Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dear Reader - Dara Girard

The ‘Dear Reader’ letter you sometimes find in front of a book are always the most difficult for me to write. Why? Because I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. How much do I give away? What do I keep a secret? With my upcoming release, PAGES OF PASSION (October 26, 2010), I faced those questions and more.

I didn’t want to reiterate what the back cover blurb said, but how could I entice a casual reader in a bookstore to not just skim the pages, but actually buy the book? How could I catch someone’s interest online before they click to someone else’s book?

I thought about it for a moment—actually three days to be exact—then came up with some ideas. Maybe I could talk about research, but I didn’t want to sound tedious. Maybe I could talk about my inspiration, but writing ‘The idea just came to me’ didn’t sound particularly earth-shattering. So I decided to look to the masters for help and Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish novelist and poet, came to my rescue with this quote:
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.”
Perfect! I had my premise and the theme of my letter.

What do you like to find out in a Dear Reader letter? Do you read them? I’ll give an autographed copy of WORDS OF SEDUCTION to a random commenter.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mistakes Can Be Beautiful

We have moved to a house that is surrounded by Monterey pines. These are lovely trees, tall, imposing, thick bark like tire treads. Squirrels love them. Birds love them, hawks able to use the highest branches as perches. I am sure there are whole colonies of ants and beetles and other creatures using the trees--true ecosystems. The problem is, Monterey pines don't belong in Oakland, California. They are native to, well, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo. But here in the hills--and there were many Monterey Pines in Orinda where I grew up--they aren't native and it shows. For one, they are being infected with a tree fungus. You can't miss a Monterey pine with the fungus--it looks like it went in for a red dye job. It's a terrible thing, this fungus, but the higher heat away from the coast has aided and abetted it.

Furthermore, Monterey pines aren't great to have around houses. They have this tendency to drop branches--and the branches are big, the tree is tall, and there you have it--a hole in your roof. Moreover, Monterey pines fall. And they are big. When they fall, you feel it. Right on your roof. Hopefully, you make it out of the house.

Also in the Oakland hills are eucalyptus. Stands and stands of it. When I run, I have to avoid the slippery sides of bark, the little knobby seed pods. They like to drop branches, too. Check out any roadside in these hills, and you see a eucalyptus clinging for life at the side, usually leaning against a powerpole. We know the story of the ill-fated lumber man who thought eucalyptus would be his salvation. Wrong. But now it's too late--it's everywhere.

So you'd think I'd be an anti-native plant person. Anti non-native anything. You'd think I'd rue the day when the slightly romantic and potentially addled Eugene Scheffland, who wanted to bring to the U.S. all of the birds mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare, let loose his first bird. His worst mistake was the starling, which now blankets parts of the east and mid-west with bird droppings, the flocks enormous. Once I took a starling to the wonderful animal hospital I wrote about earlier, and was told they didn't take non-natives (the clerk took the bird home herself to nurse it!)

But here's what I really think about (after I stop worrying about trees killing me). I think of the earth as it was before we arrived on the scenes. As the weather and terrain shifted from geologic forces. Tectonic plates moving, ice ages coming and going, native being reinvented as each shift occurred. Plants thriving and then dying out.

I have photos of Orinda in the 1920's, the year the house I grew up in was built. There is nothing there but hills of golden grass (I'm making up the golden because it's a black and white photograph). By the time I moved in, in the 60's there were native oaks--but also a deodar cedar. Oleander (yikes!). Boston ivy. Juniper. Monterey pines (huge!). These aren't native, but people moved them in.

And how long are we to last? How long will this climate last here, keeping these plants alive? Probably not long.

Yes, humans have made huge human errors. The starling. The rabbit in Australia. There are some terrible mussels in the bay right now. But isn't it "native" to have human carry around their seeds, planting them where they stop? Don't we want the creatures around us that we are used to, have domesticated?

Can't some of these mistakes be beautiful?

We can be smart, be a little more conscious about our choices. We can cut down stands of eucalyptus. But we can also love the cedar tree, the scotch broom. The ivy twirling up the oak (squirrels love it). We can realize that we are only here for a little bit, that the planet makes the choices for us, whether we like it or not.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Monday, April 26, 2010

Blackwolf's Redemption: a very different Harlequin Presents - Sandra Marton

I love writing for Presents. I especially love that they’re always willing to let me try new things. So when, more than a year ago, my editor asked if I wanted to try something really, really different, I took notice. Two reallys? How could I resist? I asked what she had in mind.

She said that Presents was considering a mini-series called Men Without Mercy. I loved that title. It was pure Presents. She wanted me to write the first book. A different book. There was that word again. Different, how? I asked…

She gave me an amazing answer.

She wanted a retro book, a Presents in which a 21st century heroine is thrown back into the 20th century and comes face to face with a gorgeous, sexy, arrogant hero who thinks men are men and, well, women are women. Would I do it?

My reply? Just try and stop me!

The characters, the plot, the conflict, the theme of BLACKWOLF’S REDEMPTION came to me with amazing speed. My heroine? She’d be Sienna Cummings, a graduate student in anthropology. My hero? I know it sounds crazy but he pretty much introduced himself to me! Jesse Blackwolf. Part Sioux, part Cheyenne, part plain vanilla Westerner… and all man.

My story begins at an ancient site in a wild Montana canyon at dawn. Sienna and her colleagues are there to observe the start of the summer solstice, an event the ancients considered sacred.

The year is 2010.

Jesse Blackwolf owns the canyon. He’s there to observe the solstice, too, though he no longer believes in the ancient ways. His years as a Special Forces warrior have left him bitter. Still, something impels him to paint his face as his people once did and ride out to watch the start of the solstice one last time.

For Jesse, the year is 1975.

The sun rises majestically over the canyon. Its rays illuminate the sacred site. Lightning flashes in the clear sky. And Sienna falls unconscious.

When she comes to, the world she knew is gone. She’s alone, except for the half-naked, gorgeous, hard-bodied warrior holding her in his arms. He thinks she’s trespassing, that she’s there to steal artifacts. His assumption infuriates Sienna but her anger gives way to disbelief and then terror when, slowly, she starts to realize that she’s gone back in time……

I loved every moment I spent writing BLACKWOLF’S REDEMPTION. I very much hope you have the same reaction, reading it.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

High Flying, Adored by Caitlin Crews

I am flying to and fro across the country this weekend, which leads me to contemplate how much I dislike air travel, and how remarkably unpleasant it all is these days.

I remember when I was much younger and getting to take an airplane somewhere was a treat! Family and friends could walk you to your gate, have dinner with you, then wave you off. Food was plentiful and delicious when you got on board. Seats were comfortable.

As we all know, that is a thing of the past.

I'm sure this is one more reason why I love writing for Presents. Presents heroes do not take commercial airlines to get where they need to go. Perish the thought! They prefer private jets, decked out in the very latest in luxury. Like so:

I get to live vicariously through my heroines as they lounge about in these high-flying extravagances, far far away from the cattle call of the coach seat where I'll be spending some quality time this weekend.

In my new book, which is available right now on on the Mills and Boon website (you can find it next month in the UK and in October in the US), my heroine, Jessa Heath, reluctantly agrees to meet her ex-lover for dinner--only to be swept off to Paris in a luxury jet that I imagine looks a lot like that one. Tariq bin Khaled Al-Nur is a king and a serious problem for Jessa, who is convinced that she needs to remain safely hidden in her ordinary life if she is to protect the secret she cannot tell Tariq, no matter what.

Obviously, things do not go as planned.

Here's a little blurb to whet your appetite:

Her royal baby secret!

As treacherous and formidable as the desert he wishes to rule, Sheikh Tariq bin Khalid Al-Nur is furious that he cannot take the throne until he marries. But he cannot wed until he’s rid his dreams of the ordinary but bewitching Jessa Heath...

Jessa knows she and Tariq have unfinished business, but she is treading on shifting sands! What if she were to take control and allow herself the one night he’s offering? However, that’s all it would take to reveal the secret she has so desperately kept hidden…

Meanwhile, think of me in the friendly skies!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Perfect Reading Spot - Jean Brashear

Where do you like to read?

My answer would be: Anywhere, I must admit. Give me a good book, and I'll endure any sort of physical discomfort, spine torqued sitting across the chair, legs hanging off the side, not upright in it; stretched out over an ottoman, my neck propped on my hands (and killing me)...on a plane, in a car, standing up in my kitchen, riding the name it. There's only one requirement: a good book. Every day. Because I can't really breathe very well if I don't have something waiting to be picked up, should I find one spare second—can you?

Here are a couple of photos of my favorite spots, though: my cherished rocking chair, given to me by my beloved when our second child was born (we were way too poor when we had our first)

Or the chair I so often contort myself in, reading at night.

Where do I like to write? A whole 'nother question, mostly answered by these few words: Not. At. My. Desk.

Here's a photo of my newly-rearranged office where I am hopeful I'll change my mind. ;) (You have no idea how much I shoveled out of it—who knew my desk was that color?!?!??) I mean, I DO write at my desk—all the time, in fact—but it's not where I most love to be.

My old favorite spot was on my deck (and it will be again...once the live oaks decide to stop dropping pollen and tassels all over me.) This is where the gift of grace that became THE GODDESS OF FRIED OKRA first came to me...sitting in my wicker rocker with my Alphie in my lap, a glass of killer iced Mexican coffee derived from a recipe one of my favorite authors, Barbara Samuel, shared with me.

I carved out three weeks between contracts and gave myself permission to play after several years of back-to-back deadlines, just trying to see if I could remember what it was like to write for the sheer joy of it and not worry about all I know of the business of writing, what will sell, story structure...nada. It wasn't easy to let all of that go and just let the story pour (especially when I had no idea what I would write about) but out of nowhere came this woman, six-foot redhead Eudora "Pea" O'Brien, who had lost her job, her house and her boyfriend, all in one day—and she's on the road, set on finding the sister who raised her.

There's just one eensy problem: Sister is, um, dead. But Sister's psychic promised that if Pea would head toward New Mexico, she'd find signs leading her to the body in which Sister's soul was reincarnated.

Pea travels the back roads of Texas and, despite her vow to stay on task, begins picking up stray souls: a pregnant teen girl, a hungry kitten, and a sexy con man on the run from his past. Toss in feuding old ladies who vie to teach Pea swordplay and the art of frying okra, and Pea has her hands full. A recent review called it "Eudora Welty meets Sue Monk Kidd and they lunch with Fannie Flagg."

As Eileen Dreyer put it: the Southern Trifecta. ;) Since The Secret Life of Bees makes my Top 5 Favorite Books—ever—you can imagine how I swooned over that description.

Well, now I'm starting a new book, and I'd really, really like my deck back, thank you very much, Live Oaks...but for the next couple of weeks, it ain't gonna be pretty out there. I'd like magic to strike again, though, so I'm stacking the deck. Here's my new favorite writing spot I just discovered this morning (and it just might become my new favorite reading spot, too!):

What's your favorite reading spot? Do you have more than one? And if you write, where do you do that?


Award-winning romance author Jean Brashear brings a wistful, funny voice to women's fiction in THE GODDESS OF FRIED OKRA from Bell Bridge Books. "Wholly original, funny and poignant" ~NYT bestselling author Susan Wiggs. Details at

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Deadline Craziness Strikes Again - Barbara Bretton

Yes, it's that time of year and I'm breaking computers left and right, destroying printers, maiming scanners, wrecking cameras, obliterating hard drives, and sending our DVD player to the big media center in the sky.

Welcome to Deadline Craziness 2010. My manuscript is lurching toward the finish line. I'm downing caffeine and chocolate in alarming amounts. And no matter how willing the spirit is, the brain won't cooperate with anything but fiction.

So there won't be an installment of Grandma & The Prince this month but I promise a long and juicy one next month.

But before I go back to work, here's something to make you smile. Or cry. (But in a good way.) Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Confessions of a Game-aholic - Jenny Gardiner

(note the wacky family fun, above)

The other day we were sitting around, a little bored, and I almost offered up that the family play a board game together. Luckily, before the words came out of my mouth, I realized the error in my ways, and opted against such a ludicrous notion. But it got me thinking about a piece I wrote a while back for my newspaper column, so while it's not a cold wintry night any more, the sentiments still hold true!

These cold wintry nights of late have conjured up images in my head of cocooning with my brood, crackling fire in the hearth, ready to play Monopoly, Jenga or some other classic Milton-Bradley special.

There’s only one problem: I am a game-aholic. I have a real problem with board games. It’s not that I necessarily have to play them. It’s that if I do play them, I have to win. Now, I have children. And for my kids I am fully prepared to surrender my dying breath, my last drop of blood. A lung, a kidney, any other vital organ. To hurl myself before a runaway bus to ensure their safety and well being. But I’ll be darned if I’m gonna let them beat me at Parcheesi, War, or Scrabble.

I don’t know when this win-at-all-costs notion became so vital to me. I have fond recollections of playing Sorry, Yahtzee, Masterpiece, and Hearts with my family when I was a child. I don’t think that I was fixated on crushing the opponent back then.

Way back when Trivial Pursuit (old edition) was all the rage, I so dominated that game that winning was a non-issue. My brain’s mother load of useless trivial knowledge was finally successfully put to the test with that one. Even Pictionary was fun during its heyday, although my drawing left a bit to be desired.

But somewhere along the line, I developed a bloodlust for winning. Gamesmanship became second mate to kicking butt. Even if it meant leaving a trail of friendships in my wake, like Sherman burning his way to Atlanta.

Lately I’ve taken to enjoying most the games in which you blurt out the answer: that way I can ensure that I am at least the loudest at the game board, even if I don’t actually get to win. So not only do I tick off my fellow players, but I also leave them with a ringing in their ears that retreats only days later. I worry that if this keeps up, I could cause serious injury to someone.
I guess my way of avoiding the heated game-type fervor is by staying away from games altogether. Usually I politely decline and sit with a book whenever my family chooses to play. But every now and then, I succumb to the temptation. One roll of the dice leads to another, and the next thing you know, I’m sucked into the vortex of that old “crush the opponent” mentality. In the word game we play with the kids, I take their word “hair” and make it “chair” and gloat my way to the bank. My God, I’m like an alligator, eating her young.

Things are getting so bad that I fear my family hopes I get swallowed up in some Jumanji-type game in which the players actually become part of the imaginary play. So a herd of elephants will trample me and ensure that I no longer destroy family game night with my antics.

I think the solution to my problem is some sort of 12-step program. Perhaps while I’m at it, I’ll just tackle all the other addictions in my life. Sort of like an Over-Everything Anonymous kind of thing. One thing I’m worried about though: during the downtime at these rehab places, I’m not going to have anything to do. Hmmm, I guess I’ll have to pack a few board games and a deck of cards to bring along…

Monday, April 19, 2010

Scheduling Woes - Lynn Raye Harris

Depressingly, though Spring has arrived in all its wonderful glory, I have also contracted a cold. I haven’t had a cold in two years, and I can’t for the life of me figure out where I picked this one up. I’m a writer who stays home all day. I go grocery shopping, to the post office, and my RWA chapter meetings, but I’m pretty fanatical with my hand sanitizer and I’m not hugging random strangers. So where in heck did this cold come from?

No idea, but I do know it’s darned inconvenient. I have a schedule—and there’s no room for a cold on my schedule. I have too many things to do! I’m going to the Romantic Times Convention in a week and I still have packing to do. Not to mention the revisions for my latest book, which just landed in my inbox on Friday. There’s also the new book that’s due at the beginning of June, and the necessary shopping to make sure my husband doesn’t starve while I’m gone. Well, not that he would – he’d just order pizza every night! I’d like to keep his arteries clear, so I’m going to have to do something about the lack of easily prepared foods in the fridge and pantry.

I also have a hair appointment this week, and a tour of a rocket factory. Yep, you read that right: a tour of a rocket factory. I doubt I’ll ever write a Presents rocket billionaire, but one never knows—and I’m not the sort to turn down a cool tour. :)

Somehow, it’ll all work out. I’ll get everything done, and I’ll be at RT, hopefully looking incredibly put together instead of frazzled and haggard. ;)

If you’re going to RT, look for me at the Giant Book Fair on Saturday, May 1st. It takes place from 11:00 to 2:00 that day, and there will be over 300 authors in attendance. You can also find me on a workshop panel on Friday from 2:45 to 3:45. I’ll be speaking with several other authors on the topic of ‘Series: Tailoring Your Story to Sell to the Right Series Line’.

And now I’m going to go take a swig of DayQuil and keep moving forward on my To Do list. Come visit me at for a chance to enter my new contest. While you’re here, however, tell me about how crazy your schedule can get! Did you survive it? Got any tips for me?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Um, this is not what I ordered - Amanda Ashby

So yesterday it was my birthday and by some complicated time-vortex thing I have suddenly turned forty-two, which, I have to say, is completely ridiculous. I mean how did this happen? Even worse, I've had no preparation for this at all. When I was younger my friends were always moaning about how old they were. 'Oh my God. I'm like twenty-one. That's ancient' (okay, so perhaps they didn't speak like that since I grew up in Australia not in LA), but the point is that I never freaked out.

Not with thirty, not even with forty, but this forty-two business? Okay, now I'm freaking.

Even worse, there is no way that my denial systems can even kick in because when I look in the mirror, there are suddenly wrinkles there and when I jump out of bed too quickly my back lets me know that it was a bad idea. Which can only mean one thing. I really am forty-two (and according to some very wise people, there is no way I can ask for a refund).

In other, slightly less depressing news, last month Zombie Queen of Newbury High was named on the New York Public Library's Stuff of the Teen Age for 2010, which is a list of the 100 coolest books/DVDs/CDS/games from the previous year. I've still got no idea how a very uncool forty-two year old author such as myself managed to get on there, but if age has taught me one thing, it's take it without asking too many questions!

So, what about everyone else? Have you ever had an age freak out (and more importantly how long did it last and does it go away?)

Friday, April 16, 2010

When life gives you camels, get on! :: Michelle Styles

Last month, my family and I went to the Sinai Peninsula for a holiday. We had planned on going on several excursions, but not on camels. My husband dislikes heights and ever since the horse experience when we were on honeymoon nearly 22 years ago, I have never dared really suggesting that he does such a thing. So I want along with his suggestion that we book two snorkeling expeditions -- one to the Egyptian National Park at Ras Mohammad and the other to Tiran Island. The interest was more in seeing the birds than the fish as both my husband and youngest are keen birdwatchers. The proposed excursion to Ras Mohammad was no problem but the one to Tiran Island proved impossible. The tour company offered an alternative -- ride with camels in the desert, visit a Bedouin camp and see the stars.

So with very few expectations, we set off into the desert. The excursion turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Riding camels is very different to riding a horse. You get on the camel when when it is kneeling on the ground, and hang onto the pommel as it lurches upwards. You then have the option of riding astride or hooking one leg around the pommel. I personally found the hooking far more comfortable as my camel had a rather broad back. Camels also move differently to horses. They move two legs in tandem,when they are walking rather than each leg separately.

Once at the Bedouin camp, despite my fears that the experience might be hokey or even Disneyfied, the whole thing was thoroughly interesting. From drinking sweet Bedouin tea (tastes like sage but made from desert herbs) to smoking or rather choking on a shisha or water pipe to watching the sunset over the mountains and finally seeing the full moon rise, the experience will long live in my memory.

We even had an encounter with the Sheikh as my husband had brought his binos and various Bedouins wanted to take a look through them. In order to do that, they had to first have the permission of the Sheikh. At this point, I did think it a shame in a way that I am a historical author, rather than a Presents one!

So has anyone else been pleasantly surprised by an unexpected adventure lately?


On 7 May, my latest book Compromising Miss Milton releases in the UK, I am offering a signed copy to the first name out of the hat on 21 April to answer this question:

What are the names of the hero and heroine of Compromising Miss Milton?

Send your answer to

The back cover blurb reads: Marrying the Governess!
Buttoned-up governess Daisy Milton buries dreams of marriage and family life in order to support her sister and orphaned niece. But maddeningly attractive Adam, Viscount Ravensworth, is one distraction that shakes Daisy’s safe, stable existence.
Now ghosts from Adam’s past in India threaten Daisy’s future. Just what will it take to convince a tightly-laced miss to forgo society’s strict code of conduct…and come undone in the arms of a reformed rake?

And you can read an excerpt here.
UPDATE: Kirsten Steins was the first name out of the hat. I have sent her an email comfirming. Many thanks to everyone who entered.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Chocolate Tour : : Anne McAllister

Last month when I wrote my column here I was just about to head off to spend a week in New York City.

The one thing I knew I would be doing was attending a wedding. I fully expected to get lots of lovely research for my upcoming books from that experience -- and I am not disappointed.

But I was going to be there several more days and I wanted to get some research in. It was not specific to a particular story as the research I did in September was when I went there to spend time at Columbia University and get a feel for what my hero might be doing there (he taught physics after doing something far more dangerous in his previous life).

No, this time I was was trolling for future ideas -- sort of deliberately looking for those "ideas" that are everywhere that we authors ostensibly have no trouble finding when we are "getting our ideas."

Pretty much that's true. But sometimes a bit of judicious seeking out of venues and wandering around in neighborhoods primes the authorial pump, so to speak.

This time as no different.

One of the things I mentioned last month was that there were lots of walking tours of New York available.

Whatever you might think you are interested in about New York City, chances are someone has developed a walking tour that will help you learn more about it.

My friend Nancy and I had no trouble deciding which tour caught our eye. I mean, revolutionary war New York and Mark Twain's New York and The Ladies' Mile are all well and good. But really, would you take them instead of The Chocolate Tour?

No. Me, neither.

So we didn't. And bright and semi-early on Saturday morning we headed south to meet our guide and find out about some of the interesting specialty chocolatiers in Soho, Tribeca and the West Village.

As luck would have it, it was a blustery cold but clear day. A day in which 8 million or so other people had other things to do than go on chocolate tours. So Nancy and I got our very own guided tour -- just us!

We started out at Jacques Torres' shop in the West Village. It was the week before Easter and everyone at Jacques Torres's shop was in high gear preparing of the biggest weekend of the year. The bunnies were amazing. The baskets were beautiful. The chocolate was intense. We got a couple of deliberately chosen pieces which we took home to divide and savor. We were also given a small cup of extremely high content cocoa (like 68% as I recall) made with milk. It was powerful stuff.

But the most memorable part of Jacques Torres's shop was his take on Peeps.

They were dipped in chocolate, decorated with bow ties and dots for buttons and called Chirp N Dales. They were not only handsome, they were (trust me) delicious!

I didn't eat my Chirps there. I took them home with me. I might have left them to petrify on my kitchen shelf (next to my glass bottle of CocaCola from the 100th anniversary of the death of Judge Isaac Parker -- the hangin' judge -- of Fort Smith, Arkansas -- don't ask -- but the bottle has a longer shelf life than a bunch of peeps. And really, who could resist?)

Our guide, who was doing his first time at this particular tour himself, was a chef and had some interesting things to say about chocolate as we wandered from Jacques' across the bottom of Manhattan, stopping at a tiny Korean chocolate shop where five people could not fit in at the same time.

The owner and chocolatier was there to talk a bit about the very small batches of intense chocolates that she makes. And we chose, as a part of our bounty, a "creme brulee" chocolate that she insisted we would not be able to split.

"It is a single mouthful. It's too liquid. You will not be able to share it," she said.

But we brought it home, frozen it overnight, and split it very nice the next day. We are nothing if not resourceful. It was absolutely ambrosial.

Our next stop was a far cry from the tiny Korean shop. It looked positively European. Marie Belle's is full of exquisite chocolates of all descriptions, many decorated with tiny individual designs made by the her husband, a graphic artist. The rows of gaily colored chocolates in old-fashioned glass display cases were as visually appealing as they were mouth-watering.

We chose chocolates infused with saffron and cardamom, and had another with a hint of dulce de leche and one with lemon. Here we also got our second taste of hot chocolate -- this a 70% cacao mixture made with water. Definitely intense. It still raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

We also went back after the tour and had lunch at the small dining room in the back of Marie Belle's. Not chocolate, but definitely highly recommended. It was a treat.

A few blocks further on we were introduced to another chocolatier who introduced us to bacon and chocolate. Sounds rather weird, but was surprisingly tasty. Though I must admit that I was fonder of their take on what I would call English toffee.

The last stop was a little cheesecake factory -- not chocolate at all. But what they did with chocolate had to be tasted to be believed. We each got to pick a small one to take home. Nancy had one with all sorts of chocolate on it -- I think it was referred to as a "Rocky Road" cheesecake (though I don't remember marshmallow).

Mine was a key lime with white chocolate. I am not really a huge fan of cheesecake, but this could seriously have made me think I'd died and gone to heaven.

What exactly I'm going to do with all this wonderful information in a book remains to be seen. But I am confident I'll think of something.

I'm thinking a Chirp N Dale would make a good hero.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wild for Flowers

Fabulous news here from Northern NJ! My most recent release It Happened One Night (came out last fall) is going to be published in Norway! It Happened One Night is my second book, so you can bet I'm thrilled to be able to say I'm (imagine Austin Powers voice here) international, baby! Ye-ah!

There's more good news too. With spring, the wildflowers have come back. And I'm looking forward to learning more about those so-easily-overlooked little treasures.

Despite its wintry cover, much of It Happened One Night is set during the spring and summer on a beautiful wildflower farm in Vermont. I had to do a lot of research about wildflowers in order to write it. Fertility and flowers tie into the story. One sister in the book wants a baby but the other wants to travel the world (you can guess which one gets pregnant unexpectedly).

I love Vermont. The picture here is at a little mountain lake that my fiance and I stumbled across. A great place to write a poem and hunt for flowers!

Each chapter begins with a little factoid about wildflowers. For example:

Dandelion: Taking its name from the French dent de lion (tooth of the lion), the dandelion is a survivor that can withstand even the worst treatment from fickle springtime weather. Folklore says that if a maiden attempted to blow the seeds off the dandelion, the number of seeds that remained foretold the number of children she would have.


Sunflowers are loved as much for their many uses as for their beauty. The stalk of the sunflower is one of the strongest and yet lightest natural substances in the world. The sunflower is also a willful seedling: In the early 20th century, naturalist John Burroughs reported having seen a sunflower pushing up through the pavement “like a man’s fist.”

Learning about wildflowers really changed the way I write. When I started noticing flowers, I started appreciating the outrageous beauty that fills every single day in overlooked ways. Flowers made me pay attention--heightening my powers of observation and my attention to real life details. You might even say flowers made me a better writer.

If you're interested in flower folklore--and a story of romance and motherhood--I hope you'll put It Happened One Night on your list!

In the meantime, here's a tip!

Very soon, the REAL wildflower farm that helped inspire It Happened One Night is going to be giving away a Garden Lover's Gift Basket on my website. It's worth over $100.

There are two ways you can get involved in the competition.

1. Subscribe to my blog (and leave a comment while you're there to enter to win a free book!): Emails go out about once a week.

2. Subscribe to my mailing list. Emails go out only a few times a year when I host contests.

Happy spring and much, much happy reading to you!

Lisa Dale

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Writing for Fun - Donna Alward

I love writing.  I think I have the best job in the world.  I get to write in my jammies if I want, I don't have a's all good.  I love writing for Harlequin Romance as well.  The Romance line is a warm, feel-good place to be.  I'm surrounded by great authors and I have a fantastic editor.

But once in a while it feels good to mix it up and do something different.

That was the case when I started writing Sold To The Highest Bidder.  I wanted to write something just for fun. When I heard about the Samhain Cowboy Round-up call for submissions, I thought, oooh, perfect!  I surely could fit in a novella to my writing schedule, and satisfy that urge to break loose from my normal fare.

Only I never subbed it.  It didn't take me long to realize that this book was going to be a full length, not a novella.  It went through a few different versions, trying to see just what kind of story it was going to be before I finally settled on one I was happy with.  I'd just been assigned a new editor at Samhain too, and I had heard she liked cowboys.  It seemed...kinda providential.  So I sent it off with a wing and a prayer.

Lucky for me, my editor liked it a lot and today it hits e-shelves with the print version coming in Feb of 2011.

Is it different from my Romances?  In some ways, yes.  It's a little bit hotter.  It's set in the US, rather than in Canada.  It pushes a few boundaries I don't push in the Romance line....some of the differences are obvious and some are more subtle.  And yet I think anyone who reads it will realize it stays true to the way I write - an emotional ride with characters trying to find exactly where they belong.  And like any good romance, we all know that place is TOGETHER.  Geography rarely has anything to do with it.

All in all, breaking routine was really fun - and I hope you enjoy it too!  You can check out the deets HERE.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Statements about Stately Homes!

by Anna Campbell

Hey, check out the fabulous new cover for the Australian trade paperback edition of MY RECKLESS SURRENDER which goes on sale in June. Isn't that just delicious?

One of the things I love (yeah, all right, he's so handsome, I definitely love him, but that's kinda taken as a given, snort!) is that the house plays such a prominent part in the picture. In MY RECKLESS SURRENDER, Cranston Abbey where the heroine Diana grew up as the bailiff's daughter is like another character.

My vision of Cranston Abbey, the family seat of the Marquesses of Burnley, was more baroque and formal than the charming stone manor on this cover. That charming stone manor is more like Penrhyn, the house in CAPTIVE OF SIN with its history of smuggling and Elizabethan pirates and windows opening onto the ocean.

In my mind, Cranston Abbey is more like Chatsworth in Derbyshire, pictured here with its spectacular fountain. Or in setting, like Blenheim Palace which I must say for all its magnificence, was one of the most offputting stately homes I've ever visited. It's terrifically interesting but it's cold and so big, you can't really picture anyone living there and being happy. Given the history of some of the past residents, like the beautiful Consuelo Vanderbilt who became Duchess of Marlborough in 1895, that was definitely true.

The grounds of Blenheim are glorious, just like the grounds of my fictional Cranston Abbey. Here's an aerial view of that wonderful landscape, designed by Capability Brown.

One of the fun things about creating these fictional stately homes is that you get to steal bits from all over. Inspirations for the abbey's interior were the famous Heaven Room and Hell Staircase from Burghley House. I wanted that feeling of oppressive magnificence. I mean, look at this! I think it would be a bit much to face first thing in the morning before I'd had my cup of tea! And the idea of stumbling down this when I'd imbibed a little too much claret gives me the willies!

I love 'house' stories. A few that spring to mind are Manderley in REBECCA and Thornfield in JANE EYRE and of course, Wuthering Heights. The list goes on and on. Pemberley in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Tara in GONE WITH THE WIND.

It was such fun writing the house in CAPTIVE OF SIN and a different sort of fun (because Cranston Abbey isn't altogether a benign influence in the story) with MY RECKLESS SURRENDER.

Oh, and don't forget I'm giving away an advance copy of MY RECKLESS SURRENDER in my website contest which closes at the end of April. The question is really easy! Check out the details here:

So do you like stories that feature old houses? Do you have any favorites?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring Surprises - Christina Hollis

It’s been such a long, miserable winter in England this year, I began to think Spring would never arrive. Then all of a sudden the snow turned to sleet, then rain. The clocks went forward, so we wake in darkness but get the benefit of an extra hour’s daylight each evening. And then I got the news that The Count of Castelfino will be published as a Presents Extra title in July this year, and the author copies of my latest Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon, The French Aristocrat’s Baby, arrived. Better still, they weren’t alone! May 2010 also sees the re-issue of my very first Modern Romance, The Italian Billionaire’s Virgin, as part of a three-in-one volume with two of my favourite authors, Melanie Milburne and Trish Morey. Seeing those titles on the shelves around the time of my birthday will be an extra special present!

Here’s a taster from The French Aristocrat’s Baby:

Struggling chef Gwen flew to France to fulfil her dreams - she’d rather work herself into the ground than return to her smothering family. But all her determination can’t help her resist the intense gaze of Count Etienne Moreau...

‘You’ve come to apologise?’ she ventured.
That wiped the smile off his face. He grazed his lower lip with his teeth.
‘No...what for?’ He questioned. mystified.
Gwen was already crimson. She hardened her features. He mustn’t guess she was thinking about the way his muscles bunched beneath the fine gold skin of his chest. Fidgeting with embarrassment, she blew a stray curl of hair back from her brow with a gust of hot breath.
‘You know very well what for, Etienne Moreau.’
He gazed at her, shaking his head. ‘No, I don’t.’
She stared back. HIs ebony eyes looked so steady and honest she found it impossible to believe he was goading her. And yet she was being forced into saying things that made her blood boil with embarrassment.
She glared up at him malevolently. ‘You tried to buy me. You reduced me to the level of a bowl of bouillabaisse! You asked me to be your mistress!’ She hissed.
To her total amazement, his response was a confiding chuckle.
‘What’s the matter with that? As far as I’m concerned, that is one of the greatest compliments a man can pay a woman.’
‘Well, it comes pretty low on my agenda, I can tell you.’ Gwen snapped. The day was already warm, and she was getting hotter by the second.
Etienne managed to stop smiling, but could not hide the relish in his eyes. ‘That isn’t how it felt to me, last night,’ he murmured.

Copyright Harlequin Mills and Boon Limited, 2010.

I once considered becoming a chef like my heroine Gwen, but decided against it. That job comes complete with calories - it’s safer to write about cooking than indulge in it. I’m still in denial over the Shrove Tuesday pancakes, not to mention all those recent Easter eggs and Hot Cross buns. I shall have to start bounding around like the local lambs to work it all off!
What’s your favourite spring treat?

Christina Hollis is holidaying in the UK this Spring. Given the weather there recently, quick changes between bikini and Polar wear will give her plenty of exercise...