Sunday, February 28, 2010

Look For The Silver Lining - Dara Girard

I have a certain relative who likes to complain. She could be in the middle of paradise and would probably complain that that sky is too blue. Thankfully, I have come to realize that her view of the world has taught me something (actually many things, but I will be brief) that I want to share with you. Why? Because I believe it will help you in your writing endeavors.

A few weeks ago this particular relative called to complain (surprise, surprise) about being stuck inside for nearly five days due to a winter blizzard. She complained because she was bored and had run out of things to watch on TV. I could sympathize. I was also stuck inside but I remembered that I had once endured an ice storm where we lost electricity for four days! So I wasn’t complaining. However, in my present situation, as the minutes (felt like hours) dragged while I listened to her, I suddenly thought “What is wrong with you? You’re missing the two gifts.”
What were those gifts? Material and Time.

Anyone or anything that makes you laugh, cry, stew, rage or whatever is Material for a writing project. Strong emotions are gold. Don’t just vent over the phone with a friend, put that feeling down on paper. Want to throw a tantrum? Do it while working at your keyboard. I always laugh when people ask me where I get my ideas. Life offers many. Ideas are everywhere. And the same is true for Time.

Time is the one thing most people believe they don’t have much of. I understand. I’m a busy woman; however, I’m an expert thief of time. When I see time lying around, I grab it. My relative also happens to be a busy woman with a household to run, a full time job and a burning desire to one day become a full time writer. The problem? She complains that she doesn’t have the time to write. And yet, somehow given the gift of FIVE WHOLE DAYS she lazily wasted them by watching television and bemoaning her fate. I couldn’t help thinking that if she’d taken just one hour on one of those days - she would have been that much closer to fulfilling her writing dream.

Think about it. If she’d taken the time to recognize the two gifts--Time and Material--she could have:
• taken a picture of the snow and written a poem expressing her feelings,
• drafted an essay about cabin fever,
• created a how-to article on creative activities to do on snowy days and submitted it to a magazine of her choice,
• started to write a one-woman play about an aspiring writer going stir crazy,
• tried creating a new recipe to warm up a cold day and blogged about her results, or
• begun drafting the beginning of a short story, screenplay or novel.

Time and Material were there for her taking. No permission required. Both gifts, like the newly fallen snow outside, had been laid at her feet, but she couldn’t see them and that was a pity.

Winter blizzards aren’t fun, but they can be useful. A little over thirty years ago, a young mother had to endure a winter blizzard. Instead of going crazy dealing with the cabin fever of her young sons she decided to start writing and a phenomenal career was born. Her name was Nora Roberts. So, no matter what life throws at you, look for the silver lining. Who knows what may be in store?

Out now!
Find out more about my new release WORDS OF SEDUCTION on my website:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Things I've Learned While Teaching

I am currently teaching a class entitled "Writing the First Novel." I have learned so much from my students and from what I'd forgotten I knew. As we've pondered what we know about the novel, I've come up with some interesting nuggets, part hidden from view, part remembered, part discovered.

1. Reversal. Something has to shift around and change. Something bites a character in the ass. Something amazing or small or gigantic or minuscule changes in the plot or in a character. I've been showing film clips in order to "show" these reversals, and the one that hit me again with it's power is in the film version of Persuasion, the one with Amanda Root as Anne Eliot and Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth (don't bother with any other adaptation).

Life has been hard for Anne in the eight years since she was forced to refuse Wentworth's proposal. And now, he's come back into town, charming everyone but her--he almost cuts her dead with his inattention. And yet, of course, they are often thrust into the same company. Ignore, avoid, snub. Anne is also the "goat" of her family, the one disregarded and you'd think she wouldn't care because they are the goats, the asses, the idiots. But she has honor and she's stoic.

But finally, after one very long walk, Captain Wentworth sees her fatigue and suggests to his sister that she convey Anne home in her carriage. And then! And then he helps Anne into the carriage, his hand on her waist (firmly!) as he helps her up and in.

That's the reversal. We know--she knows and he knows--that the past is not forgotten. He has not forgotten his affection and love for her. And she knows that neither has she.

Oh, baby!

I am reading Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler, and this morning while reading on the exercise bicycle, I found a similarly clear reversal. What we and the main character thought was true and real has proved to not be thus. Wow! What a shift, and the story shifts along with that discovery. We reverse, and then go forward again.

We need these reversals. We need these stops and starts and backward motions in order for the whole story to go forward. And what a joy to be able to spot them, especially when they often occur around page 156, the dull flat waters of the middle.

2. We are not our characters even when we base our characters on real people.

This seems like a big damn duh, but it's true. First time novelists often use their lives as the basis for plot. Charles Baxter once said told me that "Every author has an autobiographical novel inside they need to purge."

So okay. I get that. But there comes in the discussion of said autobiographical novel where the writer slips into the wrong pronoun--"I walked downtown that day," or "My mother always told me I was wretched." Wait. Not I. Not My. She and hers. The character walked and the character needs the therapy after having a mother like that.

We have to let go and allow our characters to do things we would not. We can't feel guilty when we write the mother even more diabolical that the mother was. We can't feel bad that we give the father a drinking problem when in "real" life, he didn't have one at all. Let the characters go off and do what they need to do and leave real life behind.

3. We have to write at our novels every day because a novel is a very long world. It's a wide, vast sea of an alternative universe, and if you decide to only write at it once a week, you are going to need a map, binoculars, and a compass just to figure out where you are. And even if we write every day, we will need to stay in the world a little bit when we aren't writing. A novel is not like a favorite once a week TV show. It's even more than a daily soap opera. It's a seven day a week practice.

4. Figure out how you research and then write. Either do it before or do it after, but don't stop the creative flow of the world to research and break the thin continuous thread of story. Lie, make up words and actions, and figure out how a doctor replaces a heart later.

5. Scene is all. Get a copy of The Scene Book by Sandra Scofield.

That's all I have for now. I'm off to go teach, and I will remember more about what I've forgotten.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Beginnings - Sarah Morgan

Thanks to Lee for inviting me over here today.

The more I read – and write – the more convinced I become of the importance of beginnings. First impressions count, even more so when there are now so many books vying for our attention. So how do you select a book from the hundreds of new ones that are released every month? What makes you put one back on the shelf but take another to the checkout, or ‘browse the book’ online but then click on something different? When I’m choosing a book I read the back cover copy and I always, always read the first page. Those first few lines are important to me. They tell me a lot about the style of the story and the voice of the author. Sometimes when I ask someone about a book they’ll say ‘I haven’t got into it yet’ or ‘it’s a bit slow’. What they’re really saying, of course, is that the book hasn’t gripped them. And for an author, that’s dangerous. Maybe that reader will stay with the story regardless, but what if they don’t? They might decide that life is too short to stick with a book they’re not excited about reading and put it aside in favour of another one that grabs them right from the beginning. And then you’ve lost them...

I keep all this in mind when I’m writing my own books and try to remember that the first few pages may be my only chance to hook a new reader. This is especially true when writing in a short format like Harlequin Presents. Every word has to count.

So what makes that first chapter special?

For me, it’s being plunged straight into the action. Whether it’s emotional, physical or both, something important needs to be happening, right from the first page. The reader needs to be sucked straight into the story. If it’s a Harlequin Presents then there’s going to be plenty of passion and I don’t necessarily mean the lip-locking variety (although maybe that too!) – I’m really talking about high emotion. The book needs to begin with a situation that is urgent and really matters right now to the hero and heroine – a point of change in their lives.

The books I’ve enjoyed reading most have been the ones that have me rooting for the main characters right from the beginning. What about you? What makes you buy a book?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Grandma and the Prince - Part 15

This photo makes me sad. You're looking at my Aunt Dede (Edith, Grandma's older sister) on the left, my mother in the middle, and Grandma El on the right and what you're seeing is our family dynamics laid bare in one little Christmas Day snapshot circa 1960. Take a close look at the body language. Dede is saying something droll and funny and my mother is leaning into her while Grandma, also laughing, is kind of left hanging.

When I was a kid I took things at face value. Dede was totally independent, very British, very funny in a dry and sophisticated way. Grandma was also independent, more American than she ever realized, and funny in a wickedly physical kind of way. And my mom -- well, she was my beautiful mom and I was kind of in awe! I wish I'd seen Grandma's vulnerability while she was still alive. I wish I'd understood the reasons for it while there was still time to ask questions.

And now back to Grandma El's story in her own words.

* * *

Les and I married in May 1954. I'd known him for a year. It was right around the time your Grandpa Larry married Bess. You know I was going with your grandfather too, don't you? I don't think your mother and father liked the idea. I was very fond of him--we were very much the pair, we were. We thought if we married the family would always stay together. Maybe we would even adopt a baby. But everyone was so down about your Grandpa Larry and me. [Note from BB: Grandpa Larry is my mother's father. Grandma El is my father's mother.] I can tell you this: I would never have been a recluse like her, like Bess. We would have had a wonderful life.

Les died in January 1960. I know you remember that. He came home and said he had indigestion and wanted to sit up and watch the television. When I woke up the next morning I thought he was asleep in his chair but he was gone. Massive heart attack. As thin as he was. I was shocked your parents wouldn't let you go to his funeral. You need to see real life. A child shouldn't be protected like that.

I stayed with Gracie for six weeks after Les died. You remember Gracie. The one with the piano who taught you to play Humoresque. They had no children but I'd never met a happier couple. One twin bed for both of them. They couldn't have been any closer.

Gracie said, "Come over right now, my dear," so you and your daddy took me over. I never saw your father so relaxed. Les's son Jack was there with the baby. He and Mel talked about the Navy. George made the dinner. You and Grace were at the piano. We had the most marvelous evening. Such a love evening! Why aren't we all together? Jack drove you to Nutley in his Austin-Healy, remember?

[Note from BB: At this point Grandma El asked me to turn off the recorder. I wish I could tell you what was said but I can't find the corresponding notes. When the recording picks up again, Grandma El is talking about Grandpa Bert, the man I thought was her first husband and my biological grandfather.]

I loved your Grandpa Bert. I knew a group of English people in Glen Cove [Note from BB: town on the north shore of Long Island; quite tony at the time] and he joined us. We got to talking and he said he was born and raised in Halifax. He went to Eton. His people were very wealthy.
When his father died, the governor and his wife were at the funeral. His father owned a big hardware business; he was something in government and all – high society. All the people who came to the funeral! His father was the Honourable Hyacinth Fuller. Grandpa Bert's nanny taught him his catechism on her knee.

Bert went to so many colleges; he was very highly educated. Military school. Then he went back home and went to school to be a doctor. He had 9.5 credits to go. He went to McGill in Canada. He would have been the most wonderful doctor. Such beautiful hands.

Your Grandpa Bert was a wonderful lover. He had wonderful manners. [silence] I loved him . . . I loved him.

I loved Les too, but I loved him like a brother. I didn’t want to go to bed with him at all.

* * *

This is Barbara again and I have to admit at the time that was definitely TMI. The last thing I wanted to think about was my grandmother sleeping with anyone. Now I wish I'd asked every nosy question I could think of because she probably would have answered them.

Or maybe not. Even though Grandma El was amazingly forthcoming she still held tight to her biggest secret: the missing husband #1, my biological grandfather.

PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here and on both Facebook and Twitter. Thanks so much for sticking with me as I tell my Grandma El's story. See you next month here at Totebags 'n' Blogs.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Enthusiasm Is Good For You by Caitlin Crews

I am currently battling off a vile and wicked case of bronchitis, which, happily, I have at least not shared with the rest of my household. Yet. But it's made me a bit loopy, so I'm reprinting a blog here that was originally on my personal journal. It's that or ramble on like a madwoman under the influence of my cold meds and antibiotics:

I've been thinking a lot lately about why we--the general we--spend so much time and energy putting down the things that other people love. What's that about? I know a great many people who have an aversion to anything that's popular. A widely-read book must be crap, if millions adore it. A widely-seen movie must be horrible, if it's breaking all those records. Popular genres must be terrible, if they sell so well. Only the most arcane, most unknown, most obscure things are worthy of devotion.

I know what I'm talking about, as I am a Reformed Snob in this area. Ask anyone who knew me in the nineties, and they will tell you that I was just about the most obnoxious music snob on the planet. But then I went to a British university, where they had "discos" that greatly resembled cheesy wedding receptions, and everyone danced wildly and happily to the Spice Girls, Abba, S Club 7, Vengaboys... My choice was clear: retain snooty ironic distance and sit alone in my room, or get over myself and embrace a little silly enthusiasm. I chose the latter.

I remember when my friends cautioned me about mentioning my fanatical devotion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the first date. Better to wait until, say, the fifth date, they warned me, so as not to scare anyone away. But I found J. instead: a comic book artist who could out-geek me on any topic imaginable and suggested we watch Buffy together (on the second date) and when we did so, pointed out all the places where Joss Whedon used comics as his guide. Enthusiasm is never laughed at in this house. In fact, it's how we make our living.

I love romance novels, chick lit books, perfect pop songs, so-called "predictable" stories that still make me teary, just about every romantic comedy ever made, boy bands (particularly old school boy bands with appalling hair), Disney movies (especially the kind featuring un-animated singing and dancing by supernaturally good-looking teenagers), and almost every single show on the CW. I like to dance, for hours, often by myself. I like to scour the internet for mentions of former teen idols who I still love, and feel protective of. And if a band is only loved by a handful of scraggly-looking holier-than-thou hipster types who will abandon them at the first whiff of a record deal, that is probably not the band for me. Until they "sell out," that is, and have their latest song featured during an emotional moment of Gossip Girl, at which point I will buy their entire catalogue from iTunes.

Enthusiasm is not a dirty word. I promise. Go forth and love what you love, proudly.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snow Disaster -- Melina Morel

I knew things were bad when I telephoned my mom on Saturday Feb. 6 as snow was falling all over the mid-Atlantic region and she said the power had gone out the night before and she and my father were bundled up and waiting for it to come back on. I live three hours away, travel conditions were impossible, and the police were telling people to stay inside. It got colder and darker at my parents’ place and despite a visit from a friend and her boyfriend who braved the storm to bring them warm food – God bless Dana and John – they didn’t want to be evacuated to the temporary shelter in one of the firehouses. I think the word “shelter” scared them. But there were real problems involved in getting them out of the house. Dad’s footing isn’t what it was, and the snow and ice were daunting. At this point, power was out for over 170,000 people in two of New Jersey’s southern counties.

More phone calls went back and forth, and I called up the police in their town to ask if they could get them out if they asked to be evacuated, and they said yes. So I called mom again, told her it wouldn’t be a problem, and with darkness and the temperatures falling, she made the call and they were taken to the evacuation facility. The weather was so bad that snow was almost two feet high and boy scouts were called into service to help dig paths to houses!

When I couldn’t reach her by phone, I called the police to see if they had evacuated them and they put me through to the center. Mom told me they were there, they were warm and volunteers were serving hot food. I was so relieved.

Next morning when the snow stopped and I had been contacted by the friend who had brought them the food, my brother and I set out to go get them, having been told the power was due to go back on that day. Dana also warned us about downed power lines and streets to avoid on the way into town and to the firehouse. Snow isn’t usually a problem this far south in New Jersey, so they weren’t used to it, and the streets were still a bit rough, but we managed to get to the firehouse after stopping at the cold family home and doing some shoveling. Except for a narrow path, the snow was piled up all around, making it look like the arctic!
With that out of the way, we went to pick up mom and dad who were expecting the power to come back on momentarily. But it didn’t. Now it was a long drive back to my house, difficult for my father, and we decided to look for someplace with heat and light. Not so easy, since most of two counties were still without it, but there was one place that was only a short drive away that would probably be lit up if the entire rest of the state was plunged into darkness! Yes, that’s right. Atlantic City.

I made the call, booked rooms for the night and after a somewhat nerve-wracking drive through town, ended up at the wrong hotel since the reservations clerk used the name of the hotel that had taken over the one I had actually booked – don’t ask. Then we drove back across town to the right one. I got on line for what seemed forever at the sign-in desk, and finally we made it to the rooms. We had heat, light and the end of the SuperBowl on TV. Plus room service.

Next morning we called friends and discovered the power had returned at around the time we were checking into the hotel. But who knew at the time? So back we went after breakfast. In bright sunlight, it looked like a winter wonderland. Big trucks from the electric company were out and about, but driving was still a little dicey.

I have to say, after that experience, I am deeply grateful for the help of Dana and John and for the wonderful men and women of the police, fire and ambulance services of my parents’ town. They lived up to their fine reputations.

And in a normally comfortable life, I had a taste of what it meant to worry about my family’s food and shelter in a time of trouble. Although it’s nothing compared to what others have to go though right now, it taught me that anyone can need help at any time. And nobody is immune to disaster.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Cabin Fever - Lynn Raye Harris

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, and you live anywhere north of, say, Miami, you might have been experiencing a lot of cold and icy weather. The kind of cold, icky, grey weather that confines you to the house and makes you long for the hot days of summer (even if you usually complain about the heat and/or humidity).

I live in a Southern state not normally known for winter weather, and yet we seem to have had our share this year. Winter usually takes place in January, and then it’s balmier temps for the rest of the season. We do get cold snaps, and we do get freezes, but they don’t usually last more than a week.

Until this year.

I’ve been confined to the house a lot, mostly because I don’t want to freeze my posterior off (and there have been a few icy days when the streets weren’t safe), and I’m beginning to hate it. The first sunny day that comes along, I’m out of here!

The hero and heroine of my next release, THE PRINCE’S ROYAL CONCUBINE (March 2010 in the UK, June 2010 in North America), know quite a bit about cabin fever. Prince Cristiano di Savaré and Princess Antonella Romanelli spend several days sheltering from a hurricane on a Caribbean island. I didn’t consciously set out to write a “cabin romance,” but once I finished the story, I realized that’s what I’d done.

I love it when two characters who seem not to like each other much, or who are desperately pretending not to like each other, are confined together. Neither of them can walk away, nor can they ignore the other person for any real length of time. Toss in a struggle for survival on top of that, and they have to work together if they want to live.

As much as I love this kind of romance, it was also harder to write. My characters spend three-quarters of the book alone together – and some of that time is spent in a closet. There was no way they could ignore each other in such close quarters! I had a lot of fun with Cristiano and Antonella, and I hope you will too.

In the US and Canada, you’ll still have to wait until June. But readers in the UK and India can buy the book in stores in March (if you’re in Australia, it’s available in April).

Two glittering royal houses…

Prince Cristiano di Savaré hunts his prey by ruthless means. Tonight’s pickings…Antonella Romanelli, crown princess of a rival country and part of a dynasty he has every reason to despise…

…one majestic seduction

Antonella is rocked by Cristiano’s unexpected magnetism. But there’s ice in his wolfish smile… She’s far from the promiscuous, spoiled socialite he believes her to be, but Cristiano is here to persuade her into compliance. If bedding her is what it takes, then it will make his mission all the more pleasurable…

Tell me, have you been experiencing cabin fever this winter? Or, if you’re having great weather, do you remember a time when you were stuck in the house for several days? As for cabin romances, do you have any favorites?

Visit me at for more info on upcoming releases, random blog posts, and the occasional contest.

Best Wishes,

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A writer on the edge - Amanda Ashby

I like to think of myself as a pacifist-apart of course from my bad habit of killing cockroaches (but seriously, they started it). However, it turns out that apparently I'm not such a pacifist after all because since my mother's been to visit from Australia, I've been without my TV remote control for over a week and let's just say that I'm. Not. Handling. It. Well.

Have I watched any Buffy repeats for the last week? Er, that would be no. And how about Bones? Again no. House? No, no, no. In fact all I've managed to see is American Idol and trust me when I tell you that no one should have to watch AI with my mother in the room.

And seriously, it's not like I'm a TV addict (okay, perhaps I am, but I can give up anytime I want). It's just it's the principle of the matter. My TV. My remote. But apparently not, so for the last week I've been forced to watch shows whose names I can't even repeat in case it puts out some sort of bad karma. I tell you, it's enough to drive a girl to drink.

And it's not like I don't love my mother, because I do. In fact there have been lots of good things this week. A trip to the Mission for lunch, getting dressed up and going to the Napier Art Deco festival, and especially having a live-in babysitter so that my husband and I could out and see the fabulous Gin Wigmore, (who is as gorgeous as she is talented and will one day rule the world!!!!), but the truth is that I'm still looking forward to getting my life back.

So what about everyone else? How do you cope with visitors in the house? Does the break in routine drive you around the bend or is it something that you love? More importantly, what are the best tips for stealing remote controls back when no one is looking? Enquiring minds want to know.

To find out about the books that I write when my house is empty and my TV remote control is all my own, you can head over to

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Help! I've Forgotten and I Can't Recall! - Jenny Gardiner

Yeah, I know, sort of a lame take on the iconic 1990's television commercial featuring an elderly gal with a medical emergency who urgently needed assistance with her feeble self. Thanks to "Life Call," she had someone who was able to prop her up, and all was well.

So far I'm not in need of Life Call to rescue me from a frail bone-related fall, but I am in dire need of some sort of life call to save me from an increasingly enfeebled brain. They say the mind is the first to go, and my memory--which until recently I'd successfully prodded into action with a regular machine-gunning of reminder alerts on my iCal each day--has taken a day at the beach and decided it doesn't want to return just yet, if ever.

Thus, I have placed practically my entire memory in the evidently disabled hands of my MacBook's iCal, which it seems has aged in dog years itself and is failing in its own wretched memory to remind me of all that I can't help but forget. Two operating systems ago, my iCal reminders worked regularly, even though I overloaded the application with unrealistic demands: most every function of my day popped up to remind me to do it, short of basic hygiene functions such as "remember to brush teeth." So many demands that while it reliably reminded me, it also crashed constantly. So I upgraded to a new operating system and the failures became rampant. My reminders would pop up for one event, but not for the next. But I'd not remember to check my calendar to see what it was forgetting to remember. The next upgrade failed me even more. I'm a victim of the memory of both me and my fail-safe computer, failing all over the place.

Since my calendar can't even remember to remember, I'm holding out hope they soon come out with helper dogs for failing memories.

I felt a little relieved after chatting with my friend Tana the other day on the phone while she was preparing to leave for the gym. As she was talking on speakerphone, I heard water running in the background.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to the bathroom," she said. "I'm just filling up my water bottle."

Well, of course any woman with good girlfriends knows that occasionally we all happen to race into the loo while on the phone—it's a hazard of friendship. So I just laughed and told her it wouldn't have mattered regardless. We talked for a minute more when suddenly Tana stopped.

"Oh, crap. Where's my water bottle?" she asked.

As if defining my dilemma for my own affirmation, she did what I regularly do: forgot the simplest of things in the shortest period of time imaginable. It's what we do best. All day long. And fight it with the meager tools at our disposal to keep us from having to purchase ear horns and walkers and resign ourselves to our dwindling age and capabilities.

The other day I suffered the hat trick of memory shortcomings. First, I lost my reading glasses in the time it took to swap out shirts. A few minutes later, I became vexed because I couldn't find the enormous pile of tax information it had taken me an entire day to find, which I'd then put somewhere I'd know where to find it. Shortly thereafter, I needed to recall the brand of car I'd rented a few days earlier, as I wanted to be sure we didn't consider it while shopping for a new car. I'd made a point of remembering the brand. To no avail.

And that's the thing. I'm always putting things where I know I'll remember them. And rarely do. I walk to a food cabinet while fixing dinner, forgetting in six short steps what I'd gone there to retrieve. I wake at 3 a.m. with brilliant ideas, but don't want to wake completely to write them down, certain I'll recall by dawn. Never do. Yet then I wake up in the middle of the night over mundane things, like forgetting to soak black beans for dinner, only to not be able to sleep, recalling everything I need to remember to do that I haven't done and worry that I won't remember to do it. I leave notes everywhere, only to not know where the notes are. I record reminders on my phone. Only to forget to listen to them later.

Maybe life's pressing needs are actually squeezing my brains dry. Sounds like I could use a good vacation.
A conversation between me and Tana these days goes something like this:

"Did you hear about, oh, what's her name? Long brown hair, lives up that narrow mountain road."
"Yeah, the gal with six kids?"
"Exactly. And that dog that smells like death. Her husband played in a band when he was in college—"
"Oh, what is her name? It begins with a P, doesn't it?"
"It rhymes with my mother's middle name, I think."
"What's your mother's middle name?"
"Nothing rhymes with Amanda. But anyhow, we'll think of her name. But did you hear--they're getting a divorce."
"No! I always knew he was up to no good."
"Who? Her husband?"
"Yeah. What's his name?"
Well, you get the idea. We have all the minutiae committed to memory but the barebones facts have evaporated from our gray matter, by some brain-fog that has settled over our memories, doomed to cloak our thinking and force us into some Sherlock Holmesian effort to recall. Our trail of deduction requires mental bloodhounds, and it seems as if our dogs have got up and went.
"Between the two of us we have a brain," Tana said. And she's right. Which makes me think maybe I need to simply be paired up with someone, 24/7, from here on out. Because clearly at this point two heads must be better than one.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A character walks into a bar... - Lisa Dale

So I had a Supernatural marathon on the other day while I was working on some of the lighter lifting of the writing life—answering emails, keeping up on my social networking, following up on an acceptance letter for a poem—and in the episode on the TV, Sam and Dean are on a “hunt” when they find a novel that sounds suspiciously like their own story.

In fact, everything about the novel is just like them. Naturally, they go to find the author. Let me paraphrase the scene:

Author: I’m sorry. I don’t see how this is possible. I imagined you.

Sam/Dean: We’ll here we are.

Author: I was going for a Vonnegut thing, writing a scene where I’m confronted by the characters I created.

Sam/Dean: So what happens next?

You can see how this got me thinking. What if I was confronted by my characters? Which character would I want to walk into the apartment and say, “What’s for dinner?” (Chinese takeout, in case you were wondering.)

My first instinct was to say that I wanted to meet the hero of my new book, It Happened One Night. Eli Ward is a meteorite hunter who has just the right mix of alpha and beta. I’ve been getting a lot of letters and comments about readers being in love with Eli, and I certainly wouldn’t mind chatting with him over my fried rice.

But then, the more I got thinking about it, the character I’d really like to meet is Beatrice—an elderly Korean-American grandmother. Beatrice is a complex woman who means to help the heroine of Simple Wishes find her way into the self-acceptance (and ultimately true love). I think Beatrice still has some stories to tell that I didn’t explore in Simple Wishes.

Oh--and as a side note--Sam and/or Dean are definitely characters I want to, uh, meet. :-)

My question to you: What character from the literary world do you want to meet in real life?

*FYI I’m giving away lotsa women’s fiction and romance novels this month at See you there!

Happy reading,

Lisa Dale

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Here Come The Grooms! : : Anne McAllister

Four years ago, Kate Walker, Liz Fielding and I all had books out in February. All of them one way or another had to do with brides, and so we decided to a Here Come the Brides contest to celebrate our books.

Being the easygoing egalitarian writers that we are, we even magnanimously allowed our heroines to come and blog while we took a little time off.

We should have known better.

Two weeks into our contest, three heroes announced they weren't about to be upstaged by their brides and so launched their own Here Come The Grooms! contest. They sweet-talked the heroines into relinquishing time and space on our blogs and next thing Kate and Liz and I knew, these guys were running the show -- or trying to.

It turned out that they had a lot of rapport with readers and the next year our current heroes wanted a contest of their own. Their heroines were busy planning weddings and the three of us authors had plenty of things to do that didn't entail running a contest,so we said, "Fine, Go for it. But don't expect us to run it."

So they did. It was a big hit. "We told you so," they said.

Now, after four years, the Here Come The Grooms! contest has become an annual event. It is celebrated on all three of our blogs and our websites. Each of our current grooms -- that would be Christo in my case (that's him on the right), Kalil in Liz's (that's him below on the left) and Nikos in Kate's (he didn't show up for his photo -- maybe when Kate gets back from Wales!) -- has taken over our respective blogs for the rest of the month. Well, Kate and Liz might be back on theirs, but Christo has given me the rest of the month off while he holds forth -- and runs his part of the contest.

To enter the 4th annual Here Come The Grooms! contest you have to answer the three questions posed by our grooms. Send those answers to Christo, Nikos and Kalil through the contact links on our websites (Christo's is on my contest page) and you have three chances to win.

The prizes:
  • Christo is giving away a copy of his book (my book, I tell him, but he just rolls his eyes): One-Night Mistress . . . Convenient Wife.
  • Nikos is offering a copy of his book, The Konstantos Marriage Demand.
  • Kal has decided to give away copies of the new wonderful absolutely huge Romance Novelists' Association anthology, Loves Me, Loves Me Not (in which Liz has a story -- see details on her blog)

The questions they have asked are:

  • KAL'S QUESTION (from Her Desert Dream): Of which literary character did Kal remind Lydia? (apart from Prince Charming!)
  • CHRISTO'S QUESTION (From One-Night Mistress. . . . Convenient Wife by Anne McAllister)
    Why is Natalie staying at her mother's house?
  • NIKOS'S QUESTION (From The Konstantos Marriage Demand by Kate Walker)
    What name did Sadie use so that Nikos would not know his 10 o'clock appointment was her?
Answers can be found by checking our blogs, websites and excerpts. The contest began on Valentine's Day and ends the end of February. Winners will be announced March 1st.

So stop by my website, Kate's and Liz's. Enter all three contests.

And while you're there, visit our blogs and harass Christo, Nikos and Kal a bit. Keeping heroes on their toes is a Very Good Thing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Do You Have a Favorite Setting? - C J Carmichael

When you pick up a novel, do you care about the setting, or only the characters and their situation? For me, setting is rarely a primary consideration--usually I’m just after a great story. But occasionally a book’s setting will influence my decision to read it. For instance, I love English murder mysteries, and a large part of my enjoyment of these books comes from the setting and particular idiosyncrasies of this place and genre.

When I’m writing a book, I always try to select a setting that is particularly suited to my characters and the story I want to tell. My earlier books were generally set in locations that I know well... Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Small-town Saskatchewan...I’ve lived in all these places (which are all in Canada, if you hadn’t guessed!) and felt I could write about them with authenticity.

As I grew more experienced, I began to write about places that I had only visited. I bought maps, surfed the web, planned research trips...and in this way I was able to write stories in such diverse locations as Seattle, San Francisco, New Mexico, and New England. I fell in love with these locations, just as I fell in love with the characters I created who lived there.

When I decided I wanted to write a trilogy about a detective agency, I felt instinctively that New York City was going to be the right location for these stories. I have visited NYC several times and am one of those people who think It is the most amazing city in the world. (in fact, I have this fantasy where I rent an apartment and go to live there for a few months...but that’s a subject for another blog!)

In my mind, I could picture the Fox & Fisher Detective Agency in a brownstone in the Upper West Side, not that far from the Museum of Natural History. I couldn’t have been more pleased when I saw the covers the artists at Harlequin created for this series. To me, they capture the setting of these stories perfectly.

Still, now it’s time for me to work on the next story and so I find myself thinking about new settings. Where shall my next story take place? A small town in the mid-west, New England or along the sea shore? A big city like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles? A ranch in Montana or Texas? Or maybe a farm in Minnesota or North Dakota? If you have a favorite setting to read about, please share! I’m so curious...

C J Carmichael

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sometimes it is in the ether - Michelle Styles

Lately I have been doing revisions on what has turned out to be a particularly difficult book. It took me an age to realise that I wanted to reference the myth Psyche and Eros. It is one of my favourite myths and deals with Eros as a young man rather than a pudgy baby and the whole concept of a true marriage. A true marriage is one where Heart and Soul combine on equal terms. It is also the precursor of Beauty and the Beauty as well as East of the Sun, West of the Moon. But I am used to not seeing it referenced and worried that somehow I had totally missed the boat as I was more intrigued by the second half of the myth rather than the more usual first bit.

Thanks to the excellent craft book (in fact of the best books on the craft of fiction I have ever read) -- The Manuscript Makeover Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon, I learnt about The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock. Lyon pointed out that many women’s fiction books use this, and it is far more inward looking (ie internal conflict) based than the Vogler/Campbell definition of The Hero’s Journey. Having reading Vogler’s A Writer Journey, I immediately ordered The Heroine’s Journey. It did not disappoint and I do agree with Lyon that every writer of women’s fiction should read it. Murdock was inspired to write it after a conversation with Campbell in 1981 where he basically said that women did not need to go on a journey as in mythology they were already there. She decided that he was wrong and women might not go out on a quest but they had to grow and change. Jungian feminist, it is about the feminine healing process and how women become whole – basically separating from the mother, going into the masculine world, suffering trials and tribulations, finding illusionary success, awakening to feelings of is that all, descent to the dark part of the soul, yearning to reconnect with the feminine, healing the mother/daughter split, healing the wounded masculine and full integration.
In The Heroine’s Journey, Murdock references the Psyche and Eros myth in relation to the whole conundrum of illusionary romantic love versus true love. And as an author of Historical Romance and a lover of series romance, I prepared to roll my eyes, grit my teeth and endure. But when I finished the passage, I agreed with her and understood where some feminists have been going wrong. The illusion of romance is what Psyche has before she lifts her lamp and sees the beautiful youth that is her husband. All of her needs are taken care of but she does not have to do anything and has no responsibility. She just exists as an object of beauty. After Eros flies out the window proclaiming that love cannot survive without trust, Psyche takes control of her life, undergoes a series of trials and including facing death until she is worthy of becoming a goddess. She becomes his equal. The relationship is no longer one-sided but a partnership. They both take responsibility for each other. It is true love.
And I would argue that the romance genre is far more concerned with true love than illusionary romance. It is a point that some miss or gloss over but it is why the genre is so popular. And it was with great relief that I finished my revisions and realised that I had not in fact gone marching off in the wrong direction but had gained insight into why I write what I do.

So has anyone read the Heroine's Journey?

Michelle Styles' latest North American release is Sold & Seduced. Her next North American Release will be the Roman set A Noble Captive in April 2010. You can read excerpts from both on her website.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cliffhangers - 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!

On to my topic of the day – cliffhangers.

My latest book, Spider’s Bite, is out this month. It’s the first book in my Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series. And, yes, it ends with a cliffhanger.

Don’t worry. It’s not a major cliffhanger. I don’t have my heroine get surrounded by killer ninjas or thrown into shark-infested waters and suddenly end the book. After all, I’m a reader too. There’s only so much suspense that I can take, and I know lots of other readers feel the same way. 

But at the end of Spider’s Bite, the heroine finds out a piece of information that she didn’t know before – something that absolutely stuns her and really rocks her whole world.

So why did I decide to end with a bit of a cliffhanger? Well, mainly because it fit the story. During the course of Spider’s Bite, my heroine goes through a lot of ups and downs. But finally, at the end, she’s in a good place in her life. And just when she thinks that things are finally getting back to normal – BAM! She finds out this information, and it changes everything that she thought she knew.

I also decided to close out the book with a cliffhanger because I love twist endings. Two of my favorite twist endings are in the heist movies The Italian Job (with Mark Wahlberg) and The Thomas Crown Affair (with Pierce Brosnan). You think you know what’s going on in those movies, but suddenly, there’s a clever little twist at the end, and you realize that things aren’t quite what they seem.

I also decided to end Spider’s Bite with a cliffhanger because, well, I want to hook people on my books, my story, my characters. I want readers to want to keep reading to find out what happens next. It’s one of the best compliments you can get as an author when someone e-mails you to say how much she’s looking forward to your next book.

But I’m not being too cruel to readers. The next book in the series, Web of Lies, comes out in June, so folks don’t have too long to wait to see how the cliffhanger plays out. And the third book in the series, Venom, will be out in October.

What about you guys? Do you like cliffhangers? Hate them? What are some of your favorite cliffhangers or surprise endings in books and movies? Share in the comments.


**Jennifer is giving away another book from her backlist to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment for a chance to win and we'll pick a winner in a few days. Good luck!**

***Jennifer's winner is Laurie! Please email me, Laurie, at with your full name and mailing address. :) Thanks to everyone who left a comment!***

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Let's Hear It For St. Valentine! - Christina Hollis

When I was a teenager, I hated Valentine’s Day. Do you know the song ‘At Seventeen’ by Janis Ian? It might have been written just for me, but that was before I learned everyone shares the same insecurities. I could never compete with the local beauty queens. It was watching them get all the gorgeous guys that confirmed me as a bookworm. For a few bright, shining hours I could stop waiting for a postman who never arrived, or a phone call that didn’t come. I escaped disappointment through fiction. Through reading I could pretend to be spirited Lizzie Bennet, or Bathsheba Everdene, with men falling at her feet.

As I grew older, I realised things aren’t always as they seem. The schoolfriend who was (apparently) the Girl Most Lusted-After in our village was later found to have spent a fortune on buying and posting a huge haul of Valentine cards to herself.

Eventually, I met my very own real-life hero. We’d only had one proper date by the time St Valentine’s Day arrived, so it looked like another cardless year for me. But I was in for a surprise. Instead of a card, he gave me a memory I shall always treasure. He secretly packed a picnic, and whisked me off to Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. There were snowdrops, it snowed, and he was wonderful - it couldn’t have been more romantic. Or so I thought...for a few weeks later, at Easter, he asked me to marry him. That was nearly twenty-eight years ago, and in all that time he’s never forgotten a significant date, he chooses the most beautiful cards and presents, and during the rest of the year he often surprises me with flowers or breakfast in bed. Oh, and he’s also the world’s best Dad and a dab-hand at washing up!

A recent survey found that only a tiny percentage of men could tell you their wife’s dress size or date of birth. Let’s be charitable and hope the majority of them play Alpha male to the hilt when taking part in surveys like that one. Only their partners know that in reality they come good with the chocolates and perfume behind closed doors...

Now it’s over to you - what’s your favourite memory of St Valentine’s Day? If you could ‘make your own’ memory, what would it be?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Love Makes The World Go Round--Michelle Monkou

Once again, St. Valentine's day, is almost upon us. A day where we express our love for that special person in our life. We may get or give flowers, candy, and jewelry. Whether it is celebrating friendship between friends or a romantic relationship between a couple, Valentine's day is that symbolic poke to remind us to say I LOVE YOU.

This year I experienced the Mid-Atlantic winter storm with just me and my kids, while my husband was stuck in Florida after the Super Bowl because flights were cancelled and stand by on available flights was near to impossible with the large amount of stranded passengers. The first snow storm brought close to two feet of snow, which took 2 1/2 days to dig from my door to the street. Then the second snow storm hit and dumped another 1 1/2 feet of snow. By the time I got to the street, there was a large hump of snow-turned-ice from the snow plow that shoved the barrier along the width of my driveway. At this point, cupboards were getting bare, the refrigerator shelves were emptying, and I was tired of eating the large quantity of spaghetti, I'd made at the beginning of the first storm. Luckily the nearby Pizza Hut delivered and we were the family standing in the street at the end of the driveway waiting for their driver.

Now, I'm settled down, waiting for that block of ice to melt. My husband is due home tomorrow. My kids and I have bonded. Thank goodness for computer games-LOL. And so Valentine's Day will arrive without much fanfare because I haven't had time to go out and get anything. But you know what? It doesn't matter. I've had the best Valentine moment laughing and joking with my husband over the phone, hours of shoveling snow with my son, watching episodes of Bones and CSI with my daughter, even the cat has been affectionate. So there is no need for expensive greeting cards, flowers, chocolates or jewelry to say how much I love my family.
I'm also reminded that while I may have felt the discomfort of a winter storm, I need not complain given what the people of Haiti have suffered and will have to endure in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. Many are without home, clothing and other basic necessities. Unfortunately, many are without their loved ones.

This Valentine's Day share that expression of love with a donation to a Haiti Relief Fund. A little demonstration of love for humanity can certainly be a part of the St. Valentine's tradition.


Michelle Monkou
Trail of Kisses - Available NOW

Friday, February 12, 2010

What is it about a rekindled romance? - Kathleen O'Brien

Although most people probably wouldn’t be interested in revisiting an old love (which might well have ended in acrimony, alimony or plain, old-fashioned relief), most of us adore reading about them.

I’m no exception. I gravitate toward reunion books. Movies, too. My favorite is The Illusionist, and not just because Edward Norton is such a hunk…I mean great magician. I can annually watch Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly patch things up in High Society, and melt every time. For some reason, I get a kick out of watching True Love find a way, even past the most daunting obstacles—decades and continents in Mama Mia, serious time zone issues in The Lake House, and, in Ghost, even death.

The new Superromance I’ve just started is a rekindled romance story, too. I’m writing about Colby Malone, the brother of the hero in FOR THE LOVE OF FAMILY. Colby made a spectacular mess of his first love and finds himself with a miraculous second chance. I’m having a ball already. Colby is going to have to suffer, but it’s exciting to guide him full circle, back to the place his heart has always called home.
In fact, I checked—and, of the more than 30 books I’ve written, a solid third are, to some degree, reunion romances. Considering how many plotlines an author can choose from, this seems significant. And my most enthusiastic emails are almost always in response to those books. One of my earliest novels, a Harlequin Presents titled BETWEEN MIST AND MIDNIGHT, still moves readers to contact me, even twenty years later. It’s the story of a woman who returns to the man she loved when she was fifteen.

So what’s going on here? Is everyone harboring a secret desire to get back together with the skinny kid who took her on her first date? On this Valentine’s Day, would the perfect love letter be postmarked The Past?

Oddly, apparently not. As I explored the topic, I found a website that deals with lost loves. (, where a PhD shares her research on reunion romances. In one study, she reports that, of the respondents who had not already tried to rekindle a romance, a whopping 70% said they simply didn’t want to.

So the appeal of this beloved storyline must be something even more complex. Does the revisited romance symbolize all second chances, perhaps? Even the ones that weren’t about love or sex? (Is there such a thing? ) Could it perhaps stand for our need to rewrite the past, erasing our biggest mistakes? Or is it as simple as the vicarious joy of recaptured youth?

I’m still trying to figure it out. If you are drawn to these stories, too, I’d love to hear what you think.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Reckless Surrender!

by Anna Campbell

It's always an exciting moment for me (and I suspect for all authors) when we see the final version of the cover for our next book. I know that's when everything becomes real for me - it's the moment when I think, yes, my story is going to be out there in the world very soon!

So it's with great pleasure that I share with you the cover for my June 2010 release MY RECKLESS SURRENDER.

Isn't it gorgeous? Really sensual and intriguing. Which is what I hope the book is as well! And that yellow really grabs the attention.

I love her pose, looking over her shoulder, as if daring the hero to come and get her, whatever the consequences. Hmm, that's like the story too! Needless to say, the hero can't resist her!

And I think you can see that very clearly when you open that cover and see this sexy stepback. They both look like they've surrendered very recklessly indeed!

Here's the blurb for MY RECKLESS SURRENDER:

Headlong into sin...

A well-practiced rake, weary of easy conquests and empty pleasures, Tarquin Vale, Earl of Ashcroft, knows women—and his every instinct warns him to beware of this one. Diana Carrick’s brazen overtures have thrown the haunted, sinfully handsome lord completely off his guard. Why, the exquisite temptress stated outright that she wishes to be his lover! But it is neither Diana’s boldness nor her beauty that intrigues him so—it is the innocence he senses behind her worldly mask.

Intent upon the seduction that will finally free her, Diana has set her sights on the notorious Ashcroft—never dreaming that there is much more to the enigmatic rogue than sin and deviltry. His kiss is bewitching, his caress intoxicating—and even the dangerous secret Diana must protect cannot shield her from Ashcroft’s dark allure.

Unwittingly yet most willingly, they are playing with fire. Now the fuse has been lit and there is no escape…except surrender.

You can find an excerpt on my website here. The book is already up for pre-order at Amazon.

So what books are you looking forward to reading in the next six months? I'm really looking forward to Madeline Hunter's new series and the new Christine Wells, SWEETEST LITTLE SIN, in May, among others. What about you?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Creativity and Cooking - Mary Burton

For those who know anything about me, they know I love to bake. On any given day you can step into my house and there will be bread rising on the counter, cookies in the oven or a cake on the stand ready to be iced.

A friend of mine asked me recently why I bake so much. “Just buy the cookies or cakes and get back to the computer so you can keep writing,” she said. I thought about that because baking from scratch does take time away from the computer. Toss in trips to the grocery store and hours at the gym to burn all those extra calories…well, you get the point.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized baking not only feeds me (and most of my neighbors) but it also feeds my creativity.

Somewhere along the way I’ve learned that plot problems are best solved in the kitchen. When I hit a snag, I push away from the computer and start pulling out the pots and pans. Just yesterday I had a P.O.V. problem in a scene. The more I stared at the computer the less answers I had. So, I headed to the kitchen, knowing mixing and stirring always shakes something loose in my subconscious. Sure enough, the pieces of the story came together in surprising ways I hadn’t thought of before. I’ve often joked you can gauge my writing day by the number of iced cupcakes on the counter. Never fails I’ll be halfway through icing when the story answers hit and I abandon the baking to finish the writing.

My heroine in Dying Scream shares my love of baking. She’s often in the kitchen baking, worrying, and trying to figure out how to handle the closing of her late husband’s estate, the creepy notes she keeps receiving and of course the return of her old love Detective Gage Hudson.

Most writers I know have figured out what unlocks their creativity. Some craft, some sew, scrapbook, paint or sculpt. We all have our different paths to creativity. The trick is finding the right one for you.

Mary Burton

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Are You Ready For Valentine's Day? by Megan Crane

Valentine's Day is coming!

In honor of this much-maligned, yet often much-loved holiday, I went last night to see the brand new movie of the same name:

This movie is exactly what you'd expect from "a day in the life of love." Tears, laughter, a little bit of heartbreak, and lots of hope. Not bad for a day that overdoes the pink, makes us all overdose on chocolate and communicative heart candies, and has been known to make some people feel pretty lonely sometimes.

My husband and I kind of make it up as we go along. This year, we think we might go out. But then again, we might stay in and watch a movie. It's kind of a win/win scenario because either way, we get to be together.

Which is kind of what the movie's about, too. Love makes its own rules. And you're better off for it, even if it hurts. And sometimes, it can be a miracle. Even a quiet one.

How do you feel about Valentine's Day? Do you have any traditions? Anti-traditions?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Wedding Dresses

Lately I've been thinking about wedding dresses.

I'm not sure why.  After all, my wedding was many years ago and something I only plan on doing once.  And my kids are several years away from being marriageable age so it's not as if I'm going to be shopping for dresses any time soon.  I'm kind of in those in between years where we're old enough that most of our friends are married and young enough that their kids are not tying the knot either.

So what's up with the dresses?

I blame my characters.

Not every book has a wedding dress, of course.  A happy ending often ends with a promise and not the actual wedding.  But in my current manuscript I am thinking of a wedding and wondering what my heroine will choose to wear.  And in my book next month - HER LONE COWBOY, there are not one, not two, but THREE dresses to consider.

A wedding dress is as individual as the person wearing it, I think.  And so when I look for a dress for my heroine I hit a lot of bridal sites looking for just the perfect dress.  Not to mention headpieces and shoes...  Tiaras or veils?  Sandals or satin pumps?

For my heroine in HIRED BY THE COWBOY, Alex, I picked a simple style with an empire waist and a lovely overskirt - a real soft and feminine look.  For Jenn, in ONE DANCE WITH THE COWBOY, it was a satin strapless number with a gathered waist.  Of course, that wedding takes place in HER LONE COWBOY and Lily is making that dress. Which brings up the question of what Lily will choose to wear.

Because there's already a dress in Lily's closet, and it looks suspiciously like this!

When I think back over my other heroines  I wonder what they would have worn to their weddings.  What about 40-something Maggie from FALLING FOR MR. DARK AND DANGEROUS?  Or Lucy, our cowgirl/Mediterranean Princess in THE RANCHER'S RUNAWAY PRINCESS?  What about the shy and efficient Mari from HIRED: THE ITALIAN'S BRIDE?

One size and style definitely does not fit all.  It would have been fun shopping for all those gowns!

I look back on my gown now with fond remembrance of our wedding day.  I loved it then, with its elaborate sleeves and mini train. It's still a beautiful dress, but if I had to shop for a dress now, it would be far simpler. 

What about you?  Do you pay attention to the wedding gowns in books?  Would you buy the same one again?  What kind of dress do you want for your big day?