Thursday, January 30, 2014

Abby Green: Giving up the day job

2014 will really be the first year in my writing career when I think I can safely say that I’ll have given up my ‘day job’ for good. Changing to writing full – time is an amazing experience that brings with it a whole new set of challenges. Instead of trying to fit your writing around your ‘work’, you’ve got long swathes of time in which to just…WRITE! And somehow, that can almost be as daunting as trying to fit it in.

But that’s a whole other blog. For this blog I wanted to talk a little about the day job I had for the last twenty – one years, because it was a pretty cool job, if I do say so myself ;).

When I was eighteen years old I was due to go off to University in England, to study Social Anthropology. I had watched the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ and fancied myself as a crusading Dian Fossey and upon investigating how I could do this, I found out that Social Anthropolgy would lead me in the right direction. Zoology would have done too, but that was altogether far too scientific and hard.

But, as things worked out, it was decided by my mother and I that I really needed to make some money, so I deferred taking up my place for a year.

During that year I was mainly waitressing in a busy Dublin restaurant but thanks to a woman I knew who had worked in the film business in LA, I randomly ended up almost working on a short film. The job didn’t work out but my interest was piqued and I got into the Film and TV union and started applying for work as a Trainee Assistant Director (lowest rung of a film; runner; PA).

(Just to clarify here -  I had had no previous interest in working on films at all, it had never even entered my head, even though I was a cinephile and devoured all movies.)

To my surprise over the next few months I got work on some short films – working for free. The people were lovely and the work was unlike anything I’d ever done before. But for some reason, it really suited me and I really suited it. My very first job was helping in the wardrobe department of a short film that was shot over a series of five nights in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Night – shoots! I thought this was the most exciting thing in the world!
          After that I started picking up more and more work, as the film business in Ireland was relatively small. It was easy to build up some contacts and go from job to job.

My first proper paid job was as Extras Co-ordinator on a film called ‘An Awfully Big Adventure’ starring Hugh Grant – just after he had done ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral.’ I hadn’t much a clue of what I was doing and I was terrified most of the time, but it was exhilarating. 

I was also learning how to drive my first car, a mini cooper. Not something I would recommend – learning on the job!

By the time that year was up, and I was due to take up my deferred place in University, I was working on a pretty major film called…’Braveheart’. I angsted over what to do but in all honesty Social Anthropology was not even an option anymore. I was earning decent money and going to work with an international crew of about two hundred people every day and thousands of extras.

I guess what it did was show me that the path of studying in order to go and watch some Gorillas in the mist, wasn’t really what I wanted to do.

So within a year of gaining and deferrring a University place, my life had changed completely and I was working in a career that had never even entered my head as a possibility.

I subsequently spent the next two decades working on a variety of different films, TV shows and commercials. With a few pop videos thrown in. As well as working here in Ireland, I got to work in Slovakia (Behind Enemy Lines), Namibia (Flight of the Phoenix) and Malaysia (Anna and the King). Along the way I made a core group of best friends who are like my family.

I will miss my old job and the camaraderie of working in that intensely intimate environment with a hundred or so other people for weeks on end. We worked hard, but we played hard too, and had the best of times.

The last film I worked on was this time last year. The early morning starts, long hours, three layers of wet weather clothes and thermals has definitely lost the exciting mystique it once had. Especially now I know that I have an alternative; sitting at home in my PJ’s creating romantic fantasies!

I don’t regret not taking up that University place, and if anything, working freelance prepared me for the vagaries of trying and failing to get published before actually getting ‘The Call’.

My latest book is out now – When Falcone’s World Stops Turning. It’s the first part in a new trilogy that features three half – brothers. The third book in the trilogy ‘When Da Silva Breaks the Rules’ actually centers around a film being made on the hero’s estate, so I finally got a chance to write what I know!

Happy reading everyone J.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shona Husk: Change isn’t easy

Temptation in a Bottle is very much a story of shaking things up and stepping out of the comfort zone. I wrote the first draft of this story about 2 years ago and since then it has sat around waiting for attention. Mid 2013 I decided to do something about it, it was the perfect story for me to self-publish. Boyfriend in a Bottle set in the same world is one of my best selling novellas and I had previously re-released a novella that I had got the rights back to so I knew what I was doing (mostly). There is something just a little scary about taking the jump without the safety net of the publisher and yet also liberating as success or failure is mine alone.

The second half of 2013 was also when I decided to make the jump from part-time civil designer/part time author to full time author.

While lots of writers dream of making the transition, and I realize that I am very fortunate to have been able to do it, it wasn’t without struggle both internal and external.

The usual worries about no fixed income were there (fortunately I have a hubby who has always supported my writing and backed my decision to write full time), but what I didn’t expect were the doubts that came from me. The unhelpful what ifs. What if I can’t do it and I never sell another a book? What if it’s the wrong thing to do?

As I was preparing Temptation in a Bottle for publication I found that the characters were experiencing these same doubts even though they needed change in their lives.

Gage the genie wants to be free of his bottle, but is he willing to risk death? He wants to experience life as a real man—but what if that’s not what he gets?

Sasha is leaving the city for a country town and even though she feels the need to get away she still wonders if she is running away or running to something.

What I learned is that change is hard, even if it’s a change that you desperately want to happen. But taking that first step and the one after it puts you on the path to breaking free.

With January almost over already I hope people are finding the strength to keep their resolutions and change whatever it is in their life they want to change. Hopefully you can already look back and see how far you have come.

Two months ago I was trying to juggle too many things…today I feel better for having dropped the day job ball. Was it the right choice? We’ll see.

Three time ARRA finalist Shona Husk lives in Western Australia at the edge of the Indian Ocean. Blessed with a lively imagination she spent most of her childhood making up stories. As an adult she discovered romance novels and hasn’t looked back. Drawing on history and myth, she writes about heroes who are armed and dangerous but have a heart of gold—sometimes literally.
With stories ranging from sensual to scorching, she is published with Carina Press, Ellora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing and Sourcebooks. You can find out more at 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dani Collins: Kicking It Old School

I began reading Harlequin Presents in high school. Doctored headshot aside, that was not a mere decade ago. More like three. Back then, with my only income from the local fast-food chain, I bought the six-for-a-dollar Harlequin Presents from the used book store which were long off the shelves.

Later I paid full price, when I was home nursing babies, but that was still more than fifteen years ago. Then life got busy. Really busy. Kids in school and sports. We moved, got new jobs, life intruded with some butt-kicking that knocked us for a loop. I kept writing, it was my salvation, but I didn’t make much time to read.

Thus, a good decade passed when I picked up the odd new author, but honestly, I mostly gravitated to my tried and true favorites. Half the time I went to my keeper shelf and reread those. Our local bookstore closed and they were pretty small anyway, so it wasn’t like I could browse a huge selection and make new discoveries.

With that lack of up-and-comer influences, I guess it’s not surprising that I’ve heard my voice described as ‘old-school Presents’ by more than a few sources. I’m still not sure what it means. Is it a compliment or a critique?

I’m not trying to sound like my favorite authors, but I am trying to create the same experience that I loved: being swept away with emotion and drama and passion. I’m sure that’s what all romance authors are trying to do, so I don’t think that makes me ‘old-school.’

However, I have seen discussions lately on which four letter words are allowed in Presents. To my mind, there was always a rule that the hero might say Damn and the odd, Oh God, might slip in, but crap was pushing it and I was actually taken aback in at the tender age of seventeen when Penny Jordan’s hero said the S-h-i cuppa-tea word. I grew up in the age of shaft and manhood. Ladyparts were alluded to has ‘his intimate caress’ and that’s about it.

I have to admit I still write by a lot of those rules, despite how silly the euphemisms can get. It’s romance. The whole point is to put some airbrush and gloss on the courtship experience. If you prefer your love scenes to be more coarse and graphic, the erotic authors in the next aisle are more than happy to provide. (Footnote: I’ve written those too.)

Speaking of coarse, back in the day, the Presents hero and heroine rarely visited or came from the colonies. Europe only please, preferably Greece, Italy or Spain.

It’s important to remember that romance was just starting to branch out in those days. Once Silhouette arrived, there was loads of room for different types of stories, but the Presents promise was glitz and sophistication. The Janet Dailey American stories were a pleasant diversion, but the Aussie in the outback had to be the station owner and that hero and heroine who took a campervan into the Canadian Rockies seemed really out of place to me. 

Therefore, I hummed and hawed quite a bit about sending my H/h to California in A Debt Paid In Passion. I’m okay with my characters visiting New York City, even having penthouses and mansions there, but I guess I am old-school for being worried the West Coast might not fly with my editor, never mind my readers.

It should be noted that I gave them a red carpet event as a reason for going, not that I knew the book would come out in Awards Season when I wrote it. That’s just good luck. It should also be noted that I take them to Sydney where Raoul does not own a station. (spoiler alert!)

So I like to think I’m not completely mired in old-school rules, even if the story does cover just about every trope imaginable: Boss/PA, one-time affair, revenge, secret baby, marriage of convenience. He’s not a forty to her twenty-two years and she’s not a virgin. I’m practically a rebel!

What’s your experience? Do you see a different tone in modern Presents authors and stories versus old favorites? When did you first find Presents and what do you love about reading them?

A Debt Paid In Passion
A beautiful thief…?  
Raoul Zesiger has everything a man could want—including Sirena Abbott, the perfect PA who keeps his life in order. Or so it seems, until their professional relationship gives way to one hot, impassioned night…and then he has her arrested for embezzlement! 
She may have escaped a prison sentence, but Sirena knows she'll be shackled to Zesiger by more than just the past. With Raoul determined to recover the debt she owes him, Sirena is torn between guilt and an impossible attraction. But what will happen when Raoul uncovers the truth behind her theft?


Look at me, Raoul Zesiger willed Sirena Abbott. 

He had to lean back in his chair to see her past the three men between them.  He should have been looking at the judge, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Sirena. 

She sat very still, face forward, her profile somber.  Her absurdly long, gypsy lashes had stayed down-swept as his lawyer had risen to speak.  She didn’t even flick a glance his direction when her own lawyer stood to plead that jail time was counter-productive since she needed to work to pay back the stolen funds.

Raoul’s lawyers had warned him this wouldn’t result in incarceration, but Raoul had pressed hard for it.  He would see this treacherously innocent-looking woman, with her mouth pouted in grave tension and her thick brunette locks pulled into a deceptively respectful knot, go to jail for betraying him.  For stealing. 

His stepfather had been a thief.  He had never expected to be taken advantage of again, especially by his reliable PA, a woman he’d come to see as someone he could trust to be there, always, but she had dipped her fingers into his personal account. 

Then she had tried to manipulate him into going easy by being easy. 

He didn’t want the flash of memory to strike.  His ears were waiting for the judge to state that this would progress to a sentence, but his body prickled with heat as he recalled the feel of those plump lips softening under his.  Her breasts, a lush handful, had smelled of summer.  Her nipples were sun-warmed berries against his tongue, succulent and sweet.  The heart-shaped backside he’d watched too often as it retreated from his office had been both taut and smooth as he had lifted her skirt and peeled lace down.  Thighs like powdered sugar, an enticing musky perfume between that pulled him to hard attention as he remembered how tight—almost virginal—she’d been.  But so hot and welcoming. 

Because she’d known her criminal act was about to come to light.

His gut clenched in a mixture of fury and unparalleled carnal hunger.  For two years he’d managed to keep his desire contained, but now that he’d had her, all he could think about was having her again.  He hated her for having such power over him.  He could swear under oath that he’d never hurt a woman, but he wanted to crush Sirena Abbott.  Eradicate her.  Destroy her.

The clap of a gavel snapped him back to the courtroom.  It was empty save for the five of them behind two tables, both facing the judge.  His lawyer gave Raoul a resigned that’s-how-it-goes tilt of his head and Raoul realized with sick disgust that the decision had gone in Sirena’s favor.

At the other table, partly obscured by her lawyer, Sirena’s spine softened in relief.  Her wide eyes lifted to the heavens, shining with gratitude.  Her lawyer thanked the judge and set a hand under Sirena’s elbow to help her rise, leaning in to say something to her.
Raoul felt a clench of possessiveness as he watched the solicitous middle-aged lawyer hover over her.  He told himself it was anger, nothing else.  He loathed being a victim again.  She shouldn’t get away with a repayment plan of six hundred pounds a month. 

That wasn’t reparation.  That was a joke. 

Why wouldn’t she look at him?  It was the least she could do: look him in the eye and acknowledge they both knew she was getting away with a crime.  But she murmured something to her lawyer and left the man packing his briefcase as she circled to the aisle.  Her sexy curves were downplayed by one of her sleek jackets and pencil skirts, but she was still alluring as hell.  Her step slowed as she came to the gate into the gallery.

Look at me, Raoul silently commanded again, holding his breath as she hesitated, sensing she was about to swing her gaze to his. 

Her lips drained of color and her hand trembled where she outstretched it, trying to find the gate.  She stared straight ahead, eyes blinking and blinking—

“She’s fainting!”  He shoved past his two lawyers and toppled chairs to reach her even as her own lawyer turned and reacted.  They caught her together. 

Raoul hated the man anew for touching her as they both eased her to the floor.  She was dead weight.  He had to catch her head as it lolled.  She hadn’t been this insubstantial the last time he’d held her.  She hadn’t been fragile.

Raoul barked for first aid. 

Someone appeared with oxygen in blessedly short time.  He let himself be pushed back a half-step, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the way Sirena’s cheeks had gone hollow, her skin gray.  Everything in him, breath, blood, thought, ground to a halt as he waited for a new verdict: that she would be okay. 

It was his father all over again.  The lack of response, the wild panic rising in him as he fought against helplessness and brutal reality.  Was she breathing?  She couldn’t be dead.  Open your eyes, Sirena. 

Distantly he heard the attendant asking after pre-existing conditions and Raoul racked his brain.  She wasn’t diabetic; had never taken medication that he’d seen.  He reached for the phone he’d turned off while court was in session, intent on accessing her personnel file when he heard her lawyer answer in a low murmur.

“She’s pregnant.”

The words burst like shattered glass in his ears.

After a brilliant debut in the UK with No Longer Forbidden, a Mills & Boon Modern Book Of The Month in January 2013, Dani Collins saw her first Harlequin Presents, Proof Of Their Sin, nominated as a Reviewer’s Choice by Romantic Times Book Reviews. When her Fantasy Romance, The Healer, was named an Epic eBook Award Finalist it was icing, but very validating after two decades writing and submitting before making her First Sale. Dani’s settings span from glitzy Greek islands to imaginary medieval worlds, but she always delivers alpha heroes squaring off with spirited heroines over complex problems with passion and humor.
Stay current with Dani’s new releases by joining her newsletter or visiting her here:

Monday, January 27, 2014

ML Brennan: Making the supernatural relatable

Deciding to write a book about vampires, kitsune, elves, and witches was the easy part. I love reading old fairy tales and historical critiques about what myths suggest about the culture they are formed from. Taking these supernatural creatures and altering them in a way that I thought was fun and interesting, then setting them up in an urban fantasy setting in Rhode Island? Easy day as a writer.

What’s more challenging is the next step as a writer, and that’s the part where the character must on some level be relatable to the reader. There’s nothing wrong with reading fantasy for pure escapism – spending an hour with a character who is enormously attractive, wealthy, strong, asskicking, and perfect in all ways. But as an author, I just don’t have much interest in writing those kinds of characters, because I feel like they don’t move beyond escapism and wish-fulfillment. I’ve read plenty of books with those kinds of protagonists – and enjoyed the hell out of a great number of them. But as a writer I’m going to have to really live in and inhabit this character that I’m writing for months, and I also want my readers to become attached to the character as well.

What drives attachment to a character? Shared experience, shared humanity, a sense that the reader can relate to the character. As a writer, part of this boils down to the old “write what you know” adage. But that adage can be taken much too literally. After all, I’m not a vampire. I’m not male. Yet my protagonist is both (fun fact: I get so many questions about “how could you write a male character” and none that ask “how could you write a vampire” – I wonder what that says when gender swapping was more shocking than species jumping), and I’m still saying “write what you know.”

Here’s how I can say that without experiencing cognitive dissonance. I know what it feels like to have your heart broken. I know what it feels like to be lonely. I know what it feels like to be afraid, or happy, or ambitious, or resentful, or have less money in my checking account than it costs to pay my rent. These are things that many other people know as well, and can relate to, which was why these were the things that I used to build my protagonist.

There are two topics of conversation that I think almost anyone past the age of eighteen can enjoyably get involved in. I call them The Crappy Jobs I’ve Had and The Shitty Places I’ve Lived. Think about it – haven’t almost all of us had that nightmare job, either when we were just scraping a few dollars together in high school or when we were struggling to make ends meet after college? And haven’t most of us also lived in at least one dive apartment where there were insect infestations, horrible landlords, and the sneaking suspicion that at least one of your neighbors was a drug dealer? Then once we’re on the other side of that, in steady work and in decent housing, don’t we love exchanging these stories? I can’t even say how many times I’ve heard the story of the house with the mold problem from one of my friends, but at least as many times as I’ve told him about the apartment with the upstairs neighbor whose cat’s urine rotted out the floorboards.

That’s why when I sat down to write my book, I made sure that my vampire protagonist was working at the kind of soul-sucking minimum-wage jobs that I suffered through when I first exited college with a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts. That also led directly to my protagonist’s living situation, which is a succession of terrible roommates in a crappy apartment. It made my protagonist have that edge of stress and desperation that made him relatable not only to me, but to my readers who also recognized that situation. He might be supernatural, with blood-related problems that most of us won’t face, but the day-to-day issues that he looks at strike a chord with me, and with readers. His girlfriend is cheating on him. He doesn’t get along with his family. He has less than twenty dollars in his wallet and a car that is falling apart. He faces these issue with as much humor and adaptiveness as he can muster, but that edge of fear remains.

To me, that felt natural in a way that a character with lots of money and a perfect life didn’t.

To win a free copy of my latest book, Iron Night, tell me about either your worst job or worst apartment in the comments! Two copies will be given out!

***The winners are Susan B. and Barbara E.!  Please email with your mailing address and full name!  Thank you.***

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jennifer Hayward: An Exquisite Challenge

This is my first time visiting The Tote Bag, so I wanted to say, first, thank you for having me!

When I sat down to write this blog post, I started to think about my current release, An Exquisite Challenge, and the road stories travel before you type those wonderful words ‘the end’. Or in this case, those not so wonderful words because I had fallen head over heels in love with these characters and didn’t want to let them go!

Sometimes when you write a book, lightening strikes and you nail it on the first try. You just know. Other times you have to work your way into it to find the magic—the point at which you know your story sings and you have two very special people on your hands. That their journey is going to take you on a true emotional roller coaster ride…

Right from the moment I finished my So You Think You Can Write-winning novel, The Divorce Party, I knew Lilly’s smart-mouthed sister, Alexandra, and the man she loves to hate, Riccardo’s sexy winemaker brother, Gabriele, would star in the following book. They were extreme opposites—oil and water—but oh when you put them together—were there fireworks!

So I had my characters and I adored them, but how was I going to make the most of the special dynamic they share?

I knew I wanted the story to dive into the glamorous wine-making world of Napa Valley where Gabe was forging a name for De Campo with groundbreaking new wines.  And so I started to think, what if Gabe is in the middle of the biggest launch of his career—the wine that will set the industry on fire? But he has a rival, a man out to destroy him and his name—and Alex, PR woman extraordinaire—is managing his rival’s equally critical launch.

How messy is that?

I was inspired. I sat down to write. I loved the book. Then my editor came back and said she wasn’t sure if the rivals element worked. Yes it was high-drama external conflict, but it didn’t help me get at the heart of my character’s internal conflicts. That emotion that was going to make this a powerful love story. It also didn’t put these two characters in a situation where they had no choice but to face their feelings for each other, to battle their inner demons and learn and grow.

She was right.

What if, my editor suggested, we flip the concept entirely and have Alex battling to secure the contract with Gabe to do his launch for him—the contract she needs to save her own fledgling business? Now we’ve upped the stakes for both of them, we’ve set them on an inescapable collision course with each other, and we have problems. Big conflict. The theme of this book is trust. Having Alex & Gabe work alongside each other meant they had to trust each other with their livelihood. The stakes don’t get much higher than that.

What emerged was a story that was so much more powerful, so much more emotional than what I’d originally created.

But most of all, I loved the dynamic Alex working for Gabe under his roof, added to this book. Their constant battles of will, the inescapable sexual tension between them, their desperate quest to convince themselves they don’t want each other when they so patently do.

The scene in the hot tub where Gabe finally decides to seduce Alex is one of my favourites. Here’s a taste.

He pressed his fingers into her arch and she yelped. ‘Relax,’ he murmured. ‘Out of curiosity, if you were to agree to one night, how would you like it, Lex? Hot and heavy or long and drawn out?’
Her insides seized. ‘I don’t think so, Gabe.’
‘We’re just talking,’ he drawled, eyes glittering. ‘Hypothetically, of course.’
She should have shut him down, but she couldn’t resist the challenge in those to-die-for eyes of his. And then there was that curiosity about him that was burning her up.
She gave him a thoughtful look. ‘I like both. But I think I’d start with long and drawn out.’
He nodded. ‘Good choice. It’s been a while, after all, hasn’t it?’
‘Excuse me?’ She tensed and pulled her foot away, but he held it firm.
‘When’s the last time you were on a date?’
She was not admitting it had been a while. He smiled. ‘Exactly like I thought. So theoretically, if I were to be the one to break your slump, I would move my hands up over your calf like this and work those muscles too, first this leg, then the other. Make sure you were loose, relaxed.’ She swallowed hard as his fingers kneaded the tight muscles of her right calf. Dear Lord that felt good. ‘Then,’ he continued, ‘when I was sure you were in the zone, I’d move over there, slowly, making sure you knew my full intentions. You’d give me that fight or flight look of yours. I’d wait until you bit your lip in that way you do when you want to be kissed, because you would want to be kissed. That would be my cue to give you one, and I would, but only a teasing, fleeting pressure. Just enough to generate heat. When you’d gotten into it, I might want to taste that bottom lip myself.’
She closed her eyes as he dug more firmly into her calf. ‘You with me?’ he murmured.
‘Yes.’ Her voice was low, thready, nothing like her.

Alex is in deep now! You’ll need to read the book to find out what happens. I can say, I still miss these two – a ton!

An Exquisite Challenge is on shelves now. Leave a comment to win a signed copy! 

***Jennifer's winner is Laurie G!  Please email with your full name and mailing address.  thanks!***

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Janice Maynard: January Is Not for Sissies!!

I have a confession to make.  January is my least favorite month of the year.  Except for including my husband’s birthday (on the 1st no less), January has little to recommend it in my eyes.

Perhaps you think I’m being harsh.  But all months can’t have the sweet sunshine of April or the piquant aromas and bright colors of October.  January is what I call the hibernation of the soul.  All the decorations have been taken down and packed away.  Dark comes early.  And some years (2014 anyone?) the temperatures plummet.

Before I changed careers, I was an elementary school teacher.  Back then January had a dollop of mystery and excitement.  Will we get a snow day, or won’t we???  I worked in a rural county, so it didn’t take much to call off school.  I lived and died by the Weather Channel.  J

Now that I’m self-employed, January is simply not that exciting.  The writing moves along like slow molasses.  Going out of the house is an obstacle course of coats and scarves and mittens to be layered and buttoned.

But there is one good thing about this month.  February is not far behind!  It’s the month of romance and love stories and Valentines from little boys with sweet smiles and bashful hearts.

Thankfully, I have plenty of books to keep me warm this January: favorites by Nora Roberts, Sarah Morgan, and Lori Foster, to mention a few.

I wish for each of you an early spring, lots of yummy romance heroes, and plenty of time to read!  (P.S. I have a brand new series kicking off in April, starting with A Not-So-Innocent Seduction.  I hope you’ll enjoy meeting the Kavanaghs of Silver Glen, North Carolina.)

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of A Not-So-Innocent Seduction!

God bless,
Janice Maynard

***Janice's winner is Alina P.  Please email with your mailing address and full name.  Thanks!***

Friday, January 24, 2014

Jessica Clare: Writing With A Partner

I have to admit, writing is a fun hobby. Getting to play in the worlds in my head endlessly and create stories for my characters to experience? Fabulous! But I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a control freak. I don’t like it when other people give me suggestions for how the story should go. I don’t like suggestions on character names or situations. I absolutely, positively do not share my first draft with anyone. In short, I’m a control freak.

At the same time, though, I’ve always been envious of the writing duo of Moira Rogers. Those ladies are good friends and they co-write everything. They bounce ideas back and forth and write together. And honestly? They make it seem like so much fun. Like it’s an endless party for just two. And darn it, I love writing. Would I love writing with a partner?

So I invited my friend Jen Frederick to write a book with me. It was an idea we both loved, but one I was afraid to tackle on my own, and one she didn’t have time to squeeze into her schedule. Writing it together would solve both problems: she could co-write the book with me and we’d have a full book at half the time, and I’d have someone who could push me to head to those darker corners that the plot required.

Learning to write together was an experience, though. I took the heroine’s narrative and Jen took the hero’s. That meant we had to plot ahead, and if I wrote a scene the way Jen didn’t like it, I had to go back and revisit it. Likewise, if Jen had a plot point that I hated, she had to go back and rewrite to make it work. I actually went back and rewrote three or four early scenes because Jen didn’t like our setting, and I thought about giving up on the project. The control freak part of me didn’t like having to change.

But the good thing about writing with your bestie is that…it’s your bestie! She’s not going to arbitrarily pick your book apart because she hates your writing. She genuinely wants what is best for the story. And once I let go of my control freak side, I realized she was right. Compromise was the name of the game when it came to writing together.

And so we wrote, and wrote, and wrote. And honestly? Writing with my friend was sheer joy. I loved waking up in the morning and seeing pages of story continuation in my mailbox. Her ideas on the story and her dialogue were so fantastic that it inspired me to work harder and do better with my own. We wrote the book in record time, and I love every single page of it.

We had so much fun, we’re doing it again, even! We’re currently drafting our second book together, and it’s just as enjoyable as the first. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jaye Wells: It Runs in the Family

I’m often asked how a nice girl like me ended up writing books about vampire assassins, junky wizards, and jaded cops. The short answer is that I was blessed with a vivid imagination. The long answer is a little more complicated.

It all started when I was three. My dad was a battalion chief for our town’s fire department. Since it was a smaller city, he was asked by the city to be on the murder squad—this was before the days of CSI. As part of this new role, he was required to become a police reservist. To do that, he had to go through the city’s police academy. When my father came home and told my mother that he’d be spending even less time at home than he already was, my mother looked him in the eye and said, “I’m going to become a cop, too.”

At the time, my mother was managing a bookstore. A lot of my early memories involved sitting in the kid’s section reading while mom worked, or having my kindergarten class have a special field trip to mom’s store. Obviously this was a huge influence on my life-long love affair with stories (also my grandparents owned a used book store in another state, where I spent a lot of summers).

My mother had never expressed an interest in public service. But for some reason, she decided to prove to herself and my father that she could become a kick-ass cop.

Which is exactly what she did. In addition to being a bookseller by day and a cop by night, she also entered and won sharp-shooting competitions. She quit those after she’d beaten all the women and the department wouldn’t let her compete against the men.

You want to know how I ended up who I am? That story. That’s where it started.

While Kate Prospero from my new Prospero’s War series isn’t directly based on my mother, she certainly provided lots of inspiration. Plus it was pretty cool being able to call my mother and ask her questions, like, “What’s it like to face down an armed perp?”

In case you’re wondering, my mom quite the reserves when I was five because by that point she was a single mom and the risks of remaining an unpaid cop outweighed the rewards.  Now she does office interiors and is a grandmother. But when I called her to say that I was going through our town’s citizen’s police academy as research for DIRTY MAGIC, she laughed. “You’re going to love it, honey. It’s in your blood.”

And you know what? She was totally right—as usual.


The Magical Enforcement Agency keeps dirty magic off the streets, but there's a new blend out there that's as deadly as it is elusive. When patrol cop Kate Prospero shoots the lead snitch in this crucial case, she's brought in to explain herself. But the more she learns about the investigation, the more she realizes she must secure a spot on the MEA task force.

Especially when she discovers that their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier - on the same day she swore she'd given up dirty magic for good. Kate Prospero's about to learn the hard way that crossing a wizard will always get you burned, and that when it comes to magic, you should never say never.

Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and speculative crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. For more about Jaye’s books, check out

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Michele Hauf: The Appeal of the Paranormal

Hey! Can I interest you in a vampire or a werewolf?  What about a faery?  Demons do it for you?  Or maybe you're wrinkling your nose at all those choices?  Don't worry.  I'm not here to judge.  I'm just going to explain why it appeals to me, as a writer.

Maybe.  It's hard to say exactly why I like some things.  Cats.  They just so independent and fluffy.  Chocolate.  Was born with it running through my veins.  Skulls on clothing.  I don't know, I just like 'em.  They're cute.  Vampires?  Depends on my mood.

If I'm not in the mood to write vampires, I can switch to a big furry werewolf, or maybe a fluttery faery.  But I rarely write 'normal' characters, that is, a person who does not have a paranormal bent to them.  Don't get me wrong, we normal kind of folk are all it.  I mean, I'm pretty sure we are all it, too.  Because I don't expect a vampire to jump out of the shadows and lunge at me with his fangs any time soon.  (At least, not on this planet).  But I like playing with the fantasy of those creatures.  They have something more.

It's interesting to write a story that may read like your average romance, with a love interest, trials, tribulations, emotions, all the feelz—and yet, one of the main characters just happens to need hot human blood for survival.  How to bring that one up on the first date?  Or what about that urge to grow fur and go on a romp in the forest every full moon?  Honey, do you have the extra thick and furry shampoo?

These creatures add a fun dynamic to the story for me.  Because I think I tend to write fairly normal stories, it's just that maybe the hero accidentally bit the heroine who happens to be an angel, and you know what happens when vamps drink angel blood?  (Ka-blooey!)  Heh.  And what is it about a man who will live for possible centuries and has to deal with the moral aspects of feeding off of live humans to sustain his own life?  Kind of moves the story beyond a simple boy meets girl.  It's fun to play what-ifs with these characters.  I have complete control over how they function and can give grave consequences should they not follow my rules. I am the master!

Whew.  So I'll keep on doing it.  Because someone has to write about them.  They'd feel bad if they were left out.  ;-)

My latest book is about vampire hunters and witches, THE VAMPIRE HUNTER.  And guess what?  I'm not always thinking of new ways to hide a full-body fur coat from your date.  I actually like to write 'normal' people as well.  In fact, I'm writing erotic romance under the pseudonym, Michele Renae, and currently WINDOW is available, book #1 in the Paris Secrets trilogy.  No fangs in that one, but there is a very sexy Frenchman who likes to stand naked before his bedroom window.  Hubba.  ;-)

Leave a comment for a chance to win one of two copies of The Vampire Hunter!

For more info about Michele and her books, stop by

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Alexandra Ivy: Not Just A Fad

Recently I was speaking at a local school about the importance of books and the emerging technology of e-books.  During the presentation I was asked by a teenager why I wanted to write about vampires.  The words were polite but the meaning was clear…why would an old lady (I hastily add that I’m not yet in my dotage) be interested in the paranormal world?  At first I was stumped.  Why wouldn’t I write about vampires?  Then I realized that she didn’t have a clue that vampires and zombies and things that go bump in the night have been around since cavemen sat around the fire to tell ghost stories.

Personally I think that those of us who are slipping and sliding toward middle age were privileged to have spent our childhood inundated with the most wonderful plethora of horror, Sci-Fi, and campy craziness.   I fell in love with the paranormal when I was a very young girl.  I never missed an episode of Dark Shadows and my Saturday afternoons were devoted to Sci-Fi flicks that were as cheesy as they were fun.    How could you not love Night of the Lepus?  Killer bunnies…always a classic.   Even my Saturday morning cartoons were devoted to Scooby Doo chasing bad-guys disguised as ghosts. 

And, of course, there were writers who were offering fabulous stories long before the current books were hitting the shelves.  I read a tattered copy of the Hobbit when I was in sixth grade and was fascinated by the glimpse into a land of fantasy.  Suddenly there were magical worlds that offered escape from reality and I became a permanent fixture in our local library, consuming the latest books as soon as they hit the shelves.  And there was such a vast selection.  Traditional horror from Stephen King, fantasy from David Eddings, and Sci Fi from Stephen R. Donaldson, as well as the gothic romances of Victoria Holt that made me shiver in delight. 

All of these influences have impacted my taste in reading as well as my love for writing.  My latest book, Devoured by Darkness, is the seventh in the Guardian of Eternity series.  The series that started with When Darkness Comes, is a combination of my love for dark, sexy vampires who are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect those they love , daring adventure, and quirky fantasy.   

And while the writers of today are putting their own unique twist on the paranormal world, from steampunk to urban fantasy, they’re building on a legacy handed down by previous authors that must be nurtured and honored and passed on to the next  generation with a reminder of those who came before us.

To celebrate all the great writers who came before me, I’m giving away a digital copy of Born in Blood (kindle or nook)  Just tell me your favorite writer!!

Monday, January 20, 2014

They're After Us!

I think they're after us! I think we've been being observed and now they're using what they found out against us. . . . Am I being paranoid? Maybe. . . but that doesn't mean they're not doing it.

    THEY? US? DOING WHAT? They = companies trying to sell us goods and services. Us = women, of all ages but especially between the ages of 30 and 50. Doing what = finally realizing that we are shallow and will respond to good looking men promoting products!

The publishing industry recognized this in the late 80s/early 90s when they began to change the cover art on romance novels to be mostly MEN from the previous focus on women on the covers. (It's been explained to me that the reason for heaving bosoms and impossible poses on romance novels in the 70s and 80s was to appeal to the all-male sales forces of publishers who sold the books to the 'accounts'.) The explosion of Fabio and John DeSalvo
and Steve Sandalis and all the way up to those male cover models popular today is one example of the change in focus.

   Now, or rather in the last couple of years (and especially since 50 Shades of Gray have become an open topic!), companies are using gorgeous men to get our attention. How are they doing that, you might ask?

Here are just a couple of examples of how THEY are after US?

Two words - ZESTY GUY!

And this:

And the latest:  (with a bit of humor added)

 So what do you think? Is this a 'better' or more effective way to get women's attention or, more importantly, their buying power? I mean, clearly sex appeal has worked for advertisers when their target audience is does it work for women? Are they just good fun, turnabout-is-fair-play or really effective advertising - what do you think?

  Terri is busy at work on her next novel - the first in her new Warriors of Destiny series for NAL Signet which will be a Spring 2015 release. To see how it's all working out, stop by her FB page or visit her website.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jen Frederick: My resolution for 2014 - write fearless fiction.

When you are writing, there is this little voice in the back of your head that says “you can’t type that” or “that plot line is insane, don’t go there” or “that is too emotional, draw back.” The internal editor can paralyze an author and it is often the source of an old, familiar enemy—writer’s block. You often read about authors creating masterpieces in just weeks and likely that stems from an author aggressively attacking her story, knocking down the internal editor, and just allowing her unfiltered thoughts to splash the page.

It’s all too easy to fall prey to doubt and let second guessing overtake your keyboard. It happens to me all the time. Those doubts often lead me to look at animals on Buzzfeed or my ever full Facebook news feed and I get no writing done. Because writing is such an isolated process it is easy to convince ourselves that we should exert more control and because we love our own words so much, bland sentences sound triumphant because…well, they are on the page.  

You have to tell your internal editor that she’ll get her chance to restrain you at the editing stage, but in the first drafts, be aggressive and fearless. A writer only gets a few pages to convince a reader she’s worth their time and their money. I’m trying to learn to write without fear and to be okay with exposing the deep emotional workings of characters because those are the types of things that readers really are aching to read—heartfelt and fearless stories. 

My resolution in 2014 is to write as fearlessly as possibly and to allow it all hang out on the page because holding back means I won't be connecting on as deep of a level as I could with my readers. As in the immortal words of Frozen, let it go!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Elizabeth Lane: Baby On Board

What is it about a baby?  What’s this power they have to turn even the most cynical hero to cooing, adoring mush?  Little babies can be noisy, messy, smelly and demanding.  No matter.  As soon as that little fist closes around his manly finger, our hero hasn’t got a chance. 

Pair a baby with a rich, powerful man and a heroine who could be your best friend, and you have Harlequin Desire’s Billionaires and Babies series.   I’m new to the line (THE NANNY’S SECRET is my third Desire and my second Billionaires and Babies book), but I’ve already discovered how much fun happens when baby meets alpha male.  I love writing about these little scene-stealers, and as the mom of three and grandma of three more, I don’t have to go very far for inspiration.   The possibilities are endless.  

Not every baby is born under ideal conditions.  That’s what THE NANNY’S SECRET is about.  Little Mikey enters this world as the result of a teenage blunder.  Chloe, his unmarried sixteen-year-old mother loves him and wants to keep him, but she’s still a child herself.  Wyatt Richardson, Chloe’s wealthy father, is still young, virile and handsome.  The last thing he expected to be is a grandfather.  Worse, he has no idea how to cope with a willful teenage girl and her newborn that his ex-wife literally dumped on his doorstep. 

Enter an unlikely nanny, challenged with helping these three become a family.  Mary Poppins she isn’t.  In fact, her lack of experience with babies rouses Wyatt’s suspicions about her motives.  But her devotion to little Mikey and her determination to give him a good start in life go far beyond what might be expected of hired help.  Not only does she take care of Mikey—she does everything to make sure Wyatt and Chloe bond with the little boy.

Mikey’s sexy grandfather begins to see her as more than a nanny...much more.  But the beautiful Miss Leigh Foster is not what she seems.  The secret she hides is powerful enough to turn all their lives upside-down.

You can read the book to find out what it is—or get a sneak peek on my web site:  Here’s a purchase link:

For those of you who’ve been new mothers or caregivers to babies, I’d love to hear about your experiences.   I’ll be giving away a free paperback edition of THE NANNY’S SECRET to a reader who comments.  Good luck, and thanks for having me as your guest.

In this Billionaires and Babies novel, the nanny wants her boss...but can she have him and keep her secrets, too?
Haughty and handsome, resort owner Wyatt Richardson has never met a problem he couldn’t buy his way out of.  Facing custody of his teenage daughter and her newborn son, he hires a nanny to handle them both.  His attraction to Leigh Foster is an unexpected perk.  He’s confident the feeling is mutual.
But Leigh knows she’s on shaky ground.  Falling for her new boss could prove devastating—especially if Wyatt finds out her true connection to baby Mikey.  But when the billionaire’s arms beckon, will she be powerless to refuse?

Friday, January 17, 2014

From Series Romance to Women’s Fiction by Kate Hewitt

My writing career, like many things in life, has been a series of steps, with me growing in confidence and ability along the way. My first step towards publication was fourteen years ago, when I had a short story accepted by a women’s magazine here in England. The thrill of seeing my story in print—and actually getting paid to do what I loved—was incomparable. And having that first story accepted gave me the confidence to write and submit others, and within a few years I’d had over a hundred short stories published in various women’s magazines around the world.

Writing a short story of usually no more than ten pages was perfect for that time in my life, when I had babies and small children, and little time or sleep. But after a few years I knew I wanted to try something bigger, and so I wrote and submitted my first serial to the same magazine that accepted my first story. A serial is the length of a short novel, written in short chapters that are published weekly in a magazine. Writing that first serial felt like climbing a mountain. I’d never written something so long or involved, and I can remember rocking my baby in the middle of the night (she was not a good sleeper!) as I brainstormed plot ideas and wondered how to make it all work.

Eight serials later I had the confidence to try something new. My stories had become longer, the plots more complex, and so I decided to try writing a series romance for Harlequin. I don’t think I could have managed it before then; in the past writing a ‘real’ book had felt too overwhelming. All those short stories and serials had been great preparation for tackling a series-length book, and my first attempt, to my amazement, was accepted. In the following years I wrote twenty-five more romances for Harlequin.

Then once again I felt the need to push and challenge myself. The secondary characters and plots were starting to take over my romances, and I loved grappling with different issues and ideas that generally don’t take center stage in a straight romance. My editor once told me that she thought I had ‘a bigger book’ in me, and in 2009 I decided to try to let it out. Of all the steps I’ve taken, this one was the hardest. A book twice the length of a series romance with far more characters, emotions, conflicts, and issues was incredibly challenging. I loved it, but it was tough! And that book, along with the one after it, were both rejected by various agents and publishers—and rightly so! After encountering so much success in writing, it was discouraging to have rejections and to essentially feel that I was starting over. I had to give myself a few pep talks along the way, reminding myself how I’d succeeded before, even when it seemed hard.

Then last year, when I should have been writing a romance, I procrastinated by writing something else—an idea that had literally just popped into my head. It was a women’s fiction story, and I wrote a hundred pages in two days, which was a record for me. I sent those pages to my editor, and she offered me a contract with Carina UK, Harlequin’s digital-first imprint.

At the same time I’d finished another magazine serial, and a different publisher was interested in it if I lengthened and developed it into a proper novel. So in the space of a few weeks, I suddenly had two women’s fiction projects on the go! And now they have both been released into the wide world: This Fragile Life written under my pseudonym Kate Hewitt, and The Vicar’s Wife, written under my real name Katharine Swartz.

They are very different stories but both ones I have loved writing. This Fragile Life is in the vein of Anna Quindlen or Jodi Picoult; it is about two friends, one successful, driven, and infertile; the other aimless, carefree, and unexpectedly pregnant. When they arrange a private adoption between them neither of them expect the tensions and conflicts that arise to challenge their friendship—or what happens when a sudden development literally changes everything.

The Vicar’s Wife is a gentler story with two plot threads. The first concerns Jane, a woman in present day who makes the unlikely move from Manhattan to rural Cumbria, England. Her British husband decides he wants to move back home and they buy a former vicarage and attempt to settle into village life, with varying degrees of success. When Jane finds a shopping list written by a vicar’s wife in the 1930s, she becomes fascinated with this unknown woman and starts to research her life. The second plot thread concerns this vicar’s wife, Alice James, and her adjustment to marriage and village life. The more Jane learns about Alice, the more she questions her own choices, and learns to grow and change.

I am continuing to write both romance and women’s fiction, with follow-up books for both my my women’s fiction publishers planned for next year. Moving from series romance to books that are more complex and developed definitely has been a challenge—it has proved to be a whole new way of thinking about character and emotional conflict, and the story arc is far more sweeping than that of a romance. I enjoy having the space to develop different ideas and characters, but the scope and depth of such a book has been and continues to be rather daunting!

I don’t know what the next step on my journey as a writer will be; I feel very blessed to have taken as many as I have, and I am excited about the books I have planned. I hope you check out This Fragile Life and The Vicar’s Wife. Thank you for having me here!

Happy reading,

This Fragile Life: (which is on sale for $1.36 until December 9th!)
Amazon | Kobo | Sony

The Vicar’s Wife:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Joanne Rock: My Secret Fantasies?

This month, I am in the Harlequin Blaze line up with a book called MY SECRET FANTASIES… a steamy title to a sexy read. But since the course of true love never runs smooth, my heroine’s secret fantasies are thwarted by old hang ups. She’s writing a “naughty” novel as a form of self-therapy, writing about what she wants in bed and an in a relationship since she’s never had much luck expressing herself… er… physically.
I loved writing this heroine and her quirky, can-do attitude despite some major personal baggage. And in thinking about the title the other day, I realized there are lot more “Secret Fantasies” at work in this book beyond the obvious. Sure, Miranda Cortland daydreams about erotic encounters with a guy who looks more and more like the hero as time passes. Yet there are more secret fantasies just beneath the surface.

One of them is the fantasy of controlling your own destiny. Miranda felt trapped in her upbringing and couldn’t wait to light out of her Midwestern childhood home so she flipped a coin at seventeen to decide which coast would be her destination and off she went to L.A. She found a paying job and worked part-time at another in the hope of making it as an actress. Surprise, surprise, she found she liked her day job in a tearoom more and her dreams turned to opening her own tearoom.

Which brings me to another secret fantasy so many of us harbor—being self-employed or owning our own business. Not quite the sexy stuff the cover implies, but working independently is a real fantasy we can relate to! Maybe you’ve dreamed of writing your own book, opening your own boutique, running a restaurant or hosting a new and improved cooking show ala Ina Garten, but certainly you’ve thought of some way that it would be more fun to carve out a living, and chances are it would be a venue where you make your own hours.

The hero has a secret fantasy in this book, too. He runs a thoroughbred farm in Sonoma County and had made it a thriving venture. But having grown up in a wealthy, prominent family, Damien Fraser wants more than financial success. He needs to give back. His private secondary venture isn’t a money-maker at all. It’s a thoroughbred rescue that re-trains racehorses for adoption and provides a place of retirement for others. In the beginning of the book, it is this facet of his work that he’s expanding.

Seeing characters explore their goals and test their strengths is a really rewarding part of writing romance. The pay-off in finding love along the way is all happier when the hero and heroine have undergone a transformation—not just as a couple but individually. I like to think that falling in love forces us to be our best selves, to grow, change and adapt. Or maybe that’s just my secret fantasy ;-).

What about you? Have you ever dreamed of opening your own business? Being self-employed? Or maybe you’ve just fantasized about taking over the company you work for so you can run things the right way! Tell me about it today on the boards and I’ll give one random poster a copy of MY SECRET FANTASIES.

***Joanne's winner is Laney4!  Please email with your mailing details!***