Sunday, May 30, 2010

Allison Winn Scotch: The One That I Want

I just finished reading Allison Winn Scotch's new book, The One That I Want and absolutely loved it!  I know we all have loads of books on our TBR pile and so many more titles on our to-buy list but I think this one deserves some extra attention so if you're at the bookstore soon, I hope you'll pick it up.  It's fantastic.  Very entertaining and so insightful.  I got totally hooked into the story from the beginning. 

What if you woke up one day to all your dreams coming true...but those dreams were more like nightmares?

Tilly Farmer is thirty-two years old and has the perfect life she always dreamed of: married to her high school sweetheart, working as a school guidance counselor, trying for a baby. Perfect.

But one sweltering afternoon at the local fair, everything changes. Tilly wanders into a fortune teller's tent and meets an old childhood friend, who offers her more than just a reading. "I'm giving you the gift of clarity," her friend says. "It's what I always thought you needed." And soon enough, Tilly starts seeing things: her alcoholic father relapsing, staggering out of a bar with his car keys in hand; her husband uprooting their happy, stable life, a packed U-Haul in their driveway. And even more disturbing, these visions start coming true. Suddenly Tilly's perfect life, so meticulously mapped out, seems to be crumbling around her. And as she furiously races to keep up with - and hopefully change - her destiny, she faces the question: Which life does she want? The one she's carefully nursed for decades, or the one she never considered possible?

I'm giving away two copies of Allison's book!  Just respond here to the following questions and I'll pick two winners in a few days.
What if you could see into the future? Would you want to know what fate has in store?

And if you get a chance, do stop by Allison's website ( and check out the cool contest she's hosting in conjunction with her literary agent, Elizabeth Weed.  I think it will interest all aspiring writers since Elizabeth has generously agreed to accept submissions and read all of them as part of Allison's contest!  Good luck!


***Estella and Virgina are the winners for this blog contest!  Congratulations, Ladies!  :)  Please email me at with your mailing address so I can get the book in the mail to you.  And my thanks to everyone else who commented!***

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What you answer to - Dara Girard

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I’ve always loved this quote. I learned that it’s not what someone calls you that matters, it’s what you answer to. When I was kid I was skinny (personally I prefer the term ‘slender’) and friends would call me Olive Oil and other such names in good fun. I didn’t mind it much in elementary school, but in middle school it was annoying and by high school the joke had run its course. By my mid-teens I’d filled out a bit and grown, but the name hadn’t. That’s usually what happens with labels, they stick. Fortunately, I didn’t let it. I ignored my name callers until they called me something else and they did--Party Girl…but that’s another story.

Unfortunately, Suzanne Rand, my heroine in WORDS OF SEDUCTION, hasn’t been able to remove the label her small town put on her years ago. She left there a frumpy, divorced housewife with little prospect and returns a successful author with gorgeous clothes and a drop dead figure. However, the town won’t let her forget who she used to be and she struggles to break free from the label. But she learns that it’s not how they see her that matters, but how she sees herself. In time she learns to embrace her new status and accept love.

I really enjoyed writing this component into the premise because labels belong on soup cans not people. As individuals, we have to tell the world who we are, not the other way around.

So, are there any old labels you’ve erased? Would like to erase?


Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Same Bench

The Same Bench

This morning, I sat on the bench seat in a restaurant I hadn't sat on since the fall of 2005. The server walked me over to the corner table and I was forced to suddenly remember as I slid onto the seat. I I tried to hold on to the now, but it took all I had to stay out of the fall of 2005 and focus on the spring of 2010. As I waited for my breakfast partner to arrive, how easy it would have been to slip into the despair and sadness I'd felt on that day over five years ago, the day my former spouse had been sworn in as a US citizen. There I had been on that bench, sitting with him, my son, my mother. It was an awful, grumpy day, one that should have been wonderful but was not because my then husband and I were separated. He'd asked me to come to the ceremony, and I did. He asked me to be there for him, but I was so not there. My body was there, but I didn't even want my body to be there. I was trying to leave, and he was trying to pull me back in. I couldn't be gone and I couldn't be there, so instead I was a bitch.

Today, the day cloudy and wet, the restaurant calm and almost empty, I stared out the window, looking at the cars and people passing by outside the window. I was not the same person who sat there five years earlier. I was not "not" there. I was so here, every part of me wanting to be where I was, even if it was somewhere not so fantastic (an okay café with okay food). This morning, I had no desire to push myself out of the life I had. No, I was content to take notes about things I needed to do, wait for my friend, sip my water, and remember that I had moved on, so literally. That woman I had been in 2005 was gone.

But also today as I sat at that table talking to my friend, I had a recollection, an olfactory memory. A man walked past our table, and I breathed in cologne. I remembered the way that my ex husband's face smelled after he shaved. He’d shave d the day of his swearing in, and I could see him in front of me once again. He was of the habit of shaving only once a week, and after he did so, his face was so soft and he smelled of Colgate shaving cream and a slight amber ting of after shave. I loved the way his face smelled and felt, and it was nice to have that memory come to me, softly. It came happily, not with sadness or remorse or upset. It was something good, in the place where something bad had happened between him and me.

Aftershave. After all this time.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Author in the Big City - Terri Brisbin

I have the chance to play ‘glamorous romance author’ this week in the place that could be called ‘heaven on earth’ to booklovers and authors -- Book Expo America in NYC! BEA is the professional convention/tradeshow for independent booksellers from all over the country to meet with publishers, their sales forces, meet authors and GET BOOKS. . . All kinds of books, from ARCs (advanced reading/review copies) to the finished products and all sorts of other forms for promotional reasons. Some won’t hit the shelves and stores for months while others have been out there already.

So, as a reader and long-time book lover, this place is heaven….second only to that town in Wales that is all bookstores everywhere (Hay-on-Wye) which is a place I WILL VISIT…but for now, I’ll enjoy BEA.

And, as an author, I get to sign and meet booksellers who sell my books….and other romances in their stores. These are key people in the business because, if they don’t carry romances, that means lost readers. So, I’ll be there, signing copies of my current Harlequin release and my current Brava release and shaking hands and talking to people who know romance novels and love reading them (and selling them) as much as I do….

And I’ll be getting some books, too! I mean how can I not turn into a fan girl when some of my very favorite authors (across the market) will be there signing their books? But the best part -- and the only one I really really want to meet is a new author….some of you might know him already from one of his other careers -- actor, singer, Doctor on General Hospital…yes!! Rick Springfield is scheduled to promote his upcoming autobiography entitled “Late, Late at Night” which fans will recognized as lyrics from his “Jesse’s Girk”.

If you hear some serious screaming, coming from the direction of NYC, you’ll know I got close enough to meet him….LOL! If not? Oh well, I’ll have some serious books to console myself with for months to come!

Terri is thrilled to be in a Kensington BRAVA anthology with Susan Johnson and Mary Wine this month and she’ll be signing that book at BEA on Thursday at the RWA Booth (#3484). Please stop by if you’re attending. She’ll be signing her April Harlequin Historicals at the Harlequin booth (#3922) on Wednesday at 2pm. For those unable to attend, she’ll be giving away a copy of each book to two random posters who comment and tell her who they’d like to meet in person,…author, celebrity, historical person, whoever!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

NASCAR Week at - Barbara Dunlop

Starting May 24th, eHarlequin will be celebrating the 2010 NASCAR continuity series with a week-long feature on the Harlequin blog. I was fortunate to be a part of the novella series with my second NASCAR story, doubly lucky to be in a volume with my friend Dorien Kelly. My heroine Olivia was Dorien’s heroine Claire's best friend. Olivia has Claire to thank for getting her involved in the exciting and close-knit community of NASCAR drivers, crew and families.

I began watching NASCAR races because of my husband’s interest in motor sports, and I quickly learned to appreciate the choreography of pit stops and the skill and dedication of the crew. In Shades of Love: From The Outside (August 2010), my hero Caleb is a pit crew tire changer, and it takes psychologist Professor Olivia Eason quite a while to see past her prejudices against tradesmen. I had endless fun playing with social divide between these characters and watching Olivia learn about life beyond her ivory tower.

If you’re a fellow NASCAR fan, or if you’re simply a fan of a good romance, you might want to wander over to the Harlequin blog at  I’ll be hanging out there this week along with other authors from the 2010 NASCAR series. The editors are hosting a contest where posters can win books. Readers can also try free books, including one free NASCAR book, at

If anyone has a question or comment on From the Outside, or on my Montana Millionaires Desire series from this spring, or really on any other topic under the sun, feel free to jump in here. I’ll pick a winner from the posters for the three book Montana Millionaires series. Otherwise, I hope to see you all at eHarlequin. Good luck in the NASCAR contest!

Barbara Dunlop

***Barbara's winner is Mary (miztik_rose)!!  Congratulations, Mary!  Please email me at with your mailing address and we'll get the books in the mail to you!  Thanks to everyone else who commented!***

Monday, May 24, 2010

This Is What A Deadline Looks Like by Caitlin Crews

My latest Presents is due in eight short days (next Tuesday! Yikes!), and that means I am in a little bit of a tizzy. Which looks a lot like this:

We have all the hallmarks of deadline-induced stupor and panic laid out here:

*Post-it notes with crucial thoughts on character that usually come to me in the dead of night, which necessitates me lurching up from bed and scribbling them out in the dark. They are only occasionally legible.

*Yesterday's writing with my notes scribbled all over the place. I go through the previous day's writing before I start on the new day's writing. This is the one step forward/two step back version of writing books that works for me, somehow.

*The desk itself, upon which I have written every single one of my published/to-be-published books, and my doctoral dissertation. I am very attached to this desk. I toted it with me from England all the way to California. I don't have many superstitions, but I really like that desk.

*A half-drunk mug of very strong black tea. One of many, many such mugs I suck down during the day. (Why no, I'm sure that has nothing to do with my inability to sleep sometimes, why do you ask?)

*My little chart tracking my daily word count progress. This is very psychologically important! And it must be written by hand!

*The actual stack of manuscript pages, which I keep near me at all times, because it feels good to watch that stack grow.

*My tired and dusty old keyboard which has several non-functioning keys that I am too panicked to replace at present. That will have to wait for June, when I leave the house.

*The manuscript in progress on my lovely big monitor. This is the main reason I don't think I could go back to a laptop. I like everything big, big, big these days.

*My Blackberry, should anything terribly important happen--in reality, I tend to receive only texts from friends.

*A Proust quote written out for me by a dear friend, next to a little plaque I made of the USA Today Bestseller List when I (to my great surprise!) hit it in February. Positive motivation!

*The series Bible of the continuity I'm currently working on, with all the bits I thought important for my character marked with green post its.

*My vast collection of pens and markers. The truth is that I do not feel secure unless I have a thousand writing implements to choose from. Another truth is that I generally use only that blue pen you see sitting above my keyboard. What can I tell you? I'm complicated.

What you don't see in this picture:

*Me in deadline zombie mode, complete with bag lady attire and crazy hair/eyes. There's no need to scare the children with any photos of that.

*The great vats of chocolate I consume to get me through the writing. Why don't you see said vats? Because I ate them all.

*My poor husband, who has to deal with all of this, and my crankiness and absent-mindedness besides.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reading Binges

I love to read, don't you? It's my favorite form of entertainment, ranked well over movies, TV and even music. Like many readers, I have my auto-buys and my favorite authors. And then there are the series'.

Oh, man. The series. The only thing better than reading a book by one of my favorite authors is revisiting my favorite characters again in a new book. Eve Dallas. Harry Potter. Stephanie Plum. They're like old friends we get to hang out with again whenever a new book is released, aren't they?

I love those visits. My only problem is that as soon as I see a new release is about to hit the shelves, I want to go all the way back to the first book and read forward - to revisit each one. By the time the seventh Harry Potter book was out, the binding in book one was trashed from reading so often.

Even though I know I'll spend more time re-reading all those earlier books in the series, I love them better than stand alones, I think. I love writing them, too. My first two books, Double Dare and Does She Dare? were connected, as were my fourth and fifth - Coming on Strong and Going Down Hard. Its great to be able to add that extra layer of familiarity, of being able to hang out with characters again or the fun of writing deeper, over-arching plots that multi-books allow.

So how about you? Do you ever go on reading binges? Do you start a series and have to read it from book one all the way through to book number whatever has just been released? Or is that just me?

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

Inner Beauty - Leslie Dicken

"Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical." ~ Sophia Loren

One a recent interview at a different blog, I was asked the following question regarding my latest release BEAUTY TEMPTS THE BEAST:

One of the strongest themes in your book, in my opinion, was Inner Beauty versus Looks. Do you truly believe in that?

I could answer that easily. The book was titled after the classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for a reason. I firmly believe that true beauty shines through a beautiful soul. I have seen many examples in my life where physical beauty covers an arrogant or unfriendly soul, while someone who is not so gorgeous on the outside has a wonderful inner beauty. I think if people take more time to get past the outside looks of a person, they will often be rewarded.

In the book, the hero has a scar down the length of his cheek. The villagers label him a monster. He believes it of himself, especially since the night he got the scar connects him to horrible images and flashbacks. Only one person is certain of the true nature of the hero and that is the heroine. She believes it, not because of his external looks, but because of his inner beauty. And she sets out to prove to him that he is not the monster he believes he is.

In the Disney version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the hero was cursed to look like a beast for his callous act towards an ugly old woman. For the next ten years he believes himself to be this beast and frightens off anyone who comes near. Who would love a beast? Then Belle enters the castle. Little by little she draws out the man underneath, the man he can be when the shackles of exterior looks are taken away. Belle falls for "the beast" even though his looks are still hideous. On the other side, there is an extremely handsome villager named Gaston who wants to marry Belle. While he looks superior on the outside, his soul is mean and selfish. Belle chooses inner beauty over outer beauty. And her love for the Beast breaks his spell.

That story is one of my favorites and the theme shows up often in my works. Do you have some examples of when inner beauty clearly outshone physical beauty? What is your favorite theme to read or write about?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Emotionally Wounded Heroes = Hot Romance Reading - Elizabeth Amber

My heart goes pitter-patter over an emotionally wounded hero. One who has been tested by some terrible fire in his past and emerged as a strong, sexy, alpha male. Why do we empathize with wounded heroes? Because they harbor deep secrets and have dark, murky, mysterious pasts. Because they need a good woman to help them heal.
In my June release, Dane, The Lords of Satyr, Dane is such a hero. I like to write unusual situations and didn’t want him to have a problem I’d already read too often. When a friend gave me a stack of her Entertainment Weekly magazines, I saw an ad for The United States of Tara on Showtime. Tara has dissociative identity disorder, which used to be called multiple personalities. I’d read the book, Sybil, years ago about a woman with the disorder. I instantly knew this was what I’d write about and started researching.

My satyr novels are set in 19th century Italy, and I discovered there was great interest in this topic around 1880, the same year the Roman forum excavations were in high gear. It’s around this time that Jekyll and Hyde was written.
Dane is “missing” a year. When he was twelve, he and his younger brother disappeared. Although Dane reappeared a year later wandering the Roman forum ruins, his memories of that missing time are locked within an alternate personality named Dante. This personality only surfaces during carnal engagements, when he acts in Dane’s stead and usurps his enjoyment of them. Dane and Dante are one in the same. Fragments of a single mind. Possessors of one body. Dane trained as a tracker, and has defected from ElseWorld to join his older brothers in Rome. There’s more than one secret stirring inside him and there are pressing reasons he must know his past. His missing younger brother will soon turn 18, the age at which the satyr first change physically and are driven to take part in the ancient rituals dedicated to the Roman god of wine, Bacchus. The secret to his whereabouts is locked inside Dane. The clock is ticking.

To compound the complications in his life, the satyr who masquerade as human in EarthWorld are in danger of exposure, so Dane and his brothers are compelled to seek out human brides to further entrench themselves in Roman society. Eva, a matchmaker from ElseWorld, arrives to aid in their selections, and though she is far from human herself, she just might be Dane’s perfect match!

Five of my favorite wounded romantic heroes in fiction are:

Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre

Cam in Lora Leigh’s Wicked Pleasure

Gabe in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Dream A Little Dream

Edward in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight
Who are your favorite wounded romantic heroes in books or movies? What is it about them that appeals to you? Why do they touch your heart? Would you want to be in a relationship with one of them?

Elizabeth Amber is the author of the popular Lords of Satyr novels, erotic historical paranormal romances published by Kensington Aphrodisia. Enjoy excerpts at

One randomly selected commenter will win a copy of Elizabeth Amber’s new erotic historical paranormal romance release, DANE, THE LORDS OF SATYR, which is an RT Book Reviews (Romantic Times) TOP PICK in the June issue (4.5 stars).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

SLIM TO NONE is here!

by Jenny Gardiner:

Hey all! I haven't even put this up on my website yet but I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK OUT!!! The title is SLIM TO NONE and details follow, as well as a sneak peek of chapter one.

This one I've put out in a different sort of way--it's exclusive on Kindle (though you can also get it through the Kindle app for iPad and iPhone as well as for download to your PC) till July, then will be available unlimited for all e-readers and as a POD (publish on demand) through Ingram's, one of the major book distributors. My literary agency launched a digital imprint and I decided to put this book up with the debut of the line. I LOVE this book and know that you will too!!

Here's the premise:

In SLIM TO NONE, Abbie Jennings is Manhattan's top food critic until her expanding waistline makes staying incognito at restaurants impossible. Her cover blown on Page Six of the New York Post, her editor has no choice but to bench her—and suggest she use the time off to bench-press her way back to anonymity. Abbie’s life has been built around her career, and therefore around celebrating food. Forced to drop the pounds if she wants her primo gig back, Abbie must peel back the layers of her past and confront the fears that have led to her current life.

I loved the idea of taking this character who has to eat for a living and then make her not be able to eat in order to continue being able to eat for a living. You got that? The book is funny, sweet and poignant and I really hope my readers will be able to get hold of an e-reader to check this out!!

Here are some author blurbs on it:

With a strong yet delightfully vulnerable voice, food critic Abbie Jennings embarks on a soulful journey where her love for banana cream pie and disdain for ill-fitting Spanx clash in hilarious and heartbreaking ways. As her body balloons and her personal life crumbles, Abbie must face the pain and secret fears she’s held inside for far too long. I cheered for her the entire way.

Beth Hoffman, bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Satisfying as a Thanksgiving dinner at Mom's. ... Jenny Gardiner's heroine gives us a sarcastic but provocative look at our love-hate relationship with food. You'll eat this up in one sitting.

Ad Hudler, bestselling author of Househusband and Man of the House

Jenny Gardiner has done it again - this fun, fast-paced book is a great summer read.

Sarah Pekkanen, author of The Opposite of Me

And check out a sneak peak of the first chapter on my blog

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Grandma & The Prince - Part 17

That's the 1930 Census for Glen Cove, Long Island. Look down near the bottom of the form and you'll see Max Glassberg, his wife and children, Edith Morgan and her son, and Charles Dimler. Grandma's secret laid out for everyone to see if I'd only known where to look.

Sometimes the answers are right there in front of you but you're not asking the right question.

You already know my Grandma El loved to share her stories. Sometimes she shared them in embarrassingly intimate detail. But who knew she left out the best story of all.

The thing is, all families have secrets. My best friend used to tell me wonderful stories about her big extended Italian family. Love and death and family fights, all the stuff that I, a budding novelist, soaked up like a human sponge. But there was one story I found impossible to believe. It seemed her cousin Annette grew up as the spoiled, happy, only child of my friend's Aunt Fran and Uncle Bill. Annette knew chapter and verse about the day she was born, how much her parents wanted her, how she looked like her mom but acted like her dad. The usual loving details we all hear when growing up.

Except for one thing: Annette only knew part of the story. It turned out Annette wasn't Fran and Bill's biological daughter: she was the daughter of Fran's baby sister Anita who had "gotten in trouble" at 15 and given birth to Annette who was adopted immediately by Fran and Bill and claimed as their own biological child. How they managed that in a tightknit, gossipy neighborhood is anybody's guess--especially since everyone in both families knew the truth.

I mean, even I knew the truth and I was just a friend.

Well, one day somebody let something slip and Annette found out the truth. She was twenty-seven years old and devastated. Her entire world had been turned upside down and she no longer knew who she was or where she belonged.

Oh, I had so many problems with that story. Who could keep a secret for so long? You mean, nobody in that family even hinted at The Big Secret over the years? Was Annette really that surprised or had she pushed her suspicions to the back of her mind and ignored them? I mean, how could you not suspect something was brewing? Besides, she was still Annette. Her parents were still the couple who loved and raised her. Why all the drama?

It took awhile but I found out the hard way.

I sold my first book in 1982 and the experience was everything you'd hope it would be. My family was ecstatic for me and a few weeks after I got The Call, my mom put together a celebratory dinner for me at their apartment in Queens. Grandma El was there, of course, and so was my Grandpa Larry. (Remember their romance back in the 50s? My dad's mom and my mom's dad--oy!) My aunt Mona was there too (El's daughter) and like the rest of us she enjoyed the champagne. Maybe a little too much because at one point she lifted her glass and said, "I could say something right now that would blow this family apart." Which struck me as utterly ridiculous--so ridiculous that I started to laugh right there. Everyone laughed with me and the moment passed but for some reason I never quite forgot it.

Now cut to early 2001. My dad was in the last stages of his battle with colon cancer when my healthy, never sick mother was diagnosed in late March with pancreatic cancer and died less than six weeks later. I don't have to tell you what that did to our family, especially to my dad. My husband and I did everything we could to help him through it but his grief was devastating. Mostly all we could do was be there for him and hope it helped at least a little. About ten days after my mother died, I took my dad out for breakfast at the diner and then we went back to his place to watch tv and talk. He was at that stage of grief where he would suddenly burst into heart-wrenching tears then snap out of it a second later. Totally uncontrollable, a little unnerving, but very much to be expected.

So when he started to cry as I made him a cup of coffee I wasn't surprised. But then when I sat down and he took my hand and said, "I have something to tell you. You might hate me when I'm done and I understand. We did the best we could but--" and then started crying again--well, my imagination went in a million different directions. Mostly I had the most awful feeling that I wasn't my mother's daughter. She'd lost babies before me and after me. I'd never seen a photo of her pregnant with me. I looked so much like my father it was almost scary.

"Oh God," I said, my voice trembling. "Mommy didn't give birth to me, did she?"

He looked at me for a second before a little smile broke through. "She definitely gave birth to you."

Where was this going? "You didn't have an affair, did you?"

He started crying again and I'll tell you I died a little inside. Some things you just don't want to know.

"It's nothing like that," he said. "It's about Grandma."

"Grandma? Grandma's been dead for twelve years." Why would some secret about Grandma El make him cry today?

And then he told me the truth they'd all be hiding since 1935: Grandma's first husband wasn't her adored Bert Fuller, the rich man's son from Halifax who adored her right back.

Her first husband was a 25-years-older Romanian Jewish tailor named Max who lost his business, his savings, his hope during the Depression and left his family while he went away in search for work.

"Abandoned us," is the way my dad put it, but without bitterness or irony. It was the Depression. These things happened. Marriages broke apart. Families crumbled. Dreams were destroyed.

"So why the secrecy?" I asked my dad as I tried to take in my new reality. "I know Grandma wasn't anti-Semitic. Why didn't she ever tell me?"

But, as you'll find out next month, some secrets take on a life of their own.

<==My Uncle Cass behind the wheel of some fancy-schmancy car on the North Shore (Gatsby territory) of Long Island

PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and I can be found here and here and on Facebook too. SPUN BY SORCERY, the third book in my Sugar Maple series of magic-and-knitting books will be on the stands in November.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A tote bag and dogs- Kandy Shepherd

People ask me why I wrote dogs as central characters in both my first book for Berkley Sensation LOVE IS A FOUR-LEGGED WORD (available now) and my second, HOME IS WHERE THE BARK IS (on sale July 6). The answer is simple, animals are such an important part of my life that they sneak into everything I write. I like reading stories with animals in them and so, it seems, do my readers.

In LOVE IS A FOUR-LEGGED WORD, Brutus the millionaire mutt is a very greedy, naughty little dog who inherits a lot of money. He is as important a character as the hero and heroine, feisty chef Maddy and lawyer Tom O’Brien who are thrown together because of Brutus. In HOME IS WHERE THE BARK IS, the “cover” dogs Mack, a sad-eyed black mutt, and Bessie, a purse-sized Yorki-poo, play an important role in bringing together gorgeous dog nut Serena Oakley and hunky PI Nick Whalen. (Serena is Maddy’s best friend in the first book.) As Serena runs a doggy daycare, there are lots more dogs, too, quite the chorus of them in fact! (Serena has a cat, too...)

My doggy characters don’t talk. We don’t see inside their minds. They’re animals. Not people. But like the real animals I love, my fictional four-legged characters have distinct personalities with their own quirks and loveable qualities.

I had to be careful writing both LOVE IS A FOUR-LEGGED WORD and HOME IS WHERE THE BARK IS, that the doggy characters didn’t overwhelm the developing romance between hero and heroine. The animal characters are the delightful extras. That said, the reactions of the humans to the animals—and vice versa—can give great insight into the human’s personality—I have a lot of fun writing those scenes! I couldn't fall in love with a man who wasn't kind to animals and I don't expect my heroines to, either...

How do I research my canine characters? My best research is a lifelong love of animals. I’ve had dogs and cats in my life since I was a small child. There was a parrot, rabbits and even a white mouse (not the best choice of pet to cohabit with cats…) My daughter has horses and I’ve learned to love them too. Then there are our two miniature Dexter bulls, Squirt and Thimble, who are nothing short of adorable! Thinking of animals as characters who have their own stories is second nature to me. On this page, I’m sharing with you some of the wonderful animals who share my life: Miss Molly (dog), Cindy (cat) and Banjo (pony).

In honor of my guest visit to Tote Bags ‘n‘ Blogs, I’m giving away a smart HOME IS WHERE THE BARK IS tote bag with a signed copy of LOVE IS A FOUR-LEGGED WORD inside. Leave a comment here about an animal who is special in your life and I’ll pick a winner.

Monday, May 17, 2010

New Zealand Music Month

In New Zealand, all of May is dedicated to celebrating homegrown music so I thought I'd share a song that is written and sung by one of my favorite NZ singers, Gin Wigmore. She wrote this when she was sixteen after her father died and she went on to win a US based International Song Writing competition, beating off 11,000 other people. It's an incredibly beautiful song and to be honest I have no idea how she sings it without crying. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this and if you get the chance to see Gin in concert then I can definitely recommend it. She is so hugely talented.

So are there any NZ music fans out there? If so who is your favorite?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Michelle Styles: The Road Less Travelled

As some of you will know, the unprecedented flooding in Nashville earlier this month has caused the Romantic Writers of America's conference to be moved to WDW Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando Florida. The literacy signing will now take place on 28 July from 5:30 - 7:30 pm at one of the main meeting areas. (The list of authors who will be signing their books should be up in the next week or so!)
All kudos to the RWA staff who managed to get the conference moved.
The problem for me in the UK was that because of other things happening in the world, my travel agent had not heard of the flooding and didn't understand what was going on. (In fact the floods were only really reported in the Times yesterday!) I was informed that it would not be possible to move my non refundable ticket and in fact it is never done. They were very sympathetic but...there were rules.
Needless to say on 6 May, I was in tears, particularly as I could not afford another ticket and it looked like the travel insurance would not pay. But I hadn't become a published author by giving up at the first hurdle. I phoned the airline --American Airlines -- and asked. AA were brilliant. They said -- not a problem, a policy was in place and I would be covered. However, because I was travelling from overseas, it would have to go through my travel agent and if they didn't know how to do it, they should release the booking so AA could make the change. With reservations booked through travel agents, airlines can only make changes once the travel begins.
I phoned the travel agency again. This time I was told I was a stupid woman who knew nothing about the travel industry and that the airline was lying. I told them to check. The supervisor phoned back and said he had but no dice. I phoned AA again and spoke to a lovely woman who said that she would put a note on my file and to tell the travel agent to check my file. I phoned the travel agent again. He looked, saw the words Natural Disaster and said he'd get back to me either that night or the next morning. Eventually, it did get sorted...
I do get to go to the ball as it were. And if anyone happens to be at the literacy signing, please stop by and say hello!
So what did I learn:
1. When there is a major disaster, the airlines do put a policy in place and are able to do one time flight or destination changes for free IF you have proof that the reason for travel has changed. For example in this case, I no longer had any reason for going to Nashville but needed to get to Orlando. The RWA were brilliant about providing the proof. In Britain, this is covered through various codes of conduct. Disinclination to travel is something different.
2. Travel insurance is only really good for personal travel problems -- for example if a close relative dies or becomes ill, medical emergencies, rather than for major travel disasters. Major ones are covered above.
3. Do not attempt to go off piste and make your own travel arrangements once you hit a snag as you might not be covered. Allow the airline to solve the problem. They have insurance for this sort of thing.
4. Be persistent. Do not be fobbed off when you know it is not right. Ask to speak to managers, rather than front line staff. Keep a record of the person you spoke with.
5. Only using part of a ticket is no good. The minute you do not show up for a flight, you are classified as a no show and all of the rest of your ticket is cancelled. This is why I actually had to change the ticket and not just use two thirds and buy another ticket. Apparently this practice can cause huge problems for around the world travellers.
6. If someone doesn't phone you back, phone them. In my case, I waited because the RWA did formally inform the airline on the Monday of the problem. It turned out the supervisor had done the change on the Thursday but became ill and forgot to put any notes in my file, so it wasn't until the Tuesday I found out that it was sorted.

I will be complaining to the travel agency's head office and despite having used them since 1985 for long haul flights, I won't be using them again. Service counts.

And as a final note: when I went to the Sinai in March, there were problems with the airport's computer system and we didn't get our meals on the flight out as we were not seated in rows which had prebooked meals. It wasn't a big deal but as I was writing to the tour company to praise their staff in Egypt, I mentioned it. They took it seriously. The airline, Thomsons has apologised and refunded the cost of 4 meals, plus added a good will voucher to be used in the future. I know I will be using Classic Collections in the future because their service is so good.

Michelle Styles's latest UK release is Compromising Miss Milton and her latest NA release is An Impulsive Debutante. Both of which involved holidays -- Victorian style. Her latest Australian release is a 3 in 1 and includes The Viking's Captive Princess, Compromising Miss Milton and A Question of Impropriety.

The Incredible Shrinking Library

Hi all,

I’m in crunch time as I write this—a new book due on my editor’s desk in 15 days (egads!). As backed up as I am, it’s been a great month. The truth is, I LOVE being busy with writing.

But I did take a moment out of my week to make time to do something important to me—and that is, go to a town council meeting in defense of my local library. My little library is facing big budget cuts, not only from the state, but from the town as well.

And while I totally understand that everyone is making reductions these days, my town council’s decision to cut almost half a million dollars from the library (on top of state cuts) really set my world spinning—especially because that same town council voted to spend much more than that in the last year revamping the town tennis courts instead.

At the meeting, everyone got up and spoke about why the library was important to them. Some said it’s important because they were jobless, and with no money to pay for the internet, there’s no way to job hunt online without the library.

Others spoke of how important the library is for children—for researching science projects, for teaching discipline, for supporting the love of reading.

My own love for libraries developed early on. In middle school, I walked to my town’s little brick library every day after school. I remember what a thrill it was when I moved from browsing in the YA section to the adult section. I stumbled across some of my favorite authors in those years, began to love poetry, and no doubt the seeds that ultimately made me want to write books were planted there.

When I go to the library now, I feel as if there’s a charge in the air—so much possibility and potential—the whole world literally at my fingertips. The library gives and gives. And I mean to give back.

So tell me – Are you a library supporter? What memories do you have from the library?

One randomly selected commenter will win a copy of my newest release IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT! I'll stop back on Sunday and pick a winner - watch for the announcement in the comments section.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What is it about Texas? - Kathleen O'Brien

On paper, I’m a Florida gal, born and bred. But for the past couple of years, as I wrote TEXAS BABY, TEXAS WEDDING and TEXAS TROUBLE, I’ve been in a totally Texas state of mind…or should I say state of heart?

I’ve always known Texas was more than just a place, more than just a spot on the map. It has always held a special glamour for all of us. Its history carries the weight of myth. Its people possess a touch of the truly heroic.

And the men…

Oh, the men. I grew up knowing that the tilt of a cowboy hat could tell you everything about the man beneath. Texas heroes had irresistible, rakish white smiles in wind-tanned faces. They had lean, strong bodies they knew how to use. They weren’t afraid of dirt or hard work. They had profound, almost primal, connections to the land and the horses and the stars. They were courteous and loyal, and they played a mean hand of poker. They drank hard, shot straight, and were unflinchingly kind to little boys, old dogs and widows.

And, of course, they looked like James Dean, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, James Garner, Mel Gibson, and Michael Landon.

Come to think of it, I can’t understand why it took me so long to decide to write a Texas series! And, now that it’s over, I don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to this fantastic state.

To celebrate the release of TEXAS TROUBLE, I have been running a contest on my website. (It’s still going…come on by and enter!) I asked my readers to tell me what they love about Texas. The answers have been wonderful. Some of them are echoes of my own feelings, and some have brought fascinating new perspectives.

One reader shared her memories of the great TV shows—“Rawhide,” “Wagon Train,” “Big Valley,” “Bonanza,” “Yancy Derringer,” “Gunsmoke.” Oh…yes! Several mentioned the friendly people and the Southern hospitality. Some were bewitched by the wide open spaces. “It’s a world away.” “It’s hot, hot, hot.” Another reader applauded the Texan’s bigger-than-life passion for life. The Constance O’Banyon books had first turned some readers on to Texas. For others, their first real visit to that state had hooked them forever.

Some reasons were intensely poignant and personal. “I love Books set in Texas because I'm from Texas and so was my late father. For some reason when I read a book set there it reminds me of him.” Some were sassy and fun. “I also like wide open spaces with neighbors miles

away. If you wanted to get naked with your guy outside no one would be around to see you.”

But sooner or later, they all came back to the men. Those Texas tough guys with hearts of gold have, on big screen and small, in books, in our real lives and in our dreams, captured our hearts.

I’d love to hear your favorite cowboy story. Posting here will enter you in the contest, as well. Which cowboy, from the past or from the page, has stolen your heart…and refuses, in spite of everything, to let it go?


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bubble, Bubble, Toil & Trouble : : Anne McAllister

First, my apologies . . .

I was supposed to have been here before now. Somehow, in the past Lost Week, my Totebags blog got lost as well. I came home from Montana where it snowed and snowed and snowed, and I was sick and the meds the doc gave me were worse than the disease. And then life got even more complicated and, well, suffice to say, Lee's email asking if everything was all right was a surprise.

I'd totally forgotten I was supposed to be here today!

So, I'm very sorry. I won't let it happen again.

But I wanted to come for as long as I can and talk about getting started on a book.

It's customary to talk about sagging middles and 'what do I do now?' and characters who won't behave and try to steal other characters' books. These are issues most of us have if we've written very much at all.

But we rarely talk (at least I don't) about the getting started part because we're always busy assuring ourselves -- and non-writers -- that we have tons of ideas, millions and billions and trillions of ideas, and so what's the probem?

Well, the problem, as I see it, is that an idea (or even a milllion, billion, trillion of them) don't make a book. Not alone. Not without something else going on.

What else?

Stirring the pot, I guess. Letting the initial ideas simmer and bubble and mix with other ideas and see if when they come together there is an energy engendered, if there is going to be some toil and trouble between these characters. Or not.

Some ideas, let's face it, just sit there and defy you to write a book about them.

I'm at that point right now. I have an idea. I have a character -- one of my Savas brothers -- who needs a story. And I have a heroine who needs a hero. I think they'll be great together.

Try telling them that. She's got issues. He's playing the field. She doesn't trust Men Like Him. He thinks she's a starchy, prissy snob.

So I tossed them in the pot together and . . . hmmm . . . they are beginning to simmer and, occasionally even sizzle.

I tossed a place into the pot as well. I isolated them a bit, to see if that will increase the spark. I suggested some backstory. Some sputtering is going on. I see possibilities. But it's not quite right yet.

Now what? Well, I could keep tossing ideas in (I do have a lot of them). But often at this point I read. Other writers don't because they are afraid they might be unduly influenced by books they read. They might, God forbid, copy! I don't worry about that. I'm not interesting in copying. I'm interesting in imagining my characters experiencing the conflict of the book I'm reading.

Is it an "oh God, have I fallen in love with a man I only married for convenience?" story? What might my heroine think about that? Is there jealousy? Revenge? A wounded hero? A surprise pregnancy?

Are these cliches? Possibly. But no two 'marriage of convenience' stories are ever identical just as no two people react to the same stimuli in the same ways.

Everything I read is grist for the mill. Every television program I watch and ever movie I get from Netflix gives me a chance to run my people through someone else's hurdles. It's a learning process. Understanding how my people might react tells me more about them, about their story, especially about what matters to them more than anything.

I talk to people, too. I pick the brains of my friends and neighbors. I ask myself -- and them -- 'what if?' And with every 'what if' the mixture gets a little more complex, the possibilities grow. Some things generate lots of energy; the implications are obvious. But there are still a few things missing.

Ultimately I know, as my friend mystery writer Maddy Hunter once said, that it will come down to finding out what one of them wants the most is what the other fears the most.

That's what I'm working towards. When I've got that figured out, I know I have a story. I have a start. I'll have a middle so they can work it out. I'll have an end when they confront that conflict and face their fears. Now all I'll have to do is sit down and write it.

Not always easy, but much easier than when I have no idea at all what is going to happen.

Last week I got author copies of my upcoming Mills & Boon Modern, The Virgin's Proposition (May, 2010, UK, Harlequin Presents, Sept 2010). Reading it over (I never remember what happens, even in my own books), I was reminded of that process.

What the heroine, Anny (aka Her Royal Highness, Princess Adriana Anastasia Maria Christina Sophia of Mont Chamion) wanted more than anything was a love that came from the heart and not a marriage made to satisfy the goals of two countries. Demetrios Savas was determined that he was never going to fall in love again.

Of course it took her 185 pages to get her heart's desire. And it took him 185 pages to discover that loving the right woman was heaven and not the hell he'd feared.

I had a lot of fun writing that book. I'm hoping Yiannis and Edie's book, once I've stirred and stirred, is half as much fun.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Among Friends

by Anna Campbell

One of the nicest parts of having joined the fraternity (well, actually it's mainly a sorority!) of romance writers is the wonderful, wonderful friends I've made on the way. This industry really does have the nicest people in it.

One of my faves is my critique partner Annie West who writes the most luscious Harlequin Presents you've ever read. Seriously, grab one of her books if you haven't read them. They're passionate and emotional and really, REALLY delicious! Her latest, FORGOTTEN MISTRESS, SECRET LOVE-CHILD, recently hit the USA Today bestseller list and I'm not at all surprised!

Annie and I used to live a couple of hours train ride from one another so we'd catch up probably once every six weeks or so. These days, I live in another State and it's a plane not a train ride away so our meetings have become much more infrequent.

Last month, Annie came up to visit me. I live on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, which sadly did NOT live up to its name although we had patches without rain. We also had whole slabs of pouring wet stuff from the sky!

Nonetheless we had a brilliant time. We talked current and future projects, we celebrated the successes of the last few months, we raved about some wonderful books we'd read in the interim, we caught up on each other's lives. We email all the time and talk on the phone quite often, but there's nothing to match a great face-to-face natter.

We have a tradition, established as something to look forward to when the two of us were unpublished, that the person who's had a book published takes the other out to lunch. It was Annie's turn to take me out to celebrate and we went to a new restaurant in my local area called La Dolce Vita. By the way, look at the wet street behind that photo of me and you'll see I'm not exaggerating about it bucketing down! Brilliant and wonderful, friendly service. With a sea view included. What more could a pair of slightly tipsy authors want? Yes, bubbly ALWAYS features!

We both had the same main course - zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and crab meat. Yum! Here's a photo. It's a work of art, isn't it?

Annie is currently running a great Reading Treasure contest with multiple prizes, including a signed copy of my 2010 Golden Quill winner, CAPTIVE OF SIN. Check it out here:

Another wonderful person in the romance world is Brenda Novak who runs a mind-bogglingly huge auction every May to raise funds for research into a cure for juvenile diabetes.

Brenda's auction started on 1st May and runs all month and there's an amazing selection of prizes there for readers and writers - and well, just about anyone! As always, I've donated a couple of things (just click on the description and it will take you straight to the page of the auction):

Detailed critique of a partial manuscript

Signed trade paperbacks of CLAIMING THE COURTESAN and UNTOUCHED

Signed trade paperbacks of CAPTIVE OF SIN and MY RECKLESS SURRENDER


Signed copy of UNTOUCHED

I've also contributed to the Romance Bandits Book Bonanza! That's an amazing prize!

This is a great cause! So why not have a bid? Brenda wants to crack $1 million raised this year.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Embracing the Dandelion

Over the last few months my schedule has been...hectic.  Crazy.  Frenetic.  Between a book releasing, another due, and a third in the middle of revisions, not to mention spring! and housework and kids running hither thither and yon, I sometimes feel I hardly have room to breathe.

And then there's the garden.

I have a love-hate relationship with my garden.  I love the look of all the green leaves and multi-coloured blossoms.  I love the smell of flowers and fresh cut grass.  What I don't like is the back breaking work of weeding...or the fact that there never seems to be enough TIME to keep up with it.  I keep saying I want to do more gardening - and I never do.  I like my garden like I like my hair - low maintenance (which is another blog entirely, I'm starting to look like the cook from Nanny McPhee).

Right now as I look out my window, I see lush green grass dotted with a dazzling array of dandelions.

I'm always a little in awe of those people who tackle their dandelions with those little tools that you stick in the ground and it pulls out the plant, root and all.  I've seen them methodically make their way over a near acre of grass.  By the time they have finished, they can go back to the start and begin again on the new crop.  In the city, weed and feed is an option, I suppose, but here we are on a well and we don't like doing that.  Frequent mowing works, for the short term anyway, to keep the heads of the little buggers away.  At least then we have the APPEARANCE of having no dandelions.

But it is all rather labour intensive.

So this year I am embracing the dandelion.  I mean, everyone *says* it is a weed but let's look at the facts a little more closely.

Dandelions have bright, sunny, yellow heads like little dots of sunshine.
Dandelions can grow anywhere, no matter what your soil. 
Dandelions do not require frequent watering, fertilizing, or deadheading.
In fact, dandelions are the perfect kind of flower - completely no maintenance!  I don't have to lift a finger!

Perhaps next month I can find a way to make the wild cucumber sound amazing?  Because it's taking over my hostas....

In the meantime, my e-release SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER is available anywhere e-books are sold.  I guarantee that you will not be thinking of your dandelions as you're reading.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday, Monday by Megan Crane

Well, it's Monday. There's no getting around it.

If you are in the UK or Australia, you can console yourself with my alter-ego Caitline Crews's brand new book, MAJESTY, MISTRESS...MISSING HEIR, which is out right now.

If, like me, you are in North America, you will sadly have to wait until October.

I am consoling myself with pictures of the delectable Andy Whitfield, who I am using as the visual inspiration for my newest book (which I am writing RIGHT NOW and which is due VERY, VERY SOON, not that I panicked ~sob~):

See? All better now.

Happy Monday to you too!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Spring is here at last - Christina Hollis

May is a busy month for me this year. I’m reading one of my short stories at a local literature festival, but as it’s about a wife reflecting on her husband’s mysterious disappearance, it’s hardly the thing to discuss here! It’s much more enjoyable to concentrate on happier themes. First, a trip down memory lane. My very first Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon The Italian Billionaire’s Virgin is being published in a collection along with Melanie Milburn’s The Virgin’s Price and Trish Morey’s The Greek’s Virgin. Bringing things right up to date, my newest Modern Romance, The French Aristocrat’s Baby, goes on sale in the UK.

May is also the month in which my birthday falls, so the OH and I are taking a day off. It’s enough that we’ll be alone together for a few hours, although my top favourite birthday treat will be made all the more special if it turns out to be a warm evening. Then we can be sure the birds will be singing. We’ll head out into the wood for a midnight picnic complete with champagne. There we are surrounded by bluebells and serenaded by nightingales. My gorgeous guy knows exactly how to keep romance alive!

In my May release, The French Aristocrat’s Baby, Chef Gwen runs a restaurant in the South of France named after the nightingales that sing in the surrounding countryside. She’s determined to succeed, but the odds are stacked against her. Then Count Etienne Moreau sweeps her off her feet. He’s been impressed by her in so many ways, and the feeling is mutual, until...

After an explosive night, Etienne wants Gwen as his mistress - she’s the perfect antidote to his cold blooded business deals. But proud Gwen is outraged - in Etienne’s world money might buy him anything, but this girl is not for sale!

‘You can have absolutely anything you like, except my signature on a marriage certificate.’ He chuckled. ‘Apart from that one small detail, my generosity knows no limit. Try me. Name your price.’

Reaching for a napkin, Gwen wiped her hands and dropped it onto the table in a symbolic gesture.

‘It’s nothing you could buy, no matter how much money you’ve got, monsieur. I want my independence, and the chance to make my own way in the world. I don’t want to go through life being carried by anyone else.’

Copyright Harlequin Mills and Boon Limited, 2010

It isn’t long before something happens that shocks Etienne into a decision that will change Gwen’s life forever. How will she cope?

We’ve had such a long miserable winter here in the UK, spring is even more welcome than usual. I can’t wait to get out and start partying!

What’s your idea of a perfect birthday treat?
Christina Hollis writes Modern Romance (published as Presents Extra in the USA) for Harlequin Mills and Boon - when she isn’t cajoling her salad plants into growing faster, ready for that first picnic of the year...