Saturday, October 14, 2017

Michelle Styles: Hidden Histories

In 1866 Malinda Russell self-published a cookbook containing useful receipts for the kitchen  in the hopes of raising enough money so she could return to Tennessee and attempt to reclaim her property, property she’d been forced to leave behind when she’d fled Northward due to her Union sympathies. Malinda Russell was a Woman of Color, born free by law because her mother Karon had been born after her grandmother, also called Malinda Russell, was emancipated. The US slave system was descent down the maternal line based, a particularly noxious form of slavery which still exists in some African countries (see for the definitions of  modern day slavery). It is notable that she does not mention her father's or grandfather’s status. She also doesn’t mention any aunts or uncles who might have been born prior to her grandmother obtaining her freedom and what their status was.
Her book was the first cookbook published by an African-American woman and one of the very few cookbooks which authentically details Southern plantation cooking and as such is a hugely important primary source document. While she mostly focuses on cakes, Russell also includes recipes for cordials and preserves, how to make eggs last longer and how to make various medical ointments. My love of old cookbooks is such that I spent a morning happily enthralled reading the free digital version of her book.
Malinda’s life story reads like fiction – as a teenager she tried to emigrate to Liberia but was robbed and forced to obtain work as a laundress in Lynchburg VA and there she learned how to cook. She married but her husband died, leaving her with a disabled son and so she ran a boarding house in a spa town in eastern Tennessee  and then for  6 years successfully ran a pastry or cake shop until the American Civil War forced her to start over in Michigan. Among other things she was robbed of her considerable life savings by a Guerilla band who threatened her with death if she revealed their names.  I do hope she did raise enough money to return to Greenville Tennessee and reclaim her property.
 I love reading and writing about women with indomitable spirits who struggle against the odds and succeed but Malinda's is not a story I can tell. Thankfully there are other writers who can. At the moment they are often marketed as African-American historical romance writers but they are really saga writers in the tradition of Catherine Cookson, that great doyenne of British woman’s historical fiction who famously claimed she didn’t write romance (meaning books like Barbara Cartland wrote).  Other British saga writers include Josephine Cox, Benita Brown and Penny Jordan when she was writing as Annie Groves as well as Winston Graham who wrote Poldark.
British saga writers differ from historical romance writers in that historical romance writers like me tend to focus on heroes who are of the first estate with the emotional growth of the relationship being the primary focus, whereas saga writers tend to have the heroes being working or lower middle class (the villains are often weak men of the first estate) and the romance is often secondary to the woman’s personal growth. Sagas are sometimes in UK publishing parlance known as Clogs and Shawls or Rats and Rickets books.  When I first moved to the UK, the saga reigned supreme in the UK publishing world with Mills & Boon being basically the only publisher to publish the sort of historical romance I had enjoyed in the US. It wasn’t until more than a decade after she published her last book that Cookson ceased to be the most checked out author in the UK library system. Before I moved from California to Northumberland, I read a lot of Cookson so I could better understand my new home and grew to enjoy this sort of writing.
If anyone else like me loves reading about indomitable women who overcome great odds to thrive,  Alyssa Cole and Piper Huguley write excellent historical sagas. There are other American saga writers but I really enjoy these writers’ novels. They both contributed to The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Anthology which I was privileged to read before Alyssa Cole  received a Rita nomination for  her novella Let It Shine. That anthology can be a good place to start to get a flavour of the books available. Piper Huguley’s Milford College series is also excellent (her prequel The Lawyer’s Luck is free to download). If you enjoy reading Catherine Cookson or Annie Groves (Penny Jordan), you will love Piper Huguley.
 My only regret is that because these books are often marketed African-American historical romance and shelved in the African American section of booksellers that they can be overlooked by readers who go to the romance/women's fiction section, looking for such books which illuminate hidden bits of the American experience and feature strong heroines.  I am firmly of the view that we need diverse romance and that all romance should be shelved together, not softly segregated by skin colour.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romances for Harlequin Historical in a wide range of time periods. Her next Viking-set romance, The Warrior’s Viking Bride, will be published in March 2018. In her free time, she loves reading all sorts of romance because it affords her the opportunity to walk in someone else’s skin. You can read more about Michelle and her books at

Christina Hollis: A Writer's Life Is (Usually) A Happy One...

Writing for a living must be the best job there is. To paraphrase Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady’s The Big Bang Theory, being a writer involves thinking about stuff and writing some of it down. 
The snag is, when you’re an author the day-job comes with a whole load of excess baggage. 

Non-Fictional Paperwork
By this I mean the boring everyday toil, rather than useful non-fiction writing work, like my current project about Women’s Lives In Bristol. Accounts and tax returns are only too real. Planning, cross-checking diaries with my OH to make sure our appointments don’t clash, and scheduling work all has to be done. Keeping on top of it all helps reduce the total time I spend on non-writing tasks—for example, I carry a plain white envelope in the back of my purse with the month and year written on it. I stuff all my work-related receipts and parking passes straight into it as I get them. Then it’s a simple thing to sit down at the end of that month and enter all the receipts on my Current Accounts spreadsheet. That’s a lot quicker than scrabbling around the house and car for paperwork once a year, but it all eats into my writing time.

Nobody Believes You...
… when you say it’s your career. It’s hard to believe it myself sometimes. I jump out of bed every day of the year (yes, Monday mornings included!) and find it hard to tear myself away from my desk when the family needs feeding, or they’re in danger of running out of clean clothes. Imagine how tough it is to keep smiling when somebody asks me to take on a task or join a committee which only meets during working hours “…because you’re at home all day…”.

I'm Writing Non-Fiction At The Moment, So This Really IS Bristol
Or They Believe Too Much...
One of the first thing every writer learns is the danger of putting real people into their books. We live in litigious times. If you hate your landlord and the feeling is mutual, they’ll comb your published work for any trace of a similarity between them and a villain in your book. Eye and hair colour, build, habits, speech patterns—change them all, to be on the safe side. Everyone uses real events and personalities as a springboard for their fiction—even JRR Tolkien, whose fantasy world of hobbits, trolls and dwarves is about as far removed from real life as it’s possible to get. Both he and his wife have an important part in his story universe, but they both knew exactly what he was up to, and it was consensual. Moral: only include a real person in your book if both of you are involved in an eternal, true-life love story. 
With each other, obviously. 

When writing is your career rather than your hobby, it’s a wonderful life but there are a few niggles. Thank goodness for family, friends, and understanding visitors to sites like AuthorSound Relations, that’s all I can say!

Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written six historical novels, eighteen contemporary novels, sold nearly three million books, and her work has been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, gardening, walking her dog, or beekeeping.

You can catch up with her at, on Twitter, Facebook, and see a full list of her published books at

Her current release, Heart Of A Hostage, is published by The Wild Rose Press and available at  worldwide.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Back to School with Holly Jacobs

I mentioned here before that I've gone back to school.  I'm taking a ceramics class at a local university.  When I go in to my 8 am class, I try to tone down my glee because the kids I'm in class with look more sleepy than gleeful.  I said something to that effect the other day and one of the girls laughed and said I didn't do a very good job at it.  Alas, I have leaky glee!  LOL

Really, no one should have this much fun for a grade!  I am not a pottery prodigy, but I'm learning a lot!

When you're done going back to school with me in the video, go back to school with my three PTA Moms,
Samantha in Once Upon a Thanksgiving,
Michelle in Once Upon a Christmas
and Carly in Once Upon a Valentine's!

I won't talk to you all over here until after Halloween! Hope you have a great one!  I talked about pottery in Just One Thing (even when I was writing it, I knew I wanted to take a ceramics class!) and my heroine, a potter, went to a Halloween party with crazy hair (which I sympathize with) round glasses and carrying a clay pot.  Yes, she was a HAIRY Potter!  (I know, I knew, leaky glee!)


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Twice as Nice - or Crime and Passion - with Kate Walker

I think many of you will already know that as well as being a writer myself, I am married to a man
who also writes - usually non-fiction. My husband writes as  Stephen Wade and he mainly focuses on local history based on the area in which we  live or Yorkshire where he was born and grew up or historical  true crime – looking at , as his web site says ‘The darker side of history’ .  H e used to do this while teaching as a university lecturer, but now that he  is officially ‘retired’ he has much more time to focus on his own writing.

I’ve put that ‘retired’ in inverted commas because  I truly think he has been  much much busier since her gave up working outside the house and settled down at his desk to  write his true crime books. He has certainly put me to shame this year as family and health problems have  meant that I’ve been much slower than usual with my own writing and I’ve  had no new titles out for 2017. There will be one coming up – more of that in a minute.

So the fact that my DH writes his own books has always been a great help with my own career. He understand the time and concentration that writing a book demands. He knows how an idea can strike just at the wrong moment and you have to  note it down before it escapes. He’s used to the way that scribbled notes of strange dialogue can appear all over the house, and most of all he understands the   delight of actually finishing a book  and   sheer panic that comes with sending if off to find out if an 
editor actually likes it.

Being a double-author family also means that we both get to go to interesting writers’ events all over 
the country. DH has often taught courses at the same events – Writers’ Holiday  and Relax and Write etc where I’m teaching. But we also visit different events that fit with our own interests.  For example, September was  a really busy month.  One week we were in London where I was attending the Association of Mills and Boon Authors lunch, then the next weekend we were in Liverpool for  the Jack the Ripper Conference. He gets to meet lots of romance writers while I got to listen to lots of talks on the grim and gruesome – and talk with various writers on their opinions – well, convictions – of just who was Jack the Ripper, the main suspect.

   Next Sunday I’ll be going with him to a panel on writing crime – true or fictional – at the Ilkley Festival and the week after he’ll be coming with
 me when I run a course on Writing Fiction That Sells at Keele University.  It means that we both get to meet lots of interesting people and talk about all the different types of creative writing.   We both learn so much more about things that way.   In fact, we sometimes do joint  talks – in libraries or writing courses  - as the  Crime and Passion duo!

As I said, this year I’ve had  no new titles out, but I think that DH has made up for that. He’s already had some local history books published early in the year and this month he has  two new titles – on a ‘self-help’ writers’ book called Write Yourself which  he describes as a way  to know ourselves and to discover more about our own profound resources for imagination and creativity. Write Your Self has been written with this in mind  and all the writing leads to more understanding of you.

And then coming up is another of the ‘true crime books – but this one is different – it’s written with writers in mind, and it’s co-authored by  a friend of ours who  used to be a Detective Chief Inspector in charge of murder investigations  so he really knows his  stuff. And all that ‘stuff’  has gone into A Straightforward Guide to theCrime Writers Casebook  which is out next month.
If anyone’s interested I’m going to try and persuade DH to let me have a copy of Write Yourself so that I can run a small giveaway  on my blog – or Facebook. 

It’s just as well that I’m finally able to say that I’m getting back to keeping up with DH and that I will have a new title out in January .  At last!  I'm so thrilled to finally have a new title on the shelves.  The title is  A Proposal to Secure his Vengeance – and I’m  able to share the USA cover with you.   The UK cover- and the Australian one – will  be a bit 
different as  Harlequin  UK and Harlequin Australia have had a fabulous revamp of all their covers  - and you’ll be able to see the new look very soon.
So now I need to plan our trip to Ilkley where I can enjoy  letting DH be the star writer while I act as his PA.    Then the following week, it’s my turn to do the work!

You can read more about my new book now that it's finally coming up on my web site blog page  or on my author Facebook page.

And if you want to know more about the 'darker side of history' - the DH's web site is here:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Bull Rider's Plan by Jeannie Watt

I have a new release in a few weeks. The Bull Rider's Plan is book four of my Montana Bull Rider series and the second twin book in that series.The first twin book, A Bull Rider's Pride, was about the wild twin, Tyler. This book is about the responsible twin, Jess.

Jess is the guy who saved his money, got good grades, and made certain his brother didn't get into too much trouble. Despite that, he's one hell of a bull rider--better than his brother--and the time has come to stop being cautious and hit the circuit, before it's too late. There's just one small problem...his late best friend's sister, Emma, is in trouble and Jess ends up bailing her out of her jam by taking her with him on the road--even though he really doesn't want to. And then the trouble begins.

Here's an excerpt from the morning after he rescues her from the Shamrock Pub, just before he ends up inviting her on the road with him:

Jess stood at the counter staring down at the toaster. He was ridiculously good-looking. Dark-haired with sculpted cheekbones and striking eyes. Her friends had all been mystified as to why she wasn’t all over him. She assured them that it was because she knew him. It was his attitude. As in, he had this attitude toward her. So…she’d had an attitude toward him.

Yet here they were.

He suddenly looked up, meeting her gaze. Oh yeah. Those were some eyes. Her memory wasn’t faulty.

“Morning,” he said.

“Morning,” she echoed, wishing her voice wasn’t so thick.

His eyes strayed down to her legs. “Are you wearing my jeans?”

“Maybe?” She automatically hitched up one side as she answered. “You weren’t using them.” She indicated the duffels with a jerk of her chin. “And it looks like you’re packed for your rodeo trip, which leads me to believe you weren’t taking them.”

“Maybe I wanted something clean to wear when I got home. Besides, that’s not the point, Em.”

She leaned her elbows on the counter next to him. “What is the point, Jess?”

“The point is that you took my stuff without asking.”

“And if I had wandered out in my underwear to ask permission…?” She gave him a how-would-that-have-gone-over look.

“You could have called from the bedroom.”

“Oh, Jeh-ess…can I wear your pa-ants?” She raised her eyebrows in a mock innocent expression. 
“Like that?”

“Yeah. Like that.”

This felt like old times, when Jess would go all follow-the-rules on her whenever she came up with a great idea, like going out to party with him and her brother, even though she was underage, and she would argue with him.

“You want me to take them off?”

“No.” The word came out so rapidly that it was almost embarrassing. His loss.

“Then I guess I get to wear your jeans.” She looked around the trailer. “You have a clothes dryer here?”

“Yeah. Right.”

“They make those apartment size things.”

“I go to the laundromat.”

“Pity. Now I have to wear your jeans.”

He didn’t answer, making her think that he was simply making noise about the jeans. The toast popped and he set it on a plate, then put the plate on the table. Emma took the hint and sat down, even though she wasn’t the least bit hungry.

“We’re going to talk.”

“We are?”

“I brought you to my home rather than leaving you to the mercies of your mom. I want some answers.”

She narrowed her eyes, ignoring the fact that it made her head hurt. “What kind of answers?”

He set a cup of coffee on the table next to the toast and then leaned back against the counter, folding his arms over his chest. His expression was don’t-mess-with-me serious when he said, “Tell me what’s going on.”

“You want to know my business?”

“Yeah. I do.”

It takes a few miles before these two start to see each other in a different light, but it was a lot of fun writing their journey. I hope you'll check it out!


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Monday, October 09, 2017

Three Greek heroes – Kandy Shepherd

Making my first visit to the glorious Greece islands in 2015 must really have fired my creative process. (Or should I say being surrounded by gorgeous Greek men on that and a subsequent vacation the next year might have done the trick!)

Whatever the inspiration, I realised I have written three books in a row for Harlequin Romance with tall, dark and very handsome Greek heroes: Lukas Cristophedes, Greek Tycoon’s Mistletoe Proposal(November 2016); Alex Mikhalis, ConvenientlyWed to the Greek (May 2017); and Cristos Theofanis, Stranded With Her Greek Tycoon (February 2018).

I didn’t intend to write hero number three. I was going to write quite a different story with a different hero. But I couldn’t stop thinking about a minor character in the second book,cousin to the hero–he just had to have his own book! 

I didn’t know a lot about Cristos except that he was incredibly handsome, very charming and had a deep, hidden sadness in his eyes. Turned out he’d separated from Hayley, the wife he’d adored and couldn’t forget. I just knew I had to get Cristos and Hayley back together again and the story was born. (Yes, I know it sounds a little crazy but my characters seem so real to me that I feel I really know them!)

Here’s the blurb for Stranded With Her Greek Tycoon:

One night to win back his wife!

Can Hayley resist Cristos’s seductive charms?

After the demise of her marriage, Hayley fled to nurse her broken heart. Now she’s back to ask her husband, Cristos Theofanis, for a divorce—but he has other ideas! When a storm hits and they’re stranded together, Cristos has one night to prove himself. Can Hayley resist the temptation of Cristos’s kiss or will she find herself back in his arms?

 The next story I’m working doesn’t have a Greek hero and is set not on a Greek island but on a tropical island. But I won’t tell you anymore as things can sometimes change in the writing!

Do you enjoy a particular type of hero? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please make a comment!

 Kandy Shepherd’s most recent book ConvenientlyWed to the Greek is a May 2017 release from Harlequin Romance in North America; Mills & Boon Cherish in the UK; and Mills & Boon Forever Romance in Australia and New Zealand. Watch out for Stranded With Her Greek Tycoon in February 2018.

Kandy Shepherd is a multi-published, award-winning author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She lives on a small farm in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, with her family and a menagerie of four-legged friends.

 Visit Kandy at her website

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