Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Celebrating with a Giveaway - Laura Griffin

I have the coolest job in the world. At least, I think so. As a writer of fiction, I get to zero in on an idea that interests me, research the hell out of it, and then write a purely made up 400-page story about it. Sound fun?

The reason I like my job so much (besides the fact that I love, love, love to create stories!) is that I get to meet all kinds of interesting people. For my new release, UNSPEAKABLE, which features an FBI heroine, I got to meet some truly amazing folks at the FBI. Visiting the Academy at Quantico, where my heroine underwent the most grueling training of her life—helped me get into my character’s head and hopefully write a more vivid book. After seeing first-hand where Special Agent Elaina McCord got her professional start, after learning about everything she would have gone through, and after interviewing real female agents on the job, I was able to much better understand the protagonist of my book.

UNSPEAKABLE features rookie FBI agent Elaina McCord, who goes to a Texas beach resort to help local police solve a string of brutal murders. When the case turns frighteningly personal, true crime writer Troy Stockton may be the only person Elaina can trust.

If you like a chilling mystery with a dose of hot romance, I hope you’ll like UNSPEAKABLE! And to celebrate the book’s release, I’m giving away a $20 Borders gift card to one lucky winner who e-mails me with the subject line Bags N Blogs. I’ll draw a winner Sunday night.

Good luck and happy reading!


Congratulations to Rose of Seaford, New York! Rose won a $20 Borders gift card from Laura Griffin, who posted here last week about her new release, UNSPEAKABLE.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Cover - Dara Girard

Coming soon to Kindle, Nook, Sony ereader and iPad is my award winning nonfiction title THE WRITER BEHIND THE WORDS: Steps to Success in the Writing Life. I’m having fun converting this print book for the ebook market.
Here is the original cover designed by the award- winning group TLC Graphics.

With the help of author and ebook designer Julie Ortolon, I worked to get a new look for the ebook. As you know things in the cyber world have different rules than those in print.

She gave me two options.

Which one catches your eye?
I hope it’s the one I finally selected. Check out my website next week to find out which one made the cut!

Monday, June 28, 2010

When Art Meets Reality

If you read my books, you probably know I'm what is considered an "issues" writer. While every one of my books is a romance with a decidely Scooby Doo everything-tied-in-a-neat-little-bow bent to my endings, my stories often deal with people facing real life challenges (read "issues"). I've been asked if it bothered me to be labeled an issues writer and my answer is an emphatic no. :) While it can be emotionally draining to write about the harder bits of real life, I truly believe that victory over them is possible. Not easy. Not automatic. Not even complete always...but yes, possible.

I write what I write because I truly believe in the HEA (which I see as an HB - happy beginning - but that's another topic), no matter the difficulties life throws at you. And believe me, this comes from deep personal experience.

Which leads me to my current book. Although I am always honored and frankly pleased to be asked if I suffer from (or have personally) faced the issues I write about, up until now I have had to say, "No." (Though honestly...I usually have at least one dear friend or relative who has done.) But my heroine in "The Shy Bride" is dealing with an almost debilitating introverted nature. She's a brilliant pianist and composer, but cannot enjoy her fame or the connections it might give her.

Few who meet me would think I am shy. When I was a young person, I realized if I allowed my natural introverted nature to reign, I would not make friends. Being very stubborn, I put on the smiling persona I now wear. But the last few years, I have begun to have bouts of agoraphobia or social phobia if you'd rather - but I really struggle sometimes being online or leaving the house. What is really funny, is that I had started "The Shy Bride" (and then set it aside for a different book) before this challenge began to manifest itself in my life. I guess my subconscious knew I'd fought my own nature too long and the ramifications of doing so were coming.

Like my heroine, with the help of a sexy alpha hero (my dear husband), I refuse to let these circumstances win.

~ ~ ~

The Shy Bride
Traditional Greek Husbands mini-series
Harlequin Presents #2929
ISBN-10: 0373129297
ISBN-13: 978-0373129294
July 2010 North America

Untouched — and bought for $100,000!

Thrust into the limelight, child star Cassandra timidly enchanted audiences night after night...But when her parents died, Cass retreated into her own world — too shy to leave her home. Once a year she shares her musical passion by offering lessons in a charity auction... This year, money talks...the winning bid: $100,000!

Enter: Neo Stamos, arrogant Greek tycoon. He wants Cass with a burning desire, though he knows that, shy and sweet, she will need a gentle awakening... But Neo’s the master of seduction!

~ ~ ~

Award winning author Lucy Monroe published her first book in September 2003 and will celebrate the release of her 50th book this September. Visit her online at or her group page on Facebook.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Look in Your Spice Cabinet

Before you go and look, guess how many bottles of cloves you have in your spice cabinet. Ground and whole cloves. What do you think? One or two, one of each?

When I moved recently, I found I had six bottles of ground cloves, two of whole.

Now, this isn't Renaissance England and I don't need to rub cloves on myself in order to smell good (thank you modern plumbing and Dove soap). I do not make pumpkin pies every day, nor do I decorate a ham with a crosshatch cut, pineapple slices, maraschino cherries, and whole cloves--I have never done that. I don't think I've eaten a ham like that since 1985.

So what's up with the cloves?

And the number of ground ginger bottles was alarming. Chili powder? You'd think I entered into chili competitions weekly.

I saw an ad for McCormick spices, and it said if the bottle in your cupboard had a particular address on it, the bottle was over 15 years old. I threw away three bottles, one of onion salt. This was a very smart advertising campaign, a good way to get people to start chucking bottles and then go out to buy six more bottles of new cloves.

Star anise--petrified. Cardamom pods? Good for the compost pile. Fennel and cumin seeds? Dead, dead, dead.

Bay leaves like brittle paper, crystallized ginger like granite.

I did feel a little nostalgiac about dishes I made with the now defunct spices. Chicken Diablo--my friend Cindy's boyfriend gave me the recipe in 1984. Goodbye antique chili flakes.

But what was a doing with star anise? Hmmm--I must have repressed the memory.

So here's my call--go into the kitchen. Yes, do it. Open the drawer, the cabinet--look on the shelf. Start examining those bottles. Smell them--if you can't smell them, buy six bottles of ground cloves.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Friday, June 25, 2010

Keeping Things Fresh - Elizabeth Amber

Have you ever gotten series fatigue? That blah feeling that comes over you when you’re reading a 4th or 5th novel in a series and suddenly you think—I like this series, but this all seems a little too familiar. I’ve felt this kind of fatigue myself on occasion, both as a reader and an author.
When I began writing the 5th book in my Lords of Satyr series, I felt I’d neatly wrapped up the stories of the previous three half-satyr brothers (Nicholas, Raine, and Lyon) and their relatives. Well, there was that one Nereid, Elise, who was still emotionally and physically wounded at the end of Lyon. She deserves her own book, and I may write her story someday. But with a new 3-book contract from Kensington on my desk, I felt a strong desire for a fresh start.

I decided to begin a new trilogy within my existing Lords of Satyr series. Three books about three brothers--Dane, Bastian, and Sevin. My previous novels were set in 1820s Tuscany, and involved brothers, who guarded ancient secrets in a vineyard devoted to the worship of the Roman wine god. I love these brothers dearly, but I didn’t want them visiting my new family. So, with this 5th book (Dane), I moved the series up to the 1880s and I set it in Rome.

Why Rome? Because my background is in art history and archaeology, and the Roman forum excavations were in full swing in the 1880s. It’s a setting that’s rich with all sorts of mysteries surrounding the Vestal Virgins, Bona Dea, and other cults.
I knew this was the right thing to do because I immediately felt excited about it in a way that I hadn’t felt excited about lingering with the satyr lords in the 1820s.
On page one of my new release, Dane, The Lords of Satyr, Dane is losing his mind…at least for one night. It’s a very special night known as the Calling, when the satyr lords engage in a ritual devoted to the wine god, Bacchus. Because of a mysterious boyhood trauma, Dane harbors an alternate personality that seeks to protect him from the learning the secret of his missing brother's whereabouts. As his mind is taken from him, he’s in an olive grove on one of Rome’s famous seven hills, overlooking the Forum. Eva stumbles upon the grove, hoping to filch some olives for an unusual purpose—to create a potion that will disguise the fact that she’s the only female satyr in existence. Something she must hide, even from Dane. This won’t be easy because she cannot avoid him. She’s a matchmaker, whose job it is to find human wives for Dane and his brothers.
I hope you enjoy this excerpt:

Heart pounding, Mademoiselle Evangeline Delacorte struggled to fit the slender blade of the bronze key into the lock in the ornate ironwork gate. A difficult task when her lace-gloved hands were shaking so badly.

Her face was flushed, fevered with an unfortunate illness that came to her with regularity and ever-increasing force. Human females of her acquaintance might complain about their monthly flow to confidantes over tea in the privacy of their salons. Yet for her own safety and that of those she protected, she must remain silent on the subject of her own more unique monthly discomforts.

“Odette? Pinot?” she called, rattling the key in the lock with growing desperation. Why wouldn’t it catch? In contrast to her frenzied struggle, the lazy Italian moon eyed her just above the horizon. How long did she have? Fifteen minutes? Ten? She’d never cut her time so close. Just beyond the gate lay a small garden and then beyond that the door to her townhouse. In moments, she was going to fall apart.

Sudden illuminations splintered the sky above her, bursting like fiery snowballs. She started violently, and the key clanked to the cobblestone lane at her feet.

She cursed under her breath. “Must every night bring another celebration to this ridiculous city?” Bending, she swept her skirt aside and searched the ground on all sides of her.

Footsteps sounded and she glanced up, alarmed. Had the man from the grove followed her? But it was only a group of human revelers scurrying past, on their way to a Roman festa of some sort. Decades of excavations in the Forum along Via Sacra had caused a rampant fascination for all things mythological. They were dressed in costume. How ironic that they chose to disguise themselves as the very species that she and other ElseWorld transplants took such pains to hide.

The lone Bacchus among the group wore a garland of olive sprigs and held the arm of a delicate sprite. Accompanying them were several maenads, a fairy with wings that glittered in the dwindling light, and the Roman goddess of love, Venus. A faux Satyr was costumed in a dark demi-mask and a cloak. A large, multi-colored phallus meant to draw the eye bobbed at an upward angle from the codpiece he wore.

You’ll need me between your thighs. She shivered, recalling that man’s--Dane’s--words in the grove. Gods! How had he guessed when no one else had before in all of her twenty-two years?

Beside her foot, her hand touched metal. The key. When she stood again, a dour face stared back at her through the curls of iron in the grillwork of the gate. She flinched and lay a hand over her heart. “Odette! You nearly scared the life out of me.”

The mulatto woman’s eyes, startling blue against her coffee skin, narrowed on her. She’d had the uncanny knack of ferreting out Eva’s secrets ever since she’d been a girl. Would she guess what had just occurred in that small olive grove on Aventine Hill?

But Odette only darted a meaningful look at the moon. Clucking, she lapsed into the colloquial mix of her native ElseWorld and an obscure Italian hill-country dialect as her hands worked the stubborn lock from inside. Then, “You late, Mademoiselle! I sent Pinot out looking for you,” she said, referring to the diminutive pixie who served them as a combination coachman, majordomo, and bringer of gossip. “I worry you could be out there dead like the others, floating in the Tiber River.”

“Obviously I’m not. I’m careful.” Eva wrung her hands. “Hurry, will you?”

Finally the gate budged. It swung open with a protesting shriek--one they did not oil away for it offered advance warning of visitors. At last she was admitted into the garden. As Eva darted inside, Odette peered both ways down the street, eying those that idled there as she shut the gate again. She hadn’t yet gotten used to the fact that they no longer dwelled in the dubious district they’d inhabited in ElseWorld rather than their current, more respectable address on Capitoline, the smallest of the Seven Hills of Rome.

Odette swung the gate shut with a bang and followed behind her, her step ungainly. “Where you been?” she demanded suspiciously.

“I followed the map in Maman’s book to the grove.” Eva paused long enough to stuff the handful of olives from her pocket into Odette’s hands.

“This all you could get? It won’t see you through the month.”

“I’m lucky to have gotten that much. The land has been occupied.” Eva threw behind her as she scurried through the garden’s small courtyard and toward the house.”

“By who?”

“Not now.” Eva shook her head, nodding toward the two wide-eyed girls who stood barefoot in the doorway. Clad in white linen nighties they almost appeared to be apparitions. They weren’t of course. But they weren’t entirely human either.

“Mademoiselle! You’ve come!” said five-year-old Mimi. She bounced on her toes in childish excitement. Next to her, eight-year-old Lena was nervously stroking the end of her braid over her lips, looking as if she were nibbling a paintbrush.

“Vite, bebes! Come inside—all of you.” Eva scolded softly. Bending to give them slapdash hugs, she gently tugged the braid from Lena’s mouth offering her a reassuring smile. Then she skirted the pair and ducked inside.

Lifting her skirts high on either side of her, she raced up the stairs in an unladylike manner. On any other night, Odette would have scolded her.

But tonight she only called to her from the bottom of the staircase, “All is as you like!” Behind her, the girls peeked from either side of her aproned skirt, fascinated as always by any hints of what was to happen to Eva during this mysterious monthly event.

“Off with you!” Odette shooed the girls toward their room on the opposite side of the house.

“Do as she bids you,” Eva called. At the top of the staircase, she rushed down the corridor and flung herself into her bedchamber.

Shoving the door closed with an elbow, she half-fell against it, the weight of her body slamming it shut behind her. Her head fell back and she wrenched open the neck of her bodice. Her corset had become a device of torture. Breath was strangled in her chest, struggling to escape. She ran her fingers down hooked fastenings popping the uppermost of them open. Released from their decorous silken prison, her breasts swelled within the deep vee. Ah sweet freedom!

But tonight, these four walls would serve as another sort of prison. One that kept the world out and rendered her safe within. The solid oak doors and plastered walls here were thick and the windowpanes doubled. Whatever happened here would be buffered from the outside world and from the two girls who’d become her family. When she’d come here three months ago, a neighbor had told her that a madwoman had been kept here in this chamber in an earlier century. And would she not turn mad herself soon? She supposed she was fortunate that her lunacy would only be of a ten-hour duration. From dusk to dawn.

Dane, The Lords of Satyr is an RT Top Pick, a Night Owl Romance Top Pick, a Recommended Read at Kwips & Kritiques, and has garnered numerous 4.5 and 5 star reviews. Fresh Fiction called Dane “Another smash hit.” See more buzz at

Read another excerpt at

Excerpt copyright 2009-2010 by Elizabeth Amber

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My (Very Quick) Summer Vacation by Caitlin Crews

My husband and I are in the middle of moving house (this weekend! Yikes!), but before everything got really crazy, we headed off to a quick little summer vacation:

This is Dana Point, CA, where, just over two years ago, we got married.

Isn't it pretty? We got to do all the things we told our wedding guests to do, but never did ourselves.

Like check out the pirate ship.

Or walk on the beach.

While I pack and sort and tape and schlep, I try to remember this moment:

I hope your summer vacations are just as delightful-- and maybe a little bit longer!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Grandma and the Prince - Part 18

<==Grandpa at 100, holding a copy of one of my time travels

Yes, the title is Grandma and the Prince but this month my post isn't about Grandma El. I thought I'd switch things up and introduce you to my Grandpa Larry. He was my mother's father and the man Grandma El almost married when I was a very little girl. Their love affair scandalized the family and it burned brightly (in memory at least) until they died.

This is the story he told me about how he came to marry Lillian, the Swedish girl who was his first (of five!) wives.

I hope you enjoy it. (And yes, I'll be back with more Grandma El next month.)

* * *

In August 1995 my grandfather Loren (AKA Larry) was diagnosed
with cancer. He was ninety-nine years old at the time and the
prognosis was poor.

It seemed crazy to me, subjecting an old man to major surgery
but my grandfather was in his right mind and the choice was his.
"What do I have to lose?" he asked in his plain-spoken way. If
he was going to go out, he'd go out fighting. Go gentle into that good
night? You've got to be kidding.

Grandpa sailed through surgery and things were looking up when a
post-surgical infection sent him spinning toward oblivion.
Finally the call we'd been dreading came through.

"He only has a few hours," the doctor said. "You'd better get
in here fast."

An hour later we were standing by his bed, saying goodbye. "No
tears," Grandpa said. "I've had a grand life and it's time I went. I'm
not afraid."

We made some kind of silly joke about the other side, about the
wives waiting for him there and how he would have to finally choose
which one he loved most of all. He laughed as I'd known he would but
there was something else on his mind. Something he had to get off his

"It's about Lillian," he said to me. "Your grandmother."

His first wife.

"Please don't, Dad," my mother said. Lillian was her mother and
theirs had been a tragic relationship. "If it's something awful, I
don't want to know."

His blue eyes welled with tears. "I have to--"

"Tell me," I said as my mother nodded. "I want to know." So
much of their lives have been shrouded in secrets. So much has been
lost. Their secrets couldn't hurt me but they could help me piece
together my heritage.

My parents and husband left me alone with Grandpa and the
roomful of equipment meant to keep him alive a little longer. He began
to talk, slowly at first with the sense of drama and timing that is
second nature to the natural-born storyteller, relating a story I was
very familiar with. He grew up in Kansas, one of five children. His
mother was Chippewa Indian. His father Scots-Irish. My
great-grandmother died of breast cancer when Grandpa was ten years old
and my great-grandfather's grief was so great that he killed himself
rather than deal with life without his Eliza. Or so I was told. Who
can say? Some people are strong enough to bear whatever pain life
throws their way. Others turn to dust.

The little ones were easy enough to place. There was always room
for a cute toddler. And the older boy was strong and hard-working.
What farmer wouldn't benefit from another pair of hands?

That left Loren, the middle boy. Too old to be cute. Too young
to be useful. He bounced between a series of foster homes and, by his
twelfth birthday, was on his own. I guess in some ways he lived the
American dream. When his parents were alive, they'd sailed across the
Kansas plains in a prairie schooner. Now he sailed across the country,
riding the rails north to the Grand Tetons, then over to Oregon and
Washington State where he found a job at a logging camp. When World War
I started, he joined the Navy and the rest of the world, the world he
knew only from books, opened up before him.

1922 found Loren in New York City. The War was over. He was
still in the Navy, stationed in Brooklyn while his ship was in dry dock.
One night his pal Tom asked Loren if he wanted to go out to supper and
a show with two shop clerks Tom had met earlier in the day. "You've
gotta do this for me, Larry," Tom said to my grandfather. "It's the only
way Marie'll go out with me."

Larry was happy to oblige. He loved New York, loved everything
it promised, couldn't imagine wanting to live anywhere else. When he
was discharged from the Navy, he would make his home right there, at the
crossroads of the world.

Lillian was a pretty young woman, but there were no sparks. She
reminded him of the girls he'd left behind in Kansas, good girls who
wanted homes and families of their own. She'd come over from Sweden a
few months earlier to live with her father and brother. She worked
eight hours a day selling notions but her main job was to cook and clean
for the men.

He and Lillian enjoyed supper and the show then said goodnight
and went their separate ways.

"She was a nice girl," he said to me, "but that was all."
Lillian was as innocent and wide-eyed as she could be. Certainly no
match for a young man who'd seen the world.

He didn't think of her again until one night, a few weeks later,
when a telegram arrived for him.

"I didn't want to open it," he told me. "Telegrams always meant
bad news." His pals gathered around him for support as he tore into the
yellow envelope and read the message.

"Noon Tuesday under Station clock," the telegram said. "Please
be there."

It was signed "Lillian."

He didn't want to go. He told himself she meant nothing to him,
that she was just a girl he'd shared supper with and a double feature.
Everything in him screamed for him to rip up that telegram and forget
he'd ever seen it. Hell, he barely knew her at all. She was the friend
of a friend of a friend, some funny-talking foreigner who was trying to
make her way in a strange country. It wasn't like he owed her anything.
He had better things to do with a New York afternoon than see her

Rip it up, he told himself. Toss it in the trash. That was
where it belonged. There were a million girls out there, girls who
smelled like perfume instead of soap. Girls who would laugh at his
jokes instead of nodding politely because they only understood every
other word.

Who can say why he didn't rip it up? Even now, almost
seventy-five years later, Loren doesn't know why himself.

But that decision changed his life and made mine possible.

Noon found him crossing that giant rotunda, long Navy-trained
steps heading toward the clock, with his blood pounding hard in his ears
and a warning whistle loud inside his head. You could feel the trains
rumbling beneath your feet. Smell the diesel fuel. Men in suits and
ties pushed past him. Boys hawked newspapers every few feet. Fancy
women in flowered dresses drifted by. He couldn't even imagine what
they were about or where they were going. He was thinking about their
secret lives, these rich city folk, when he saw her standing under the

Lillian wore a plain pink cotton dress, white hose, and heavy
black shoes. Her pale blond hair was knotted on top of her head. At
her feet was a cardboard valise. He saw that valise and his heart near
to stopped beating inside his chest. A needy little girl looking for someone
to save her.

Run, his gut screamed. He'd been making his life
alone through life for more than ten years and he liked it that way.

He didn't need this. He didn't want it. Hell, he didn't deserve it. A
buzzing sounded inside his skull, drowning out the commotion around him.
Lillian raised her hand to him in greeting and he put one foot in front
of the other, moving toward her even though it was the last thing he
wanted to do.

"I knew you would come," she said, squeezing his hand. "I knew

How could she know something he didn't know himself? Something
he still wasn't sure of even though he was standing there, close enough
to smell soap and cinnamon.

Her story was a simple one, probably played out half a dozen
times a day or more in New York City. Her father had found himself a
new wife and there was no longer any room for Lillian in the little
lower East Side flat. She'd asked everyone she knew for help. The
girls she worked with, her boss at the dime store. She'd answered every
newspaper ad she could find. She'd spent the last two nights in a
womens' shelter but she'd finally run out of options. She thought the
Navy gave the men apartments to live in and she'd happily cook and clean
in return for a roof over her head. Nothing more than that.

They ate together then walked the length and breadth of the city
while he tried to figure out a way to help her. Something about the
girl touched him, maybe reached the part of his heart he'd believed died
with his parents back on the flat Kansas plains. He knew how it felt to
be alone. He knew how it felt to want nothing more than the safety of a
roof. Shelter from the storm.

"I'd give you money if I had it," he said, meaning it. They
were walking up Broadway. He would never forget the way her hair looked
in the fierce orange light of the setting sun. "Enough so's you could
have a place to live." But he only had his small Navy salary. Enough
for him to live on, but he didn't have to worry about room and board.
The Navy took care of that for him. Only the married sailors got more.

Just enough so they could set up housekeeping with a wife.

The words kind of hung there between them, all ripe-to-bursting.
They looked around those words and under them but, no matter how hard
they tried, those damn words wouldn't go away.

It wouldn't be a real marriage. They both agreed on that. How
could it be a real marriage when they didn't even know each other?
Besides, Loren had no interest in a wife and family. His father's
sorrow had destroyed his family and my grandfather vowed he'd never let
himself get in that position. He wanted a hell of a lot more out of
life than sorrow and responsbility.

They worked out the details over coffee and donuts. A marriage
of convenience, same as in those old movies they both loved. Lillian
would have a place to live and a little extra money. Loren would go his
own way, married in name only to a woman he barely knew.

Except for one small thing.

Eleven months later, on September 7, 1920 while Loren was sailing the South China Sea, his first son was born.

* * *

PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here. It's been awhile since my last giveaway. I'll pick one name from the comments. The winner will receive signed copies of CASTING SPELLS, LACED WITH MAGIC, and JUST DESSERTS and some saltwater taffy straight from the Boardwalk at Atlantic City!

On sale in November ==>

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Linda Conrad - One part Internet, one part Sheiks, Stir in Cheetos

You may wonder what the heck the above three things have in common. Well, sadly they have all been a big part of my life over the last few weeks.

I am starting a brand new series for Silhouette Romantic Suspense next month called Desert Sons. The first book, out in July, is HER SHEIK PROTECTOR. It’s an international romantic thriller, which many of you know is not my usual style. But it’s a book I have been waiting a lifetime to tell. The series revolves around a family of Bedouins who find themselves embroiled in an bitter war of revenge with an ancient enemy. It’s a fantasy adventure set in the modern world. With an old-time Hollywood noir feeling, HER SHIEK PROTECTOR is the story of an independent woman who ends up in the middle of a dangerous family feud. I love it.

Starting a new series is always a tense time for me. Will the readers like the first book? Will they want to read the next books in the series? Can I get the word out about my new book in time before it disappears from the shelves?

I’ve been working on a new website design that better captures the feeling of my new series in hopes of getting the word out. That’s been more work than I could’ve ever imagined. And guess what? The community where I live decided to change their Internet provider this month. Kick out the old guys and bring in the new. Only the new can’t quite make their system work all the time. In fact, out of the last few weeks, we’ve only had service about a quarter of the time. Gasp! It’s been one stress-filled month for me, running down to the library to send messages to my webmaster, and then holding on the phone for the new service people to tell me they’re “working on it.”

So after six months of dieting and exercising, losing fifteen hard-earned pounds, I am now stuffing in the junk food while I sit and stare at an empty screen. That’s where the Cheetos come in. They’ve been a favorite stress releaser of mine since childhood. Also a favored method of gaining weight. Sigh. (for people in other parts of the world: Cheetos are cheese-flavored crisps- really greasy, salty and messy)

I think I need a new junk food. Have any ideas for me? I know some of you from countries besides the U.S. have special favorite treats. What are they called? And all of you from different parts of the U.S.: what’s your favorite junk these days? Do they still eat moon pies in the south? Yum.

Leave a comment and win a copy of HER SHEIK PROTECTOR. Linda’s dog, KiKi the adorable, will pick a winner from all the comments left before Wednesday, June 23rd.
We have a winner! Please check my comment. Thanks to everyone!

And don’t forget to drop by Linda’s website, to read an excerpt from HER SHEIK PROTECTOR, find out more Behind the Book about the Desert Sons and to sign up for Linda’s newsletter and contest!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Double the Fun! - Natalie Anderson

Late last year I was given the lovely opportunity to write a couple of linked books. While I've written books in the past featuring characters who'd appeared as minor characters in other books, this was my first 'scheduled duet' - where the books would come out in consecutive months and have their own little tag line to connect them.
My editor suggested I have the link between the two heroes - apparently readers are fond of this - but other than that, I could do whatever. I was very excited because seriously, one of the best things about this job (if not the best) is creating a to-die-for hero - so getting to do two at once? Bliss!!!

Deciding on how the guys were connected was the first big issue. Were they family? Brothers, half brothers, secret brothers, cousins, foster brothers... or were they best friends, business partners, enemies... did they play on the same sporting team? At what stage in their lives did they meet? Honestly, I had so much fun toying with different combinations and working out how these two knew each other and giving them a backstory that would showcase their different qualities.

Because of course, the real trick is to make them equally attractive (like Brad and George up in that piccie!). Usually in a story you have a hero and a sidekick. In this scenario you have two heroes - one of them just has to be a bit patient. And he's not allowed to take over the first ones' story! That was definitely something I had to watch. But eventually I got there with Alex and Lorenzo and I have to admit they're two of my favourite heroes to date. Alex is the heir to a big banking business - and has some pressure to bear there, while Lorenzo has come from a past with a few brushes with the law and he still gets bitten by the graffiti bug - but he owns the fences now!

I'd love to give away a copy of the HOT UNDER THE COLLAR: NAUGHTY NIGHTS WITH THE BOSS duet to a reader! To be in to win, just comment below telling us about some of the other connected books you've read - do you like the ones where it is the heroes or heroines who are connected, and do you like ones about family dynasties or friends in business perhaps?

***edited to add: I've done the draw guys, and pleased to say Alison has won the books!!! Please email me Alison so I can get them in the post to you - my email is in the comments :)

Both Caught on Camera with the CEO and Unbuttoned by her Maverick Boss are available from Mills & Boon UK now and on the shelves there in June/July. Visit Natalie's website for more information on her other books!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Welcome to Cape Fear...

Ahh, summer weekends: those bastions of escapism we all so crave. And all too often live to regret…

The idea was a peaceful weekend at a relative's lake house. We brought a friend and her kids along who needed to get away and chill even more than we did. But with the holiday weekend now past, I desperately need to recover from my non-restful getaway.

In the interest of disclosure, I should admit that I'm not a lake person. The idea of stagnant water teeming with things like poisonous snakes and trash and the fuel discards from tens of thousands of boats and jet skis (oh, and an entire valley of rotten trees and lord knows what else that might lurk beneath one's floating body, as this is a lake created from flooding a large tract of land) doesn't make me too thrilled. The mushy gushy unidentified bottom, the clay-rusted water that stains your swimsuit, the decomposing leaves on the top, and other stench and detritus along the lake's shorelines just do not appeal to me. Give me the wash of crystal blue ocean waves, the soothing sound of seagulls, the brilliant twinkle of sun reflecting off sugared sand beaches any day.

My sister-in-law used to refer to the lake house as Cape Fear. As in, "Oh, no! You're going to Cape Fear again?" She knew how not-keen I was for the aforementioned reasons. Throw in my small children who needed to be watched like hawks in order to avoid drowning, being flung from a pounding motor boat, poisonous snakes and spiders, ground wasps, ticks, sunburn, and about a hundred other safety hazards, and being lake-bound meant being stress-bound for me. The absence of air conditioning in sweltering heat along with other missing accoutrements of modernity like a dishwasher didn't add much to the charm. To top it off, the nearest town—a limited escape hatch--is a bit, well, cheesy. The kind of place where they have a "Junque Shoppe" and another that sells "Biskits." As the fourth grade spelling bee champ, I am rarely amused by deliberately freakish misspellings of common words, even if to be cutesy.

But as my brood has gotten older, the trip has become a bit easier. Enough so that while I still contend it's pretty much camping with a roof (and I do loathe camping)--what with the massive amounts of foodstuffs, linens and other items you have to lug along for even a few days--it's not quite as hazard-filled. And since I've not been away anywhere just to relax in easily a year, our getaway sounded almost fun. Almost.

We arrived later than planned after a harried Saturday morning of packing, topped off with last-minute inclusion of every blanket and spare pillow we owned (which I would have to wash upon our return). My bug-averse daughter discovered the room in which she'd be sleeping was infested with hundreds of jumbo ants, whose eradication took top priority.

Meanwhile, I'd unleashed the dogs to run free, to hear only moments later the piercing yelps of pain from our Labrador echo hauntingly across the water: a neighbor's dog had raced onto the property and promptly latched onto her hind quarter with a very powerful and unrelenting jaw, leaving her bleeding and endangering my daughter who tried to break up the melee. Bizarrely, the owner of the dog (which had a rap sheet of previous bites) chose to scream at us rather than apologize profusely, as protocol would dictate.

After spending the first hour trying to track down a veterinarian that actually worked on a holiday weekend (with limited cell phone service, natch), I then had to divert to the lovely vet's to have our dog treated.

Meanwhile, a neighbor across the cove had decided to destroy the serenity with a gas-powered leaf blower, then to set fire to five towering mounds of wet leaves and branches that smoldered for several hours, filling the cove with blinding smoke and leaving everyone choking in its wake. This despite my husband's entreaties to cease the burning, what with all of the fumes wafting our direction.

The lake was overrun with other fun-seekers, churning up the normally calm waters to hurricane proportions. Not one inclined toward seasickness, I felt green in the gills as the boat towed our tubing kids in treacherous currents. Sure I could've stayed on shore, but felt the need to actually witness what I figured were the inevitable tubing-related head injuries that would result from the foray into fierce waters. Call me crazy, but I hate the idea of naively waiting back at the house, only to have someone come racing in to tell me we need to find emergency medical help.

By days end an aged and rotting chair in which I was lounging collapsed, and I sweated to near-fainting proportions while cooking dinner for 13 in the stifling air of the a/c-free kitchen, my R&R a mere specter of its former potential. Oh, and my father-in-law put a dent in my car.

Back home now, I'm tackling the nearly twenty loads of lake-related laundry, remnants of my relaxing escape from life's drudgeries. I might be done washing by my next vacation. That would be the one sailing in the Keys, right where several million gallons of oil and toxic solvents are wending their way. So much for that relaxing vaca, eh?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Some of my favorite YAs

As well as being a writer, I also work weekends at my local library in the teen section, which is pretty much a dream job since there is nothing in the world I love more than reading YA books (okay, there is one thing I love more and that's reading YA books and eating a big block of chocolate!) Anyway, I thought I'd talk about some of my favorite reads of the last twelve months.

First up is The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, which are the first two books in The Hunger Games Trilogy. I loved these dystopian novels that follow Katniss as she refuses to let her little sister go to the Hunger Games and fight to the death for her survival. For me the books are like Lord of the Flies meets Big Brother and I spend a good part of my day at work recommending them to everyone who crosses my path. Now I just need to wait until Mockingjay is released!!!

Graceling by Kristin Cashore. This is a fantasy novel about a world where people are gifted with different graces and for Kasta, her grace is death. Because of this, the king uses her as a henchman, until she slowly starts to discover that there is more to her grace than she thought. Truly, this book is amazing!

Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. Okay, so I love what Stephenie Meyers has done for the ya genre, not only in getting girls to read but also in getting publishers to publish more ya books, but when it comes to vampires, I like mine Richelle Mead style! Rose is a fresh-talking take-no-prisoners heroine who gets herself into plenty of trouble! Definitely my favorite of all the ya vampire series.

The Amulet of Samarkand (and the other books in The Bartimaeus Trilogy) by Jonathan Stroud. My friend's fifteen year old son actually got me onto these books after I sold my own Djinn series and boy am I pleased that I didn't read them until after I'd made my sale because I probably never would've even started my own! Anyway, they are amazing books - think Harry Potter but with djinns and evil magicians.

Of course there are plenty more, but these are just a few of my fav YA reads. What about everyone else? Have you been into the teen section lately?

Amanda Ashby
Fairy Bad Day (Puffin June 2011)
Zombie Queen of Newbury High (Puffin out now)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Father's Day - Kathleen O'Brien

Father’s Day is coming. At our house, that’s always cause for anxiety, because my husband won’t ever tell us what he’d like to do, or what presents he’s hoping to get. He insists that his happiness comes just from knowing we’re happy. But, particularly on that day, our happiness comes from making him happy…and so the whole silly situation can get pretty complicated!

This year, as the kids and I were going through our usual “what, oh what, would Daddy like?”, I started thinking how incredibly lucky we are to have a guy like that. I was young when I married him, and I have to be honest. I wasn’t evaluating what kind of father he’d make. I never once considered the gene pool, or inherited traits, or parenting skills, or anything even remotely practical. I was just thinking how I could hardly breathe whenever he came near, and how I could easily drown in those deep brown eyes.

Isn’t it wonderful when that primal chemistry and great father material come in the same package? This is a photo of our firstborn and her Daddy. Have you ever seen such bliss—on both ends? Makes me smile just to look at this one.

I guess it’s no accident that the heroes of my books are so often great fathers—whether it’s fathers of the heart, or fathers of the blood. I’ve written furious heroes who discover they have a “secret baby” the heroine hid from them years ago. I’ve written bewildered heroes who fall in love with a woman who is carrying another man’s child, horrified heroes whose girlfriends show up on their doorsteps to announce the unwelcome news. In my most recent Superromance, TEXAS TROUBLE, Logan Cathcart is a broken-hearted man who lost his four-year-old son and is desperately resisting falling for the owner of the ranch next door, a young widow with two troubled boys.

I love my “father” heroes, and I seem to return to that storyline, one way or another, again and again. Each of these wonderful men comes to fatherhood by a different path, but, when he arrives, he embraces the experience with joy and love and an unshakable commitment to the future.

My favorite fictional father—a difficult choice, as there are so many fabulous ones—is Atticus Finch from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. He is so brave, so gentle and wise and steady in the storm. And of course it doesn’t hurt that, in the movie, he looks like Gregory Peck. I always tear up at that wonderful moment, when Rev. Sykes tells Scout, “Stand up…Your father is passing.”

How about you? Is there an awesome father in your life? Do you love the father hero? Who are some of your favorites?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Men in Shorts : : Anne McAllister

It’s that time of the summer again – that time of the summer every four years, that  is2010_south_africa_official_logo_World_Cup.  I know you who live in enlightened areas of the world get to see more soccer/football than you probably ever want to see.  But for those of us who live in the US, this is the summer we look forward to.

Yes, we have MLS soccer, and yes, our sons and daughters play AYSO soccer, and yes, even high schools, colleges and universities are getting in on the act at last. But it’s not the same. 

Nothing is the same as watching the World Cup.

I got seriously hooked when I spent most of a summer in Europe 20 years ago.  It seems like yesterday – except the kids I was traveling with now have kids of their own.  But I still look forward to it because, oddly, it’s the only time I get to watch soccer in the US (that I’ve found) where the cameras stay back far enough to watch the action.

Of course the cameras still give us close-ups now and then, but not the way they do in MLS soccer, where you can’t ever tell what’s going on but yhswc1legsou can tell which players shaved that morning.

So I like watching the World Cup for the action. But I also, admittedly,  like it for the men.

I can’t help it.  I like watching fit, agile men run and run and run.   I almost considered putting up a half dozen photos of soccer players’ legs here on the blog because they are, simply, worth ogling.

But so are the men themselves. hswcvfair

I am used to seeing American baseball players or football (American version) or hockey players.  There are occasionally ones worth a second glance. But not nearly as many as there are in every World Cup match.

There are the ones who get all the press like David Beckham (not in this year’s  tournament but certainly still a part of soccer lore) and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo who is gracing this month’s cover of the UK edition of Vanity Fair along with Ivory Coast football star, Didier Drogba.

Lots of ogle-worthy gents in this issue besides  Didier and Cristiano.  But also lots they left out.

hswc1diegoforlanuruguay It’s hard to remember them all.  Just yesterday as I watched Uruguay play South Africa, Diego Forlan crossed my radar. I’ll be keeping an eye on him.

While I wasn’t looking the USA provided Heath Pearce and Benny Feilhaber to go with Carlos Bocanegra. 

I’m looking forward to another glimpse on Friday. 

In the meantime I had Spaniards Cesc Fabrehswc1pearcegas and Iker Casillas to entertain me Wednesday. 

And I have France’s Yoann Gourcuff on Thursday.   There’s no end (well, until July 11) of my enjoyment. 

Are you watching the World Cup?  Got a favorite player?  If not a soccer player, hswc1yanngourcufffrancemidfielderpass on your favorites from other sports.  From the comments, I’ll pick a winner to receive a copy of my very own soccer  book, a Harlequin Presents called McGillivray’s Mistress

  If soccer isn’t your thing, but you still like hot-blooded heroes, check out my most recent Mills & Boon Modern, The Virgin’s Proposition

No soccer – just the Cannes Film Festival, the hot Mediterranean sun, and a sailboat journey to Greece, not to mention  Demetrihswc1cescfabregasspainos Savas, who is seriously sexy and definitely a wounded hero. 

What on earth could a virgin like Anny have to propose to a man like him? 

It will be out in the US in September.  In the meantime, enjoy the World Cup!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Michelle Styles: The Reader as a Child

I will put my hands up and say that I was an enthusiastic reader. Even before I could read, I was constantly looking at books. Richard Scarry certainly helped me with my reading progress. When I was first sent away to Girl Scout camp, my mother wondered what I would without books for a week, I found the disused library in a dusty corner of the craft building and read my way through it. My mother sighed when she found out.
And there books that I loved with my whole heart because as a child I read passionately. If I didn't like something, I moved on. I can remember a friend being passionate about Julie of the Wolves, it never did anything for me. But it was the book that helped her discover the joy of reading. As an adult, I suppose I read less passionately. I do not tend reread as much and since I've become a writer, I tend to read more critically. But I still remember the experience and know that while a book might not speak to me, someone else may care passionately about it.
I am always delighted when readers write to me that they have loved my books. A fifteen year old girl in Essex recently wrote to me about An Impulsive Debutante, how she checked it out from the library and was now on the sixth reread in between studying for her GCSEs. I was also slightly nervous because I sincerely hope that she doesn't fall out of love with the book. But it was the sort of letter that authors long for when they start writing. To touch one person... It made me wish that I had been brave enough to write to my favourite authors...
Last week, I happened to discover a blog post by the Editorial Ass about childhood reading and the Magician's Book. Some of you may remember when Lucy reads it in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Anyway, the blog got me thinking about favourite books I had as a child and I did a blog post on my own blog. And I wanted to get a meme going so that if others wanted to talk about their favourite childhood books, they could. And I thought I would repeat it here.
The invitation goes like this:
Name at least one book that you read as a child (ie 11 or under) that still exists in your memory as a perfect story. You can say why if you wish, or simply give a list -- your choice. It can be a story that you are now uncomfortable about having loved or were uncomfortable at some point and have now come back to or alternatively just one that you have always loved:
I put some of my favourites on my original post but here are some my other favourites (after if you are a Reading Child -- the library is full of magic.) Other authors who have posted their favourites on their individual blogs include: Donna Alward, Kate Hardy, Nell Dixon and Nicola Cornick -- in case you are interested.

1. The Princess and the Goblins by George MacDonald -- I discovered this because it was shelved next to the Mrs Piggle-Wiggle books in my library. I adored the tale. After I grew up, I discovered that JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis were also fans of George MacDonald as children. My children adored it as well and the sequel The Princess and Curdie.

2. Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise McGraw -- it is the book that made me realise that ancient civilisation romance/adventure was not only possible but desirable.

3. Dancing Shoes by Noel Stratefield. I loved all of the Shoe books but this one with Rachel who suddenly doesn't fit with Mrs Winters Little Wonders really struck a chord.
4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett ( with illustrations by Tasha Tudor) -- I loved it and A Little Princess. I could wax lyrical for hours. In fact when we first looked at the house where we live with its very overgrown garden, I thought that it was a garden that just needed to be brought back to life.

5. Betsy, Tacy and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace. I read all the Betsy-Tacy books. I adored the relationship Betsy, Tacy and Tib had and their adventures. I suppose in a way because of the setting, they were the books that first got me into historicals. I also loved the Lois Lenski illustrations.

6. A Little House on The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved all the House books and the illustrations by Garth Williams. I was given this as a Christmas present when I was seven and immediately wanted to be a pioneer and travel in a covered wagon. But somehow the television series never lived up to my imagination. Later when I reread the books as an adult, I was impressed at hard Ma worked and the dangers they faced.

I will stop here, but I do want to know about books that touched you as a child.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Love, lies and lasagna - Kandy Shepherd

Have you ever had a cooking disaster—the kind that makes you cringe even years later at the memory of it?

Serena Oakley, the heroine of my second book HOME IS WHERE THE BARK IS (on sale July 6), is the self-confessed world’s worst cook. Hero Nick Whalen is a big hunky guy who plays sport, works out and is always hungry.

What’s Serena to do when Nick thinks the wonderful lasagna she serves him for lunch is all her own work? She tries to tell him it was cooked by her chef friend Maddy O’Brien (heroine of my first novel LOVE IS A FOUR-LEGGED WORD) but Nick is so in love with her lasagna he doesn’t hear her.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers here, but suffice to say that over the course of the novel, Serena comes to wish she’d never lied about lasagna.

It wasn’t hard for me to write about Serena’s cooking disasters as I’ve had a few of them myself. I like cooking. My “day job” as a women’s magazine editor means I’m working with fabulous food people, so I hope I’ve picked up some hints and tips. But none of the expertise I’d gained helped me with the great cheesecake catastrophe of many years ago.

I was single and had invited a group of friends around to my apartment for dinner, one of whom was a gorgeous guy I was hoping to impress. He’d mentioned his favorite dessert was cheesecake. I slaved all day over that dinner—and especially the baked cheesecake. The crumb crust. The decadently rich filling. All to be topped with cream and strawberries. (Just like in this picture.)

It turned out perfect, with not a crack to mar its smooth, golden surface. I gloated with glee as I reverently slid it out of the oven. Until the bottom of the springform pan fell out and my cheesecake fell out and smashed all over the oven door.

Yes, there was cursing. Yes, there were tears. And there were strawberries and cream for dessert.

Over coffee, I’d relaxed enough to confess to my guests about the cheesecake calamity. “Did you throw it in the trash?” asked gorgeous guy when he followed me into the kitchen. I showed him the rescued remnants hidden in the fridge and he laughed. After the other guests went home, we snacked on that cheesecake which looked a real mess but tasted wonderful. No, it didn’t lead to romance but it broke the ice for a warm friendship that lasted for years.

Do you have a tale of culinary disaster to share? Leave a comment here and I’ll draw a winner for an ARC of HOME IS WHERE THE BARK IS so you can read about Serena’s cooking disaster for yourself!
Food photos courtesy of stock.xchange