Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Cover Odessey - Dara Girard

Last week one of my favorite authors Jayne Ann Krentz complimented me about the cover of my upcoming release PAGES OF PASSION. No, I haven’t slept since then (too busy floating on Cloud Nine), but that’s not what I’m going to write about here.

She got me thinking about book covers. I’ve learned a lot since my first release seven years ago. I’ve had a cover odyssey that’s filled with drama, heartache and laughter. I’d like to share with you four lessons I’ve learned. You can visit my website to see all my covers (be kind):
Take It or Leave It

As a new author you don’t always get a choice on how your beloved work will be marketed. I discovered this with my first cover TABLE FOR TWO. Not quite what I had pictured in my mind, but I was happy that I’d achieved the dream of publication so I was thrilled. Until I saw a picture of the same couple in an ad about heart disease. Hmm…not so romantic.
Mood Matters

Could you imagine a dark vampire novel with a bright yellow cover? No? Me neither. Getting the mood right for a cover is essential. I discovered this with my third release CAREFREE. Anybody heard of it? Probably not. It was the last book in the Henson trilogy, but died on the shelves. I think one reason (there are many--like the title! No, I didn’t choose it--but that’s another topic) was the fact that it was a romantic suspense, but the cover shows a happy smiling couple. Hmmm. Talk about a mixed message. So the book came and just as quickly disappeared.
Sex Sells

Women buy romance novels. However, pictures of women don’t sell romance novels. Women’s fiction. Yes. Romance. No. Unfortunately, for THE GLASS SLIPPER PROJECT my publisher put a pair of female legs on the cover. It’s one of my favorite novels, but it tanked because readers basically stayed away. Alas yet another book most readers haven’t heard of.

Covers Aren’t Always Original

Okay tell me you’ve heard about TAMING MARIELLA, the sequel to THE GLASS SLIPPER PROJECT. No? Again I’m not surprised. This time they added a man on the cover, but the female legs still got in the way. Or it could have been the fact that another book came on the market with the exact same cover. I hope the royalty statement for that author looked better than mine.

By this point, the fact that I still had a writing career was somewhat of a miracle.
Then the cover gods started to smile on me when I did THE BLACK STOCKINGS SOCIETY series. My publisher got the right mix of men and mood.

Which brings me to my current series-- LADIES OF THE PEN. The first cover in the series was right on target. With my upcoming release, PAGES OF PASSION (October 26, 2010), I think marketing hit on all four points. I hope it will encourage you to give the book a try—I really like eating on a regular basis.

If you like the cover I’d be happy to hear from you here or on my new Facebook Page:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Five Years Later - Jessica Barksdale Inclán

Hi, All--Today is the Monday after my weekend wedding. My boyfriend, fiance, now husband and I were married on September 25th in our backyard, surrounded by friends and family.

I thought to post an essay I've been working on for five years, one I have posted before in a different form. It just seems to make sense now, especially considering how far we've come.

Tomorrow, Michael and I fly off to Barcelona for our honeymoon, Spain a country neither of us have been to before. It's all like a little dream!

Thank you for reading.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Meeting Michael

Four and a half years ago, I stood on a sidewalk in Manhattan Beach, watching my date drive up toward Rosecrans Avenue and turn right, disappearing into the night. Walking back to my friend’s house, I contemplated the kiss I’d just shared with this man who had made the perilous drive from Malibu all the way to my friend’s party and me. We’d met two weeks before in a class I’d taught, and after the class was over, he’d walked up to the desk as I packed my books and extra handouts.

“Great class,” he said, a hand on his hip. “I really liked it. Maybe next time you’re down here, you and I could go out. Get to know each other.”

The air around us seemed to still and then glimmer. I’d fantasized about this moment for years, even when I was married. There I’d be, teaching my heart out, and the good looking guy at the back of the room would fall deeply in love with me. How romantic. Finally, my dream had come true. The good looking guy was right here, now, watching me as I stared back at him, my mouth likely agape. His voice was low, smooth, calm, and his eyes were dark brown. He was an actor, lived in Malibu, and was writing a young adult novel. All class long, he’d asked great questions and cracked good jokes.

“Okay,” I said. “Sounds great.”

When I told my LA friends about meeting the actor, they were overjoyed that I had met someone viable, so overjoyed that one of them decided to throw a party in two weeks and invite us both.

He’d arrived at the party on time and with flowers, and we’d had fun, but after the sidewalk kiss, the upshot was this: The actor and I had absolutely zero chemistry. You all know that lack of fizz when your lips meet? Your body does not heat up. Your skin does not prickle. Your heart does not even beat an extra beat.

That was our kiss. Dream man no longer.

The next day, I flew home to the Bay Area a bit dejected. I was a firm believer in the Yes Plan, taking what the universe provides and going along with it. Yes to Malibu man. Yes to LA. Yes to the party. But sometimes it was hard to not fall off the yes wagon and stay at home and eat popcorn, drink Cabernet, and watch HBO on demand. Despite myself, sometimes I took these dates personally, wondering what it was about me that evoked bad kisses and dull conversation. But I didn’t have too much time to contemplate this because I had yet another date to go on.

After disembarking and scooting out of the terminal, I stood in the florescent glow of the Oakland Airport parking lot, opened the rear door of my Volvo, and changed into a very fancy black dress with sequins. Trying not to trip in my new high heeled black pumps, I teetered into the car and drove to meet a man I had a dance date with, a guy I’d had a mad crush on. We’d met months ago at our gym, and he was funny and could incline bench press 100 pound dumbbells. He was tall and dark and handsome and financially solvent, though he did have this unnerving habit of talking incessantly about his ex-girlfriend Tammy.

On our first date, he talked about her for the first two hours and about his relationship with her for the second two. Each time we saw each other on a date or during our workouts, I learned a new fact about her, down to the scar on her abdomen from an appendectomy. They’d been broken up for well over a year, and he wasn’t over her.

When I arrived at his house—my suitcase and shoes thudding around in the back of the car—he came out before I had a chance to even take off my seatbelt. He was wearing a stylish jacket and sleek, black pants but looked bleary-eyed and unshaven.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Oh, Tammy came for a visit,” he said, sitting down in the passenger’s seat and closing the door.

“Really,” I said. I looked toward the front of the house, and there Tammy was, wearing a bathrobe, waving to us from the window.

Apparently, they’d been very busy for a few hours before I arrived. He was clearly not over her except, I guess, in a literal way. He’d been over her all afternoon.

“Are you sure you still want to go out?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said, his eyes rimmed red.

For a second, I thought to tell him to get the hell out of the car. Why was I bothering with him? What was I doing? The Yes Plan has an eject button, and I needed to use it. Flip him out of the car and wing myself home, where I could slip into bed, and try to forget about the entire weekend.

He smiled at me as if nothing were out of the ordinary, and maybe nothing was. We’d gone out on dates but they had been more like outings. Urban adventures with some flirting and split checks at the end of the night. And besides, I’d been looking forward to learning how to salsa, buying this flouncy dress especially for the moves the instructor would teach us. I wanted to hear some music, and there would be other men to dance with during class time. When the class was over and the club opened for general admission, I might actually meet someone who wasn’t dating Tammy.

And I had stayed in a 23-year-long marriage out of lethargy, inertia, and fear of doing anything different or new or scary or dumb. This evening was potentially dumb and certainly different.

“All right,” I said.

He waved to Tammy, and I pulled out of the driveway.

Our few previous dates had been not unpleasant but involved nothing physical, and on this third date, nothing more than dance moves happened between us. As we tried to flow in a salsa way on the dance floor, I hoped he would take me in his arms and pull me close, but did I really want that? I had the same lack of buzz with him as I did with my actor date the night before. The idea of this man was more exciting that the him of him, despite his good looks and humor and nice suit.

After the dancing and a meal at an oyster bar, I came home from the date and the trip to my empty house, and fell into a deep sleep. Exhausted and slightly deflated the next morning, I slogged out of bed, and tried to do a little writing on my novel, but the words wouldn’t come so I wrote emails instead. After cleaning up the house a bit, I got back in the car, headed to the gym, worked out, dressed, and then powered through the Caldecott Tunnel to College Avenue where I was to meet my third date of the weekend, a man I had been corresponding with on As part of my Yes Plan to the universe, I was going along with what the universe was lobbing at me. And this man was one of the big softballs I’d caught.

However, I'd almost let this man slip out of my glove--I was teaching and writing and traveling a lot that month. I was busy with my high school senior's activities, and I was dating the men I met online and onland. The Yes Plan had kept me busy, introducing me to strange and interesting coffee partners, including a 34-year-old man and a man with one black tooth. But this man Michael had continued to email through my periodic radio silence, and finally, we picked a time and date to meet.

From his ad, I wasn’t convinced we’d ever see each other again after this first date. I’d long given up the notion that each man could be “the one.” This fellow seemed nice, was persistent, and had a charming smile (at least in photos). What did I have to lose? At least his teeth looked the same color. And he was a respectable 50 years old. I wouldn’t have the feeling I was talking to my oldest son. So what that I was tired. So what that I was zero for two for the weekend? So what that I had a stack of 30 essays to grade? There would always be time to read those in the evening.

When I arrived at our designated spot at the corner of College and Shafter in Oakland, I found that the restaurant we had picked was just about to close. As I walked out, I noticed a man walk in, someone I recognized. Wait, I thought, was that my date? I stared at the man, realized my mistake, and then kept moving. No, he was not the man from the pictures. So I headed for the sidewalk. As I was waiting, the man I thought I knew approached me. He said, "Are you Jessica?"

"Yes," I said.

"I'm Jim."

Jim, I thought. I blinked. Oh. From The man who liked James Joyce. Who had actually managed to finish Finnegan's Wake. How strange to be spotted in the real world because of the virtual. These meetings were supposed to be choreographed and ordered and fixed. There was supposed to be no interface except for the arranged. In fact, so much of it seemed like a dream, the clicking through profiles, the assessing of a person in quick, easy reads, all of it done to the flickering buzz of a computer, none of it tangible, defined, sure.

I scanned the busy block, cars and people everywhere but no other date in sight. I shrugged and started talking to Jim, knowing that when my date showed up, this conversation would look a little strange. Michael would show up, and I'd be talking with a man I had tried to end correspondence with online. Jim was an interesting man, but the Yes Plan also included the right to pass. And I’d wanted to pass on Jim because the truth of that matter is that I’ve tried to read Finnegan’s Wake 100 times and only get to the bottom of the first page before closing the book.

As Jim spoke, I noticed another man crossing the street. Was it Michael? What would he think of me? What would he think? That he was five minutes late and I turned to the next available man as recompense? What must it seem like to him? That I was scavenging men up off the sidewalk. I’d been on too many sidewalks this weekend talking to men I didn’t like, and I wanted to chase after this man, even if he wasn’t Michael, ending this conversation with Jim.

I thought of things to say because it was Michael. Yes, it was. It was Michael. He was tall and walked with a sure, brisk step. But then he kept walking.

Come back, I thought, but he didn’t, striding away up toward Zachary’s Pizza.

Rats. He was cute.

I sighed, and Jim and I kept chatting. I talked about Joyce a little bit more (Please, only The Dubliners for me) and then I felt a tap on my arm.

It was the man who had crossed the street.

"Hi," he said. "I'm Michael. And I got a little lost down there."

Michael looked at Jim, and I smiled. “Michael, this is Jim. He recognized me from Match.”

Jim extended his hand, and the two men shook hands. How weird, I thought. Please, don’t let me forget this. Or please, let me.

“Well,” I said to Jim. “It was great to meet you, but we’re off for a date.”

I have to give it over to Jim. He was gracious and nice, and he waved a little, and we all parted.

I was nervous at first, I think, talking too much to explain what had happened and about the restaurant closing. For some reason, my heart seemed to need an intervention, pounding out of rhythm and too hard. I focused on my footsteps, the clack clack on wet pavement, and not how I thought I’d missed Michael back there, watching him walk away. But then he’d come back.

I must have been talking too much because he said, “If this isn’t a good time, we can reschedule. Or, not do it if it’s too much.”

Right then, I knew that I wanted to be on this date, the first date I’d wanted to see through to the end for a long while. This weekend, I’d already had a lot of nothing and too much actually sounded like a great idea. Michael was patient and unflustered by the Jim incident. Unconcerned that every restaurant we passed on our way down the right-hand side of College Avenue seemed closed.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just a little confused.”

Michael looked at me, waiting for something more coherent.

I knew I couldn’t completely explain the whirl of weekend dates or the weirdness of meeting Jim in one articulate sentence, so I smiled instead.

We kept walking. We chatted in that new, nervous way of people meeting each other, crossing the street to find another closed restaurant, and then finally finding one that was open and crowded. We stood in line to order our salads, and talked about the day, the weather, what we did, where we were in our lives. We were bumped and jostled by servers and patrons, and I wondered if I would ever relax, feeling strung out and nervous. Maybe Michael was right. Maybe this wasn’t a good time.

Finally, we sat down at a table and began to talk and to explain why what we were doing on As we talked, I felt myself let go, relax. I began to breathe, one, two, in and out. And as I looked at him, I saw something I hadn’t really seen in any of my dates. Actually, he was seeing me, looking at me, listening to what I was saying. He moved his chair closer to mine, making sure we could hear each other over the din of the restaurant. We pulled out the photos of our children, we ate big green salads, we laughed. I didn’t want lunch to end, but it did, the server taking away our plates, diners waiting for a table glaring at us.

Without touching, I felt more excitement than I had in Manhattan Beach with my actor. Without even knowing why, I knew that Michael and I connected in a way that my dancing date and I never could. And I knew that Jim and I would not have had this date either. By now, he’d be explaining Finnegan’s Wake, and I’d be longing to grade my 30 essays.

Outside, it started to rain, the weekend closing down into storm. Michael and I were done with the restaurant, though we weren’t done with the date.

“Do you want to get coffee?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, not ready for this to be over. Not ready for my empty house and a long rainy night alone. Not ready to be done with this gentle, beautiful man.

So we walked down the street, under his umbrella, and he put his hand at the small of my back. That’s when I knew. His touch did more for me than all the quick end-of-the evening kisses I’d had. The heat from his hand pulsed into my back. He guided me, and we walked together. We were moving forward, into the rain, down the street, toward something bigger than just coffee.

Going on five years later, I think of that day in February 2006. We lucked out, that date turning into more dates, and then a life together. It wasn’t always easy, both of us coming out of long, sometimes complicated marriages, both of us with almost adult children, both of us with patterns we developed long ago. But here I am. I’m in that life right now, writing from the house we share together. He sits behind me on the couch in the office, working on a computer program, typing softly, clearing his throat, drinking his coffee. And I know that the warmth from his hand was true and real and I am exactly where I should be.

But how possible for it to not happen at all. So many small incidents could have change the space-time continuum and thrown us both off course. I could have ended up in Malibu, canceling all additional weekend activities. My plane from Los Angeles could have been delayed. My dancing date the night before could have gone theoretically better, and I would not have even wanted to teach that morning. I could have bailed on the Yes Plan and decided to blow off the whole date with Michael after the class and claimed fatigue, a tiredness that was really very true. Michael could have imagined I'd blown him off when he saw me talking to Jim and jumped back on BART in a huff. He could have given up looking for me and sat down at the pizza parlor and had a nice hearty slice. He could have enjoyed the date he’d had the day before much more than he had, canceling on me at the last moment. Just about anything in our lives before three pm on February 26th 2006 could have been different, and it wouldn't have been us on the corner of Shafter and College, waiting for each other in front of the closed restaurant.

Until that day, every date I’d been on had been like the first page of Finnegan’s Wake, unintelligible, confusing, and impossible to get through. Until Michael tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to him, I wouldn’t have believed I would ever get to page two.

In my mind, I see him still, coming down the BART escalator, crossing the street and walking on past me, and then coming back, touching my arm, saying hello.
How ordinary. How miraculous.

Life's like that. We never know that one day will be the important day, the one we will never forget. We can’t wake up thinking that this will be the day that changes us forever or else we might freak out and stay under the covers eating chocolate. But we have to show up, keep trying, saying “yes” to what is in front of us that could help us grow. We show up and live, and then we look back and say, “That was it. That the day I met you.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

In praise of dusty little bookstores - Sally Koslow

Last Thursday did not bode well for my reading and signing of my most recent novel, With Friends like These. The event was in Greenwich, Connecticut, where early that morning I discovered that President Obama would also be visiting. As the day passed, many friends and students who’d told me they planned to attend the reading let me know they were scared off by potential gridlock. Then, an hour before the reading, rain started pelting in Biblical fashion. No one will show up, I thought, as I splashed along the highway to Connecticut. But—surprise, surprise—that was not the case.

The minute I opened the door to Diane’s Books I entered a readers’ paradise, stocked to the ceiling with a well-edited collection of contemporary fiction, classics as well as new titles. This is the kind of store, I instantly recognized, that makes you excited to read.

Attendance that evening was excellent because, the second thing I discovered was that many of those in the audience knew the store’s reputation and realized that if Diane’s Books had gotten behind a book, is has to be good. The staff, starting with owner Diane Garrett, has read every volume in stock and freely offers recommendations. If you wander into her shop and say, for example, “I like books about sisters,” you will walk out with two or three novels you’ll adore. Soon you will tell your friends, “Go to Diane’s. You can trust her taste.”

Diane introduced me with a warm recount of how much she had enjoyed With Friends like These. She commented on the authenticity of the characters’ dilemmas and suggested that the story would be appreciated by book clubs, whose members could mull over the plot and characters as well as discuss whether in their own lives they’d dealt with similar challenges in friendship. As I heard Diane praise my book, I realized, with a lump in my throat, that she was a bookseller who completely understood my intentions.

I left Diane’s charming shop convinced that we all must go out of our way to support small bookstores that offer personal attention, especially since where we buy books and in what form we read them is changing so fast it makes our brains feel like carousel horses. It was only 2007—so recent I don’t consider my clothes from that year “old”-- when I had the incredible experience of seeing my first novel published. (Little Pink Slips was based on having a magazine taken over by a celebrity, which happened to me when I was editing McCall’s and Rosie O’Donnell knocked on the door.) When my debut novel came out E-readers weren’t around in a major way. By last year, when The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, my second novel, was published, however, early adaptors had bought E-Readers and the novel received some sales of this type; nothing major, though.

From what I can tell, in one brief year, the balance has now tilted dramatically toward E-Readers. With Friends like These is being enthusiastically embraced by their readers, who increasingly include my closest buddies. I’m enormously grateful for these sales and recognize E-readership’s convenience and economy. Still, to me, nothing beats a hardcover’s unique possibility: passing on a book to another reader who will relish it as much as you do. (With Friends like These, I’m proud to say, is that kind of book. Several people I know have told me they’ve even bought multiple copies to give to friends.)

Let’s give a shout out for dusty little hole-in-the-wall bookstores owned by people who love reading so much they’ve open a shop partly to indulge their guilty pleasure. In fact, let’s do better. The next time you buy a book, make your purchase at a small bookstore in your area. Then, when you’ve finished your book, share it with a friend.

Sally Koslow

**Sally's giving away 3 copies of With Friends Like These!  Just leave a comment and we'll pick winners in a few days.  Good luck!**

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Second Presents by Caitlin Crews

My second book for Harlequin Presents is due out October 1, but is already out in a lot of bookstores--and is already shipping from Amazon.

Sheikh Tariq bin Khalid Al-Nur is as treacherous and formidable as the desert land he wants to rule. But he cannot take the throne of his country until he marries. Why, then, has he not wed? Tariq cannot rid his dreams of ordinary but bewitching Jessa Heath!

Jessa knows she and Tariq have unfinished business. What if she were to take control and allow herself the one night he's offering to put their passion to rest? But Jessa is treading dangerous ground! It would only take that night to reveal the secret she has so desperately kept hidden….

There are a lot of reasons this book is special to me. First, it's my second Presents, my second romance novel. The truth is, I kind of thought my first book was some kind of glorious fluke. I didn't know why they bought it. I was over the moon! But this second one--this proved it wasn't a fluke after all.

I also set the book partly in and around York, England, where I lived for about five years. I had a complicated relationship with the place, as you do, but in this book I got to simply revel in its beauty. And it really is beautiful:

I imagined the letting agency where Jessa works, where she first sees Tariq again, to be on a little street like this:

It was a lot of fun to go back--if only via my computer.

But the biggest reason this book is special to me is because of a choice Jessa makes five years before the book opens, a choice that has far-reaching consequences. I'll be talking more about that choice over at I Heart Presents next week. I'll tell you that it's very close to my heart. Can Jessa live with her decision--and more to the point, can Tariq live with the decision she made? Can they overcome it--together?

You'll have to read the book to find out. I hope you do--and that you love it as much as I do.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grandma and the Prince - Part 21 - Barbara Bretton

Congratulations to Cheryl C, my August winner. All I need is your mailing address and we're in business. Click HERE and you're halfway there!

I loved the title of Hillary Clinton's autobiography: Living History. Isn't that what our family stories are: history alive and real in a way no textbook could ever duplicate.

Here's another chapter from my Grandpa Larry's life, again in his own words.

* * *

<--Grandpa's Uncle Billy, the one who lived in the log cabin with his grandmother Eliza

As told to me in July 1996 by my 100 year old grandfather, Loren McNutt. This is a verbatim transcript. His words speak for themselves:

I think my grandpa Henry was born in 1826. Born in Kentucky, exactly where I never heard. I never knew him very well. In fact, I do not remember him paying much attention to me at all. I was one of his youngest grandchildren and the few times I saw him, he was a white-haired old gent at my grandmother’s log cabin. He was not there very much as he spent most of his time in those days at the Soldier's Home in Leavenworth, Kansas In fact, he died there and I never heard anyone say anything about his death or funeral. But I guess he was a hardworking man because they raised six children and I guess he was pretty tough too as were most of the settlers in the early days of the Kansas Territory, They had to fight against pretty hard odds.

You see, in those days before the Civil War, the Territory was planning on being admitted to the Union and there was a terrific and bloody fight going on between the Free states and the pro-Slavery units in the form of guerilla warfare. Part of the settlers were pro-slavers and part were free-staters. The state was being overrun by guerillas being sent in by the pro-slavery people to try to force the people by fear when the election came up to vote to make Kansas a slave state. Of course, you know from history, they did not succeed in their effort.

Among the worst offenders was the guerilla band headed by Quantrill, a bloodthirsty villain who sacked and burned the town of Lawrence, killing all the men and teenage boys. That was about thirty miles from where my grandparents lived. My grandfather was a member of a group of settlers banded together under the leadership of John Brown, the abolitionist, and his sons.

My grandfather was not an abolitionist and most of the other men with him were not either. They were just fighting to protect their homes and not be pushed by fear into voting for something they did not believe in. Then came the battle of Osawatomie, a town where my only living sister lives today. I have read and probably you have too, that eastern historians refer to that battle as the Osawatomie Massacre. Well, it was not at all. It was an out-and-out battle between two groups. John Brown and his men caught the pro-slavery group on the hillside west of town; a battle ensued and the pro-slavery group were wiped out. John Brown was a zealot and inclined to be fanatical in his beliefs, but most of his men were not and they did not follow him to Harper’s Ferry. To show the regard for John Brown that the Kansans had for him, I say this.

Around 1910 or thereabouts, the State of Kansas decided to make the battleground on that hillside in the outskirts of Osawatomie a state park and name it the John Brown Memorial Park. They took down, piece by piece, John Brown’s old log cabin from a few miles west of town and erected it, piece by piece, on the battle sight. Then came the day of dedication of the Park and what a day! I was there. They brought a troop of Cavalry from Fort Riley and they camped on the battleground and brass bands came from Ottawa and Lane and the local Anti-Horsethief Association’s drill team and probably 15,000 people from the countryside showed up too. They escorted the guest speaker who was to make the dedication address.

It was Teddy Roosevelt! What a thrill for me. Late in the afternoon, after the speeches were over, he was escorted back to his train which was waiting for him. He went to the back platform of the rear car and the throng was allowed to file by to shake hands with him. I was among them. As I reached the platform, he reached down and shook my hand and it was definitely the greatest thrill of my life.

As the old saying goes, “I never wanted to wash my hand again!”

* * *

Yes, I'm doing another book giveaway this month. Just leave a comment and you're entered.

And yes, I do have some books coming out over the next few weeks. The trade-sized reprint of SOMEONE LIKE YOU hits the stores next week and book #3 of my Sugar Maple Chronicles (magic! knitting! patterns!) will be available on November 2nd.

And again, you can always find me here and here and here.

See you next month!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fabulous Extended Family Holidays! - by Natalie Anderson

It's the last week of the term here in New Zealand. I'm so looking forward to these holidays - we're sneaking on an extra week this time and using that one to steal across the ditch to Australia's Gold Coast. It's a big family holiday - hubby and me and our four kids, my sister her hubby and their three, and my mum. Twelve of us altogether. We're going to one of those family-friendly resorts and have a van for the lot of us to cruise round in. It's going to be fab.u.lous.
We're planning to go to a few attractions (the Scooby Doo ride at Movie World is pretty much at the top of the list) and the kids are desperate to see a crocodile and a koala. Less keen on snakes. Other than that we'll be playing by the pool (and hopefully sneaking in some reading).
But sight-seeing aside, the thing I'm looking forward to most is spending some time - an extended family all together, generating some awesome memories for ourselves and the kids. Already the little cousins are working out who's going to sit next to whom on the plane, they're emailing each other every day (we live in different towns) and talking about what mischief they're going to get up to on the holiday. I love watching the anticipation build - it's so much a part of the fun along with planning what to pack, what to do and when and how and all that. We're all 'counting down the sleeps' now and I'll be getting the scrapbooks for the kids so they can stick in all their ticket butts, draw pictures, write words and scribble and stuff.

Today is World Alzheimers Day - something that has touched our family. It makes me all the more determined to live in the moment, to treasure the time we have together - and make amazing memories that we hope to hold onto for as long as we can.

Of course, while away, in this gorgeous Australian beach resort, I might find a few moments to do what a romance writer loves most - spying on people - and come back with a ton of fresh, fabulous ideas.

Anyway, while I'm away in October there'll be a new release on the shelves in the US - Tis The Season includes my novella The Millionaire's Mistletoe Mistress - set in an Edinburgh department store. You can find out more about it at my website. I'm also on Facebook and Twitter. Happy holidays!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Beauty School Drop-out - Jenny Gardiner

I long ago recognized that I am the ultimate beauty school dropout. And I’ve made peace with this. I do what little I must to get by, and don’t lose too much sleep over it. Although lost sleep could be at the root of my beauty faux pas…

I’ve long recognized that we all come to the table with our pluses and minuses. Back when our oldest child was ready for elementary school, it was the trend to hold back children so they had the advantage of that extra year of physical and mental maturation. At the time we thought it crazy that we actually had to contemplate holding our kindergarten-ready child back a year because everyone else was. Fact was, our son was ready for it. So despite his shortcomings—he was small for his age, he was young for his age—we decided that he needed the challenge of school and would be far too bored without it. Unfortunately, this meant that his peers would be driving well before him. And that they would most likely have the physical advantage over him in sports.

But I realized when my babysitter’s mom told me that her daughter was so upset because she was “too tall” for her age that we are what we are. When I was her age I thought I was too average. Others think they’re too short. No one is ever quite satisfied with the status quo. So you do what you can with what you’ve got, and hope for the best (and throw in the occasional beauty products as a talisman against too much fugliness).

Anyhow, while I was not so lucky in the fat ass department, I was more lucky in the complexion department. Which meant I’ve been fortunate to avoid “necessity make-up” over the years: make-up has often been optional for me, for better or worse. In fact, it wasn’t until my first book came out and I started having to show up in public places on a regular basis that I realized I had to do something about this. I was downright stunned to see what magic that Mac cosmetics associate (the one with about ten piercings in her face and bright pink eye shadow on her lids) worked on my face. I wasn’t used to anything on me, yet all of a sudden she’d presented me with a daily 20-minute face-presentation regimen. Damn. It was so simple back when all I had to do was wash my face in the morning.

I went through a month or two when I stuck to it. I had to, between the signings, the TV appearances, the speaking engagements. I just realized I looked pretty pathetic without it—-like the before picture. Which is I guess the whole point of those before and after pictures. I was the damned poster child for the before picture. I just hadn’t known it.
Over the summer, I got used to my slovenly routine. Less to do with the book. Kids were home, thus less running around. Pool days here and there. Make up? Hell no! Got to be where my biggest beauty aid was a good night’s sleep. Not that I ever actually get a good night’s sleep. Case in point, recently, at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m. our crazy dingo dog who’s deathly afraid of thunderstorms awoke to one seriously ominous storm. She actually hurdled the 4-foot tall gate in the mudroom (switching on the light in the process) in her haste to flee her loneliness and seek out her human counterparts. Meantime, the Labrador? My son says she’s like the prisoner who takes advantage of the power outage to launch a food fight. Yes, while the crazy one was freaking out over weather, the food-driven one was ravaging the trash can, littering my house with very messy garbage. Needless to say, I didn’t get back to sleep last night.

I'm convinced I can ditch the mascara if only, if only I could get some more sleep. Just a little here, a little there. Avoiding make-up as much as possible. Maybe throw in yoga for peace of mind. And happiness, because nothing makes you look as good as a burden-free face with a warming smile.

So what’s your beauty secret?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Sanctuary - Carrie Weaver

One of the great things about being an author is that I get to build worlds. To a control freak, this is pretty heady stuff, let me tell you!
Contemporary authors don’t usually do as intensive world-building as, say, paranormal or sci-fi authors. But we still get to share in the fun.

When I wrote Once A Ranger, I had recently returned from a weekend retreat feeling refreshed, revitalized and more focused on the important things in life.
I have adored Kat Monroe since the first time she made a smart @ss comment as a secondary character in Welcome Home, Daddy. I dearly wanted Kat to have her own happily-ever-after, but I knew she needed to change her pattern of choosing loser boyfriends first. In order to do so, she needed time away from her regular routine. She needed a retreat of her own. Except Kat’s needed to be in more of a resort-like atmosphere. So the Phoenix Rising Resort was born.

The cool part about the process was that I was able to custom build a resort especially for Kat, one that coincidentally has attributes I would enjoy. It’s also located near a fictitious Arizona town loosely-based on Jerome, where I enjoy visiting.
There are plenty of organized activities at Phoenix Rising for Kat to choose from, ranging from horseback riding to tennis. But in this small, family-owned property, guests are also encouraged to rest, hike and gain perspective. There is a pool and topnotch gym on the grounds and one of the owners gives glassblowing lessons (he happens to be a world renowned glass artist). His wife is a master at coaxing people to mingle, whether they realized they wanted to or not.

You may wonder why glass-blowing? Right before I started the book, I researched hand blown glass as an alternative for an urn to hold my mother’s ashes – and yes, it can be done. I watched a local artist, Adam Frus, demonstrate his craft. It was an amazing process. This was also about the time the Dale Chihuly exhibit was held at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens. So of course my fictional world-building included this new interest of mine. Turns out, retired Texas Ranger Tony Perez was also intrigued by glass-blowing. Too bad he’s so busy trying to keep Kat from falling for a con man.
But I digress. I was able to create my own personal sanctuary for Kat, where she could reassess, reenergize and possibly turn over a new leaf where men were concerned.
I’d love to hear what you would include in your sanctuary. This is your world, let your imagination run wild. Let’s try to keep it somewhat clean, though, lol.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Read One, Knit Too - Lisa Dale

Hi all!

Since I'm a writer, it's probably no surprise to you that I've got a lot of creative energy. Too much, in fact. I'm always wondering "what if?" And that can make it hard to relax sometimes.

When I watch movies or TV shows, I tend to get very twitchy--the urge to be busy and to create makes me antsy for whatever I'm watching to be over.

But then... I discovered knitting.

I admit it: I didn't want to learn how to knit at first. I'm not terribly handy around the house with things like cooking and crafts, so I figured that knitting was a no-go. But I had an aunt who knew me well enough to sit me down one day and say, "you're not getting out of this chair until you can knit." And of course, she was right. :-) Now, I knit all the time.

The parallels between knitting and writing are huge--focus, creativity, imagination, and an end result that you can see (and share with others). So I thought it might be fun to post some of my recent knitting projects here!

Above is a scarf that I made to look like salad--why not?--to give to my sister for her birthday. I decorated it with fake tomatoes and onions and carrots, then added a salad fork and voila! I can't take credit for the idea, though. It came from a knitter on Ravelry. But it was fun making it!

Here it is from the front:

And here's a project I'm not quite done with yet because it needs a face:

And here is my first attempt at a sweater!

At the moment, I'm working on a scarf for my mom and also a pair of baby booties (which take all of five seconds to knit).

But since I have a book due at the end of the year, I'm probably going to be cutting back on knitting soon.

Shout out to readers: How about you? Along with reading, do you knit or crochet?

Best wishes,

Lisa Dale

PS - Remember to drop by my blog,, to join the conversation and enter to win fun prizes. See you there!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Auditioning Animals : : Anne McAllister

I’m a good way through writing a book at the moment.  I know where I’m going.  I know how to get there.  But I’ve just discovered that something is missing.

Or someone.

No, fortunatelymitt not the hero.  But I’ve discovered that the heroine needs a sidekick. Or two.  She lives alone – in the caretaker’s cottage of her mother’s house.  And when her mother and the younger family members are there, she has lots of people around to talk to.

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately for the hero – none of them are there at the moment. My heroine is alone. 

But in this book at least, it’s not good for the heroine to be alone. She needs to have a strong connection to someone -- besides the hero.  Not a girlfriend. Not a neighbor (there aren’t any).  Someone she can talk to. Someone she can care about. Someone she loves and shares things with.

She needs a four-footed family member.  So I’m auditioning – animals.sidupsidedown

This is not a major role (Sid, are you listening? Kate Walker’s cat, who has had several supporting roles in my books, has recently been angling for a bigger part. I’m afraid, Sid, that this is not the book).  But it is a pivotal role. 

While my four-footed family member is important to the heroine, he – or she – is going to be even more important to the hero.  My hero is a loner.  He has no baggage at all.  Doesn’t want any. Doesn’t want any ties. 

Or so he thinks.  Of course the heroine will undermine that resolution. But the four-footed family member will have a part in that, too.

rabbit But who is this important character?  That’s where you come in.  I have borrowed and stolen almost all the animals I know – or have ever owned.  And I could, of course, do a variation on one or two of them. No doubt I will.

But I’m open to suggestion. In fact I’m begging for them.  Do you have a favorite pet you can share with me?  Antics?  Ideas?  Species?  Preferably not ones t hat my heroine will have to catch mice or crickets to feed.  I’m sort of squeamish that way and I’m afraid she will be, too.

Someone suggested a ginger-colored Maine Coon cat – in a very small role, a walk-on, in fact, so he doesn’t get too big a head. (Thank you, Sid. I’ll consider that).  And another particularly princessy sort of cat – a floozie of a feline, really, is lobbying as well (yes, Flora, I hear you). ginger maine coon

But before I cave in to the importuning of Kate Walker cats (and cats-to-be), I’d appreciate some other ideas.

No, dear editor, I promise: no menageries. Been there, done that (see Savas’ Defiant Mistress).  But animals make people more human.  And they always bring out the best in a hero.

Got a favorite furry friend you’d like to suggest?  I’m looking to audtion!

thevirginsproposition_us In the meantime, for those of you who have time to read (not me, I’m under deadline), if you are in the mood for royalty, please check out my latest Presents The Virgin’s Proposition, which is out now in the States.

If you are in the UK, please watch for Hired By Her Husband, a Mills & Boon Modern, coming in October. No royalty at all in this one, but George Savas is a very sexy physicist and, literally, a wounded hero. Most importantfor his emotional well-being, he has a dog – my own dear Gunnar.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Seeing what a slush pile is like by Michelle Styles

Slush pile. Almost every author is there in the early stages of her career. Many myths are told about the slush pile but few outsiders ever get the chance to see it. However, Harlequin Mills & Boon is doing just that with its current competition -- New Voices.
One unpublished and unagented author of the  entries will eventually see her book published. Currently the entries at 263 and counting. The top ten finalists will be chosen by a panel of experts but every entry is on view to the public.  The reason for the competition is to highlight the New Look that the  M&B covers have and to demonstrate that Harlequin is ALWAYS looking to find new authors. Over the years, they have found that authors who started out as readers tend to be particularly successful.
This is your chance to pit your wits against the experts and to read the slush pile for this competition.
Which ten do you think should be chosen? You can make a list and see if you are right when the finalists are announced on 27 September. You can also rate the various entries and leave constructive comments. In other words, you can put your editor's hat on and see if you have an editor's eye.
One thing that has struck me is the diversity of entries and how some entries are in the wrong categories.
For example, Historical doesn't publish time slip or novels with paranormal elements. Paranormal does publish books with historical elements. Some entries in Warm and Cosy read like maybe they ought to be elsewhere.
 And there are some entries that clearly fall between two stools. Are they warm and cosy and aimed at the heart and family lines like Cherish or are they contemporary romance and therefore aimed at the new Riva line (this is the fun & flirty line which starts in January and is made up of Modern Heat  and those fun & flirty Romance authors like Liz Fielding, Jessica Hart and Nicola Marsh), Modern or Medical. And  what about the Passion lines such as Blaze and Desire?  Some of the contemporary romance entries could easily fit these lines.
So while the writing may be excellent, do the stories fit the lines? Can you tell which lines the authors have in mind or have they written and hoped? HMB publishes series romance which means the stories do have to fit one of the lines. Each line is a separate and distinct entity.
Sometimes, the writer's voice is excellent but the plot doesn't hold you as much as you hoped.
Then there is the short blurb. This would be the middle paragraph of the cover letter. Every entry has one and it is apparent that some authors have a better grasp of what is required. However, the grasping of what is required does not necessarily have any bearing on the actual quality of the writing.
All in all from my point of view, the New Voices Competition is an excellent insight into what an editor experiences when she picks up her slush pile. She has no control over what is there. She might recognise a name or two but what she is looking for is something that fits one of the lines and has an enthralling story that reaches out and grabs her from the first page.
There are many fantastic entries, a few that take your breath away and some that could do with a bit of work. More arriving each day. The competition closes on 22 September.
 10 will be chosen to go forward in the next part of the competition. But everyone who takes part will have a chance to learn and submit the traditional route -- ie the first three chapters, plus a one - two page synopsis for those lines edited out of London. And hopefully some of the comments, and seeing the mistakes that others make will enable authors to improve the quality of their eventual submission.
So even if you are not actually entering, I would urge everyone to take some time and read some of the first chapters. It is highly addictive and I do not envy the panel of experts who have to make the first cut! But then I'm an author and not an editor. But I can't wait to see who is chosen!

Michelle Styles writes Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical. Her next release in the UK is The Viking's Captive Princess (Dec 10) and A Question of Impropriety in NA market (Dec 10) There will also be a free online read on eharlequin starting on 15 November to celebrate the publication of A Question of Impropriety. You can read more about her books on her website.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Being a little squirrelly.... - Donna Alward

I get a little squirrelly in September.  No, not nuts, though some might debate that.  And the online dictionary does say it means "eccentric" or "flighty" (I had to look it up, as the more I looked at the word the odder it appeared).

But squirrelly in the way that squirrels put by for the winter.  They hoard.  They prepare.  Like that.

Every year I say it - I love autumn.  I love the smell and the mild days and cool nights and the colours and how it feels like back to school. I love being back in a regular routine and feeling settled.  Fall also means I have this weird urge to organize.  To freeze things. To bake. To knit or sew or something.  It brings out the nurturing side of me like nobody's business.

So this fall you'll likely find me working at my desk as something simmers in the crock pot, maybe with a pumpkin bread in the oven or muffins made with the berries I've frozen cooling on a rack. You'll probably find me in the evenings reading a book by the fireplace or working on my latest knitting project watching a dvd. At some point I'll organize the basement. Start making Christmas lists. And I'll love every minute of it.

I might even be ultra-efficient and combine a few tasks - like knitting gift bags to put Christmas presents in.  I love them.  They last and last and last and you can put really cute holiday ribbons in for the ties.  I bought holiday sparkle yarn last year at 50% off just for this purpose!

So in keeping with that, here's a super easy pattern for a Bottle Bag:

Using 5.5 mm or US 9 needles (I like a tighter stitch so I use 5 mm) cast on 55 stitches.

Knit 5 rows garter stitch

Eyelet row: K3, yfwd, K2tog. Repeat to last stitch, K1.

Beginning with a purl row, knit 13 inches in stocking stitch, ending with a purl row.

To work the bottom of the bag, cast off 42 stitches, knit to end of row (13 stitches).

Continue in stocking stitch for 3 inches, ending with a purl row and cast off knitwise.

To finish: sew the side seam, then sew base to the sides of bag.  Weave ribbon or cord through the eyelet row to close. Ta da!

Oh yeah - and the other thing I'm doing this fall? Celebrating some new releases.  Like Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle that is out in October in the UK from Mills and Boon (and coming to the US in February). Click on that link and you can read a first chapter!

Are you as crazy about fall as I am?  What activities do you like to do in the autumn?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Falling in Love - Christina Hollis

Falling in love is like being picked up by a tornado. One minute it’s business as usual. Next minute, you’re thrown into confusion. Unlike the perfect Martini, you get shaken and stirred at the same time.
I like to start my stories with a bang. The opening of a novel should take you out of the everyday to a place where anything might happen. In my next release for Harlequin Mills and Boon, The Italian’s Blushing Gardener, Kira is almost literally swept away by a whirlwind. She thinks her perfect world is going to be wrecked by the empire building of the businessman next door. The Italian’s Blushing Gardener begins when Stefano’s helicopter drops in unannounced. When Kira goes to challenge him, he mistakes her for the agent who was due to meet him for the property viewing...

“Turning her head, she strained to hear any sounds of life. Only the quiet rustle of air through pine trees and the constant sniper fire of genista seeds disturbed the peace. Then as she listened, she heard something that might have been footsteps. It was only one tiny sound...she looked around, but there was no one.

Then two strong hands slipped around her waist, and in one smooth movement she was drawn into an inescapable embrace.

‘We meet at last, Miss Barrett!’ A deep, delicious Italian voice purred in perfect English. ‘I have been searching for you. I felt sure you would be waiting for me at Bella Terra’s front door?’

His teasing words reverberated into the curve of Kira’s neck. She froze, shrinking from the whisper of warm breath against her skin. The movement only drew her closer to his hard, masculine body. He was holding her so perfectly, she could barely breathe.

‘When we spoke on the phone you said you were looking forward to meeting me. Remind me- exactly where did you want to have dinner tonight?’ There was a soft, low chuckle in his voice as he murmured, pulling her around to ravish her with a kiss.

Before he could make contact, Kira burst from his grasp with reflexes that astonished them both.

‘I’m not Amanda Barrett, and I’m not very happy!’ She confronted him, breathing fast. ‘Please keep your hands to yourself!’

The visitor recoiled instantly, but he was far too professional to give his horror free rein. Instead, his features became a mask. With a slow, careful dip of his head, he addressed her gravely. ‘Scusi, Signora.’”

Copyright Harlequin Mills and Boon Limited, 2010

Determined to fight him every inch of the way, Kira finds herself torn between her fears and her feelings. Meanwhile, Stefano is shaken out of his complacency. He wants an escape from the hectic world of business. He doesn’t expect trouble from his only neighbour - but that’s exactly what he gets!

Of all the novels you have read, which has the best opening - one that really draws you into the story?

The Italian’s Blushing Gardener is released in the UK in November, and in North America in the new year. In the meantime, it’s available for pre-order from, and you can drop by my website to find out how you can win a signed copy.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


by Anna Campbell

I've just got home from a week away in Brisbane, my local big smoke, a couple of hours away via public transport.

I had to go down for the Brisbane Writers Festival where I ran a workshop on Writing a Romance that Sells with my friend Christine Wells (sold out which was nice). I also did a signing on Wednesday night at one of the big bookshops in town. In between, I got to catch up with my oldest friend and celebrate my birthday that had occurred the previous week when I'd been head down to meet a deadline on my latest story.

So as a belated birthday celebration, my friend and I went to the Gallery of Modern Art on Brisbane's Southbank to see the Valentino Retrospective. GOMA is the only Australian venue for this marvellous exhibition of high fashion so I felt very lucky that I was in town to see it and that it was in town to be seen!

I hope you enjoy the pictures of these incredibly glamorous gowns. It was interesting - he worked with a limited palette of colors. Lots of red (the famous 'Valentino' red), pink, black and variations of white. In the 60s, he also used a lot of animal prints - very swinging 60s indeed! There was one ice-blue dress - it turned out that it belongs to the collection his successors put together after his retirement in 2008. It was almost shocking to see the blue once my eyes had adjusted to the other colors!

There were some famous dresses in the collection. Jackie Kennedy's dress for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis in 1968. A surprisingly simple cream number cut above the knee, high-necked with long, gathered sleeves. There was the extremely elegant black and white dress Julia Roberts wore to the Oscars when she won her best actress award for Erin Brockovich. There was a luscious creamy dress that Cate Blanchett wore when she collected her Oscar for The Aviator.

Most of the clothes were what I'd classify as evening wear. Not a lot of stuff you could imagine slipping down to the local supermarket in! Some of the 60s designs were accounted day wear, but I suspect that would only be if you were Verushka or Twiggy or Jean Shrimpton!

Actually speaking of Twiggy, I think you needed a particular sort of figure to carry these dresses off with any aplomb. A VERY long waist - a lot of them featured beautiful ruching around the waist so someone short and short-waisted like me would have looked a little like a bag tied in the middle with string if I'd worn them! You'd need to be tall and not terrifically heavy up top. In fact, heavy anywhere probably wasn't going to be suitable!

All the mannequins they displayed the clothes on had outlandishly long necks. This made sense when I saw some of the archive films that were part of the show - the models looked rather like high-strung thoroughbreds with long, LOOOONG legs and swan-like necks on which perched small, neat heads. It's a very distinctive look and it certainly suits the lovely clothes!

It was wonderful being able to get really close to the dresses and see the level of detail that went into constructing these beautiful shapes. Gussets and darts and bias cuts galore, as you can imagine. The fabrics were also luxurious beyond the dreams of mortal women. I kept saying to my friend, "Wouldn't you feel like a princess in that?" For example, look at this beautiful rose pink fantasy of a gown on the left. Cinderella would have been happy wearing that!

Something I love about the dresses is also apparent in these pictures. Many of them are extremely feminine and romantic. More of the princess look! There's a lot of flower detailing in the gowns - look at that spectacular red dress with the coquelicot poppy train. Isn't that gorgeous? But the florals and the floaty fabrics in many of the designs - tulles and organzas and silk voiles - make the dresses themselves seem like flowers. Definitely hothouse blooms!

As I think you can tell, I had a wonderful time living in this glamorous world for a few hours. It actually made me think of the Regency where women from the highest echelons of society would commission gowns of this caliber for the London Season. The level of craftsmanship on display certainly harked back to an earlier age.

So do you have a famous glam designer? Do you have memories of a dress that appeared at an awards ceremony that you either hated or loved (Bjork's swan outfit at the Oscars a few years ago springs to mind!)? Do you think fashion belongs in an art gallery? Let's talk the girly stuff!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Romantic Vegas Weddings -- Michelle Monkou

My October release - The Millionaire's Ultimate Catch - is all about a millionaire hero seeking the heart of a professional basketball heroine. She's a tough cookie. He's got his hands full as he works for her attention and ultimately her love.

This past week I saw the fruition of that romantic courtship in Las Vegas, Nevada. Who knew that the end of August and early September was "let's get married in Vegas" time. Yet, with the backdrop of hotel settings like the Venetian or Palazzo Italian-themed hotels, you can understand why the location was chosen.

I also saw the guys who were there for the bachelor parties - pre-alcohol laden which then turned into blitz-out-of-their-minds ugly. I wondered what was the underlying reason to have to get blindly drunk right before the marriage.

The few bridal showers I came across usually consisted of a table of young women giggling, squealing, and toasting the bride, their friendship, and any other handly reason. Many had bridal veils pinned to their hair to highlight the bride-in-waiting. I also raised my glass in honor as their infectious delight carried over to nearby tables.

While walking through the Bellagio Hotel, a bride was making her way up a winding staircase. Everyone stopped and talked in hushed tones. Strangers with their cameras ready formed a semi-circle at the head of the stairs for the bride's entrance. I wondered what they would do with the footage of a stranger's wedding. And yet, I also waited excited and hopeful for the new couple.

So, for all the couples who shared their vows in Vegas -- Congrats! May your lives be filled with love and sweet romantic realities.
Michelle Monkou
The Ultimate Millionaire's Catch
Available October; pre-order now