Friday, February 29, 2008

The Side Benefits by Bronwyn Jameson

Initially I had a different idea for this blog. Being February 29, a once-every-four-years date, I was going to use that as a theme. Now, my mind has a way of taking circuitous routes and many detours before arriving at its destination...or an alternate destination, which is what happened today.

While driving to town I started thinking about today and leap years and I remembered another February, another leap year eight years ago, when I sold my first book. From there my mind took a leisurely detour through the intervening years and I was reminded of how much I've done in this eight years and how much is due to my romance writing. The travel for conferences, the detours I've taken on those trips, the research experiences, the people I've met, my personal growth and change that's empowered me to do things and make decisions I would not have done ten years ago.

And that is how I arrived at this alternate topic for my blog:

10 things I would not have done if I hadn't sold that first (and subsequent) books.

1. Seen New Orleans, New York, Reno and Atlanta on trips to RWA conferences, with stopovers in Toronto, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles. Nor would I have gotten to frock up and enjoy the conference parties with remarkable women such as these down-under authors.

2. Visited my sister-in-law and her family in Alberta, Canada, on one of those trips.

3. Driven a red convertible on the "wrong" side of the road in Nevada (we're from Australia, y'know)...and along the Vegas strip.

4. Biked across the Golden Gate Bridge (the skirt was a mistake, BTW.)

5. Slept under the most brilliant, magical night sky on an Outback camping safari.

6. Experienced the immense pride of seeing my books up on the big screen at the RWA Awards night.

7. Gone to the opera (holy cow, the opera!), to see La Boheme at the Sydney Opera House.

8. Thrown caution (and the budget) to the wind in hosting a fully catered 21st birthday party for son #1 (it was fabulous!)

9. Suggested that my husband throw caution (and budget) to the wind and buy himself a horse (she is fabulous!)

10. Met the most amazing women in fellow lovers of romance novels, and made the best, funniest, smartest, most empathetic friends a woman could have.

Bronwyn's next release TYCOON'S ONE-NIGHT REVENGE is available tomorrow as a print and ebook from eHarlequin and from other stores in April. This is a spin-off to Bronwyn's RITA-finalist The Ruthless Groom. If you enjoyed The Princes of the Outback then don't miss out on Susannah's story.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What I Love About Blaze

If you’ve been reading my Blazes for any length of time—say, at least a year—you may have already guessed that I have a hard time settling down with any one style of story. I’ve written a Blaze time travel, several dark cop dramas, a Sex in the City style series set in South Beach, a Wrong Bed, and a couple of pseudo-pirates on the prowl. In March, I’ll add a cursed sports agent and a psychic investigator to the mix. Some of my stories have been more along the lines of a sexy romp while others have been angsty explorations of sensuality. There’s a chance my rampant story explorations have made it tougher for readers to know what to expect from a Joanne Rock read. But I’ve gotta say—I love that I can do so many different things in Blaze.

Where else can readers find such huge diversity in plot lines? From strong suspense plots to the occasional ghost or vampire, Blaze charts a huge amount of story terrain in six books a month. With a wide range of recurring miniseries like Forbidden Fantasies, the Wrong Bed, Extreme and Blush, the line makes it easy for fans to find the type of Blaze that most appeals to them. This summer, the series charts all new territory in a traditionally contemporary line when Blaze introduces its first historical—Hope Tarr’s Bound and Determined. I’m hoping readers are excited about seeing a Blaze style premise played out in a historical setting as I am.

Because, quite honestly, writing for Blaze is a writer’s dream from a creative perspective. With the only dictate being a red-hot premise, the sky’s the limit on plot development. I have the freedom to listen to my Muse and follow where she dictates.

Take for instance GETTING LUCKY, my March release. I wanted to write a story set in the Thousand Islands ever since I read a book about Boldt Castle. The setting is remote and romantic, the kind of backdrop you’d see in an old Gothic novel. Furthermore, I hoped to use some of those Gothic elements to enrich the story. But what would work in a Blaze?

Enter my blue blood sports agent who is losing his career and his assets at an alarming rate. He retreats to the family place where he grew up to meet with a psychic investigator in the hope she can remove whatever curse is hanging over his head. And before I knew it, spooky things were happening left and right while my couple discovered the unlucky hero definitely hadn’t lost his mojo in the bedroom. I had so much fun with this story. And it could only happen in a Blaze.

Here’s an excerpt I hope you’ll enjoy. And even if my March Blaze isn’t up your alley, I hope you’ll check out the rest of the month’s offering. I’ll bet you’ll find something fabulous…

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Writing Deadlines - Terri Brisbin

To paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer on a deadline must be in want of a well-trained family. I’ve been writing on deadlines for ten years now and I think my family might finally be getting the hang of it!

At first, with a five-year-old, a ten-year-old and a fifteen-year-old, it was nearly impossible to write from the time school ended until the moment they finally fell asleep at night, so most of my writing happened in the wee-small hours of late night. Training them seemed more work than simply adjusting my own schedule to theirs, so I bided my time.
Later, as the boys grew and the contracts continued, and as I learned my deadline-binge-writing style was not a fluke, my husband and I began to plan ahead, turning down invitations during those last few weeks before the book was due and rearranging work and other commitments to open up some quality writing time. With each book, my wider circle of family and friends accepted the ‘I’m on deadline’ excuse with a bit less persuasion, and even some measure of enthusiasm. Even my mother-in-law began explaining my absences from family events with a knowing look and accepting tone. This was good!

I began training my children and husband to observe the little warning sign and the closed office door. Unless something (or someone!) was on fire or bleeding, Dad was the designated parent-in-charge. Meals were on-the-fly and could even involve two or three nights in a row of take-out. Meals by Mom were appreciated when they appeared on the table and not expected or demanded. This was going really well!

Now, one son is grown and married, another has just moved out into his own apartment and I have only one son left at home. My husband finds being the parent-in-charge much less a challenge with only one to chase after. . . or to take to the doctor’s when the inevitable illness happens as it always does when I’m on deadline.

So, if I’m dealing with only one child and one husband now, how can I tell if they’re really trained well or if it’s just a more manageable group? Let me tell you. . . .

One of the things that helps me write, or that I just need, during those last minute deadline binges is a bag of salty pretzels. Some authors need chocolate, some need caffeine. I need pretzels. My husband watches as I stockpile bags and knows that deadline writing is coming…. IT’S COMING!!

This past weekend as I returned from a day-job business trip with another one planned for this weekend and a novella due. . . on Monday. . . my husband demonstrated that all these years of training have been working. He presented me with three bags of pretzels and called them my novella-writing package! Yay!

Now, with my well-trained family in position for this week’s deadline writing binge, I can move assuredly towards finishing my novella. And, of course, that’s what I’m doing if my editor asks…


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Christine Rimmer, Cat Person

It's true. I am a cat person. To the left, living testament to my love of cats--Tom, in black, and Ed, the gray tabby. They're both Second Chance cats, meaning my kids chose them from a cat shelter. And then, of course, my kids promptly grew up and moved away, leaving their care to me.

Really, I don't mind. Not in the least. They say people are one or the other--a dog or a cat person. I guess for me, cats are it.

It's not that I don't like dogs. I do like them. After all, they're way smart and you can train them to bring you the paper and if you treat them well, they're likely to lavish you with slavish attention.

OTOH, the cat. Want attention? Wait for it. You'll get it when your cat is darn good and ready to bestow it. And as to training, well, provide a litter box and chances are your cat will use it. Cats actually do know the things they're not supposed to do. My cats know they are forbidden to perch on tables or kitchen counters. So they only do it when I'm not around. Sometimes they forget I'm in the house and one of them will get up on the kitchen table to gaze dreamily out the bow window into the backyard, tail twitching lazily at the sight of a squirrel or a bird. Should I happen to quietly sneak up on the culprit with my trusty spray bottle of water, well, you should see the look of shock and dismay on his face before I start yelling "No!" and chasing him around the house--priceless. Cats hate it when you mess with their dignity. And there's nothing so undignified as having to run away from a screaming human with a spray bottle.

I love how clean they are. My cats are constantly bathing. They bathe each other. Sometimes, they even forget I'm just a human and they try to bathe me. I love the rough scratch of their tongues and how velvety their fur is. I love the sound of their purring. I love the way they talk to me. Yes. Talk. Both of my cats are talkers. Ed's voice is pure--and sharply grating when he "captures" one of his small stuffed animals and carries it around the house, yowling. Tom's meow is rusty. Croaky, even. When he meows I want to grab him and hug him tight. If he'll let me.

After all, he is a cat. And a cat will inevitably do what a cat wants to do. I like that in a pet. I like that a lot.

So how 'bout you? A cat person? Or do you favor dogs? Or...?

My Website

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Queen of Dragons - Shana Abé

I write about dragons. Some people seem slightly befuddled by this: do I write romance or do I write fantasy? Answer: Yes. LOL. What it means is that I’m one of those lucky, lucky writers who gets to make up an entire culture--a contained, realistic world--that abides by my own rules. I created a race of fantasy shapeshifting creatures, the drákon, who are dangerous and powerful and sexy and who happen to exist in Georgian England. So they do have to bend to certain restraints of their time, but it all rests purely upon the twists and turns of my imagination.

It’s a lot of fun.

It also means I get begrudgingly complimentary reviews from major news agencies, ones that would never ordinarily review a romance, so they put it under “Fantasy” instead. It’s a bit of literary snobbery, but I’ll take it. (Bonus points in a Fantasy review: you almost never run across that charming print equivalent of a sneer, “bodice-ripper”.)

I’m not good with boundaries. I don’t necessarily like other people’s conventions. My parents figured out pretty quickly when I was a child that the surest way to finagle me into doing something was to tell me that I couldn’t do it. It’s not that I’m stubborn...okay, yes, I’m stubborn. It’s more that I don’t like unreasonable limitations. I was that annoying kid who kept asking “why?” when adults tried explaining rules to me, until they usually ended up red-cheeked and sputtering “Because! Because! Because!” and giving me candy to go away.

So I write fantasy...because. Because it’s mind candy for the adult in me. I love romance, I love happy endings, but most of all, I love creating textured, interesting people who aren’t really people at all, and placing them in impossible situations to see what they do to get out of them. I’m nearly always surprised by what happens, believe me. Those are the best kinds of stories, I think.

So if you’re a daydreamer like me, someone with a hidden edge of rebellion sharpening your secret heart, you’ll know just what I mean when I say that I hope you’ll dream on. Dragons are real, and so is true love.

It’s the best of every world. :-)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

February = 3 parties by Michelle Styles

For romanctic novelists, February has been one whirl of parties. Or rather, there have been three marvellous parties for them to go to. I made one. All three though were glamourous and no one has reported on them I will attempt to do a small recap as living vicariously is fun.

First up was the Romantic Novelists Association awards lunch on Monday 4 February. The winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year was Freya North for Pillow talk and the winner for the Betty Neels Rose Bowl (aka the Romance Prize) was Kate Hardy and her book Breakfast at Giovanni's (to be published in April in the US as In Bed with Her Italian Boss as part of the Promotional Presents programme). I was out on a walk when Kate texted me, but my dh says that I burst into tears. It is a lovely book with a lot of heart and a worthy winner. Kate has done a marvellous post on her blog about the can read it here.

Next up on the 7th was the one party I did go to -- the Mills & Boon Centenary Celebration. The party could have easily stepped straight from the pages of a Presents novel. The venue, the Wallace Collection, is the former main townhouse of the Marquis of Hertford and displays its suberb collection of 18th century objects d' other words, the sort of setting for a Regency novel.
The courtyard was bathed in pink, and as befits a birthday party, there were various stalls for cotton candy, ice cream and cupcakes with the M&B centenary logo. The bar boasted an array of different coloured drinks. Most of the authors has peach bellinis but I stuck to champagne. The room teemed with authors, agents, editors, public relations people, and journalists. At one point, they had all the authors on stage for a photocall. It was an impressive sight. Several authors were interviewed by the BBC for a proposed documentary. A tenor crooned while red roses were handed out to all the ladies. And UK television personality, Alan Titchmarsh gave a lovely welcome address.
There was a wonderful buzz about the party and all the guests left with a party bag.

The third party happened last Thursday om Manchester and was the culiminating event of the Manchester Library's year of Pure Passion. Penny Jordan has been tireless in her support of this, and gave a number of talks about romance. The party was held in the Neo Gothic Town Hall and by all accounts, it was a wonderful event with flowing champagne and glamourous dresses. Authors, editors. librarians and readers gathered to celebrate romantic fiction and find out the winner of the Pure Passion prize. Christina Jones won for her chick lit novel Love Potions. Annie Burrows has more on her website, including photos.

Because I know that people like to live vicariously, I have the little gold bookmark from my party bag, and a copy of the programme from Mills & Boon party to give away. The question I would like answered is in which year was Mills & Boon founded. Please email me with your answer with Totebags contest in the subject line. I will draw the winner on 1 March.

UPDATE: The first name out of the hat was Estella Kissell. I have sent a message, but I do need a postal address to send the bookmark and programme. Many thanks to all who entered.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Christina Dodd answers "Can't you make up your mind?"

I have published twenty-six full-length historicals, five (soon to be six) contemporary romantic suspenses, and two (soon to be four) paranormals, not to mention five stories for anthologies.

Occasionally I get a letter from one of my dedicated readers who want to know — Can’t you make up your mind?

Well, it’s this way.

Before I was published I wrote both contemporary and historical.

The first book I wrote (not published, but wrote) was a historical, probably 200,000 words long (my current books are 80,000 words – honey, I was writing GONE WITH THE WIND) set in … um, never mind. Anyway, it featured volcanoes and an earthquake and a smallpox epidemic and a Spanish landowning hero tortured by the inequities of the Colonial system. I wrote on that thing for six years, but that book taught me how to plot, put words together, express emotion, illustrate character growth. It was a great learning experience, but I could never sell that book mostly because it was set in … um, never mind.

After finishing that tome, I wrote a contemporary series book (about the size of a Silhouette Desire.) That took me six months. I could never sell that one, either.

I wrote my second historical (set in Medieval England, by God!), sent it to an agent who said she could sell it, and immediately started a contemporary because by then I’d been writing for ten years, wracked up enough rejection letters to paper my office, and believed publication would happen about the time it snowed in hell.

Apparently Satan was wearing an overcoat because the agent sold CANDLE IN THE WINDOW in two weeks (on Friday February 2, 1990 at 3:30pm, not that I marked the calendar or anything). While I was waiting for the contracts to come through, I finished the contemporary and sold LADY IN BLACK to Kismet, a short-lived but very profitable mail order publishing company. There are still copies of LADY IN BLACK floating around, and while it’s dated (it features a dot-matrix printer) some things are eternal – like the sex in the shower. Very steamy.

Then for years I concentrated on historicals. Still I read historicals and contemporaries, and when paranormals became popular, I read them, and I always intended to write more contemporaries. When I got the idea for the Lost Texas Hearts Series (JUST THE WAY YOU ARE, ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE and CLOSE TO YOU), I knew I had the perfect vehicle, and my contemporary career was off and running. My current contemporary series is called the Fortune Hunters, and THIGH HIGH (March 2008) is the third book in that series.

So I was published in historicals and contemporaries. You’d think that was enough — and what happens?

While I watched FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, one of my favorite movies of all time, I analyzed why the story worked for me. (Analyzing stories is one of the things I do — it drives my kids crazy when we’re watching a film and I announce, “That was foreshadowing.” But what was I put on this earth for except to annoy my kids?) I love Tevye's dedication to his traditions, and the story is riveting as, slowly, everything he believed in is overturned by change. Everything, that is, except what mattered the most -- his family and the bedrock of his faith.

At the same time, I was analyzing why vampire romances worked so well. I decided a vampire is the ultimate alpha hero. When he mates with a woman, he can either give her the best sex of her life — or kill her. But a vampire has constraints — daylight, crosses and garlic can harm them, and a skilled hunter can stake them.

I daydreamed about heroes who were invincible … and at that moment, something happened. It's a little vague in my mind, but I remember a blinding flash of light, the two ideas meshed, and I had the concept for a four-book paranormal series featuring a family who immigrates from Russia and who just happens to be fearless, invincible shapeshifters.

I had to write Darkness Chosen. I was born to write Darkness Chosen.

Can’t I make up my mind? God, I hope not. I love the unpredictable process of creation, of discovering new worlds inside my brain and stumbling on new stories to write. I love exploring all the aspects of romance, all the ways a man and a woman fall in love, the bold kisses, the shy kisses, love-making in the forest, love-making on the beach, love-making (gasp!) in bed. Romance is amazing in its variety, and it’s the variety that keeps me writing (and reading.)

What about you? How many years have you been reading romance? What kind of romance do you read? Do you read more than one kind of romance? The kind of books that sell in big numbers has changed; have you changed your romance reading habits along with the market?

Visit Christina's website for excerpts and book videos!

Christina's upcoming release is scheduled to hit shelves on March 4, 2008. THIGH HIGH is book three in her highly acclaimed Fortune Hunter series!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Music & Lyrics (sort of)

Like many authors, I write to music. I know some writers who blare Beethoven or Bach when they write, and others who can’t work unless AC/DC is screaming through the speakers. Me, I’m a country girl, and more often than not I tend to latch on to one particular CD or artist for the duration of the book I’m writing at the moment.

For instance, when I wrote Charming Jo, nothing else worked for me but Toby Keith, and the louder the better.

Other times I’ve written to Martina McBride – who epitomizes the strength of a woman – or my new favourite, fellow Canadian George Canyon who does an amazing job on the classics I grew up on (that man can sing Waylon and Willie like nobody’s business!)

But this last year I’ve spent writing two books dealing with the devil’s offspring. THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER, due out April 1st, and the sequel, DANCING WITH THE DEVIL, due out in December. These are not dark books by any means, but I did need something to get me into the characters’ frames of mind, so who did I turn to?

Who could possibly sing about Hell in such a way that I could sing along without being distracted by the songs themselves (This, by the way is key to the whole thing. Music needs to be playing, and I need to be able to sing along, but in an unconscious kind of way).

Enter Meatloaf and his 1977 album Bat Out of Hell.

I know what you’re thinking. Meatloaf? Good Lord! I know, but 30 years later, this album still gets the job done. The songs are 8 minutes long for goodness sake, so there’s no distraction of the songs ending every three minutes, and the lead song is the title track. I have listened to that CD so many times I could probably sing it backwards in my sleep. Don’t worry, I won’t. I wouldn’t want to scare anyone.

The next book will be someone completely different. For all I know, I could end up writing my next book to the soundtrack of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana or Cher’s Greatest Hits. I just never know what it’ll be.

I can honestly say though, without a doubt, that AC/DC will never be the artist of choice for anything I write. Beethoven, maybe, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to step outside my comfort zone. What about you?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Welcome to GuyWorld - Anne Gracie

I recently went to a movie with a bunch of girlfriends, some of whom I hadn't seen in forever. After the movie we went back to someone's place for drinks and sat talking movies and books and TV and life.

I discovered that three or four of us regularly watch an English TV show called Top Gear. It's about cars, more or less. English and European cars, mostly. We were chatting enthusiastically about favorite segments and half the group stared at us as if we'd suddenly morphed into aliens.

The conversation went like this:

"I'd never watch that show -- it's all about cars. I have no interest in cars."
"Me too. My husband and son never miss it so I use the time to catch up on housework."
Three women said, more or less simultaneously -- "We don't watch it for the cars." "Oh, so these three guys are really hot, right?"
"No, they're not hot at all."
"Huh? So why?"

We explained. A big part of the fascination of the program for women lies in the glimpse we get into guy-world. It's really all about boys and their toys and the way they're so competitive with each other - about the fastest, the most powerful, the best. They don't hold back, either.

And the interaction between the guys is funny and entertaining. They're always coming up with crazy (and often dangerous) challenges. One time one of the guys raced the other two from a town in England to a Swiss village -- one driving his car flat out, night and day, the others going by planes, trains and buses. The car won by a nose.

The discussion got me thinking. Last year, after a lifetime of avoiding vampire books (apart from the Bram Stoker original) I glommed the J.R. Ward vampire books. I didn't just glom, I read the first book and I started the second book that same night, then got up in the morning and finished it. Then I jumped in the car and raced to my bookshop to get books #3 and #4 of the series before the shop closed for the weekend. It's been a while since that happened to me.

And it occurred to me that a big part of the appeal for me of J.R. Ward's vampire world is the glimpse we get of the close community of guys and the way they interact. She's not the only author who does this well. Often a series is linked by a group of guys related in some way: by blood, or by experience. For instance in my new series the heroes are all guys who've been to war together, which makes for powerful bonds.

So what do you think is the appeal of peeking into guy-world? And what books or authors do you think do it really well?


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Author Trivia - by Renee DeLuca

Hi Everyone, my name is Renee. Lee had a computer meltdown over the weekend and has been battling issues with technical support since then. She hopes to be back to do the contest updates soon on her site.

Meanwhile, she asked me to take care of the Author Trivia this month so here are the clues -

This author -

* lives in Vancouver, Canada

* works with disabled people

*had her first novel released in February 2008 from a really well-known print publisher

* has been published with Woman's World Magazine, among others

* Jennifer Crusie called her "one of the best new voices in women's lit".

* she's doing yet another booksigning at Borders in Traverse City on Feb. 20th (tomorrow!)

* her heroine poses as a psychic to get her guy back!

Can you guess the author and the title of her new release?

Lee will pick 4 winners at the end of this month and each will receive a copy of this book.

Please don't post your answers here. Instead, email them to and be sure to put 'Author Trivia' in the subject heading. Also please include your full name and mailing address to help expedite the prize to you in case you win.

Thanks - and good luck!


Monday, February 18, 2008

Life Is Short

Many of you know I was involved in a bad car accident last month. It came as close to being an early end of me as I ever want to go. So along with the pain pills and the insurance hasseles, I've found myself rethinking my entire life. I suddenly want everything instantly. Don't put off doing anything pleasurable until tomorrow. Eat dessert first. Play today, work tomorrow and put off the rest entirely.

That's a huge change in my attitude. I grew up believing the 'ant' was the good guy in the story and the 'grasshopper' was the fool. Nice and steady wins the race. Blah! Not for me. Not anymore.

I was thinking of this change in my philosophy a few days ago during a discussion on one of my author loops. this private loop is for a group of Harlequin authors, and the discussion focused on how terrible it was that Harlequin has reduced their word counts across all of their lines. Long-time series authors bemoaned the loss of an extra twenty to thirty thousand words in which to tell their stories. They loved the old way when they had time to explore emotions, add in more points of view, include more bad guys, and generally take their time to wind through their stories.

I have to say, as a reader, I loved some of those old Harlequins too. Back when I had leisure time, I enjoyed picking up a book that took hours to read and kept me entertained and interested into the wee hours or for days. But sorry, authors, things have changed---in my life as well as in the world. Today when I pick up a Harlequin book, it's because I want a quick get-away with a guaranteed happy ending. I want to be able to finish it in one sitting. I want it fast, exciting, emotionally satisfying---and over.

The best selling Harlequins right now in the U.S. are the Presents line. That's always been the shortest Harlequin line available. Does that tell you something about what most readers want? For myself, I love reading a good Presents. I just finished both Anne McAllister's ONE NIGHT LOVE CHILD, a January Presents, and Katherine Garbera's THE WEALTHY FRENCHMAN'S PROPOSITION, a Silhouette Desire (which is another short line.) Both were wonderful books. And fast.

If I want or have time for more, say on a long plane ride or a vacation on the beach, I'll read one of the amazing variety of single title books available either in the bookstore or via e-books. By the way, many of these so-called single title books have also been shortened. Whereas a good best seller used to be in the one-hundred thousand word category, now many of them don't even make it to ninety thousand words. Minimum word count used to be ninety, today it's eighty or even seventy. Thanks due in part, I'm sure, to authors like Dan Brown, James Patterson, and Steven King who are masters at quick and exciting reads.

At one time I imagined all this focus on brevity was due to the price of paper. But today I'm sure that isn't even a factor. Not with all the e-books out there. Now that I've changed my opinion about life in general, I know better. It's the pace of our lives. Time is our single most expensive commodity.

As an author, I've never had any trouble writing short. It makes me work at finding just the right pace--just the right word. It's harder, yes. But it also makes me a better writer. I'm enjoying finding new ways of putting a little mystery/adventure, a couple of points of view, and a bad guy or two in with my sexy little romances. Writing a fast read is exactly what I need in my my life right now.

As a reader, I'm thrilled that all the lines are going shorter. I have always wanted a good thriller, mystery, paranormal, erotica, or family romance (depending on my mood) that I could read in a couple of hours and then go on with my life.

How do you feel about the shorter books? If you're a writer, do you find shorter is harder -- or maybe impossible? If you're a reader, have you given up reading Harlequins because they've gotten shorter? Or are you fining yourself picking them up again after falling away exactly because they are now easier to finish in the time you have?

Leave me a comment and I'll pick one winner from all the comments left before Tuesday February 19th to win a new Presents (my choice) or one of my backlist (your choice)

Linda's newest (shorter) Silhouette Romantic Suspense series, The Safekeepers, begins in June with SAFE WITH A STRANGER. Don't forget to drop by Linda's newly designed website to find out more about her series, check out her new extras, and register to enter her ongoing contest to win books, chocolates, and gift certificates!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Neurosis of Writing

Here's the classic chicken vs egg question when it comes to writers: Do neurotics become writers, or does writing make one neurotic?

My editor called me the other day to ask if I could get my current manuscript in 4 weeks early so she could fit it in the November 2008 schedule. Of course, being a new author, I respond with a resounding "Yes!" even though I'd been dragging my heels on this book, feeling as though it was wrong in every way possible and having no idea how to fix it. In fact, the only thing that was letting me sleep at night was the idea the book wasn't on the schedule yet and I could ask for an extension if I needed it.

So much for that plan.

But ironically, that ended up being the good part of the conversation. Because somewhere as we were nailing down exact dates, she pays me a wonderful compliment by stating I could get this book in at the last minute, because my last one came in so clean she wasn't concerned about revisions. Most authors would be standing on a cloud right about now. But me? Noooooooo. I reply, "Yeah, but the problem is I don't have the confidence in this book that I did with the last, so I should really get this in early so we've got time to revise."

Could someone please tell me, why, why, why, why, WHY??? was I posessed to tell my editor this? Especially since the moment I got off the phone, I realized I needed to get serious about the book, sat down, wrote a more solid outline, found an ending that turns what I've written so far into gold, and the words have been rolling off my fingers ever since?? In fact, now that I've looked it over, I'm thinking it could be my best Blaze yet.

My CPs response is that I'm a writer, therefore I'm neurotic, and not to worry, because my editor deals with neurotic writers every day and probably didn't even bat an eyelash. I'm wondering how I can go from feeling completely insecure about a book, then loving it the minute I confess to my editor that the whole thing sucks.

Prescriptions, anyone?

So let me ask this. What do you think came first, the writing or the neurotic? And if you are a neurotic writer, do you have any stories to tell that would make me feel I'm not the only one?

Lori Borrill's next Harlequin Blaze, "Putting It To The Test" is an April, 2008 release, and she promises it most definitely does not suck! Of course, she's neurotic, so you should probably buy the book and see for yourself.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What women really want…anytime

I like Valentine's Day. After all, I am a romance writer. It's sweet and romantic, and everyone should have a Valentine to love.

My only issue is that all that sentiment becomes a requirement, an $80-for-a- dozen-roses mandate. And therein lies my problem with Valentine's Day.

Roses are nice, but to me, $80 for roses isn't worth it. And when I thought about it, I finally figured out why: Anyone can buy roses. But not everyone knows what I really want.

So here's my top five list of the perfect romantic gifts...for me:

1. A manicure-pedicure appointment.

Every woman out there is nodding her head right now. Take note, boys.
Pros: One to two hours being pampered in peace and quiet, lasts for a week and I can take my gift anywhere.
Cons: No wine involved.

2. A clean house.

A collective sigh just went up. Most men do not understand the power of a clean house.
Pros: It's free and anyone can do it.
Cons: My hygiene standards have to be lowered. And there's no wine.

3. Chocolate.

This one is just too easy, I know.

Pros: Lasts a long time, available anywhere, and can be easily hid in my office drawer.
Cons: Calories, which I say I don't want but for chocolate, I'll do it. And no wine.

4. Forethought, i.e. surprise.

Contrary to popular belief, we women are not hard creatures to please. Just burn actual brain cells to find the perfect surprise. It doesn't have to be big, but it does have to be for me and me alone.
Pros: It's a surprise which was executed without my help or direction, and required forethought and follow-through on my sweetheart's part. For that, I love you.
Cons: Can't think of any except there's a good possibility of no wine.

5. Wine.

Good wine with a cork and everything. Impress me.
Pros: It's makes me happy, and it's good for my heart and cholesterol which means I'll live longer. And yes, I do think about that.
Cons: I may just have to share the bottle with that someone special. Oh well. That's what romance is all about.

Those work for me, and I'm very lucky that my hubby knows them too.

After all, romance isn't about what works for everyone. Romance is about what works for that special someone.

Happy romancing...all year long,

Samantha Graves

You can visit Samantha Graves at her website, MySpace or weekly Will Write for Wine podcast with co-host & fellow author, Lani Diane Rich.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What I Know For Sure About Love - Michelle Monkou

The Washington Post contacted me to write a short article for their Weekend section on what I knew for sure about love. The turnaround time was tight and I quickly wrote the article below. Then after I turned it in, the focus had changed and instead, they wanted me to finish the beginning of sentences about what love means.

My "abandoned" Piece:

Vibrant. Tenacious. Defiant. All these personable qualities describe love as an actual breathing, living organism. Love should not be considered any different from a person who needs attention, nourishment, boundaries, and maintenance to be healthy and well-rounded.

My expertise does not come from four years in a baccalaureate program or hosting a TV Talk show on the science of love. Lessons learned started in 1983, as a freshman, at University of Maryland, Eastern Shore where I met my husband, an upperclassman. The journey continues as we approach our 18th wedding anniversary this year. Two children, and a cat, later, I consider myself well past the PhD level.

Love thrives with lots of laughter. Luckily my sardonic, wry sense of humor is enhanced by my husband’s equally irreverent style. We are not to be seated together for serious occasions like weddings, church sermons, seminars, and yes, even funerals. And yet, I hate attending any social event without him where we can play thumb war under the table, I erupt into giggles because he tickled me, or I look into his eyes and know that he is about to say something quite silly.

Like our aging waistlines, love expands exponentially to wrap around our family unit. Real life enters after the honeymoon, bringing in the highs and lows. We learn that differences in each other are not to be condemned or excluded. Compromise fills any potholes creating a smoother, reinforced path. I hope that my children will take these lessons learned from our love to chart their own lives.

Since I cannot control that aspect of their lives, although being an overbearing mother-in-law does bring a grin, I craft stories about this amorphous thing called love. Published under Harlequin’s Kimani Romance, and ten books later, the fascination and addiction to romance do not lessen. Love in its courtship phase never gets old. Characters from my books like Sweet Surrender, Straight To The Heart, and upcoming release No One But You focus on acceptance and love for themselves before free falling into love with their soul mates, just like I did.

Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Michelle Monkou

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Who Is Your Fantasy Hero?

It's the month the world turns it's mind and it's heart to romance. We of course, get to celebrate it every day! And one of the most fun things whether you be single, dating, engaged or married is that for a few hours each day you can get lost with a fantasy hero within the pages of a romance novel...

So - any old excuse me - let's talk MEN.

Romance hero's are a breed unto themselves and have a depth and layering that we seldom find in more mainstream novels. How many times have you read a thriller or a murder/mystery or a Sci-Fi or something else and felt a sense of disappointment that the characters hadn't been rounded the way you'd like them to have been? In a romance we really get to the heart of the character - no pun intended.

He's not just eye candy. Which is the common misconception the critics would like us to believe. Oh no. This guy may look good enough to make us smile like an idiot were we ever to meet him, but he has to have an inner strength, an integrity, an honourable streak a mile wide, a sense of humour and STILL have that vulnerability that makes us fall a little in love with him as we read his story...

We don't ask for much do we???

And then of course there's intelligence and charm and confidence and perseverance and probably a good dose of patience...

Now fitting all of that plus a good deal more into a 50-60,000 word book while fleshing out the heroine's personality and including a little thing called a story at the same time is no mean feat. Yet I have read so many incredible heroes in my day that I can't help but have favourites who have stuck with me. Lori Foster's Gabe, Ally Blake's Sebastian, Rhonda Nelson's Jamie, Kate Walker's Vito, Alyssa Day's Conlan.... the list could go on and on. And that's before I even touch on the subject of actors or singers or sports personalities I've done double takes at.

At the end of the day it's all a very personal choice, isn't it? And I think any author who says they don't add a little of that personal preference to their heroes is fibbing just an ikkle bit. With me there are several criteria - tall is non-negotiable. A sense of humour essential. The ability to step up to the plate when needed vital. Hair colour, eye colour and the like I'm flexible on. But every single darn one of them will have a need in them for the heroine, that even when fought against - just can't be denied...

Do you have a particular hero in a romance novel who stayed in your mind long after you closed the cover? One that just made you come over all warm and fuzzy? What was it about him that made you smile for so long?

One of the beauties of being a writer is you can take all the basic ingredients, go a searchin for a suitable *look* and then create a brand shiny new hero from scratch at least a coupla times a year... Now me - I take the look very seriously. I even have a collection of pics for *hero inspiration* that I keep in a Hero Database on my website to - erm - help other writers OF COURSE! If I'm trawling around the net or watching a film or I see a guy in a magazine that just shouts hero material to me then I Google him immediately, find a few pics I like the tone of (for added inspiration) and then I squirrel them away in my files... It's a tough part of the job, granted. But I like to think I'm admirably dedicated to my craft...

So if you had a particular actor or musician or sportstar you adored in real life and you knew the author had the way he looked in mind when she created a hero on the page would it influence you? Would it add an extra dimension to the fictional guy for you? Would you visualize your real life hero or simply allow yourself to fall for the fictional one?

I have to say when it comes to a hero on the page, in the same way that the cover art can either help or hinder the image I have of him on my mind, knowing what the author had in her mind can either help or hinder. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE to see how they thought he'd look. But at the end of the day heroes like the ones I listed earlier have stuck with me because of the characterization and that little bit of personal perception I brought to it. I think it's the same for every hero. Take away the cover art and have thirty people read the same book and I guarantee you they'd all have very different ideas of who he might look like in real life.

So does cover art effect your reading enjoyment? Will a good one add to your reading experience? Will a bad one take something away from it for you?

Because many's an author has been known to complain bitterly about how their hero turned out on the cover. Thing is how exactly does the poor marketing department get inside the head of so many authors and see exactly what they saw? If they had to pay all the actors/musicians/sportstars we had in mind then the books would end up costing a small fortune! But then we are also known to dance will glee when they get it right. Like my February Harlequin Romance release for instance. For my hero, Kane Healey I had but one photograph that launched my imagination. It involved one of the ones here - with the actor dressed in dark clothes looking back over his shoulder. In that picture I saw a world of possibilitites. I saw a hero with secrets and regrets. A hero who could find great happiness with a woman he should never have let go if he would just take time to get to know her in the here and now...Heck I even dressed Kane the same way in several scenes!

And when the cover came, I was ecstatic. It was more than close enough to what I had in mind. My fantasy guy was there for all the world to see. And considering how much the cover has been plastered around the universe with the Mills & Boon Centenary I can't begin to tell you how happy I am about that!!! But then maybe I worry too much? Because I constantly worry about things like having the right career for him, the right name, the right levels of strength and vulnerability... it's a world of angst in my house.
So I ask you - who is your fantasy hero? Is he alpha male - beta? Is he in need of redemption, capable of rescuing the heroine, all the more endearing because of his vulnerability? Is it simply all about the looks? Or is it the complete package that matter? Who would be your perfect fantasy guy this Valentine's Day?
I'll pick a winner in a week from the comments for a copy of Her One And Only Valentine (still waiting to hear from the winner of my last book from my last Blog on here btw so if they don't come forwards I'll pick another one at the end of the month)
In the meantime if you want to learn more about my books or my writing life then please do drop by my Website or my Blog. And HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY for tomorrow!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

12 Points on the 12th with Kate Walker

First of all, I have some great news about my book - The 12 Point Guide To Writing Romance. (well - it's great news for me! If you've been looking for a copy, it might not be quite so great for you.)

I heard from my publisher last week and this book is now officially SOLD OUT. He shipped the very last copies from the wharehouse and there are none left. There might be some around on or B&N .com - but not many!

But if you want a chance to win a copy of this book, Lee actually has not one but two copies of it to offer as a prize in a contest and she'll be setting that up on My Tote Bag very soon - so look out for that or for the details on my blog too.

So for today's 'point' - I'd like to look at Conflict a bit more. On my blog, I wrote a bit about this in my mini-series of hints about Writing For Presents with reference to the Harlequin Presents Instant Seduction contest, where I wrote:

It's the emotional intensity that makes a Presents novel - and to create that emotional intensity you need to have a strong and emtional conflict.

The Instant Seduction Contest is still going on - just - so I'd like to add a little more to that thought about conflict and what makes a good one - and how you can deepen and intensify it by

Adding layers to a conflict
Very few reasons for conflict, however powerful, can actually last through the whole of a book without changing, adapting, developing, or just varying in tone and emphasis. The best sorts of conflicts are those that have layers and layers of involvement, and as each one is dealt with and peeled away, it reveals another complication, another aspect of the same problem, or a different development of it, going deeper and deeper until finally the central core of the problem is exposed, ready for you characters to tackle it.

This pacing and staging of the revelations that make up the conflict adds to the suspense and the tension that keeps the reader turning the page. It also has the bonus of increasing and building on the sexual tension between the hero and heroine as they want more and more to be together but feel more and more that it will be a mistake/a danger/a disaster.

I tend to start out with a main character - either the hero or the heroine and a situation that they are in - okay - classic secret baby conflict (overused - but it's quick and easy)

So she has a baby - So what happened in the past?

Why didn't she stay with the father/tell him about the child ?

The answers to that will give me some more idea of what the conflict issues will be -

- She left him because she knew he never wanted children and she feared he would force her to choose between the baby and him and she knew she could never have a termination
Next - What is going to bring the two together

He comes back into her life Why? Has he been looking for her - or is it by accident

The answer to that will give me an idea of how he's feeling and so how he's going to react when they meet again.

Then putting the two together creates the initial conflict.

Short term conflict - She doesn't want him to know about the baby He believes she walked out on him for someone else

Long term conflict - the unresolved problem of the fact that he doesn't want children and she does and he thinks she has a new man in her life

So - the first conflict we see is that she hides the child's existence That's stage one

Stage two: - But then he sees her with the child - doesn't realise it's hers - a different conflict - should she tell him or not?
Especially as he is clearly taken with the child

Stage three : Her friend gives away the fact that the baby is hers
He now knows about the baby - but thinks it is younger than it really is - so the conflict shifts again He thinks the baby is with her new man and that's why she left. Same original conflict - but it's changing and reshaping with additional information
Stage Three - He gets to know the child - thinking it's someone else's. Then he finds out the truth

A new slant on this stage - how will he react to the realisation that he's been deceived ? He also has to face the fact that it was his own refusal to have children that made her hide the child in the first place

Stage Four: He comes to love the child - but does he love the heroine?

He explains why he didn't want children Which adds another complication.

They are building peace in order to care for the child but is there any more to it?

Black Moment He has fallen in love with his baby and insists that he wants more than just access - he wants the child in his life The heroine sees this as a demand to take the child from her - that he wants the baby not her

So you see, this all started from the original conflict of him not wanting children but not saying why

Which leads her to react in one way

And he reacts to that - which changes the situation.

And she reacts to the changed situation . . . .

So the way to develop a deep, emotional conflict is to work from the inside - to go with the characters' feelings and the way they react to each stage of the developing conflict. That reaction will spark off an answering reaction in the other person - emotional reactions, not conflicts created by outside forces.

And because the reactions, the emotions and so the conflicts come from deep inside the characters' hearts, the conflict in the book will have the emotional punch that editors are looking for.

If you want to see these changes in action - the book is HIS MIRACLE BABY (Presents Feb 02)

So Lee will set up the 12 Point Guide Contest but today's prize from me is a copy of my best-selling Presents title The Greek Tycoon's Unwilling Wife. This is the book that came out in November and you don;t have to answer a writer question for it. Seeing as Valentine's Day is coming up, tell me your favourite Valentine memory. (Mine is the year that my husband and I both bought each other the same card - because we'd both loved it and wished we could be given it instead of giving it to someone!)
Post your answers and I'll get that cat of mine to pick a winner.
You can find more about Kate Walker on her web site or on her blog

Monday, February 11, 2008

Some Call It Research -- Anne McAllister

Right after "Where do you get your ideas?" -- which often seems a mystery to those who read but don't feel inclined to put words on paper -- comes the question, "Do you do research?"

And the question is inevitably accompanied by the worried looks and wrinkled frowns that imply that research must be pretty distasteful. Doesn't it mean having to sit in a library all day and read dusty non-fiction tomes written by dead people?

Well, yes. Sometimes.

But it also means getting to go to Ireland or Fiji or the Bahamas or wherever your little heart wants to set your next book (provided you can afford to get there), and soaking up the local color and then reliving the experience through the eyes of your characters for the next few months.

It means getting to interview really really interesting people you might never get a chance to cross paths with otherwise.

Before I wrote books I never would have considered calling up the head athletic trainer at a Division 1 university and asking if he would mind talking me through the rehab of a major league pitcher.

Before I wrote books I had no idea anyone built sand castles for a living, much less would be delighted to talk me through the construction of an 11 ton Victorian house built of sand.

Before I wrote books I had only a passing acquaintance with the life of a rodeo cowboy. I certainly never expected to have one volunteer to design an itinerary for my fictional cowboy who needed to 'go down the road' from the end of May until the first of August.

Nor did I expect him to call me at one in the morning when he was fogged in at the Santa Barbara airport so we could discuss it!

Let's just say that my horizons expanded exponentially when I began to write.

"Doing research" does sometimes involve dusty old tomes -- but seen through the eyes of my characters, they very often become vitally alive and interesting. More often, though, "doing research" involves me in the lives of others -- trying to experience the world as they do, see what they see, say what they say, perceive reality a bit -- or a lot -- differently than I do when I look at it from where I normally stand.

A year ago this very day I was getting on a plane (in the middle of a blizzard) to head to Ireland where I was going to try to walk in the shoes of Flynn Murray, my here-today-gone-tomorrow hero in One-Night Love Child. Flynn had been a bit player in an earlier book of mine, The Great Montana Cowboy Auction. Back then he was a footloose journalist, a fish out of water in the Montana I know well. So I didn't have to do much research for him in that book.

But in his own book, he was no longer wandering the world in search of a story. He was the earl of Dunmorey and heir to a 500 year old castle that was crumbling down around his ears.

What I knew about the Irish aristocracy was zilch. What I knew about old Irish houses at that point was what I'd read in books.

What I had learned by the end of my visit was that Flynn was going to have his hands full. Covering a war might be easier than being an earl. And that was only part of his problem. This was, after all, a romance. He had a heroine to sort out -- er, to woo and win -- too

What did I learn on my trip? Lots about manor houses -- that's Ballyvolane House in Cork, by the way -- lots about rain, lots about what it takes to make a house earn its keep. And happily, I reconfirmed some things I did know -- like the fact that little boys with train sets and dogs with wet paws are the same the world over.

Mostly, though, I got details. Specifics. All the things I needed that I didn't know I needed, but which, when I got home, gave life and detail to the book I sat down to write.

I also met wonderful people while doing my research.

These folks aren't in my book. But they did answer my questions and became my supporters and my friends. One of them, fortunately, was a man who spoke Irish. I really needed a friend who spoke Irish. And this one gallantly spent an evening and a morning translating all the Irish I thought I would need. And before he left Ballyvolane House, he gave me his email address and said whenever I needed any more Irish translations, be sure to write him.

Believe me, I did. When I needed a family motto -- in Irish -- not to mention several other phrases that came up along the way, I emailed James.

Can you tell that for me "doing research" is probably the most fun part of the book?

It gets me out of my office into parts of the world that I don't normally get to. It introduces me to people I would ordinarily never meet.

It enriches my writing. Even more, it enriches my life.

Anne's upcoming book, One-Night Love Child, about formerly footloose Flynn Murray, now the Earl of Dunmorey, is a March release from Harlequin Presents and an April release from HM&B Modern. She'd like to know what you think of research? If you're a writer, what's the best time you ever had researching. Hers was going to bull-riding school!

And if you're a reader, have you ever read a book that has made you want to explore some other career or place or way of life?
Which book? What have you been inspired to do? Did you do it?

Leave a comment and win a copy of One-Night Love Child. Anne's dog, Gunnar (in March he'll be going by "O'Gunnar" -- or as Anne says, "Oh, Gunnar!") will pick a winner from all the comments left before Tuesday, February 12th.

And don't forget to drop by Anne's blog, Kate Walker's blog and Liz Fielding's blog for a chance to win copies of all three of their latest releases in their second annual Here Come The Grooms! contest this month.