Monday, March 31, 2008

My Romance of the Year

By Jennie Lucas

My husband and I went to Cancun for Valentine’s Day. It was an amazing, romantic trip. We flew first class and stayed at the Ritz-Carlton (we never would have splurged like that on ourselves, but the trip was a gift—long story).

The turquoise water and white-sugar beaches were like nothing I’d ever seen before. We ate deliciously expensive meals and drank margaritas like they were going out of style. We saw Chichen Itza. It was so romantic and impossibly sexy. This whole trip was an exotic dream. And yet….

The whole time I was there, all I wanted to do was read this book.

This book. It was gripping. Breathtaking. I couldn’t put it down.

Not at the pool. Not at the beach. Not at the poolside bar.

Baking on the beach in my bikini, I shivered in the Scottish mists and moors and seductive bedrooms of Regency London. I hated the hero. I wept for the heroine. Their fighting and lovemaking and kidnapping, their sheer hatred and desire for revenge, kept me breathless. This book broke my heart. In the best way.

Claiming the Courtesan, Anna Campbell's debut novel, is the best book I have read in a year.

But be warned.

The heroine is a courtesan. For real. She has actually slept with men for money. Not the immediate quality that makes you think, “Wow, she’s just like me and my friends!”

And her hero is dark. Look, I write for Harlequin Presents, so I love alpha heroes. Revenge, kidnappings and seduction are my favorite things in the world. But this book is crazy. Her hero does something that’s absolutely unforgivable. But somehow, Campbell’s brilliant writing makes me forgive him. She makes me love him and hope that somehow he can win the heroine against the odds.

A few days ago, Claiming the Courtesan was named a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s RITA award (competing with, among other very good books, Campbell’s second book, Untouched). It’s an honor that’s well deserved.

Thank you, Anna Campbell, for the most thrilling and romantic vacation I've had in a long, long time.

In Jennie's third book for Harlequin Presents/ M&B Modern, Caretti's Forced Bride, an impoverished princess hides a devastating secret from an Italian tycoon who's determined to possess her in every way. It's a current release in the U.K. and will be out in the U.S. this August.

To learn more about Jennie or her books, or read about how she lost 70 post-baby pounds last year without dieting, please visit

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Author Trivia - Lee Hyat

Are you ready for some author fun again? I'm excited about the author I've chosen for this month's Trivia. The cover of her book certainly caught my attention but the title and then the back blurb clinched the deal. I had to add it to my tbr and learn more about the woman who wrote the book!

Now, without further ado, here's our Author Trivia for this month. :)

This author:

* used to be a teacher

*grew up in Oklahoma

*has a fascination for Greece and Spain, among other great countries

*love dark chocolate and garage sales

*is learning to surf

*has authored screenplays, books for children and cozy mysteries

*would survive only on microwave meals and Starbucks if her husband didn't cook for her!

*is excited about her debut release in April 08

*knows sign language

*now lives on the East Coast...
Can you guess who she is? Can you name the title of her book?

I will pick 4 winners at the end of this month and each will receive a copy of this debut novel.
Please don't post your answers here.

Instead, email them to and be sure to put 'Author Trivia' in the subject heading. Also please include your full name and mailing address to help expedite the prize to you in case you win. :)

Good luck!



Saturday, March 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom! - Beth Helms

I am writing this on March 25, which is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 74 years old. It’s hard for me to imagine her at that age, because she was perennially youthful—she rode horses and drove a truck and had scorching political views on a variety of subjects. She would not have been a kindly and sweet seventy-two year old. She would never have knitted anything. I think of my mother on this date every year because my mother loved birthdays. Her own in particular. So every March 25 I choke down a piece of cake and blow out a candle in her honor. And then I apologize. Fervently.

My first novel, Dervishes, published earlier this month, features a fairly typical and estranged relationship between a mother and an adolescent daughter—and it in no small part reflects some of the many years I spent torturing my own mother. She, no doubt, spent those same years trying not to bludgeon me to death, (or perhaps puzzling out how to get away with it). I thoroughly deserved it.

While I’m apologizing, I often remember something my mother used to say to me through gritted teeth, with her fists clenched, white-knuckled, at her sides:

“I hope,” she would say, “I just hope… I can only hope…no PRAY, I PRAY….that when you grow up you have a daughter just like you.”

And so, life being what it is (by which I mean ironic) my mother has had the last laugh—and it’s a howler. Because for some mysterious, but undeniably poetic, reason, there are now, living in my house three teenage stepchildren. All girls. All, as I mentioned, teenagers.

(By the way, it was years before I realized that this sentence of my mother’s was not an original sentiment. That cave women grunted this out to cave-girls when they returned with the first fire’s ash smeared smuttily on their eyelids, wanting to take the wheel out past nine and dragging in idiotic cave-boys with their loin-cloths hanging around down their knees.)

At the time I was writing Dervishes, these little people were still girls: adorable, adoring—they liked bunny rabbits and lightening bugs and bedtime stories. They liked ME.

In other words, they hadn’t yet hit puberty. But sometime around the time Dervishes was finished and I emerged from my office feeling as though I’d just given birth to an elephant, and was facing the prospect of ‘what next’?, a switch was flipped. Actually two had flipped while I was buried in my office and then, bingo, the last one went. Seemingly overnight. Suddenly, I was living with three stomping, eye-rolling, jaded young women with cell phones welded to their ears, their fingers calloused from texting, each one of them hard done by and substantially less than enamored of the adults they are forced, unfairly, to coexist with.

And so, while I’ll never know how my mother pulled this off, I really do have to congratulate her…and I know that somewhere, she is having one hell of a laugh. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Now I’m going back inside my office…I’ll be out when they all hit eighteen.


Friday, March 28, 2008

My Recording Studio Smells Like Socks - Deborah Smith

Real voice actors don't have these problems. I spray a little citrus air freshener on the dog bed in one corner, shut the closet door firmly to keep out the cats, then step in front of the professional microphone perched grandly atop its slender stand next to the dirty clothes hamper. I'm dressed in my professional "acting" clothes: sweat pants and a t-shirt with a fading yin-yang symbol.

I am one with the audio universe inside my master bedroom closet.

I plug the microphone into my laptop computer, which sits atop a stack of suitcases sandwiched between the rack crammed with my husband's everyday shirts and the shelves where we store fashion artifacts such as the straw hat I wore to the Olympics in Atlanta and a pair of Santa Claus Christmas slippers.

I double-click on the icon of the freebie audio program Hank (aka my husband) found on the Internet. I open a file, then slip some headphones over my ponytail. The headphones tell me exactly what the microphone hears -- every sniffle, snort, word, breath and grunt I make, plus every outside noise that creeps into the closet.

I hear crows cawing outside in the yard, and then the wind chimes on the front porch. I wait.

When a window of reasonable silence opens up, I click "Record" on the laptop.

"Testing, testing," I drawl into the mike, watching the meter rise and fall on the audio program's volume gauge. I adjust the microphone, test my voice some more, then give myself a thumbs up. I open a well-worn copy of ALICE AT HEART, a fantasy novel I wrote a few years ago. I find my place, take a deep breath, blow it out, and start reading.

Another production day has begun at Hillbilly Studios.

Over the years, five of my novels have been produced by major audiobook companies. But now that I write primarily for my own small press, BelleBooks, the only way to get an audiobook made is to do it myself.

My BelleBooks' partners are excited about the prospect of producing audio versions of all our titles, so we started the Hillbilly Studios experiment a few months ago to see what we can accomplish. Since I'm the only voice actor we can justify hiring for the test program (I work for free) and Hank's the only sound engineer we can afford (because he works for free, too,) the process has included a big learning curve and lots of pitfalls.

Like learning to breathe. "How do I tell the audio program to erase all my nose sounds and extra breaths?" I asked a musician-friend who knows all that techie stuff.

"There are no magic buttons for that," he replied. "You just have to practice breath control."

Rats. I hyperventilated at the thought of all the chapters I'd already recorded the wrong way, that is, actually breathing while I talked. Who knew breathing could be such a pain?

And then there were the more esoteric issues. Like the fact that I'm not a professional actor, although I did minor in drama at the University of Georgia.

Every character voice I create sounds an awful lot like the same southern woman from Atlanta. My character archive can be listed like this: Southern Scottish, Southern Yankee, Southern British, Southern Hindu, etc.

But the upside is, hey, this isn't brain surgery. The audio program is simple to use, the recording process is basic, and the end result is a surprisingly high quality sound. The biggest downfall is time: It's tedious to record an entire novel -- my average studio process for a complete book takes about fifteen hours -- and then Hank spends an equal amount of time editing, tweaking the sound levels, etc.

There are some small additional costs if we want to add stock music for our introduction and scene breaks, but royalty-free music is easy to find on the Internet and I can buy everything I need for well under fifty dollars.

Marketing the finished product will be as simple as uploading it to a site like, which partners with Amazon to sell audio downloads.

BelleBooks hopes to launch several audio projects this year, but a lot depends on how fast the work goes at Hillbilly Studios. I've run into several other technical obstacles. All of them have fur and whiskers.

"What's that noise in the mike?" I asked Hank as we sat in the closet with our headphones in place. "There it is again."

Meeeeerroooow. Meeerrooow.

Cats. Outside the closet door. Wanting inside. Nothing intrigues a cat more than a closed door. They were insistent.

"Let one in. What could it hurt?" Hank said. "He'll lay down and go to sleep. It'll be fine."

So we let in my favorite, Smudge, a tuxedo cat who weighs close to twenty pounds. He flopped in the floor at our feet. We started recording again.

"Stop. What's that noise?" I said.

Purring. Smudge has a twenty-pound purr, and the mike picked up every bit of it.

Oh, well. It adds ambience, we decided. When you listen to a BelleBooks' audio, tune your ears to the secret, encrypted underscore and imagine a lovely Southern day in the mountains above Atlanta. Crows caw, windchimes chime, and obese tuxedo cats purr at your feet.

I defy the big fancy audiobook companies to be that entertaining.

Here's a sample of my very first audio work from BelleBooks' Mossy Creek Hometown Series. Just double-click the url.

Deborah Smith is the New York Times best selling author of A PLACE TO CALL HOME, SWEET HUSH, THE CROSSROADS CAFE, A GENTLE RAIN and others. A Gentle Rain is a RITA finalist in addition to being named Best Small Press Romance by Romantic Times. Visit BelleBooks at

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Early to Rise, as Long as I Can Open My Eyes! by Jenny Gardiner

This morning I was up at 4:45. A.M. I'm normally an early riser anyhow, because I like to get to the gym before the birds are up. But not that early. Not many things will force me out of bed at such an ungodly hour. Having to catch a flight to somewhere exotic? Most definitely. Of course a sick child in the middle of the night does the trick as well, like it or not.

But today, I got to arise well before dawn so that I could appear on a morning TV show. And I couldn't have been happier. Even if I couldn't exactly open my eyes for the first hour.

You see, I have discovered I love being on TV shows. Not because I want to see my sorry mug broadcast all over the place, but because I have so much fun talking about my book (SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER).

Now, I did actually work in TV news when I was in college. My blonde ambition was to be an anchorwoman. At a really big station in a huge market in a great city. Where I could sit behind a desk and talk a lot. Laughable? No doubt. But this was the 80's. Helmet hair, happy talk and all. Shortly after graduation I abandoned my grand dream because I didn't want to have to spend years living in small towns working my way up to those larger markets and bigger cities (plus I'd have had to work nights and weekends and the pay was so far below poverty level I would have had to live in a box beneath a bridge span which would have really meant not getting enough sleep). Besides, when I worked in TV news back then, I was dreadfully nervous whenever I was on-camera. I fumbled and hemmed and hawed and felt like an idiot. I was fine when working from a script, recording a report I'd written and edited, but the on-camera stuff? Eek! Trust me, no one will ever see my audition tape in which I interview a 6-foot tall man in a furry rabbit costume delivering bunny-grams. And not because the rabbit-man was so ghastly, but because I was.

I used to always joke that I'd be a terrific salesperson, as long as I believed in what I was selling. I'd fail miserably at selling ball-bearings, weapons of mass destruction, or any boxed set of Lawrence Welk shows, for instance. I just couldn't drum up the enthusiasm for them. But if was something I loved, then I could sell it to just about anyone. I used to sell these adorable Folkmanis handpuppets I'd discovered at a giftware trade show I'd attended with my husband. When my kids were little, I was the neighborhood puppet pusher, showing up in the parking lot at pre-school, selling those crazy puppets to my friends from the trunk of my car. I could've just worn a trench coat and opened it up to the discerning client to view my wares, for as seamy a sales gig as I had. My goal wasn't to make money---rather I just wanted to get lots of discounted puppets for my kids, so I was willing to sell them to my friends at cost in order to meet the minimum order requirement. I did the same thing with this really funky jewelry made in strange third-world islands in the South Pacific I'd discovered a few years earlier. For a while I was the go-to gal for wild Ooga Booga earrings in my neighborhood and amongst family and friends. But you can only wear so much of that stuff before growing weary of it.

These days my sale is way easier, since I'm selling my humorous women's fiction novel SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER instead of bizarre jewelry or weapons of mass destruction. First of all because it's way cheaper than a Folkmanis puppet. And far more stylish than the tacky earrings from Bali. Plus, I really believe that women out there will "get" this book and have a fun time reading it. The circumstances of my protagonist, Claire, are universal, and letters I get from readers every day affirm this. So many women are happy to find this character whose life so closely resembles their own. So the selling is simple. And sometimes you just can't get me to shut up about it. Because, you see, the other thing about me is I am a serial chatterbox. Back in elementary school, I was constantly getting into trouble for flapping my jaw. The teachers would move desks around to keep me from talking. I got red check marks on my report card for gabbing when I should've been doing long division or splitting infinitives or something equally boring. I must've been a social animal before my time. If only there was a career path that involved chatting, I'd have been at the top of that professional heap by now.

But now I realize I've finally figured out how to combine my past loves/bad habits all together in one. First off, I'm writing for a living. How lucky is that? And while as a writer one has to sell their product a lot, hey, lucky me that I'm selling something I love and really believe in. And I get to do it while chit-chatting--something I still tend to do an awful lot anyway (my family is always having to drag me away from a conversation in order to get somewhere on time). To top it off, I'm back on television, albeit many pounds later, alas. I guess I should be happy it's not on nights and weekends.

So if you happen to run into me and I'm blabbering on about my book, understand that I just can't help it. My teachers couldn't shut me up all those many years ago, I can't always find a cozy little TV morning show on which to freely gab. Sometimes I just have to get it all out of my system. Even if I have to get up in the middle of the night to do it.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Christine Rimmer, Late to the Party...

Yep. I'm late getting here today. Once a month, every fourth Tuesday, I blog here on Tote Bags.

I know that. I plan on it. I do. I have calendars, after all. I keep schedules. I keep track of where I'm supposed to be and when.

Too bad, in this case, I put my reminder to post here on my four-month dry-erase planner and then, er, well, somehow...I erased it. How could that have happened? No clue. And yet, most annoyingly, it did.

But anyway, I'm here now. A little frazzled, because, being way too anal for my own good, I hate to be late anywhere....

What shall we talk about?

Heroes are always fun. I think I've mentioned before here that I like to "cast" my heroes and heroines. Must be my theater background. Before I settled down to write romance, I was a mostly unemployed actress. To the left? His name's Raoul Bova--in real life, I mean. He's the visual inspiration for my current hero, who happens to have amnesia.

No kidding. In the opening of this book, my hero has no idea who he is or where he came from or how he happened to be wandering in a blizzard in the Sierras with his body battered, a wound on his forehead--and wearing a lightweight jacket, a cashmere sweater, expensive dress shoes and summer-weight slacks. Luckily, before he passes out and almost dies, he will stumble upon one Tessa Jones, throwing dishes at a cedar tree and cussing out some guy named Bill.

The book is called The Stranger and Tessa Jones and will be coming out next January. I'm really having fun with it. This is my first amnesia story. I am, you might say, an amnesia virgin--creatively speaking, I mean.

I'm loving it as my hero gets to be someone totally different than the man he is in his "real" life. He gets to discover love as a kinder, gentler sort of guy.

Yes, the alpha male within will surface. And it's the nature of the amnesia story that the truth of the character will out in the end. But in the meantime, what a journey he and this woman named Tessa will share.

I do enjoy writing--and reading--the classic plots. Marriage of convenience, secret baby, single dad, mistaken identity, baby-on-the-doorstep. And amnesia. Love'em all.

How about you? Have a favorite classic plot? Love the classic stories? Hate them?

Whatever your preferences, here's to a happy month of great reading. I'll be back in four Tuesdays. Ready to party. On time!


Monday, March 24, 2008

Love & Laughter - Trish Wylie

You know that old saying about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach? If only it were that easy these days!!! But the saying about the pathway to a woman's bed involving laughter? Well I for one think that still holds true...

Apparently psychological studies have shown that during an initial contact, it's almost impossible not to like someone who has made you laugh genuinely 5 times or more. And reliable statistics show that women consistently rank humour as one of the top 3 qualities in a man they would want to date. (I'm one of those gals - both on and off the writing page.)
For me, when I'm writing, humour is just as much a part of the process of falling in love as physical attraction, the fears being overcome and the heartache of thinking all is lost only to discover the exact opposite in the HEA. A reflection of my own personality quite possibly, yes. But then when it comes to writing and reading as well as in real life I think that laughter is soooooooo important, don't you?

And it doesn't have to be the tears rolling down your face/reaction to slapstick kind of laughter either. That guy who can say something outrageous or cheeky at the right time can make you laugh, even when you might not want to - the kind of guy who can have you chuckling even hours after he's left? Wellll....

The comedian Victor Borge once said that the shortest distance between two people is laughter. And he's right I think. Laughing together is sharing. Laughing together removes barriers. Laughing together relieves any tension that might be present. And it's a common universal trait an author can use to show that their characters are falling in love, regardless of the obstacles in their way. It's part of mental attraction after all. And I recently read that there are three main components in attraction...

Visual, Chemical and Mental - which is where the laughter kicks in...

According to the site I found, mental attraction is best described as finding someone who makes you laugh - ha! see?! Basically it's an intellectual bond that makes every conversation rich and it's best found through spending a good deal of time together. After the defenses come down, you start to really see if you have a mental attraction/intellectual interest.

But what it basically comes down to for me is this: Laughter is sexy.

Just add it to the recipe of attraction in a romance novel. Visual - gorgeous looking hero. Chemical - the natural physical reaction to said gorgeous looking hero. And mental - both in intellect and in that uber sexy twinkling in the eyes that makes the heroine smile and laugh. How can a heroine NOT fall for that. I know I will! I love, love, love it when he makes her laugh. I laugh with her. I understand completely why she feels the way she does - and that way I've shared a little more in her journey, haven't I?

BUT. Does it work in reverse? Hmmm... In real life they tell us no. "In our research, women said they wanted 'someone who makes me laugh,' and men said they wanted 'someone who laughs at my jokes,'" according to Rod Martin, president of the International Society for Humor Studies and co-author of a study on the topic. I can't help but wonder if a woman who makes people laugh in real life isn't somehow intimidating to a man...??? I feel a conversation or two coming on with the men I know ;)

The beauty of fiction is we can ignore the results of that kind of study. Because those three ingredients of attraction work both ways, don't they? So if we have a heroine the hero is attracted to physically and chemically and mentally from an intellectual perspective - then why on earth wouldn't her ability to make him laugh be just as attractive to him? I for one can see stern, cocky, arrogant heroes facades broken through with a little humour anytime! Heck - I write books like that and none of my readers seem to have complained too much - yet. We want to hear that deep, rumbling laughter - we want to see his eyes sparkling with amusement - we want for him to fight it, yes - but then doesn't the heroines ability to break through feel all the sweeter because of it? Does for me...

So what about you? Are you one of those people that considers laughter sexy? Is laughter important in the reading experience or are you the kind of reader that lives for the angst and the tension? Maybe it's a combination of things? But again that's the beauty of the romance genre as a whole - we can change our reading experience according to our moods, right?

My latest release for the Presents line, At The Billionaire's Bidding, involves everything from a heroine with a love of silly sayings on T-Shirts to a hero with more than a wicked twinkle in the eye...Mind you it also has an eclectic group of secondary characters including the heroines gay best friend - a six foot lunatic who thought the name Mario was more interesting than hopefully there's as much laughter in there as anything else...
To find out more about Trish and her books you can visit her Website or her Blog.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hot Cross Buns

Today is Good Friday. It is also the earliest Good Friday in living memory. Easter is set by the Jewish Passover celebration which in turn uses a lunar calender. Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring. The Spring Equinox happened yesterday. The moon is full tonight. Easter can only be one day earlier and the last time that happened was 1818 or for those lovers of historicals, smack dab in the middle of the Regency period.
Easter like Christmas is always a time of special foods. Lent was a time of fasting and so Easter became a time when food was once again available. One of most familiar cries in Regency and Victorian London, according Henry Matthew's London Labor and Lon Poor 1851 was One a penny, two a penny hot cross buns.
Hot cross buns are spiced currant buns with a cross cut on the top. Sometimes the cross is emphasised with a cross of pastry. I know in the US version, cut peel is often used, but not in the English version, according to Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1977) which is one of the definitive tomes on the subject.
Spiced buns start appearing in Tudor times and by Elizabeth I, decrees are being issued limiting bakers to making spiced cakes and buns only at Christmas and Easter. If you want such things at other times, the housewife has to make her own. This is the situation that pretty much exists up to the 20th century in Britain. And I will say that warm homemade hot cross buns taste far better than those in the shops.
This is the recipe that I have adapted from Elizabeth David. It makes about two dozen.
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon soft butter
2 large eggs (free range if possible and as fresh as possible)
1 cup milk warmed
1 packet yeast
1 tsp each -- ground allspice, cinnamon, nut meg, cloves or use 1 tablespoon mixed pumpkin pie spice
1 cup currants (or in a pinch raisins)
Soften the yeast in the milk. Add butter to milk and allow to melt. Add well beaten eggs to yeast mixture.
Mix flour, brown sugar, salt and spices together. Add yeast mixture. Stir until well mixed. Add currants. Mix until well distributed. The dough should be quite stiff.
Cover and allow to rise until double. This takes about an hour (gives you time to read a romance novel).
Divide into 24 balls. Place in a greased tray, allow to rise again (time for more reading of romance), make a cross on top of each with a knife, brush with a little milk. You can emphasise the cross by putting a cross made from either strips of candied peel or strips of short crust pastry (pie dough). Bake in 375 F- 400 F oven for twenty minutes. (Set timer in case you become engrossed in romance novel!)They should be lovely and brown when they come out. You can glaze them if you want. Best eaten warm, but can be split and toasted.
I hope whatever you do this weekend that you have a wonderful time.
all the best,
Michelle Styles

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Devil's Daughter Springs onto the shelves!

Two things I’ve been waiting for are finally happening.

First, of course, is spring. Today is the first day of spring and it couldn’t have come sooner for me. It’s always been my favourite season for so many reasons, but mainly because it’s a fresh start for everything. Trees that have stood in limbo for so many months now begin show new signs of life, crocuses are in full bloom, and the daffodils are pushing up and out, too.

The whole world seems to heave a sigh of relief as people creep out of their homes with gardening tools in hand and their jackets unzipped. It’s the day we’ve all been waiting for and finally it’s here! Having lived in the Yukon and Northwest Territories for the better part of eight years, we soon learned that the calendar might proclaim it was spring, but Mother Nature wouldn’t start warming things up for another couple of months. So we learned to improvise.

While friends and family would email us about their blooming gardens and warm temperatures, we would still be hunkered down in our parkas and Sorels knowing we wouldn’t see a blade of grass until well into May. Not to be deterred, we would often plant our bulbs indoors and set them in a warm place so that we, too, could enjoy some spring colours too. It wasn’t the same as being able to enjoy spring with the rest of the world, but it was enough to get us through to the end.

This year, spring is better than ever! My new book, The Devil’s Daughter, due out April 1st, is already shipping from Amazon. This book has been a labour of love from the very first spark of inspiration, which oddly enough, was nothing more than the title (and thank you sooooo much to my editor and the marketing people at Dorchester for allowing me to keep it!). From that little spark, everything else worked its way into the story one tiny bit at a time. It has been written, rewritten, had chunks completely deleted, edited, rewritten, more chunks deleted, and rewritten again.

The funny thing about this book is that it truly almost didn’t see the light. I’d been told over and over again that it needed to be darker, that I needed to up the paranormal factor and go deeper. Silly me, I tried. After all, it *is* about the devil’s daughter, so it made sense (sort of) that the story should be darker. But then I met my editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, at a conference in New York and everything changed.

(If I’ve never mentioned how fabulous Leah is, let me say it loud and clear right now. She is fabulous!!!!!)

Anyway. . .. . .I’d never pitched a story before and there I was, stuttering my way through the longest five minutes of poor Leah’s life. She was so kind and understanding, and frankly, she nearly knocked me out of my chair when she said she wasn’t really looking for anything ‘dark-dark’. Well, did I have the book for her! Who says everything about the devil’s offspring has to be dark and horrible? LOL

The rest, as they say, is history. With Leah’s guidance, we molded the story into what Harriet Klausner has called “devilishly delightful” and RTBOOKReviews says “. . .reads like the best of Americana.”

So it really is the best time of year for me. The Devil’s Daughter is here, the garden’s blooming, and all is right with the world.



Wednesday, March 19, 2008

For Love of Louisiana - Sandra Hill

I love Louisiana...with a passion equal only to the passion in my books. No wonder it is the setting for so many of my books, including the current WILD JINX.

I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, lived and worked as ajournalist in New Jersey, but, I swear, I must have lived inLouisiana in a prior life. My genetic memory of the place isthat strong.

It all started when I accompanied my husband on a businesstrip to New Orleans. Being the off-season, there were fewtourists late one afternoon as I strolled through the FrenchQuarter. This was pre-Katrina. Suddenly, I saw this stately oldhome with a brass plague in front announcing it had once been thehome of Gen. Butler and in more recent years the author GraceLivingstone Hill. I got chills. Not only were my ancestorsnamed Butler, but I was a writer.

So, I knocked on the door.

A lady in full Civil War era dress answered and invited me in. I thought she would ask me to sit down and wait until enoughothers showed up for a tour group. But, no, she just led methough the house, as if she were the owner and I an invitedguest. Eerie! Really, I felt as if I had stepped back in time.

I returned to Louisiana a number of times after that andcame to love not just New Orleans but the bayous with theircolorful Cajun culture. Thus were born my two historical timetravels, FRANKLY, MY DEAR and SWEETER SAVAGE LOVE, along with thecontemporary novels, THE LOVE POTION, TALL, DARK, AND CAJUN, THECAJUN COWBOY, THE RED-HOT CAJUN and WILD JINX. My Cajun LeDeuxfamily also plays a secondary role in PINK JINX and PEARL JINX.

In many ways, the lush bayou setting and the Cajun culture are characters in my books. What's not to love about thetropical temperatures, the colorful flowers and animals, the goodfoods, the lively music, and, of course, those dark-eyed Cajunmen?

So, come on in, chere. Sit yourself down. Have a cup ofjuju tea and a beignet. Here's a book to read. WILD JINX! Hope you like that crazy Tante Lulu and her great-nephew Tee-JohnLeDeux. Laughter guar-an-teed!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Whatever Gets You to 'THE END' :: by Ally Blake

I'm in the process of beginning my next Harlequin Romance and as I sat at the computer wondering what it might be about, I got to thinking, Do I have a process?

This will be my eighteenth novel. Boy oh boy does that feel odd especially since I still feel so new at this. Every book is different. Some are easy, others have made me want to watch lawn bowls on telly rather than sit down at the computer. That said I pretty much always start each book the same way: with a hero name, a heroine name and a working title. So much can spring from those three things. I mean a guy called Phil Smythe will bring on different mental images to a guy called Rocco Santiago. Am I right?

But with FALLING FOR THE REBEL HEIR, my current Harlequinh Romance release, I went about things a little differently.

Firstly my hubby gave me the opening scene. Now this is one for the books, literally ;). I usually don’t let him do anymore than name the pets in my books as his ideas are destructive. Here is a taste of the beginning of the book…

Through a gap in the seemingly never-ending wilderness, Hud was blinded by a pinpoint of light. He held up a hand to shield his eyes and tugged his rucksack through the heavy brush until he found himself face to face with the old pool house.

A half-smile tugged at the corners of his mouth and pressed against the backs of his tired eyes as echoes of more long forgotten recollections tickled at the corner of his mind. Dive bombing. Performing pretty darned legendary back flips off the diving board. Lying on his back in the water for hours simply watching clouds shift past the pitched glass roof, wondering if his mum and dad looked up if they would see the same clouds while trekking some thrilling spot on the other side of the world.

He levered his heavy rucksack to the ground, and left it where it lay. Claudel was fifty metres off the road, behind a ten foot brick wall, and a ten minute walk through a pine forest to the nearby township of Saffron. If anybody was lucky enough to find his shabby old khaki bag they were welcome to the raggedy clothes, and just as threadbare passport within. It wasn’t as though he’d be needing them to head through a different kind of wilderness with his trusty Nikon camera slung over one shoulder and a hunting knife slung over the other with his team of documentary filmmakers at his back any time soon.

He cricked his neck, pressed his hands into the tight small of his back and glanced upwards to find brilliant red bougainvillea creepers seemed to have swallowed half the long building, leaving the hundred odd remaining white-framed glass panels that had survived the tests of time, thick with dust and mould. He could only hazard to guess how foul the inside might be after not having been blessed by a human touch for a good ten years.

‘If memory serves correctly...’ he said out loud, the sound of his voice raspy and deep in his ears after hours of non-use. Then he made his way around the back of the building to find the door was ajar, at an odd angle, askew on rusted hinges, as though it had been yanked open.

Instinct born of years spent stepping unannounced into dark, secret places he stepped quietly - toe to heel - over a small pile of worn broken glass and inside the pool house where his feet came to a giveaway scraping halt of boot soles on tessellated French tile.

The pool house was clean. The mottled green tiles around the margins sparkled and the dozen white marble benches were spotless. Miniature palm trees in plant boxes edging the length of the room were luscious with good health. And the water in the pool shimmered dark and inviting against the black-painted concrete bottom.

A sound broke through Hud’s reverie. A soft ripple as water lapped gently against the edge of the pool. And he was hit with the sense that something was about to break the dark surface. He held his breath, squared his stance, squinted into the shadows and watched in practised silence as...

A mermaid rose from the depths.

From there everything seemed to slow; his breaths, his heartbeat, the dust floating through shards of sunlight, as the nymph waded through the water, away from him, leaving a trail of leisurely wavelets in her wake.

Water streamed over hair the colour of brandy. It ran adoringly over pale, lean, youthful arms. And as she swayed up the steps, water gripped to her willowy form as long as it could before cruel gravity claimed it back to the dark depths.

Hud felt like he ought to avert his gaze. Like he was too old, too cynical, too jaded to be allowed such a vision. But those same qualities only meant that his curiosity far outweighed his humility, and his eyes remained riveted to the back of the exquisite stranger.

And secondly I made myself a collage, sticking random bits of pieces of torn out pictures from magazines that had no meaning at the time but which I hoped might help form some sort of whole. All I knew at that time was that my hero would happen upon my heroine swimming in the pool of the abandoned house he owned. I had no hero name, no heroine name, and no story. Not even a working title, which for me is like stepping into a void with no safety net. Here’s the collage…

And you know what? This was one of the easiest, most pleasurable books I have ever written. Mmmm, you’d think a smarter woman would have picked up on that and tried to replicate the circumstances! Well, it may have taken me another handful of books to give it a go, but at least I got there in the end.

With a fresh new book in the works I spent a glorious day collaging like a pre-schooler, and getting my story idea in place before I figured who might star in the thing.

I have a working title, the heroine all sorted out which are another couple of huge steps for a romance as mine are always heroine based. If only I could find a name for my hero I'd be set!!!

I may just have my process down pat. Seventeen books down and I've only just figured it out. Wish me luck!.

Ally's current release FALLING FOR THE REBEL HEIR is out now in North America and the UK. Hud and Kendall were born out of pictures of gorgeous Marat Safin and delightful Rachel McAdams.

To read more about Hud and Kendall and the swimming pool, check out Ally's website or better yet buy the book!

Ally would love to know, do you have a process that has worked best for you? And it doesn't have to be writing related!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Susan Mallery's Sweet Talk - Lee Hyat

I'm really excited about the new Bakery Sisters trilogy from Susan Mallery scheduled for release this summer. Book one, SWEET TALK is going to hit shelves in July 08, followed by SWEET SPOT in August and SWEET TROUBLE in September. We just got the book trailer for the whole series yesterday and on Susan's behalf, I thought I'd share it. :)

Vist Susan's website at for more information about the series.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Not just any guilty pleasures...carnal, evil guilty pleasures

My life has been hectic lately. In fact, it's been so hectic, I'm actually quite pleased with myself that poor Lee hasn't had to send me the, "Uh, you're blogging today, remember?" e-mail I'm known to get. I'm here, writing it, a day early no less, so I'm going to find a way to celebrate that achievement sometime this evening.

It also happens to be March, and my day job is in Finance. If you work, or ever did work, in Finance, I don't need to say any more. But for the rest of you, I'll mention that little word--taxes--coupled with upcoming quarter-end reporting at a time when we're still not done with year-end reporting, and suffice to say, March is a busy time at the day job.

I also have a book coming out in April, and I always--always--say that my book release month will be spent relishing in the unveiling of my hard work and nothing else, but so far it hasn't worked out that way. Instead, I'm busily wrapping up the last chapters of my November Blaze, trying to get that to my editor so we've got time for revisions.

Oh, and Little League's starting up.

So where does that leave me?

I'll say one thing's for sure, the diet is BLOWN. Of course, it only takes me one excuse to blow the diet, and I've got--what--four listed here? Oh, it is SO gone! Which means me looking like this will be put off for another month. It also means that the selfish side of me reaches out for those guilty pleasures I need in order to handle all the stress without going insane.

Like many people here, my guilty pleasure is books. I feel I'm living in the black if I've got more "read" books on my shelves than "to be read", and often I can only accomplish that by including my high school yearbooks and photo albums in the count. Otherwise, I run dangerously close to 50/50. But does that stop me from adding more to my wish list? Of course not! It wouldn't be a guilty pleasure if there was no guilt involved, now would it?

My second guilty pleasure is food (see paragraph on diet above) and when it comes to that, I could go on for days. But I was thinking about the topic of this post and asking myself what is my MOST guilty pleasure when it comes to food? You know, that horrible thing you don't even want to admit to eating, but it's SOOOO good? I'll never forget an episode of Oprah where an audience member admitted to eating turkey skin sandwiches. Now, even I, a woman who will pick at the crispy golden skin until my husband comes in the kitchen and swats me away, had to admit a certain revoltion to actually putting chunks of it on bread and slathering it in mayonnaise. But I could understand it. And that's the kid of stuff I'm talking about here.

As a kid, we used to take Wonder Bread, spread on some I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, then sprinkle it with sugar, roll it in a tube and eat it like a Pirouette cookie. I have more money now, and can just buy the things when I want them.

So now I'd have to admit that my most delectible guilty pleasure would have to be chicken fried steak with milk gravy. It's my favorite food I hate to love. I'm not sure if there's any nutritional value that hasn't been fried out, and if there were, the laden fat from the gravy would probably prevent absorbtion. But ask me if I care? I love it with all it's faults.

It was in the news recently that microwave popcorn is bad for your lungs, which lends an interesting twist to the phrase, "inhaling your food". I was happy to say that we don't microwave popcorn. We still make it the old fashioned way in a pot with oil, because I prefer to die of heart disease over lung.

Then again, I'll never forget the line by Dennis Leary who, when told about his cigarettes, "Those things will take 5 years off your life!" replied, "Yeah, but not the good ones."

Amen, brother.

So tell me, what's your guilty pleasure? Go ahead, you can confess. And if it's too embarrassing, just post under "Anonymous" and we'll never tie it back to you!

I also wanted to announce that I've got a great promotion coming out for my latest book, "Putting It To The Test". It's Buy 1 Get 2 Free where I am giving away my entire personal collection of Harlequin Blazes by some of the line's best authors. Just buy my book and I'll send you two Blazes of your choice from the titles available. Details on the promotion can be found on my website at Don't miss it!!

Friday, March 14, 2008

My Love Affair With The Outback - Fiona Lowe

I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of traveling in my life (and I have plans to do a whole heap more!), but for many years our trips always left the borders of Australia, taking us to places that seemed far more exotic and interesting.

Toward the end of one year where my husband and I had been away from Australia for nine months, we found ourselves driving through the deserts of Nevada. We were totally blown away by the colours, having never been in a desert before. And then it hit us. We came from the country with a huge desert and we’d never even seen it. Our bad!

A year later on a crisp and cold outback winter dawn, we floated across the central Australian desert in a hot air balloon, gazing down on a mob of kangaroos, bounding across the red dust and spinifex. Right there and then I fell in love with my country.

Since that trip, the outback has always fascinated me. The tyranny of distance, the choking dust, the amazing challenges of dealing with high temperatures and lack of water, and the fact that the pioneers really thought they could make a go of it. Deluded or Determined? Either way, many did make a go of it and those that did fell in love with this “wide, brown land.”

In 2008, life in the outback is still a tough gig but our outback communities and cattle stations have satellite communications, the support of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and helicopters and planes to link them more quickly with the urbanised eastern coast.

I love creating my fictional outback towns where everyone is only 1-2 handshakes away from everyone else and the wonderful sense of community that comes from that. It can be used to help or hinder my heroine and hero, and in A Wedding In Warragurra, it does both! The outback heat shimmers between them, and the township of Warragurra pushes them together whether they like it or not.

I had SO much fun creating Warragurra that I couldn’t just set one book there so a second story, The Playboy Doctor’s Marriage Proposal, follows in September.

What place in the world have you visited that made a lasting impression on you?

Fiona’s seventh book, A Wedding in Warragurra is out now in the UK and hits the shelf in Australia on April 15th. Visit her website for some outback adventure and a chance to win her latest release.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What my GPS has taught me - Ann Roth

Recently, my husband bought me a GPS. As a directionally challenged person, I appreciate this amazing tool. My GPS is female and talks in such a sweet voice. Very polite and genteel... Unless I fail to follow her directions.

"Recalculating," she states in a slightly less pleasant tone. If I still ignore her, she becomes terse. By the third or fourth time she sounds both angry and... slightly drunk. It's funny to me, but not to her. I have angered her several times..

The secret is to learn to trust her. It's taken months, but I finally listen to her. She's taken me to places using routes I'd never have thought of, avoiding traffic and getting me there much faster than normal. I've grown to like her very much.
But if I know where I'm going and want to do things my way, I turn her off. That makes us both very happy.
What does all this talk about a GPS have to do with writing? you may ask. There are writers out there who know more than I do, or who know a different route to reaching a goal. Listening to them could get me there faster or help me become a better writer-something every writer wants.

On the other hand, trusting your gut instinct, that voice within that says, "Yes, that's a good suggestion, something I'll use," or "No, I'm not going to do that" is equally important. Learning how to combine the two-that's the trick.

Until later,
The Pilot's Woman, March 2008, a Romantic Times top pick!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

12 Points on the 12th with Kate Walker

For today's point, I want to take a look at Prologues and Epilogues.

Recently I had a writer email me and ask me whether she should start her book in a certain place, and then jump forward a couple of years to tell the main story, or whether she should start at that point a couple of years later - or should she put the past into a Prologue and then move into the main story.

Some authors love Prologues, some- and I'm usually one of them, will avoid them like the plague. But in a recent book of mine (Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Bride) my editor really wanted a Prologue showing the hero and heroine happy together so that the events of a year later (the ones I had as the starting point of the book as it was ) hit home with more impact.

I'll admit I wasn't keen. I argued, almost dug my heels in, but then I rethought. And I saw what she was trying to get me to achieve with this particular prologue and I realised she was right. So I agreed, and wrote the Prologue. And I'm really glad I did because every time I open that book, I'm very happy with the impact it has. But, as a general rule, I don't really like Prologues.

The first thing to be sure of with a Prologue is that it's really necessary.

Because one of the real problems with a Prolgue is that by it's very nature it usually involves writing something that delays the start of the 'real' book - the reason why the reader has picked it up in the first place - and that is the development of the romance between your hero and heroine. A romance is a short book and the reader expectation is that it will concentrate - guess what - on the romance story.

Prologues usually set up something that one or other of them is unaware of and so you need to be careful that it doesn't have the reader hanging on, wondering justwhen the other central character will come in

The other problem that I have with prologues is the same as the one I have with too much back story. Obviously if the past has a major effect on the actions and feelings of the characters in the present time, then that needs to be shown - but it doesn't necessarily need to be acted out. It can be explained by one of your characters - bringing in much needed dialogue or you can use (carefully) flashbacks. But again the reason why the reader is reading your book is to see the relationship developing in the present - and how they move on from that past.

I'll be honest and say that when I see the word Prologue - which inevitably means something before the real action of the book starts, then I'm always wondering just why this couldn't be woven into the main story. It can look like the author 'writing themselves in' to the main story which doesn’t take off until the next section.

Epilogues are slightly different. I completely agree that where. there has been a lot of emotional damage, there is a need to show that the healing has worked. But again I do think it's very important to show a lot of that healing in the actual main body of the book. It's part of the Black Moment/satisfying Happy Ending combination that needs to be there not just to bring you characters together but to show that they have grown and moved on emotionally so that they are ready to overcome the fear, the guilt, the doubts. If there is so much of that that the HEA has to be 'proved' later by showing how they are still together you need to be careful that there hasn't been enough healing in the book itself.

Sometimes I have used an epilogue - for example, when the plot hinged around the death of a baby as a result of Cot Death/SIDS - the reader needs the reassurance that in the future this tragedy did not happen again.

But the epilogues I really dislike are the ones that look like padding - the detailed description of the elaborate wedding/christening/whatever when this feels like padding - bringing the word count up to requirements when that could have been used so much more valuably by adding to the conflict or the resolution of that conflict - something that showed character development rather than embroidered the already happy ending.

Now for some news. I spent this weekend working with the publisher of the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. Ever since we had the news that the first editon of this book had sold out, we've been planning a second edition and that will be coming very soon. And in order to launch it I will be running a special week long (or perhaps a bit longer if there's enough interest) Writers' Q&A over on my blog. This will probably be coming up in April but obviously I have to have some questions to answer if I'm going to run it.
So if you have any writing questions you'd like me to answer then email them to me . Please put Writing Q&A in the subject line. And then I'll answer them on my blog - or maybe here in one of the 12 Points.

And don't forget - the contest to win one of the remaining of the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance is still open over on My Tote Bag. Lee has two copies to give away together with a Kate Walker tote bag and some other goodies. Entries need to be in by March 15th, so get your entries in today.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Very Special Love Story...

Once upon a time...

there was a guy and a girl. Things didn't work out. The girl married someone else and had a happy life and babies. The guy married someone else and had a happy life and babies. They remained friends though, living in the same community for many many years. And the girl was very good friends with the guy's wife too. It was all perfect.

Over the years the guy's wife taught 4H to the girl's daughters, and when the girl's husband died, he was a shoulder for their youngest daughter to lean on. And several years later, his wife died too and the guy and the girl were both alone.

But then they started talking. They went to dinner. And at age 74, they fell for each other all over again.

This is a true story, and yes, I've written it in the most simplistic terms. It is, however, the loveliest thing to happen in a long time, not just for me, but for my mum. I'm the youngest daughter, and last spring when she announced she was going to dinner with this man - we'll call him Mr. H - I was thrilled. Our families have always been linked, and honestly if my brother and sisters and me could hand-pick someone for my mum, it would be him. It just MADE SENSE. Some things are meant to be.

Now at the age of 75 my mum is planning her wedding. And when she was visiting us last fall, she seemed even younger than she had a few years earlier. LOVE made her young. And...giggly. I could hardly believe my eyes. After being alone for nearly 20 years, I had all but given up that she'd find someone. And then to have it be so perfect....

Well, it just gives you back any and all faith in the power of love.

Stories like this are why I write, you know. Love and all the hope and strength it provides. And I hope that's what comes through to the reader when they sit down with one of my books. When she announced they were going on a date, it was the release month of my first Harlequin Romance. Don't get me wrong, that was thrilling. But I was far more happy about Mum and Mr. H. Books come and go, but true love lasts a lifetime.

I have another book releasing today - The Soldier's Homecoming. And it too is about love providing strength and hope, two things that the hero, Jonas, desperately needs. And because it's a Romance you know you're going to get that emotional, feel-good ending....
Just like my mum.

Congratulations, you two.
Love, Donna

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why do Women Fantasize? by Jasmine Haynes

Hah! You probably started reading thinking I had the answer! I don’t, sorry to say. Instead, I wanted to explore that question with you. Why do we fantasize? What do we fantasize about?

Because I’m a writer of erotic romance, a friend recently said to me that he thought my genre was equivalent to porn for men. Some women might find that comparison insulting, but he didn’t mean it that way at all. We were simply discussing the new popularity of the genre. Of course, just as men (and women!) watch pornography, I do believe one reason women read erotic romance or erotic fiction is the titillation factor. But I also think erotica taps into a woman’s universal fantasies, too. The stories allow them to explore things they would never actually do, but that they find exciting on some level. Maybe it’s simply a way for them to get away from the routine of their lives for the moment. Let’s face it, we’re all rushing around trying to accomplish a million different things, and sometimes we just need to chill with a sexy book. I like a shot of erotic romance in the bathtub accompanied by dark chocolate and a champagne cocktail. Afterward, I feel renewed.

Beyond the titillation, I also believe some of the stories we read tap into universal womanhood. That’s why I think we have common fantasies. There’s the older man fantasy or the younger man fantasy or the professor fantasy or the bondage fantasy or the cop fantasy. Does it mean we want to bribe the cop with sex to let us out of that speeding ticket? No. It means there is something in that kind of story that taps into our emotions, into who we are universally as well as individually.

And that’s what I’d like to hear about from those of you brave enough to tell all. What universal fantasies appeal to you and why? Whatever you have to say will definitely be food for thought in my future books, believe me! Please do keep it clean, nothing explicit, just general.

Of course, my books are chock full of my fantasies. But, to be fair, I should share one here. I think being tied up and blindfolded would be exciting. Why? Because then I would have to give up control. And for a control freak like me, that’s appealing.

BTW, I don’t want to dis any male readers, so you should feel free to share.

Jasmine Haynes, The Fortune Hunter
Don’t miss my monthly website contest going on now!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Cover Story - Christina Hollis

I was so excited when my first Mills and Boon Modern Romance The Italian Billionaire’s Virgin was accepted for publication, I thought life couldn’t get any better. Then I saw the cover art for the UK edition. The guy chosen to pose as alpha male Antonio was the image of my husband when we met on a blind date, twenty-six years ago. Apart from becoming more distinguished with time (ie: getting grey hair) my oh hasn’t changed a bit. Sadly I never looked anything like the ‘Rissa’ that cover art ‘Antonio’ is romancing in their picture, so perhaps we’d better move on, and fast!

In recent months, other editions of my first book have appeared. So far, all have had the same cover. But this week I got the French translation. It has different artwork but is equally lovely. My husband’s lookalike has been deposed, but a new stunner has taken his place. As a bonus there’s a tempting glimpse of Tuscan architecture and some Fiorentina irises, too. It makes summer holidays seem such a long way away! We’ve recently had a spell of below zero nights here, so images of sun-drenched Italy exert a powerful pull right now. I have plenty of postcards and photos of exotic locations pinned up around my office to get me in the writing mood, and this latest cover is going to join them.

What do you use to kick-start your imagination? I’ll send a copy of my latest release, One Night In His Bed, to the comment Jynx the cat picks out in time-honoured fashion. That is, if I can prise him off the windowsill long enough to do it for me. Though I’ve never known him catch a bird (he’s a dedicated night hunter) he loves to doze inside the house all day where he can keep a half-open eye on the bird tables outside the window. It must be the feline equivalent of late-night TV!