Saturday, March 16, 2019

Erp. Hi. Welcome to 2019.

I'm a little late with my Happy New Year.

I just realized I haven't visited since December. I wish I had a good excuse. I really don't. It plum slipped my mind and that's the truth.

Last time I was here, I was excited for my upcoming visit with my sister who was bringing her family from Australia for Christmas. She did. It was a gas. This is me with my sisters and our mom.

Then everyone went home and I got back to work and hi! It's spring. (Almost. We still have a *lot* of snow, but at least it's not on the driveway.)

I'm looking back on Jan/Feb wondering what I was doing that I forgot to blog and, honestly, shovelling is about it. This was a particularly vexing day when my husband had gone to work and it was all up to me. *gasp*

I wish I could show you photos of crocuses popping through and bringing signs of spring, but a bit of sunshine and dry, bare roads are about all we've seen so far. (But I'll take it!)

I've also been writing, of course. Look for a Cinderella story from me about this time next year. For now, please enjoy this duet that is available now.

Gisella and Rozalia are cousins who design jewelry at the family store, Barsi on Fifth.  They're obsessed with finding their grandmother's lost earrings.

One has gone to a tech billionaire in San Francisco, but Kaine has a grudge against Gisella's family and demands she pose as his mistress --which soon turns real in A Virgin to Redeem the Billionaire.

Then Rozi heads to Hungary to confront Viktor. Passion gets the better of both of them, then she gets arrested. Soon they're both staring at marrying a stranger in Innocent's Nine-Month Scandal.

Here's what they're saying over on Goodreads about this duet:
"This was more than just a romance about a man and a woman; it was a tale about family and its legacy of love, loyalty and trust." ~ Ivy H
Enjoy! And I hope to be back sooner than every three months.

Award-winning and USA Today Bestselling author Dani Collins thrives on giving readers emotional, compelling, heart-soaring romance with some laughter and heat thrown in, just like real life.

Mostly Dani writes contemporary romance for Harlequin Presents and Tule’s Montana Born, but her backlist of nearly fifty books also includes self-published erotic romance, romantic comedy, and even an epic medieval fantasy.

When she’s not writing—just kidding, she’s always writing. She lives in Christina Lake, BC with her high school sweetheart husband.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Is that a factoid? by Michelle Styles

I was born in the US and even though I have lived over in the UK for more than 30 years, I still mainly think in American. I do like to think that I am reasonably fluent in British now as well.  I knew that a cot in the UK is a crib in the US for example. Or the differences between sandshoes and sneakers. However, I recently discovered that one word –factoid has two different and completely opposite meanings on either side of the Atlantic.

A factoid is in North America, a small piece of trivia, a tiny fact but crucially true.
A factoid in the UK is a statement which has been repeated so often that people believe it is true when it is in fact false.
So on one side of the Atlantic, a factoid is true and on the other, it is false. One word, completely opposite meanings depending on where you are or I suppose who you are talking to.
Ivy growing up a damson plum tree
 which is just coming into bloom.
Being American by birth, I had always assumed a factoid was true. Then I was reading Oliver Rackham’s Trees & Woodland in the British Landscape, the Complete History of Britain’s Trees, Woods & Hedgerows and he made this big point that factoids are false, and this had me scrambling for my Oxford English dictionary where I discovered the discrepancy with the two different meanings for one word.  And I have no idea how this discrepancy happened.
Ivy growing up a conifer tree
 on the border of Michelle
Styles' garden.Despite all her hopes,
the wind has not knocked it down yet!
  In case you were wondering Rackham used the statement Ivy kills the trees it grows up as a factoid or a false statement. In this case, the belief has been around since the 4th century and apparently often repeated by people who should know better but it is clearly not true. Ivy doesn’t kill its host tree.  The tree might not grow as well but it puts on growth and its leaves peek out from the ivy.  The tree might die from other causes or topple over in high wind due to the weight of the ivy but the ivy doesn’t kill it. I do live in how for that conifer at the end of my garden though...
The easiest way to solve this problem is just to avoid using the word. However, there have been times when discussing various aspects to  writing historical romance, I have had cause to use it – and mean the American understanding. Is it any wonder that people gave me puzzled looks? And here I was feeling so smug about being completely fluent in British English as well as American. It goes to show that the unknown unknowns that can trip you up.
It is why I double-check my facts when I am writing and now I am also going to have to check my factoids!

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical in a wide range of time periods. Her most recent Sent as the Viking’s Bride was published in December 2018.  She is currently working on her next Viking set romance and double checking all her facts and factoids to make sure they are true! You can find out more about Michelle and her books at

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Christina Hollis: A Busy Life of Service

As March is Women's History Month, I thought I'd tell you the story of an inspirational woman who is one of the stars of my new book, Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol. 

Pic : Bristol Charities
Ada Vachell (1866-1923) overcame both disability and the major handicap of being born a woman in Victorian Britain. She made life better for hundreds of Bristol's poor and disadvantaged. Her bright ideas had knock-on effects for the disabled which endured long after her death. 

Ada was a champion of the disabled at a time when they received no government help. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, disability was often seen as something shameful to be hidden away.  Ada helped to change attitudes. Born into a wealthy family, she was left frail and deaf after an almost fatal attack of scarlet fever. Despite that, she never let her own poor health hold her back for a minute.

Ada drove her parents mad with her enthusiastic schemes. On one occasion she hired a horse-drawn bus to take all the local servants on a day trip to the seaside. She became a helper at a club for poor girls who worked in the local factories. Inspired by what she heard and saw on the streets of Bristol, she founded the Guild of the Brave Poor Things in 1896. She delivered invitations to the Guild’s meeting by hand around the worst slums in Bristol. Anyone with disabilities was welcomed into the Guild. Instead of sitting around at home, frustrated, miserable and bored, they could escape every week for a couple of hours of crafts, lectures, games and chat.

The Guild grew fast. Ada found jobs for its members with local employers, and opened a purpose-built holiday home for members in Churchill, Somerset. For the first time, Bristol’s disabled children and adults could enjoy a break in country air. Back in the city, Ada’s Guild opened the first building to be specially designed for the needs of the disabled. It had wheelchair-friendly access, a gym, a large hall and plenty of room for arts and crafts as well as lectures.
Find out more here
Ada Vachell worked hard all her life for Bristol’s poor and disabled in the days before the welfare state. She died of pneumonia, aged only fifty-seven.

You can find out more about Ada, and many more brave, clever and independent women, here. If you live in the UK you can buy Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol direct from the publisher, here.

As well as non-fiction, Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written more than twenty novels, sold nearly three million books, and her work has been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, walking her dog, or gardening.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


 I spoke to a local group last month. Their theme for the meeting was procrastination.

It's not something I have a lot of experience with. I work for myself.  My only boss is me. I am probably my most exacting taskmaster. 

How do I get everything done?  I think the fact that I don’t have a lot of time helps.  I squeeze writing in between family and extended family and now school. It’s a tight space. There’s no time for writer’s block. There's no time to procrastinate. So when it’s time to write, I write. Even if it’s utter crap. (In writing that’s called a crap draft.) Here’s the thing, you can fix crap, you can’t fix a blank page. That same sense of get it done applies to more than just my writing. It's pretty much how I get through life in general. I wanted to put my thoughts on avoiding procrastination in concise terms for the talk. Here's what I came up with.

Love What You're Doing: I started a discussion about procrastination with my pottery professor. He said something very profound. Paraphrasing here…Artists don’t procrastinate because we love what we do. So maybe that’s something to think about. If there’s something in your life you’re always putting off, maybe it’s time to ask why? Some things just need done. Cleaning. Cooking. Chores. But life should also be filled with things we love. Things we feel passionate about. Maybe if your life is a series of putting it off as long as possible it's time to find something you love and can't wait to do. You'll get through the things you have to do faster in order to get to the things you love doing.

Nike…Just Do It: This isn’t just for the writers out there. It’s for life in general. Most of you follow my new love of pottery and have read about my promise to make 50 bowls—which grew into 100 bowls—for an Empty Bowl fundraiser.  My first bowls are inelegant, but the later ones were so much better. I set a deadline for myself and just did it. But even in the midst of it, there was a sense of accomplishment. I learned so much. So if you’ve said you’ll do it, or you have to do it, do it.

BUT Know your limits and set priorities.  When I started writing, I prioritized my life and my time. Family first, writing second, everything else after that.  There was this mom at school that constantly bugged me to come to salad bar days. Now, I volunteered often at school. When the kids wanted me there, that was my priority. They didn't care if I was at salad bar. So I went, but not often.  When this mom made a crack about me just sitting at home all day, I didn't justify my writing career. I just smiled and said, I don't chop lettuce and left it at that.  It might not always seem like it, but I know my limits and I try to avoid biting off more . . . uh lettuce than I can chew. I also know where my priorities are. That helps. For me it was always family first, then writing. Now it’s family, writing, pottery.

Set realistic goals. If you say you want to write a novel/build a rustic log cabin/run a marathon by the end of the year, you’re setting a lofty goal. I think goals of that size seem insurmountable and make it easy to procrastinate. But something more reasonable…write a chapter a month/find some wooded land to buy/run a 5K...those are doable. Breaking a large goal into smaller components helps.  When I'm writing I don’t think about the 300 pages. I think of it by the day. 10 pages.

Newton’s first law says a body at rest will stay at rest unless some force acts on it. Maybe that’s a boss or a spouse, but I think the most worthwhile source is internal. So maybe the best way to fight procrastination is to ask yourself why you’re putting something off and find a solution. Carve our more/specific times. Or even don’t do it. It's okay to decide something isn't working for you.

Perfection: I've already mentioned writing crap drafts. The lesson there is to allow yourself to not be perfect. Allow yourself to realize failure is an option, but not trying isn’t.

Pressure: My friend Susan and I were talking about procrastination. She works best under pressure. I do not. Realize how you work best and use that to get it done.

Next time you find yourself procrastinating, I hope you take a moment and ask yourself why. . . then find some solution.


PS. Have you missed our most recent Trippin' with Holly and Susan? You can catch up with them all on YouTube.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

How I start a story – Kandy Shepherd

I’m starting to write a new book—if all goes well, it will be my sixteenth for Harlequin Romance. My fourteenth is out now, Second Chance with the Single Dad and the fifteenth will be out in September.

So how do I start? I have a character from an earlier book who has been clamoring for his story. (I won’t go into any detail as who knows what might change after these preliminary thoughts!) It’s his time. I think I’ve found him the perfect woman, however neither he nor know this yet. There’ll be quite some mind changing to do to get them together!

I like to have a clear idea of what my characters look like, what they wear, where they live. I start a Pinterest board for each story and have a lot of fun with it. If you’d like to see my boards for my published stories, why not visit my Pinterest Boards?

 I have a special notebook for each book I write, to jot down ideas, try out paragraphs, keep by my bed in case I wake up at night with a brilliant idea that will be forgotten by morning if I don’t write it down.

Isn’t this notebook with the wisteria beautiful? It’s probably my favorite. I think I’ll have to include a scene with wisteria in the new story in honour of it! Yes, I do have nightmares about losing the notebook but so far that hasn’t happened. Fingers crossed it doesn’t!

 Some writers use computer programs to keep track of everything for their book. If I was writing a big book with lots of research and multiple story lines, I might try that. In the meantime, it either goes in the notebook or in a file on my computer. A timeline for a story is a must or I can get very muddled. But my version of a timeline is very simple, just a roughly sketched calendar for the months the story spans. 

 Now I’m working on the first chapter, the most important to get readers hooked into the story. It takes me forever! I might rewrite it many times until I get it right and move on to the next chapters which tend to flow more smoothly.

 So that’s where I’m at and I have to get cracking! A deadline that seems comfortably months away has a habit of sneaking up on me at a remarkable pace… So wish me luck as I set off on a new writing journey!

Second Chance with the Single Dad is a February 2019 release from Harlequin Romance in North America; Mills & Boon True Love in the UK; and Mills & Boon Forever Romance in Australia and New Zealand.

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

Connect with Kandy on FacebookTwitter,Pinterestand Instagram

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Dogs in Books by Susan Sands

I've posted quite a lot about my canine friends, now friend, since I began blogging here at Tote Bag
'n' Blogs. As many of you know, we lost our sweet Boudreaux right after we moved into our new home just before Christmas. 

Our three-year-old Golden-doodle, Watson, has come through his confusion and sadness and surprised us by stepping up his game as single dog in the house. He's become the best dog ever. He's always been a good dog, but his behavior with Boudreaux had concerned us somewhat. We likened him to Eddie Haskell on a good day. If you don't know who that is, you should definitely look him up. 

The personalities in our pups vary so widely, as they do in people, so when authors write dogs as characters in our books, we must remember to create individual characteristics that set them apart from "just any dog." It wouldn't do the dogs we know and love justice to "under" write them as characters in fiction, and they wouldn't be believable.

While writing my recently-completed manuscript, I included a woman's best friend who my main character relied on heavily throughout her journey, both emotional and physical. Daisy Mae is a Beagle with soulful brown eyes and a heart of pure gold. She senses when her mistress needs support and stands by her the entire story.

I'd never written such a significant role for an animal before and found it quite challenging. Remembering to feed the animal, provide exercise, and let her out to potty consistently was exhausting. LOL. Of course, I do these things for my own dog, but remembering to include enough of the care taking in the story without a constant play-by-play that seemed monotonous created a new balancing act. 

This woman needed a dog, so I had to figure out the best way to include Daisy Mae and write her into the story well without detracting from the flow and plot line. 

I would love to hear about your furry friends!! And one day in the near future, I hope you can read about Daisy Mae and her journey with Sadie.

Looking forward toward better weather!!

Susan Sands

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Join me in Last Stand, Texas

by Joanne Rock

I just had a cover reveal for my May book, THE PERFECT CATCH, book one in my upcoming Texas Playmakers series from Tule Publishing. That in itself is fun. The cover is gorgeous and the series is close to my heart with a sports hero I love and a heroine I rooted for. But it gets better.

Because THE PERFECT CATCH is part of an exciting new lineup from Tule authors. Ten authors are bringing ten original series set in a town we created together. Last Stand, Texas is a place we dreamed up on a trip to Hill Country last spring. Eve Gaddy kicks off the fun April 11th with her book, HEART OF THE TEXAS DOCTOR. After that, readers can pick up a new book set in Last Stand every week for months to come! It's going to be a blast.

So, what's to love about Last Stand? Think bluebonnets and bluebells, hot Texas summers and rodeo nights in a small town. Think fresh peaches and a festival at the Fourth of July where the Peach Queen and her court get to be a part of the parade. Farm stands and a fledgling winery side by side with an old monument to the heroes of Last Stand. You can read all about the way the local forces held Last Stand in Justine Davis's wonderful history over at the Tule Book Club group. Each Monday is devoted to Last Stand, so readers can get excited for what's coming.

But about THE PERFECT CATCH, my first Last Stand story. This is the romance of Cal Ramsey, the oldest of three baseball-playing brothers, who starts off his book getting DFA'd - Designated for Assignment-- by his major league team. Two weeks later, he clears waivers and finds himself with no team and no job, which sends him back home Last Stand. He's stinging from a rough go, and the last thing he expects is a sexy woman caretaker sleeping in his mom's house. Josie Vance isn't particularly thrilled to find a strange man standing in the glow of the open refrigerator door in the middle of the night either! But they pulled me into their story in no time, and now I can't wait to write all of the Ramsey men. My second book comes out in August, tentatively titled GAME ON.

If you love small town romances, or baseball player heroes, I hope you'll give this one a try! You can preorder THE PERFECT CATCH at
***So what do you love about small town life-- either one you've read about, one you live in, or one you've visited? Share with me this week and I'll send one random poster a digital copy of SECOND CHANCE COWBOY, another small town story that I love! 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Menopause, menstruation and me -- Michelle Styles

As women, we do not speak enough about menopause and menstruation. Those of a squeamish disposition may look away now, but I think it is important to relate what has happened to me so that others can make inform decisions and if it helps one person, then this blog post will have done its job.
Back when I was about 39, my periods started becoming heavier and closer together. It happened gradually and I accepted it. By the time I was 40, they were about 21 days apart, lasting a week and were increasingly heavy. By heavy, I mean flooding and clotting. Also terrible cramps. I became anemic which apparently only increases the cycle of flooding. Luckily, I was a stay at home mother and aspiring author as I ended up having to have a nap every afternoon. I did not think anything was wrong. After all I had 3 young children and was running around doing things, plus trying to write.  It was something I would do something about when I had the time. In the meantime, I was equipped – never leave home with extra supplies, tended to wear black pants etc. Things came to a head when I went for a routine smear, and my period had started again. I collapsed in tears.
There were a number of options according to my GP and we started with the least invasive. I began with iron tablets and really increasing my iron intake. Things like spinach, kale, dried apricots, watercress, blackstrap molasses and of course liver were all eaten. However, my periods continued to be heavy. The Mirena coil was offered as a new option to a hysterectomy provided I didn’t have a fibroid or a polyp.
I went through the investigations and a Mirena was duly fitted. It rapidly changed my life. My black sweats were thrown in the bin. I no longer had to have my purse stuffed full of supplies just in case.  And the terrible cramps plus flooding became a distant bad memory. 
After five years, the Mirena was changed. At the next five year mark, I was 50 and so they decided to leave it in because I was unlikely to get pregnant, my periods were under control but the bit of extra hormone could help with menopause. Every year, I had to have a blood test to see if I had gone through menopause.
At around 52, I experienced a few night sweats and hot flushes. Luckily I had read that drinking a daily glass of tomato juice can really help eliminate hot flushes. It worked for me. I suffered from some fuzzy headedness as well. That all stopped when I was 53, but the blood test still came back on the borderline and I was urged to wait for another year after all nothing was spoiling.
Fast forward to last summer at 54, I had some low level irritation in my nether region  and finally figured out that it was the threads in my Mirena coil and just wanted it out. I knew I was  done with menopause. The GP thought I should wait for the blood test, just in case and besides she had never heard of the threads bothering people. I said no, out now please.   The GP tried to remove it and mentioned that one thread to her surprise was very short. She  managed to lengthen one but could not remove the coil, possibly because I was through with menopause.  She suggested that I go to a Sexual Health Clinic as they might be able to quicker as I would be a low priority and besides I didn’t even know that I was through with menopause  but I figured I was going to need a gynecologist and asked her to arrange it. At her insistence I went through a blood test, to be on the safe side. I was not best amused at her attitude.  The blood test came back as I thought it would  – supports post-menopausal.
After a long period of waiting (the NHS IT postal system had a hiccup – I made a complaint and they had to cough and apologize), I finally saw the gynecologist in January. She tried to remove it herself, snapped one thread but could not remove the coil. Like 1 in 1000 women who have the Mirena inserted, I had to have  minor surgery with a general anesthetic. This happened on last Wednesday (13 Feb 2019). Unlike 1 in 100 women who have this procedure, the Mirena was not firmly embedded in the womb and unsafe to remove. In other words,  the operation was a success. She also removed the other thread which had somehow traveled up into my womb since the GP had seen me. In other words, I was right to insist on seeing the gynecologist and provided I continue to recover well, I won’t have to see her again for this problem.
Despite the hiccup at the end, I would still go with a Mirena coil. On balance, it was a very positive experience. I did not have to have a hysterectomy and it really worked for me. Some women don’t have that option and then the hysterectomy is the absolute right course.
My point here in sharing this story is to urge women not just to accept things. If I had sought help earlier, it is possible no-invasive strategies such as stabilizing my blood sugar, increasing my iron take  through the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits would have worked. Do your research. Do not allow it to become a life-threatening condition simply out of embarrassment or a feeling that nothing can be done. Since sharing my story, I have heard of women collapsing from extreme blood loss through periods which lasted months and whose lives were saved by a hysterectomy.
Equally menopause happens. HRT is not the only way. The Mirena coil can get you through. Eating food like flax seed, tomato juice and leafy greens as well as stabilizing your blood sugar can help. I can not tell you how pleased I am to know that I am done and dusted and never have to face a period again.
But we need to demystify menstruation and menopause as knowledge is power. So thank you for reading.
Michelle Styles writes warm witty and intimate historical romance in a wider range of time periods for Harlequin Historical. Her most recent was Sent as the Viking’s Bride. She is currently hard at work on the next one. You can learn more about Michelle and her books at Michelle welcomes any and all email as well – contact email on the website.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Christina Hollis: Happy Valentine's Day!
You can find out more here
This is an extra-special Valentine’s Day for me, as my lovely husband is taking me out to dinner this evening. The most romantic night of the year is going to be combined with an early celebration, as  my non-fiction book about women’s lives between 1850 and 1950, Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol, is going to be published by Pen and Sword Books on the 28th February.  You can find out more about it here, but to whet your appetite here’s the story of a woman from Bristol who really knew the meaning of love…

The happy couple, Clara and Kennerley.
(Pic via Wikimedia commons)
Dame Clara Butt (1872–1936) was an international singing sensation. Her early life was full of romance. Her father was a sea captain, and her parents had eloped. They moved to Bristol in 1880, when Clara was 8 years old and settled at 3, Sydney Terrace, Totterdown. Clara was educated at South Bristol High School where her singing ability was soon noticed. She took lessons with local teacher Daniel Rootham, who told her: ‘you have gold in your throat, my child’. Clara left Bristol in 1890 to take up a scholarship at the Royal College of Music in London. Her powerful contralto voice was outstanding, and during her time at the college she spent some months studying in Italy, sponsored by Queen Victoria. Clara soon became a popular recitalist and concert singer. The Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra) would ask Clara to sing whenever they met – even on one occasion in a shop in Baker Street, London! 
Clara persuaded Edward Elgar to transpose his Sea Pictures song cycle into a key suitable for her contralto range. The premier was on 5 October 1899 at the Norfolk and Norwich festival, with Elgar conducting and Clara, who was 6 ft 2 in tall, dressed as a mermaid. 
Bristol Cathedral (Pic via Pixabay)
Despite her huge fame, Clara never forgot her roots in Bristol. She returned to visit her parents often, and to perform in the city. One of her fellow artistes, bass baritone Robert Kennerley Rumford, would write little love notes on her musical score. While they were performing a piece called The Keys of Heaven, Clara turned a page to find Robert’s marriage proposal written on her sheet music. She accepted. As such a well-loved national celebrity, Clara was offered the chance to marry in St Paul’s Cathedral. She chose Bristol Cathedral instead. It was the first wedding to be held there in a century, so 26 June 1900 was very special for Bristol. Everyone was given the day off, and all the national newspapers covered the event. The city presented Clara with a diamond brooch including the initials CB for both Clara Butt and City of Bristol, and Ivor Novello (later a famous composer and actor) was a little page boy. In 1920, Clara became the first British female musician to become
Pic via Pixabay
an honorary dame. 

As well as many other world-famous performers, Bristol was home to women who became important reformers, intellectuals, activists, and politicians.  Between them, they improved life and the conditions in which everyone lived and worked—not only in their own city, but across the world.  Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol tells their story.

As well as non-fiction, Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written more than twenty novels, sold nearly three million books, and her work has been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, walking her dog, or gardening.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Short Stories are like Music Videos...

I've talked before about why I write stories of different lengths. For me, short stories are a country video—they can pack a wallop quickly. Novellas are a made for tv movie. There's more meat on the bone, but (once you factor commercials in) in under and hour and a half, they tell a bigger story. Finally, novels are full on, go to the movies, get your bucket of popcorn and settle in sort of movies.  I tell all three because I love all three.  My very first romance sales were short stories.  And for me there's a sense of coming home.

Recently, The Moments came out on Amazon, Kobo and Nook. It's a sequel to Briar Hill Road. And Able to Love Again (my first story with a cowboy!) came out on Amazon, Kobo and Nook. The heroine worked for Alice, who readers met in These Three Words and Between the Words. I loved Alice and this was a great chance to see her again.

Yes, I love giving old characters cameos in new books. As a writer, I want to know how they're doing. And I'll confess, I feel such a sense of delight when  readers spots an old character in a new story and shares my glee!


Have you missed our most recent Trippin' with Holly and Susan? You can catch up with them all on YouTube.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

When Romance is Not the Focus by Susan Sands

I hope everyone is staying warm in your neck of the woods! The forecast in Georgia for the coming
week is finally looking quite nice and I'm excited to explore my new neighborhood on foot with my pup on his leash. Thus far, it's either been raining or too frigid to venture out beyond the mailboxes.

Great news! I've finished the book I'd been working on for a solid year! I realize most authors whip them out in a few months and are on to the next exciting story, but this has been an especially challenging one for me. It's not a romance. There's a little romance in it, and hopefully my heroine will find her HEA with the man of her dreams down the road, but that isn't the focus of this one. 

My young lady's challenges with memory loss and finding her way home to the family she's forgotten, along with regaining her identity trump finding true love in this one. At least the focus of those issues are bigger than the romantic relationship she finds later in the book.

I wasn't certain I could not write romance as the central storyline, as it's so ingrained in me as an author. But this will fall along the lines of true general fiction or women's fiction with Southern flavor. It has some genre elements, but isn't genre fiction.

Figuring out what I was writing was so important to how I wrote it. The story is with my agent now and I'm looking forward to getting her feedback. Fingers crossed!

Enjoy your week, everyone!!


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Kid Characters

by Joanne Rock
My cartoonized profile
pic from a reader friend!

My first writing love will always be romance, so kid characters are never my central focus. But I dearly love it when I have a child in a story because they are so much fun to write. From teens to babies, the differences in personality, gestures and actions are so vastly different from one year to the next. Think about it… between the time you are thirty and forty, does all that much change about you? Maybe you tweak your hair cut or color. But in a child, the difference of ten years is a whole world. So to write any age authentically means research.

My first stop is often my family photo albums. Because what better case studies do I have than the kids that I raised? I had a front seat to watch them grow through all stages. To marvel at their new mastery of skills day by day, seeing how they changed from adorably dependent little baby bundles to the amazing young men they are today.

Bachelor dad falls for nanny
to his nephew
For my January release, THE RANCHER’S BARGAIN, the story set up was given to me because it is part of the Texas Cattleman’s Club series. That means the Harlequin editors dream up the rough concepts and outline character basics, then I write a fifty thousand word story based on a couple of outlined pages. It’s a fun challenge. And for this particular story, I was given a toddler named Teddy.

In one important way, he was very different from any of my boys in that he’d lost his birth parents at a young age. When we meet him, he’s been given to his bachelor uncle to raise—a good-hearted with man with no knowledge of parenting. Is it any wonder my toddler character acts out in unpredictable ways after so much injustice in his young life?

But in so many other ways, Teddy was a boy I absolutely recognized. While my heart hurt for all Teddy had lost, he also has the gift of toddlerhood that allows him to find joy in the moment no matter what happened the day before. Tears to giddy laugher and back again comes with the age. So when my baby-loving nanny steps onto the scene, she can find this boy’s smile in no time.

One of my three favorite toddlers-- my middle
son being sweetly adorable. Yes, that's a
sock in his mouth.
I love the irreverent goofiness of this age. The way a toddler will go full throttle at whatever they try—running down a hill, climbing a bookcase (you know they try it), throwing their sippy cups across a crowded restaurant. It’s amazing what a toddler can do. Who would guess their arm had enough range to ping the man seated at the next table? Toddlers can be exasperating, yes. But so amazing and fun. And you won’t find a more loving age than this one, when sticky hugs and kisses are given with abandon, declarations of love made on a regular basis once the find their words. It’s enough to make a mother’s heart—or a nanny’s, or a bachelor’s—swell with joy.

**Do you have any toddlers in your life? Enjoy a certain age of childhood in particular? Share with me in the comments and I’ll give a random poster a copy of an earlier Texas Cattleman’s Club book, Expecting a Scandal. In the meantime, I hope you’ll keep an eye out for THE RANCHER’S BARGAIN in stores!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

You Can Make Lasting Change by Michelle Styles

It is now just over two weeks into the New Year and the shining new resolutions look far less shiny and bright. It is far easier to fall into old habits and to think you can never change. This is not true and it is your limbic system (the flight or fight part of the brain) speaking. Meaningful change never just happens. There is always false starts and falls off the bandwagon. The people who make the changes permanent do so because they see the change as being important, rather than the fall.  They don’t  see it as a perfectionist all or nothing. It is more about the overall picture and trying until you succeed..
When I first became serious about my writing, the easiest thing would have been to give up. In fact, various people  suggested that I would. After all, I had wanted to be a writer from the age 12 and there I was 38, never having written a complete manuscript.   I would get to about the first page, not even the first chapter and find something else to occupy my time but oh how I wanted to be a published author. I knew I had stories to tell inside me. I knew I could write.

 Getting ill with gallstones changed me. It made me realise that I wanted to do something for me.  Equally I didn’t just sit down in three days and write a novel which was instantly accepted. It took me several months and then I received a form letter in the post so fast from Harlequin/Mills & Boon, it made my head spin. However, getting that form rejection letter really spurred me on. My immediate goal became — the next time, they will not be able to dismiss me that easily.
I went back to basics and wrote another manuscript and sent it off. It was over Christmas and I hoped for a slow response. It was a quick one — a request for the full manuscript from a proper editor. That one was eventually rejected as well, but next one (a hugely revised version of my first manuscript) went to revisions and I gained an editor who was willing to work with me and answer questions.  It took several more manuscripts and a change of series to Historical (the editor was hugely support of this) for me to sell to Harlequin.  By that time, the editor had left the company after giving the manuscript we had worked on to her senior editor.  I then had a very long wait of nearly a year while the manuscript was reviewed and then revised.  Since June 2005, I have written 27 more books which Harlequin Historical has purchased. I am currently waiting on my editor’s thoughts for the 28th one and  there is more to come.

If I had given up at the first hurdle, at the first rejection or when the words became tough in the first manuscript, none of this would have happened. So if you feel overwhelmed by not fulfilling your New Year’s resolutions, start afresh today. Make the change happen. It may lead to something wonderful. Persistence worked for me.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical, her latest Sent as the Viking’s Bride is out now. Visit Michelle Styles’s website  for more information about her and her books.
Read a little of Sent as the Viking's Bride.