Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year! - Lee Hyat

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called "Opportunity" and its first chapter is New Year's Day."  
~ Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Every year, I make resolutions and every year, by March or April, I start failing at them.  So this year, I decided to set myself some very simple ones that I hope never to fail at. (is that cheating?!) 

For 2011, my New Year's Resolutions are:

* to try harder at everything I do.
* to make at least one person happy every day
* to try and remain positive no matter what life throws at me
* to make more time to read... and to write
* to make more friends

Thank you so much to all the authors who have contributed their time and their books to this blog and all the readers who have visited and commented every day. Thank you for all your support, for staying, for returning, for sharing your time and your thoughts. You've helped make 2010 such a wonderful year for me and I deeply appreciate each of you. I look forward to spending lots more time with you in 2011!

Happy New Year to all!! May your path always lead to success, prosperity and happiness!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Resolutions for Writers - Dara Girard

Last year I posted an essay inspired by a Dear Abby article. Here it is again with a few changes for the year ahead.

JUST FOR TODAY I will appreciate the difference between a dream and a goal. A dream is something I can’t control such as “I want to get published by Random House” or “I want to reach the NY Times list”. A goal is something I can control such as “I will write three chapters of my new novel” or “I will submit my manuscript to an editor”. I know appreciating this difference will make my life easier and happier.

JUST FOR TODAY I will seize opportunities. I will not be afraid of all the changes in the publishing industry, but rather embrace or study them. I will research the various options open to me. I will look at the possibilities in e-publishing, small press, magazines, sub-right sales, speaking engagements and print on demand. I will not buy into the ‘poor, struggling writer’ myth.
JUST FOR TODAY I will write. I will not think about writing, dream about writing, read about writing or talk about writing. I will not brood about yesterday’s writing or obsess about tomorrow’s efforts.

JUST FOR TODAY I will accept what is. Whether it is the size of my thighs or bank account, I will accept where I am in my writing career and understand things I can change and those I can’t.
JUST FOR TODAY I will improve my writing skills. I will read articles and books that expand my mind. I will treat writing as both an art and craft.

JUST FOR TODAY I will believe in the power of words. I will understand that words can hurt or heal. Build up or destroy. I will be careful of the words I choose and realize that the world needs stories (fiction) and lessons (nonfiction) in order to grow. I will understand the power I hold as a writer.
JUST FOR TODAY I will be gracious. I will congratulate those with good news and have sympathy for those who don’t. I will not gossip about others or whine about my frustrations.
JUST FOR TODAY I will be healthy. I won’t live on junk food, overindulge in
alcohol or cigarettes. I will stretch at my desk, go for walks and eat well.
JUST FOR TODAY I will take responsibility of my writing dreams and let no one take them from me.
Happy New Year to all!!

Visit Dara’s website ( or Facebook page ( to find out more about her upcoming March 29, 2011 release BENEATH THE COVERS, the third and final book in the “Ladies of the Pen” series.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Going Indie - Jessica Barksdale Inclán

Going Indie

As I've been out in the blogsphere publicizing my indie books, folks have been asking me: Why are you doing this? Many people question the wisdom of this tactic, and I suppose sometimes, I've questioned it myself. After all, I could be grinding my career to a halt. Or, maybe, I'm ahead of the game, on the zeitgeist, headed down the road that many more will soon follow.

When we set out to publish, most of us writers intend to go mainstream, traditional, hard copy, hardback New York publishers all the way. We want to be able to walk by the corner bookstore (should it still exist) or the nearest Borders (should that exist) and see our book in the window display. I can tell you from personal experience that this sight truly is a massage to the ego, a balm to the harried writer’s soul. It is amazing to see something tangible and concrete come out of a whole lot of arduous work. It’s wonderful to walk in and read to a crowd, sign books, hear the actual register ding each time a copy leaves the store.

But the book business is a business, bottom line. What sells is what is of value, first and foremost. Yes, there are the artistic books, the literary books, poetry and exquisitely drawn novels that are truly published based on merit and beauty and art. While there is a middle ground, many manuscripts are sold based on platform and idea. Do you have vampires, a dystopian world, a love triangle with multiple sexual positions, a triple murder/suicide? Horror festival of epic proportions? A zombie romance? Send it on over. Of course, a well written vampire/werewolf tale is better than something hacked out, but agents and editors are often looking for that hook, that angle, and it is a hard game to play when—as with most writers—we simply have a story to tell. We have the impulse to write, and we wish that were enough to sell the story we want to put on the page.

Back in 2001, my first novel Her Daughter’s Eyes was published by NAL to enough acclaim and showed a good sales record. My then editor purchased two more, novels I really loved. The Matter of Grace, the first of that duo, was published in 2002 to the same acclaim and more sales, but just as that novel was being copyedited, my editor quit and moved to Florida. There was some kind of political shake up, and I wasn’t exactly the first person to be notified. She was flat out gone! Later, my new editor brought me into her office and told me that despite my first editor’s love of what was to be novel three, she hated it. She thought it was too damn much. Too dark, too sad. She thought it was well written, but she was appalled that someone had a heart attack in it and died right there on the page.

“So,” said I. “You aren’t going to publish it?”

“No,” she said.

“Even though it was already purchased and edited? You can do that? That's like kosher? That’s something that can happen?”

“Yes,” she said.

So rather than give back my advance—spent as it was on a new roof—I wrote another novel, a sad novel in and of itself, but no one had a heart attack in it. There was a gay character that she had me “un-gay” (give that writing task a go sometime! I am pretty sure Neil still is gay) but other than that, she loved it, it was published, and life chugged on.

But after my writing career took some weird twists (my second agent turned me toward romance novels because he wanted me to “sell big,” my current editor passed away, and my second agent fired me via email), I found myself thinking back to that long ago purchased and then rejected novel, the one with the heart attack: The Tables of Joy. I loved that novel. My first editor loved that novel. It was a good story with a cast of characters I enjoyed despite the terrible heart attack at the end. And because I happen to love my Kindle and admire what digital publishing is doing out there in the world, I began to form a plan with other novels that met similar fates such as that would-be second novel: I was going to published them digitally. My latest self-published indie offering is .The Only Thing I See

My traditional publishing career has continued during this process (I have had romances come out 2006-2010), but I am really very excited about publishing myself. To get my novels into the ready state, I edited and reedited them. I found a couple of people who would create the covers for me. And I have to say that my created covers are much more representative of the books’ plots than my traditionally published books(The Matter of Grace—the second novel orphaned during my editor shake up—has a beach on the cover, when no beach exists in the story). After proofreading once more (all of my books have gone through many drafts, my writing group, and an editor), I struggled but managed to format the book for Kindle and Smashwords. I wrote copy for various sites and then asked my publicist to do what she did for my traditionally published books: send out the word.

Now you ask: Have I made a lot of money from posting my indie books on Amazon and Smashwords? No, I have not. I’ve made some slight change, enough to go out to dinner with my husband at a nice restaurant once a month (there will be no advance that will help me put up a new roof from these). But here’s what feels good: novels that I’ve loved and love are being read. People can read work that slipped through the publishing cracks, but it is work that I believe in and stand by, work that “my” readers would recognize and love. Maybe New York doesn’t want them, but enough people do that I will continue to publish myself as the situation presents itself. Fellow writers have warned me that I’m diluting my “brand,” but I’m sick of that brand idea. I started to write because I wanted to tell stories that people wanted to read. And they are reading my stories, even if they are indie books, even if they aren’t traditional. Even if there is a heart attack, right there, on the page.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays by Caitlin Crews

I love this time of year.

I like sparkling bright lights in evergreen trees, casting off the dark that comes too early.

I like curling up with a book near a fire, listening to music that's only played once a year.

I love all the treats. Cookies and breads, brownies and fudge and everything sugary and sweet. I love feasting with friends and family, taking time off from the rush of daily life to eat, relax, recharge.

I like the quiet of this normally busy city, when so many go back to their family homes somewhere else. I like the peace of it. The stillness.

I like to watch the year end, and watch the new one dawning. I like to wonder what it will bring, and who I'll be at the end of it. I like to remind myself that life is precious, and quick, and these warm, bright moments are joys to collect and to remember.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. May they be merry, bright, and peaceful.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holiday to You - Judith Arnold

Holidays are all about tradition, and here’s mine: I always buy myself a Christmas gift, so I’ll know that at least one present I receive will be something I absolutely, utterly want.

Giving gifts to others is delightful, of course. Hunting down—or stumbling upon—the perfect gift for a loved one is gratifying, and witnessing the recipient’s joy when he or she opens the gift is a thrill. Being on the receiving end is fun, too. Sometimes the gift-givers get it right and give you something that captures your personality or satisfies a yearning. Or at least makes you smile.

However, I’m the only female in a family full of boys, and the odds of any of them guessing exactly what I want are pretty slim. They generally know they won’t go wrong by giving me some high-quality chocolate, but even I have a limit of how much Godiva I can handle. Jewelry? My husband is quite generous, but he says, “Since it’s so expensive, you really ought to pick it out yourself. I’d hate to spend all that money on a bracelet you don’t like.” Grooming items? Forget it. None of my boys—husband or sons—would be caught dead browsing in the perfume department.

Music? My sons have given me CD’s by artists I’d never listened to before, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised and happy to add these new musicians to my list of favorites. But unless I hint loudly (“I’d love that Alison Krauss-Robert Plant CD, in case you were wondering...”), they won’t give me the album I’ve been dreaming of.
Clothing? Not a chance. The last article of clothing I received as a holiday gift from one of my boys was my younger son’s worn and battered ski parka. I’d frequently commented on what a great jacket it was, and when, at around age twelve, he outgrew it, he folded it neatly inside a box, wrapped it in pretty paper and left it under the tree for me. The best thing about that present was that I can tease him about it for the rest of his life. (As for clothing my husband might buy me, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be comfortable opening that sort of package in front of my sons.)

So it seems only sensible that I should buy myself a present, just to be sure that if Santa winds up leaving me a skimpy amount of chocolate and some hand-me-down and/or X-rated garments, a present I really, truly want will also among the parcels tagged with my name.

You probably won’t be surprised when I admit that my bought-for-myself gift is usually a book.

And here is my holiday advice for you: get yourself a book. Get yourself several. Give yourself the gift of hours of reading pleasure. Give yourself a trip to another era or another country. Give yourself some new fictional friends to learn about and fall in love with.

If you own an e-reader—if Santa is kind enough to leave one under your tree for you this year—give yourself some e-books. What good is an e-reader if it doesn’t contain its own towering to-be-read pile?

Recently, I’ve gotten back the rights to some of my out-of-print books, and I’ve begun publishing them as e-books. I’ve had beautiful new covers designed for them and I’ve priced them so inexpensively no one will suffer even a moment’s guilt over buying these books for herself. I’m psyched to know that readers who might never have had a chance to read Cry Uncle, Safe Harbor and Barefoot In the Grass—Judith Arnold classics which have not been available to readers for years—will have a chance to read them now.

Cry Uncle is a comic caper about an architect running from a hit man, a bartender trying to gain permanent custody of his orphaned niece, and the marriage of convenience they enter into so the architect can hide her identity and the bartender can present himself as a proper, stable married man. The book was optioned for a movie when it came out (alas, as with the vast majority of film options, no movie was ever made) and received a 4½-star rave review from Romantic Times.

Safe Harbor is a lyrical story about two childhood friends whose families summered on Block Island, and whose friendship is torn asunder when first one and then the other experience trauma and tragedy. Years later, they both wind up back on Block Island, hoping to heal and in the process learning to trust and to love again. This book was a RITA Award finalist when it originally came out.

Barefoot In the Grass is one of the books I’m best known for. It was the first book Harlequin ever published featuring a heroine who’d had a mastectomy. Both funny and wrenching, it explores the meaning of beauty and the courage it takes to embrace life again after facing down death. For years, I’ve heard from readers telling me this book saved their lives, and from people telling me their mother, sister, daughter or friend had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed to read Barefoot In the Grass. My personal supply of the book ran out years ago, and until I regained the rights to this book and made it available at the Kindle Store and Smashwords, the book was unavailable. I am thrilled that women can once again read it for inspiration, as well as a terrific love story.

So indulge yourself. Give yourself the gift you want. Hint for the chocolate, the jewelry, the music, the perfume—and get yourself some wonderful books. Happy holidays!

Judith Arnold is the author of more than eighty-five books. You can learn more about her and find easy links to her e-books at her website,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grandma and the Prince - Part 24

I'm so embarrassed! I thought I was up on Christmas Day but turns out yesterday (22nd) was my turn.

I'm offering the letter my dad sent home to Grandma El one Christmas during World War II.
I’d had no idea my father had been stationed in Maine briefly over the Christmas holidays in 1943. Calais (pronounced “callous”) Maine, way up at the Canadian border. It was a strange jumping-off point for a group of sailors headed for New Guinea and the Philippines but there
you have it. He was eighteen at the time, glad to be away from home, excited about where he was heading next. He was like lots of other young men of that era, eager to fight the good fight.

“Christmas Eve
Dec. 24, 1943

Dearest Mom, Dad and Mona,

Well, here it is, Christmas Eve and I’m spending a nice quiet evening in the barracks. I really do feel homesick tonight with the Christmas carols playing on the radio. How I hope I never have to spend a Christmas away from home again. Tomorrow we have a 24 hour pass and
three of my best pals and I are going to Christmas Mass in Canada.

Not Nova Scotia, Dad, sorry to say. I’d really like to have you meet these fellows, Mom. They are swell guys. You’d really like them.

I received your letter today and you don’t know how handy that $5 will be.

Mom, you said that I sounded unhappy over the phone, well I suppose I did in a way, but with Christmas so near, everyone is feeling the same way.

We are supposed to leave here Monday night around 6:30, but we still don’t know where we’ll end up. I suppose it will be in California. I still owe you and Dad a nice present and I’ll send it as soon as possible.

Well, mom, my next letter will probably be from our next base. Here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and let’s all hope that next year will bring victory and we’ll all be together again.

All my love to the dearest family in the world,

The true story? He didn't go to Mass in Canada. He and his friends went looking for girls!

Imagine three idiot Yankee sailors wandering around in minus ten degree weather on Christmas Day, looking for action. Not too likely. They were walking through town when a car lumbered by on the hard-packed snow. A pair of pretty teenagers smiled at them through the back window and my dad and his friends whistled and winked and acted pretty much the way you’d expect a trio of lonely teenagers would act.

Then the car slowed to a stop and they realized a stern-faced man was behind the wheel.

“Now we’re gonna get it,” my dad said. “Her old man’s gonna kill us.”

(Remember, it was a more innocent age.)

“Let’s run,” said one of his pals.

The father climbed out of his car and walked toward them. “You’re Americans?” he asked.

The guys gulped and admitted the obvious.

“From the Passamaquoddy base?”

They gulped again.

“All alone?”

They were in big trouble.

The father’s forbidding expression suddenly transformed itself into a big wide smile. “We’ve been looking for some soldiers or sailors to share our Christmas with us. You’re invited back home for a big holiday feast.”

The man was true to his word. They climbed into the car with his pretty teenage daughters and were driven out to a small farmhouse about ten miles away where they were welcomed into the heart of the man’s family. Turkey. Stuffing. Cranberries. Every vegetable you could think of.

They ate and drank cider and sang carols and gobbled up a trio of pies and when the farmer drove them back to the base, they meant it when they told him it was the best Christmas they could remember.

“Of course it was the best,” said my Grandfather Bert in a letter to my dad a few months later. “You were in Canada, weren’t you?”


Happy Holidays! See you next year with more stories.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oops I'm late!!! - Natalie Anderson

Huge apologies for running in from the wings - late in the afternoon! It's Christmas you see, and I'm on holiday and forgotten what day it is (well, time is now divided according to how long it is until the Jolly Red Bloke turns up).

How are your plans coming along? Here in New Zealand its a scorcher of a summer and the last couple of days have brought very hot, gale force winds. We're camping at the moment and a couple of tent poles have snapped in the 'breeze'. The wind where we are is a Foehn wind - and it can make us all go a little crazy. Factor in huge Christmas traffic on the roads and manic last minute shoppers in the malls and we end up giving thanks for swimming pools and delight in running through sprinklers on the lawn. A very different scene to those of you in the Northern Hemisphere with snow, snow, snow and no airports open. I do hope you're all able to get where you need to for Christmas.

Anyway, more relatives are about to arrive here and I'm on bed-making duty, but I wanted to leave you with a wonderfully romantic two-minute present for Christmas. Here's the closing scene from that wonderful movie, Cinema Paradiso, where the film-maker sees all the kisses that his old projectionist boss edited from all the movies that were shown in his home town. It's wonderful.

Wishing you all a safe and Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh To Be a Gym Bunny Again (as if I ever was!)

I’ve become a gym rat, which is a good thing. I say gym rat, not bunny, because there is a serious distinction between the two, and sadly, I’ve aged out of the gym bunny phase. Not that I ever was one, mind you. Somewhere along the line I missed that stage, darn it. Gym bunnies are those gorgeous, svelte young women who turn heads at the gym even when they haven’t showered and are drenched in sweat. The only head I turn these days at the gym is my own, in an attempt to get my nose far, far away from the smell that is the very byproduct of gym-going. But that’s okay, I’ve resigned myself to my rat status. It’s better than not being a gym creature of any sort (i.e. sofa sloth), a status I had adopted by neglect for a good while there. So it feels good to be back at the gym, even with the assignation of some disease-bearing rodent.

Although being middle-aged at the gym does present its levels of shame, no doubt about it. Take for instance the day I was in an abs class. The gym bunny instructor was blasting music while we strengthened our core (or attempted to, in my case) and I recognized the song from long, long ago (back when I should have been able to enjoy the benefits of being a gym bunny, only gyms weren’t so common back then, even though I still wasn’t bunny material, regardless).

“Now most of you are too young to recognize this,” I said, a hint of joviality to my voice. “But this is the intro music to the Jane Fonda Workout Record.”

Yes, I did say record in that sentence. As in record album, circa two thousand years ago. (As an aside, my son has found it to be very hip-retro to have purchased a record player and now stockpiles cheesy old LPs just because he can occasionally find them at antique stores. Argh, who ever thought one day articles from my era would be considered antiques?! I feel like Martha Washington.)

I looked around the gym, hoping to see a face of solidarity (the kind with telltale crow’s feet). Someone, but someone, who would a) know who Jane Fonda is, and b) fondly recall Jane in her soothing post-Vietnam protest voice reminding us to “feel the burn” while the Jackson Family crooned “Can you feel it?”

Instead, here’s what I heard in a squeal from the instructor: “Oh, I think my mother had that album!”

Shoot me now. But at least she didn’t say her grandma had it. Thank heavens for tender mercies.

The gym offers up so much delusional potential. It hooks you on the fantasy of the you-that-will-likely-never-be. Shy of a hollow-leg budget allowing for endless personal trainers, maybe (and one rife with plastic surgery and liposuction to boot). It’s sort of like Hollywood, luring us in with the fake reality of it all. But we buy into it, hook, line and sinker. Yes, I can look like a gym bunny, if only I try, we tell ourselves. If only I go to every class and succumb to the unspoken peer pressure that is a given, like it or not.

Take for instance Nia. Now, if you take away all of the encumbrances of pride and self-respect, Nia is a really fun class. You flail about in a la-la state, getting a surprisingly good workout, all things considered. The instructor is all flow and grace and wears funky clothes that look amazing on her and you project yourself onto her image, foolishly thinking you too look as sleek flitting about the ballet floor. Until you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and realize that in fact you look like the dancing hippos from Fantasia, and that oversized t-shirt ain’t doing you any favors in the style department. What we sacrifice in dignity for a good workout. But trust me, Nia and it’s contemporary cousin, the hip-happenin’ Zumba, these classes are for gym bunnies, not the rhythm- and physique-impaired like moi.

The peer-pressure factor is hard to resist at gyms. It is subtle, and usually self-imposed. It comes in a few forms: the “I’m not too old to do this” form—always a killer. Or the “if she can do it so can I” method. Natch. What happens with the self-imposed peer-pressure is you kill your gym fantasy with a career-ending injury, like, say, a torn meniscus, that makes it nigh impossible to work out without public tears, something you should never, ever reveal at the gym. Crying betrays your wimp factor and even if you’re near-dying, even if you have to take the elevator after your workout, your knee hurts so badly, you cannot cry.

The moral to the story (at least for me) is you leave the class when the kickboxing music is speeded up to high-on-crystal-meth level, so fast that injuries are inevitable. And when you see the yoga class is called Flying Dragon, you turn the other direction and fly away from it. So what that technically you can do it? Doing it and surviving it are two different things altogether. Repeat after me: anything with the words “flying” and “dragon” in it involving exercise are not for the faint of heart (or failing of physique).

Yeah, I’ll remember that for next time I find myself jonesing to be a gym rat. And remind myself that I’ll never be a gym bunny, so don’t even think I can act like one (particularly now that I've turned 48 today!). Can you feel it?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Importance of Families - Nicole Murphy

One thing that irritates me in a book is what I call the isolated character – that is, someone who’s living by themselves and with seemingly no other relationships. No family, no friends, no neighbours that they interact with. I’ve seen it a lot in romance, and science fiction and fantasy tends to be another place it crops up.
It seems to occur because it’s just easier to have a character take off into a story if they have no other ties and there’s so many things in writing that’s hard, it can be tempting to take the easy route. Less characters, less problems, more focus on the story at hand.

However, I think this robs the author of valuable resources for creating tension. I’m sure if you asked most people who creates the most problems in their lives, they’d come back with one answer – family.

Parents. Siblings. Cousins. Aunts and Uncles. These are special relationships, and with them comes a special happiness and a special pain. Happiness and pain that an enterprising author can use.

One of my favourite series at the moment is the Demon’s Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan. She uses family very cleverly within the series, making it both the salvation and the destruction of the characters.

This is YA, and so at first you see how the family situation has formed the characters – how they view themselves and the world, their behaviours and relationships. Then you’ve got two strong sibling relationships, and you can see how a brother or sister can be both your greatest support and your worst enemy, because they know you so well.

There are developed families – situations like the magicians’ circles, which become the support network for each other when their blood families reject them.

Families are drawn together and cracked apart. For me it’s one of the most compelling things about these books – watching these relationships get tested and seeing if the years of shared history and love can survive.

In my own Dream of Asarlai trilogy, I’ve found myself having a lot of fun with families. A brother and sister can fight in a way few other relationships manage. Sons and daughters can believe their parents point of view fully and then when they reach adulthood and see the situation for themselves, have everything destroyed. Family can be the only place you can find sanctuary from the rest of the world.

The holiday period tends to be a time we spend with our real-world families. Let’s hope more authors realise the importance of fictional families and let all the laughter and anger come to the fore.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Holiday Recipe For You - Lisa Dale

Just like your family, my family has its traditions for the holidays. And many of them are about booze and food. :-)
For example, every year since I was a kid, my mother’s very Irish neighbors, The Flahertys, make a mulled apple cider in a huge pot on the stove; it’s warm and sweet with rum, cloves, and cinnamon. We “kids” aren’t allowed to have any (still!), but every year they call my mother over for wassailing, and when she gets home, she’s inevitably rosy-cheeked and laughing. It’s good to see.
On Christmas morning, it's a family tradition to have cinnamon rolls hot from the oven with big cups of tea. It feels special--all that icing and gooey sweet bread!
And--okay--my brother and sister and I do get together to play a little drinking game with one of the holiday movies we've been watching once a year since we were kids.
Like I said: Food and booze.
This year, I wanted to share a family secret (simple) holiday recipe with you! This is a classic in our family, thanks to my mom. But she gave me permission to share it with you!
Candied Walnuts
½ cup butter
cup brown sugar
teaspoon cinnamon
pound of walnuts (4 cups)
In a casserole dish, melt butter. Add brown sugar and cinnamon. Microwave for two minutes (it will be bubbly and hot!). Add walnuts carefully and coat them in sugary goodness. Microwave 3-5 minutes (4 is probably right). Spread nuts on wax paper to cool, and as Mom says, “this part is like Napalm so be careful!” Don’t taste. Let cool—then enjoy or wrap in a little bag to give as a gift.
That’s it! Piece of cake! Okay…not actually cake. But still. It’s easy! I’m telling you—people will think you slaved over these for hours. If you try them, email me and let me know what you think (lisa at lisadalebooks. com).
And in the meantime, Happy Holidays!
Lisa Dale
PS Very soon I’m going to be giving away a hand-knit organic cotton scarf, made by yours truly! If you want in on this contest, please subscribe to my mailing list or my blog!
PPS -- One more tradition, unrelated to food, but it's funny and worth sharing. My sister has a tradition of waiting until everyone’s at the house, then putting the CD player on repeat for endless revolutions of “The Holly And The Ivy.” We take bets on how many times the song will play before somebody notices.
PPS The walnuts are calorie free. That’s right. Zero calories, zero fat, zero carbs. So enjoy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Drive-by Hors d'Oeuvres and other holiday pastimes : : Anne McAllister

I have revisions to do right now. And I'm doing them -- bit by bit. But it's hard to focus on them because Christmas is coming. Have you noticed?

I have. And while I don't go overboard at all, every Christmas we do at least a few of the same things. This is in the interest of 'tradition' and 'nostalgia' and 'doing things for the children so they'll have fond memories.'

Sometimes it even works.

Every year we get a live Christmas tree because it feels like something authentic (for us). If you have an artificial tree or no tree at all, that's fine. We don't care what anyone else does. We just enjoy the challenge of going out and picking the perfect tree.

It's never quite a simple as it ought to be -- like the year seven of us went out looking, found The Perfect Tree (everyone, amazingly agreed that it was The Perfect Tree). Then we carried it (literally) the half mile or so home and discovered it wouldn't stand up. At all. No matter what.

So we carried it back again (literally) and threw ourselves on the mercy of the tree salesmen, who all thought it was hysterically funny -- but after much amusement, they kindly let us pick another tree.

This was followed some years later when we were ultra-purist and went out and cut our own tree. We used to be able to do this fairly locally. But then one year we couldn't. So my youngest son and I drove an hour up into Wisconsin to a farm where you could cut your own. We hiked miles through snow barefoot (well, not barefoot, but it was miles and the snow was deep!) and at last we spotted the perfect virginal untouched tree high up on a hillside (covered with drifted snow).

We hiked up. And up. And up.

And when we finally reached The Perfect Tree we discovered that someone had spray painted it green.

We drove home and bought one off a lot. And that was the end of purist Christmas tree hunting.

We have certain things we bake every year beginning with my mother's date bars. They are the most scrumptious crumbly cookies known to man (in my opinion and hers). And she used to bake them for Christmas gifts -- until great-grandma wrote her a thank-you note for the "little meat pies" at which point she gave up and started sending recognizable fudge.

But while I don't give them as gifts (because they would never last long enough to be packed up and why would I give them away, anyway?), I always make them. So does my daughter.

And we make spritz. In fact for the past two years it's been a neighborhood project, er, party. My friend Nancy the Cat-slayer (no, she doesn't, but we have photo that makes it look like she is about to) and I invited two friends from China to bake with us last year, intended to give them an American Cultural Experience. To make it more authentic, I invited my neighbors to come and bake with us. It was so much fun last year that we all did it again Wednesday afternoon.

My 87 year old neighbor offered to bring the Peppermint Schnapps and liven things up. In the end, she didn't. Probably just as well as things were pretty lively anyway and she might have scandalized our Chinese guests. They now consider themselves a part of our local tradition. And they make better spritz than I do, that's for sure.

One tradition that has been on hold is the making of Christmas stockings. A friend made my children stockings, and when the grandkids began arriving, I promised to make them for each one.

But I fell apart after the oldest two boys because the first girl to come along had a massively LONG name and it stopped me cold. I couldn't see how to make it fit on the stocking without making very small letters. So I didn't do it at all. If she missed it, she didn't say so ( but she doesn't live in the same family as the boys, so it would have been harder to notice).

Still, it wasn't until this year -- five grandchildren later -- that the mother of the youngest (who has a very SHORT name) said she'd love it if he had a homemade stocking. She looked hopefully in my direction.

So I made six stockings. All I can say is, thank goodness for nicknames -- which the massively LONG-named granddaughter, now 10, has since acquired -- because her nickname fit.

We have other traditions, too. There is the homemade wreath, which we won't go into because sometimes it is not a pretty sight. There are the batches of biscotti. I could write a whole blog on biscotti alone. But I'd rather be baking them. There is the annual hunt for the great-grandparents' brass candlesticks which always get put up, provided we can find them. But we haven't been lighting the candles recently because, traditionally, we almost always seem to burn the house down when we do.

And then there are the new events which, one hopes, never become traditions. This year it is a Christmas party (I use the term loosely) for an organization I belong to that promotes exchanges between people in different countries. We've had some wonderful experiences both traveling and hosting such exchanges.

This year the board decided to have a 'traveling hors d'oeuvres' party. It's a fund-raiser. We are on the board, thus we are going. We are also providing an hors d'oeuvre. (More than one, actually, a whole tray of them).

The logistics of this event are frightening. It has been set up so that there are two houses next to each other where we are expected to congregate (in two separate houses) with our requisite hors d'oeuvres and then switch houses halfway through the first hour.

Then we drive across town and go to two other houses, also next to each other (where presumably there are more hors d'oeuvres) where we meet the same people we just met across town, consume more hors d'oeuvres, switch houses again, and then go home.

The way I calculate it, we still will only see half the people, but we will see them at both places. Provided, of course, that we can park.

We are currently having one of the snowiest Decembers on record and there are no places to park on either street at the best of times. Not for five people, let alone for 40!

So you see why I have started calling this the "drive-by hors d'oeuvres party." Clearly there's going to be no place to stop. Nancy the Cat Slayer is driving and DH and I are to leap out, run inside, deposit the hors d'oeuvres while Nancy TCS circles the block. This does not even address the problem of exactly how to keep the spanakopita warm while it is en route when the temperature has been below zero all week.

Somehow I don't think this is going to become a tradition. At least I hope not.

What are you planning for the holidays (Christmas or any others you are celebrating)? Have you had holiday disasters, too? Misery loves company! You'd make me feel better about my spanakopita-on-the-move event tonight with a little holiday disaster oneupsmanship. Or you can tell me about your perfect holiday. I'll simply turn green with envy. So comment -- please!

And happy holidays to everyone!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My favourtie spirit of Christmas -- Community spirit by Michelle Styles

Christmas in the UK wouldn't be Christmas without a ghost story or two. The most famous is Dickens A Christmas Carol. But with his three spirits, Dickens tapped into the true spirit of Christmas -- the Community  Spirit. And whether you believe in ghosts or not, the Community Spirit is always alive and out walking at Christmas time.
You can see it in so many ways -- both great and small. From the person who hangs lights up so that passersby get to see a pretty scene or the person who scatters birdseed on a snowy morning  for the starving  sparrows to the larger efforts such as the singing of carols in hospitals or nursing homes, or the organising of hot meals for the homeless to the even larger efforts where gifts that make a difference are to donated to the disadvantaged of the world. For example cows or beehives to third world families or shoeboxes full of Christmas gifts to orphanages in Bosnia.  And the things people do now in this season has an impact far beyond and can change lives forever, just as Scrooge was able to change lives.
And seeing Community spirit in action is one of my favourite parts of Christmas. I hope it is one of yours as well.
What are your favourite examples of Christmas Community Spirit?

And because the Harlequin Historical Authors thought it would be fun, we got together and have devised a Harlequin Historical Advent calendar. Each day a different author hosts the calendar and gives away a small gift. My day is 20 December. Everyone who enters gets put in for the grand prize draw of a kindle 3-g which will be drawn on 23rd Dec. In this way, we are hoping a few people's Christmas will be that little bit merrier. You can see the full list of places and terms and conditions here.

Also today 15 December is the annual Eharlequin Open House.  If you want to stop by the Historical thread and leave a comment, I know there are a number of books up for grabs.

Michelle Styles writes historical romance for Harlequin Historical. Her latest US releases is a Regency duo A Question of Impropriety and Impoverished Miss Convenient Wife. A free online serial His Stand In Bride is currently running on eharlequin.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Parties and Weddings - Donna Alward

This weekend the family is off to a wedding. We're kind of excited as we don't often have "special" occasions, and the last time I was at a Christmas wedding was in 1994, I believe. The year before we got married. A family friend tied the knot and unfortunately I didn't enjoy the ceremony as much as I might have as I was the soloist and a bundle of nerves. But Christmas weddings are beautiful, aren't they? I mean, twinkle lights kind of come with the package, and as red is one of my favourite colours, I'm in heaven at Christmas time. Reds, golds, greens,'s all so rich and romantic, I think.  To invoke a little Mr. Elton, A wedding is a wedding, but a Christmas wedding....

This particular wedding is, in a way, in lieu of a Christmas party for us. Being a writer means the only work parties I attend at Christmas are cyber ones - like Harlequin's Open House happening tomorrow and some contests going on around the web. Nope, it's plain old "have a cup of eggnog in my yoga pants" during these occasions. I was talking to a neighbour recently about why Christmas parties are so desirable. It's not about office politics or gossip or who gets out of hand when they drink too much. It's that these days there isn't always a sense of occasion to things. And for one night it IS nice to get dolled up, go OUT, eat a meal I haven't cooked, have someone remove my plate for me, enjoy a few cocktails and maybe even a dance with my honey. There is a staff lunch where my husband works, but no formal "party" either. And I kind of miss that.

So the last few weeks have been a test in self-denial so I can fit into the red dress I want to, and I've got my high heels ready to go!

What about you? Do you go for the Christmas party circuit or would you rather give them a miss?

And if you're more of a "curl up with a book on a December evening" kind of person, I can recommend a lovely holiday anthology. Christmas Wishes & Mistletoe Kisses is available from Mills and Boon this month (and for download for those not in the UK). In it you'll find a reprint of last year's Montana, Mistletoe, Marriage duet by Patricia Thayer and myself, and also A Fairytale Christmas duo by Susan Meier and new Romance author Barbara Wallace! I've read all the stories and readers are definitely in for a treat!

I hope you all have a marvelous holiday season!

Merry Christmas,


Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Rituals - Kathleen O'Brien

I should know better than to agree to turn in a book right before Christmas. I try to stick to my working schedule. I really do. But, for me, the month of December is never long enough. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and we have so many little rituals we have to fit into those three and a half weeks.

First, of course, there’s the tree-trimming and house decorating. Though we don’t go crazy, we do like to gather the whole family and put on the music and make it a party. There are at least three different houses to decorate, now that the “kids” have their own places. So it gets complicated!

Then, there’s the Mount Dora adventure  that my daughter and I share each year. Mount Dora is a picturesque little lake community not far from where we live. We wander down the quaint downtown streets, stopping at our three or four favorite stores, and then we overeat horribly at the delicious English Tea Room. Half the fun is the drive itself, about forty-five minutes of silly talk, word games, and carols on the CD.

And if we don’t find time to work in a family viewing of “White Christmas,”  it just doesn’t feel right. We all make the same comments every year. I tear up over “Count Your Blessings,” making everyone groan. We argue over whether the dance bits are too long. The cynics complain that Bing Crosby is making a mistake by talking about his former general’s troubles on TV. Someone inevitably cringes at Vera Allen’s super skinny legs.

But we’re all on the same page—pure, sappy delight—when the finale begins. We smile or squee (depending, generally on our gender ) as the lodge doors open onto snow, and designer Edith Head’s red velvet, fur-lined dresses sway and glisten under the lights.

Luckily, my editor understands the call to family this season brings, and she’s offered me a short extension on the manuscript I owe her. So, though I’ll still be writing every day, I’ll have some breathing room for our most beloved holiday rituals.

What about you? Is there something your family does every year that you just can’t give up? Do you have a favorite holiday film that you never get sick of? A great recipe to share? I’d love to hear what you’re doing this December. I haven’t a minute to spare, truly, but…come on…tempt me!

And meanwhile, Happy Holidays to everyone! May your new year bring you peace, joy, health and love.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Cheer - Christina Hollis

Winter in the UK is usually mild. That means there's little point in councils investing in expensive machinery to keep roads and paths clear. That's reasonable - until it snows. Then it only needs a light dusting, and the whole country grinds to a halt!

We've been snowed in for the past ten days, as our drive and the half mile of lanes between us and the nearest gritted road is a switchback of sharp turns and one-in-three gradients. It's been wonderful. With traffic unable to reach us, it's been even quieter than normal - and that's saying something. The surrounding woods look like a Christmas card. It's lovely, but it also drives the deer and wild boar toward the garden. We have to make very sure all the fences and gates into the garden are checked regularly.

The bad weather has meant shopping for Christmas Presents on line. This is great - as long as the postman can get through to deliver it! Luckily, this year our bees have produced plenty of honey and comb, which will make ideal presents. Computers can be a curse, but they are brilliant for making personalised labels. Sparkly gift bags holding a jar or two of home made preserves makes a unique present which needn't cost the earth. When you take time to find out what someone would really like, it doesn't matter how much or little a present costs. I'm hoping against hope that Number One Son has taken my not-so-subtle hints on board. Telling him I need a new pastry brush for Christmas each time we're cooking together has laid the groundwork. I just hope I don't need to resort to leaving stray bristles on the mince pies, or worse, leaving off the egg-wash that gives them that lovely golden brown glow.

What do you hope to find in your Christmas stocking this year?

Christina Hollis writes Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon Ltd, and her latest title "The Master Of Bella Terra" is released in the US in January 2011. Catch up with her at

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tis the Season... - Anna Campbell

by Anna Campbell

..for great reading!

Hi, everyone! When you read this, I'll be just getting off the cruise ship 'Pacific Dawn' after two weeks steaming around New Zealand. I'm the guest speaker on the White Cloud Wonders cruise and I couldn't be more excited. Here's a link to the cruise:

It's summer in the Southern Hemisphere which coincides with a lot of people down here taking time off work - not to mention all the public holidays like Christmas and New Year.

It's a great chance to dive into a few good books and stay there! What bliss!

So I thought I'd share a couple of great books I've read recently. For some reason, they're all historical although I do tend to read all over the genre.

Anyway, the first of my recommendations is THE DANGEROUS VISCOUNT by Miranda Neville. This is the second in Miranda's wonderful Burgundy Club series and it's gorgeous. Personally I love nerd into hunk stories and this one's a doozy. Our nerd is even a virgin! But when Sebastian Iverley falls madly and immediately in love with Diana Fanshawe, who is pursuing her own agenda, his life turns topsy-turvy. You'll adore Sebastian and I love the way both characters gradually change under the influence of love. It's funny, it's touching and it's really sexy. Honestly, couldn't recommend it more even if I'd written it, LOL!

The second book is three novellas by Lila DiPasqua, her second 'Fiery Tale' volume. I adored her first three erotic takes on classic fairytales, AWAKENED BY A KISS. THE PRINCESS IN HIS BED is equally wonderful. Lila bases her three stories on famous Hans Christian Andersen stories, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling and The Princess and the Pea. The setting is the decadent, luxurious court of Louis XIV and the stories are hot, smart, emotional and downright addictive. Like Miranda's book, I read this in one sitting!

The last of my recommendations from my recent reading is Emily May's beautiful THE UNMASKING OF A LADY. This was the first book by Emily (who also writes RITA-nominated fantasy as Emily Gee) I'd read and wow, it's fantastic, one of the best historicals I've read this year. It's sweet and emotional and luscious, and yet packs a big sensual punch when it needs to. And I dare you not to fall in love with Adam and Bella! If you have trouble finding this, the Book Depository has it and will send it anywhere in the world post free. Great offer, I think! I've now got all Emily's books at the top of my TBR pile - love it when I discover a brilliant new author.

As it's Christmas, I thought I'd finish up with a seasonal recommendation. I read THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS last Christmas and it's a treat. Three more novellas and every one a gem. Courtney Milan's This Wicked Gift was nominated for a RITA last year which gives you an indication of how lovely that story is. Nicola Cornick's and Mary Balogh's stories are both reprints but new to me and I loved both of them. Even had a little cry! I closed this volume with a blissful sigh and a big happy smile! Just the thing for this time of year!

So happy reading, everyone, and I hope you all have a very happy Festive Season, however you celebrate it.

So what great books have you read lately?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Baby. . . It's Cold Outside!! - Terri Brisbin

The weather outside is positively frightful here in southern NJ -- the temps have been in the low 30s this past week and the winds have been howling. I had to break out my gloves and scarf and even found a nice, long winter coat. The forecast is calling for even colder temps coming over the weekend with possible snow (SNOW!! though not like last year as seen in the photo!) So, though the shortest day of the year and the cold are coming, I've decided to reverse one of those quaint customs. Instead of 'Christmas in July', I'm going to think 'Summer in December'!

The summer here was extreme -- relentless days of temps above 90 and humidity that made you feel as though you were always wet. To make things even more uncomfortable, we spent late July and early August in the steambath called Orlando FL with temps that hovered near 100 and, well, 200% humidity! At least it felt like that. Of course, I was able to take photos like this one even on those sweltering days....see everyone in their shorts?? I spent days and days in t-shirts/tanks/shorts/bathing suit because it was just too darn hot...some days were too hot to stay outside

So, when winter is upon us and the days of summer are long past and far off, what do you remember to keep you warm? Are you a summer person or a winter person? Would you rather play in the surf or in the snow? Do you long for one while living in the other? Post a comment and I have some books to share with 2 people....picked at random from the comments.

Terri is hard at work on her next Harlequin Historical UNDONE (sexy
short story) and her next Harlequin Historical novel. She's also participating in the HH Authors' Holiday Giveaway - a month-long gift extravaganza with daily prizes and a Kindle 3G as a grand prize. Visit her website contest page for more info -

And Terri wants to wish everyone a very Happy Holiday season and a Merry Christmas. I hope everyone's New Year is healthy, happy and successful, too!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Low Country - Eric Haney

The KENNESAW TANNER novel series came about originally as a concept for a feature film. I began writing what turned out to be the first book, NO MAN¹S LAND, as a movie script but after I was several scenes in I realized that I liked the character so much that I wanted to give him a long life. The problem was that when I sold the script I would lose all rights to the character and the story.

So instead, I called my literary agent, told him what I was doing and said that I wanted to do this first as a novel. That way even should I eventually turn it into a film or television series I would still own the character. So that is what happened. In the first novel, I introduced Kennesaw Tanner, several recurring characters, and gave him a mission but at the same time I planted the seeds for the second novel, LOW COUNTRY. And now, here it is. Also, it appears that my original objective may come into being after all: we are getting close to close a deal to produce both books as major motion pictures.

With a bit of luck, Kennesaw Tanner may get a long run.


Eric L. Haney was born in the mountains of North Georgia. During his twenty-year military career, he served only in critical, front-line combat units – as a Combat Infantryman, a Ranger, and as a founding operator of Delta Force.

Post-military, Haney has worked throughout the Middle East and Latin America, protecting princes, presidents, and CEOs. He led the protective force that returned President Bertrand Aristide to Haiti. He has negotiated with Latin American guerillas for the safe return of hostages and provided security for international oil companies operating in the most dangerous regions on earth. He has also worked with a group of fellow ex-Delta commandos to rescue American children kidnapped around the world.

Today, Haney lives and works in Los Angeles with his wife, writer Dianna Edwards.

***For a chance to win a copy of Eric Haney's Low Country, please leave a comment!***

****Congratulations to Asylumgirl and SiNn!!  Both of you have won a copy of Eric's Low Country.  Please email me at with your full name and mailing address and we'll get a copy in the mail to you right away.  Thanks to everyone else who commented!!****

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

White lies and whispers by Kandy Shepherd

I love writing fiction and I love reading it. I know you do too, or you wouldn’t be visiting this blog. As a writer there can be no greater fun than to make up stories and people my plots with characters conjured from my imagination. And I love escaping into the fictional worlds created by other writers.

But what about that other story we spin at this time of year? You know, the one about the jolly, white-bearded gentleman in the red suit who parks his reindeers on our rooftops while he slides down the chimney to deliver presents to those of us who have been very good all year.

As a child, I fervently believed in Santa Claus and have no memories of the day of disillusionment. Not so my daughter. When she was eight years old she confronted me with an angry little face. “The kids at school say that Santa Claus isn’t real, is that true?” I hesitated. Her scowl grew deeper. “Tell me the truth.”

So I did. She howled her outrage and betrayal that we had lied to her. That the rest of the world was in on the conspiracy to fool her. No matter how we explained that the Santa story was a lovely thing that made Christmas fun for children, a wonderful tradition started by St Nicholas, about the spirit of giving and sharing, all she could see was our dishonesty.

She stomped away, leaving me and my husband staring at each other with mirrored “what have we done?” expressions on our faces. We had fallen into celebrating the Santa thing with her without even thinking about it. When she queried the number of department store Santas, we thought about telling her the truth. When she asked tricky questions about the logistics of simultaneous around-the-world present delivery by flying-reindeer-drawn sleigh we thought about telling her. Instead we found ourselves getting deeper and deeper into the white lie of it.

But we loved the Santa story—the whispers and the tip-toeing around the house on Christmas Eve as we delivered Santa’s bounty. The kick my husband got out of creating a masterful reindeer bite out of the carrot we left out beside the milk and cookies. We smothered our giggles and reminisced about our childhood Christmases. And we loved the look of wonder next morning on her face when she discovered Santa had visited.

But our daughter was right. White lies are lies all the same. And we had no rejoinders. Especially when she stomped right back into the room. “If Santa is a great big lie, then what about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy?”

Do you have any Santa experiences to share? Any special holiday traditions? Please leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of my latest novel HOME IS WHERE THE BARK IS. Include your email address if you would like a chance to win.