Saturday, April 30, 2011

Kate Noble: The Road Trip Romance

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, everyone has been on a road trip. I personally love them. I love prepping for the trip, figuring out what you’re going to need to take and what route you’ll take. I love packing up the car, a strange, Tetris-like exercise in trying to keep a sliver of the back window visible. I love turning around four minutes into your journey to grab that thing that’s vital that you forgot.

But I’ve never fallen in love on a road trip. I’ve never had that startling discovery of finding the person you’ve been sharing your car or bus seat with is the one you want to share your life with. Maybe that’s why I wrote Follow My Lead – a road trip romance of the first order, where two opposites – the duke of Rayne and bluestocking Winnifred Crane -- have to work together to get to where they’re going… and figure out they were meant for each other along the way.

I adore road trip romances, and thought I’d share with you a few of my favorites:

It Happened One Night

The Quintessential Road Trip Romance, It Happened One Night happens mostly on a bus. Ellie Andrews, an heiress and society darling wants to get back to New York and the guy that’s waiting for her there. But she’s easily recognizable, so newspaperman Peter Warne (Clark Gable, who is charm is reaching Rhett Butler heights) promises to help her along – at the price of the story of her adventures. I’ll give you one guess for what happens along the way…

Romancing the Stone

Full disclosure: I’m pretty sure my boyfriend fell in love with me because he has a Joan Wilder fetish. This is the movie that made romance writers stand up and cheer, and romance lovers fall madly for Michael Douglas. Kathleen Turner is romance novelist Joan Wilder, who has to travel to Colombia to save her sister’s life. When she arrives, she gets on the wrong bus, and is saved from certain disaster by the snarky, street-smart Jack Colton. As they make their way across the Columbian jungle, being chased by jewel thieves and crazy military guys as they go, is it any wonder that they end up falling for each other?


Yes, Spaceballs. A movie that owes almost as much to It Happened One Night as it does to Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Planet of the Apes, Spaceballs answers the question (that nobody asked, but hey, go with it): what happens when you strip away the whole boring hero’s quest thing from Star Wars, and just make it about what we really want to see: the princess and the pilot hooking up.

Added bonus of having Joan Rivers as your Robot Virgin Police and John Candy as your puppy sidekick.

Leap Year

And incredibly sweet entry into the Road Trip Romance genre, Leap Year stars the delightful Amy Adams and the delicious Matthew Goode as a woman determined to get to her man in Dublin and ask him to marry her, and her Irish guide, respectively. But plucking Amy Adams out of her fast paced life makes her realize just how much she’s been missing… and having a starchy, perky woman around who is intent upon her course makes Matthew Goode realize just how much he wants to break down her walls.

What do you think? What are some of your favorite Road Trip Romances?

Kate Noble

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cathleen Ross: Anatomy of a Cover

How do you tell your publisher you’re not on board with your new book cover, especially when it’s the cover for the book of your heart? Okay, I admit it, I’ve been spoiled for covers so far, so when I was asked to choose a cover by my latest publisher, yes you heard that right, I had problems. The publisher of sent me a link to a website where I had to choose from a selection of stock art which their graphic artist would then alter.

Let me take you back a few steps. I’d sold my contemporary women’s fiction, Love, Lust and Lies, a Big Fat Greek Wedding meets Moonstruck, type book to Passion in Print. Contemporary is a tough market right now so I was delighted to land this sale with a print publisher who pays 15 percent of Net sales on print and 50 percent on ebook. Excuse me for talking money so blatantly but PIP has a sample contract on their website.

A cover should capture what your book is about and lure potential readers in. It should say, “Pick me!” amongst the competition. I’m not an artist so I had trouble choosing but managed to come up with picture one . The trouble was, my hero looked effeminate and I needed my hero to be irresistible so that my heroine feels that she made the right decision to kick her husband out after he has an affair and she takes up with my gorgeous, young hero.

I had Michelangelo’s statue of David in mind. I wanted a sexy face, great chest and more than the fig leaf but to get an image of that you’ll have to read the book.

So I asked my publisher, Laura Baumbach, could my hero be more muscular? I wondered what Laura would think of me asking to change the cover but she was with me all the way, never making me feel like I was a nuisance, even when I didn’t like my hero’s head and chest. See picture two.

After I had selected a head, she sent me a selection of chests. I was building the bionic hero. See picture three.

In the end I had a sexy hero my heroine would want to have an affair with and the pleasure of working with a hands-on publisher who was interested in the writer’s opinion. See final cover.

Have you ever disliked your cover? Have you done anything about it?

Cathleen Ross

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jessica Barksdale Inclán: The Same Old Story

A few months ago, I was staring at the third editing letter from an editor at a large publishing house. She loved my novel . . . but. We'd gone through two rounds of edits, had a phone conference with my agent, and she had one last huge round of edits before she was willing to make an offer.

After my agent sent me that letter, I commenced immediately to editing, going through the manuscript for what felt like the millionth time (I wrote the first draft of this story in 2003!). I needed to sell this novel--I needed to show that I could still do it, and do it I would. But as I typed the last word into what might have been the final edit, I sat back. I took my hands away from the keyboard; I looked out the window.

It was time to stop the madness. All I had just done was to write more of the same problem into the manuscript. I was taking the problem, putting a new saddle on it, and trying to trick the editor and probably myself into making it appear like a new ride. But it wasn't.

It was time to stop. To let go. I had to admit to myself that I wasn't going to sell to this editor at this big publishing house. I wasn't going to get an advance any time soon. Not with this manuscript.

And in that letting go, I came up with a plan that was really about creating something that I liked. The new story I began working on had perhaps the same spine, but it was now completely different, new, exciting, and interesting--at least to me. And the good news was that I didn't miss the old story, the one that had been changed and rewritten over and over again. It had become the thing I had to do to get to what I was writing now, the new story, the one that had grown out of the ashes. Right now, my agent is going over this new draft, and who knows? It might go out to editors in June. Or--well, it might not.

The tale of the eight year long rewrite isn't over yet, but the lesson for me is clear. At some point--with writing and just about everything--there comes a time when we look at what's in front of us and say, "No more." The manuscript, the person, the job, the plan, the course of action are all wrong. The fit isn't. The satisfaction not. The hope gone.

Time to saw through the rope and let whatever it is sail off to sea. Wave at it or him or her. Think thankful thoughts. After all, without that challenge, we wouldn't be where we are. But know it's over. We've let go. And now we can go on.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

This month, I'm having a giveaway of my backlist. The first ten folks who post a comment and then send me an email can have their pick (while supplies last!) of The Instant When Everything is Perfect, The Beautiful Being, or an ebook of choice. My web site has desrciptions of all.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tawny Weber: Reunited... And It Feels So Good

by Tawny Weber

I'm celebrating the release of my latest Blaze this week. JUST FOR THE NIGHT is in stores now. This is a story that was so fun to write, because there is something just extra sweet about reuniting a couple that missed out on their well-deserved happy-ever-after.

Larissa and Jason had a serious thing going a few years back, but life, jealousy and their issues got in the way - splitting them up.

Now, thanks to a sneaky matchmaker and a 24 hour blackout that takes down the power on the entire Eastern Seaboard, they have a second chance.

What I realized in writing this story is that not only do I believe in true love, and the perfect someone for everyone. I also believe in timing. Timing is a major factor in whether or not a couple can make things work or not. For Larissa and Jason, the timing before was all wrong. They both had some growing up to do, and some lessons to learn. In my own life, I'd met my husband years before we became a couple (we were in high school together). If we'd dated back in school, I'm sure we'd have split up and gone our separate ways. But after a few years of independence and growing up we were both in the perfect place for our own happy ever after.

How about you? Do you believe timing is a major factor in relationships? And are you a fan of reunion stories?

And the bonus question of the day... if you were stranded with someone for 24 hours... who would that someone be (lets pretend this is a world where husbands and significant others don't exist, that way I can be stranded with Johnny Depp).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Popular Romantic Theme Comes To Life -- Michelle Monkou

Romance stories and day dreams go hand in hand. As a romance writer and an avid romance reader, I enjoy a story of opposites meeting and falling hard for each other. In my heart, it's a cause for celebration.

One of the biggest romantic premises is about to happen on April 29, 2011 (BTW, my 21st wedding anniversary) when a "commoner" marries a prince and heir to the throne. The event has taken on the trappings of a celebrity event opened to the world for viewing and commenting via social media networks. No matter how jaded we may feel with our realities, we can't turn a hard heart on the beauty of the romantic journey.

Cinderella kind of started this fantasy, right?

Then we had Hollywood A-list Grace Kelly turn into a beautiful stunning princess. Meanwhile, my fellow romance writers created and continue to write wonderful stories of the everyday-woman marrying the prince, king, or sheik.

This fantasy is beyond just a trend; it's the epitome of the romantic couple.

Our stories do have the implied happy ever after. So I'm purposefully not talking about the burden of the couple's new public status, the baggage of numerous failed royal marriages, and the work needed to make a relationship work. That's called women's fiction. LOL.

As a romantic at heart, I raise a celebratory glass to Kate and William (LOL - I'd written Harry). Cheers!

While we're in the full bloom of all things romantic this week, enjoy my free e-book at

Michelle Monkou

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tina Leonard: Hot, Hunky Guys

(and a beta male named Bertie)

I love reading ongoing series, and I love writing them.  I suppose I'm long-winded.  The bigger the project, the happier I am, because then I get to know families and communities.  This past summer, I read every single one of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books.  Then I started the series over.  I even have the dvds of the series.  Long before actor Hugh Laurie was the crusty Dr. House on TV, he was the lovably quirky Bertie Wooster.  Bertie and his friends and the loyal butler Jeeves speak to me; I love their adventures, Bertie's squabbles with Jeeves, and Bertie's incorrigible Aunt Dahlia, and even Nephew Thos.  I feel like I know Bertie's community, including their less-than-enjoyable acquaintances.  The pages fly as I read as fast as I can.

I'm also a fan of ongoing Britcoms, and lately the dramatic and enticing The Tudors.  I rent the series from the Blockbuster on the corner and spend weekend nights with the deliciously naughty Henry VIII.  Somehow I think ol' Henry wasn't quite so hot in real life, but the series has me breathlessly awaiting each twist and turn.  It makes me want to get out my Norah Lofts' books, and run to the library for dust-covered tomes of English history. 

Drama, drama.  Delish!

Being a series fan--as you now know--I thought up an idea for a six-book family-palooza set in New Mexico.  I loved the idea of six brothers who'd been raised by their determined and somewhat fey little aunt.  Aunt Fiona runs the Callahan household with a velvet touch, yet manages to raise six rascals to manhood.  Now she's determined to get them married off, and no better way to do that than to set them all to competing for the family homestead and ranch.  At Rancho Diablo, mystical black Diablo horses run, and a rumored silver mine causes trouble between the Callahans and their greedy neighbor, Bode Jenkins.  The Callahan brothers have no desire to settle down, in spite of their redoubtable aunt.  Yet with a magic wedding gown thrown in to the mix, and Fiona's Books'n'Bingo friends, maybe nothing is impossible under Rancho Diablo skies!

It was so much fun to write the Callahan series.  One thing led to another, and a Christmas novella was added, then an online prequel to kick the series off.   Now that the Callahans are ready to share their stories with you, I hope you'll join them for the fun as Jonas, Creed, Sam, Pete, Rafe, and Judah try to find those elusive brides.  It won't be easy for die-hard bachelors to take up Fiona's challenge, but then again, maybe they weren't so die-hard after all…

Ladies, get your guys!

Best wishes,
Tina Leonard

#1 May '11 The Cowboy's Triplets--Callahan Cowboys series
#2 May '11 Frisco Joe's Fiancee & Laredo's Sassy Sweetheart (Showcase)
#3 June '11 The Devil of Rancho Diablo eharlequin online serial
#4 July '11 The Cowboy's Bonus Baby--Callahan Cowboys series
#5 Sept '11 The Bull Rider's Twins--Callahan Cowboys series
#6 Nov '11 A Rancho Diablo Christmas--Callahan Cowboys novella
#7 Jan '12 His Valentine Triplets--Callahan Cowboys series
#8 Mar '12 Cowboy Sam's Quaduplets--Callahan Cowboys series
#9 May '12 A Callahan Wedding--Callahan Cowboys finale!

May 2011 Bonus: Frisco Joe's Fiancee and Laredo's Sassy Sweetheart together in a special mass market Showcase release!  ISBN 037368827X

For a free bookmark, send an email to and join me at, and to follow the brothers' adventures!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Carole Mortimer: The Scandalous St. Claires

April, May and June, sees the publications of my Harlequin Presents trilogy, Return of the Renegade (Top Pick in the April Romantic Times), The Reluctant Duke (Top Pick in May Romantic Times), and Taming the Last St Claire (still to be reviewed), and collectively titled The Scandalous St Claires.

In 2008/09 I had written a quartet of Regency books and a novella for Harlequin Historical, called The Notorious St Claires (The Duke's Cinderella Bride, The Rake's Indecent Proposal, The Rogue's DisgracedLady, and Lady Arabella's Scandalous Marriage), featuring three brothers and their younger sister, with the hero of the novella (Christmas at Mulberry Hall) having been a minor character in three of these books, and who I felt deserved his own story.

For eight months I had completely immersed myself in the lives of this fascinating family and their friends, and so when it came to the time to say goodbye to them all I found that I couldn't do it, felt that there was still more to tell. Which was when I had the 'what if...?' question that comes to so many authors. In this case, 'what if there were three gorgeous aristocratic brothers who were the present day ancestors of my Regency family....?'

Once I'd asked myself that question there was just no stopping my imagination from overflowing with ideas, and luckily my editor agreed with me - I wasn't quite finished with the St Claire family yet! Within days Jordan, Lucan, and Gideon had become three fully fledged characters, as had the three women destined for only them, and the trilogy, The Scandalous St Claires, is their story.


Carole Mortimer

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jennifer Estep: Plots we love or love to hate...

Greetings and salutations! I want to say thanks to Lee for having me on the blog today. Thanks, Lee!

I'm getting ready to start writing a new book, so I've been thinking about plots lately. Ah, plots. You can lift me up, you can bring me, and you can drive me absolutely crazy.

We all have plots that we love or love to hate, ones that suck us in or leave us cold every single time. Here are some plots that get me every single time:

1) Marriage of convenience: I absolutely love, love, love this plot. Watching two characters who are thrown together fall in love gets me every single time, no matter if it’s a historical or contemporary romance. Then again, I’m a sucker for romantic comedies. Seriously. I get totally addicted to the Hallmark Channel at Christmas time when they run all the rom-com holiday movies.

2) Friends to lovers: This is another plot that really works for me because I think it’s one of the more realistic plots. How many of us have known a co-worker, friend, or friend of a friend that became something more to us?

3) Opposites attract: I don’t know that it’s really a plot, but I love it when opposites clash, when the laid-back girl gets the uptight guy to loosen up – or vice versa – and they both learn something about themselves in the process.

4) Pretend relationships: Remember those rom-com movies that I mentioned? Well, lots of them feature people who have to fake a relationship to collect an inheritance or hide out from the bad guys. Whatever the reason, you’ll find me glued to the television or turning the pages as fast as I can.

5) The great, secret destiny: You see this one a lot in epic fantasy novels, where the farmboy suddenly discovers that he has this amazing magic and this amazing destiny that is just out there waiting for him. If, of course, he can survive the hordes of evil bad guys who are bent on a) killing the farmboy and b) world domination – not necessarily in that order. Sure, it’s been done a thousand times, but when done well, it works for me every single time

What about you guys? What plots do you love or love to hate?

Jennifer writes the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series for Pocket Books. The books focus on Gin Blanco, an assassin codenamed the Spider who can control the elements of Ice and Stone. When she’s not busy killing people and righting wrongs, Gin runs a barbecue restaurant called the Pork Pit in the fictional Southern metropolis of Ashland. The city is also home to giants, dwarves, vampires, and elementals – Air, Fire, Ice, and Stone.

Books in the series are Spider’s Bite, Web of Lies, and Venom. Tangled Threads, the fourth book, will be published on April 26, while Spider’s Revenge, the fifth book, will be released in October.

Jennifer also writes the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington. The books focus on Gwen Frost, a 17-year-old Gypsy girl who has the gift of psychometry, or the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it. After a serious freak-out with her magic, Gwen is shipped off to Mythos Academy, a school for the descendants of ancient warriors like Spartans, Valkyries, Amazons, and more.

The first book, Touch of Frost, will be out in August, while the second book, Kiss of Frost, will hit shelves in December. First Frost, a prequel e-short story to the series, will be out in July. Visit for excerpts and more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Grandma and the Prince - Part 28

Here is the second installment of Grandpa Larry's World War I reminiscence. He called it "Under Sealed Orders" and the words that follow are all his. (Not too bad for a man with a sixth grade education!)

* * *

Part II

We entered the harbor without our identity code flag flying and dropped anchor near the dock section of the city of Halifax. There was no more to moor ship, so it was evident that we would (inaudible) one anchor with no intention of staying in port long. No one came near us. The Union Jack was raised on the jackstaff at the bow and the ensign was rised at the stern, which is the usual procedure in port – also, the Marine guards were posted at various places on deck.

A little later, the Captain’s Gig was lowered away and the Captain, accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Stiles, the ship’s First Lieutenant, went ashore. The scuttlebutt was quiet. I guess everybody had run out of ideas. A little after dark, our big canopy-covered motor sailor was lowered away and sent ashore. That evening, after the boatswain’s mate had piped standby and pipe down hammocks, I stretched my hammock on my billet, unlashed it, and prepared it for the night. I then listened to the band play some nice music for while, then as I had no watch that night, I turned in for a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, after reveille and breakfast, we heaved in the anchor and got underway. I soon heard by the usual grapevine that four men had come aboard with the Captain in the gig and the motor sailor had brought several more men and a large amount of luggage. We heard later that after we had left port and little more than cleared the harbor and headed out in the open sea that a load of TNT had blown up in the harbor, not far from where we had been anchored. It had devastated about (inaudible) the shipping in the harbor and great damage to the city of Halifax itself. I soon found out who our guests were. The men who came on the motor sailor were aides and secretaries, and the four who came in the Captain’s gig were Colonel House, who was the advisor/confidante of President Wilson; General Bliss of the Army high command in Washington; Admiral Benson of the Navy high command; and a tall, handsome young civilian who was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Josephus Daniels. Fourteen years later, this young man was destined to be President of the United States. You don’t have to ask his name, do you, Barbara?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

We heard later that they had arrived in Halifax from the United States on a freight train in boxcars. The men were in disguise. Halifax officials were not aware of the maneuvers which were handled by our Intelligence men. We also found out that it had been learned that the German high command was starting to crack at the seams, and that these men were the mission being sent to negotiate the armistice when the time came.

The Huntington had been selected for this mission and it was a good choice. We had our job to do and that was to get these people quickly and safely to their destination which was, of course, top secret. Our ship was good for the job, well-armed, quite fast for those times, well-commanded with a well-trained experienced crew. The only things we had to look out for were the subs, of course, of which there were many – and big German battleships, but they did not come out into the open seas until the Battle of Jutland.

I had recently been promoted and was in charge of a section of the boat deck which included the base of the cage mast (inaudible) the Bridge and also #1 smoke stack. I was usually there during working hours when I was not on gun watch. I noticed that some of the mission seemed to like being around the cage mast. I happened to be talking to the Jimmy Legs in charge of the Lucky Bag and he had an idea. There were a number of folding chairs in the Lucky Bag which had probably been used at some function aboard the ship before the war and had not been taken off. Anyway, they were brought up and placed in the Bull Ring below the cage mast. The guests took advantage of them in nice weather and seemed to enjoy sitting there in the Bull Ring, talking. I came in contact quite a bit during the crossing and was able to get a number of pictures of them taken by the ship’s photographer. It seemed strange to see them there. They represented the highest power in the United States. The pictures were lost years later in Brooklyn when we were robbed. The crossing proved to be uneventful, except for two or three submarine alerts but nothing came of them.

I guess I should explain a few things. First, Jimmy Legs is the nickname of the Master at Arms. There were a number of them and they have charge of the unruly who, in such cases, can’t be handled by the petty officers of the sections. They have charge of the brig and bringing the culprit before the Captain’s mast, deck court, summary court-martial, and even general court-martial, although that is infrequent as most general courts are held on shore.

The Lucky Bag is a compartment below decks where everything lost, strayed, stolen, or misplaced finds its way and may be recovered if properly identified by its owner. When a large amount of unclaimed articles are accumulated, the Master at Arms in charge holds a sale. The articles are stamped “Lucky Bag” and sold to the highest bidder. The theory is that the funds received go to the crew’s entertainment fund, but I would not swear to that. I would like to say that a big warship of the World War I era was no luxury liner. No way. Its decks above and below were always cleared. There was no place to sit down, the folding tables and benches were placed in racks in the overhead as soon as the meal was completed and cleared up. At sea we wore life belts 24 hours a day and never broke out our hammocks. I had no bedding at any time. We slept on the deck and you can believe it was hard. Most slept on the gun deck because it was warm in the cold weather. In addition to this spartan way of life, we were allowed a half-bucket of water a day with which to wash our faces, teeth, shave, and take a sponge bath. We used the rest to scrub clothing. Anything that was left went into a community bucket for the purpose of scrubbing paint work. If we wished to sit down for any purpose, we would get our ditty box from a rack to use for a seat. This was a box about 10 inches wide and 10 inches high and maybe 14 inches long with a lock on it. We kept our personal belongs in there: tobacco, soap, shaving gear, writing paper, maybe a picture of a girl friend or family or such.

(to be continued)

* * *
He was begotten in the galley and born under a gun. Every hair was a rope yarn, every finger a fish-hook, every tooth a marline-spike, and his blood right good Stockholm tar.
--Naval Epitaph

PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here. Leave a comment behind and you'll be automatically entered in a drawing. The winner will receive signed copies of CASTING SPELLS, LACED WITH MAGIC, and SPUN BY SORCERY and a little sweet surprise.

Are you on Facebook? Stop by and friend me when you have a moment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Jenny Gardiner

This week instead of a blog post I decided I'm going to post a little bit from a book I'll be publishing digitally in the new couple of weeks. Still working on the cover so I don't have that to put up yet, but I've got this from the first chapter of House of Cards...Hope you enjoy it and please sign up for my Facebook fan page to find out the exact pub date!

Summer 1977

I sit in the dark, alone, despite my two brothers and three dogs being piled around me, snoring, drooling, farting: doing the kinds of things that teenaged boys and dogs do in their sleep. Sleep, however, eludes me.

We’re in the backseat of our Custom Cruiser, driving through Pennsylvania, on our way to the Jersey shore. It’s part of my family’s annual attempt to pretend that we like each other and want to be confined together for an eight-hour drive.
I squint to see the clock in the front seat; it’s hard to see clearly in the dark, but I think it says it’s about 3:45 a.m. We always leave for this trip at an ungodly hour, so that we avoid the rush hour traffic near Philly and get a full day at the beach upon our arrival.

I hear the familiar click of metal on metal as my father lights yet another cigarette and snaps shut his Zippo lighter; this must be his tenth smoke, and we only left Pittsburgh two hours ago.

It had been eerily silent for a while but for the hum of the engine, the whir of tires on pavement and the depressing tinny strains of the Mantovani string orchestra on the AM radio. But now my folks--no doubt assuming I, too, am asleep--are at it again, doing what they do best: fighting.

“Look, I’m not asking for anything from you but your blessings,” my mother almost pleads, an air of abandonment tainting her weary voice. She’s been lobbying for his approval to take a teaching job she’d been offered in the linguistics department at Pitt. We all expend a lot of wasted energy seeking my father’s elusive approval. “It won’t affect you at all. It won’t affect the kids. I’ll work my schedule around everyone else’s lives, I promise.”

“I don’t care what you say. I said no, and that’s that.” My father sucks a long hit on his unfiltered Camel. I see the fiery glow of its tip reflected in the windshield.

“But what’s the harm in it?” The sadness in her voice makes my insides feel empty. My mother bears a mantle of sorrow around her as if it was part of her biological make-up, as integral to her as a hump to a camel.

“Because it’s not what we agreed to, goddammit.”

My father could never be accused of being overly reasonable or amenable to change.

“Look, that was a long time ago. I’ve already practically raised the kids. They’re almost grown; they’re independent now. They don’t need me anymore. But I need to do something that will carry me through once the kids are gone.” Her voice falters as she anxiously twines her long hair around her index finger.

“No!” my father pinches his cigarette between his thumb and forefinger and punctuates his brevity with another intense drag on his smoke.

Silence ensues as Moon River drones on in the background. I hate that song. It makes me want to jump out the window and end it all.

The tension coursing through the hazy, smoke-filled atmosphere in the car is palpable. I can feel my mother’s sorrow as if it were my own. I can feel the anguish of a lifetime of her yielding to my tyrannical father, to living beneath the boot heel of this man she must have loved at some point in her life.

My mother steels herself, and continues.

“I can’t go on like this much longer, Finnegan.”

Silence. My father consumes the final stubble of smoldering tobacco, holding his breath in like you might when smoking a joint. Like he was relishing the lingering sensation for a precious moment longer.

Smoke surges through his nostrils as my father grinds the butt of his Camel into the ashtray emphatically. He remains silent, leaving it to Mom to continue.

“I think it’s time for us to try a trial separation,” she whispers.

My father lets the sour taste of her words swirl around his mental palate, much as he’d do with a sip of wine from that pretentious sommelier’s cup that he loves to wear around his neck on a tacky gold chain at dinner parties. He’s unwilling to ingest them, however, and instead spits them back at her.

“I dare you,” he sneers. “I just dare you. But let me warn you right now: you will never get away from me. Not ever.”

The weight of his vitriol is heavy on my heart, making a vise-like press of anxiety envelope me.

“And if you do leave, I promise you this: I’ll kill you. And I’ll get away with it, too.” He speaks so matter-of-factly, as if he’s asking her how much further it is on the turnpike till we reach the Walt Whitman Bridge, rather than threatening her with bodily harm.
The silence returns, but for the quiet sobs my mother dares let escape her. The mournful strains of Somewhere Over the Rainbow are filling the night air now. I’m suffocated by the gloom it imparts on the already desperate atmosphere in the car. If ever a more hopeless song was written, I can’t imagine what it might be.

My father turns on the windshield wipers as a hard rain begins to pummel the car. My eyes, unwilling to yield to the late hour and the fatigue that comes with being awake in the middle of the night, burn with suppressed tears. To the steady beat of the wipers, I scratch the head of one of the dogs and silently wipe the moisture from my eyes. Sometimes there is such clarity in the dark of night.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Got Your Game Face On? - by Natalie Anderson

pic by Salvatore Vuono
It's the school holidays again here in New Zealand and Autumn has kicked in with a vengeance. In fact, it feels colder than winter at the moment! As an attempt to keep the kids entertained, I've hauled out the board games. I've been playing Snakes & Ladders with the four year old twins (they have a tendency to ignore the snakes altogether) and I've been playing some Candyland too - also Bingo and Monopoly with the older two.

But my favourite board game is perhaps the most famous board game of all - Chess - the game of kings. I love the challenge of it - the strategy, the thinking ahead... By the way, I'm absolutely hopeless at it, but that's beside the point! I pit my wits against my six year old and he wins every time (ok, I might maybe let him) ... but I like that you can have a game go on for ages and (because as I've already confessed, I'm pretty useless) have no idea how I'm going to get him...

I think chess has a mixed image in public perception - there's that whole genius geek angle (so not us) but I once read a newspaper brief about a love triangle at an international chess tournament - two young men came to fisticuffs at a nightclub after the day's play over one of the female players... that story made me smile and frankly is perfect fodder for the romance writer - I love that those 'geeks' were getting on down at a nightclub and letting emotions overrule any Spock-like tendencies they might stereotypically be supposed to have!!!

And chess frequently features in the flicks - the ultimate hero, Humphrey Bogart,  plays chess in Casablanca. It's in sci-fi movies (2001 A Space Odessey); kid's flicks (Aladdin; The Addams Family; Harry Potter), comedies (Ace Ventura Pet Detective - which also has a great example of a continuity error involving the chess board!), and of course, there are all those movies about chess and players themselves (like Searching for Bobby Fischer). But the best chess scenes to my way of thinking (that would be the romance writer way) in flicks are those sensual ones - the most famous one in the original Thomas Crown Affair featuring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway... but then Austin Powers spoofs this when he plays Russian model 'Ivana Humpalot'...

But I digress, because here we are, the kids and I curled up in front of the fire, surrounded by boxes and boards... filling in the hours while the wind and rain rattle the windows. I must admit it's very pleasant until one of the elder ones starts screeching because one of the four year olds has ignored the snake she just landed on again... and that's when I being to wonder about expanding our collection...

So here's my question for you today - do you have some hands-down favourite family board games that everybody loves to play? Share with me now and I'll random pick one commenter to win signed copies of my releases this month - in the US it is WALK ON THE WILD SIDE while in the UK THE END OF FAKING IT and may I say that in both books, there are some games played!!!!

EDITED TO ADD: the random prize has been drawn!!! Kristina Knight - can you please email me your snail mail address - to natalie (at) natalie-anderson (dot) com and I can get the books in the post to you! Thanks so much to everyone for stopping by to swap fave games today :)

And to keep up to date with my news, more giveaways (and random chess result reporting) be sure to connect with me on my Facebook page :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Melanie Milburne: Where Do Stories Come From?

Ask any writer what question they get asked the most and I bet is is: Where do you get your ideas from? I get asked it a lot but lately I've been analyzing what actually happens when a story idea forms in my head.

My latest release is a classic example of how a writer's mind works. I was talking to a lovely tradesman who was doing some work for us at home a couple of years ago. He was tall and dark and handsome, all that a hero should be in my opinion! But he had a health condition that he found really troubling. It had plagued him for years. He had felt such shame and embarrassment about not being able to predict when he would have a seizure. They were not frequent and only occurred at night but he found it hard to hold down a relationship with that burden hanging over him.

So what did my writer's brain do? I immediately started to think about a man who loved a young woman but had to cut her from his life in case the surgery that might fix this tormenting problem went wrong. All surgery,even the most common operations can cause complications, so it was a very real fear in Luca's mind. What if something went wrong?

Now, you might ask why didn't he just tell Bronte about his condition?

Well, the other thing that an alpha male needs apart from those stop-you-in-your-tracks good looks is pride. He had told no one of his condition.

I'll let you read Unclaimed Baby to find out the rest of the story but I just wanted to demonstrate how a conversation can evolve into a story.

It's one of the best parts of the writing process, idea floating around, faces of characters forming, personalities and hardships they might face. I get to torture people but then I make them happy again which is immensely satisfying.

Happy reading!

Melanie Milburne

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Shannon McKelden - Happy Readers

Many of you know that I run a blog called The Happy Writer, to help writers find their happy place(s). It’s important for readers to be happy, too. They should read what they want, how they want...and I happen to believe they shouldn’t have to defend themselves.

I talked in February about how I’d become an e-book convert. To recap, when I sold my book, The Kiss Test, to Carina Press to be published as an e-book, I felt I should probably give up my prejudice against e-books and get an e-reader and try some out. Didn’t take long before I was sold.

I’ve happily bounced between paper and e-books for the past year. My horizons have been broadened, and I’ve never been a happier reader. My (young adult) daughter, on the other hand, has been adamantly against e-books. We’ve had many a heated discussion about how she would NEVER read on an e-reader and never buy an e-book and that she would remain forever a loyal paper reader.

Until last week when she bought her own Kindle.

What changed her mind? I can’t remember what pushed her over the edge. Likely it was a book she wanted to read that was only available on Kindle. Then there was the sudden realization that she’d be able to carry with her and read all the graphic design books in PDF form that she’s been collecting for years. (Somehow it hadn’t occurred to her that THOSE were e-books?)

I spent several days telling her, “I told you so.”

Now she’s having to defending herself to a friend who is adamantly against e-books/e-readers. Shoe’s on the other foot, which works for me. :)

I have to admit I’m a bit baffled at the lengths people will go to to discourage people from reading e-books or owning an e-reader. I get that some people prefer books in paper form. I get that they like the feel of the books in their hands or the smell of the paper and ink. What I don’t get is why they seem so determined that everyone else should make the same choice they do. I mean, really, would they be as single-minded that everyone should have the same favorite color they do? Or drive the same car?

I figure, life is all about variety. In vehicles and colors and reading material. Readers have hundreds of choices from genre, to author and, now, reading formats. And the way I see it, there’s plenty for everyone to choose from, to make them happy. What I love, or what I choose to read, doesn’t take away from anyone else’s choices and what makes them happy.

Most of us readers of Tote Bags ‘N’ Blogs are romance readers, and none of us like it when people disparage the genre we like to read, right? So, I hope, even if you aren’t an e-book reader yourself, you’ll at least be open to the possibility that some day you might find yourself the proud owner of an electronic reader. And even if you never do read electronically, I hope you’ll support those who choose different methods of reading, just like we hope people are accepting of us reading romance.

Remember it’s all about Happy Reading!

Shannon McKelden is the author of three humorous women’s fiction novels, including her latest, The Kiss Test, a digital book from Carina Press. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where she writes and runs the website

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lisa Dale: Here Comes The Bird...

Hi all!

It’s been a whirlwind kind of a week. My new book, Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier, has hit the shelves everywhere—and I’ve been so so so lucky.

It’s been selected as a Barnes & Noble book of the month, as well as BookPage Magazine’s romance of the month. Can’t really ask for better than that!

The second chance love story of my hero and heroine, Garret and Thea, really seems to be resonating with people—and that’s exactly what I hope for as a writer!

In the meantime, I’m already starting a new project and also trying to get my wedding invitations out.

Actually, I thought I was going crazy—that perhaps all this wedding stuff had once and for all gone to my head!

As I was sitting in my bed this morning writing (what can I say, I do all my best writing in bed), I swore I heard a little bird singing, da-dum-da-dummmm (which is an interspecies musical transliteration of “here comes the bride”).

At first, I just shook it off. I figured I’d misheard. Or that it was a fluke. I mean—the wedding plans really have been keeping me very busy.

But the bird kept singing…here comes the bride, all dressed in white!

I thought—no way.

So, like any good professional writer, I decided, “screw this scene. It’s much more important to find out if that bird really is singing ‘here comes the bride’ than it is keeping writing!”

So I popped on to Google, and discovered something so neat I had to share it.

First, I’m not crazy. J Not about this anyway. It turns out there is a bird that sounds like it sings “here comes the bride,” which is also known as Beethoven’s Fifth.

The white-throated sparrow sings the first few notes of Beethoven’s Fifth! Here is a link so you can hear it! The bird in this recording is a little off key and more trilly, but the one outside my bedroom this morning was spot on with Beethoven.

And maybe what’s more fascinating is this: Apparently Beethoven is said to have been inspired by birdsong to some extent. A little bird’s perfect fourths might have inspired Beethoven’s Fifth!

It felt so strange to think of that famous composer sitting in his study, listening intently to a little bird, and perhaps finding something inspiring in it—just like I was, though in a different way.

Anyway, eventually I got back to work. It doesn’t take much to distract me when I’m writing (that’s why I write with the curtains down, the shades closed, in a room with no “work stuff” around me, etc.). But the little guy singing outside my window was a good distraction.

So that about does it for me. I’m about to go to Michaels, then get ready for the book signing I’m doing tomorrow for Slow Dancing, then it’s back to invitations!

FYI—I’m hosting a contest for readers who check out Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier. The first 32 people to post a review on a book-related web site will get on my VIP list and receive a free thank-you-for-sharing-your-thoughts gift from me. So if you do read Slow Dancing, be sure to send me the link to your review (lisa dale books at gmail dot (.) com)!

All the best,

Lisa Dale