Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Marie Treanor: A Hero With Bite

The vampire Saloman, my hero, is evil. He kills without compunction; he drinks human blood; he wants to rule not just the vampire world, but humans too; and his first step in this takeover bid is to kill my nice but lonely heroine, Elizabeth.

What, you might ask, is heroic about any of that? Doesn’t he have any good points?

Well yes: he’s sexy. And he had charisma. He looks amazing, is awesomely strong and has a larger than life personality that both charms and overwhelms. Being several thousand years old, he’s had a lot of time to perfect his sexual technique. And he has a sense of humour.

What’s not to love?

Well, there’s all the other stuff about evil, blood drinking etc. Any nice heroine, however lonely, should be put off by all of that. And Elizabeth is repelled, to the extent that she plots to kill him - except when she’s with him and the sexy stuff seems more important.

In case you don’t know, I’m talking about my Awakened by Blood trilogy. The first two books, Blood on Silk and Blood Sin are already available, with the final part, Blood Eternal, scheduled for release in October. To explain a bit more, Elizabeth is an academic, researching vampire legends in Romania, when she accidentally awakens Saloman, who was betrayed and staked in the seventeenth century and is now released to extract revenge and assume world domination. To reach his full strength he needs the blood of his Awakener, Elizabeth.

I suppose it’s a bit risky to make a romance hero quite so wicked. But he’s a vampire, not a human with a dietary requirement, and I wanted him to exude that danger that so draws us to vampire stories. Saloman has it in spades, but also has enough appeal, enough mystery to keep Elizabeth guessing as to his true motives. She gets glimpses of his vulnerability and loneliness, odd moments of compassion and genuine emotion, and begins to think there is more to him – as indeed there is.

Not being human, Saloman doesn’t think like one. By his own lights, he isn’t evil. He merely has a plan and believes the end justifies the means. And under Elizabeth’s influence, his plans alter subtly. When it comes down to it, neither seems capable of killing the other. Although their ultimate aims are totally opposed, they become each other’s weakness as well as each other’s strength. The question becomes how will this affect the world?

Well, I’m not going to tell you that here – you’ll have to read the books :) . Instead, I have another question for you. How dangerous do you like your fictional heroes? And why do you suppose we love that danger so much when in real life, we’d run a mile? :) .

I’ll be happy to give away a copy of Blood on Silk or Blood Sin (winner’s choice) to one person who answers the questions or who makes some other comment.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lynn Raye Harris - Come with me to snowy Russia!

What do you think about climbing into a troika with a gorgeous Russian prince and taking a snowy ride across a moonlit landscape? I have to admit that I found the thought quite appealing, so I made sure that the hero of my next book, BEHIND THE PALACE WALLS, took my heroine on just such a ride.

This photo shows a portion of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, but it was also the picture I kept in my inspiration file while I wrote about Prince Alexei Voronov and Paige Barnes. I envisioned Alexei's Russian palace as looking just like this.

I really loved writing about Alexei and Paige! From the explosive moment they first meet, when Alexei is trying to save Paige from a gang of men with questionable intentions, to their troika ride in the snow, to their super-charged love scenes and their confrontations throughout, this book was pure joy for me. These characters were so real. Alexei’s loneliness and heart ache, Paige’s sense of responsibility and Southern upbringing, and the way they learn to forge a life together had me alternately in tears and laughing while writing this book.

This book was originally released in the UK in January under the title PRINCE VORONOV'S VIRGIN. It was the Mills & Boon Book of the Month and spent 6 weeks on the Mills & Boon bestseller list -- 3 of those weeks at #1! I'm so happy it's finally available to my North American readers. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed writing it for you!

‘Kiss me,’ he growled… ‘And make it believable.’

Alone and scared on the dark streets of Moscow, staid, bespectacled Paige Barnes has no choice but to comply with the handsome stranger’s command…

Little does Paige know she’s been rescued by Alexei Voronov—a Russian prince and her boss’s deadliest rival. Now he has Paige unexpectedly in his sights, Alexei is prepared to play emotional Russian roulette to keep her close and discover her true motives. But in his splendid gilded palace his game of chance spins out of control and passion takes over…

It’s only when she’s back home that Paige realises she’s pregnant with the Prince’s baby…

Today, I'll give away a signed copy to one lucky commenter. Since I'm late putting this post up, we'll run the contest through tomorrow. Just leave me a comment and tell me why you'd like to read this book! I've also started a Goodreads Q&A group to talk about this story. You can join here if you like. :) And even if you don't wish to join the group, if you're wondering why I didn't address Soviet history (the effects of Communism on Alexei and his family) in this story, I wrote a post on that here.

UPDATE: The winner of the signed copy is Mary Anne Landers! Mary Anne, email me at lynn AT lynnrayeharris DOT com with your details! Thanks everyone for stopping and talking with me. :)

Lynn Raye Harris is a USA Today bestselling author who writes glamorous, sexy romance for Harlequin Presents. 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, May 29, 2011

Helen Bianchin: Visualization, Imagination & Creativity

Writers write. They put words on paper to convey a story.

An artist creates images on canvas with paint, and a sculptor sculpts.

A singer possessed of a voice so pure, it catches your breath.

More than talent, practice. A gift?

One of my favourite quotes is by Michelangelo - I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

It made me wonder what artists see before they begin to craft - whether it be writing, painting, sculpting.

Does a writer visualize the characters, the setting, imagine what they say - to the point where it all seems to become real, and the struggle to convey that image is the talent, persistence - ok, sheer bloody-mindedness - to employ the right words, so the reader shares the writer's visualization?

Is there any particular artist, author - anyone - who has touched you in life? Inspired you?

I'll share a few of mine ...

A painting by Monet 's garden

O Holy Night sung by Celine Dion

Shakespeare for his prose


Daniel Day Lewis for his dedication and preparation in order to play a scripted part.

Helen Bianchin

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tina Leonard: The Fun of Writing A Series

The start of a series is usually agony for me, and the Callahan Cowboys was no exception! I wait and wait for the first book to finally make its way to the book shelves, and then I wait for reader reaction.

Yesterday, I received this Romantic Times review on the second of the Callahan Cowboys series, THE COWBOY'S BONUS BABY; in part, "Warm characters with devastating wit."

That made me laugh! Devastating wit is not how I'd usually describe my writing, but another reader comment on the first of the Callahan Cowboys series, THE COWBOY'S TRIPLETS, went like this:

I loved your first Callahan Cowboy's novel! It was funny &

fast-paced & had fantastic characters! I look forward to more stories

featuring these smart-aleck brothers. Thanks for making a

stay-at-home mom's busy days more enjoyable! --Jenny

So this is the fun of all the hours spent in writing a long series. As many of my long-time readers know, I do love the drama of a big family. I find myself living in their world, wondering about their dreams, wanting them to reach their goals. When the readers love the series, it's the payoff, the big ticket. Nothing makes me happier. Years ago, back before there was email as it is today and people still wrote letters, I got a fan letter that had a dollar in it so I could write the reader back. She had most considerately tucked this money in—and I somehow lost both the dollar and the letter. This has grieved me more than anything over the years in my writing career, that one letter that made its way through both Harlequin and the post office with money it, and I have no idea where it went. How I wish I could write that reader and tell her how much her words had meant to me! Every writer who has struggled for hours with their craft knows that the reader is the best part, the bonanza, the happy ending, to the writer's journey.

So thank you to that kind reader, wherever you are—your words were worth their weight in gold! And thank you to the many other kind readers over the years who have given me a career and a ready audience for my work. You, too, I thank from the bottom of my heart.

Love to you all,

Tina Leonard

Friday, May 27, 2011

Jessica Barksdale Inclan: The Accounting System of the Universe

I don't have proof or a chart or a grid to prove my feeling, but I do believe in karma or the return of the energy that we sow in the world. We reap what we put out there. We give and we get. What we do can come back to haunt or reward us. There is an accounting page in the universe, somewhere, and things balance out.

Most days, I think we try to forget this while at the same time trying to mind our own business and deal honorably with the world. Sometimes, we don't do so well, doing something slightly to incredibly egregious. Being curt or rude, driving like an idiot, snapping at someone, refusing to budge during an argument. We tell one of the two lies folks apparently tell per day. We ignore a request for help. We fail to file our income taxes. All of that stuff builds up, and then one day, the doorbell rings, and it's payback time.

I've been trying of recent years to consider this accounting system, this tit for tat. Some might say this is a ridiculous notion, and while it does seem wacky, I can't help but hold to it.

Revenge seems to be built out of trying to control or manage this accounting system. Something terrible happens "to" us, and we decide that we are going to extract it back from the person ourselves, unwilling to wait for karma to be enacted. We feel wrong or slighted or hurt or wounded, and what do we do? We go to the source or something around the source. We are in a fight with someone, and we write an email to a person related to tell our side of the story first, with details and effect. Someone won't write us a letter of recommendation, and we call that person's place of employment to complain and accuse, hoping that the non-letter writer will get into some kind of trouble. We are hurt in a relationship and instead of going to counseling to deal with our pain, we undermine that person's next relationship.
We want immediate karma. We want it now so that we can see it. We don't want to wait a lifetime or several--we want to see the person writhe a little, squirming, twisting in the wind or on a noose. And oh! how good we will feel.

But I don't think it feels that great. In the end, the fight still happened, the letter wasn't written, the relationship is still over. The hurt remains.

Capital punishment is the extreme form of this attempt at instant karma, and I've read that the family members who fought for years for the person to die don't have what they want in the end--the crime undone, the person harmed by the criminal alive and well and living in Peoria.

I'm not a Christian, but I am a big fan of Jesus. He was one cool, unattached, Zen dude, who seemed to understand this accounting system like no one's business. He was no doormat, though his seeming passivity in the Sermon on the Mount has been interpreted otherwise:

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.There's a lot going on here, but what I take away from it is that if our landlords won't give us back our deposits or a student complains or a former boyfriend calls to read us the riot act, turn the other cheek. Don't write an expose on rental practices in Oakland, using your landlords first and last names. Don't write to the college your student wanted the letter giving them the "real" story about her work in your class. Don't post anything about the former boyfriend on Yelp.

Take a big breath. A really big breath. A damn, flipping HUGE breath, and walk on. There is that system out there that will even it up in some way, someday, maybe in a few lifetimes or maybe tomorrow. Don't worry about it. It's not ours to worry about any more.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan

(I am giving away ebooks this month to the first five people who comment and write me at

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Message of Hope and Healing -- Michelle Monkou

Today, I turn our focus on the natural disasters that have been hitting various parts of the U.S, and of course, in other countries, most notably--Haiti, Japan. Areas have been devastated by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, and floods. Communities have been ripped apart with loss of life, the injured and missing members of families. Hope, faith and perseverance are sorely tested, and yet, we see heroic deeds and random acts of kindness that refill the reservoir of our spirit when we most need it.

Now and in the aftermath, resources will be taxed and depleted. Charitable organizations will make their appeal. Religious institutions will ask for your help. Calls for volunteers will be sent out. We are a global community beyond race, religion, and other artificial boundaries. Whatever assistance we can provide, I'm sure will be appreciated.

Moreover, beyond the physical toll, will be the emotional pain of recovery. Doctors, psychologists, therapists will play a part in so many lives. Even as storytellers, while volunteer time, money, and donations continue, we also play a role in the emotional recovery with our stories of love, hope, reconnecting with family, celebrating new friendships. Our tales of empowerment motivate and inspire when the weight of the world seems heavy.

In the same spirit of the saying: "It takes a village to raise a child." It will take all of us to rebuild our global communities.

Michelle Monkou

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Melanie Milburne: Finding the perfect setting for a story.

When I am in the planning stage of writing a novel I think mostly about the characters. The setting is something that comes a bit later. But how important is the setting in the course of the story?

I thought I might share with you how I came to write my Sabbatini Brothers Trilogy. It actually started with a deserted villa in the Italian lakeside village of Stresa. Yes, three books popped into my head just by looking at a villa. Ha ha! I wish!

I was in Italy with my husband and two sons. We were staying in Milan and my husband and son number two were at the Grand Prix test days at Monza, so son number one and I decided to go exploring for the day. We hopped on a train and ended up in Stresa which is a lovely rather quaint village on the shores of the magnificent Lake Maggiore. We had the most amazing time wandering around, having coffee and a croissant at a really old café overlooking the lake.

Then we caught a ferry to each of the three islands: Isola Madre and Isola De Pescatori and my favourite Isola Bella. The gardens were just amazing. I could have stayed there all day listening to the birds and wandering around smelling the roses. There was a grotto and fountains and art works that were priceless.

What a fabulous source of inspiration!

But on the way back to the train we wandered past an old villa that was abandoned. My writer’s cap went on and I started to wonder why it was empty, and who owned it. That’s how I came up with the Sabbatini villa in Bellagio where Giorgio, Luca and Nic lost their baby sister in infancy. So much sadness seemed to be pouring from the villa I walked past. The empty windows were like sad eyes.

Although I didn’t use Stresa as my setting in The Unclaimed Baby, One Last Night or The Wedding Charade, I found myself using it imaginatively. I used Bellagio as the villa setting as that seemed more appropriate for the wealth and standing of the Sabbatini family.

But back to my question: how important is the setting to the story? Personally, I prefer to keep the setting in the background. I figure if readers want a Lonely Planet guide they’ll go and read one. It’s the characters the readers want to learn about, not how many steps lead to the fountain on Isola Bella.

What do you think? Do you love detailed descriptions of exotic locations or do you just like a brushstroke of information to give you a sense of time and place?

I will give away a copy of The Unclaimed Baby to one of the commenters so please share your thoughts!

All the best,

Melanie Milburne

***Jo's Daughter is the winner for a copy of The Unclaimed Baby!  Congratulations, Jo's Daughter!  Please email  with your full name and mailing address.  Thanks to everyone else who left a comment!***

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sarah Morgan: A Hollywood Star in your living room…..

When you’re a writer, research takes many different forms. Sometimes it’s a long trawl of the internet, sometimes it’s a trip abroad to interesting and exotic places to add authentic flavour to a book (that’s the tough part of the job), and sometimes it’s just a question of interviewing a bunch of friends to find out how they’d react in various situations. ‘What would you do if…..’ must be one of the writer’s most frequently posed questions, along with ‘how would you feel if……..? I actually love this kind of research because it reminds me that no two people ever react the same way. It’s the reason why books with similar themes will always be different – because the characters will always be different.

My next release for Harlequin Presents, A Night of Scandal, is out in the US next month and part of my research for that book involved plying my friends with wine and asking them the key question:

How would you feel and act if suddenly, with no warning, you had a major Hollywood star in your living room?

The hero of my book , Nathaniel Wolfe, is a Hollywood superstar. He’s the ultimate Bad Boy who uses his incredible acting ability to conceal the shocking truth about his past. But secrets, especially nasty ones, have a way of escaping and when his carefully protected world fractures and he realises his past is about to be exposed, Nathaniel needs somewhere to hide. He turns in desperation to the first person he sees, costume designer Katie Field.

Katie lives alone. Coping with family problems of her own, she works hard, spending all her spare time drawing and designing costumes and trying to follow her dream. The closest she comes to glamour is when she dresses other people …….until the night Nathaniel Wolfe begs her for sanctuary. The only red carpet Katie has ever walked on is threadbare and her budget doesn’t allow for meals in expensive restaurants but suddenly she’s entertaining Hollywood royalty in her cramped London flat.

Which brings me back to my research. How does a normal girl behave with a Hollywood superstar in her living room?

The answers varied. Some thought they’d be embarrassed, some tongue tied, one vowed never again to leave the house without loading the dishwasher in case it actually happened (I did point out that this is fiction but she’d already dashed home to start tidying).

Frankly he wouldn’t make it through the door of my house without breaking his neck because my boys always take their shoes off when they walk through the door (well trained) but never quite get round to tidying them away (not so well trained) which leaves a death trap for the unwary. So in my case the Hollywood superstar would have a broken neck and the only ensuing embarrassment would be about where to hide the body, but that’s a whole different round of research.

How would you feel if you suddenly had a Hollywood superstar (a single one, of course) in your living room? Would you be star struck, thrilled, embarrassed…….or would you sneak upstairs and find that gorgeous underwear you’ve been saving for this very occasion?

Sarah  xxxx

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fiona Lowe: What do you buy your Mom when she turns 80?

My Mom is turning 80. Wow!! I won't even mention what that means in terms of my birthday this year, except she was very old when she had me ;-) All her life, my mother has never wanted the spotlight turned on her so although she had a 21st under sufferance, and then she had a large wedding, from that date onwards, she's never wanted a party for herself.

Imagine my surprise when she announced she wanted a party. It's still a couple of of months away but I've been helping her choose paper and fonts and I'm printing invitations because, at almost 80 she's pretty busy. She leaves soon for you do when you're almost 80. Dad, who is a spritely just-turned 79 is accompanying her on the six week trip.

They travel a lot and usually I write to them and fax the letter to their hotel. This year however, my mother's younger sister (aged 67) went on a trip and emailed Mom often. I think a bit of sibling rivalry sprung up and my mother thought, 'Well if she can do it, so can I.' Suddenly there were rumblings about, 'buying a laptop.' We came up with a better iPad 2.

How did we sell this to them? We said, you can email us but you can also watch movies, Dad can load up the holiday snaps and actually SHOW them to us on the iPad...we're two trips behind 'cos they are on his computer 90 miles away and you can Skype us.' Also, the Queen just bought one!

But most importantly, I pointed out she can read my books...I mean, that's important, right, especially as my first single title, Boomerang Bride (Out on August 8th) is a Carina Press book so only available electronically. For now though, I've set her up with, Single Dad's Triple Trouble to take to Europe.

According to sales figures, the older generations are taking up the iPad in droves and I am hoping that Mom and Dad find this new technology a LOT easier than the fight they've been having with Vista for the last few years!

What technology have your parents taken on that you least expected them to?

As well as organizing 80th birthday parties, Fiona Lowe writes medical romances for Harlequin and fun single-title romances for Carina Press. For more information about her books go to

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Amanda Ashby: Fairy Bad Day competition

Phew, yesterday was a pretty hectic day! I've got a book coming out, I'm revising another book as well as trying to organize our upcoming move from New Zealand back to Australia. Oh, and then there was the small matter of my eight year old son who has spent most of last night in a wild tantrum because his Halo/MegaBloks toy wouldn't stay together. Seriously, give me Lego any day of the week.

Thankfully the toy problem has now been solved thanks to some careful instruction reading, but I'm not so sure that the other things on my list will be quite so easy to manage! Which is why, in a lieu of doing a proper blog post, I thought I'd give away a copy of my latest young adult book, Fairy Bad Day to a Tote Bags 'n' Blogs reader! Especially since my hectic day was nothing compared to what happens to my heroine, Emma Jones.

I actually wrote this book about two years ago so it's quite strange to think that it's finally coming out. It's even stranger to think that my editor let me write a book that involved giant killer fairies, a hero on crutches and a whole lot of Skittles. Still, the good news is that so far the reviews have been nice. I've received one from Publisher's Weekly and I even passed my first Kirkus review without any visible scarring!

Fairy Bad Day by Amanda Ashby coming 9th June 2011

While most students at Burtonwood Academy get to kill demons and goblins, fifteen-year-old Emma gets to rid the world of little annoying fairies with glittery wings and a hipster fashion sense. She was destined to be a dragon slayer, but cute and charming Curtis stole her spot. Then she sees a giant killer fairy - and it's invisible to everyone but her! If Emma has any chance of stopping this evil fairy, she's going to need help. Unfortunately, the only person who can help is Curtis. And now, not only has he stolen her dragon-slayer spot, but maybe her heart as well! Why does she think it's going to be a fairy bad day?

"The exciting plot, humor throughout—often provided by the little fairies—and relatively innocent romance between characters will grab readers and keep them involved. " Kirkus Reviews

"In a fun mashup of the modern and the magical, Ashby (Zombie Queen of Newbury High) creates nicely developed characters and supports them with strong plotting and zippy writing. Laced with humor, danger, and romance, this book will have readers smiling all the way to the last page." Publisher's Weekly

So to be in with a chance to win all you need is to tell me what has been your craziest day! This is an international competition and I will send you a copy once the book releases on the 9th of June!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Always the Bridesmaid by Jenny Gardiner

Since it's wedding high season right now, I thought I'd dig up a piece I wrote several years ago about the joy of middle-aged bridesmaidhood...enjoy!

I got to be a bridesmaid again just a few years ago. At the ripe old age of 39, plucked from my post of matronly mother to magically metamorphose into the role of sprightly ingenue.

[this was definitely not the dress though]this is definitely not the dress though
The thing is, middle-aged, of which, alas, I’ve become a card-carrying member, just doesn’t seem to cut it in some roles. I mean, you reach a certain point in life and you start to look stupid wearing long hair, for example. Or bleaching it blonde, for that matter. And eventually, if you wear a mini-skirt or a bikini, you’re likely to be accused of trying to be your teen-aged daughter. This is kind of how I feel about mid-life bridesmaids. It just doesn’t work. You gotta know when to call it quits.

Nevertheless, that’s where I found myself. In the whirl of pre-matrimonial frenzy, negotiating dress sizes with brutally dictatorial bridal shop employees, mean women who insist you are lying to them about your dress size, and insist you’re doomed to be wedged like a sausage into a too-tight dress if you don’t follow their advice.

Did you know that bridesmaid dresses standardly measure about five sizes up from your rack size? I thought it was bad buying bathing suits, which invariably size far larger than your street clothes. I suspect this bridesmaid-sizing is intended to make the bride feel that much more superior. Place her up on the pedestal, the only time she’s gonna get to enjoy this position. So the bride is sporting her size 4 clingy little number, while the bridesmaids are ordering their dresses in a size 20. No doubt created by my favorite designer, Omar the Tentmaker (see below).

When the day finally arrived that my bridesmaid outfit was delivered, I was shocked. My two-pieced strapless floor-length number in steel gray sateen was practically shiny enough to see my reflection in.

Then came the time I’d dreaded: trying on this flattering bit of haute (or should I say “not”) couture. The moment of truth was humiliating. All I needed was a trunk and a swishy little tail and I’d have been placed on the endangered species list because I was hunted for my ivory tusks. The words “husky” and matronly kept swimming through my head. Husky is fine, if you’re a blue-eyed sled dog, but not so flattering if you’re a blue-eyed mom, even if you are a beast of burden. And matronly, well that’s a word that evokes its own connotations, none of which are too great. Suffice it to say, a red hot mama, I was not.

The whale-bone support structure in the strapless top pushed my breasts up to chin-level,  preventing my arms from resting flat at my sides. I wondered how I was going to negotiate eating and drinking at the reception with my newly-endowed cleavage getting in the way of my wineglass. Perhaps I’d be able to just rest my dinner plate right on top of my boobs, doing away with the need for a table. The small mercy for which I was thankful was that the dirndl style of the skirt hid all sorts of figure flaws. Of course, by hiding them, this amplified my amplitude, if you know what I mean. Add 18 wheels and this baby could’ve rolled on down the highway, ten-four good buddy.

[yeah, this was not the dress, either]yeah, this is not the dress, either
How sad, in middle age, when I have finally come to accept my imperfections with something close to good grace, that I then have them flouted at me by my being forced to parade around alongside a bevy of young, slender beauties, the lone matronly bridesmaid. Here I was, fully prepared to attend this wedding dressed in an age-appropriate, somewhat elegant dress, and instead, I was relegated to laughingstock status—looking much like a dingy gray London sky, in my shiny sateen gown. The wedding guests sniggering as I sashay down the aisle, “Good lord, who on earth is that? She must be someone’s sister, poor thing.”

The good news, though, is I think I’m out of relatives of marrying age now. I’m pretty sure the next wedding I’m invited to, I’ll be able to dress as me. Only problem is if I end up picking some hideous looking garment, I won’t have the bride to blame it on—I’ll have to take all the credit myself. 

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Living Moment to Moment by Stella MacLean

As life continues to pick up speed, as we become busier with each passing day, it’s easy to forget those wonderful moments in life that make all the rush and worry worthwhile.

Here are just a few of my favorite moments.

The tanginess of fresh lemon, the searing bite of cold snow, the delicious smoothness of vanilla frosting.

Sunlight through branches, the perky smile on my four year old granddaughter’s face as she appears from my office with glasses perched on her nose and announces, “I’m working!”

The scent of lilacs in early spring, the lavender my grandmother wore, the smell of long ago varnished wood, my children’s infant smells, the smell of freshly mown grass, the scent of clean clothes off the clothesline, the smell of peanut butter cookies.

The song of robins early in the morning just before light breaks across the landscape. The high-pitched giggle of children as they race around the yard, and the upbeat sound of my husband’s voice on the phone. The sea gulls cry, the caw of crows, the sound of water on rocks, the haunting notes of a lullaby by Johannes Brahms.

The welcoming sound of silence.

The velvety touch of a baby’s cheek, the luxurious fur on my cat’s back, the roughness of a tree trunk, the warm smoothness of water.

All of this reminds me that life is at its best when we allow ourselves to experience those moments that make our world special.

Stella MacLean writes for Harlequin Super Romance.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Barbara Bretton: Grandma and the Prince - Part 29

WE HAVE A WINNER! The April prize goes to Pat Cochran! Pat, please send me an email with your mailing address and I'll ship ASAP. You can reach me right here.

Here is the third and last 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!)

* * *

There weren’t many rumors going around on this crossing. All had a pretty good idea where we were going and that was to England, which proved to be correct. We arrived at the Devonport Naval Base where our guests departed. We were there several days and I went on liberty to nearby Plymouth and later took a rip to London. We had to coal ship while there and it turned out to be quite a chore. In the States, we always coaled ship under good, modern conditions, but there we had to coal by wheelbarrow. It took the crew 36 hours straight.

When we finished, we cleaned up and were preparing to go home. Tied up at a dock nearby were two American destroyers. They were at the Devonport Base for minor repairs, I suppose, and this day they were preparing to leave to go back on patrol. One of them, as I well remember, bore the historic name of John Paul Jones. This vessel sent a request to the Huntington for a replacement draft of eight men, as they were undermanned for one reason or an other. The draft was to be on a voluntary basis. It just happened that for some time I had had it in the back of my mind that I would like to get destroyer duty, but the opportunity had never presented itself. Now here it was.

I went back to the ship (inaudible), such things were handled there and put my name in for the transfer. A while later, the bosun’s pipe sounded the call with the names of the men on the draft to pack their bags and hammocks and stand by for the transfer. My name was among them. My friends thought that I must be somewhat off my rocker to volunteer for duty with the tin can fleet, as the destroyers at that time were called. You see, the destroyers are expendable. I don’t know – maybe that was the reason I wanted that duty. They were much smaller in those days than the big powerful ones of World War II and the present time. They were just a heartily-armed tin cans. A rack on the stern loaded with ash cans (depth charges) from three tube torpedo launchers, deck-based, two on each side of the ship, each tube with a warhead torpedo at ready, and a strong battery of three-inch guns, plus speed. Speed was their best defense, otherwise a rifle bullet could blow them out of the water (not literally speaking, of course.) After a while, the word was passed for the men on the John Paul Jones draft to lay aft on the quarterdeck with bag and hammock.

We lined up and were given envelopes which held our transfer papers. Then it was the old service system of “hurry up and wait.” We discussed the transfer and reckoned that soon we would be heading for the ever turbulent North Sea. Then a yeoman came from the ship (inaudible) office and spoke to the Officer of the Deck. Soon he came over to me and took my transfer envelope, saying that I was instructed to return to my Division with bag and hammock. I was highly disappointed but there was nothing I could do. I wondered if I was unqualified, but I was conceited enough to reject that idea. The other seven men of the draft were dismissed and shouldering their bags and hammocks. I watched them walk down the gangplank to oblivion.

I took some good-natured kidding that night from some of my friends about my short period of service with the tin can fleet. The next morning the report came in: the John Paul Jones had no more than reached the open sea when she took a German torpedo and went down with heavy casualties. I never heard whether any of our seven men survived or not. I must admit that it sure shook me up. That was a close one. I never learned who gave the order or why my transfer was canceled, but there is one thing I know and that is that somebody high up there did not want me to be on the John Paul Jones.

My Note: Grandpa lived another eighty years after that incident!

* * *
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.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Culling the book collection - with Natalie Anderson

In two weeks we're moving house for the third time in less than three years. It's not so bad this time, we have professional packers coming in to box everything up and truck it for us. So all I have to do before they walk in the door is declutter.

Some stuff is easy to get rid of - the toys the kids have outgrown, the clothes I've outgrown (LOL), the things that are broken and chipped, the old school uniforms...

But some things are SO much harder!

I'm sure this won't surprise you, but we're a book family. We have a TON of books. We all have at least one big bookcase each in our bedrooms (there are six of us) plus extras in the lounge and dining room. Added to that I have books in crates out in the garage. The copies of my own books are kept in boxes under my bed and in crates in my wardrobe and cupboards above. There are books everywhere.

Even worse, half our library is in storage! That first move we put bookcases and a ton of books into a lock-up. So we have those to come back to as well. Even though I haven't even seen those books for two and a half years, I know I can't bear to part with any of them. We tried that before putting them away in the first place! And we're going back to our home-town so those books will be coming out....

I've tried to thin the children's books now my youngest (the twins) are coming up five and ready for school... but of course, all those lovely little picture books with a single line on each page are perfect for emergent readers... so I didn't donate many at all.

So, clearly I need some help. How do you decide which books you simply HAVE to keep? How do you manage a spiraling collection?

In order to help me cull my collection even just a little, I'd love to give away a copy of my R*BY finalist book, HOT BOSS, BOARDROOM MISTRESS to someone who can give me their best 'moving house' advice!

With very best wishes,

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lisa Dale: My Weekend Adventure

Sometimes, it's hard to know which I like more: The writing, or the fact that writing is an excuse for so many other things: buying books, quiet evenings in, asking lots of questions that most people would have no use for, and of course, research.

If you know my books, you know I'm a curious person--always hunting up fun new facts. Yesterday, I went on a scouting expedition with my fiance, Matt, into the Hudson Valley. I wanted to share some pictures from our trip to Philipsburg Manor.

Here's a picture of me and a cooper who was kind enough to talk to us for half an hour about everything we ever wanted to know about barrel-making (like the fact that tool handles are made of hickory because it absorbs shock, or that there's a difference between a pail and a bucket). I didn't realize Matt was snapping pictures or I would have torn my eyes away from the bucket to smile.

And here's a picture of Washington Irving's grave (he penned The Legend of Sleep Hollow and other stories). We stopped for a moment, but since we weren't on a tour, we didn't linger. Still, it's very cool to stop a moment to honor one of the first American fiction writers.

And of course, here is a replica of the bridge where poor Ichabod Crane was driven out of town by the headless horseman in Sleepy Hollow.

And finally, here's one of me for good measure where you actually can see my face.

It was a great day in the Hudson Valley--very foggy and gray, but beautiful. The Hudson has such a funny magic about it.

When you're in the Hudson Valley and Catskills area, there's always a coincidence around the corner--like, a certain thing you've been looking for five years suddenly appears.

Or you stumble on one of the area's enchanting little towns, and you just have this feeling of having been there before.

Yesterday, we strangely ran into one of Matt's colleagues at Washington Irving's house--he'd said he'd never been there before in his life but happened to be there the same day we were. Odd, and yet somehow, totally right.

I'm sure we'll be going up there again soon!

Wishing you much happy traveling and reading,

Lisa Dale

QUESTION: What place in the world feels magical to you?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Michelle Styles: Social Platforms for Books

Harlequin Historical Author Michelle Styles explains a bit about the options for talking about books on the internet.

One of the great loves of my life is reading. When I was growing up, my idea of a great treat was to go to the library. There is just something about a library...I also like talking about books that I have read. Thankfully all of my family share my obsession with books. Being able to discuss books with my children is a favourite part of parenting for me. It is great when they discover a book I love or when they pass a book on to me. My daughter is especially good about passing books on. She recently recommended GRR Martin's Game of Thrones which is basically the War of the Roses with dragons. A tv adaptation is currently being televised in the US on HBO and in the UK on Sky Atlantic but the books are better.

Various websites understand that people like to talk about books with other people. My publisher Harlequin runs eharlequin and the Mills and Boon sites which I enjoy. The Eharlequin site has been around for over ten years. But what if you want to talk about more books from other publishers? Or you want to list all the books you have read? And how can you connect with other people who love books?
 Facebook is not really suited for that sort of activity.
The three main social platforms that allow you to do that are: GoodReads , Shelfari and Library Thing Each has its own advantage and particular style. You can take a tour at each site and find out which one suits your own personal needs best. All of the sites allow you to say which books you have read, put a review up or simply discuss the book. You can also see the books that your friends on the site have put up and enjoyed. You can also friend authors and other readers plus send them messages.

Shelfari, for example, now has an interface with Amazon. Authors have the ability to put character lists, themes and books that influenced the writing of the book on to Shelfari or books that are linked to that book as well their author profile. These are now integrated with the kindle network and when someone downloads a book on to their kindle, they can get the extras provided by Shelfari. You can also easily add all your Amazon purchases to your Shelfari book shelf and you can put your book shelf on to your blog etc.

Library Thing has the ability to list events and have local chats. It is actually the platform I know least about. But it does have a dedicated base and it does operate a lot like Wikipedia. Authors are allowed to use the RSS feed to put their blogs on Library Thing. Various publishers participate in the early reviewer program and it can be a way to get your hands on free books. Library thing also has author chats and lists local signings and readings.

GoodReads happens to be my fave at the moment. It claims to have over 4.6 million users. Among other things, it has that great procrastination tool – the Never Ending Book Quiz where you can answer multiple choice questions about books that other members have submitted. There are groups, author Q & A and then there is the giveaway section where it is possible to get free books. It is easy to become a fan of an author and discover when they are doing events, or having a new book come out.  Like Library Thing, GoodReads allows a RSS feed of blogs, so you can follow a variety of author blogs.

So what do other people think of book social platforms? Do you have a favourite?

Goodreads Book Giveaway

To Marry a Matchmaker by Michelle Styles

To Marry a Matchmaker

by Michelle Styles

Giveaway ends June 23, 2011.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shannon McKelden: If I Wasn't a Writer, What Would I Be?

The heroine in the book I’m working on now doesn’t know what she wants to be “when she grows up.” She has a vague notion of what she loves to do, but she’s never been able to do it before. Now that she is free to do as she pleases (having left her family of origin to strike out on her own), it still doesn’t occur to her to follow her bliss.

I feel like I’m really lucky to be a writer...even when it’s hard. I may have a day job, but there’s nothing stopping me from writing my heart out on my free time and pursuing writing as a side career. Sure, I’ve thought of quitting writing before. Like when I have to work at it too hard.

Once, when I gave half-serious thought to putting away the computer and selling all my writing books, I tried to imagine what I’d do instead...not just every day to fill the time, but what I would love to do if I replaced my writing career with another career.
I briefly toyed with the idea that I might be born to sing on stage. I love music and love to sing (although my pretty decent high school choir voice has seriously aged). I had to dismiss that idea, though, because I’m too emotional. I can’t sing an emotion-filled song, even in my car, driving down the highway, without crying. Which stuffs up my nose and makes me look blotchy. Not a look concert-goers would be looking for.
Another alternative would be art-related. I love crafts and used to tole paint, sew, etc. Most of these hobbies when by the way-side when I got tired of the outlay of money they required with the lack of return. At least writing is free.

If stuck making a career choice outside the realm of the creative, I’d be hurting. Writing fits me in every way...I can be creative (like I would be with painting or other crafts), it’s free to do (bonus!) and I can express my emotions in the privacy of my own how where my stuffy nose and blotchy face don’t scare anyone.

Guess that means I’ll have to stick to writing. Now...if only my heroine would get a clue as to what she’s meant to do with her life...

What would you do if you weren’t doing what you’re doing and how do you know it would be your passion?

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

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Graduation gifts? : : Anne McAllister

I'm late today. My apologies. I've been preparing for the last class of the semester of a course that I teach in family history research, and I just got back -- feeling pleased because all my students are excited and eager and looking forward to doing lots of work on the internet and on research trips this summer. And now I feel like I've dropped the ball.

That's because I am getting less and less good at multi-tasking apparently. Or maybe it's because the weather is all of a sudden 90 degrees and I'm left wondering, What happened to spring? Anyway, sometimes life gets away from me (and so do blogs apparently) and this was one of those times.

So since I've come unprepared (because I'm also making 200 brownies for the graduation party of my oldest grandson whose party is this weekend), I need to ask your advice.

What do you get a charming, talented, clever, smart, athletic high school senior for his graduation?

Bear in mind that whatever we get him, we're setting a precedent. There are seven more grandkids following in his footsteps -- so far. What we do for one, we need to comparably do for all the others in some fashion or other. So, yachts are out. So are trips to Hawaii and other mega-costly things.

I know cash is always an option -- and there will probably be a bit of that.

But cash comes and it goes and then you don't have anything to think back on and remember that Grandma and Grandpa gave that to you when you graduated from high school.

I know this for a fact because I remember two things that people gave me when I graduated from high school. An aunt and uncle gave me some luggage because I was going away to college (he's not going that far). And my great-aunt Martha gave me a lovely wool blanket I still have.

Every time I put in on the bed in the winter, I think of Aunt Martha. Mostly I think of her because my cousin got married two weeks after my graduation and she didn't give him and his new wife a wedding present at all. When my grandmother asked (grandma was blunt) why, Aunt Martha said, speaking from experience, "Well, you only graduate from high school once. You can get married plenty of times!"

So . . . bearing that in mind, I'd like to get him something he'll remember fondly, even if he doesn't have the crazy family story to go with it that I do.

Help, please!!