Monday, March 29, 2010

5 Steps to Overcoming Page Fright - Dara Girard

The blank page or screen puts terror in the hearts of many writers. I attack the page quickly so that the fear doesn’t have a chance to settle, but I’ve met others who can sit for hours paralyzed with fear. I don’t want that to be you, so here are some tips:

Lower your expectations. Many writers are not the best judge of their work. When they look at it, all they see is crap. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. But that’s not for a writer to judge at the beginning. Her job is to write. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. That’s the fastest way to stay in paralyzing page fright. Just start writing. Anything. It doesn’t have to be brilliant or even good. Some writers can create excellent first drafts that are immediately publishable. Others don’t. Both get published eventually. So don’t worry about who will read it and what they will think. Just get something down on the page or screen, you can edit later.

Play. Have fun! Writing does not have to be drudgery. Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss knew the magic of words. They played on the page creating nonsensical words, rhymes and images. Pretend, dream, take flight on the page. It doesn’t have to make sense. Take the title of a song or poem and expand on it. For example: Mary had a little lamb…with a glass of red wine while talking to her girlfriends about the mean girls at school. Come up with your own words. Use a noun as a verb and vice versa. It worked for Shakespeare. Give yourself permission to do whatever you want without censure. Far too many writers, especially beginners, try to find ‘rules’ to guide them and in the process become paralyzed. Most writers learn the craft of writing by reading (books they enjoy) and writing.

Daydream. Imagine yourself writing with ease. Nothing stands in your way. Pretend that what you are going to write will be wonderful. What would it be? Jot it down. Remember, this is make-believe, you can’t fail. Feel the calm and confidence as you write—you’re amazing. The world eagerly awaits your next creation.

Exercise. A sluggish body sometimes produces a sluggish mind. Go for a walk. Dance. Run. Get the body moving, the oxygen flowing and blood pumping! The actual act of writing is usually a sedentary one (unless you’re like some and write while standing up). You must realize that you’re a ball of creative energy that needs an outlet. You need to move.

Quit. Yes, that’s right. Quit. Stop. Give up. Surrender. If the words won’t come, it’s okay to walk away. Perhaps you were meant for something else. No one is forcing you to write. In the words of Julian Barnes “It’s easy after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them.” Many myths exist about successful writers being disciplined. Baloney. They write because they like to. In public they may complain and whine about their struggles with thoughts and idea (because writers after all are storytellers), but in private they soar on the page. I’m not saying that it’s not difficult sometimes, but it’s not hell either. Just like a singer sings and a dancer dances, a writer writes. It’s that simple. You do what you love. Or you don’t.

If you can stop, go ahead. But if the suggestion I’ve made burns at you, makes you sputter with outrage and want to scream, ‘But I can’t stop! I have to write’ then prove it…write now…

Dara’s latest release is WORDS OF SEDUCTION. Find out more at her website

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Learning Curve - Terri Brisbin

Whenever you need to or try to learn something new – a new game, a new job, A NEW COMPUTER!! – there is a process and a period of time called ‘the learning curve’ when you go from first try to stumbling through to adjusting through anger and screaming to acceptance and competence. I am here to tell you that the learning curves I faced at 20 are more like learning MOUNTAINS as I approach them in my mid-50s!

As you can probably tell, I just got a new computer – wow, is it pretty and, wow, does it have lots of new and shiny stuff in it and with it!! A 22’ HD flatscreen monitor that I can see across a room. Gigs and gigs of RAM and hard drive space. Windows 7!!! Wooohooo! But, there are so many choices and decisions and things to set up and do and fix and upload and download that I am overwhelmed at this point. That darned learning curve – I’m in the stumbling part, clearly heading for the ‘anger and screaming’ part soon. Hubby sees the signs and is making himself scarce…..LOL!

But I’m sure that after a few more lessons and panicked calls to my sons, it will all be fine – or as in the drawing above, I’ll reach the new status quo after going through fine tuning….! Ohmigosh, I hope I live through it!

I went through this when asked to write a novella for the first time for Harlequin Historicals. I’d lived in anticipation and in fear of being asked and when I was, my first thought was how the heck do I write a novella? I mean I would be cutting my story and characters down to 1/3 of the pages they usually have to develop (aka make sense). I discovered there is a fine line between making sense and leaving out too much in writing a romance. So, I struggled over it and wrote my first then second then third and fourth novella and am finally over the learning curve for that length. Then what happens?

I was asked to write a short story for Harlequin Historicals Undone, cutting the page total down yet again. Gosh – how could that be done and still make sense to readers and to me? I struggled, asked writing friends who’d successfully done shorter lengths and learned how to do it.

So, have you faced a learning curve recently? New job? New task? New computer? Post a short comment about that and I’ll choose 2 winners to receive a signed copy of my upcoming Brava anthology - UNDONE! From Kensington.

Terri will have a novella AND a short story out soon – “A Night for Her Pleasure”, her Harlequin Historical Undone will be part of the first print edition in PLEASURABLY UNDONE! in April and the novella “A Storm of Love” will be part of UNDONE in May. Visit her website – subscribe to her newsletter or visit her blog – to learn more about Terri and her upcoming events, books and blogs.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Orange Kitties

In the spring of 1977, just as my father's illness was becoming something we could not ignore, I decided to bring home a tiny orange cat, even though I knew that I'd get in trouble. We already had two cats, despite the fact that my father was allergic to them, not to mention a feisty Doberman, who nipped the neighborhood children. But my friend jumped off the bus one morning and handed me a kitten, a little orange creature who somehow lived in my pocket all day, took another bus ride home, and lived in my closet for approximately four hours until we were all found out, kitty mewling and running into the dining room.

He was a cute little kitty, and we all seemed to love his trusting little nature. But something was going on in the house. Theoretically, we were going to be moving first to Europe and then to Saudi Arabia because my father had been hired by Aramco. But the real reason my mother knew we had to get rid of the cat was because my father was truly ill and we weren't going to be going anywhere. She was right, but at the time, none of this was articulated. The only thing I knew was that no one was listening to reason, and kitty moved to a home where he was very happy. For a year or two, we had a picture of him on the refrigerator. He was sniffing another cat, I think, but reports came from his new home that he was happy.

The next year after my father succumbed to stomach cancer, I brought home another orange cat, and I actually don't remember how Eustace ended up with me. Who gave me Eu? I can't remember, though I believe it was someone at Orinda Park Pool who gave him to me. All I do remember was that he wasn't a big hit right away because he had a tendency to pee in the corners of the den. AT this point, we had four other cats plus a now incontinent Doberman and a neurotic lab mix. I'm not sure if the rabbit was still with us at that point, but suffice it to say we were trying to fill with animals the hole my father left.
But Eu was special. He slept on his back, splayed in complete trust. He drooled with joy and happiness. His main goal was to be loved. At all times. He would sit on my lap, close his eyes, and drool with pleasure, no subterfuge there.

One of our cats ran away at this point, and just before I moved out of the house, I brought home another orange cat. He became Eu's little brother. They slept in a warm orange cat pile, friends until Buddy's untimely death at the bottom of the street. No one was advocating indoor cats much in those days, and he took one field trip too many. I had children at this point, my mother warning me that Buddy was on the street dead, waiting for someone (who?) to come and take him away. I had to explain death as I drove up the street with my sons, the best I could, both of them looking down at the poor orange creature.

All the other cats and dogs died, my mother moved with Eu and our anorexic calico Jenny to a condo. Jenny eventually died, and Eu ruled the roost I think until his 18th or 19th year. Maybe twenty. He was old but still drooling and happy, and then I did it again. I gave my mother two orange cats for Christmas.

These were the nuttiest cats I ever met, but I didn't get to know Henry well because from the moment I opened the cat box and let him out into her living room, he lived under her beds. When no one but she was around, he'd play in the house and sit outside on the patio on his rug, but he was like a stealthy wraith, slipping by me the few times I managed to catch a glimpse. Gus was a milder, not quite as acutely cute Eu, but a good friendly cat, a happy, food begging cat. He hung out with us during holidays, pacing around, showing off his enormous belly. They were inseparable (at least when no one else but my mother was around) and lived a very good life for many years. This spring, Henry managed to escape out of the patio and his fate is unclear. And Gus--who lived the most pampered life of all time--just died, cared for with loving hands until it was finally time to put him asleep.

My mother says she does not want any more orange cats, and I can accept that now. I don't know why I always brought home orange cats. Five orange cats, all for my mother, or, at least, cats that were to live with her. I have never had an orange cat of my own, really, and I will always associate orange cats with her. She loved those orange cats, even kitty, the cat she found a home for when she knew ours was going to fall apart.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What's On My Desk? - Sarah Morgan

In theory I should be able to write anywhere as long as I have a pen and a pad. Certainly there are occasions when I scribble on notebooks or scraps of paper – while I’m waiting to pick the children up from school; in the dark in the cinema when an idea suddenly comes to me (boy was that difficult to decipher!) but generally I write better when I’m at my desk.

So what do I need for my perfect working day?

My laptop - which is not connected to the internet. I would like to say that if I worked in a chocolate factory I would never sample the products, but I know I would. If I work on a computer connected to the internet, I use the internet. I can’t resist the temptation to check my emails – just in case Hugh Jackman is trying to contact me urgently or JK Rowling’s publisher has decided I’m the Next Big Thing (I will be the Next Big Thing if I don’t take the chocolate biscuits off my desk :) )

My iPod – I don’t always write to music, but sometimes I do. I use music to create atmosphere. At the moment I’m trying to finish a Christmas story and the only way I can feel Christmassy in March is to play Christmas music. If I fill the room with Christmas music, my family will probably leave home in protest so my iPod is the ideal solution.

Dictionary and thesaurus – of course these days there are brilliant computer programmes available (something else to offer distraction) but I still love the ancient, well-thumbed thesaurus I was given at the start of my writing career.

My favourite mug – usually I drink from a giant, brightly coloured mug. It makes me feel happy. But at the moment I’m writing a Christmas book, so I’ve swapped it for a mug covered in penguins and lots of snow.

Sticky note pads and a pen – yes, although I’m using the laptop, I still scribble all the time when I’m writing. I know that lots of writers use sticky notes. I find them invaluable. If I think of one line of dialogue that I’ll want to use later on, or even a plot twist, I’ll scribble it on the note and stick it on the wall. Then I know I’m not going to forget about it. When I first started writing I used pads, but there were so many occasions where I overlooked something I’d written down, I switched tactics. Sticky notes are there until you remove them (which I try and remember to do before guests arrive. My gorgeous, tolerant husband once asked me mildly if I thought it might be wise to take down the one that said ‘this marriage is a sham’ before we had family over :) )

My mobile phone – when I’m writing I often unplug my main phone during the day so that I’m not disturbed (I find it really hard to ignore the phone if it rings), but I want to be able to take calls from close family, so I keep my mobile switched on so I’m connected, but not too connected.....

That’s it. That’s what I need. What do you need to help you work?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grandma and the Prince - Part 16

After Grandma El died in 1989, my father gave me the metal strong box she'd saved from the fire and carried with her down the icy fire escape to safety. (She was seventy-five at the time and, quite frankly, my heroine.) We lost most of our family photos in that fire. All that remained were the ones she literally pulled from the blaze.

Tucked in with my great-great-grandmother's will, grandpa's pocket watch, and other bits and pieces, was a torn, yellowing letter written by Grandma El to her son Mel (my dad) and her daughter Mona in August 1935. I'll be honest with you: I paid next-to-no attention to it. I mean, it was only a Having a great time, wish you were here kind of letter. A glorified postcard. Nothing noteworthy at all.

I'll admit I wondered about the "Daddy B" nickname for my Grandpa Bert (why would you attach a letter to Daddy?) but figured it was some English tradition and promptly forgot about it. I hadn't a clue that it was the key to the secret my family had been keeping for over fifty years.

Canadian Pacific Hotels
August 6th 1935
My Dearest Mona and Mel,

You see the big hotel on that witing paper -- well, that's where we are staying tonight until tomorrow evening. We have the suite I have marked on picture, overlooking the Duffin (?) Terrace. We walked all along it. I can't tell you how beautiful the Hotel is and all the wonderfuls cenery we have seen. Most all the people here speak French. We have such a beautiful bedroom and bathroom, great big rooms and the maid comes in and turns down the bed and puts out on the bed my nightdress and dressing gown. Mother wishes she was rich and be able to live like this always.

Tomorrow we go sightseeing all thru Quebec in private cars. Have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Chateau Frontenac, then leave in the evening for Montreal and the boat but this time a different boat called the St. Lawrence. We have lovely cabins on the boat and such delicious meals. All French cooking. Mother & Daddy B eat like the devil. I will have to go on a diet when I come home. We come back to N.Y. Friday morning so if you want to, I would like to have a letter from both of you Send it to Brooklyn. I have lots and lots to tell you when I get back home.

Lots of Love & Kisses to you both from Daddy B and your ever loving Mother who misses you a whole lot

I hadn't a clue that what seemed to be a letter sent from a Canadian vacation was actually a letter sent from Grandma's honeymoon with the man I'd believed to be my biological grandfather!

See you next month!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Office Space (Is In My Head) by Caitlin Crews

The great thing about being on a tight deadline is that I really don't have time to do anything but daydream about my characters and the beautiful setting they find themselves in.

This is such a hardship. I announce that I must work in very serious tones, and then I go here:

How would you like to sort out your relationship in such surroundings? I think I could muster up the energy. Perhaps with an Italian prince--one who looks a little bit like this:

I tell you, the sacrifices I make for my art are great. And I should really get back to making them right now...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hero Confusion

by Tawny Weber

I'm in the midst of plotting a new book and there's nothing more fun than What If. Well, maybe getting punched in the gut. Or root canal without novocain. Or stubbing your toe in the dark, then falling over the dog and smacking nose-first into the footboard. Not that I've done any of those things. I just equate them with the fun of plotting and What If.

Don't get me wrong. I love What If. I love the process of coming up with ideas, of bouncing possibilities and finding the perfect maze that eventually frames my story. Even more, I love discovering characters and finding the ins and outs of what makes them tick, and tock. And eventually, click together.

What I don't have so much fun with is when I'm almost finished plotting a book and outlining it, and I think its pretty solid. Then I see something that makes me go Ooooooh, I want to do that instead. For instance, the book I'm working on now has a military hero. Max, my hottie hunk, is a wounded war hero and home to make some decisions. Now as I'd originally plotted him, he's a pretty by-the-book kind of guy. A patron of the follow the rules club. And a total sweetie with that soldier boy exterior.

Then, last night I watched Hurt Locker. Wow. Intense, powerful and isn't a bad boy with a little bit of crazy appealing? James is way too out there for my story, but suddenly all I could think of was how much fun it is to write a bad boy. A wild man. An edgy, intense, over-the-top Alpha with something to prove.

Now see, this is the stubbed-toe frustration part of plotting What If for me. I really like my original plot. And to be honest, if I change heroes, I'd have to come up with an entirely new plot to suit this kind of hero. Or I could simply write two separate books, right? Except which one to write first? What would be stronger? The hero or the bad boy? Both are hot, both are sexy, both have unlimited appeal.

ARGH... see my frustration? What If has me cornered and I can't write my way out.

So I'm turning to you... Tell me, what would you rather read? A heroic military man who, while having a few demons, is a pretty by-the-book kind of guy? Or a bad boy soldier boy with a chip on his shoulder who needs to prove something before he can let himself find love?

I'd love to know what you think and am willing to provide bribes. I'll pick one random commenter to win any book from my backlist.

Tawny Weber writes hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze. In January 2010, her novella, YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS, was out in the Blazing Bedtime Story anthology and her next full length Blaze,, RIDING THE WAVES, will be out in September 2010. Come by and visit her on the web at

Monday, March 22, 2010

What I learned From Yard Work - Lynn Raye Harris

Yard work is worse than a four-letter word. Or it is for me. Perhaps you love it. Perhaps you love those first bright days of spring, when the weather is getting warmer and the garden calls to you to dig and plant and mulch.

Me, not so much. But it has to be done, or I’m likely to get drummed out of the neighborhood for having a really crappy yard. I don’t think the neighbors would appreciate me bringing down their property value. :)

This weekend I did what any grown woman would do. I called my parents and begged for help. My husband, darling man that he is, is a computer geek. Not only does he despise yard work (except for the mowing and weed eating – odd, huh?), he also starts to sneeze and hack within mere moments of shifting soil.

And my flowerbeds were in desperate need of attention. The shrubs needed pruning, and there was a lot of grass that had overgrown the beds and needed digging out. I tried doing it myself, but the task was so overwhelming that I collapsed in tears the last time I attempted it.

Saturday morning, my parents arrived loaded down with gardening tools and the knowledge I lack. They accomplished in one day what I would have never managed in a month of weekends. Of course I helped! And I learned a ton in the process.

It was a long day, exhausting, but I now have clean flowerbeds, neat shrubs, pretty flowers, and my house no longer looks like a candidate for a horror movie location. Somewhere during this whole day, the garage got cleaned and rearranged too (Hubby was a primary part of that project).

You may be wondering what this has to do with writing or reading. A lot, I think. Because after the day was over and I was pondering all we’d accomplished, I thought of the manuscript I’m working on right now. When I’m writing, I have no idea where the thorny weeds will be lurking in the book or how long it will take me to pull them out and clean the beds. I just know it has to be done, no matter how much I’m not looking forward to it. I may not call my parents to help, but my editor will definitely have suggestions when I send her the completed book – she knows where to trim the shrubs and how to plant the prettiest flowers.

As for reading, if the characters didn’t go through a spot of trouble, the book wouldn’t be very interesting, would it? I love it when a character has to do something hard in order to gain the reward at the end. In my books, the hero and heroine always have a lot of digging and pruning to do before they get their happy ending!

Basically, what I learned from yard work this weekend is that nothing worthwhile is accomplished without a bit of sweat. And there’s always someone else who knows more than you do and can help you through the rough bits. Thank heavens!

Do you like gardening? If so, do you have any good tips for a non-gardener like myself?

Come visit me at for excerpts from my books, somewhat regular chatter on my blog, and the occasional contest where I giveaway goodies!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bad diaries happen to good people

Yup, I'm late for my Tote Bags 'n' Blogs post today. Thankfully, due to the fact I live in New Zealand (which, in case you didn't know, is about three days ahead of the rest of the world) this will probably go up just before the clocks strike midnight, so I might sneak by on a technicality!

Anyway, in honor of my slackness I thought I would talk about diaries and how they just refuse to work for me. And it's not like I don't try and make them work, because I do. Every year I buy a lovely new diary, and with good intentions in hand, I start to fill it out. Some years I even use my neat writing. However, without fail by the time April hits the diary is buried under a pile of bills (which probably would've been paid if only I had looked in that diary!) and once again my world is reduced to chaos. The weird thing is that in life I'm very punctual. To me, not being early is being late, but for some reason I can't apply this rather pedantic approach to any other part of my life.

And don't worry, people have tried to help me. One of my cps is a list writer from way back and she is always talking to me about the joys of crossing things off. Apparently a warm fuzzy feeling is connected to the task and she has even been known to write things on the list (after the fact) just so she can cross them off. However, like diaries, I've tried the list thing - actually I think I've even put lists in my diary from time to time, but the truth is that I'd rather get my warm fuzzies from watching David Boreanaz and eating chocolate.

So the moral of the story is, if you want me to do something promptly then you really need to ask between January and March because after that it's all downhill!!!!

Amanda Ashby

Fairy Bad Day - March 2011
Zombie Queen of Newbury High - chosen for the NYPL Stuff for the Teen Age 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bite Me ;-)

**In honor of this week's release of my memoir, WINGING IT: A MEMOIR OF CARING FOR A VENGEFUL PARROT WHO'S DETERMINED TO KILL ME (Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books), I thought I'd run a little piece that I wrote a few years ago that sort of launched the idea of writing this memoir...Be sure to check out the links at the bottom for some entertaining footage of Graycie in action!

My parrot wants me dead. She hates me. Proof is the triangular chunk of flesh now missing from both the front and back of my thumb, testament to the dangers of a beak that’s as powerful as an industrial metal-stamping die.

It seems where I’ve met with moderate success in parenthood--i.e. maintaining the upper hand in the relationship--I’ve failed miserably in parrot-hood.

Parrot-hood, you ask? Yes, in my case, that would be the state in which one must sustain a parrot.

Graycie, a too-smart-for-our-own-good African Gray parrot, came to our family from the wild, a Christmas gift from a relative living in Zaire 20 years ago. Graycie arrived on our doorstep--with a temporary stop in parrot prison (quarantine)--in good health but bad temperament. The first few years were arduous, as she was ferocious, snapping and growling at us when we got near. Who could blame her? Poor thing was chopped down from a tree and separated from her parents, stuffed into a crate with a hundred other terrified baby birds, and left to survive with little food or water.

Had I anything to say in the matter, I would have nixed owning a contraband bird from the get-go (back then most parrots ended up in the U.S. this way; shortly thereafter such means of parrot acquisition were banned). Nevertheless, I was determined to make the best of the situation, despite the fact that she arrived on the heels of the birth of our first child. I was having enough trouble dealing with the demands of a small human who needed my attention all day and night, so was ill-prepared to welcome a bird into the home who expected that and then some.

To some extent, Graycie's redeemed herself over the years. She’s become quite the talker: she puts my kids in time-outs when they get sassy, yells at the dog when she tries to eat her, and answers the phone in my husband’s voice. Ditto his burps and sneezes. Recently when I used a broom to nudge her back onto the cage from the floor, she pecked at my feet and the broom while repeatedly saying, “Hello gray chicken!”

For a while Graycie got somewhat nice. She let us hold her, sometimes even stroke her feathers. Unfortunately she’d scoot up my arm and perch behind my neck, precariously close to that vital jugular vein and far too inclined to poop on my back, so I didn’t make a habit of such visits. Maybe that angered her.

Lately she’s lapsed into a phase of oppositional defiance that has me vexed (and mysteriously at the vortex of her wrath).
My friend is convinced Graycie needs a boyfriend. She is a teenager, after all. I’m convinced she needs anger management therapy. Perhaps, though, she is really a he and is tired of being called a girl (back when we got her, the only way to determine a bird’s gender was surgically, so we just guessed at it).

Whatever it is, I know this: what she wants most is to wound me. Often. When I clear the paper from beneath the cage, she races down to attack me, and gleefully rips my hair out. When I reach to open the perch on top, she’s there before I complete the job, straining as far as her body can reach in order to take a chomp my way. When she sneaks off the cage on her frequent surreptitious walkabouts, she attacks my ankles and feet as I try to catch her and return her to home base. I'm the first to admit I can’t quite control her.

When I glance at her, she just gazes back with a cold, black stare that says, “You know I could snap your finger in half easier than you could break a Lorna Doone in two, beyatch.” And she means it. The old adage about not biting the hand that feeds you must’ve slipped right on past her.

So much for the parental guilt ploys, the “all that I’ve done for you over the years” nonsense. And in her case, all I’ve done over the years for her is plenty. For example: hydro-therapy and beak-fed antibiotics, three times daily for weeks on end, repeated every couple of months for years, due to the bird’s propensity to fall off the perch and bust open her breast bone (hence the name Graycie). Death-defying claw- and flight feather-trimmings (don’t ask). Bi-weekly cage washings.

Let’s talk about cage washing, which I last did when the temperature hovered well below freezing. This is a chore that under the most pleasant conditions (75 degrees, bluebirds overhead, daffodils in bloom) is not one that I embrace.

In 20-degree weather, water doesn’t come out of a hose readily. Mr. Clean soapsuds tend to cling in bubbly icicles, suspended mockingly from the brass rungs of the cage. Hardened bird excrement, which is supposed to wash away with the hose (and a lot of elbow grease), tends to freeze into little poopsicles on top of its already solidified state. It’s not a pretty sight. On several occasions I performed this task in the Orca-like third trimester of pregnancy in the dead of winter, water barely trickling from the hose yet managing to splash on my face and leaving behind cruel little icicles on my eyelashes.

I try to remind myself that I’m helping a fellow creature in need. But I know that to her, it doesn’t really matter. Because it seems that the only thing that would make Graycie happy is if she finally succeeded in maiming or dismembering me, leaving me to die in a bloodied puddle on the living room floor.

I used to have a sexy Brazilian neighbor named Carolina who made Charo-like catcalls at Graycie while shaking her booty before the bird. Graycie was smitten and allowed Carolina to not just pet, but actually fondle her. She’d scoop her up in her hands, giving kissie-kisses, lip-to-beak, making smoochy noises that churned my stomach. Like some green-eyed parent whose child prefers the babsyitter, I was wistful that Graycie chose Carolina over me, despite all I did for her. If I tried to put my lip to the bird, you’d soon recognize me as the one with no lips.

Now I wonder if Carolina had it right all along: she was simply a hot-blooded female (albeit the wrong species) coming on to a possibly male parrot and appealing to his/her more prurient interests. Maybe Graycie is a boy after all, and simply hates me for reinforcing misinformation…In which case, anyone know a sexy 20-something parrot looking for love in all the wrong places? If so, you know where to find me. Most likely in the ER, getting stitched up, or in the pharmacy, stocking up on Band-aids and antibacterial ointment. And maybe a little arsenic.

Here's a funny Graycie video

Here's some raw, uncut footage of her talking

and here's me talking about Graycie

Friday, March 19, 2010

Secondary Characters We Love - Kathleen O'Brien

I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite romance classics lately. I always notice something useful when I do this. I’m always struck by some piece of the author’s genius that I can then try to bring to my own writing.

The book I’m reading right now is NINE COACHES WAITING, by Mary Stewart. Do you know it? It’s a gem of a book, with a breathtakingly romantic love story between a simple English governess and a dashing heir of an enigmatic French aristocrat. It’s also an exciting mystery about who is trying to kill the lonely little boy the governess has agreed to care for. And, icing on the cake, it’s also a sublimely written introduction to the beauties of the Haute-Savoie region of France.

About a hundred valuable writing lessons lie in NINE COACHES WAITING. But the one that struck me this time was how important good secondary characters are to your story.

In NINE COACHES WAITING, the little boy, Philippe, is so adorable without ever being saccharine, so poignant without ever lapsing into bathos, that you fall in love with him almost instantly. All the secondary characters in this book are equally fascinating, whether good guys or bad. They’re so complete, individuated, and precisely drawn, that their fictional world becomes as solid to me as the one I’m actually living in.

Stewart’s brilliance made me think about other books in which the secondary characters are incredibly rich and add greatly to the main story. The first one that came to mind was Harry Potter. Could Harry’s world ever seem so real without Snape or Dumbledore or Mrs. Weasley?

I just saw Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The quirky Red and White Queens, the Mad Hatter, and, of course, the ever-popular Cheshire Cat have always nearly overshadowed poor little Alice. Certainly, without them, she would have no story at all.

And then there’s Pirates of the Caribbean…a movie, of course, but still a fictional world. In that one, it’s almost hard to judge who is the secondary character. Is it the love interest, Orlando Bloom? Or is it the whacky pirate, Johnny Depp? Maybe that’s another lesson. Can you actually make your secondary characters too good? Can they end up stealing the show?

What about you? What books or movies do you remember because the secondary characters were wonderful?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

On the Road Again : : Anne McAllister

This winter has been something of a blur due to circumstances beyond my control. Life is often like that and being able to roll with the punches is a good thing. I've rolled. And rolled.

Eventually things settled down. Time passed. And I realized a couple of days ago that, amazingly enough, I'm going out of town next week. I'd pretty much forgotten!

Usually I spend a lot of time thinking about traveling -- where I'm going, what I can do and see there. I wallow in guidebooks. I prowl the internet. I love reading about places I'm going and making tentative plans. And even when it's somewhere I consider a second home, I still like to think about it ahead of time.

Next week I'm' going to New York City for a wedding. This is something like a second home for me.

But even so, I wanted to wallow. There was no time.

Back when I first planned it, I did check to see what else might be happening in the city at the time -- and I booked a ticket to a play. That would be to see Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson in A View from the Bridge.

But then life got in the way (my mother got very ill, needed hospitalization several times and three changes of abode, but is now thriving, thank God). I promptly forgot about the wedding, the trip, the play -- the book I was supposed to start writing.

But now life has mellowed again for the moment.

The date of departure is almost here and I have yet to wallow. I haven't even really given it much thought. But I'm going to be gone six days. And while I've been to New York enough that for years I actually had a pediatrician for my kids there and a neighborhood pharmacy that knew their allergies -- I haven't been back a lot recently.

I did go and see Hugh and Dan (yes, Jackman and Craig) when they were doing A Steady Rain last September. I was there researching my George-the-physicist-hero research at Columbia, and they happened (fortuitously) to be on Broadway at the same time. But George is in production and Hugh and Dan have moved on to other projects.

So, I ask you -- what -- besides the wedding -- should I do?

Ideas? Suggestions?

What are your favorite things to do in New York? Or if you've never been there -- what would you do if you could go?

Are there plays you've been to that I ought to see? Movies you recommend that won't come to the sticks (where I live)?

Museums? Galleries? Walking tours? Street fairs?

Things I haven't even thought of yet?

Please save me from having to wander around aimlessly lfor the better part of a week.

I always have a great time in NYC -- but I know it will be even greater if you share ideas. And I'd love to be able to report back next month on your suggestions. And incidentally, I might see if I can figure out another book to set there as well.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Didn’t Really Want To Go To Dubai - C J Carmichael

Dubai is a long flight of 18 hours from Calgary, and there are lots of other places, a lot of closer other places that were higher on my dream list of vacations--like Ireland and Greece, and hey, I’ve always dreamed of cycling in France.

But I’d promised my youngest daughter, who was only nineteen, that if she went for a 3 month work term, I would come to visit. And so, after she left in the beginning of January, I dutifully booked my tickets and hotel, never dreaming that I was soon to embark on a fascinating, wonderful holiday.

Despite recent financial woes, Dubai still comes across as a fabulously wealthy, modern and cosmopolitan city. There are the one-of-a-kind buildings like the Burj Al Arab and the Burj Dubai ( the tallest building in the world...thankfully not open for visiting when I was there!). There are amazing modern malls filled with world famous fashion designers and more jewelry stores than I have seen in my entire life. And the restaurants provide some of the best food I have ever tasted.

My daughter and I were able to visit a roof-top bar at the Embassy Hotel, where we lounged on a white, slip-covered sun bed, the sweet smell of shisha in the air as we sipped exotic cocktails and had our feet professionally massaged.

But more than all the glamour, I appreciated the glimpses into historic Dubai. The labyrinth of souks selling gold and diamonds, bags of spices and teas, and beautifully fashioned textiles. The real heart of this city seems to be at the creek where we saw old ships piled with merchandise from far-away places...a reminder that most of what is consumed and sold in Dubai, is grown or produced in other countries.

Many people have asked me if I will set one of my future books in Dubai. Much as I’d love to write the trip off as a research cost (just kidding Revenue Canada!) I honestly don’t think I ever could. I feel like I have only scratched the surface of a distant place, a distant culture. But I’m very glad that, thanks to a promise to my daughter, I was at least able to make a visit.

If you’d like to see more pictures of my holiday, please check out my Dubai photo album on Facebook. And if you have any Dubai stories (or any exotic holiday story) please share!

C J Carmichael

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Michelle Styles: The Importance of Paying Attention

Over the past few months, I have been learning about the importance of looking after yourself and not just to ignore things. In other words, my mother had a point.

The upshot after a number of tests was that I have lymph oedema (edema in the US) of my left forearm. The best guess is that it is due to an overloading of my sluggish lymph system. The most common cause of forearm oedema is the treatment from breast cancer so thankfully I have not had to cope with that as well. The most common place to get oedema is legs. Think swollen ankles that refuse to go down.

Oedema is controlled not cured. Controlling is several part process including moisturising, wearing a support sleeve and glove, exercise and massage. Losing weight also puts less pressure on the lymph system. The main complication of oedema is a tendency to get cellitus ( a particularly nasty infection which requires 2 weeks of antibiotics and sometimes intravenous antibiotics). Little cuts and breaks in the skin can become a big worry. But once oedema is known about, the treatment is relatively straight forward. It is all physical therapy led. Interestingly, oedema is not caused by water retention and simply cutting salt from your diet/ a low sodium diet while it might be good for other reasons, does not help with oedema.

Because oedema can be a symptom for many other nasties such as cancer, heart trouble and kidney, you have to rule them out first. Basically, if you are suffering from swollen ankles that do not go down over night , or one forearm that is larger than the other, see the doctor.

Repetitive strain injury to the arms, wrists or hands hurts and you have little movement. Oedema does not hurt and you can move. Oedema starts small and takes a long time to progress. You might not even notice you have it, particularly if you think you are gaining weight. But in reality you gain weight all over and not just on one side of your body. So if one arm or leg seems larger than the other, get it checked out. Without treatment oedema just gets worse.

To lessen your chances of getting oedema later in life:

1. Do not cross your legs.

2. If you have to stand for long periods, wear support hose. Put your feet up on a stool at night.

3. Practise deep breathing and laugh a lot.

4. Doing those exercises that they give you when are flying helps. And you can do them at the computer as well in the airplane -- particularly circling your wrists and touching your thumb to each finger and opening your hand up. It is about getting the fluid to flow.

5. Take regular breaks from the computer.

6. Wear gloves when you do the washing up and gardening. If it is cold out, make sure you wear gloves or mittens outside to avoid the risk of frostbite.

7. When flying anywhere, consider wearing support hose etc. Certainly do the in flight exercises.

You can find out other ways to prevent oedema developing here.


Much to my surprise and delight, I discovered that the second Roman set novel I wrote A Noble Captive is an April Harlequin Historical Direct and ebook. Currently it is on special offer at eharlequin.
The blurb reads:
Roman soldier
Strong, proud, honourable – Marcus Livius Tullio embodied the values of Rome. Captured on the high seas and brought to the Temple of Kybele, he was drawn towards the woman who gave him refuge.
Pagan priestess
Fierce, beautiful, determined – Helena despised all that Rome stood for. In sheltering Tullio, she had to subdue her awareness of him – or she might confess all! The soldier‘s strength and nobility tempted her to lean on him, but she knew that to succumb would be to betray her people …

You can read the excerpt here.

I am offering a signed copy of A Noble Captive (or if you have read it, another of my backlist)

The question I would like answering is What are the names of the heroine and hero? (hint: they are mentioned in the blurb).

Please email your answers to michelle at with March Tote Bags in the heading. I will draw the winner on 23 March.

UPDATE: Denise S was the first out of the hat and I have sent her an email confirming. Many thanks to all who entered.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What "Hard Drive" Really Means...

I’m getting this post into the blogosphere a little late today—and with good reason!

This past weekend, while I was in the middle of working on my new book, ALL of my websites crashed. Yep, all of ‘em. At the same time, for different reasons.

Not only that, but I was also hosting a contest on my blog for folks to win Jenny Gardiner’s book Winging It, and a whole bunch of people were left fumbling around wondering how to win. I’m hoping to have the contest back up soon!

Anyway, I learned a lot this weekend. And now I’m taking a break from my long and ongoing ordeal to rewrite the definitions of common computer terms so people know what they REALLY mean….

So here goes:

Definitions of Computer Terms, What they really mean!

CSS: Computer Stonewalled Syndrome. Characterized by glazed over eyeballs, finger cramps, and a tendency to fall asleep while envisioning that HTML code is actually a favorite romance novel…

Hard drive: The trip to Staples when you know you’re about to spend at least a grand on computer software or repairs…

Hexadecimal code (aka hex code): A six digit code devised by computers that makes people think they are choosing code that represent certain colors, but instead they are actually choosing a series of evil curses (hexes) to put on hard drives.

HTML: Hard To Make Out Language. The official spoken language of web developers. They will insist on speaking it, even to those who cannot speak it with them.

Hypertext: The emotionally charged and hyped-up rant you send to your IT guy’s cell phone.

Navigation Bar: Where frustrated writers go to have a drink and/or the hop a flight to the Bahamas after a long weekend of being tangled in the Web.

POP email accounts: Email accounts that cause your computer to make odd little noises when they misfire.

Screen Resolution: When you decide throwing your monitor out the window is the best way to handle the situation.

Server error: When your kid is playing volleyball in the living room, and he spikes one at your computer.

That’s not my department: Encoded language, not just for computers. Generally means “You’re screwed.”

Web developer: High-paid professional whose job is to take your computer problems and tangle them up even more (or at least, give the appearance of extreme complication), thus creating a “web.”

If you like this list, please feel free to pass it along to anyone you might know who has also suffered computer mayhem! Or leave your own definitions below!

Exhaustedly yours,

Lisa Dale

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pick A Winning Combination - Christina Hollis

For a truly satisfying read, a story should appeal to the reader on more than one level. It was the promise of ‘international affairs, seduction and passion guaranteed’ that got me hooked on the Harlequin Mills and Boon Modern Romance/Presents line. Coupled with a happy ending, it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that was it - the famous formula for success. What more could anyone want? The answer is, quite a lot! We romantics know what we like - and that’s Character with a capital ‘C’. It’s not enough for a man to look like a cross between Johnny Depp and Rufus Sewell. Simple minded stud muffins need not apply! Our man has to have a brain, and a penchant for hard work - those billions might be his to play with, but he’s earned them on a rough, rocky road to maturity. We need to know there is more to our man than come-to-bed-eyes and designer fashion.

The same goes for our favourite heroines. In Modern Romance and Presents, the fainting couch is just somewhere she can lodge her laptop. Mind you, the very best heroines have always been independent,and known their own minds Pit a woman with determination against the right sort of hero and a story really comes alive. Take Gone With the Wind. Years ago, there was an anniversary showing of the film at our local cinema. My sister was mad keen to see it, but there was a strict ‘no unaccompanied under-sixteens’ rule in force at the time. The only three things I knew about the story at the time repelled me - spoilt heroine, Clark Gable (sorry, but I just don’t like moustaches!) and war. However, Sis offered me bribes of the chocolate-and-chores variety until I couldn’t possible refuse.

Thank goodness she made the effort. I was so affected by the sight of Scarlett O’Hara vowing to fight back from poverty and hunger, I went straight out afterwards and bought a copy of the book. Scarlett’s inner strength and determination persuaded me to put aside my usual short reads for a while in favour of Margaret Mitchell’s great doorstop. I wasn’t disappointed. Southern Belle she might have been, but no one was going to kick dirt in Scarlett’s face. Whatever you may think of her, you can’t be lukewarm about Ms O’Hara-Hamilton -Kennedy-Butler!

Who is your ideal hero (real or fictional), and who would you pair him with?

As a student Christina Hollis did once make an outfit from a pair of curtains, but has never admitted to wearing a corset (at least not in public!). At the moment she is majoring in the art of the afternoon nap...but only when there are no deadlines on the horizon.
Christina writes Modern Romance/Presents for Harlequin Mills and Boon. You can contact her on, visit her website: or catch up on Twitter, where she tweets regularly as christinabooks.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When others share the same passions

Isn't it terrific when you meet people who share something special with you? You know that fellow feeling when you discover a reader who loves the same style of stories or authors? Someone whose childhood reminscences remind you of yours. Maybe someone going through the same life-changing experiences as you (I remember bonding for life with other first time mums over discussions of late night feeds, lack of sleep, first steps and so on). Going to my first ever romance writers' conference felt like that - just wonderful.

Recently I visited Melbourne, a city I've always enjoyed. But what made it particularly special was catching up with some kindred spirits. Romance writers who love a good natter, a good book and are great company to boot! Here I am with the lovely Serena Tatti and Josie Caporetto. Serena and Josie are book lovers and writers, whose warmth always makes a trip south a treat. They're also wonderfully generous with their time and knowledge of all things Italian, which has been terrific, especially while writing my current book FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET-LOVE CHILD, which they're holding.

Josie and Serena belong to the Melbourne Romance Writers' Guild. You can see me with a few of the Guild members here. For anyone in the vicinity of Melbourne, interested in writing romance, look them up on the web. They're a dynamic and positive group who impressed me with their professionalism, their enthusiasm and their deep appreciation of chocolate! You can't see the chocolate in this photo, but believe me it was there. It was wonderful walking into a room of mainly strangers and feeling at home so quickly. Probably because of our shared delight in romance. And possibly chocolate!

Another major plus about visiting Melbourne is that my friends there share with me a robust interest in research. How can I write about fantastic Italian heroes in gorgeous settings if I don't fully appreciate the local cuisine? Just as well my friends know just the places to try Italian specialities such as fragrant coffees and cakes so devastatingly delicious I'm sure I put on weight just looking at them. But that didn't matter, for the time passed so quickly and I'm sure all that talk and laughter must have burnt off the calories. A visit to Brunetti's with women who know their way around the cake counter is an experience not to be missed! And just for the record, here's the cake counter, or one of them at least.

Do you have friends you meet up with after long absences and feel you've never been away from? What sort of things connect you? Shared experiences, shared weaknesses, shared sense of humor?

Annie's thrilled to have two books on sale at the moment. FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET LOVE-CHILD is an April Presents Extra that's available now. It has a luscious Italian hero who lives in one of the most gorgeous places Annie has ever visited. THE SHEIKH'S CINDERELLA is a UK anthology which includes her award winning THE SHEIKH'S RANSOMED BRIDE. If you want to find out more about either story, or enter her contest to win free books, visit her website

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ode to Autumn! -- Anna Campbell

by Anna Campbell

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.

How's that for a classy way to start a blog? Kant go wrong with some Keats, kan you?

Actually Keats was talking about a Northern Hemisphere Autumn. Here where I live in subtropical Queensland in Australia, there's not much mist! And the sun well and truly hit maturity when it was pounding down and baking us all through the summer.

We don't get the spectacular change of the seasons here that people in more temperate climates get. There's certainly a shift in temperature but it's hardly drastic. There's a few different plants flowering in the garden and the days get shorter. That's about it.

Nonetheless with the arrival of Autumn, there's a crispness in the air and a freshness to the days that you don't get during our long, hot summer.

I'm not built for the heat, sadly, so I suffer and whine from late November through until early March. All those Northern European ancestors put together a genetic package that is built to withstand Arctic temperatures. So I'm someone who hangs out every year for those first few cool days, especially through February when I feel like the sweltering, sultry weather is never going to end.

Of course, summer isn't all misery and there are things I miss about it before it rolls around again.

One is diving into my swimming pool as a nice break from sweating over my computer. Yes, that is me posing as a bathing beauty, snort! Another is that the wild bearded dragons who live in my garden go into hibernation and I don't see them again until the weather warms up. I love these little guys - it's like having mini dinosaurs hiding in the shrubbery. I miss the long evenings sitting out with my friends under the pergola and looking at the lake. Nothing like a lovely glass of sauvignon blanc and great company and a leisurely summer day.

But all of that finishes pretty much with Easter. I can sometimes squeeze in a week or so of swimming after the big bunny has been, but basically that's the end of summer for us.

But aside from the cooler weather, there are other things I look forward to in Autumn. And not just chocolate eggs!

I love the summer fruits, cherries and peaches and apricots and nectarines and mangoes. But my favorite fruit are the mandarins that kick in late March and hang around for most of the winter. I can eat them by the hundred - and I do. In fact, I turn a nice shade of orange during mandarin season. Well, slight exaggeration, but I bet my innards are orange!

Another thing I love about the cooler weather is that I replace my swimming with nice long walks. It's just too hot, even first thing in the morning, to go far in summer. And there are some pretty places to explore near my house. This is a picture my friend Sharon Archer (who writes wonderful romances for Mills and Boon Medicals) took of the beach five minutes away from me.

All round, I think the cool change will be extremely cool!

And if you'd like something new and fresh to read as the seasons change, why not enter my latest website contest? I'm giving away an advance reader copy of my June release MY RECKLESS SURRENDER. All you have to do is read the excerpt on my books page and tell me the old proverb that the Earl of Ashcroft quotes to Diana Carrick. Here's a clue - it's for the birds! Then email me on with your answer. For more details, please check out my contest page. Good luck!

So what's happening with the seasons where you are? I'm off to dive into the pool - feel I should take advantage of it while I can!