. Reading to the beat of the windshield wipers while waiting for the kids. Hours browsing in the bookstore for weekend entertainment.

The great thing about it is while the weather changes with the months, the books work year 'round. Thick, rich historicals or dark, edgy paranormals work in the heat or the cold. Sassy, sexy contemporaries and spine tingling suspense entertain through the seasons, right? Right.

And then there's the bedtime story. Fairy tales. Not only are those suitable for year 'round reading, but they're year after year reading. Archetypal. Those stories you remember from your childhood that make you smile and sigh as an adult.

Knowing that, I almost did backflips when I had a chance to write a Blazing Bedtime Story - my own take, Blaze-style, on one of my favorite fairy tales. I chose the Frog Prince. It had all my favorite fairytale things. A princess with issues. A spoiled prince. A wicked curse. And the necessary and gratifying happily ever after.

In the case of YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS my princess is the boss's daughter. My prince is a hot shot super sexy reporter with a magical touch and a very irritated witch with an axe to grind. Her curse doesn't turn the prince into an actual frog, but it sure does affect a tadpole-effect on his favorite appendage.

Even more fun is the fact that my story is keeping awesome company with a great take on Helen of Troy, in THE BODY THAT LAUNCHED A THOUSAND SHIPS! Two fun fairy tales for the price of one... now that's good reading any season, isn't it?

I'm definitely a year 'round reader, so I'm a fan of both. How about you? Do you find yourself reading more in the summer? Or the winter? And do your reading tastes change with the weather? What romance sub-genre do you find yourself picking up most often?

Friday, January 22, 2010

A little bit of fun on the side - Amanda Ashby

No, of course I'm not going to talk about what you think I'm going to talk about. For a start, I'm a married mother of two - and seriously who has the time or the energy to have anything on the side??? What I was actually referring to was my part time job at the local library. For as long as I can remember I've always wanted to work at a library (or a chocolate shop. Or a chocolate shop that doubled up as a library) and so I was thrilled when I got the weekend position working at the children/teen counter.

When I first started I thought it would be cool to get some extra money and that it might also help my writing. I also (misguidedly) imagined that I would be having long and witty chats with teenage girls about why they should read Vampire Academy and The Hunger Games. However, I quickly realized that apart from when they had to come up to the counter to pick up their Twilight reservations, teenage girls don't tend to go anywhere near librarians. Instead they skuttle around and self-issue (while sending text messages and rolling their eyes). At first I was a bit disappointed since I love teen fiction so much but after deciding to do a monthly noticeboard to keep them all posted on what's going on (and then watching with glee as they started to all reserve Vampire Academy and The Hunger Games) I soon realized that the real talkers were the pre-teens.

I'm constantly amazed at how many eleven year old boys come up to the counter determined to tell me what their favorite books are (and why. Often in graphic detail). Even better, unlike the teens who hide away, the pre-teen boys and girls love asking for recommendations and my absolute favorite part of the job is helping them discover new authors for them to love. It's a bit like playing Cupid but without all the pesky arrows!

As for whether working there has enhanced my own writing, I'm really not sure, but what it has done has really allowed me to connect back with the thing that I love most in the world - reading books and talking about books. Now, if only they would get that chocolate counter in there, it really would be the perfect part-time job...

To find out more about my books you can go to

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Grandma and the Prince Part 14

I'm a writer. I make my living with words. But even I have to admit that there are times when pictures blow words right out of the water. Read on and you'll find out exactly what I mean.

* * *

In the last installment from my Grandma El's audiotape (made in 1976), she was about to walk into the Annette Shop and apply for a job. She is 50 or 51 years old, newly widowed, and living in a small apartment with her brother Cass, his wife Arlene, and their five (yes, 5!) sons.

What follows is in her own words:

It was a small shop, very small. I walk in and there's a woman sitting on a chair by the door. It doesn't look good but I figure I'll take a look around. I went up to her and said, "How do you do? I'm here in answer to the advert in the paper."

She looks me up and down. "My husband's in the back room."

Not terribly friendly. I went into the back room. I feel very English. "How do you do?" I say to the bald little man.

"I've had three other applicants," he snaps back, "and they're coming in for an interview. What can you do for me that they can't?"

"Nothing," I say. "I have no recent experience. My husband died a year ago. I'd like to get back to work."

He begins to soften. ."I'm a funny store," he says. "I'm only open two days a week. I buy out factory extras, very good brands only, at one-third their cost. Only the best I tell you. I'm only Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Friday night and Saturday night you gotta work. Two nights nine-to-nine. One day nine-to-six. I have a little high school girl who comes in after school."

That's all. He didn't say he was going to take me on but I knew I had the job.

And it was a good thing. The extra money meant we could take the double apartment that came available over Tommy's Tavern and I could have some privacy.

Oh, the boys were devils they were. Good boys but devils. They used to play tricks on me. Bobby and Tommy put spiders in the bathtub, broke eggs on the floor. One night I came home--this isn't funny at all. I went out to New York with my friend Grace. We took Arthur Murray dance lessons, five hundred bucks, a lifetime thing. (I won first prize for the rhumba and the peabody. I love the peabody!) All widows. You go in the studio with everybody and dance. Oh, how I loved it. A man's arms around me again!

This time I went home late at night. I didn't turn on the lamp. I didn't want to wake the boys up. I'm sleeping on a cot in the corner of the room. I see a form in the bed. A man's form! I'm shocked. Guess what they did? They took two pillows and one of Uncle Cass's suits and stucks pillows in the pants and suit, put a hat on it, and put it in the bed. But it turned out it wasn't one of Cass's suits at all, it was Grandpa Bert's.

I went into the bathroom and sobbed my heart out. Cass heard me crying. I told him why. I couldn't help it. Next day my brother gave it to them. "Don't ever let me see you do anything like this again!" Arlene thought it was funny but it wasn't funny at all. Not at all.

Anyway, this new apartment comes available and I can have my own room. The new job made it possible.

So we took the apartment and we move in. I bought the maple set you have now in your kitchen. I was very happy. The kids had their rooms. Arlene converted the dining room into a den where she and Cass could be alone. Arlene still worked. She'd come home at night and she would get dinner ready. At night she would wash and iron for that whole big family. That girl did work hard! I worked until six on Friday. I'd get home twenty after, hurry up and set the table. I can still hear Cass say, "Leave something for Aunt Elsie!" You needed a boarder's reach to get your fair share.

One Saturday night Cass says to me, "Are you going to New York with Gracie?" And I told him, "Not this week." So he said why don't you come downstairs to Tommy's Tavern tonight. It was like a home away from home for all the Scots and English in the area. They would play piano and sing. Play shuffleboard and darts. We loved it. Cass sang. He had a beautiful voice. "Come on down tonight and meet the crowd," he says.

So I did. I sat there looking around. Cass was playing shuffleboard. Arlene was playing poker. Her doctor told her beer was good for her health . . . maybe too good.

Anyway Cass comes over with this very tall thin man. Nicely dressed but nothing special. "I want you to meet a very good friend of mine," Cass says to me. "He's in the same position as you, a widower. I think you two have a lot in common."

There were no sparks for me, Barbara. Not one. Les was just a very nice man in a good suit.

"Les," Cass says, "this is my sister Elsie Fuller. Elsie, this is Les Newton."

How do you do? How do you do. What can I say? Right away he fell for me. I'm not bragging. Just telling the truth. I don't know why but he did. He takes the seat next to me. Yak yak yak. He was getting it all out. Everything he thought and felt. It all came out of him in one big rush of words. And Ilistened. Very nice man but he didn't appeal to me physically.

We said goodbye and that was it for me. The next afternoon the doorbell rings. "Aunt Elsie!" one of the boys calls out. "There's a man here for you!" Arlene invites him in. He sits and talks.

"Are you doing anything?" he asks me. "Would you like to take a walk. I'll show you the neighborhood."

I told him I couldn't. I didn't want to. I had other things to do.

Monday he shows up at the store (I worked full weeks now, lots to do when the shop was closed) with roses. "I was at Bohack's buying my groceries," he says. "I found these."

There are no flowers in grocery stores! (NOTE FROM BB: of course, now there are.)

So every day he waits for me. He's everywhere. He lived right near the store, more's the pity. "Can I take you to the movies tonight?"

"Yeah, all right," I say.

"I'll pick you up at 7:30 or 8."

"Fine," I say. So we'll see a movie. And somehow it got to be a regular thing, calling me, showing up, dropping in.

One day he said, "I'll like to take you to something new. They call it a drive-in movie."

A drive-in movie? I'd heard of them but Les didn't have a car! So that night he pulls up in a big fancy Pontiac. "You have a car?" I ask him and he laughs. "I rented it for the night," he says.

So I get in the car and we drive out into the country first for dinner. The scenery in New Jersey is beautiful! The menu was the size of an encyclopedia. I ordered filet mignon because I thought I might as well get some good out of it. And he didn't turn a hair. Asked me all sorts of things. After dinner we go to the drive-in. The cars are all empty. "Where is everyone?" I ask and he laughs. "The cars aren't empty," he says. "The kids are necking. This is where they go to smooch."

He wanted to but I said, "Nothing doing! I came to watch the movie and I'm going to watch the movie."

The truth is I was going out with a few others at the time. Five men, actually. Four of them I liked physically. Bob--I met him at Tommy's Tavern too--he proposed to me and I said no. I wasn't living with Arlene and Cass any longer. I'd taken a room in a house with a girl from he store. She'd just had a baby and needed some money so I rented a room. Bob walked me home and Les showed up and he pushed Bob away. They got into a tussle. I just walked away with two guys following after me, each trying to push the other away.

"Goodbye, boys," I said at the front door and let myself in.

Turn off the tape, Barbara. [long pause] No, don't turn off the tape. You know about your Grandpa Larry and me. We had been engaged and now we weren't but there was still something there . . . something special.

* * *

Here's a photo of Grandma El (my father's mother) and Grandpa Larry (my mother's father) on Christmas Day 1952.

Here's a picture of my Grandma El and my new Grandpa Les on their wedding day. Yes, the unhappy uncomfortable-looking couple on the left are the bride and groom.

And here's a photo of Grandma El and Grandpa Larry on my wedding day in 1968 - first time they'd seen each other in about ten years. My Grandma El was single at the time. My Grandpa Larry was married to Bess, who refused to come to my wedding because "That Woman" would be there. At the time of this photo, Grandma El was 68 and Grandpa Larry was 71. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you the sparks between them could have powered a small emerging nation

* * *

I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here and also here at Tote Bags every month. Leave a comment and you might win a copy of CASTING SPELLS and LACED WITH MAGIC with my thanks for reading my Grandma's ongoing story.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This Little Piggy...

Have you noticed the trend these days to seize upon the January price markdowns to acquire those gifts that somehow failed to show up under the tree on Christmas morning? I know I've contemplated it every now and then... Kids, too, aren't immune to this desire—often lobbying for that one little thing that they didn't receive, even if they got most all they'd wished for.

This year that item was Wii Fit, which didn't Fit into our holiday budget. All in my family got plenty of lovely gifts, though, so Wii Fit would have to wait for the coffers to be replenished.

At least that's what I thought until, on the day after Christmas, we visited my brother-in-law's house and my teens became captivated by their game. Normally, kids being fixated on a video game is reason enough not to purchase it. Who wants their children to be perpetually tuned out, clamoring for the controllers, spending all waking hours in pursuit of mindless video game obsession? But Wii Fit actually has a purpose: to eliminate the sedentary nature of gaming, at least to some degree.

And this piqued my interest: if it could motivate kids to work out, might it also impel slacker middle-aged moms bored with their normal exercise routine to get off their butts and exercise more? So I struck a deal with my kids: since everyone wanted it so badly, we'd split the cost and get one as a post-holiday motivator. Which seemed like a great idea, until my sister-in-law Martha exposed the ugly truth about the game: the game platform—the Wii balance board—is actually a scale. As in: the thing that I've been hiding in my closet for years with the notion that out of sight is out of mind and thus can't be true. Denial thy name is Jenny.

Martha went on to tell me that not only does the balance board accurately and undeniably determine your weight (probably more so than the precise scales they use to glean poundage of each item loaded onto the Space Shuttle), but the higher your BMI (body mass index), the fatter you Wii "Mii" icon gets. Seriously. So to add insult to injury, you have a Tubby Tessa avatar staring back at you from the television screen. Can we get more humiliated? It's like a chase-me-beat-me workout. Or maybe that hairbrush spanking for getting a D in handwriting in second grade (not that that ever happened, mind you). To me, exercise really should not be mortifying, it should be gratifying. And a public flogging was not what I signed up for.

So my grand plans to get on board the Wii Fit train were immediately keboshed. Yet I'd already committed to spending my own cash to help buy the damned thing, which has led to all sorts of scheming on my part to circumvent this unpleasant, uh, shall we say, side effect of the game.

Fortunately necessity is still the mother of invention, especially when it comes to truths about which we choose to remain blissfully ignorant (despite those rotten harbingers of reality that are unavoidable, such as tight jeans). And I've got a plan: I'm going to make one of my kids (or perhaps one of my dogs) mount the board in my stead each time I use the game in order to get set up with the dreaded "body test," and then I will simply ignore the taunting evidence: Wii Fit telling me I've got the fitness stamina of a great-grandmother, for instance. I'll just do my thing, flap my arms, hula my hips, or whatever other silly games they have that will make me actually move, and not worry about the true number of calories burned or exact fitness level.

I felt a reprieve of guilt when I saw on Twitter a number of other women whose children had gotten Wii Fit for Christmas also trying to figure out how to outwit the scale dilemma. Clearly when evolving Wii Fit Plus into Wii Fit Plus Plus, the Nintendo engineers should consider the vanity of women world-wide and provide a way to turn off the scale temporarily, or at least, as we all do with the elliptical machine at the gym, simply lie and enter in 120 pounds when asked our weight.

Does this diminish the point to the game? Well, sort of. But can it enable me to remain cloaked in ignorance and retain some faux dignity where I so choose? You bet.

Wii Fit? No way! Wii Fat is more like it, at least if the public weigh-in is the only "weigh" to go. And in that case, this little piggy might just go wii wii wii all the way back to the gym, where I can easily lie about my weight when the exercise equipment demands an answer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

So, How’s the New Year’s Diet Going?

By Jennie Lucas

When I signed up to do this blog a month ago, I was planning to do a glowing report about my New Year’s diet progress. It was going to be an inspiring post (for me, at least) about how, after a two-month junk food bender between Halloween and Christmas, I’d lost 6 pounds since January 1 and was fitting into my conference clothes again. Hooray!

Unfortunately, that didn’t work out.

I dieted for one week, then totally lost interest in doing anything but standing in my kitchen, eating ice cream slathered in peanut butter, straight from the canister. So now I’m on Plan B: I eat whatever I want and magically lose weight. I’ll let you know how that works out.

Anyway, is there anyone else out there who is struggling with their diet, or has already chucked it out the window?

Or even better, is there anyone out there who is still actually sticking to it and feeling hopeful and pleased with the results? I would love to hear from you. I could really use the inspiration!

In the meantime, I’m playing with other makeover ideas that don’t involve diets. Maybe I’ll go blonde or something. Hmm, I wonder how I'd look as a blonde? That could be fun.

P.S. Something else that's fun: my new book, Bought: The Greek's Baby is out this week. (Original working title: "Pregnant...With Amnesia!") Stop by my website to enter a contest to win a signed copy of my third book, Caretti's Forced Bride.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Knit One, Read Two

It’s a rainy Sunday here in NJ as I’m writing this, and I have to tell you—I don’t hate it. My fiancé and I are lounging around this morning—we cooked breakfast, cleaned a little, played some racing games on Xbox (he won)—and now I’m doing a little blogging.

Days like this are what I love about these hard months of winter—I’m going to be sad to see

them go! During winter I read, read, read. I write because it’s too cold to go outside and walk. I get a little fatter—so sue me—because of eating so much good food.

And I also knit. There’s something about reading, knitting, and winter that all go together so beautifully! Many of the knits below are projects I’ve given away or am going to give away. If you’re a knitter/crocheter too, look me up on (I’m WriterLisaDale).

After I finish blogging here, I’m going to head over to the local craft store to pick up some yarn for a new project. Sure, there’s other, more productive things I could be doing. But the way I see it, there’s time for that later in the year, when the sun comes out again and the weather warms up.

For now I’m taking a cue from the trees and doing a little hibernating. I hope you’re enjoying the season too!

Much love,

Lisa Dale

PS—If you don’t already know, I’m giving away a ton of prizes on my blog this month. I’ve got a lot of books sent over by great romance writers, and if you want to win one, just stop in and leave a comment. It’s Hope to see you there!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sometimes an author's life is glamourous

Most of the time, my life as a writer is very ordinary. I write. It is the act of writing that makes me a writer. And because I write from home, I get to set my own hours and wear what I like. Writing is 99% hard work. It also means that I can ignore housework as well... writers write. Very occasionally my life attains some glamour, you know the sort of life that the movies always protray writers as having. And last month, suddenly my life had an added sparkle.
It started with an email asking if I would be interviewed for a forthcoming article in Living North. Living North is The lifestyle magazine for the North East and one of the best regional magazines that I have seen. So I was delighted to say yes...and immediately booked a hair appointment as I knew there would be photographs. I also cleaned the house, just in case they wanted photos of the house...Living North is a lifestyle magazine afterall!
Sure enough, the photographer, Katie Lee arrived the following Monday afternoon. Katie Lee was a delight to work with. I can wholeheartedly recommend her. In addition to doing features for magazines, she also does protraits and weddings. She was very professional but instantly put me at ease. I am never very comfortable with having my picture taken, partcularly by someone I have just met. However Katie took the time to develop a rapport, telling me about all the hard work (and persistence) she had had to endure in order to follow her dream. We went around the house, taking down the Christmas decorations and rearranging the furniture so she could get the shots she wanted.
The time flew by and she was able to take the shots.
Katie Lee’s top tips for having your picture taken.
1. Do not smile, smirk. It prevents you from showing too much teeth or having your face go rigid. 2. It is all in the eyes. If you have a warm expression in your eyes, it is what people notice. So think of either the photographer or the camera as a dear friend, someone with whom you like to sit and have a chat or a cup of coffee.
3. When working with animals (she took some pictures of me with the dogs), resort to bribery and corruption. Holding small treats will help keep the dogs in place, rather than holding them by their collars!
4. If filming in front of a coal fire, put the coal on about 10-15 minutes before you want to shoot so you can have a good fire. Photography is about thinking and planning ahead.
The next morning, the interviewer came over and we did the interview. She was very interesting as besides being a feature writer, she is also a ghost writer, mostly doing memoirs. We had a lovely chat about writing.
Then it was back to my writing and letting the dust accumulate because when it comes to a choice between writing and housecleaning, writing normally wins.
The finished article is currently the feature article of the February edition of Living North. And thanks to Katie Lee, I now have a lovely new photo as my author photo! My daughter says that it does look like me.

And because February sees the North American publication of Sold & Seduced in Harlequin Historical Direct, I am giving away a copy to the first name of the hat who correctly answers the following question:
What are the names of the hero and heroine of Sold & Seduced?(Hint the answer is on my website).
Please email me the answer at I will draw the winner on Saturday 23 January. Void where prohibited.
Mary Kirkland was the first name out of the hat. An email has been sent to Mary. Many thanks to all who entered.

Book Resolutions - Jennifer Estep

Greetings and salutations! First of all, I want to say thanks to Lee for having me back on the blog. Thanks so much, Lee!

Well, the holidays have come and gone, and January is halfway over (already!). But my TBR pile remains as big as ever. In fact, it’s grown quite a bit, thanks to all the books that I got for Christmas. It kind of resembles a small version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa now, with only the side of my couch to hold it up and keep it from spilling everywhere. Okay, okay, so maybe it’s not really so small after all.

But I’m going to change that this year. Because 2010 is the year that I’m going to whittle down my TBR pile. I mean it. I really mean it. No more book buying for me until I’ve got less than 10 books in the current stack to read. It’s one of my New Year’s resolutions, right up there with eating better, getting more exercise, and all the other things that we promise ourselves that we’re going to do right at the start of a new year.

Except … deep down, I know that my shiny new book resolution probably won’t make it past the first week of February, when I have my next book group meeting at my local Barnes & Noble. I always go a few minutes early just so I can wander around and look at all the new books out.

All those books! All those covers! So shiny! So pretty! I want to buy them all!

Yeah, this is one resolution that I’m just not going to be able to keep. Hello. My name is Jennifer, and I’m a book addict … Maybe finding a booklovers anonymous group should be my real resolution this year. :)

What about you guys? Do you have any reading resolutions this year? Are there any books that you’re really looking forward to? Any new authors or series that you’re dying to try? Share in the comments.


Jennifer's giving away a copy of her new book, Spider's Bite, to one lucky reader. Just comment on this post to qualify for a chance to win!

***Jennifer's winner is Pat Cochran! Congratulations, Pat! Please email me at with your full mailing address so Jennifer can get your prize in the mail. And thanks to everyone else who left a comment. :) ***

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Unexpected Gifts :: Anne McAllister

I told someone the other day that I wasn't making new year's resolutions because I knew what the right things to do were.

One of them is to clean my office. As I'm between books -- sort of -- now seems like a good time.

What also makes it a good time is that my husband, bless his little neat-freak heart, bought me shelving for Christmas.

Now, I ask you, is that a man who knows his wife -- or what?

Well, certainly he knows what I need, even if it might not have been precisely at the top of my Christmas wish list.

Still, the minute I opened the gargantuan box, I knew it was a perfect gift. What's more, he assembled them the day after Christmas (it was all I could do to convince him he didn't need to do it Christmas morning!). He even stacked all my file boxes on them.

And he went back to Lowe's to buy a sixth shelf when it was clear that one eight foot unit of five shelves wasn't going to do the trick. True love, yes?

And now -- with six shelves -- I must say that nearly three weeks later, things are clearing up.

The interesting geological formations that come from books growing weekly in stalagmites here and there have been leveled and boxed.

The dust bunnies under the trundle bed/sofa have been vanquished. You can sit on it again. Someone could even sleep on it if they so desired.

The books have been shelved. The DVDs have been sorted and put away. The stacks of paper have been, well, re-stacked (let's not ask for perfection here). And some of them have been scanned by my sheet-feed scanner, which I bought myself last year and which ranks right up there with the shelving as an Extremely Useful Piece of Equipment.

I actually uncovered the printer the other day. In an effort not to make things worse by printing yet more paper, I'd conveniently buried it beneath my tax information. Those files have now been sorted and put away.

Let's face it, a paperless office I will never have. But, besides the printer and the surface of the bed/sofa, I uncovered a bit of carpet last week. There's actually a floor here somewhere!

I'm so pleased.

In fact, I'm thinking that my unexpected shelving unit was likely one of the best presents I've ever been given. It's made my life easier, less fraught, more manageable. It may be chrome and cold, but it's been warming my heart since Christmas morning.

What about you? What's the most unexpected present you've ever received? Did it make you as happy as my shelving unit has made me?

Leave your answer in the comments here and my golden retrievers, Micah and Mitch, will pick one to receive a copy of my most recent book, One Night Mistress . . . Convenient Wife.

They are practicing their "picking winners" technique because, beginning in February, I'm giving away a book a day to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my first book, Starstruck.

If you want to practice, too, drop by and leave a comment on my blog to enter the drawing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What a way to kick off the new year!

I love New Year's.  I'm totally goal and list oriented, so I love thinking about all the things to come in the new year and all the possibilities it holds.  I'm especially excited about this year, because it's kicking off with something really special. 

Today my first book of the year is released in stores.  It's called One Dance With The Cowboy and it's the first in a duet called Cowboys and ConfettiOne Dance With The Cowboy is a reunion story between high school sweethearts.  It's also set in the town I created named Larch Valley.  My first Larch Valley book was out a year ago, called The Rancher's Runaway Princess.  I loved being back in that setting again, and I enjoyed writing a little more of Lucy and Brody into the plot. 

I created Larch Valley by taking all my favourite things about small town Alberta and putting it in the middle of the majestic prairies, close to the Rocky Mountains.  It's especially poignant because when I wrote this book a year ago, I no longer lived in Alberta, and visiting Larch Valley again brought back a lot of fond memories of my time spent among wheat fields, ranches, and mountains.

Here's part of my Dear Reader:

In 2008, our family moved from Alberta to the east coast of Canada.  We left behind some very good friends, and also fond memories of the Prairies...

Writing stories set in Larch Valley has been specialbecause in a way it keeps me connected to the part of Canada I called home for over a decade.  Little did I know when I wrote The Rancher's Runaway Princess how muh I would look forward to visiting this town again.  I hope you enjoy Jen and Andrew's story, and come meet Andrew's brother Noah, and find out what happens when he meets the unstoppable Lily Germaine.

Having this book on the shelves is pretty meaningful to me, and hopefully it will resonate with readers as well.  I can't think of a better way to start a brand new year.

I'll just be catching my breath from that when it's follow up book, Her Lone Cowboy, comes out in March.  I know we're not supposed to have favourites, but I have to say the hero Noah is one of those I will never forget.  It's out for release in the UK in April, paired up with Diana Palmer's Tough To Tame. 

I'm so thrilled to have this duet hitting the shelves!  You can catch up on the duet and other Larch Valley info by visiting the Larch Valley site.  You can download a printable bookmark, try your hand at a cover puzzle or do a special word search too on the Fun and Games page!

Happy New Year!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Christmas Reading Bonanza - Anna Campbell

by Anna Campbell

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2010 is packed with great things for you.

I've already started the year off in style with a reading binge (well, probably I should say I finished the last year with said reading binge) and I thought I'd share the fruits of my labors with you.

The end of the year is always such an incredible whirl but then I take a few days off. Usually there's some visitors involved (there were this year) but in between I indulge in a feast of completely non-educational guilt-free TV and a reading binge.

It takes me back to how I used to read books before deadlines and real life interfered with my addiction. Starting the day knowing that I needed to do nothing and be nowhere and I could just give myself up to a wonderful story until I reached the last page.

And what is a girl to do then?

Why, pick up the next wonderful story!

Sadly, my life no longer affords many opportunities to wallow in books like this which is one of the reasons I absolutely adore these few days every summer. It's hot outside although this year we actually had rainy days after Christmas - even more delicious to lie around and read about these gorgeous heroes and their wonderful heroines. I stash away books I know will be good for this break. And this year I was lucky as a lot of my favorite authors had books out for Christmas.

Anyway, here is a quick thumbnail sketch of a couple of books that really took my fancy. If they're in your TBR pile, read them, they're great. If they're not, get thee to a bookstore pronto!

I love novellas but sometimes the collections can be a mixture of hit and miss. Not in the case of THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS which features stories by Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick and Courtney Milan. Mary and Nicola's stories are both really touching and romantic and Courtney's debut, THE WICKED GIFT, made me think I was witnessing the birth of a star. It's brilliant and features, for a refreshing change, middle-class characters rather than people from the top of the social ladder. I've read an advance copy of Courtney's PROOF BY SEDUCTION which was a January release and it's utterly brilliant. Don't miss it!

Laura Kinsale is one of the geniuses of the genre (or any genre, for that matter). Her first book in several years is out in February and yet again, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy. LESSONS IN FRENCH is wonderful, lighter than many of the vintage Kinsales, but still with a fantastic emotional punch and her beautiful, beautiful writing. And it features what I'm sure is going to be one of my favorite characters of 2010, the heroine's prize bull Hubert! Seriously, you will lose your heart to this particular alpha male!

One of the best mystery/romance series out there at the moment is C.S. Harris's Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries. Sebastian is a viscount in Regency London who, because of his peculiar range of skills, is drawn into investigating murders that the powers that be (and remember, this is before there's a regular police force) would rather just went away without scandal. I read the fourth in the series, WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP, over Christmas. Wow, what a story! And seriously, I'm in love with Sebastian! These books are beautifully written, dark, moody, emotional, and have a very strong romance plot to accompany the mystery. Highly recommended.

Over the last year, Sarah Mayberry, has become one of my must-buy writers. She writes really punchy, sexy, emotional romance and her latest, HER SECRET FLING, is no exception. It uses a romance theme I always enjoy - hatred into love - and features a fabulous ex-Olympic swimmer as the heroine. I love how Sarah gives her characters unusual backgrounds - her last Blaze heroine was a tattoo artist!

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is another goddess of the romance genre. I had a wonderful time (and stayed up far too late) with her latest, WHAT I DID FOR LOVE. It's another hate into love story - perhaps there's a bit of a vogue for those at the moment. Georgie York and Bram Shepard starred in a mega-successful sitcom when they were teenagers, but the romance on screen wasn't mirrored in their real personal clashes. Through a series of mishaps, years later, when both Georgie and Bram are struggling to resurrect their careers, they end up married to one another. It's such fun watching them learn about each other and gradually fall in love, completely against their better judgment. By the way, I adore those shoes on the cover - aren't they gorgeous?

What other noteworthy reads brightened my break? Tiffany Clare's fabulous debut THE SURRENDER OF A LADY, again an advance copy. Keep an eye out in autumn, 2010, for this really sexy story about harems and sensuality and lost love found. Liz Carlyle's WICKED ALL DAY is going to be one of my reviews on The Romance Dish in the next few months so watch out for that. Ditto for Barbara O'Neal's beautiful THE SECRET OF EVERYTHING.

So have you read any of these books? Are any in your TBR pile? Did you pick up any great books over Christmas? Let's start adding to our lists!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

You'll Never Resist This Cake.... - Christina Hollis

I thought I liked oranges, until I married a man who eats several a day. He’s a real connoisseur. Winter or summer, rain or shine, we now get through about thirty of the things a week. Maybe it’s the lack of sun in England – it makes us crave something round, cheerful and yellow. I’m not heavily into interactive food (I even get my prawns pre-shelled) but I like juicy fruit. At this time of year, clementines are in season. Their whole skin pops off in one go, and there’s little worry about pips. That suits me, but if I want to be sure of eating any myself, I have to sneak bags of seedless clementines into the house. Hiding my secret supply from the two legged citrus termite is tricky, as I buy so many. I have to hide them in all sorts of nooks and crannies. That’s ok, as long as I don’t forget them. One Spring I found a bag of half a dozen mummified fruits rattling around under the stairs, all as hard as marbles!

A lot of my secret hoard goes into easy and delicious Clementine cake. Goodness knows how many calories there are in it, so it’s best kept as a treat. The original recipe comes from Nigella Lawson, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll be hooked.

4-5 clementines (totalling about 15 ounces)
6 eggs
9 ounces sugar
10 ounces ground almonds
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

Scrub clementines, put them in a pan with some cold water, cover and boil for 2 hours. Drain, discarding the cooking liquid. When cool, cut each fruit in half and remove any pips. Then pulp everything – skin, pith, flesh, the lot – either in a processor or by hand.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees C. Butter and line a 21cm Springform tin.
Beat the eggs. Add the sugar, almonds and baking powder. Stir in the orange pulp, pour everything into the tin and bake for about an hour. Check after 40 minutes – if it’s getting too brown, cover it with tinfoil or greaseproof paper. The cake is done when a skewer comes out clean. Leave it to cool in its tin, on a rack. It’s delicious!

I’ve tried dozens of citrus recipes but I’ve never yet managed to make a really good Seville marmalade. I try every year during the short bitter-orange season, but I can never trust the evidence of my own eyes. The mixture always seems to start setting too quickly, compared to the other jams and jellies I make. Giving the marmalade ‘just a bit more boiling to make certain’ soon turns it dark and chewy. It’s still edible, but the finished preserve loses that transparent sparkle. This year I’ve invested in a sugar thermometer, so the result shouldn’t be in doubt. There can be no excuses!

Now all I have to do is hide the remaining few pots of last February’s over boiled marmalade before beginning this year’s batch!

Christina Hollis

Saturday, January 09, 2010

So Many Books, A Whole New Year's Worth of Reading Time by Megan Crane

I'm having some trouble getting my head around the fact it's a new year.

My Christmas tree is still up. Halls sadly and inappropriately decked. And since I only just handed in a book this Tuesday, I guess my winter break has just begun. Except everyone around me is all about making resolutions and charging back to the gym... which is not where my head is, at all-- despite the current less-than-desirable fit of my jeans. I suppose I'll get into the swing of 2010 soon enough. What helps is knowing about a whole bunch of exciting books coming out this year, that I can't wait to read:

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents by Liza Palmer

Sleep No More by Susan Crandall

Pure Princess, Bartered Bride by my alter-ego, Caitlin Crews (Actually, I'm more excited for you to read this one!)

Archangel's Kiss by Nalini Singh

The second in Michelle Rowen's young adult Demon Princess series, Demon Princess: Reign Check

AND Michelle's brand new adult paranormal series:

Demon In Me

Summer of You by Kate Noble

That should certainly take the edge off! What about you? What books are you looking forward to in this brand new year?

Happy Reading!