Monday, February 28, 2011

The Academy Awards

Did you watch the Academy Awards last night? I don't know why, but I always love watching the Oscars, even if I haven't watched all the films. There's something about the glitz and glam, the gowns, the faux pas and teary speeches.

These people, for one night anyway, seem to have it all. And though I can never hope to join them on the red carpet or in the Kodak theater, I can enjoy all the fun vicariously.

There were moments I despised -- in fact, watching an Oscar telecast should never make you sick to the stomach and should never make you cry for a bad reason. Which happened. Gave me a headache too -- quite disenchanting.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, be thankful. And if you do, I only hope you handled it far better than I did. I can't abide cruelty to animals, and I believe there were tons of other clips they could have picked to represent a certain foreign film. Grrr.

Nevertheless, there were far better things to celebrate about the Oscars. Dare I say it?

Yes, Colin Firth, aka Mr. Darcy, won Best Actor for his role in The King's Speech. As the conversation on Twitter exploded with his win, it became apparent that a great many ladies wished he would leap into a lake for them.

Remember this scene? Sigh.

But of course that's not why he won. I haven't seen all the films nominated for Best Picture, but I did see The King's Speech. I thought it was fabulous. I love when a movie is about people, not car chases or explosions.

Natalie Portman won the Best Actress award for Black Swan (haven't seen that movie yet). Melissa Leo won for Best Supporting Actress for The Fighter (also haven't seen) and dropped the F-bomb in her speech. Christian Bale won Best Supporting Actor, also for The Fighter.

There were of course a ton of other awards, most of which I don't remember, and a lot of beautiful dresses -- all worn by Anne Hathaway as she changed clothes for nearly every appearance on stage. Her co-host, James Franco, seemed a bit, well, drunk perhaps. Or stoned. He even forgot the name of the best picture moments after it was announced. Twitter was aflutter with speculation about what was wrong with him.

There was the obligatory shot of past host Hugh Jackman in the audience, which I did not mind, and an appearance by Billy Crystal that earned him a standing ovation. Seriously, can we bring these folks back? Anne did her best, but James wasn't much help and the hosting left a little to be desired.

Today, I'll be clicking over to see the best and worst dressed lists (I think there's little doubt, on Twitter anyway, that Cate Blanchett will be on the worst list), and I'll read recaps of the event and see if anyone figured out what was wrong with Franco. And then I'll forget the whole thing (though I might have to pull out Pride and Prejudice for a viewing) and get back to work on the latest glitzy, glam-y story that's occupying my mind these days.

Do you watch the Oscars too? What did you think of this year's telecast? Did you have a favorite moment? One commenter will win an advanced copy of my April release, THE DEVIL'S HEART!

A diamond, and a deal with the devil…

Francesca D’Oro was just eighteen when darkly sexy Marcos Navarre swept her up the aisle—then fled before the ink on the marriage licence had dried. Marcos might have given Francesca a jewel for her finger, but he stole another: the Devil’s Heart—a dazzling yellow diamond he believed belonged to his family…

Years later Francesca, no longer so youthfully naïve, is determined to reclaim the precious gem! But she’s forgotten that Marcos lives up to the treasure’s name—and dealing with the devil is always dangerous!

RT Book Reviews Magazine awarded this story 4 stars, saying, “Lots of conflict, hot love scenes and a satisfying ending make this an entertaining read.”

Lynn Raye Harris writes glamorous, sexy romance for Harlequin Presents and Mills & Boon Modern. Her latest UK release, Prince Voronov's Virgin, was the Mills & Boon Book of the Month for January and spent 6 weeks on the bestseller list, 3 of those weeks at #1! Lynn's next North American release is The Devil's Heart in April, followed by the NA release of Prince Voronov's Virgin, retitled Behind the Palace Walls, in June in Presents EXTRA.

You can learn more about Lynn and her books at

You can also follow Lynn on Twitter @LynnRayeHarris or visit her author page on Facebook,

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Shake Them Alive

I have two full-time jobs, one as a writer and the other as a teacher. Here's a post I wrote after a particularly bad day of teaching, one I worked on after the semester was over and I could reflect a little bit about why I teach at all.

Shake Them Alive

Students aren’t behaving as they used to. No, the world is going to hell in a hand basket, taking students with it. As I walk around my college campus, my inner curmudgeon thinks evil thoughts about poor fashion choices and bad behavior. Their pants are falling down around their ankles and they spit on the pavement, and that’s the women. All of them smoke in front of open classroom doors and listen to their MP3 players during lectures. I stomp around in my high heels on my way to class, a black cloud over my head, a storm brewing.

Teacher meltdown happens once a year, maybe once every two years, if my students and I are lucky. Perhaps, if I practiced all the Zen, Eastern, and psychological techniques I've studied, this day would never happen at all. I would be the calm, cool, collected teacher, full of patience and understanding and love. I would let go, relax into the what is, use my higher mind, my greater purpose, my one eye above and beyond all this earthly stuff. My pain body wouldn't come out--a round, hard, pointy steel creature with fangs--and let loose like a wild, murderous kickball.

Instead of turning into a wild, savage teacher woman, I would waft through my teaching day like so many clouds, free and full of nothing but air. I would contemplate nature, the essence of god or God or the divine.

But I'm not a cloudlike person.

During a semester not long ago, at two in the afternoon every Tuesday and Thursday, I taught a freshman composition class. Teaching at two pm is deadly--students are either hungry or full, tired or wired. The day of the apocryphal meltdown, the class slogged in wet from a late winter rain. Student X came in as he had every single day of the long semester, sweatshirt hood on, earphones jammed into his ears, bookless, paperless, penless. Student Y came in along with him, his ear phones on as well. They were both slightly late, but there in enough time to take the pop quiz, which I had announced the class before, the pop not have much fizz at this point but always still a surprise.

After the quiz and while we were grading and then talking about it, I realized that Student Y was still listening to his music, and I could hear the beat well enough to do some middle-aged dance stuff, but I resisted. I asked him to remove the earphones. Then as I was talking again, Student X started to talk to his BFF, Student Q, who sat next to him. They were kicking around a piece of shiny garbage, laughing. I looked at Student X and Student Y--and at Student A and Student B, who were laughing and talking and joking with Student C, who is dating one of them, A or B, it was hard to tell.

Students # and $ and % and * (all international students and all who had passed the quiz; Students X, Y, A, B, and C had gotten 0 out of 10 points) were paying attention. Student P, my re-entry student, was probably wondering what he'd gotten himself into by coming back to school in the first place. Clearly, managing the employees at Best Buy was looking a lot better than this.

As I asked a few questions about the stories that the pop quiz was based on, it became apparent that none of the above alphabetized students had managed to buy the short story collection we had been reading for over a week, even though the title had been on the syllabus since January. I stopped talking, staring out at this group of students that was just like all the groups of students I had seen in every classroom since I began teaching over twenty years before. There were those who cared, those who didn’t, and those who just prayed every single day for an orange “Class Cancelled” sign to be on the door.

That semester, no teaching technique I tossed out hit wood. The students who could speak English didn’t want to, and the ones who wanted to, could not. The hopelessness and despair and pissed-off-ness moved through me, the heat rising from my feet, the air growing hot in my lungs.

Oh, no, I thought. Here it comes.

I hadn’t had a meltdown in a while, but I remember my first one, years before in an introduction to literature class after a deadly and silent and horrible discussion about some important piece of literature. When no one bothered to answer my questions about character or plot or theme, I put down the book, looked up and said, "Who has done the homework?"

Five students raised their hands.

I said, "The rest of you, get out! Go read. Don't come back to class until you do."

Stunned and disbelieving, they staggered to their feet, horrified by what had just happened, and left.

The five students and I had a great time after that. Well, no, it really wasn't great. But a we had a real discussion. No one was listening to surreptitious headphones. No one was asleep at the back of the classroom. No one drooling or doodling or texting (probably back then paging) his friends.

So as I stared at this current class, I focused on Student X, trying to remember the prime directive of teaching, which is to not get fired. I breathed. After the kicking garbage thing, I had asked Student X to move to another desk, and he had. We started writing, and I looked up, realizing that he was doing some other class's homework and was rocking out to his tunes again.

I said, "Student X, why are you here?"


"Why are you here? You could listen to music and do your homework in the cafeteria."

“I don’t have my book.”

“So why are you here in this class? Because it’s dry?”

"Huh? Well, uh . . . ."

“Don’t you realize that school is just a metaphor for who you are in the real world? About who you are in your life outside of school? This, as they say, is just a test!”

Student X stared at me, not blinking, not saying a word.

“You sit here and listen and suck in everything everyone else has to say without giving back,” I said. “You are a vampire.”

I went on a little about personal responsibility and respect for oneself. I pointed, I walked, I paced. I was righteously indignant.

Now the entire class was staring at me, watching me, waiting. But uttering true words about Student X calmed me. I breathed again, and looked at him carefully.

“If you don’t have what you need to participate in this class, you need to leave.”

Student X stood up and looked at his fellow classmates. He looked at me. For the first time the entire semester, I realized that I was finally looking at him fully, no sunglasses, earphones, sweatshirt hood. His hair was curly, his eyes brown. Who knew?

“Should I go?” he asked.

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

He blinked, looked at his desk. “I want to stay.”

“Then stay,” I said.

He sat down. He put away his biology book or whatever it was. He wrote.
After class, he scooted out with his BFF, not meeting my gaze. Student A and B and C came to apologize, to tell me that things were going to change.

“We are going to do our best,” Student A said.

I nodded, and said, "Wonderful."

Was it wonderful? At that time, I hoped things would change. I hoped Student X would take himself seriously, enough to buy the book at least. I just wanted them to all pay attention and learn something, anything. one useful thing.

By May and the end of finals, Students #, $, %, and * all received A’s, even though most of them still couldn’t string together a sentence in grammatically correct English. Student X and Y received B’s, pulling it out in the end despite the early semester burp. Headed to a state college and away from Best Buy, Student P received an A and corrected my pronunciation on a few things as payback for having to be there at all. Students A and B received B’s, but Student C ended up with a C, and he emailed me about ten times to ask me to change it.

I didn’t.

It would be nice to tell you that there was a miracle in this class, a cascade of good grades, better behavior, and major feats of intellectual achievement. I would love to tell you that Student X didn’t walk into the classroom the next class meeting and sit in the back row with Student Q and start talking, laughing when he shouldn’t, participating when he felt like it. Sure he whispered a bit more and he didn’t listen to music, but he pulled down his hood and put on his shades. He did, however, buy the book.

Despite my failure with Student X, I can’t stop trying. I can’t stop getting mad when they don’t see this class, short story, pop quiz as a chance because I’ve seen some pretty amazing changes happen in a class. All at once, a student studies hard and applies to Brown. Before I know it, a student is accepted into the Coast Guard. They go off into lives that they wanted, lives they now have. I've watched students go from apathetic to actually realizing that this work in the community college is a metaphor for who they can be in the "real" and "more important" parts of the world. An A in a community college English class can pull a student out of one life and toward another. Just ask Students # $ % and *, all of whom arrived from countries on the other side of the world to study in a place far away from everything they understood. These students know about change.

Once I was a horrible student, majoring in boys and hoping the world would stop so I could screw up longer. I hoped that all my doing nothing wouldn’t count against me. But then my friends started leaving home for four-year colleges, for lives I didn’t know how to dream about. There I was, smoking pot, working in retail and then insurance, and dying my hair as blonde as possible, so white it almost snapped in two and floated away on the breeze. I dropped out of more classes than I finished at the same community college I was later hired at, understanding the shape of the quad better than my own life.

One sad, spring day after deciding to drop all my classes, I took a short cut through the cafeteria on my way to the parking lot. I walked by a college faire and stopped to pick up a flyer for the state college I would go later to. Right then, I learned to hope. If I hadn’t stopped to talk with the recruiter named Jesse, asking him questions about a school I’d never heard of, I wouldn’t have been in a freshman composition class the following fall, listening to a teacher who I knew could save me if I let him. I let him. I let myself be saved, and then I saved myself.

None of my students walk in and say, “I want to major in burnout and disease and despair and a low paying job. Your class is first on the requirement list. I’m ready to ignore you.”

But despite whatever hope they have, I often see them list away, drop out, ignore me, the syllabus, and their desires. And often, that’s when I throw chalk, call students vampires, and generally do things that keep me up at night.

I want to shake them alive. I want to show them that they’ve come to my class and learned something. They've learned something about literature and writing and expression of feeling. Yes, few of my students will contemplate the short stories by Ann Beattie or TC Boyle, the authors we were talking about the day of my meltdown.

And yet, maybe they will; they will remember how the one character looks back on her life and realizes she doesn't want to think about it at all because it is too painful. Maybe one of my students will see for the first time that she doesn’t want to have a life like that, one of aborted desires and hopes. She can’t stand her life of loss and secrecy.

What she wants if the life she can’t see yet but can feel, finally, for the first time, because she’s done something for herself. She read the story, studied for the not-pop pop quiz, and received 9/10. She comes to class, ready to be open to whatever comes next. She’s shown herself the respect she deserves. She’s tried. She’s reached. And her reach goes on.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Paula Roe: Revisiting Your First (Reading) Love

I grew up reading Enid Blyton - The Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair, Amelia Jane, Willow Farm... all fueled my imagination and stirred my budding writer heart. Then, as girls are wont to do, I went through my horse phase - My Friend Flicka, The Silver Brumby, The Colt at Taparoo. Eventually, I migrated to other animals: cats (the Carbonel series by Barbara Sleigh), rabbits (Watership Down) and of course, the wonderful vet stories by James Herriott. Sometimes there was a touch of the fantastical, such as dogs from outer space, or magical talking cats. But always with the animals :-)

And then I went to high school and picked up Captive Bride by Johanna Lindsey. Can anyone say O M G ? What a different world! What amazing characters! And the forbidden passion, the forceful seduction, the glorious history and the happy-ever-after. :sigh: Sweeping tempestuous historicals full of alpha males and unconventional, strong women, perfect for an odd-ball angsty teenager with a voracious reading appetite. I devoured books by Kathleen Woodiwiss, Shirlee Busbee, Laurie McBain, Jennifer Wilde, writers who are now the undisputed pioneers of the modern-day romance novel.

Of course, I've read a gajillion more books since the early 80s, but a few years back, I decided to re-read an old favorite. So I picked up one an old favorite, The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss.

Can you guess what happened?

Yep. Just wasn't the same. Sure, the writing is still evocative, the characters compelling, and relationship/attitude-wise, historically correct. But I'd changed over the years. As a reader, I've formed and honed my own opinions, and my writing brain heavily influences my reading choices. For example, I *know* all love scenes aren't perfect (I will forever adore Johanna Lindsey for writing a fumbling, imperfect "is that all there is?" love scene between her hero and heroine in Secret Fire. ) I know I won't enjoy stories with heroines TSTL or an ultra-alpha male who thinks it's okay to call the heroine derogatory names. And I won't suffer through more than three chapters, hoping a story will get better, when I could be doing something more productive with my time. Like writing :-)

On the flipside, one historical that’s stood the test of time is Angel in Scarlet by Jennifer Wilde (it was written in 1986!). I adore this fun, pygmalion-esque story and re-read it every couple of years.

I also regularly re-read the Chronicles on Narnia. Sure, there are things I could nitpick about, but I turn off that internal editor and just enjoy the fantastical world coming alive in those pages.

So what books remain on your permanent 'to be re-read' shelf? Any chilldhood favorites? Any recent reads that are Golden Keepers and you can see yourself re-reading 5-10 years from now?

Paula Roe is a Borders bestseller and her fifth book for Silhouette Desire, Promoted to Wife? is out this month. You can visit her at her website or connect via Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Robyn DeHart: The Enduring Appeal of the Legend

I’m often asked what was the inspiration behind my Legend Hunters series and all I can say is I’ve always loved mythology and antiquities and the like. There are so many mysteries out there that I find intriguing and there is something so fascinating about legends that have caused enduring curiosity. The older the legend, it seems the more intriguing it is.

I mean who doesn’t love the Arthurian legends with Excalibur and King Arthur and his chivalrous knights? And then there’s Robin Hood, another fascinating tale and it’s so like mankind to cheer for the underdog. There is a reason we have so many movies about these subjects, people are always interested. And we can’t forget about all of the fabled treasures? Rumors and stories of hidden caves and chests and whatnot filled with gold and gems and other lovely sparkly things. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Solomon’s mines or the El Dorado, people love stories of treasure hunts.

My love of so many legends and myths made it quite challenging to select those I would write about. I’ve always been interested in Greek Mythology so Pandora’s Box seemed a must and though it wasn’t the first legend I thought of, it did inspire the first book in the series, SEDUCE ME. It seemed the perfect storyline for an adventure romance. Atlantis actually was the first myth I thought of in relation to the series so I knew I would have to write a book about that lost continent. Who isn’t fascinated by tales of lands and cities that are no more? It pulls on most of us, I think. Perhaps that’s why researchers are still looking for the land, still trying to prove Atlantis actually existed. You can read about my version of the Atlantis legend in DESIRE ME.

In TREASURE ME, the final installment in my Legend Hunters series we leave London and travel to the highlands of Scotland, to Loch Ness. It’s about Graeme, a man torn between the duty of his family name (his English side) and his love of his heritage (his Scottish side), and his quest to find the Stone of Destiny. Vanessa has just fled from London, running away from her wedding after finding her fiancé in a compromising situation with her younger sister. She’s decided it’s time for her to focus on her research, she’s a paleontologist and Loch Ness is the perfect place to make a good find. Toss in a marriage of convenience, a treasure hunt and a bloodthirsty villain and you’ve got a high-octane read that will keep you at the edge of your seat until you reach the end.

So how about your, what are your favorite myths that you just never get enough of (whether in books or movies)?

Thanks so much for having me today.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lori Handeland: 10 Myths About Writing

Like almost author I’ve ever met, I began life as a voracious reader. As a kid, my teachers asked me to “please quit doing book reports.” I did at least three times as many reports as everyone else--and those were only of the books I felt were worthy.

In the summers I’d ride my bike to the library and have a hard time getting all the books I checked out home on the bike. I made lists (still do!) of the books I’ve read with a colored check mark to reveal what I thought of them.

I read every “how to write” book I found, every writing magazine, every article on authors I could find. I loved hearing about how they did what they did. And still, I didn’t have a clue about how things worked in this business.

Here are 10 myths about being a writer that I discovered once I became published:

1. The books featured on the covers of the review magazines receive that exalted space because they are “the best.” (They're paid for.)

2. Author quotes are completely unbiased. (They're usually given by friends, or requested by an author's editor or agent.)

3. Professional writers make so much money they can quit their day jobs and their night jobs too. (The majority of professional writers do not earn a living wage. They do this "on the side.")

4. Once an author breaks into the publishing industry, they’re in for good. (Every book is judged for its own merit.)

5. Authors are instant celebrities. (There is not instant in publishing.)

6. Oprah will call. (She won't. Stop waiting.)

7. The books on the displays at the front of the bookstore are “the best.” (This is also paid for.)

8. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling; that’s what an editor does. (If an editor receives a submission that is poorly written, she stops reading. She barely has time to read it; she isn't going to correct it too.)

9. Your checks will arrive on time. (Do checks ever arrive on time?)

10. Once you’re published, rejections are a thing of the past. (I received more rejections AFTER I was published than I ever did before.)

And here are 10 things about being a writer that make every busted myth irrelevant.

1. The call (I will always remember October 5, 1993 at 12:05. Always.)

2. When you see your cover for the first time. (This is actually cool EVERY single time no matter how many books you write.)

3. Gushing editors (This never get old.)

4. Your book on a shelf in the bookstore. (I still take pictures.)

5. Reader letters (They make everything better.)

6. Writing Friends (I have very few friends who aren't writer friends anymore. They understand.)

7. Writing Conferences (PARTY!)

8. Making any money at all for something you’d do for free. (Don’t tell!)

9. Being able to say, “I’m a writer,” when asked what you “do.” (The expressions on people's faces are priceless.)

10. The book, the book, the book. (Every one is different. With every one I learn something new. I can lose myself there always.)

What are your favorite things about writing and reading? Any myths you'd like to bust for us now?

And speaking of myths--how about the Loch Ness Monster?

Next week look for a copy of my latest paranormal romance MOON CURSED (March 1, 2011) where I take a whole new look at that famous Scottish legend.

In MOON CURSED Kristin Daniels is passionate in her pursuit of the truth. As the host of the television show Hoax Hunters, she’s traveled to the ends of the earth to explore—and expose—life’s most enduring myths. Her latest undertaking is no exception: Kris is bound for Scotland, where she intends to get to the bottom of the Loch Ness Monster legend once and for all. Instead, Kris encounters something far more mysterious... For in the ruins of the lake’s Urquhart Castle lies a heavenly creature—a sleek, muscled man with a seductive brogue named Liam Grant. One look into his eyes and Kris is already in danger of falling in too deep. Is Liam for real? Or has the spell of the moon touched them both?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Barbara Bretton: Grandma and the Prince - Part 26

To our New Zealand writers and readers near Christchurch: you're in our thoughts.

This is one of my Grandpa Larry's true World War I stories, written in his own hand around 1979 before he lost his sight and transcribed by me a few years later.

And while I have your attention, I have some winners to announce: January's winner is Virginia and December's winner is Michele L. Ladies, send your mailing addresses to me at this address and I'll do the rest.

Now onto the story.

* * *

I think this is a delightful little story of a bona fide member of the salty crew of the U. S. S. Huntington.

Rags was not an ordinary dog but a dog that looked like he had been pulled out of the Lucky Bag by the Jack of the Dust. He was a little guy and must have had relatives at some time who belonged to the poodle family. He could have had relatives in almost any small dog family, now that I think of it.

He had 1,500 friends, every man jack on the ship. He was supposed to belong to a First Class Bosun’s mate named Ed White, if I remember correctly. Anyway, his part of the ship was the QB division and he stayed pretty close to home most of the time. Of course he knew that was where he got his show at mess time and his sleeping billet was there too. But once in a while he would go visiting and always received a royal welcome from officers and men alike.

The time and place of what happened occurred as we were coming through the Narrows on the way to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for some repairs. As was the usual custom, on Navy ships entering or leaving port in clement weather, we were lined up at quarters. I don’t know why it is done because I don’t think many people on shore were paying much attention to us.

Rags was out on the quarterdeck too, and as we had been at sea for quite a while, I suppose that the sight of land may have excited him. Anyway he decided to take a few turns around the deck. After the second time ‘round, he was going full speed, came too close to the scupper, tried to stop, skidded, then went over the side. He hit the water thirty feet below and when he came up, he was paddling for dear life. As luck would have it, a big Moran tug boat was standing by to take our lines later to help nudge us into the dock at the Navy yard. They saw what had happened and eased over near him. One of the deck hands swung down over the side and hauled little Rags aboard – a very frightened little dog. Later, when they came alongside and put their lines aboard, they were able to hand Rags up to his master. He got a fresh water bath and was fed, then later when the ship had been docked and the gangplank put down, he went ashore with the first liberty party. He was always allowed to go ashore alone in New York.

He came back to the ship the next day a little the worse for wear, very happy to be back, and looking for chow.

The War finally came to an end and when we got back to New York, the ship’s company were mostly transferred, leaving only a skeleton crew. Many of the men were naval militia men and were sent home for good. Others who, like myself, were regulars were sent to some other assignment. The ‘tween decks of the ship were stripped and as many bunks were put in as possible and it was converted into a troop carrier to help bring troops back from France.

I never heard whether Rags was allowed to stay aboard the ship or not, but if he did I will bet that he made as many friends among the soldiers as he did among the crew of the U. S. S. Huntington.

So long, Rags!

* * *

PS: Sorry for the lack of pictures. Blogger refuses to cooperate with me. But one thing stays the same: if you'd like a chance to win some signed books, make sure to leave a comment. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Natalie Anderson: Just a quick post...

I'm sorry - I meant to write something up earlier but the day hasn't gone as planned.
I drove to my hometown of Christchurch (New Zealand) this morning to take my youngest to a specialist appointment at the hospital. The trip went quicker than I expected (it's a 2 hour drive) and so we got there early. Happily we were seen early and everything went really well so we got to leave early.
I stopped at my favourite health food store to get some lunch - so pleased that it had reopened again after significant damage from the earthquake that had hit in September last year. Then my twins and I jumped in the car and headed for home. Halfway there, my phone started going crazy. There'd been another earthquake - this time devastating.
The hospital was temporarily evacuated. That health food store no longer exists. It's just rubble. I sit and wonder about the lovely woman who served me - and hope she is okay. Hope they're all okay. But many aren't. As I write this, the death toll in the city stands at 65 and is expected to rise. They fear hundreds are trapped. And I can't believe how lucky I was - that we'd left earlier than planned, that all my family members and closest friends are accounted for. And my heart just breaks for those waiting for news. I can't imagine the fear. And my heart aches for our beautiful city.
I'm sorry this isn't a very joyous post.  But tonight? Hold your loved ones close. I will be.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Melanie Milburne: Translating Love

I was asked to travel to Sydney to be the official love translator for Artline pens in conjunction with Harlequin Mills and Boon for St Valentine's Day. I was expecting a tongue in cheek sort of deal but in fact, it turned out to be one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I was set up by the company in Pitt Street Mall which is the main shopping thoroughfare. I had lines of people queuing up to speak to me about what they wanted written on their cards. Of course I wrote some funny things but mostly people (especially the men) wanted something truly romantic. I sat for four hours without a break on the Friday and Monday, not because I wasn't allowed to move but because I just couldn't tear myself away as person after person told me how much they loved their partner. One elderly gentleman stood out from the crowd. He told me St Valentine's Day was his wedding anniversary and would I write a card to his wife as he wasn't very good at that stuff. Then he told me his wife had died fifteen years ago and that he was going to take the card I wrote out to her grave. I had tears running down my face as I wrote what he wanted to say on that card.

Writing is something most of us take for granted. We can write a shopping list or an epic love story but we are still putting words on the page in some sort of order that can be understood. Indeed, some of us are much better at writing than speaking. I don't know about you but I am not a telephone person. Don't get me wrong, I love my mobile phone and would be lost without it but I text more than I call. That's what I love about email. You can just send off a quick or long message without being stuck on the phone for longer than you want.

But imagine if you couldn't read or write even the simplest words? Sadly that is the case for many people. My heroine Jade Sommerville in The Wedding Charade is one of those people. I really felt for her as she had so many obstacles to overcome but she didn't have the skills we take for granted every single day. To her it is a shameful secret that she will do anything to keep covered up, including agreeing to a marriage of convenience to her arch enemy Nic Sabbatini.

Nic Sabbatini has to fulfill the terms of his late grandfather's will or be disinherited. He had vowed never to marry anyone and the thought of tying himself to the wild child Jade is unthinkable. But then Jade has rather a persuasive way about her!I loved writing Jade and Nic's story. I think to date Jade is my favorite heroine. I hope she lives long in your memory as she has in mine.

And the next time you pick up a pen to write something, think of all those people who would give anything to be able to do that.

I will send a signed copy of The Wedding Charade to someone who describes what they would find hardest in not being able to read and write.

Best wishes,
Melanie Milburne

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jenny Gardiner: There Sure Are Some Monster Jobs Out There

Plenty of you have found yourselves lately having to seek employment again. It’s a grim reflection of the times. And nothing’s quite so demoralizing as looking for work when there’s not much work to be found.

Over the past several months of job-searching I’ve run the gamut of disses: disgusted, discouraged, dismayed and disenfranchised. Frustrated that despite valuable skills built over a lifetime, I’m left undervalued in the marketplace.
But the more I delve into this job search thing, the more I realize that I’ve been viewing it all wrong. Rather than it being an experience to drag one down, it can be an adventure. Almost like a vacation (because who can afford one anyhow?), without leaving home. Consider it employing your vivid imagination to open yourself up to new (albeit perhaps unwanted) possibilities of who you can be.

Take my experience with After spending too much time filling out forms on the website in order for Monster’s algorithms to find the perfect career opportunity for me, I sat back and waited, trusting that their professional expertise would be put to good use. The next morning an email from Monster awaited me, with my future potential dream job listed on my screen: assistant manager at Spencer’s Gifts.

Now, for those who haven’t spent time lurking in dark corners of shopping malls, Spencer’s is the place you go to for puerile titillation, if you need, say, boob cubes (breast-shaped ice cube molds), or fake dog doo to fool your friends and neighbors. They traffic in schlock. A dream job for your average 14-year old boy, maybe. For me? Not so much.

Now at first, I was insulted by this career pitch, wondering who the jokester was sending me lowbrow job opportunities. Not that there’s anything wrong with the job, mind you, but it’s not exactly the place I imagined my skills would be put to best use. Plus there’s something unseemly about a middle-aged mom ringing up perverted products and re-stocking pop-up pecker lighters and blow-up love dolls.

Although I must admit I thought about trying to land the job, and then pitching a memoir to my literary agent about my year as a purveyor of raunch. Sadly it’s the kind of book that sells nowadays.

The next day, I got my trusty email from Monster, and realized their insult was nothing personal. Rather Monster hasn’t a clue. Because they suggested yet another job for which I was ill-suited: architect. I’m pretty sure it takes a bit of schooling to become an architect. Plus my mother used to always say to me (with the best of intentions), “Pity the person who has to drive over a bridge you built,” knowing as she did that a career as one who must build things safely was not meant to be in my future.
That suggestion was followed up by one that I apply for a lineman job. And curse them, because Glen Campbell crooning The Wichita Lineman has been stuck on an endless loop in my brain since I saw that listing. The thing is, I have no idea what a lineman is, other than the person who would climb up telephone poles to fix live wires, and with a morbid fear of heights—not to mention electrocution--no go there for moi.

Today Monster suggested I can be an occupational therapist, and once I figure out what that is, I’m pretty sure I’ll learn I needed to have studied something occupation-like in college to qualify. Although perhaps I need an occupational therapist to find work.

I gave up on Monster when they urged me to apply for a position as a senior in vitro neuroscientist/cellular electro physiologist. In Shanghai, no less.

Woe to the singles world if Monster was a dating service.

Craiglist lists a few vague jobs guaranteeing six-figure salaries, yet posts no information about the business. I think you have to meet them on a dark street corner at 3 a.m. to talk more about what they want. Another great career, killed before it began. I applied for a position in which I was then asked to send my credit record and bank information to complete strangers. I might be under-employed, but I’m not stupid.

I've definitely been held back in my ability to exceed my imagination, job-wise by living in a small town. I can’t fathom the fun job prospects available to shoot down if I lived in a major metropolitan area—maybe working a jackhammer atop a skyscraper, or being a nanny to Donald Trump’s daughter’s impending baby. In the meantime, closer to home, I’ll just have to pretend I can be a forensics fingerprint analyst, an airport ramp operator, a dog groomer, a postdoctoral research fellow, or a mattress deputy (don’t ask). Or the latest well-contemplated recommendation from Monster: driver of a Porta-John truck. I'm not kidding.

Granted, none of these rates high on the list of things I could or should do in my life, but hey, for a minute it’s fun to think I can truly do whatever I want. And actually get paid for it. Now there’s an idea whose time has come.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cara Summers: My Top Five Favorite Love Stories on Film

It’s February—a month for love stories, and I’ve just added a favorite to the top of my list. If you haven’t seen “The King’s Speech,” go now.

I know, I know—it will come out eventually on DVD, but seeing Colin Firth on the big screen is a definite plus. That’s why I went to see it. The pure eye candy factor. I’ve been in love with Colin for years, ever since he played Mr. Darcy in the Arts and Entertainment Channel’s “Pride and Prejudice.” And he’s a great actor. But I didn’t expect “The King’s Speech” to be perhaps the best movie I’ve seen in over a decade.

And it’s a great love story on so many levels.--the love of a wife for her husband, the love of a father for his daughters, the growing friendship between two friends—the king and the commoner—and the love of a king for his country.

Okay—enough about “The King’s Speech.” My next three favorite movie love stories are more classic romantic comedies. And because they’re all kind of tied in second place, I’m putting them in alphabetical order.

Moonstruck” is a movie that I can sit and watch again anytime I accidentally stumble into it with my remote control. I’m half Italian, so that might be part of the pull. But Cher slapping and then jumping Nicholas Cage just doesn’t get old for me.

Pretty Woman” also remains a favorite. I saw it the first time with my fourteen year old son. As we were leaving the theater, he said to me, “Mom, they changed each other, didn’t they?” I thought of Richard Gere walking barefoot in the grass and then climbing up a fire escape at the end. I saw “Pretty Woman” before I’d ever sold a book, and I think it helped me make my first sale. True love is supposed to change people.

Love certainly works its magic on Michael Douglas in “The American President.” That’s another movie that I never tire of. Whenever it’s on, I always seem to watch part of it.

And last but not least on the list of my top five is “Murphy’s Romance.” That movie holds a special place in my heart because it shows you can find true love any age. And it can still change you and make you a better person. That’s the story that makes us read and write romances.

Of course, I might point out that my favorite movie romances, besides telling a great love story, are also characterized by amazing performances, not just by the leading actors but also the supporting ones.

That’s my top five. I’d love to hear yours. I live in Syracuse, New York, and February is promising to be a long, cold month, so I could use some suggestions. If you agree with any of mine, you may encourage me to watch them again.

I also want to give three books away. So I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 19. The three people who guess it or come closest to it get a copy of my February Blaze or a book from may backlist. Good luck!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Christina Phillips: Ancient Historical Romance = Hot, Sexy Warriors

Thank you, Lee, for having me at Tote Bags ‘n Blogs today to help celebrate the release of Captive, book 2 in my ancient historical romance series, Forbidden, from Berkley Heat.

Set during the first century AD, during the early years of the Roman occupation of Britain, my Forbidden series has sexy warrior heroes and magical Druid heroines. But why did I choose a setting (ancient Wales) and time period in history that could potentially be difficult to place in the market?

Did I mention the hot sexy warriors already? :)

Well, apart from the hot sexy warrior who marched into my head one night and refused to leave until I’d told his story (thank you, Maximus!) I was fascinated by the whole mysterious culture of the Druids. These people had populated the lands for centuries, were educated and respected—and the Roman Emperor, Claudius, wanted them wiped off the face of the earth.

While there’s plenty of written and archeological evidence when it comes to the Romans, there’s not so much when it comes to the Druids. Unfortunately for us, they didn’t entrust their studies to writing and passed on their knowledge through oral traditions. The contemporary written accounts we do have of them are invariably from the Roman viewpoint—the victors—so there’s likely to be some prejudice going on there!

And so my imagination had free reign. In the world of Forbidden the Druids worship the goddess culture, live in an equilateral society and magic is an integral aspect of their daily lives.

Between a warrior and a princess comes an erotic passion as all-consuming as the hatred between their warring worlds…

In Forbidden, book 1 in the series, Maximus, a proud Roman centurion, discovers Carys spying on his bathing ritual and is instantly captivated. Who is this woman, and why hasn’t she been seen in any of the villages the Legion has vanquished?

Maximus has been charged by his Emperor to eliminate all Druids. And Carys, a Druid princess and acolyte of Cerridwen, Goddess of Wisdom, has sworn to rid her land of the barbarous invaders. Yet despite everything that conspires against them they are irresistibly drawn to each other.

Trained in sensuality, a Druid priestess finds herself falling for the wrong man—the warrior who’s taken her prisoner…

Captive begins six months after Forbidden ends. Morwyn, Carys’s best friend, is suffering from a crisis of faith and while she’s traveling to join the rebels is captured by a tough Gaul mercenary.

The hero, Bren, is haunted by his violent past and far from being Morwyn’s bitterest enemy as she imagines, has been undercover in the Roman Legions for the last three years. The problem is he can’t tell Morwyn the truth, because the truth could get them both killed.

I’d love to give away a copy of either Forbidden or Captive to one lucky commenter—open internationally wherever The Book Depository delivers. Just leave a comment on this post or answer this question – why are alpha warrior heroes so hot?

Romantic Times BOOK Review: "Phillips’ second in the Forbidden series is just as hot as its predecessor. Readers will be held Captive by the magic between Druid priestess Morwyn and Bren."

Excerpt: Over 18s Only, please!

Excerpt: Over 18s Only, please!

My Website:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cats and Dogs and Things that Go Thump in the Morning : : Anne McAllister

Things that go thump in the morning are rabbits. I know. We had one who banged the lid of her cage over and over every morning to get us up.

When I wrote my second book, Starstruck, many moons ago, it was about a divorced mom with five kids, a slightly charred casserole, and a rabbit in the back of her van.

The cover copy called the rabbit "hyperactive." I think that was a bit of an overstatement. She didn't bang anything, after all. But the rabbit, hyperactive or not, was something of a hook. People bought the book.

It could have had to do with the five kids or the casserole or the heartthrob who came to dinner and ate his peas. But over the years, I've come to believe the sales might have been for the rabbit.

I'm surprised my daughter, whose rabbit she was, didn't lobby for a cut of the royalties. But they helped put her through college, so maybe that's enough.

I love having animals in books. Animals make people human.

I like animals. I think most of my readers like animals. And sometimes my heroine or hero needs someone to talk to who won't argue with them or kick them in the shins. Animals also give heroes and heroines a chance to show that they are pretty good people. So they get animals in their lives. It makes things better all the way around.

Though one of my editors thought perhaps that Neely had a few too many in her houseboat menagerie in Savas' Defiant Mistress.

I didn't think think so. They showed Neely's character. Harm the bloodhound moved the story along -- and the hero right into Lake Union. And in the end a bowl of fish were exactly what Sebastian needed to take the first steps on his road to being the man he wanted to be.

It's true what they say, any hero has to be at least as good a man as his dog (cat, rabbit, goat, fish, salamander, guinea pig) thinks he is.

Just ask Gunnar -- the flatcoat retriever hero of my most recent Harlequin Presents, Hired by Her Husband. He makes my sexy physicist George Savas human. He makes my heroine realize that there is a person who cares inside George's handsome body -- that he's more than just a man who is smart and who fulfills his family responsibilities.

Other animals I've known and loved have made it into books as well. Quite a while back I wrote about Goliath, our Maine Coon cat, too. He appeared, wandering among the mixing bowls in MacKenzie's Baby, and being danced around the kitchen by Annabel before Carter showed up to spin her life out of control. But then, her goat spun his life out of control as well.

Animals are like that.

I've mentioned Kate Walker's cat, Sid, before. Sid is a hero in his own right -- A Cat of Superior Breeding (no one dares ask what sort). He has such charisma I have to be careful or he will take over entire books.

Another friend, Ange's, cat called Sparks had a part in one book, One son's dog, Belle, was Hugh MacGillivray's sidekick in In MacGillivray's Bed, and another's Newfie cross, Roy, just had a part in my next.

In that one, I needed A Suitable Cat and several of you offered your nearest and dearest animals to me. Pat Cochran's cat Gerald got the part. He came to live with my heroine, Edie, and the Newfie, Roy. Gerald didn't have a big part, but he made Edie's life richer, and I was glad to have him there.

Just now thinking back, I was amazed at the dogs and cats and other animals who have made it into my books. There was one friend's whistling guinea pig, another's Irish wolfhound, a third's mynah bird (how could I have forgotten Boris?). There was MacKenzie's goat and Jethro and Sara, the Maine Coons who could Call Up The Wind, Ted, the french bulldog, in The Santorini Bride, and a whole last will and testament of animals in Fletcher's Baby!
There is a new guy on the block now whom I can see taking over the next time my heroine needs a dog. His name is Mac.

Mac is my friend Nancy's new dog. He is a rescue -- a cocker/poodle mix -- who was seriously neglected for the first few years of his life. Mac isn't sure if he has died and gone to heaven or if he is in heaven here on earth since he has come to live with Nancy.

Suffice to say, he is a happy dog. He is also an assertive dog who Makes Demands. Mac finds bags of dog biscuits and carries them around in his mouth, expecting Nancy to open the bag and give him them.

He takes his ball and drops it next to Bart the cat and expects Bart to throw it for him and barks when Bart goes right on sleeping. I never said he was smart. I just said he was assertive.

He's got Nancy wrapped around his paw and he has made friends with Mitch and Micah, the dogs at my house. And he knows how to charm me out of tiny dog treats just by sitting and thumping his poor excuse for a tail.

I adore Mac. I can hardly wait for a book in which he can feature. He has Ideas for that. The other day he told me he would like a heroine who is a butcher who works from home.

See what I mean?

Do you have any new animals in your life? Rescued ones? I'd love to hear more. Please tell us about the ones who have made your lives a happier place.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lisa Dale: For love of junk!

Sometimes, I’m a little bit of a health nut, especially about food. I eat lots of salads, try to avoid anything heavily processed or instant, and mostly, I just try to go by the motto “if I can’t pronounce it, I don’t eat it.”

But…there are exceptions!

When I was in my early twenties, and I was at my then boyfriend’s (now fiance’s) parent’s house, I saw they had peanut butter chocolate puff cereal. I remember giving him a hard time about it.

“Don’t eat stuff like that!” I said. “At least, not regularly! And especially not for breakfast! It’s fake chocolate and fake peanuts…it’s toxic and gross!”

Matt did his usual patient thing of rolling his eyes and kissing me on the forehead.

Days passed, and I was at his parent’s house and got very hungry. The only thing to eat was this chocolate peanut butter cereal. So, I dove in. And it was like pearly gates of heaven opened. It was seriously the most delicious, terrible, wonderful cereal I’d ever eaten in my life.

So last week, fueled by PMS, I bought myself a box—which I haven’t done in a while. Talk about love! And Matt still teases me: “Remember when you gave ME such a hard time about that cereal?”

Next week, I’ll go back to my wheat bran and flax seed “oatmeal.” But this week…I’m tearing through the chocolate for breakfast.

What’s your go-to junk food?

Happy eating!

Lisa Dale

PS-this week on my blog, I'm asking what you're obsessed with. Comment to enter to win!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Undoing the Undone giveaway -- Michelle Styles

This month I have my first Harlequin Historical Undone out in the US and the UK -- The Perfect Concubine.
Undones are different to the full length historicals that I normally write. First of all they are much shorter about 10,000 -15,000 words and secondly because of their length, they are far more intense and much more tightly focused.  They are also far more on the sexual fantasy side of historical, rather than it could possibly happen. These are stories which are meant to be downloaded and read in an afternoon or over a lunch period. The Undones are e-book exclusives but the more popular ones are put into a print anthology of five. The anthologies have proven to be a successful part of the regular Harlequin Historical series line up.

The Harlequin Historical editorial team is also using the Undones to explore different time periods, situations and other cutting edge themes.  They also are also debuting new authors in Undone. For example, new Regency author Elaine Golden has her first Undone out with me -- An Imprudent Lady. And having read it, I know that Elaine is  someone to watch. A real star in the making. Her second Undone comes out next month and is linked to this one.

The editors are also very open to submissions from all time periods and are eagerly searching for the next star. The guidelines are on the eharlequin website. You would be submitting a full manuscript.

For me The Perfect Concubine was a chance to revisit a minor character from Sold & Seduced and give him the Happy Ending I thought he deserved. It absolutely stand alone but I had great fun revisiting that world. It was also my first chance to write short novella rather than a full length novel and so proved a steep learning curve. Apparently I approached it far too much like a novel rather than a short story to begin with but I did make the adjustments.

UPDATE: I  have drawn the winner -- kissinoak and have sent her an email. Many thanks to everyone who entered.
Michelle Styles writes in a wide variety of time periods. Her next full length book --Breaking The Governess's Rules will be published in the UK in March. Visit to learn more about Michelle's books.