Monday, November 30, 2009

Bits and Pieces - Melina Morel

In any line of work there is always so much to learn, and writing is no different from any other profession. You start out thinking you’ve done your best the first time they publish your work because you’ve toiled so hard, done research, and agonized over every single detail. And then the next time around, you find other things you can add to improve the story and wonder why that never occurred to you earlier. By the third book you’ve been more observant, tried to anticipate your editor’s questions, and done everything in your power to keep the action flowing and the characters engaged and appealing – and tried to create a universe just below the surface of the real world. You know – that mysterious land where the werewolves, werecats and vampires live their tangled lives. My alternate universe is of the paranormal variety, so it’s filled with creatures who can shape-shift, live for centuries and prey on the rest of us with fangs and claws.

Isn’t that great? We simple humans are stuck in our own world, dealing with cranky kids, traffic jams, impossible bosses and the daily grind while the vamps and werefolk get to dissolve into a shimmer of atoms, transform into furred creatures with great claws or sleep all day and roam the night thirsting for the rich red liquid that sustains them. Or the modern vamp’s synthetic stuff which is becoming the new trendy drink in the undead world.

In my first paranormal, DEVOUR, I created a werewolf who was a high-end jeweler on Madison Avenue in NYC. Like many ordinary folks, Pierre had a day job that brought him some satisfaction. He had an artist’s eye for refined design. His jewels were prized by high society. But on those nights when he shifted and turned lupine, he was all about the hunt. You just didn’t want to run into him when he was furry.

In PREY I turned to werecats for my subjects. Have you ever watched a cat, any cat, from tiger to family pet? They’re all alike underneath their coats. Whether large or small, they have an elegant bearing that makes you think of royalty. I used that trait for PREY’s heroine. Viv is smart and sleek, but underneath the modern veneer, she has the heart of a tiger. When she goes werecat, the fur really flies. When she breaks clan rules about romance, she finds the love of her life.

SMOLDER, the third book in the series involves France’s most famous werewolf hunter and her furred mortal enemies. These lycanthropes are out for her blood. In fact, they’re put a contract out on her. All those years of hunting their kind has put Catherine Marais in line for payback, and she’s going to need all her skill and all the help she can get from her vampire lover to avoid becoming dinner. Love smolders and bursts into flame for Catherine and Ian Morgan, and werewolves get singed.

So when you think you have it rough because your boss has stopped you just as you’re heading for the exit on Friday and he says to you, “Oh, can you stay and finish X, Y or Z?” think of the characters who inhabit the paranormal world. They may have to contend with a boss who views them as a snack. Even the worse office tyrant won’t do that.

Melina Morel’s PREY received a 2009 Maggie Award in the paranormal category as well as a 2009 New England Reader’s Choice Beanpot Award for paranormal.

SMOLDER will appear in January, 2010. You can access the trailer for SMOLDER by going to

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Holiday Touch - Dara Girard

My current work in progress (presently titled MOONLIGHT MASQUERADE, which could change) is scheduled for release this time next year (November 2010). When I was offered this time slot my editor told me that the marketing department likes to put a holiday theme on the book covers for these releases during this period. I was then asked if I could put a holiday scene somewhere in my manuscript.

Wanting to be the good little writer I said, “Sure! No problem.”

Expect there was a problem. I’d already started writing the book and it was set on a Caribbean cruise in the month of July.

Now being I’m a writer, a very creative person (or so I’m told), I was determined to make this work. No problem.

I started the story again and decided that instead of a two week timeline I’d extend it into the holidays. Perfect, right? Um…no.

As the story came alive, my heroine adamantly let me know that she doesn’t celebrate holidays, especially after experiencing a bitter divorce. Okay strike one. But maybe the hero…

He shook his head and said, “Don’t look at me” and although I know his reasons (which I can’t share with you at this point) that didn’t make my job any easier. Strike two.

Fortunately, the heroine’s sister jumped into the picture and said, “I think I can help.”

And she did. Thank goodness. So I’m currently putting in some delightful holiday touches into the story—a menorah gleams in a shop window, miniature lights circle trees, a kwanza sign hangs from a pole and of course there’s snow…

I’m having lots of fun putting these details in. I find myself remembering the smells and sights of the holidays that meant the most to me growing up. During Thanksgiving it was always my duty to decide which table setting we would use (we had three main formal sets) and the corresponding table cloth and napkins. At Christmas my mom and I make gingerbread men and women and we select a new recipe to check out—sometimes our experiments work and sometimes they don’t but they’re always fun...

What holiday details do you like to read in a book? Can you remember a holiday scene from a favorite book? What made it so special?

Visit Dara Girard at

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Accouting System of the Universe

I don't have proof or a chart or a grid to prove my feeling, but I do believe in karma or the return of the energy that we sow in the world. We reap what we put out there. We give and we get. What we do can come back to haunt or reward us. There is an accounting page in the universe, somewhere, and things balance out.

Most days, I think we try to forget this while at the same time trying to mind our own business and deal honorably with the world. Sometimes, we don't do so well, doing something slightly to incredibly egregious. Being curt or rude, driving like an idiot, snapping at someone, refusing to budge during an argument. We tell one of the two lies folks apparently tell per day. We ignore a request for help. We fail to file our income taxes. All of that stuff builds up, and then one day, the doorbell rings, and it's payback time.

I've been trying of recent years to consider this accounting system, this tit for tat. Some might say this is a ridiculous notion, and while it does seem wacky, I can't help but hold to it.
We can't take up managing this system, and that's what I think revenge is built out of.

Something terrible happens "to" us, and we decide that we are going to extract it back from the person ourselves, unwilling to wait for karma to be enacted. We feel wrong or slighted or hurt or wounded, and what do we do? We go to the source or something around the source. We are in a fight with someone, and we write an email to a person related to tell our side of the story first, with details and effect. Someone won't write us a letter of recommendation, and we call that person's place of employment to complain and accuse, hoping that the non-letter writer will get into some kind of trouble. We are hurt in a relationship and instead of going to counseling to deal with our pain, we undermine that person's next relationship.

We want immediate karma. We want it now so that we can see it. We don't want to wait a lifetime or several--we want to see the person writhe a little, squirming, twisting in the wind or on a noose. And oh! how good we will feel.

But I don't think it feels that great. In the end, the fight still happened, the letter wasn't written, the relationship is still over. The hurt remains.

Capital punishment is the extreme form of this attempt at instant karma, and I've read that the family members who fought for years for the person to die don't have what they want in the end--the crime undone, the person harmed by the criminal alive and well and living in Peoria.
I'm not a Christian, but I am a big fan of Jesus. He was one cool, unattached, Zen dude, who seemed to understand this accounting system like no one's business. He was no doormat though his seeming passivity in the Sermon on the Mount has been interpreted otherwise:

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

There's a lot going on here, but what I take away from it is that if our landlords won't give us back our deposits or a student complains or a former boyfriend calls to read us the riot act, turn the other cheek. Don't write an expose on rental practices in Oakland, using their first and last names. Don't write to the college your student wanted the letter giving them the "real" story about her work in your class. Don't post anything about the former boyfriend on Yelp.

Take a big breath. A really big breath. A damn, flipping HUGE breath, and walk on. There is that system out there that will even it up in some way, someday, maybe in a few lifetimes or maybe tomorrow. Don't worry about it. it's not ours to worry about any more.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Idol Worship by Jennifer August

On this day of thanks, I am grateful and thankful for so many things – my family, my health, my job, my friends and my ability to craft stories that people enjoy.
I’m also very grateful for those who came before me and those who are currently writing. I was very young when I read my first romance novel. At 12, I only read comic books. My mom despaired that I’d ever crack open a real book. She bribed me (all the comics I could read) into reading The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss.
That was the beginning of my addiction.
I read everything she put out for a very long time. Then I discovered other authors, other genres. As I grew older, I devoured books like potato chips. I loved the stories, the heroes, the heroines. Everything about how they interacted, the scrapes they got into, the love they found appealed to me.
Soon enough, I was tempted to try my own hand at it. I sucked. Really, really sucked!
But I kept working at it and kept trying. Most of all, though, I kept reading.
Oddly enough, I discovered that reading my favorite authors and finding new ones actually helped my creativity. I fed off of the joy their books gave me and found that same joy in the characters I was creating and the twists and turns I was leading them through.
So today I’d like to take a few minutes and give some thanks to authors past and present without whom I don’t feel I would have ever succeeded in achieving my dream. And thank them for continuing to help me with every book they put out. On that note, special thanks to:
Kathleen Woodiwiss – her books set me on my current course and the earlier ones (Shanna, The Wolf & The Dove, Ashes in the Wind) are still great reads.
Johanna Lindsey – wow, I don’t think anyone has every captured my heart like she did. And she was equally awesome writing westerns and Regencies and Vikings.
Lindsey McKenna – Red Tail is still my favorite category book ever. I have enjoyed watching her career and reading each book she puts out.
Joan Ellen Pickart – Hers were the first “real” heroines to me. The women who did what they wanted and weren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. Plus, her humor is awesome.
Diana Palmer – Rugged cowboys, alpha heroes. Diamond Girl remains one of my top ten books.
Amanda Quick & Jayne Ann Krentz – I was reading JAK when she was writing as Stephanie James for Silhouette Desire. I still have all of those books.
Julie Garwood – This was a turning point for me. As an adult, a mom and a wife, I found her books deeper, more engaging and definitely sexier than anything I’d read previously (although JAK pushed the boundaries very early on!)
Julia Quinn - She hooked me with Splendid and I never looked back. Would you believe I actually cried when the last Bridgerton book came out?
Lisa Kleypas – Her characters always drew me and held my attention. I couldn’t read fast enough and I was always sad to close the book.
Sabrina Jeffries – A relatively new find for me. Her heroines are spunky, fun and totally demanding. I love them. Her School For Heiresses series is one of the best.
Suzanne Enoch – Read the Sin series. ‘nuff said.
Stephanie Laurens – I’m ecstatic she’s so prolific. I’m working my way through her Cynster series at the moment and savoring every single book.
Karen Hawkins – I don’t think anyone has written Scottish books as well as she has!
Susan Gable – This one is a little personal since she’s my critique partner but her talent for emotion is unparalleled. Every book makes you laugh, cry and yearn for more.
I could go on (trust me!) but these are my elites, my automatic buys, my keepers. Most of all, these ladies are my inspiration. When I doubt myself and my writing, I pick up one of their books and lose myself in the worlds they’ve created. When I emerge, my inspiration well has been refilled and I am ready to start again.
So thank you, ladies, write on!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Spread a Little Love By Laura Griffin

My grandmother was one of the most un-bookish people I’ve ever known, but she taught me to love books. I remember her shelves crammed with paperbacks and the dog-earned novels scattered on tables throughout her house. She was a Pearl Harbor bride—a very young one at that—and she married my grandfather at the tender age of seventeen in December of 1941.

I think about her often, especially around the holidays when I’m feeling overwhelmed by kids, and shopping, and cooking, and houseguests. By the time my grandmother was thirty, she had six kids and a husband to look after…all without a washing machine. Looking back on all those novels she kept around, I think reading must have been her escape. How else to get a break from such a big, demanding family without the luxury of leaving the house?

This week I’m gearing up for the holidays and remembering my grandmother--her wonderful recipes (all of which contain about five ingredients and could feed an army!) and also her wonderful love of books. I will never forget the year she gave me a copy of LITTLE WOMEN that was given to her by her mother in 1934. At the time, I didn’t realize that she was giving me not just a book, but a hobby I would treasure for a lifetime.

If you’re a book lover like I am, I hope you’ll give someone a book this holiday. My grandmother never lived to see e-books and audio books, and I’m sure she would have been baffled by the Kindle. But she knew a good book when she read one and she didn’t hesitate to pass it along to someone she loved.

Laura Griffin is the award-winning author of the romantic thriller UNTRACEABLE, which hits bookstores this week. Visit her web site at

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Favorite Presents by Caitlin Crews

A few weeks ago I was in Seattle with Jane Porter. We were giving a workshop at her local RWA chapter, but before that, we had a few days to hang out. So, obviously, we talked books. Specifically, we talked a lot about the Presents line, which Jane has written for for years and which I've just started writing for this year.

We talked about love overtaking you--the idea that love will change your whole life and is on some level terrifying. That you will never be the same because of it, no matter what happens. That kind of love makes a riveting Presents.

I know, because I know exactly when I decided to try to write one of these emotionally intense, breath-stealing books. I was reading my way through Jane's entire catalogue, and I made it to The Sheiks's Disobedient Bride.

I read this book in one sitting, and I don't remember breathing. This man is like the desert he rules-- impossible, treacherous, immovable. And the heroine, Tally, fights against the inevitability of his possession--until she realizes that women must bend where men cannot. That women can bend when men cannot. That there is strength and power in choosing to bend. In loving enough to do so.

I thought to myself: I can never, ever write something like this. Something that has made me rethink some of the ways I conceive of relationships, and something I still think about from time to time, like a touchstone, all this time later. But I knew I wanted to try.

In Seattle, I told Jane this, and she asked me if I'd read a few of the books that had inspired her to write for Presents. When I said no, we found them. She ordered one, and her friend hand-delivered another from her Keeper Shelf. I had to read these books, Jane said, to understand two things. First, why the particular authors were so revered and second, what kind of things could be done in a Presents. I'm always interested in books by new-to-me authors, so why not, I thought.

You never really expect to have your world rocked when you pick a book, do you? Though I'd wager that's why we read--for those few and far between books that alter us profoundly. The ones we can't get over. The ones we push into our friends' hands and whisper urgently you have to read this book!

The first was Price of a Bride by Michelle Reid.

I read this book late into the night in Jane's guest room, frantically turning the pages, literally unable to believe what I was reading. It is one of the best books I've ever read. It is harrowing. It leaves marks. What would you sacrifice? Why would you do it? How do you hold on to yourself in the face of your worst nightmares coming true? What if you can't tell the difference between the worst thing and the best thing for a while? I do not have enough superlatives at my disposal to describe this book. Weeks later, I remain in awe.

The second was The Spanish Groom by Lynne Graham.

I was unable to put this book down. I mean this literally. I was pulled in, completely enchanted by the sweet, not-quite-as-daft-as-she-appears heroine and the hard, uncompromising hero. It's one thing to say that a heroine's sweetness and light can melt the hero's hard, hard heart--and quite another to actually watch this happen on the pages of a book. To feel it, right along with the hero. I was stunned by this book--unable to read anything else for days. In awe, yet again.

What are your favorite Presents? What are the best ones you've read--the ones that won't let go of you, the ones that take up space in your heart and change the way you breathe for weeks afterward? The ones that make you cry. Or make you so upset you spend the next day in a funk. Or make you so happy you can't stop smiling for the rest of the week.

Please let me know. I have a whole lot of reading yet to do!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Have You Ever Wanted to be a Private Detective? - C J Carmichael

My guy and I were out on a walk this weekend when we passed a woman wearing sunglasses asleep in her car with the motor running. “Mom, waiting to pick up her child,” was my first thought. Mike, however, said, “Maybe she’s an investigator on a stake-out.”

I looked at Mike admiringly. “I like the way you think.” I started to wonder, why I hadn’t had the same thought. After all, I’ve just finished writing a trilogy about a P.I. agency in New York City. In fact, a number of my books have featured private investigators. Why? Because I find them fascinating and I always have.

When I was in grade school, I taped a tiny mirror to the end of a pencil so I could “spy” on people behind me. I wrote notes in “invisible” ink (lemon juice), developed “secret codes” for writing notes to my friends and even went so far as to pen some “original” mystery stories for the entertainment of those same friends. Once, my grandmother gave me a ring with a shiny blue stone that she found in the lost and found at the store where she worked. I convinced myself it was really an expensive heirloom worth thousands of dollars. As a young girl I was hooked on the Trixie Belden mystery series, and dreamed of running into a smuggling ring myself, so I could crack the case and end up on the front page of the local paper.

Okay. I admit it. I was a weird kid.

As I grew older, I became more practical and I gave up on the idea of actually becoming a P.I. But I remained hooked on mystery books and I absolutely loved Moonlighting and Remington Steele -- anyone else old enough to remember those?

Chinatown, L.A. Confidential...these are among my all-time favorite movies, and again, no big surprise, they feature Investigators as main characters.

And of course, I continue to devour detective fiction. I moved from Sherlock Holmes, to Hercule Poirot, from Raymond Chandler to Sue Grafton. And then I discovered authors who combined mystery, suspense and romance. Then I began to thrive on authors like Linda Howard and Sandra Brown. And dreamed of writing my own romantic mystery one day.

What is the big appeal? I think it is the idea of one woman (or a man and woman) on a crusade for truth and justice. It is the thrill of facing danger and coming out on top. And it is also the intriguing fact that people are not always what they seem to be on the surface.

Tell me--am I the only strange kid who dreamed of being a detective when she grew up? Admit it, share your story here, and you’ll be entered in a draw to win a copy of Her Better Half (a story about a woman who re-invents herself after her divorce and ends up working as...well, can you guess?)



Sunday, November 22, 2009

Anne McAllister : : Remember High School?

Remember your high school days?

Well, I don't suppose -- unless you're under the age of 14 -- that you can really forget it.

For some it might have been the best of times. And for others it might have been the worst. It was neither to me. There are great gaps in my memories of it.

Since I moved away and never went back to live in the area once I left, except for a few brief weeks during the summer after my freshman and sophomore years of college, I have had little occasion to even think about it.

But I've just been friended on Facebook by someone from my high school.

And then another. And then a third -- and I'm suddenly seeing pictures from when I was fifteen and reliving things I didn't even remember that I remembered!

Weird. Very weird.

What I realized -- when I realized that I remembered at all -- is that while I don't have stored up in the brain cells a lot of detailed specifics about the particular events that went on (was I in a coma, I wonder?), apparently I internalized every conceivable emotion that it is possible for a teenager to feel.

And I've been drawing on them now for years in my books!

What I mean is that those were the years when I really began to understand about relationships and emotions and the connections between the two. And because those experiences were so powerful emotionally then, I unconsciously go back to them often when I'm writing. I remember so well how I felt in those days.

I just had an email from a writer friend asking me about where I'd gone to research the sailing bits I used in an upcoming book because, God knows, I am not a sailor. I am a hanger-over-the-side sort of person, even though I wish I had better sea legs. But I seem to write about characters who sail a lot.

And I pointed her in the direction of several possibilities because I try my best to be accurate. And I do my research and I learned about sailing from books and from people I know who sail a lot.

As a writer I can always learn about things and activities I don't know first-hand -- like racing sailing and being a lawyer or a chaos-theory teaching physicist.

But it's impossible to learn emotions out of a book. And no one can tell you how to convey feelings. The emotions my characters feel have to come naturally.

I have to have felt them myself. They rise out of some personal well of deep joy and profound anguish. They derive from of the elation that comes from believing everything is going to be perfect and the despair of knowing you're an idiot and everyone knows it even better than you do.

They come from first love, heartbreak, laughing until you can't catch your breath, and the deep quiet joy of knowing you've done the right thing even though no one else knows it. All those emotions?

They come from high school.

The most profound well of emotional knowledge that I -- and pretty much everyone else -- have ever been given is high school.

That's where we were when we began to experience many of the emotions that get us through the day and keep us up at night.

Those years frequently contain the moments against which we measure other life experiences and how we feel about them.

We may not even know it. I certainly didn't consciously even think about it until these past few days. Then I remembered -- and I felt them all again. Emotional overload.

So, to all my new/0ld Facebook friends -- in my 'real life' -- thank you for providing me with such a deep and enduring well.

Thank you for inviting me to be your friend again -- or for the first time. And please say yes if I ask to be your friend because I don't want to have to learn about being crushed first hand all over again. High school? Been there, done that. Once was plenty. But I'm grateful for it.

How was high school for you? The best? The worst? Anything memorable? AnyONE memorable? And are you friends on Facebook with them now? C'mon, tell . . .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Eating My Words - Terri Brisbin

Ohmigosh! I’ve been proclaiming loud and long about the lamentable practice of celebrating Christmas long before even Thanksgiving Day. About how we skip from Labor Day to Christmas without a by-your-leave for the wonderful holiday when we take a moment to give thanks for all our blessings.

But. . . gulp. . . it turns out I am an offender! My turkey is not even thawed in the fridge and I’m observing one of my favorite Christmas season traditions today – TRANS SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA!!!

I discovered this group years ago and then began going to their concerts in December. After a couple of years, my youngest son decided to come with me and was shocked by how much he enjoyed the show. Now, four years later, he’s turning 18 and we’re spending the afternoon seeing TSO!

So, why TSO as the way to mark the Christmas season for me?

Well, first , it’s the story they tell. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I am a sucker for a good story. I think all writers are or must be… It’s one of the reasons I am a Disney geek – Disney, in all its forms and variations, is ALL ABOUT THE STORY! (more on that in January!) So TSO tells a great story. The show opens with a narrator, singers, orchestra and musicians telling the story of an angel who comes to earth looking for a gift for his Lord.

It speaks of dreams and hopes, fear and isolation and finally of believing and redemption. All set to music that is stirring, joyful, solemn, playful and Christmas-y! They use a mix of classical music all the way to hard rock to tell their story and there’s something for everyone who listens.

Then, there’s the showmanship of the group….or groups. TSO is actually made up of a huge group of musicians, singers, composers and performers who travel all over the US each November and December, performing their show in two different teams – an east and a west show, so that no area is left without TSO.

Also, they use lasers, lights, flames and moving platforms to ramp up the excitement of the audience and the drama of the music. Once the Christmas story is finished, the group moves into its classical music transformed into rock music. It always surprises me that many people leave the concert after the Christmas story is finished and never get to enjoy this ‘other side’ of this talented group. Anything from Carmina Burana to Beethoven’s Fifth is fair game and fun.

And this is the part that I use to draw my son in! You probably know that it’s tougher and tougher to get your kids to continue to do things socially with you as they hit those terrible teenager years. This is one thing that my son loves to go to with me and now we bring along a friend of his and his parents, too!

But lest you think me the perfect example of a perfect mother, let me tell you my secret reason for liking the TSO show so much – it’s the men! LOL!

The men, both the singers and musicians, range from late 20’s to late 50’s and all are dressed in tuxes. Loose tuxes, buttoned-up tuxes, open collars and rolled up sleeve tuxes. There’s just something about a man in a tux!

And I confess, the first time I watched one of the bass players walk around on the stage, I understood with clarity what Regency authors meant when they wrote about Regency rogues who moved with the lethal grace of a predatory animal. Mmmmmmmmmmm… I would never say that I go back each year for more inspiration but maybe I do!?

So, today, I’ll be spending the afternoon with my newly-18-year-old, listening to Christmas music, getting into the holiday frame-of-mind and being shallow at the same time!

Tell me – how do you get into the Holiday frame-of-mind? Is it shopping? Writing out Christmas cards? Getting past Thanksgiving? Post a comment and I’ll pick two people to receive a copy of my award-winning Christmas novella in ONE CANDLELIT CHRISTMAS and a copy of my upcoming December releases, A STORM OF PASSION, which hits the shelves this week!

Terri is celebrating her newest release with a website contest. A STORM OF PASSION, from Kensington Brava, hits stores and online booksellers on Tuesday. Stop by and enter to win some Viking goodies….and have a Happy Thanksgiving, too!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stress Yoga, Anyone?

I've always loved to exercise, though unfortunately my lifestyle has not lent itself to nearly the level I once enjoyed, nor the amount I now require, for that matter.

One of the activities I have found most gratifying both physically and mentally is yoga. So much so that for a couple of years I practiced yoga daily. And it was then that I was probably my most chill, as I conditioned my mind to find a quiet center, and so many little life annoyances—traffic, obnoxious people, an out-of-control life--just stopped bothering me.

But as my schedule somehow grew more demanding, yoga became one more added stress in my life—a have-to that I felt guilty if I missed, but anxious if I attended, knowing as I did I was failing to perform some other mandate in its stead.
So while yoga at first presented itself as downright medicinal, it became, well, I don't want to say toxic, but it became contraindicated. I know, I have people in Yogaville right now wanting to injure me upon reading my suggestion that yoga is anything but peaceful, except that it's so un-yoga-like to want to injure someone. What I mean by that statement is that yoga became part of my stress. But it wasn't yoga's fault! It was all my doing; I was simply incapable of letting yoga do what it was supposed to do: relax me. Instead, my yoga practice became a practice in managing high blood pressure, because the longer I was at yoga, the more I was internally freaking out about what I had to do but wasn't doing because I was doing what I wanted to do which wasn't what I should be doing because I needed to be doing other things. Yoga=Peace became Yoga=Internal Strife.

Finally I had to bid farewell to yoga, much to my chagrin. Which of course has caused more stress, which, I know, would be ameliorated by just practicing yoga. But I'm trapped in a Type-A-need-to-earn-money-to-send-my-kids-to-college-and-god-forbid-dream-of-retiring-some-day-without-having-to-hand-out-smiley-face-stickers-at-WalMart-till-I-keel-over vicious cycle, the tail wagging the dog and the dog eating the cat (or in my case, the parrot) and who knows what else.
But I think I have a solution to my quandary that will enable me to return to my practice without feeling one iota of anxiety: Stress yoga! I want to become the Doyenne of Stress Yoga. I will be to yoga what Jane Fonda is to aerobics. Or what the Hamburglar is to McDonalds. You decide.

Now hear me out. For years Hollywood has masterfully hybridized something good-for-you with something usually ludicrous, just to test the limits. In the lingo of L.A., they've taken exercise and made it High Concept. For the uninitiated, High Concept is flipping something on its head to make you say "Huh!" Like blending Jane Austen with zombies in a novel (bet you never thought you'd read that one, did you?).

Some of the quirkier Hollywood workout trends? Paddle surfing. Budokon (a fusion of yoga, martial arts and meditation). The Katana sword workout (à la Kill Bill, only with faux swords). Hoopnastics (hula hoop, yoga, ballet and pilates). Boogie Box (hip-hop and kickboxing). Piloxing (pilates and boxing). Or how about Bollylates (Bollywood dancing with Pilates). (I confess, I just made that last one up, but it probably will be a fad soon enough). But Naked Yoga is indeed a reality that could only be gotten away with in Hollywood—with any lesser physiques in attendance, the entire class would have to be conducted blindfolded. Although I would argue that seeing Nicholas Cage engaged in naked yoga is enough to make me run the other direction.
And in a cruel reversal of the trend, someone is making a killing on a new L.A. fitness craze called Celebrity Jogging, which doesn't involve celebrities jogging, but rather everyday schlubs running from hotspot to hotspot, cameras at the ready, trying to spot celebrities while elevating their heart rates. They should call that the Stalking Workout.

Hollywood types are known for launching all sorts of trends in the name of health and fitness (or at least thinness)—the latest being weeks-long cleanses in which you ingest only a concoction of maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Or vinegar, if you really want to be wild. By comparison my workout will be downright healthful. Besides, you've already heard of Power Yoga, right? I'm just taking it one step further.

Stress Yoga might well be my salvation, since I can readily market it to an ever-busier population that just might have no choice but to multi-task being extremely stressed while being centered and ultra-chill. All I need to do is market this class (which is, if nothing else, slightly ironic) to the right people and I'm guaranteed if the power-workout fiends in Los Angeles take to it (and who wouldn't? Those folks have to be as stressed as they come) I am bound to strike it rich. And if I become rich, then I'll have time on my hands and voila, I'll be able to return to yoga, stress-free.

Hey, at least it's not Naked Hula-Hoop-Swordplay-Hip-Hop-Kickboxing Pilates, right?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The First Hero - Kathleen O'Brien

Even though I lost my father 29 years ago, when he was much, much too young, and so was I, I’ll celebrate his birthday today.

I have silly private rituals that I don’t bore the rest of the world with, but which might, I think, make him smile. He understood that I was emotional, sentimental, a keeper of old flames, slow to relinquish people or feelings or memories. He loved me anyway. Love was his greatest talent, among many.

It’s impossible to do him justice in words, though I try sometimes, especially when I talk to my children about the glamorous grandfather they’ll never know. He looked like a movie star and loved everything about words. He was funny and smart and wrote poetry that could break your heart. He was elegant and wise and imaginative, Gothic and Irish and hopelessly impractical in many ways, like car maintenance or saying no to his daughters. When someone asked him playfully if my sister and I were spoiled, he answered, “If they aren’t, it isn’t my fault.”

He was already gone by the time I sold my first book, so I never talked to him about writing romances. Even so, he taught me most of what I know about heroes. (My husband taught me the rest, but that’s another blog!) When I realized that I’d be posting here on his birthday, I thought maybe I’d look at some of those lessons.

Heroes love smart, determined women. My parents’ relationship had its squalls, and a few hurricane-force winds, but there was never any question he admired her brains and spunk. Whenever I ran to him complaining about her, he’d sternly say, “Kathleen, your mother is a very intelligent woman.” It was his final word, the statement of unyielding solidarity.

Heroes love unconditionally. Whether you’re being a fool, or looking a fright, the real hero thinks you’re wonderful. He encourages you to be your best, but he knows that it’s when you’re at your worst that you need him the most.

Laughter conquers all. My father enjoyed high-brow jokes about Antigone or Hamlet, but he also tossed out idiot puns and limericks. He loved to laugh, and he frequently advised that, when things were bleak, a little “gallows humor” would go a long way.

Brains are attractive. Most of my friends had crushes on my dad, though he was an “old man” compared to the boys they dated. But a knowing spark can make even wrinkled eyes shine. An agile mind is as appealing as a buff body any day.

A real man isn’t afraid to look soft. He’s not afraid to read poetry, or go to the theater, or sit by his sick daughter’s hospital bed all night. He may play tennis or argue court cases aggressively, but his self-esteem is resilient enough to be tender without feeling weak.

Courage is a superpower, and life is going to require it. My father met setbacks with dignity, suffered cruel losses without breaking, and even faced his final, difficult illness without uttering a single complaint. Because no man can promise you a perpetual rose garden, I learned that it’s best to choose one who knows how to handle the thorns with grace.

Are the heroes of our novels perfect? Of course not. And neither was my father. But I’ve never written or fallen in love with a fictional hero who didn’t possess those fundamental qualities. And I’ve fallen in love with many—Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, Margaret Mitchell’s Rhett Butler, Georgette Heyer’s Duke of Avon and his Devil’s Cub, Dorothy Dunnett’s Francis Crawford, Daphne du Maurier’s Max de Winter. (Well, okay, Max de Winter’s sense of humor wasn’t his strong suit…)

I bet I’m not alone. I’d love to hear about your father, too. What did he teach you about heroes? Post here, or, if you’d like to share it with my eyes only, write me at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In Praise of the Clinch Cover - Kimberly Lang

All right, I know that right up there with the argument about the titles of romance novels is the argument about romance novel covers. Specifically, the clinch cover.

The “Clinch” is the term for that moment-in-time cover where the hero and heroine are pressed together, sometimes in a state of undress, and wow, you can feel the heat. I know some folks object to the clinch cover, usually claiming the embarrassment that comes from being spotted in public with a cover like that, but I’m not one of them.

Personally, I’m shameless and therefore don’t care what other people think – especially about my choice of reading material – and I’d rather have a clinch cover over a generic, anemic flowery cover.

See, I’m not inspired or swept away by flowers. They’re pretty, yes, but they’re also rather run-of-the-mill. In a word, I’m “meh” on flower covers. A flower cover isn’t going to make me not buy the book, but it also won’t inspire me to pick it up, either. Flower covers don’t give me a sense of what the book will be like – unless, of course, the book is about flowers.

But romance novels are about people, so I want people on the cover. Romance novels are about the relationship between the hero and heroine, so I want to see that on the cover. I want to see the emotion, the passion, the excitement that I’m expecting to find in the pages on the cover. A little sizzle on the cover primes me for the sizzle to come.

Others disagree. I’ve participated in many a heated conversation about clinch covers, and if you hate them, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that. ::grin:: Again, it helps that I’m shameless and have no problem reading even my classic Fabio clinch covers from the 90s in the Parent Pit at the dance studio.

Needless to say, I’ve been very pleased with the covers the Cover Fairies at Harlequin have given me. My books are considered sexy, and the covers capture that attraction between the hero and the heroine. Check out the cover for THE MILLIONAIRE’S MISBEHAVING MISTRESS (October 09). Aside from that moment of passion, check out my hero’s arms! I’m a sucker for great arms and shoulders, and mercy, does he have them. Or the cover for my February book, MAGNATE’S MISTRESS…ACCIDENTALLY PREGNANT! That blond, lean-hipped hero on the cover is perfect. It’s easy for me to want to put myself in the heroine’s shoes when a man like that would be nuzzling my neck! Yowza!

A hot clinch cover will cause me to pick up a book – if for no other reason than to get a better look at the hottie on the cover. From there, it’s a short trip into my shopping cart.
So, the clinch cover works for me.

I won’t start the battle of the clinch cover in the comment thread here, but let’s talk about people on the covers of romance novels, in general. Do you like people on the covers or pictures of the setting or something from the book? Do you prefer flower covers? Do you like the covers with just a hunky hero on them?

Kimberly has been very lucky with all of her covers, and you can see them all at

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mountains or Coast? Annie West

We've all done those quizzes designed to tell us something deep and meaningful about ourselves or our loved ones. One that stuck in my mind (possibly because it's so simple) is -Which do you prefer, the mountains or the coast?

Simple? For some it is. I like to have my cake and eat it too! As you can see from these first two photos which I took on recent vacations, I enjoy both. It depends on my mood and the time of year. When it’s cold and rainy I dream of somewhere tropical with clear sparkling water, preferably with a hammock and a great supply of books! But when summer heats with its soaring temperatures and humidity I find myself longing for crisp mountain air as I remember long walks, the scent of wood smoke and hot chocolate.

The other complicating factor is that I live near the coast so, while I adore the fresh salt smell of the sea and walks along the sand, it’s almost in my backyard (well, a few miles away but that’s nothing).

I think the logic goes something like: if you enjoy the beach you want relaxation, to unwind, the soothing rhythm of the sea. If you opt for the mountains you’re more likely to want to be on the go, busy doing energetic things. Though I’m not sure that’s completely correct. I can easily envisage the perfect place to laze and read: see above for hammock and white sand, maybe with someone to serve a long tall glass of something. On the other hand, curling up in a window seat with a mug of hot chocolate and a cosy mystery sounds fantastic. Feeling active? Yes the mountains are great for hiking, climbing, skiing or canyoning. But on the coast the body surfing is free and so is beach volleyball.

Other attractions? Well of course people watching can be great in both places. Here on our Australian beaches we have our terrific surf lifesavers (plenty of inspiration there for a romance or two). But have you ever looked at some of the mountain rescue teams and hikers? Hm!

So, which do you prefer? Mountains or coast? Does that say anything about you or is it just a matter of choosing something other than where you live? Have you had special vacations in one or the other?

To get the ball rolling Annie is giving away a book from her backlist to one person who posts a comment. The ‘winner’ gets to choose the book.

Staying with the theme of double temptation, Annie’s thrilled to say she has 2 titles out next month. BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE, in the US (visit Amazon to buy) and
FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET LOVE-CHILD in the UK (visit Amazon to buy) as an early release ahead of its official January date. You can find out more about them or even win a free copy of one from her website.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Random Acts of Kindness - Michelle Willingham

As we move into November, I'm caught up by the lure of the holidays. Even though we haven't celebrated Thanksgiving yet, I love seeing holiday ornaments and decorations on sale and seeing the allure of the forthcoming season. When I was a child, I loved the promise of snow in December, and I would stay up late at night, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus.

Now, as the mother of three, all of my kids are eagerly anticipating Christmas, hoping that every last wish will come true. But only a few months ago, my son asked, "Mom, why is it that there are poor kids out there who don't get presents from Santa? They're really good. Shouldn't they get what they want?"

I was caught up, unable to answer. How do you explain to your son that there are some children who, no matter how good they are, won't get even the basic things that they need? It's heart-wrenching, but at the same time, I was struck that he would think about them. And so, we talked about how it's up to us to be Santa Claus to those in need. It may not always be with material goods, but sometimes it's by being kind and by being a good friend.

Often, you hear about people who perform random acts of kindness. My sister-in-law is one of those people who will often send a greeting card for no reason. Just knowing that someone is thinking about you can be a gift, in and of itself. I think we sometimes forget that the little things mean the most. Stopping to look at a dandelion with your toddler. Baking cookies with your kids as a surprise for your husband. Or simply listening, when a friend needs your sympathy.

When I write my books, often I'll try to find something small that a hero or heroine will do, that expresses love in an everyday manner. Not with grand gestures, but something subtle. To me, that's what real love is. Kindness in a hero is when a man will stay up, walking the floors with a screaming infant. Or cleaning the house without being asked.

In my first book, Her Irish Warrior, the hero let the heroine warm her cold feet on his leg without balking (How many wives have planted their icy cold feet on their husband's leg in the middle of the night? Show of hands!). And I'll admit, the hero of my February 2010 book, The Accidental Countess, actually does walk the floors with a screaming infant. As a mom, I can tell you, there's nothing more romantic than a man who will let you sleep.

What sorts of everyday acts of kindness have you encountered? What makes someone heroic to you? Or have you ever done something in secret, to help someone? Post a comment, and I'll draw one lucky winner to receive a signed copy of Taming Her Irish Warrior.

Author Bio:
Michelle Willingham has written seven books for Harlequin Historical. Her most recent release is Taming Her Irish Warrior, and readers can enjoy a free daily online read, "Voyage of an Irish Warrior," at Visit her website at: for more details.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Romance Gene - Helen Bianchin

Is there such a thing? What is it that gifts some and not others with ... what shall we call it ... the sight to write romantic fiction? That special ability that drives the need to put pen to paper - or fingers to keyboard - and transfer the vivid images in our head into words. Words we'll edit, change, delete countless times until the words read right. And that's before an editor has her say.

As a young child I often lived in a world of my own imagination. Relatives tagged me as a dreamer, quiet, introspective, with a love of books. There was never any doubt about what I'd prefer as a birthday gift. My mother was an avid reader of romance. My paternal grandmother adored historical romance, and had every one of Georgette Heyer's titles in her collection.

It was my paternal grandmother, widowed for many years, who helped raise me from age 11 to 15, while my parents operated a seven day a week business. Born in Swansea, Wales, a schoolteacher before marriage, every evening after dinner I would beg her to tell me a story. She really was the best storyteller, tales from real life as well as fiction. One real life story I particularly recall was about her sister, married to a Frenchman who was a member of the French Resistance during World War II. Exciting tales which stirred my imagination. Had my grandmother ever thought to consign these tales to paper? Or attempt to write her first love - historical romance? I knew she kept a journal.

My maternal grandmother was a Kelly from Tullamore, Ireland. She also loved to read ... meaty romantic sagas, and she had the gift of the Irish to tell wonderful stories. Had she ever thought to write them down, combining fact with fiction? Not that I knew of.

Did these three women influence me to write? Had I inherited some of their storytelling ability, sufficient to instill the determination to transfer the stories in my head into words on paper?
Or was it the gift of a vivid imagination that gained strength with each succeeding generation to tag me as the one who would persist, pen a romance and send it to a publisher?

What do you think? How many of you who write (published or unpublished) have pondered why you write, what drives you, and who, if anyone, has influenced you to want to write.

I'd love to hear your views and comments ...

Regards to all,

Thursday, November 12, 2009


A lot of people believe that there are two camps when it comes to fruitcake.  You either like it or you don't.  There are even camps within the "like" group - whether you fancy light fruitcake or dark.  I read a Debbie Macomber Christmas book a few years ago that was completely premised around fruitcake.  I keep meaning to try the recipes found in that book, but I haven't so far.


Because while I'm of the camp that likes fruitcake, I don't like to make it.

Growing up, by the way, I hated it.  Citron peel, mixed peel, mixed fruit, cherries, in a loaf so dense you could use it as a brick.  I might tolerate light but never dark.  Even at our wedding, when fruitcake should have been used as the customary "grooms cake", I said no.  We had War Cake instead.  (For those of you who don't know what War Cake is, it's a gorgeous dark, raisin type cake that is lovely with tea and the recipe comes from the war when rationing was in effect.)  It's also struck me as a bit funny that we had War Cake at our Wedding.  Doesn't it look yummy - it's also called Boiled Raisin Cake.  MMMMMMM.

Anyway, I've matured.  Grown older.  My tastes have expanded.  Especially when it comes to my Mother Inlaw's fruitcake.  I'm converted.

I think the recipe is actually my husband's paternal grandmother's, but I'm not sure.  All I know is that for the last few years, "Mom" has been so kind as to send us some light and dark fruitcake close to the holidays.  I think we're all in agreement as well - the dark fruitcake is our favourite.

Mom-in-law struck a deal with me this year.  If I bought all the fruit, she'd make the cakes.  So when we visited at Thanksgiving (Canada, so in October) I took with me 2 large bags of fruit and raisins.  When we visit this weekend (they are 3 hours away), I will pick it up.  As well as mincemeat (which I'll save for another post).

I'm guessing it's not going to last until Christmas.  Especially if the weather turns cold and we put on a pot of tea....

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the release of my seventh Harlequin Romance this week!  Montana, Mistletoe, Marriage is out in stores and while you won't find any fruitcake recipes inside, you will find recipes to a few other treats!  I was so hungry writing this book!

I hope your month leading up to Christmas is fun and stress free and fruitcake filled if you so desire!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CAPTIVE OF SIN has been released!

by Anna Campbell

Hey, guys, I've got a new book out! Huzzah! CAPTIVE OF SIN has been released which is a bit of an oxymoron, I admit! But what's an oxymoron between friends?

I'm really thrilled about this book which is a passionate, dramatic tale involving a runaway heiress, a national hero with PTSD, an elopement, a marriage of convenience, a gorgeous house on the Cornish cliffs, dastardly relatives, and lots of derring do.

Not to mention one of my favorite heroes ever in Sir Gideon Trevithick.

Publishers Weekly must have liked my lovely Gideon too. They just chose CAPTIVE OF SIN as one of their top 100 books of 2009, one of only five mass market paperbacks to make the list. How cool is that? You can find the list here:

Here's the blurb:

He pledged his honor to keep her safe . . .

Returning home to Cornwall after unspeakable tragedy, Sir Gideon Trevithick comes upon a defiant beauty in danger, and vows to protect her whatever the cost. He’s dismayed to discover that she’s none other than Lady Charis Weston, England’s wealthiest heiress—and that the only way to save her from the violent stepbrothers determined to steal her fortune is to wed her himself! Now Gideon must hide the dark secrets of his life from the bride he desires more with every heartbeat.

She promised to show him how to love—and desire--again . . .

Charis has heard all about Gideon, the dangerously handsome hero with the mysterious past. She’s grateful for his help, but utterly unwilling to endure a marriage of convenience—especially to a man whose touch leaves her breathless. Desperate to drive him mad with passion, she would do anything to make Gideon lose control—and fall captive to irresistible, undeniable sin.

You can check out an excerpt here:

And for the very first time, I have a book trailer. A lovely friend of mine Vanessa Barneveld made me a promo video as a surprise present. Sure beats new socks in the present department! Check it out:

Isn't that gorgeous? And SOOOO romantic!

The reviews have been great so far, including a Top Pick from Romantic Times who said, "Campbell holds readers captive with her highly intense, emotional, sizzling and dark romances. She instinctually knows how to play on her readers' fantasies to create a romantic, deep-sigh tale." You can read more reviews on my Latest News page on my website.

And I'll finish up with news of a giveaway. Share your New Year's resolutions for 2010 - yeah, how scary is that? It's nearly 2010! - and you could win one of two prize packs. Both include signed copies of CAPTIVE OF SIN plus a few books out of my prize cupboard. A lovely surprise bonanza to start the year with. Good luck! Just check out the contest on my website.

And check out CAPTIVE OF SIN! It would be a sin to miss it!

Hmm, have I got a future in advertising? Nah, I didn't think so either!

So how has your year been? Hard to believe it's so close to saying goodbye to 2009!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Finding The Perfect Setting -- Michelle Monkou

Setting has always been a crucial element with my fantasy of a romantic interlude. As a child, the stories about the heroes and heroines always had a wonderful backdrop--the castle sitting high on a mountain top, the family house as a firm immovable part of large acreage, or the expensive home perched at the shoreline of a fantastic beach.

When I started reading the early romances, the settings more than the back blurb pulled my attention. I was always partial to the Australian outback, the Italian countryside, the ranch set in Montana, Wyoming or Texas. Remember those gothic romances? Loved those creepy manor homes sitting close to that always-needed cliff. Love it.

When I started plotting Trail of Kisses, I gave great thought to my location. After all, the characters were pretty much city dwellers. So I needed to think outside of the box and pulled out a U.S. map. I paid attention to geographic details because the setting does play a role in the story. Maybe the wild landscape underscores the hero's wild ways. Maybe the craggy rock facing is part of the ugly, dangerous backstory of the heroine.

Then I looked at the types of weather extremes for that place. Will I need a snow storm, hurricane winds, a drought? Will this weather bring them together, challenge them individually, almost tear them apart, or bring one to sacrifice a part of them to save the other?

So I took Asia Crawford and Trace Gunthrey to the Colorado Rockies in the spring. Earth's renewal with blossoms and vivid green landscape has a daily battling pushing the cold and snow conditions away. Some days, it's successful and, as we've seen with a late season snow storm, the push can be unsuccessful.

Then I gave the couple a beautiful cabin that looks rustic and natural on the outside, but is beautiful and modern on the inside. And won't you know? The place has been double booked. The heroine decides to be a Good Samaritan and allow the hero to stay, but only out of the goodness of her heart. Because she doesn't want to admit that it could be for the other reason like he can spark a swirl of emotions that makes her want to turn her charitable act into something more . . . sinfully delicious.

Of course, a setting can only do so much. A story still needs a hero willing to step up and display good hero material, along with a heroine who isn't afraid to be strong, romantic, and self-sufficient.

I introduce you to Trail of Kisses, now available for pre-order from, or

Michelle Monkou

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A New Destination - Christina Hollis

Italy will probably always be my first love. After a childhood spent looking for Roman coins and bits of pottery on the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, I grew up to study the terrors in togas (with a side order of Robert Graves’ Claudius novels as a little light holiday reading). It was a long time before I started majoring in the ‘pretty’ side of Italian life. Ah, but one visit to Tuscany and I was hooked! The people are wonderfully laid back, and the countryside is so inspiring. Best of all, there was no Doc Martin (yes, that really was my brilliant tutor’s name!) peering over my shoulder muttering ‘are you sure that’s genuine, dear girl?’.
I love the place so much I can’t resist setting books like The Count of Castelfino there, although Italy may soon have a rival for my affections. I was flicking through a copy of Waitrose’s glossy and stylish Food Illustrated magazine when I came across a feature on Cyprus. I love researching my books, and when that combines food and foreign countries, it’s a winning combination. I settled down to read the article and study the sumptuous photographs. It was a real treat. Sizzling sunshine, slanting shadows and clusters of white painted houses beneath earth-toned tiles were all set against a shimmering golden haze. It really made me want to spend some time there.

The funny thing is, the more I travel, the more I find that people all over the world are alike. We all want the same things: food, shelter, love, affection and respect. There are good and bad characters in every community, happy, sad, funny and serious. Mostly, we’re all a mixture of every type. Which face we present to the world at any particular time often depends on how we’re feeling, or how we’ve been treated. I certainly feel pretty miserable when I look out of the window onto a wet Wednesday in winter!

But then I glance at that magazine article, with its sunshine and descriptions of delicious food. A gorgeous hero is just waiting to be unleashed on that unsuspecting island, as soon as I can get around to booking a holiday there. Things are looking up!

Meanwhile, can you tell me anything about Cyprus? I’d love to hear from you!

Christina Hollis writes Modern Romance for Harlequin Presents/Mills and Boon, when she isn’t planning family meals or daydreaming about holidays in the sun. Catch up with her on her website, and on Twitter, where she tweets as christinabooks.