Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Random Acts of Kindness -- Michelle Monkou

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, if you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around"

This quote is from one of my favorite movies - Love Actually - that has a star-studded ensemble cast.

This idea of love all around can be translated into our acts of kindess to each other. Coming out of the Lenten season has made me feel reflective and hopeful, despite the bleak headlines about the economy, the war, and other social ills.
If you are so inclined, for a week, perform random acts of kindness. If you perform an act that is not anonymous, feel free to tell the person to share an act of kindness with someone. Basically, pass it on. Comment on your random acts so we can share, celebrate, and be inspired.

On April 7, I will draw two winners to each receive a Sterling Silver - Hope * Dream * Believe Cuff Bangle Bracelet. Acts of kindness do not have to be monetary-based. This is on the honor system because I do believe that bad karma will take care of those who take advantage.

Hope your lives are overflowing with lots of Blessings and love.

Michelle Monkou

Monday, March 30, 2009

CLEAN HOUSE by Linda Conrad

Anyone else addicted to the Clean House show on cable’s Style channel? There’s just something about watching clutter and dirt disappear that does this Virgo’s soul good. I can’t seem to get enough of having a place for everything and everything in its place.

For those of you out of country or without cable that might not get the Style network, Clean House is a TV show where professional organizers (who are also actors and comedians) are invited to come into a super messy house. They prod the occupants to get rid of stuff they don’t need in a yard sale, then they clean and paint and redecorate. It’s a before and after show of the first magnitude.

So, it’s spring again. Although I’m uber busy, I’ve been watching too much Clean House before I fall asleep at night and getting the usual urges to clean my own house. Especially my office. But I was also sick with the flu for a while and then I had jury duty. Putting it off was easy. Until…I received a huge carton of author copies for my April release for Silhouette Romantic Suspense, IN SAFE HANDS. I had no choice but to clean off a spot for them.

While I was cleaning, I began thinking about how much I love my office and some of the things inside it. I don’t know if everyone loves office supplies the way I do, but to me the smell of a new ream of paper sends me into ecstasy. The feel of a good ball-point pen in my hand is nearly erotic. I’ve always been this way. Even as a little girl, the best time of year for me wasn’t Christmas but the start of a new school year and those brand new pencils and notebooks!

I thought I would list a few of my current favorite office supplies. Many are terrific for the writing business and I don’t know how any author could survive without them. Others are meant for anyone who has a good home office.

Starting with:
Yellow legal pads. I buy them by the case. First, the bright canary color makes me smile and those straight green lines cater to my tidiness desires. The mere idea of filling up all that clean space with new story ideas or notes on characters or outlines for new workshops gives me a thrill. I use legal pads for everything: snatches of dialog that come to me in the shower, grocery lists, brainstorming plots, balancing my checkbook, keeping track of page counts. I know some authors argue they can do all of that better on their computers and with a lot less desk space. But I can take my legal pad into the garden and keep one next to the shower in my bath and never worry if the thing gets wet. Plus, I just like the way it feels in my hands.

Colored file folders. I’ve got nothing against manila. There’s a place for it. But color-coding my filing system makes my life so much easier. Yellow is for new plotting ideas. Red for dialog bits or research notes I’m collecting. Blue for articles or workshop ideas to write later. Green for handouts or notes I’ve taken at the workshops I’ve attended.
I never have to wonder where something is, and it looks so cheery every time I open a cabinet.

Jumbo paperclips. Keep your cheesy, sometimes-rusty, tiny metal paper clips. And you will never find one of those alligator snapping wire disasters meant to hold a gazillion pieces of paper in my office. Jumbos on the other hand are smooth, keep things neat, and are easy to use for two pieces of paper or many. I’m just sayin’.

Reference books for everyone. What would I do without my trusty Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary- Eleventh Edition? And ever since a writing buddy told me about the Flip Dictionary edited by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD, I couldn’t do without that either. Trying to think of a word and it eludes you? Don’t say it’s old age. We all do it. Maybe you can describe what you’re thinking about but don’t know the name for it? Then you need the Flip Dictionary. Plus, it’s a mini-encyclopedia. Need a list of all the varieties of cheese in the world? How about a list of the terms for different style wrenches? What a great tool!

Reference books for writers. I think I might need a new copy of The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale. Mine is so battered and torn from being used that it’s barely holding together by threads. This book is an absolute must for me. My other absolute must to use while designing characters is Are You My Type, Am I Yours? Relationships Made Easy Through the Enneagram by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele. It describes nine personality types and what types would make the best (or worst) lovers, soul mates or partners. My advice to writers is always pick two types that make the worst matches, it’s more fun that way.

Then there are the novels I have stashed in and around my office. Piles of ‘Keepers.’ Piles of ‘To-Be-Reads.’ Piles of ‘I’m in the middle of this one.’ I had to weed those out too in order to find clean space. But novels don’t really count as Office Supplies. (Maybe as reference books, though) However, when I start talking about novels, I usually can’t stop. And I do have to stop.

How does your office look right now? In need a good cleaning? Or are you one who can’t work unless the place looks like a disaster? (those people are said to be geniuses)

In order to help with my book clutter in my otherwise clean office, leave me a comment and I’ll pick two winners from all the comments left before Tuesday March 31 to win autographed copies of IN SAFE HANDS.

Linda’s Silhouette Romantic Suspense series, The Safekeepers, wraps up in April with IN SAFE HANDS. Don’t forget to drop by Linda’s website to find out what’s Behind the Book for the series, and register to enter her ongoing contest to win books and gift certificates!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Do you believe in ghosts? - Dianne Emley

I recently attended a mystery writers and fans conference where I spoke on a panel with other authors who write books that include ghosts or other paranormal characters. The three books in my “thrillogy” – THE FIRST CUT, CUT TO THE QUICK, and THE DEEPEST CUT -- are romantic suspense thrillers featuring homicide detective Nan Vining.

The thrillogy has an over-arching storyline in which Nan obsessively pursues the creep who attacked her and left her for dead. They also have a subplot in which Nan is haunted by the ghost of a female L.A.P.D. officer whose murder Nan is charged with solving.

At the conference, the time came for audience questions. Someone asked, “Do any of you believe in ghosts?” My colleagues on the panel explained how they enjoy the freedom in writing about characters that are not bound by space and time, and how they like folklore traditions and studying different religions. I was surprised. None of them said they believed in ghosts.

Finally, I spoke up and said, “My husband and I are convinced our house is haunted.”

Well, that got everyone’s attention.

That’s not why I said it. Well, okay, that was part of the reason I said it. I also said it because I believe it’s true.

I’ve always believed in ghosts. I have an early memory of my grandmother telling me about when she was thirteen and saw her recently drowned girlfriend standing at the foot of her bed. I’ve had a few weird, shall we say “ghostly” things happen to me.

The skeptic can explain them away as vivid dreams, strange interplays of lights and shadows, an overactive imagination, or all of the above. My husband tends towards the skeptic camp when it comes to the supernatural.

Until the night we started hearing strange noises in our almost one hundred year old home.

A house that’s that old is unusual in the Los Angeles area. Since I’m always looking for something sinister in the most idyllic locales, I of course wondered if it was haunted. Years passed without any strange occurrences. Then I began occasionally hearing what sounded like footsteps creaking across the hardwood floor in the upstairs hallway.

I did not mention this to my husband. I mean, this was just the old house settling, right? And my vivid imagination…

Until one night… My husband and I were in different rooms that opened onto the hallway when I heard the creaking. He came out and asked, “Were you just walking in the hall?”

Oh oh…

After more footsteps incidents, months later, something else happened. It was night. I was in bed reading. The bedroom door was open and my husband was standing in the hallway adjusting the thermostat outside the door when I clearly heard a voice. It was distinctly female, very resonant, and it sounded like a cross between a sigh and a moan. Scary and definitely there.

I was gazing at the empty hall beyond where my husband was, a chill running down my spine, when he leaned into the doorway and asked, “Did you say something?”

Oh oh…

He described the exact sound I had heard. He went around the house and out the front door looking for the source. Later though, he explained it away as a noise that had come from the heating system. Now, if something is missing or out of place, he’ll jokingly say, “Esmeralda did it.”

Creaky old house and vents or Esmeralda? I’m voting for the ghost.

What about you? Do you believe in ghosts?


Dianne Emley’s THE DEEPEST CUT, the third in her acclaimed Detective Nan Vining trilogy, was just published by Ballantine. It received a starred review from Booklist and is a Romantic Times Top Pick for March. To learn more, visit

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Breakfast In Bed - Tawny Weber

Picture it, you're all comfy-cozy in a plush, down covered bed. Maybe its winter, flames are crackling in the fireplace across the room. The soft scent of the flowers overflowing the bedside table fills the room. Pure decadence, yes? You can even imagine (its better this way, really!) your favorite dream hunk there in bed with you, one arm slung over your waist as he snuggles you close (sure, go for the husband if you have to. I'm imagining Johnny Depp myself).

Now, there at your fingertips is a phone. All you have to do is dial star, and the concierge of this luxury resort will bring you anything you'd like. Anything. A bowl of warm chocolate sauce, perfect for dipping (what you dip is up to you). Hot, fluffy pancakes with a side of warm fruit? Maybe crepes (can you tell I'm getting hungry?) Anything you desire, its right there at your fingertips.

This was part of the fantasy I created when I wrote my April Blaze, COMING ON STRONG. The heroine is an event planner and the hero has an event in desperate need of planning. Perfect combination, right? Of course, her idea is to turn his prosaic luxury resort into a sexual escape for the rich and famous - catering to, of course, their every decadent desire.

I had so much fun coming up with sexy ideas, decadent treats and wild experiences for my characters and the guests at the resort. But I have to admit, my favorite fantasy in this whole story was thinking of what I'd do if I was at a luxury resort like this (and no, its not what you might be thinking *g*) .

Breakfast in bed. A tray delivered to my cozy, warm bed. Plump pillows propped up behind me, the aesthetic appeal of the china and crystal on my tray, and most of all... Food. So many yummy possibilities for the perfect breakfast in bed. My only requirement? That it include tea.

If you could have breakfast served to you in bed - you don't have to cook a thing or even consider cleaning up - what would you have? Your ideal, fantasy breakfast? Feel free to share recipes, I'm a big
fan of recipes *g* I'll chose one of the comments to win a copy of their choice of any book in my backlist - so be sure to hang out and chat!!

Tawny Weber is usually found dreaming up stories in her California home, surrounded by dogs, cats and kids. When she’s not writing hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze, she’s shopping for the perfect pair of boots or drooling over Johnny Depp pictures (when her husband isn’t looking, of course). Tawny’s most recent Blazes: COMING ON STRONG and GOING DOWN HARD are out April/May of 2009. You can visit her on the web at

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Letter From Iceland - Jessica Barksdale Inclán

(Folks, I have taught writing and literature for many years, but in recent years with the advent of email and IMs and such, the letters from my students have become stranger, more intimate, and just flat out weird. This is a fake email based on real events, all put together for your enjoyment)

Dear Professor Barksdale--

Just a quick note to let you know I had to fly to Iceland for a family emergency. Sorry that I've missed class for three weeks--and I'm going to have to miss three more. You know, it's complicated. It's very complicated. My grandmother's uncle's father's son's cousin had a hernia, and, well, I'm the only one with a Gortex patch. You know, the kind to hold his guts in? I had to take the airstream to Iceland. It's bankrupt here, so I don't have internet access except this great café where it's free and on 24/7, but it's a while block from where I'm staying at the palace and I can't get here too often.

Great cappuccinos, though. Really.

Anyway, just thought I'd ask you if I really had to read the textbook. it's full of stories and poems, and they are so confusing and they take a lot of time to read. I don't have a lot of time. I'm really busy on Facebook and Twitter and Myspace. Not to mention hanging with my tribe, who had to come with me to Iceland. You know, my posse, my pardners, my peeps. It's bankrupt in Iceland, so we decided to help them with their cash flow. We thought we'd go hiking in the fjords or over the ice before it all melts. Actually it's spring here. Grass is growing near the beach. it's so weird. Too bad I don't have time to write about it for your class, but like I said, the Internet café is a block away.

And you know all those stories I didn't post for three weeks, the stuff I was supposed to write? Could I post my Facebook updates instead? They are really good. You know, telling you about my day and stuff. Like, what I'm doing right now. Sort of an extemporaneous "all about me" kind of thing. I bet you didn't think I knew that word. I really, like, so do. Anyway, I thought I'd string those all together with my tweets--maybe even using some from my followers, too--and then just make up this radical new form.

How's this: Slipping around on the ice. "Happy." Just ate a whole fish. "Cold." All the roofs are red. "Working."

That's what should be in the textbook if you ask me.

Also, I'm really upset about your grade scale. It's kind of harsh. Like I have to actually do everything to get an A. What about the fact that I know I'm going to be a writer. I am a writer. I'd write more if you didn't make us read all the time. How is all that reading going to help me write? It's going to totally confuse me, giving me the wrong voice. Taking away my originality. You'd love my new stuff. I'd show you more, of course, but like I said about the Internet café.
Could you possibly read my query letter and my synopsis and my first 50 pages of my novel. I wrote it when I was in ninth grade, but it's like really good. I didn't even have to revise it. I bet it would get published. Could you send it to your agent?

Okay, I've got to go. I need to go find that piece of Gortex I brought over here. Then we are going to go ski on the grass at the beach. It's a new money making thing here for Iceland.
See you in three weeks.

Your Student

Jessica Barksdale Inclan
(and now to go back and read more student email!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Technology vs. Tradition - Tracy Wolff

I'm one of those women who is always just a little behind the curve-- technologically speaking. I just got my very first ipod for Christmas and now, finally, I've dived into the world of e-readers. My wonderful honey just got me a Sony Reader-- bright red and beautiful (to match the Blackberry I still don't know how to use). I personally think his motive was cutting down on the INSANE number of books I have in my house (even after my twice-yearly donation sessions) and earning more bookshelf space for himself and his work stuff. But I'm choosing to overlook his ulterior motive and just revel in the beauty that is my reader.

Now, to be honest, I wasn't sure I'd like an e-book reader. After all, doesn't half the pleasure of reading a book come from holding it in your hot little hands? Feeling the weight of it, studying the cover, etc. etc. ? I've always thought so, but I have to tell you-- this thing is great.

I was stuck at my oldest's football practice yesterday with nothing to do (Dad kept the rugrats at home, so I wasn't chasing the baby as usual) and bored out of my mind until I remembered that I had the Sony Reader in the car-- suddenly I had dozens of books to choose from to while away the hour. Which was a good thing, because I'd already finished the book I carry in my purse for just such emergencies.

Plus, I feel so much more environmentally friendly (which, honestly, is one of the other reasons my husband got me the reader). His job is all about environm,entally friendly stuff, so we're always trying to be just a little bit greener. What's not to love, then, about a device that doesn't create trash for the landfill, doesn't kill trees, doesn't need to have its products transported by truck or plane or boat or train???

All in all, I'm thrilled with my little Sony Reader. How about the rest of you? Are any of you reading e-books these days, or are you traditionalists?

Tracy Wolff is a romance author and avid eBook reader, blogging this month for All Romance eBooks' Go Green/Read e Campaign. Find out more about the Go Green/Read e Campaign at To learn more about Tracy Wolff visit her website at You can find Tracy Wolff's ebooks and thousands of other eBooks on-line at**

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Peeves - Lori Borrill

During the month of March, I've had the pleasure of following along with readers over on eHarlequin as they read daily installments of my free on-line read, FAST AND FURIOUS.

For me, it's been great fun listening to readers guesses, likes and dislikes as the story unfolds. It's almost like sitting there in the living room with someone reading my book and having them provide me with their reaction every step of the way. Which, I suppose, can be good or bad depending on how they like your story.

In this case, it started out very touch-and-go. I open the novella with my hero speeding down the freeway in a Lambourghini. As I wrote the story, I'd only been thinking about my editor's directive. Given it's the prologue to the Blaze Spotlight Series, "0-60", I had to incorporate speed somehow into the plot, and I'd decided to do so by having my hero stack his brand new toy.

And apparently, speeding down a freeway was something a few readers took issue with. In fact, I think they were ready to tar and feather the poor guy for it. Luckily, as the story progressed they warmed up to him and forgave him. But it got me thinking about peeves.

As a reader, I'm like anyone else. A character can do something that I might shake my head at, but most of the time, I'll keep reading. However, there have even been a few where I really couldn't get over something the hero or heroine did, and I found myself putting the book aside. One in particular was a heroine who sounded more like a girl in 6th grade than a grown adult, and after about 20 pages of extremely immature behavior, I realized nothing was going to save this person in my eyes. Another was a hero who popped off and kissed a total stranger simply because he'd seen her and found her incredibly attractive. Particularly as a writer of one of the hotter Harlequin lines, I'm the first one to forgive sexual transgretions, but in this case, I couldn't stretch myself to consider that kind of behavior okay. It would have to be sold right, like maybe as a sailor coming home from war, stepping off the boat and kissing the first pretty woman he sees out of the joy of homecoming. Okay. But just because he thought she was beautiful? And am I to believe he's going to stop that behavior once he ends up with the heroine?

I'm curious to know what you think. I think we all have peeves when it comes to characters, but are there any that would absolutely make you put the book down and stop reading?

Lori Borrill writes for Harlequin Blaze. Her most current release, UNLEASHED, was a Romantic Times 2008 Reviewer's Choice nominee for Best Blaze and is still available through To see that and all her books, visit

Friday, March 20, 2009

Feel the fear - Amanda Ashby

First up I'd like to apologize for missing my post last month. I actually had it written down for the wrong day so by the time I rolled it up was too late. But trust me I've given myself a very strict talking to and it won't happen again (hopefully!!!).

So anyway, it’s been a really great week for me, not just because my young adult book ZOMBIE QUEEN OF NEWBURY HIGH has recently hit the shelves (though it has and you’re welcome to buy it if you so wish!), but rather because my eight year old daughter kicked some serious butt.

You see while she is an incredibly talented artist, a lot of things don’t come easily to her. Now I already knew that she’d inherited my hips and crazy hair (my poor darling, I’m so sorry) but apparently she’s also inherited my mother’s scaredy cat approach to life. In other words, things like swimming and riding a bike scare her more than a boxful of spiders (which, for the record, also terrify her).

So for the last twelve months, every week when we’ve gone to her swimming lessons, I’ve had to watch her cry, scream and basically put a death grip around her instructor’s neck as they try and attempt to teach her to do even the most basic moves. At times it was so painful to watch that I longed to just put us all out of our misery, but we live at a beachside town in New Zealand and learning to swim is as important as learning how to cross the road. And so we persisted without much reward...until this week when suddenly it all came together and not only did she swim her first length in freestyle, but she also did one in backstroke as well. And if this wasn’t enough to leave me leaping in happiness, the very next day she suddenly decided she could ride a bicycle sans trainer wheels and you know what? She did.

The point is that for a lot of kids this stuff comes easy. It doesn’t scare them it excites them. But after watching my darling girl face her fears everyday and eventually come out winning, it’s really helped remind me that the things we want might not be easy to get, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying to get them. If Molly can do it so can we (oh, and seriously, you’re welcome to go and buy my book!!!!)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lessons Learned

I'm not quite late in posting my blog (but almost!). It's spring break here this week and the kids and I have just returned from a few days of R&R over on Vancouver Island. Parksville is a small community right on the ocean, and even though the weather was fairly miserable, all BC'ers know you can't let that stop you or you'd never leave the house! LOL

So we checked into our hotel and, since the tide was out, we went looking for sand dollars. I've lived in BC nearly all my life and I had no idea that sand dollars started out black! Those are the live ones, so you leave them alone, and seek out the white ones which are dead. We didn't find any that were white-white, but the ones we did find were white-ish, so we were assured it was okay to collect those ones.

As you can see, there was a lot of beach to cover with the tide out and we did our best until the wind finally drove us back inside in search of hot chocolate.

Then we went to Coombs because if you're ever on the Island, you must go to Coombs to see the goats. One of the markets there has a grass roof and goats live on it - they even have their own little "goat house" up there. Sadly, not a goat was to be had that day, but we did discover some amazing fudge! On we went to the Butterfly Museum which was truly amazing. We walked through a giant green house where dozens and dozens of butterflies, finches and hummingbirds dance and fly around your head.

Lesson learned: Butterflies only live about 2 weeks. My kids already knew that but I had no idea! (yes, once again I was wishing I'd paid more attention in school!)

In between the butterflies and our next adventure, we played mini-golf and rode the bumper boats, which I would not recommend unless it's warm out. However. . .

Lesson learned: Never trust your rotten kids when they say they won't squirt you. They will. And they'll do it often. And they'll laugh hysterically when you can't figure out how to steer AND shoot at the same time. 'Nuff said.

On we went to the parrot rescue centre. I can't remember the exact name, but they take in injured, neglected or abandoned birds and care for them. The place is enormous and as you can imagine, LOUD!! Everyone gets a free pair of earplugs at the door. :) My Middle Child was bound and determined he was not going to enjoy this until two things happened.

#1 - he saw this bird and was immediately awe-struck by it's beauty.

and #2 - he saw this bird and could not stop laughing to save his life.

Lesson learned: Just when you think you're too cool to enjoy something. . . .surprise!

And finally, we saw some turtles. Middle Child loves loves loves turtles, so this was the highlight of the week for him. I should mention here that Middle Child is also an 11-year old boy, so when the turtles started doing this, he was so over-the-top grossed out he could hardly stand himself.

Lesson learned: Even turtles need a little lovin' sometimes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Grandma and the Prince - Part 5 (Barbara Bretton)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Do you remember those old B-movie westerns? They were TV staples when I was a kid. The good guys wore white hats; the bad guys wore black. You cheered the heroes and hissed at the villains and you never for a second questioned who was right and who was wrong. You just knew.

Too bad life isn't like that. One of the things I've discovered as I dig back into my Grandma El's life is that there are shades of grey everywhere I look and nobody left to help shine some light in the dark corners.

According to the story my Grandma El told me, her father was a ladies man. "A divil of a man," she called him and I'm not sure whether or not it was a compliment. She claimed her mother gave as good as she got and for my great-grandmother Nell's sake, I hope she did.

Sometime around 1904 when my grandmother was 4 years old, her father Charley did something so dastardly, so unforgivable, that he had to take his family and leave England for New Zealand. (Let's face it: you couldn't get much farther away from home, could you?) Although he had been born into money, he'd apparently squandered his share and couldn't afford passage for his wife and three kids so he turned to the family at Sea View for help.

I've warned you that the Dimlers weren't exactly the Waltons, right? Well, great-grandpa Charley "sold" his eldest child, Edith, to relatives at Sea View for enough money to get him to New Zealand and set himself up with his own butcher shop.

I know. It boggles the mind. Poor Dede was only seven years old at the time, a tall gangly introspective blond in a family of short and boisterous redheads. Can you imagine how she felt when her parents and siblings sailed away? (Actually I know how she felt and will tell you next month.)

I've often wondered why my great-grandfather chose New Zealand. Out of all the places in the world, why such a far away (and beautiful) country? And why didn't I ever ask my grandmother that question?

They settled down in Auckland, in a small house on Ponsonby Road that my grandmother loved.
The photos are front and back of a "real photo" postcard my Charley sent to Dede from New Zealand. Unfortunately Grandma El glued the postcard into an album so much of the message on the back was lost.

The postcards lead me to believe that Dede had been left in her grandfather's care, something that makes my blood run cold. Her life must have been something out of a Gothic novel. Not so Grandma El's life. She loved every second of their ten years in New Zealand. Decades later, she glowed when she talked about the beauty and freedom of the place. (She claimed her best friends were neighboring Maori kids but I'm not sure that wasn't wishful thinking on her part.)

In 1914 Charley ran out of money and into trouble again and packed up the family for the return trip to England.

He didn't stay long. In 1916 the entire family, Dede included, was on its way to America.

Here are Grandma El's words, transcribed from a tape I made of her during the summer of 1976: "We came back to England when I was 14. They were broke and in disgrace. We stayed at Sea View for two years. Oh, Barbara, the things people thought! The Germans were the enemy and someone said my grandfather was signalling them with secret messages and people threw rocks at us and set fire to the house. We were hated by the town. You don't know what it was like . . . the bombs . . . the fires . . . the zeppelins overhead . . . terrible . . . terrible. Then he decided we were going to America. It was 1916. The War was still on but he had to go. We made the trip on an American ship. We stopped in the middle of the Atlantic with our engines off on account of the submarines everywhere. I remember that only the American flags on the ship saved us.

"I remember it was hot, so hot, when we reached New York. We didn't waste any time getting jobs. The second day our parents said, 'Find work," and we didn't know anything. I was brought up rich. I couldn't do anything. So I found a job as a nursemaid for a rich Jewish family on Central Park West. I took care of their little girl and the mother used to say to her, 'Now you should learn to speak like Elsie -- cahn't, tomahto' and I would feel so good to be appreciated.

"We used to go--I can see it now--to the swanky shops like B. Altman on Fifth Avenue. She had a chauffeur and a limousine and I would sit in the rear and I can still see him placing the fur robes over the madam and the girl. But not me. It wasn't done. I told them that I'd had servants too but who knows if they believed me. I was just a green kid.

"One day I left them. I don't know why. I just left. I didn't know any better. [silence] You don't know what it was like to come here . . . everything so big . . . so much . . . all the food and stores and people. I loved it from the first."

And then the unthinkable happened: Charley died of a heart attack at 47 years of age.

May 2, 1922
22 Ashfield Rd
Aigburt (?)

Mrs. Dimler, our united and heartfelt sympathy go out to all of you in your dreadfully sudden Bereavement. It was a bombshell to me and tears trickled down my face whilst reading the sad news to the rest of the family at the Breakfast table.

May God be with you in this your hour of trial.

Margaret is away at Chester - and we wrote her the sad tidings. She replied immediately - sending her love and sympathy.

Now as regards Charley's affairs under his late mother's will -- you may rest assured that your interested will be carefully guarded by the Enors. It is a pity Charley did not make a will - especially as he wrote me regarding in his very last letter. You may have possibly read my reply to it - stating that the balance eventually due to him after meeting his legal liabilities is somewhere around about 150 pounds - perhaps a little more, perhaps a little less.

I presume Charley was still a British subject at the time of his death - if so this money will be disbursed according to British law. If on the other hand he was a naturalized American (and I never heard anything) then I must have documentary evidence of this fact and a letter from a New York Notary Public direct - stating American law on this point. You quite understand, don't you, that if Charley was not an American then all this red tape business and expense will be unnecessary. So please write me by return so we may put things in order. Also please thank Cassy for his very feeling letter.

With kind regards to all of you we remain yours in sympathy,
The Ludeck Family

To be continued.

PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here and here. My next book, LACED WITH MAGIC, will be released in August. I hope you'll watch for it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Almost Kiss - Lisa Dale

Hello fellow bookworms. I had such a great time blogging here with you last time and so I’m pleased to have the chance to drop by again!

I’ve been thinking a lot about kissing these days. Maybe it’s the promise of spring and summer going to my head. But I’ve been mulling over what makes a good kiss in a book or movie because having a good first kiss in my books is important to me. It’s got to be fun!

A while ago I re-watched Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice (the one with Kiera Knightly) and I was totally rapt in the scene where it’s raining and they’re fighting with each other outside. And I thought to myself “Oh right. I remember this scene exactly. Any second now they’re going to have that great onscreen kiss…any second…”

Well, if you’ve seen the movie, you know there is no kiss in that scene. But the tension is so intense that my brain rewrote the scene in my head as if there had been a kiss. Amazingly enough, the scene isn’t any less intense because of the lack of lip locking. That’s sort of what I want my books to do: to be wildly intense, but not too obvious. It’s all about subtlety, in my mind.

Anyway, I made a list of my top five favorite onscreen almost kisses, just for kicks. Here they are.

5) Enchanted. I love that moment at the end of the movie when Patrick Dempsey’s character sings under his breath to the heroine. There’s so much drama there, when they’re looking into each other’s eyes. So bittersweet. Thank goodness they have a happy end!

4) Interview With The Vampire. This is an odd one to list. Louis and Armand (Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas) have this moment when they almost kiss but don’t. Whether or not you think it’s sexy, it is riveting and shocking as far as “near kisses” go. The director and the actors get the tension right. And I wouldn’t mind trading places with either one of those guys for that instant. J

3) While You Were Sleeping. There’s that really adorable moment when Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman are slipping on the ice together, and then they’re face to face and they can’t really move because it’s so slippery, and it seems so obvious that the kiss should happen….and yet… It’s a nice light moment that turns quickly into something serious. I’m a fan!

2) Pretty Woman. Really, this whole movie fits the “almost kiss” criteria because of the heroine’s “no kissing” rule. When they finally do get around to kissing, it’s so effective (to be all clinical about it) because it means so much more than if they were allowed to kiss from the beginning. Great writing there.

1) The Sound of Music. You know that scene where the captain and Maria are waltzing in the garden, and there’s the gorgeous shot of Julie Andrews looking so dreamy over Christopher Plummer? My favorite ever. I’ve been watching that movie every few years or so since I was a little girl, and it chokes me up every time. Love love love!

What’s your favorite almost kiss moment?

Lisa Dale

Monday, March 16, 2009

So You Do What?

I was waiting outside the classroom for Parent-Teacher interview the other night and chatting to waiting parents about new routines at a new school, coping with tired kids, you know the drill. All was going well and then I was introduced by a staff member to another parent as ‘Fiona who writes for Harlequin.’

‘Do you? ‘ The woman’s face lit up with wicked intent. ‘What fun, all that sex?’

I smiled and wished I’d been introduced as ‘ Fiona, mother of…’ because I need lots of energy for these types of conversations. And it was 6pm . And I’d forgotten to have afternoon tea so I was hungry and glucose starved!

I replied thinking about my current book where the couple took a while to get past a first kiss. ‘Actually there isn’t always that much sex in my books.’

The woman looked decidedly disappointed. ‘Oh, doesn’t something have to happen on page 83?’

Again I smiled, stayed calm and went into what my husband calls, ‘educating the masses’ mode! I found myself saying, ‘My stories are relationship driven.’

Her brow furrowed. ‘What does that mean?’

‘It means that just like couples you know, some get it “on” on the first date and for others sometimes it takes them forever. It really depends what they bring to the relationship and what’s happened to them before they meet. ’

‘I think I’d write lots of sex.’ She said still wanting the conversation to be salacious and and very high school.

‘Perhaps you’d prefer to read erotica then rather than romance.’

‘What’s the difference?’

At that point the conversation changed from frivolous which is what this woman wanted it to be, to something more serious which was what I wanted. Have I changed her mind?

Who knows but I left her with something to think about, my business card and the idea of her buying my next book.
Plus I have her email address to send her a newsletter to reinforce that thought :-)

What do you say to people who want to make fun or your reading choices?

Fiona's current release, The Doctor Claims His Bride which got a sexuality rating of Sweet but with some Sex, is out in the UK and available online in Australia now and will be on shelf in April. Visit her at her website for more information and lots of pictures of Australia.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th (we had one in February, too...'09 is a two-fer!), and to be honest, I don't have a problem with the day.  I have never had anything worse than normal happen on a Friday the Thirteenth (FTT).  I've never had any particular problem with black cats, ladders or spilled salt.  I was trying to think of any superstitions that I have, and I can't think of any.  I do have a lot of little rituals, though.  
For instance, I clean my desk (file what needs files, shred what needs shredded, chart what needs charted) when I finish a book.  I enter all the data into my Character Charts (a notebook that contains all kinds of info on all my books to date)...basically, I clean up after one book so I can start fresh on the next.  It's more of a ritual than a superstition.  But hey after another dozen books or so, it could become a superstition!  LOL  Maybe that's how superstitions start...little rituals that make sense, and somewhere along the line the 'sense' part is forgotten and all that's left is a superstition.
I mean, not walking under a ladder makes sense...something on it could fall off and hit you, or the ladder could wobble and...squish.  Not breaking mirrors makes sense, too.  I mean, who wants stitches from a cut?
So, maybe somewhere along the line, my little ritual will become...a superstition.  Something I feel I HAVE to do before I can start the next book.  I'm on the wrap up side of this book, a SuperRomance for next spring.  In a few weeks, I'll be cleaning off my desk, filing and tidying.  It just wouldn't feel right to start the next book if I didn't do it.
What about you all?  Do you have little rituals that could morph into a superstition?  Or hey, do you already have your own handy-dandy superstition??
Happy FTT everyone!  Hope it's a great day for everyone!
Holly JacobsHarlequin American's American Dad trilogyOnce Upon a ThankgivingOnce Upon a ChristmasOnce Upon a Valentine's

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Art of Beginning - Wendy Wax

“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”

The quote belongs to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I came across it when I was looking for quotes about writers and the act of writing, which I used as chapter headings in my upcoming June release, THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER.

That manuscript, about four writers who have been friends and critique partners for a decade, and the lengths they go to to save one of their own when her publishing career and her life begin to unravel, is long finished. In fact, advance reading copies are ready for circulation and the promotion of that book is gearing up.

But, of course, authors are generally on to the next project as soon as the first is written, which is way before it will ever hit bookstore shelves. The more often we get out in front of readers, the better chance we have to build an audience. And so the cycle of beginning and ending is almost continuous. As soon as I finished revising THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER last August, I stared writing my next book, tentatively titled POSTCARDS FROM SUBURBIA. I’ve been working on it ever since.

I’m willing to bet when Longfellow came up with that quote, he was referring to the craft involved in writing the beginning and ending of a novel. I agree that both are critical to the story and have spent huge amounts of time coming up with a first line or paragraph as well as the last.

But at the moment I’m more interested in the feelings attached to these two very different parts of a novel. Because today I actually got to type THE END, which may be my two favorite words in the English language. (Only when they’re joined together, of course!)

I’ve been writing long enough to know that this doesn’t mean I’m finished with this manuscript. I have tons of notes on things I’d like to change and enhance, and I expect to spend the next several weeks, probably right up to the moment the book is due, inserting, deleting, and polishing.

But in my heart, where it matters most, I’m finished. I’ve created characters and a world I hope my readers will relate to and a story that will, hopefully, stay with them after the book is done. The leap of faith I took when I opened that first empty page on my computer has been validated some 425 pages and seven months later.

I’m unbelievably happy to have typed THE END today. Very soon it will be time to begin again.

Wendy Wax
The Accidental Bestseller, Berkley Publishing Group
Coming June 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Stitch in Time (Travel)

by Anna Campbell

Do you like time travel romance?

I do. But it's a genre that has been through its ups and downs in recent years, sadly, more downs than ups.

I'm currently reading an advance copy of a really good one (which has elements of another in-and-out-of-fashion genre, the pirate romance), SAPPHIRE DREAM by Pamela Montgomerie who also writes fantastic paranormal romance as Pamela Palmer. SAPPHIRE DREAM comes out in July - keep an eye out for it.

One of the things I love about time travel romance is that they're part of another subgenre that has always appealed to me, the fish out of water romance. The time traveler is by necessity outside their comfort zone and they have to show all their courage and ingenuity and spirit to survive. They also have to open their hearts to their new world and that usually means opening their heart to a new love. There's inbuilt conflict - will they stay in their new world forever or will they return to their old one? And if they do, what happens to their love?

Oh, and there's also the fact that usually time travel romance involves a good dollop of great comedy as the time traveler learns to cope with the customs of the time they've landed in.

I've got a number of favorite time travel romances. There are the books in Karen Marie Moning's wonderful Highlander series. Who could forget Dageus, the Dark Highlander?

Another favorite is Jude Deveraux's A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR. It's actually double the fun as at first the hero comes forward into our age and falls for the glories of 20th century technology and then the heroine heads back into the 16th century. So we get two fish out of two waters - hmm, need to work on that sentence. This book is a great example of both the emotional conflict and the comedy that the time travel romance invites. You'll laugh and you'll cry in this great story.

I think my all-time favorite time travel romance is Linda Howard's fantastic SON OF THE MORNING which out Da Vincis THE DA VINCI CODE. Actually there's not a lot of comedy in this one - just nail-biting suspense and sizzling passion. This book breaks so many 'rules' of romance. For example, the hero and heroine don't meet in the flesh until well into the story although they have a number of searing dream encounters that will make you sit up and pay attention. The heroine translates a Templar manuscript that reveals the existence of the Holy Grail. The hero is a Templar living in the 14th century who is sworn to protect the Holy Grail at all costs. When he meets her, he decides he has to kill her for the sake of the greater good. Talk about high stakes romance!

Oh, and make sure you check out the latest contest on my website. No time travel romances but some great historical romance up for grabs in my I Heart Historical Romance contest. The prize includes signed copies of UNMASKED by Nicola Cornick, THE TROUBLE WITH MOONLIGHT by Donna MacMeans, A NOTORIOUS WOMAN by Amanda McCabe and TEMPT THE DEVIL, my latest release.

So do you like time travel romance? Do you have a favorite? Are there any other genres you like that aren't always in fashion?

On Being Well-Read - Donna Alward

This has been buzzing around the internet for a long time - the 1% Well Read Challenge (I picked it up at My Friend Amy's Blog post of last May). Basically it's a list of the 1001 books you should read before you die and the challenge to read 10 from the list in a year. (Now, mathematically this means I will never read all of them unless I discover the fountain of youth.) But you know I look at this list and there are a lot of books that well-read or not - I don't WANT to read them. I just don't. I still need to read a book I am going to enjoy.

I went through the list and discovered I have only read 44 of the books. With some of the authors on the list, I have read other works but not the ones listed. And what is astounding is that there are a number of books that I have seen movies or miniseries of. I am guessing nearly as many as I've read. We're talking...Forsyte Saga, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Atonement, The Golden Bowl, Vanity Fair etc. etc. etc. So maybe I'm equally as well-watched as I am well-read. Here's what I've managed:

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad
The Awakening – Kate Chopin
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
The Trial – Franz Kafka
The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Silas Marner – George Eliot
The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot
Adam Bede – George Eliot
North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
The Purloined Letter – Edgar Allan Poe
The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Emma – Jane Austen
Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne
Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Still, some of the books listed are in my TBR pile - Middlemarch (which happens to be the only Eliot book I HAVEN'T read), Suite Francaise, and Villette to name a few. I put North and South on my read list because I am in the middle of it right now. (And another that I saw on dvd before reading). I have a collection of Poe on my shelf as well. All in all, I shortlisted the 10 books I hope to get through before the end of the year:

Middlemarch – George Eliot
Suite Francaise - Irene N.
Rebecca – Daphne DuMaurier
The Pit and The Pendulum – Poe
The Old Man and The Sea
For Whom The Bell Tolls
A Farewell to Arms
To Have and To Have Not
The Sun Also Rises– all Hemingway
Villette - Bronte

So does this make me "well-read"? I doubt it. For one, I know if my CP took this list she would probably triple my number read or more.
And how much credence should we give this list anyway? I read lots of books not on the list - last year I read over 50 books in total.

I firmly believe people should just READ. Not read what they are supposed to read but just read whatever speaks to them. For my husband, it is non-fiction. He is not a big reader so any time I can find him something that he enjoys and will open, huzzah! My kids read a lot of kid's "classics" - we're reading Anne Frank right now, we have read Narnia books and Little Women and A Wrinkle In Time together and several more...but at the same time, when my eldest discovered Andy Griffiths a few years ago, how could I dispute the fact that I could hear her in her room, laughing and laughing as she read? Or how we all held our breath as Harry took on Voldemort time and time again?

I also read a lot of Romance, obviously, which would never make it near this list. And non-fiction for research. And craft books on writing.

So while I do hope to read more "should reads" this year, I also plan to read a lot of "want to reads" because they are enjoyable and speak to my heart and perhaps teach me something. I am a firm believer in making books accessible, and that does NOT equal 'dumbing them down'. Let's make that clear right now, and I know you know what I mean because I'm guessing most of the readers here LOVE popular fiction! It means books that speak to readers on some level. What is the point of reading something if you do not enjoy it, do not relate to it and get nothing from it? It's kind of like eating brussel sprouts to my mind. I hate them. But I bet I can get the same nutritional value out of another food I'll enjoy much more.

The bottom line is, just read. Open your mind, find something that you enjoy and while away a few hours.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Inspirations - Christina Hollis

When the words are working, writing is the best job in the world. Who am I kidding – it’s the best job, even when it isn’t! Long before Second Life and other computer wizardry, ‘making things up’ gave everyone the chance to take control over a virtual world. The various miseries of my own childhood were made more bearable by escaping into that secret place everyone has inside their own head. A universe in which we can take control of destiny is a powerful inspiration in itself.

Harvey Danger sang that ‘Happiness Writes White’, and bad times can provide both the need to write and material to use. Mozart produced some of his best work while struggling with debt and surrounded by death and disaster. Genius like that can overcome anything, but for the rest of us putting feelings down in words can be a wonderfully freeing therapy. One of my mentors, the poet Paul Groves, urges everyone to try writing darker. It gives more depth to both poetry and prose. Despite all these gloomy suggestions, never forget the good times!

I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. As it is undated, it’s less judgemental than a diary. An undated journal can be written in faithfully every day, or only added to intermittently – it doesn’t depress the writer with the need to turn over blank pages between the flights of fancy, which is what happens if you use a pre-printed diary. I flick through my journals whenever I’m looking for ideas. Like most writers, I also keep a little notebook and pencil at my bedside for those midnight moments. Recently I’ve expanded these sources of inspiration after going backstage at the theatre. The designer showed me a board she had made up at an early stage of the production. As well as photos and notes, she had added swatches of fabric and paint charts. She believed that a character’s choice of interior design could convey more about them to the audience than the text alone. I’ve adapted this idea for use when writing my next book by adding press cuttings and web site favourites to my own ‘inspiration board’. It used to be said that ‘you are what you eat’. Nowadays, you can tell a lot about people (and therefore fictional characters, too) by the media they study and the internet sites they visit. What’s your favourite window on a character?

Visit Christina’s website on to see how the inspiration has been flowing…

Friday, March 06, 2009

Romance Stories--Just What The Doctor Ordered

The most common description of a romance novel is the Happy Ever After. The courtship of a couple has a satisfying ending that speaks of a lifetime of romantic bliss. Whether the romantic themes in a novel inspire fantasies of real life experiences or soothe our souls, these stories have a purpose beyond the obvious.

Recently there was a CNN article titled: Unhappily Ever After: Why Bad Marriages Hurt Women's Health. The premise is that the stress of a bad marriage causes physical symptoms in women that lead to overweight in the abdomen, rise in the blood sugar, and high blood pressure. As women, we focus on the relationship and suffer deeply when it's not working.

The CNN article isn't advocating that more couples should divorce. Instead it shows that, if a relationship is hazardous (physically or mentally), then there will be physical consequences that are more likely present in the woman, than in the man.

Here's my take, as a non-medical or non-psychiatric, romance author. While exercise and counseling are advised and I wholeheartedly agree with such a remedy, I would also offer the average romance novel as a supplement.

The romance novel is like a power-packed, multi-vitamin. A woman would read a story that suggests ways to appreciate her mate and how she should be respected and not be taken for granted. She would read about sensitive heroines who trust their mates with their secrets, who aren't afraid to say what's on their minds, who share what they want in life, in bed, or in their hearts.

A woman could see a heroine who mirrors who she is or at the very least, some part of her. Maybe that heroine is who she wants to become. Immersing herself into the story, the woman can learn solutions to challenges that will test any union. She can seek that mentor, best friend, supportive extended family that provides a sounding board or good counsel.

But on the most basic level, a romance novel allows for a few hours to escape and enjoy a story that makes her sigh with satisfaction. What better way to de-stress.

Share your thoughts on the role of romance novels. A lucky winner will receive my March release - Only In Paradise. Read an excerpt on my blog.

Michelle Monkou