Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ashlyn Chase: Reinventing Myself

In some of my bios, I mention the idea of the writer’s theme. It’s not the theme of a book; it’s the theme of all that author’s books. Whether or not we writers realize it, an all-over pervasive theme usually emerges in every book by a particular author. I’ve come to realize my theme has to do with characters who reinvent themselves.

I’m well qualified to write it too. I’ve reinvented myself many times—both as a writer and a person. I worked as a registered nurse for twenty years. Before that, I attended Massachusetts College of Art, hoping to become a famous artist and travel the world showing in premier galleries. Then I got real.

Reinvention number one: From artist to nurse. Nursing doesn’t allow for a lot of creativity. In fact, it’s actively discouraged. You follow doctor’s orders, period. And if they get “too creative” it’s your job to reel them in. But as you might have guessed, I’m a creative person and that trait doesn’t stay buried easily. Most artists will tell you they become very uncomfortable—physically, emotionally or both—if they can’t create. I’m no different. To satisfy my creative urges I took a course in screenwriting. It wasn’t as messy as painting and I had since married a neat-nick.

Reinvention number two: From nurse to writer. I tried a couple of other things along the way. I trained as a hypnotherapist and an interior designer, but for some reason my clients eventually began smoking or gaining weight again, and it was discouraging. I never earned a dime with my Interior Design training. There were just too many pitfalls, so I used my knowledge to design my own home and offer opinions to friends—if asked. But it was writing that stuck.

Reinvention number three: From hot suspense to hot comedy. I was a published author. I had a few devoted followers and some great reviews, but something was missing. My joy and spontaneity. I wasn’t having as much fun as I would have liked. Writing these books had turned into work. Then I had an experience that changed me again. I wrote my first erotic comedy. I let myself go buck wild, and it just poured out of me. What resulted was an off-the-wall novella that every reader and reviewer loved. It was nominated for a CAPA and an Eppie award. I loved it as much as readers did, plus I loved the experience of writing it.

Reinvention number four: From short to long: I had heard that what readers and publishers wanted were not one, but several related books in a series. So I tried to come up with an idea for a hot humorous series. Let’s see…write what you know…use your voice…and try to think of a long, rich storyline that can go on and on and on…

The Vampire Next Door is the third in the Strange Neighbors series and it’s available August 1st! Here’s why you won’t want to miss it. All of the characters in the previous books make a reappearance, and every tenant receives their own happily ever after ending. I love what the blurb on the back cover says.

Apartment for Rent: Normal need not apply. Fans of the series will understand that with no explanation. For those who have yet to discover it, here’s the rest of the paragraph…

This old Boston brownstone is not known for quiet living…first the shapeshifter meets his nurse, then the werewolf falls for his curvy lawyer, but now the vampire is looking for love with a witch who’s afraid of the dark…and you thought your neighbors had issues!

So, that’s it. No more hints…just the promise of a happy ever after ending for all.

Ashlyn Chase describes herself as an Almond Joy bar. A little nutty, a little flaky, but basically sweet, wanting only to give her readers a scrumptious, satisfying, reading experience. She holds a degree in behavioral sciences, worked as a psychiatric RN for several years and spent a few more years working for the American Red Cross where she still volunteers as an instructor. She credits her sense of humor to her former careers since comedy helped preserve whatever was left of her sanity. She is a multi-published, award-winning author of humorous erotic romances. Represented by the Nancy Yost agency in New York, NY, she lives in beautiful New Hampshire with her true-life hero husband and a spoiled brat cat.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fiona Lowe: I've Got to Go There!

OK, so I confess to watching 'A Farmer Wants a Wife' and last year one of the Aussie farmers was a pearl farmer living on the Western Australian coast, and the images of the area just blew me away.

The blue-green sea, water so clear you could see dugong, turtles, mantarays, massive schools of fish from the top of a cliff and the most amazing sight of red, outback dust suddenly changing to whiter than white sand are images that are burned into my brain. It was a place where the outback meets the ocean and the perfect place to take a French exchange student so he could experience both the outback and glorious beaches. I started planning a vacation!

We're just back from that holiday and it was spectacular. We were in the World Heritage listed Shark Bay and the recently listed Ningaloo reef and I got to swim with whale sharks, which was something I had never imagined myself doing. The experience will stay with me forever. There is something about swimming next to an 8 metre fish that makes you realise how tiny we really are!

Of course we wanted to visit this part of the world and we were open to everything, but it's different when you're 'told' you have to go somewhere or 'do' something. In my latest release, Career Girl In The Country, Poppy Stanfield is told she has to go to the outback and work in a mining town.

It isn't in a World Heritage area with amazing sceneary and it's a two hour flght from Perth. With the never-ending rest dust and the searing temperatures, Poppy feels like she's been sent to hell. She's determined to get out of town as soon as possible and back to her life in Perth, and her career dreams of being the head of surgery in a Perth hospital.

Nothing goes to plan and slowly, despite not wanting to, she starts to see beyond the moon-scape environment and starts to glimpse some positive attributes to the town; not to mention the gorgous but brooding ER doctor, Matt Albright.

So tell me, what situation have you been in where you were told to do something or told to go somewhere that you didn't wish to, but ultimately you realised it had been a good experience for you? Leave a comment and go into the draw to win a copy of Career Girl In The Country!

Fiona Lowe is an award-winning, multipublished author or romance fiction with Harlequin Mills & Boon and Carina Press. Whether her books are set in outback Australia or small-town USA they all feature small towns with big hearts fillled with warm, likeable characters that make you fall in love. When she's not writing stories, she's a weekend wife, mother of two boys who she's trying to instill in them heroic charcteristics like cooking and ironing. She's currently writing her 18th novel. She loves to hear from readers and you can find her on Facebook, Twitter and at her website.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lynn Raye Harris: Between Books

Ah, bliss. It's that happy time in between books where I've just sent off the last book, the revisions haven't arrived yet, and I'm contemplating the next book but haven't begun it. I love this time, where I feel like my life is my own again and the next book is so full of possibilities that it will surely write itself (that sound is me snorting, because it's never true).

This week, I've straightened up my office (somewhat), gone grocery shopping (oh it was bad in the pantry), been to routine appointments (my vision is still 20/15, which is pretty cool!), had lunch with a writer friend, and gone to dinner with non-writer friends and family (and will go again tonight).

Ideally, if I could take a vacation between books, I'd go here:

Or maybe here:

In any case, I'd want to drink this:

And eat this:

Generally, I'd just want to relax and take in the scenery. For me, the time between books is important. Even if it's only a couple of days, I need that time to recharge - to read, talk with my hubby, go shopping, relax, watch TV, etc. Writing for Harlequin Presents is very rewarding -- and emotionally draining, at least for me! After every book, I'm wrung out by all the emotions. I don't know how anyone finishes a book today and starts a new one tomorrow. I've done it, but it wasn't easy. I function better with a little bit of time off in between.

How about you? Do you like a bit of down time as a reward for a job done?

(All photos are my own. Waikiki, Venice, strawberry daiquiri at the Hale Koa hotel in Waikiki, and dinner in Rome).

If you're ready for some relaxation, how about a nice trip to Russia? My June book, BEHIND THE PALACE WALLS, reached #1 on the Borders list and has been described as fast-paced, passionate, and hot! Here's the back cover copy:

‘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 realizes she’s pregnant with the Prince’s baby…

(PS: Right now, Amazon is selling my April release, THE DEVIL'S HEART, for only $2.36 on Kindle! And if you're in the UK, you can buy my passionate sheikh story, STRANGERS IN THE DESERT, for only 99p on Kindle!)

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,

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Joys of...Shopping - Annie West

I don't know about you but I often find shopping a chore. Supermarket shopping is a case in point. It seems to take far too long, especially when there's an essential ingredient shelved in a bizarre place. Too often I head to the shops intent on finding a particular item, or if I'm optimistic, a whole list of necessities, only to find that none are available/the right size/the right price.

I have friends who thrive on shopping. Who look forward to a day out at the shops as a real treat and who come back with a stack of bags loaded with goodies, impressive credit card bills, and the most amazing clothes or jewellery or shoes to show for their efforts.

I don't know how it is but I seem to have missed that shopping gene. Don't get me wrong - snaffling a great sale item or finding the perfect present for a loved one is a real thrill. If I have time I love window shopping, and yes, even to pastry shops. What gets me down are those times when I have to find the right thing and it eludes me. You know - for some reason you need a plain white shirt, or a pair of comfy shoes and no matter how you try, that's exactly what you CAN'T find. Every store has just sold out. Grr.

I've decided that the shopping I adore is the serendipity shopping - when you go out not expecting to succeed and out of the blue find the perfect item, or the dress you've been wanting for years, or something absolutely delightful that you can store for that special birthday gift you need to give in a month's time.

This post was inspired by two things. One was the fact that I went out today with plenty of time and no menfolk in tow, to do birthday shopping for my husband. Not only did I find the items I wanted (quickly!) I also made time to check some of the sales and unexpectedly found some comfy, good looking, uncrushable clothes for myself - perfect for an upcoming trip. And they included some long black trousers. I mean loong. Being tall I always have difficulty finding trousers long enough and these are so long I have to wear heels with them. I nearly swooned! A red letter shopping day.

The second impetus for this mail was that I was discussing my latest books with someone and realised both stories have an interesting twist on the shopping theme. In PRINCE OF SCANDAL Luisa is an unwilling princess, made over despite her wishes. She's given couture gowns and wonderful jewellery, which she rather enjoys, but what makes her happiest of all is when she gathers the courage to wear the clothes she likes best - casual but chic, flattering but not too formal. Then in RAFE'S REDEMPTION Antonia plays the role of mistress to a wealthy man, a man she doesn't at first like. When he demands she dress the part she takes delight in finding glamorous, provocative clothes that wipe the smile from his face when he realises the depth of his reaction to her. Shopping becomes a weapon in Antonia's fight for independence, and a bone of contention between them. The fact that she sources her designer gear in second hand shops rather than live up to Rafe's expectations that she's interested in his money, adds extra spice.

Do you enjoy shopping? Is it a chore or a pleasure? Have you ever had the perfect shopping experience, and if so, what were you buying? Personally I love browsing in book stores (surprise!) and have lots of fun too eyeing off shiny new cookware and stationery.

I'll give away a signed backlist book to one person chosen at random from those who comment. Or, if you have all of mine, a copy of another romance.

Talking of shopping, if you're interested in acquiring new books, look out for my latest releases, both Harlequin Presents titles are available now. RAFE'S REDEMPTION can be bought from the Harlequin website in paperback or ebook (it's not available in stores) and PRINCE OF SCANDAL is out whereever Harlequin titles are stocked. To read more details about either, including some excerpts and review quotes, just pop by my website.

All the best,

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jessica Barksdale Inclán: The First Class

Hi, Everyone!

I just finished teaching summer session at Diablo Valley College, and it was a wild go. This is my excuse for posting my blog late: the dog ate it!

But I started to ruminate about my teaching career, how far and not far I've come since 1988. All you teachers out there should relate.

After you read, I hope you'll go to my brand, spanking new web site. I'm very happy with it.


Jessica Barksdale

The First Class

The very first college class I taught was run by a community college but held in a building owned by a communications company in Livermore, California. This was 1988, and the company was growing or sputtering or both simultaneously, and they'd laid off and/or wanted their work force retrained for the coming boom or bust (the company was swallowed up some years ago Pac Man style by another communications firm). The English class I taught was part of the PACE program, which colleges developed especially for re-entry students. Classes are held at night and on the weekends, all general education requirements were offered in a timely fashion so that the working person can obtain his or her A.A. degree in 18 months.

I'd never taught a class before, impressing the interview committee not with my lengthy experience but with my small list of publications and exuberance. Before that interview, I'd only tutored international students while getting my B.A., the most memorable experience hearing my student from Hong Kong read these words aloud:

"Like a balloon explode suddenly, my heart was something empty."

He’d smelled like garlic and ginger and gave me a 1984 calendar before he graduated.

Except what I'd learned as a student, I knew nothing about teaching, having been a literature and not a composition major. No teacher training for me as I went through graduate school, stuck, instead, in the library reading microfiche and searching the stacks. All I knew was what had worked for me while sitting opposite teachers and could be boiled down to the following: Make whatever it is interesting, be clear and fair, provide good examples, don't use red pen.

Looking back, I knew nothing about just about everything, and I'm glad I didn't know that then.

So there I was, aged 26, wearing the new jacket and skirt my mother bought me, walking into the large boardroom on the 4th floor of the building that then stood alone at the edge of what looked liked former farmland. Sitting at the enormous table were a group of adult people who could have taught me a thing or two about life had they had the patience or the curriculum. If I'd passed out the coming 12 weeks as homework, I'm sure we would have learned about struggle and loss and achievement and children and marriage and faith. But this was an English class, and I was supposedly the expert.

But how could that be? I wasn't expert in anything, having done nothing really that well. I'd gotten my degrees, had my babies, but I lived in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Oakland, barely scraping by on my husband's teaching salary. He was trying to pull together the small business he ran on the side and was often gone from home, leaving me with two small children, not a lot of cash, and more anxiety. How could I teach these people anything that would help them save their jobs?

I tried to keep them from asking that question themselves, walking into the room every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning smiling, passing out readings, talking brightly. I focused on them, hearing about their lives, their dreams. I read their essays, correcting them all in blue ink.

As a novelist, I want to show you these characters, give them names and stories, creating lives for them that I cannot remember entirely. But what I can pull forth some basic details: The single African-American woman raising two boys, the twenty-eight-year old woman with blonde hair and despair that she would ever get a promotion, the couple who was taking the class together, the husband laid off weeks before, the wife still on the payroll. That’s it, though the room was full.

This class wasn't freshman composition, but the preparatory class below that, a very basic essay writing class, the type where one learns how to write a thesis statement, organize an argument, and conclude it. We were going to compare and contrast, show cause and effect, work deductive and inductive reasoning. The hope was that we were going to do this is relatively correct English.

On we went, the weeks passing, the last of summer turning into fall and then the first inklings of winter. I read their essays, I passed them back. I bought another suit. I spent a lot of time at Kinko's because driving out to the college campus to make copies was another 10 miles of gasoline, and I was already driving in from Oakland. My husband and I were thrilled with the extra money, and the college offered me another class, this time over at the Hayward campus, teaching in the PACE program, but no longer in the business park.

During the last week of class, I handed back the essays, my students reading the notes immediately, talking about their plans for the next quarter. All of them had passed the course, ready to move on to freshman composition and the courses that would push them toward their A.A. and their futures away from this company and their old jobs. I said goodbye, wished them luck, and we all went home to our lives and to our futures.

At that moment as we left the big building at the edge of the business park where there were once farms, would we have known what was coming? Would I have been able to tell them that in 23 years, I could finally teach them something worth listening to? That so much would happen to me, to them? That life was going to unfold in so many mysterious ways? If any of us could have paid a second of attention to the night sky, the hum of the freeway, the laughter as we walked to our cars, would we?

No. Probably not. There were dinners to make and families to tend to. There was the next day filled with more work, and there wasn’t that shift, that pause, that sometimes comes with change, that place where we can see where we’ve been and what we are headed into. But more often, we just slide into things without seeing the crevasse we just jumped over.

Now I wish I could go back to them all and thank them for staying in the class, for holding me up as much as I might have held them. I want to thank them for not laughing when I came in, so young and untried and in such an ugly suit, and attempted to show them something about life. I gave them sentences and ideas. They gave me the encouragement to keep trying, to go at it all again the next semester, to take this path, the one I am still on.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Christine Cody: Inspirations for a Fangslinger

Christine Cody is the author of the postapocalyptic supernatural Western series Bloodlands and the urban fantasy Vampire Babylon books (w/a Chris Marie Green) from Ace. Once upon a time, she used to be an eighth-grade teacher until she became a full-time author who has published nearly forty books under all three of her pseudonyms (including Crystal Green). Bloodlands is the first book in the series, and it’s released today, followed by Blood Rules (August 30) and In Blood We Trust (September 27).

Four years ago, I turned in a proposal to my editor at Ace Books. I didn’t know exactly how to categorize it.

Was it a paranormal romance? Well, the romance wasn’t absolutely at the forefront, although there’s a strong one that’s extremely important to everything that happens in the series. Was it a postapocalyptic story? Sure, but there were also a lot of supernatural elements that defined the setting. And I couldn’t exactly call this a Western, although it had the pervasive feel of one.

Years later, as Bloodlands is finally being released (along with the sequels in back-to-back-to-back months), I’m still not sure what to call the series, although I’ve started to use Publisher Weekly’s description of a “postapocalyptic supernatural Western.” I’ve also said that this is a paranormal Shane meets Mad Max, which seems to cover the first book pretty well, at least!

Honestly, there really were a lot of different elements that influenced Bloodlands, and the biggest one was old Western movies. Indeed, after watching a batch of those wonderful films, I started to think, “What if Shane was a vampire?” and it went from there. I was inspired by the opportunity to “flip” common themes and characters you’d find in Westerns, such as the underdog sheriff who comes up against great odds (You’ll see that one of the core characters from the first book becomes this trope throughout the trilogy.), as well as things like the fallen woman who’s usually woefully attracted to that sheriff. In book 2, you’ll even find the mysterious sick woman who wears a veil.

I also turned to mythology and world folklore for inspiration. One of my main characters, Gabriel, the gunslinger (or “fangslinger”) who comes out West searching for a way to regain his humanity, is a vampire—a pretty traditional one, initially. But when it came time to write books 2 and 3 and open up the Bloodlands world, I was like a kid in a candy store. I took bits of vampire lore from this place and that to characterize more creatures. (For example—remember the “fallen woman” trope I mentioned? There’s a vampire called a “tik-tik” who has some rather nasty feeding habits. What better creature to be a “fallen” vampire than one who the other bloodsuckers even look down upon?)

Creating a dystopian world was also great fun, and I had a surprising resource to draw upon for that—The New Yorker magazine. This publication is on my regular reading list, but I found that reading about war zones, politics, advances in science, and everything else The New Yorker covers really got me to thinking about our own future—and how it could go drastically wrong. I was also turned onto Thomas Friedman’s books about a global future, and the idea of the urban hubs was inspired by what he thinks cities might be like.

I hope the Bloodlands series has something for everyone to chew on, whether it’s a sci-fi, fantasy, or romantic angle. Happy hunting, everyone, and I hope your summer is full of adventure, no matter what you choose to read.

Christine is giving away a signed mass market copy of the first book, NIGHT RISING, in her alter-ego’s Vampire Babylon series (written as Chris Marie Green). To win, please leave a comment. U.S. only. A winner will be chosen by 6pm Pacific Time on Friday July 29, 2011!

Follow Christine at

(Excerpt from Bloolands, Book One)

When I saw the stranger weaving through the newly settled dusk on my visz monitor, he looked like a lie—a mirage, half wavering fantasy, half dust in my eyes. Chaplin didn’t even believe me when I told him about it, but then again, he knew that I’d stayed partway sane only because of one altered version of the truth or another. It always took him some good thought before he ever put stock in what I did or said, and I wouldn’t blame him, or anyone else, for that.

Lies and omissions were how we lived out here in the nowheres. It’s how we made sure strangers like this one on the visz never found us.

We lied about reality to survive.

Hell, I would lie to you anyone, even you.

When I grabbed my old revolver from the wall arsenal, that must’ve lent some credence to the situation for Chaplin. He looked at the visz, seeing that I was telling him true about a stranger coming toward us.

“Think he’s another one of them?” I asked, while keeping an eye on the screen. “Think this guy’s one of Stamp’s?”

My dog chuffed, then padded over close to me, leaning against my leg. His long tail curled over my boot, like a child wrapping an arm round a protector.

Not that I’m all that good at protecting. Sometimes I even think that Chaplin does a better job of guarding me than the other way round. There’s a lot of ways a person needs to be protected.

Strung tight with tension, I adjusted a knob on the visz’s side to get a better look at the approaching stranger. The long view was gloomy with the surreal blur of the camera’s night vision, streaking his movements as he lurched even nearer to my underground home. Could he somehow see this earthen dwelling, even though I’d taken great care to disguise the entrance amongst the scrub and mounded landscape?

Chaplin made a garbled sound, and I rested a hand on his furry head.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll bet he saunters right past us.”

I didn’t even believe myself this time.

My dog softly yowled, as if chewing on words. To anyone not trained in Canine, his sentiments would be inarticulate. But years ago, when I was no more than a pup myself, I’d begged my dad for one of the Intel Dogs he bred and trained at his lab. Dad had obliged only just before we’d been forced to flee our Dallas home much later; then Chaplin had become a necessary tool for survival—a watchdog genetically tooled to be more intelligent than most humans. Stronger, too. He was also a balm for us after my mom and brother had been murdered right in the home we’d abandoned.

I guess I needed Chaplin more than ever now, long after the murders and one year after my dad had taken his own life. My dog wasn’t just my best friend—he was my only friend. In particular, he was nice to have round at night. Nice to have round whenever I thought about what waited outside the dirt-packed walls.

Just thinking about outside made the phantom scars on my body itch, but I forced myself not to touch them. They’d only bring back what had supposedly healed.

Now Chaplin growled low in his throat, his brown-haired ears lying flat against his skull as he backed toward a door barring a tunnel that connected our domain to one of the underground caverns.

I offered him a nod, a show of unity that didn’t need to be voiced between the two of us. Then I turned back to the visz, which showed the stranger in post-stumble pause.

When I found him staring right back at me, my heart jerked, sending my adrenaline bursting to a growl that I fought to contain. His eyes were rendered luminescent by the camera’s night vision and…

It was like he could somehow see the camouflaged lens.

Like he knew we were in here.

Pacing my breathing, calming myself lest I lose control—God-all help me if I did—I hefted down a mini-crossbow from the wall, then stuffed my revolver into a holster built into my wide belt. I loaded the bow with a bolt because it’d be quieter than the bullets if I should have to defend my home. Bullets might attract attention.

“If he’s one of Stamp’s men,” I said, “I’ll show him a lesson about coming here when he’s drunk and looking for trouble. Stamp’s got to be sending his crew to poke round, just like that other man who was already here.”

My dog didn’t make a sound, and I was glad about that. Neither of us wanted to talk about Stamp’s workers.

Meanwhile, the stranger loomed closer on the visz, his features coming into shocking focus.
Something in my stomach fisted at the sight of his facial wounds, but I battled back the clench, the emotion. Battled hard, until all that was left was a tremor that only reminded me I wasn’t safe.

Then my dog crept to my side and stared at the visz, too, almost like he’d been drawn closer. He let out a long, sympathetic whimper.

Hurt, was what Chaplin’s sound meant. The man is hurt.

I tried to glance away, but couldn’t. The blood enthralled me, even more than it had when I was young, back before my family had been attacked and before the world had almost ended. Back when the media had first started entertaining the masses with violent news images, films of close-up war casualties in North Korea and public executions that people had clamored to witness in real life. Carnerotica, it had come to be called, until that form of amusement had become old hat under the new thrill of the subliminal fantasies I heard they were airing on TV now.

This man was a lot like one of those old executions.

The visz’s pale night vision showed his face to be a wounded map to nowhere, etched with open gashes on his forehead and cheeks. Blood and dirt seemed to crust his short-sheared hair. His battered mouth opened round a word.


Monday, July 25, 2011

How Many Are Happy Book-a-holics -- Michelle Monkou

I spent a beautiful and restful two weeks in Barbados a few weeks ago. While I enjoyed the vivid blue beaches, tropical breezes, delicious food, and a rum punch or two, I embraced paradise whole heartedly.

At first, I thought that I would write madly. Rise early, eat, dawdle, and then write until the moon rose. HAH!

From Day 1 through Day 13, I entered a new level of happiness. The two houses where my family stayed had a library. In a snap, I was doing the happy dance.

I read so much that my son asked why was I doing something that I could have done at home. After all, the library was only for decoration. Obviously, he's not a book-a-holic.

One particular day, I encouraged everyone to go to the beach. Then I put on my swimsuit, got munchies and my beverage, and headed for the poolside. I got so entrenched in the story that I almost forgot to take a dip into the pool. And then, I couldn't wait to get out and continue reading.

So many books, so little time.

What are some of your book-a-holic moments?

Happy Summer!

Michelle Monkou

If I Had You - March 2012

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Helen Brenna: The Birth of an Island

Have you ever seen the movie SOMEWHERE IN TIME with Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve? It’s the story of a playwright (Reeve) who, becoming obsessed with the photograph of a young woman (Seymour) travels through self-hypnosis back in time to 1912 to find her. This was one of the first time travel movies I remember seeing, and it’s set, to a large degree, at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island Michigan.

Either the filmmakers chose Mackinac Island for filming or the island inspired the movie because it’s the perfect setting for this story. We’re talking cobblestone streets and Victorian B & Bs. Homemade fudge and taffy shops, genteel tea rooms and beautiful flower gardens. No cars are allowed on the island, so there are only horse drawn carriages and a lot of bike riders. And the entire time you’re on the island, you’re surrounded by sailboats and yachts cruising over the deep blue waters of Lake Michigan.

It’s no wonder that on a family vacation I was inspired to set a contemporary romance in a place just like Mackinac, and as I let my imagination run, my own island began to take shape. The only problem is that I don’t write stories that are all quaint and quiet set in tearooms and grand hotels. I write contemporary romances with alpha heroes and strong heroines thrown into not-so-nice circumstances. I needed some wildness to cut the softness.

What I needed was a little bit of Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands chain located on Lake Superior just off Wisconsin’s northern shore. Madeline is much bigger than Mackinac, so there’s space for log cabins, horse ranches, secluded bays and lighthouses, acres of untouched forest, and even a few brew pubs.

Voila! A cross between Mackinac and Madeline, my Mirabelle Island was born.

On the surface, Mirabelle looks like an idyllic little tourist island that’s become the wedding destination of the Upper Midwest. But when you scratch the surface, you find reality. The Rusty Nail, a bar that’s seen better days. An ex-con just released from prison and the islanders who refuse to accept him. The island doctor who’s not as perfect as he thinks. And a widow running from a dark, bloody past.

Discover the surprises Mirabelle Island has to offer in three new standalone Superromances, THE PURSUIT OF JESSE, HER SURE THING, and REDEMPTION AT MIRABELLE, releasing back to back in July, August and September.

To celebrate the new releases, I’d like to give away one of my first four Mirabelle Island romances today, so check out my website at to see which title you’d like. While you’re there, check out the Upcoming Releases page to see the photos of Mackinac and Madeline that have inspired my Mirabelle!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You Gotta Age-Defy While You Still Can by Jenny Gardiner

(I wish I'd made this cute cake but alas, I didn't. found the pic on the internet)

My husband joined AARP. I told him it was a mistake, if for no other reason than a psychological one. Who wants to be lumped in the oldster crowd the minute you crest 50?

(I had to put this picture in--I googled "old man with walker" to pull up a picture of an old man with a walker and THIS is what it shows me?! So I'll say this is me defying the old man with walker mentality ;-)

Now we get brochures in the mail for nursing homes, which is premature, for one thing. Plus, with this lame economy, don't they know we'll be sleeping on park benches by the time we actually need a nursing home? Although by then I envision gulag-style developments where all the broke, aged baby boomers who lost their retirement savings in the real estate bubble will be relegated to wither away during their twilight years, tooling around in half-broken wheelchairs over cracked failing pavement. How's that for golden years?! If we're lucky we'll be housed in all of the default-loan houses that can't sell because no one can afford to buy them because no one can get jobs because corporations are too busy stockpiling record earnings for the top 1% of their staff to bother hiring anyone else and creating jobs so people can afford to, um, live. Sorry, I got a little off-topic. Back to early aging (although I call dibs on a house in Miami if it comes to my prediction).
My girlfriend, now in her early 50's, joined the senior's tennis league because she can happily whip the butts of the much older gals. She thrilled to win and win handily this way, and she's got a valid point there. So maybe acceding to age isn't always a mistake--it can be gratifying.

(my friend would not appreciate this picture and what it suggests about older tennis players losing their, um, charms)

I enjoyed a brief phase as a tennis player (not a good one, just serviceable). I'd always wanted to flit about in a cute tennis skirt and the only way you can really get away with that is if you play the sport. So I did, until I kept getting injured and had to stop. So I had to give up my cute skirts. Now they have exercise skirts which I'd so love to don but as a keen observer of what does and does not work in gym wear, I recognize that a) you have to have a rockin' body to wear exercise skirts and b) you can't be my age and get away with wearing them unless you've run at least ten marathons in the past five years--it's like a golden ticket pass.
Wise to the cuteness factor of tennis skirts, for years I tried to encourage my girls to play tennis but they would have nothing to do with it. "Think of the cute outfits!" I told them, but it fell on deaf ears. And then my youngest finally got her chance for adorable sportswear last year when she was recruited to pinch-hit for her varsity field hockey team when they needed a goalie. A long-time soccer goalie, she'd never played field hockey before, and I'd never seen a match before, so I naively thought, "At last, she's going to have a cute uniform, those adorable little plaid skirts! Lucky her!" Imagine my surprise when I showed up at the game to see my daughter in goal looking like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, garbed as she was in boxy padding that essentially hid every hint of her existence. I was happy for her from a safety standpoint, but felt badly she got the short end of the uniform stick.

I saw an exercise skirt today that I really want (but will not succumb to, knowing that it's the female equivalent of the very large guy on the show Modern Family wearing tight bicycle shorts--a big no no for all involved. My girls forever warn me not to look like that at the gym and I generally take heed. But this girl had on a skirt with back pleats that swished when she walked and darn it, I want to swish when I walk but then I realized I'm not a swisher, never have been, and nearing 50, it's past the point at which I'm even allowed to swish. You have to recognize your limitations, I always say. But it also doesn't mean I have to yield to my age and join the AARP, which I won't, thank you. At least not till I can reap the benefits of the senior citizen discounts, maybe.
Last week my husband got a special gift from AARP. A leather-look vinyl man-purse. Just the thing he needed to complete the loser picture he signed up for. As if it's not bad enough, it's emblazoned with the AARP logo, just to seal the deal. I suppose at least it wasn't a man-skirt.

I dunno, maybe I'm being unfair with this whole AARP thing. Perhaps it's useful to get the inside scoop on the latest in retirement villages. Even if it is cruel, dangling fancy retirement homes in front of him, considering at this rate we'll never even be able to sell our house, let alone retire. We might even have to turn it into a retirement apartment or something, at the rate the economy is going.
Jenny Gardiner is the author of the award-winning novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, as well as the novels Slim to None and Over the Falls, the novel House of Cards, and the humorous memoir Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me. She also has a story in Wade Rouse's upcoming humorous dog anthology I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship (NAL/Sept '11), a fundraiser for the Humane Society of the US and selected animal charities.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shhhh, don't tell anyone but I bought another cookbook...

If you ever wanted to know,
the 'Edmonds Cook Book'
is one of New Zealand's
iconic recipe collections.
My mother-in-law buys books on interior design. You know the ones - they show you how simple and effective it is to put together a collection of wooden spoons in an old glass jam jar, or a pile of interesting shells in a pretty white bowl... she has lots of those books. All about creating a calm, inviting, relaxing space. And she can do that 'collection of interesting things' really nicely. I can't. I just have piles of junk, books and papers everywhere and anywhere.

I like looking at her design books - but honestly, both my husband and I have a 'maximalist' approach to design rather than chic minimalism.

So in terms of lifestyle books, my weakness is cookbooks. I had to discover my inner kitchen diva quite early when I became vegetarian in my teens and wanted to cook my own meals. My first was success was pasta. A wonderful dancer from big-city Sydney told me to "put it in a pot and boil it, darling" - it was a revelation! And from such embarrassingly simple beginnings, a passion was born.

Not to mention a collection. Baking books, breakfast, dessert books, soup books, tomato books, vegetarian books... When I was traveling in my twenties, my souvenir of choice was a  recipe book of national cuisine for each country we visited - no matter if it wasn't vegetarian. it was finding one in English that was the trouble! But oh SO worth it! Traveling, for me anyway, is so much about the food! And having my collection now takes me back to those places and the fun we had there...

Of course, four kids later and there's not so much overseas travel happening at the moment. So for a while my collection hasn't grown. But a diet tweak a few months ago revived my needs and I'm back in the game!

My ideal cook book would be hard cover, with a colour picture for each recipe, easy to read font and with cute but insightful commentary for each recipe... because sometimes there's nothing more relaxing for me than to sit in bed late at night when I'm tired, just flicking through yummy recipes and feeling like I'm having an informal lesson with some funky, super-talented chef...

... My husband doesn't get it. He just cannot see how 'reading recipe books' can be fun... but cookbooks are like children's picture books for me - pretty to look at, with lots of useful, entertaining stuff as well.

So what about you?! What would be your relaxing picture book of choice - would it be interior design, gardening, cookery or what?!?

Natalie Anderson adores a happy ending, which is why she always reads the back of a book first - just to be sure. Along with happy endings, she loves peppermint filled dark chocolate, pineapple juice and extremely long showers. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her gorgeous husband and four fabulous children.
If, like her, you love a happy ending, be sure to come and say hi on www.facebook/authornataliea and on Twitter @authornataliea, or her website/

Monday, July 18, 2011

Melanie Milburne: What Would You Do For Money?

Who wouldn't love to be so rich they never had to worry about another bill? I think most of us dream of being financially solvent. Imagine never having to think twice about buying something, or being able to help others really generously without compromising your own interests. Most of us work hard to provide for ourselves and our families and take pride in doing so. But what if you had no skills in which to do so? What if you were totally dependent on others for your survival?

That is exactly the situation my heroine Jade Somerville is in. She has lived off her father's trust fund ever since she dropped out of school. She has a reputation as a party girl, a wild child from a privileged background who doesn't care about anyone but herself. And that reputation has suited Jade just fine until recently.
But then she is informed of the terms of her godfather's will. She must marry her arch enemy Nic Sabbatini or be left penniless. Her father has already withdrawn her trust fund so she must find a way to convince Nic to agree to the preposterous plan to marry for convenience.
What is a girl to do? But we are not talking about just any girl here. Jade is not lazy or unmotivated. She is disadvantaged by a disability she has somehow managed to keep a secret for all this time. She can't read any more than a few simple words. Her dyslexia is so bad she is severely limited in what she can do. Finding her way about by reading a map if out of the question. Reading a phone text or email is impossible for her. Can you imagine what that would be like? While I was writing this novel I thought of all the ways in which I relied on my ability to read. Like me, I bet you take it completely for granted. It's like driving: it becomes so automatic we don't register how many red lights we stopped at on the way home.
Like a lot of people who suffer from dyslexia Jade felt ashamed and believed herself to be stupid. But some of the most intelligent and creative people I know have dyslexia.
I really enjoyed pitting Jade against Nic as they both are such strong characters. Nic is the youngest son of the Sabbatini clan, a spoilt playboy who is used to getting his own way. But Jade is determined to get her way this time, even if it means dragging Nic kicking and screaming to the altar!
I hope you enjoy reading about how Jade tames the untameable Nic and in the process learns how to accept herself for the gifted and talented young woman she is.
What would you miss most if you couldn't read any more? I will send a signed copy of The Wedding Charade to a random comment posted.
Warmest wishes,
Melanie Milburne

***Chey is our winner!  Congrats, Chey!  :)  Please email me at with your full name and mailing address so we can mail you the prize!***