Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gini Koch: Why Don’t You Write Funny?

I’d been writing for several years and was at the “submit because you really think you’re ready” phase that every author hits. That one comes immediately before the “oh, wow, look at all those rejections” and “guess I’m actually not quite as ready as I thought” phases.

Needless to say, I wasn’t happy about these phases. But I persevered because that’s what you do if you want to actually successfully publish.

My family has always been supportive of my writing career. So have many of my friends. One of them, my friend Dixie, was constantly bugging me to, as she put it, “write funny”.

Now, for some people, this would be something to ignore. But I happen to actually be a pretty funny girl in real life. And, being something of a raconteur (which is the polite, French way of saying “someone who never shuts up but at least has interesting things to say while running her yap” in brief), I have a certain set of stories I like to tell. Dixie, needless to say, has heard all of them. Multiple times.

So has my husband, but for whatever reason, he didn’t come to the same conclusion Dixie did. Which was that I should write these stories down and try to sell them.

Everything I’d written up to this point was serious, dark, thoughtful, serious and dark, thoughtful and dark, serious and thoughtful, or serious and thoughtful and dark with gallows humor. There is a market for dark. Actually, there’s a GREAT market for dark. I just wasn’t cracking it. At all. Neither was I cracking the markets for serious or thoughtful. I was cracking my skull against my desk, but not any paying markets.

One can only be nagged for so long, of course, before one cracks or gives in. In my case, since I’m not a girl to crack easily, but after Dixie nagged for a good two or three years straight, I finally broke down and wrote one of my favorite humorous stories. It didn’t take me long -- heck, I’d honed that puppy for YEARS orally. So, I wrote a few more of them. None of which took me very long.

So, now I had some humorous essays, which, being as they were done, I submitted.

I would LOVE to say that The New Yorker immediately recognized my witty genius and the rest is history, but, sadly, I didn’t immediately crack the humor markets either. (I do have several lovely rejections from The New Yorker, though, so there’s that.)

However, because I had them, I kept on submitting, getting the rejection, and submitting again, just like I was doing with my completed novels and other completed short stories.

I found a new-to-me humor market that actually didn’t have a word count limit (as this post will show you, I have NO issues writing long, but many with writing short) and paid and I sent what I considered my weakest humor piece to them.

They bought it. Within three days of receiving it. They paid me money. They published my story and gave it the lead that month. I then wrote a humorous poem, subbed it to a different market, and said new market bought it. Within three days of receiving it. These two events happened in the same month.

Merry Christmas to me! (Yes, they both were December sales and pubs.) I was a paid, published author! Twice over! Happy New Year!

You’re all thinking I immediately started putting humor into my novels, now, aren’t you?  

You’re all wrong. 

No, some of us take a little longer, and require a few more life lessons to catch the freaking clue. 

No, I kept on writing really deep stuff and, to take a break from all that deep, dark and meaningful, the occasional funny story on the side. 

What actually flipped me over to the side of the obvious was a series of events I’ll save for whenever we’re in person (yeah, I still like to tell stories out loud as well as on the page), but which culminated in my having a dream. Not the cool, brave, world-changing Martin Luther King, Jr. kind of dream. No, more like a scary nightmare kind of dream that was, however, still very cool and interesting. It was a dark, noir-ish horror movie kind of dream. And, when I woke up, I planned to write a dark, noir-ish horror short story with it. 

Only…I’d been writing humor now for quite a while, interspersed with everything else. And as I wrote, the voice didn’t sound dark, the feel wasn’t horrific, and the main character was clearly falling on the “quirky and smart-mouthed” side of the house. By the third page I realized it wasn’t going to be a short story. By the time the hero came onto the scene I realized it wasn’t going to be a horror story. By the time I discovered my heroine’s actual name (Katherine “Kitty” Katt…because her parents have a sense of humor, thank you very much), I knew I was writing science fiction with a heck of a lot of humor, action and romance. 

As I wrote Touched by an Alien I knew things would never be the same again. It was, up until that time, the most natural, organic thing I’d ever written and I have never looked back since. I landed my awesome agent with that book, as well as getting a 2-book deal with DAW Books for it and Alien Tango. (DAW just purchased Books 7 & 8, so the Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt science fiction romance series is alive and well and rolling.)   

Well, I tell a lie. I’ve looked back a lot. Once Touched by an Alien sold, other things sold, mostly short stories under my Anita Ensal pen name. I still write new things of course, but I also pulled many of my older works out of mothballs, revised them, and submitted them. And many have sold, most recently to Musa Publishing. Many are pubbing under different pen names (Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch, in addition to Anita Ensal) because they’re not all funny science fiction nor are they all romance. Some are urban fantasy, paranormal, post-apocalyptic, and even horror. And serious. And dark. And some aren’t. (But most have romance in them, because, like humor, I appear to like romance and enjoy writing it. Go figure.) 

Want to know what the best part about my breaking down and writing funny, writing the way I speak and think, writing what was easy and natural to me was? Aside from the full time writing career, I mean? It was that it improved every other aspect of my writing. My serious, dark, and thoughtful stuff still is, but it’s better now, because there isn’t a part of my creativity bottled up and only allowed to come out at parties. Other quirky voices have been allowed to come out of their shells and share their stories, too.  

And every day, I get to write something that, somewhere down the road, will make someone laugh -- first me, then my editor, then the readers. It doesn’t get any better than that.
So, if you have a friend who loves you enough to nag you to write in a way you haven’t tried, listen to them. Their advice could change your life. After all, Dixie’s advice changed mine.

Gini Koch lives in Hell’s Orientation Area (aka Phoenix, AZ), works her butt off (sadly, not literally) by day, and writes by night with the rest of the beautiful people. She writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series for DAW Books and the Martian Alliance Chronicles series for Musa Publishing. She also writes under a variety of pen names (including Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch), listens to rock music 24/7, and is a proud comics geek-girl willing to discuss at any time why Wolverine is the best superhero ever (even if Deadpool does get all the best lines). She also speaks frequently on what it takes to become a successful author and other aspects of writing and the publishing business. She can be reached through her website at, follow her on Twitter (@GiniKoch), friend her on Facebook (, and/or like her Facebook Fan Page: Hairspray and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Whichever you prefer -- as it says on the bathroom walls, she’s easy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Scarlet Wilson: And now for something completely different!

Well, maybe!

As a writer for the medical romance line it can be a little hard to search for the Unpredictable word that everyone is looking for these days.
Readers of the medical romance have certain expectations that they expect the writers to meet.  Lots of the medical romances are doctor/nurse, doctor/doctor romances set in hospital or community clinics.  On occasion another profession is allowed to creep in – a policeman/woman, firefighter, paramedic or even a vet.  But when every conference and blog is telling us that the buzzword is “Unpredictable” how do you find it?

This was my problem as I searched for a theme for my second book.  And then I found it – just like that.  The lovely Barrack Obama and his wife Michelle on the TV.  And a little thought crept into my mind – the thought that for the first time in around fifty years we had a First Lady who could potentially be pregnant in the white house.  A few digs around the internet and I found the White House Medical Unit.  The medical service for the President, his family and the White House Staffers.  A theme that had never been captured in a medical romance before.  EUREKA!

But, then again I decided to set my story outside the White House.  Where was the fun if the First Lady gave birth to plan in the White House?  And so the imaginary setting of Pelican Cove was born.  Think of a cross between Murder She Wrotes Cabot Cove, but set on the Californian Coast.  And cue a reconciliation story between Abby Tyler, a paediatrician in the ER and Luke Storm, the President’s cardiologist – who is completely out of his depth when the First Lady’s obstetrician has a massive coronary and leaves him in charge of the delivery!

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?  Or even better, falls apart?

Have you read any stories in unusual settings that just captured your heart and imagination?  I loved The Surgeon and the Cowgirl by Heidi Hormel, one of last years final four of New Voices and centred around a therapeutic horseback riding centre.  Now that was completely different!

The Boy Who Made Them Love Again is out in Dec in the UK
The President’s Baby doctor
Famous neonatologist Lincoln Adams is looking after the US President’s newborn daughter when nurse Amy Carson arrives at the hospital, posing as his very pregnant wife!  Amy’s had first-hand experience of Linc’s skilful hands and he’s the only person she trusts to look after her precious cargo, but trusting him with her fragile heart is another matter…

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Occupying at Home

I am not brave enough for civil disobedience. In fact, I'm not brave enough to get to the airport less than two hours before a flight. I pay my taxes on time, and I pay contractors, even when the job isn't done right or even completely. I go to the dentist twice a year, though I do decline the x-rays. However, that may cease as I have recently suffered a toothache. I guess I'll be back on that plan of action, too.

While I grumble and moan and complain under my breath about deadlines, I turn in my grades at the college I teach at before the due date, order my textbooks by the 15th of April and October for my classes, and sign up to serve on the correct number of committees.

I follow along, pretty much, doing what I'm supposed to. My first husband is like that, too, so it was much to both our surprise that our older son turned out to be a disobeyer from the beginning. I would tell my son to stop, he would go. I would say turn right, he would turn left. I'd ask him to do his homework, and he'd play video games. He'd subvert all that could be subverted until his house of cards toppled, and then he did what he needed to restack the deck and get out and away from us rule followers.

In college, he was asked to leave the dorms and never come back because he and a friend howled Howl from the literal rooftop.

After college graduation, he graduated to bigger insurrections, protesting war and democracy and capitalism. At first, he and I were still so connected that all his disobedience was personal to me, something I had to handle. I posted bail when he was arrested at a war protest, went to hearings, worried myself sick. Segue to now--the last time he was arrested, I let his pals deal with it, and they did.

His disobedience is no longer mine. I can go back to turning in my grades.

Society has always had evils. Those who long have had it all still have it all. We are a cruel and inhuman bunch, we humans. We steal and wreck and and mess up. Society needs people to fight and protest and call attention to the vast wrongs everywhere, but I am finally okay with saying I'm not the one to do it. I'll write about how I feel and let my readers see my side of things, but I'm not going down to live in the center of a city in a tent. Call me lazy or selfish or complacent, which all may be true. But in this lifetime, I'm the one watching the protest, appreciating the struggle, but not wanting to join in.


Onto other news: My latest ebook is up. Forgotten is the story about what happens to a family when what is forgotten is the most precious thing of all.

I'll give away five e-copies of this novel to the first five folks who write to me from my web site.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Olivia Kingsley: Readers Don't Like...

It's always irked me when someone starts a sentence with, "Readers don't like..." As an author, and especially if you're unpublished, you can't just focus on writing a good story. You also have to consider what publishers want to buy, and they obviously don't want to publish stories they think readers won't like.
Here are some of the story elements I've been told to avoid, because of general romance reader dislike:

1. Actors & Athletes - Apparently readers don't like the hero and/or heroine to be an actor or athlete. The idea is that those professions make people vain and self-absorbed, and so they won't be very sympathetic characters in a love story. I guess no one told Susan Elizabeth Phillips about this early in her career? I shudder to think of how many wonderful books we would have been robbed of if that'd been the case. Just thinking about it makes me want to re-read Honey Moon and It Had To Be You.

2. Long Separations - In romances, readers don't like it when the hero and heroine spend a long time apart. I'm not sure if this just applies to stories where the main characters aren't together for, say, a whole 100 pages of the book, or if it also refers to books where the story jumps a few months or years from one chapter to the next, during which they were separated. In either case, this reminds me of the old school, epic romances of the 80's and 90's. And personally, I love those kind of books. I certainly like them a lot more than stories where the hero and heroine declare their love for each other after just a few days or weeks. But maybe I'm in the minority here?

3. Inexperienced Heroes - And by that, I of course mean sexually inexperienced. I understand where this comes from. Women want their men to know what they're doing in bed. I get that. But think of all those poor, virgin heroes. Don't they deserve love, too? :)

4. Experienced Heroines - This one is old-fashioned, sexist, and downright disgusting. It promotes the idea that women are somehow sullied by having had sex, unless it's with the hero. Thankfully, the genre as a whole seems to have evolved away from this mindset, and I couldn't be happier.

5. Slavery & the Slave Trade - The last one is a bit more specific, but it applies to my newly released book, Pretty Persuasion. Before the story starts, my hero, Robert, spends almost a decade on his family's Caribbean sugar plantation, and it's an experience that's greatly changed him and very much affects his actions throughout the book. I was told that the topic of slavery had already been explored in older romances (you know, those epic tales from the 80's and 90's!), and readers were tired of it. I found that whole idea way too silly, and so I ignored it.

Personally I think most readers only care about reading a good story. But I'm interested in everyone's opinions on this. Are there certain elements in a romance novel that you dislike so much you won't read it? Can you think of any other general "reader dislikes?" Do you think it hurts the diversity of the genre that authors might avoid such topics because they're afraid readers won't like it?

Post a comment this weekend, and you'll be entered into a drawing for a copy of Pretty Persuasion! Ebook or paperback, winner's choice. Winner will be drawn on Monday.
Young Lady Georgiana Montford is heartbroken and infuriated when she discovers her lifelong betrothed, Robert Balfour, in the arms of another woman. Severing their friendship, she vows to choose her own husband, a man who'll share her thirst for adventure. Yet, despite her attempts to forget him, Robert's place in her heart proves more unwavering than she could ever have imagined.

After seven years on his Caribbean plantation, Robert returns to England a changed man. Weary of traveling and troubled by his past, he hopes to attain peace of mind through marriage and family. Though scarcely daunted at finding Georgie in love with another man, he soon learns that winning her hand—and heart—will take more powerful means of persuasion than expected.

***Olivia's winner is Leni!  Congrats!  Please email with your mailing address and we'll get the book in the mail to you - or by email if you prefer an eBook.***

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hey, y'all! I don't know how I managed to get scheduled to post on Thanksgiving, but I did. But it gives me something great to talk about! For all our International readers, today is Thanksgiving in America. It's a day where we eat a lot of food -- a roast turkey being the centerpiece of the meal usually -- and give thanks for all the blessings in our life.

There will also be the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade (if you've ever watched Miracle on 34th Street, then you've heard of the parade) and football.

When I was a kid, I loved watching the parade while my mom fixed the Thanksgiving feast. The smell of turkey and the sights and sounds of the parade are indelibly mixed in my mind. For me, it's not Thanksgiving if I don't have the parade. I don't sit and watch it all, but I like to hear it while I cook.

I don't always host Thanksgiving at my house, but this year it's my turn again, and I'm so excited about it. I've been brining my turkey (first time ever), and I can't wait to see how it turns out. I've been planning the menu for weeks. We're having the usual things - turkey, Cajun sausage dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, corn, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, yeast rolls, pumpkin pie, and apple pie. We're going to be full, that's for sure!

But the real reason for Thanksgiving isn't the food. It's to remind us of what we're thankful for. This year, I am thankful for so much. My in-laws are here for the holiday, but back in May, I'd have never thought this possible. My father-in-law had his fourth open heart surgery, with a valve replacement, and died twice on the table. We didn't think he would make it.

But he's here, sitting across from me as I write this on my laptop, and I'm grateful for that.

My parents are coming over too, and I'm so happy that after years of military moves around the world, we are finally in the same place and can spend time together.

I'm happy that right now, right this minute, everyone is healthy and happy. We never know what tomorrow brings, but today is good and I'm going to enjoy it with the people I love. I am also thankful for you, my readers, who enjoy my stories and keep buying my books. Without you, I wouldn't get to do this awesome job. You make it all worthwhile.

I hope you all have a wonderful, happy, blessed day today! Happy Thanksgiving to all, whether you're in America or not.

Tell me what you're thankful for today. And if you're American, tell me what you're cooking today. :) I love hearing about the food you are preparing. :)

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,

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A little extra

And to make up for missing last month's blog, here's a little something extra with love.

Grandpa's Big Adventure (Grandma and The Prince - Part 31)

Grandma El and Grandpa Larry at my wedding, fifteen years after they broke up

Did I ever tell you about the time my grandfather ran away from home? He was 84 when he and his fifth wife Bess separated. What had worked for almost thirty years suddenly stopped working and he packed up his suitcase, claimed the La-Z Boy, then called my husband for a getaway car out of Dodge.

It was probably the biggest scandal they'd seen at Leisure Village at the time. My husband said the street was lined with retirees come out to watch Larry make his break for it. Let's face it, it isn't every day you see a multi-married octogenarian slap a Mets cap on his head, climb into the cab of a U-Haul, and wave goodbye.

Now I can't explain why after thirty years of marriage they decided to split up but as much as I loved my step-grandmother, I was very excited over the prospect of my grandfather moving back to our side of the Hudson. And I can admit this now that all of the principals in Grandpa's Big Adventure are gone: I was hoping he and Grandma El would get back together.

That sounds terrible, doesn't it? You're not supposed to be a matchmaker for your mismatched grandparents but the thought that their romance interruptus might get a second chance was downright irresistible to me.

Grandpa rented a two room apartment about a block and a half away from my parents' apartment in Queens, within walking distance of everything he could possibly need. But there was one problem: Grandpa was almost completely blind by that time. Not that something as trivial as blindness could stop him.

Now Grandma El lived about six blocks from his new digs. Six short blocks filled with possibilities. But as it turned out they might as well have been on separate continents. Grandpa might have fled the retirement village and Grandma Bess, but he was still a married man and his demeanor was impeccable. No flirting. No dating. No shenanigans. Not even if the woman in question was family as well as an old flame.

I was crushed. Not that I am a believer in infidelity but I was a newly-minted romance writer at the time (I sold my first book about six months after Grandpa moved to Queens) and hot on the trail of a happy ending.

Instead I found myself in the middle of a romantic triangle where the combined age of the participants was 253 years! We might grow older but the same emotions still burn inside our hearts and the almost daily phone calls from my grandmothers proved that to me for all time. Grandma Bess, his wife, wanted to know what "That Woman" was up to. ("She's a witch, Barbara, a sorceress, and she wants Larry. She always has!") and Grandma El, his former fiancee, countered with a wicked laugh and a few comments of her own. ("That old stick-in-the-mud is sapping the life out of Larry. I'm much more fun!")

And what was my grandfather thinking? I haven't a clue because he wasn't talking.

The months passed. The phone calls increased. The 1982 holidays came and went and there we were, zipping through 1983 at rocket speed.
Grandma El's stuffing recipe

Suddenly it was Thanksgiving and we were all gathered at my parents' apartment to celebrate: Roy and I, my parents, my aunt Mona, my uncle Budd, my aunt Dede, Grandma El, and the man of the hour Grandpa Larry.

"I have an announcement," he said somewhere between the candied yams and the mince pie.

I looked over at Grandma El. Was that a merry twinkle I saw in her eyes or just the candlelight?

I held my breath as Grandpa Larry cleared his throat.

"Bess and I have decided to give it another try."

The prodigal husband was going home. He signed over his bank account to Bess, his half of the house, and the rest of his heart, but he was going back home where he knew he belonged.

Was I disappointed? I have to admit the dream of Grandma El and Grandpa Larry getting back together again after so many years was a tough one to let go but there was no denying Grandpa Larry's and Grandma Bess's pure joy in being together again.

He was there for her a few years later when she was diagnosed with cancer and there for her when she left this world eight years later.

And a certain romance writer got her happily-ever-after ending, even if it didn't look quite the way she had expected it to.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the U.S.!


P.S. I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here and here. SPELLS & STITCHES (Book #4 in my Sugar Maple Chronicles) will be in bookstores on December 6th. Make sure you visit my website in December and enter my Win A Nook Color contest. Good luck!

P.P.S. If you'd like to sample Sugar Maple (knitting! magick! love!) you can read chapter one of SPELLS & STITCHES here or pick up an e-copy of CHARMED: A SUGAR MAPLE SHORT STORY at Smashwords (free!) or Amazon Kindle ($0.99)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Amanda Forester - Have you seen my muse? Top ten ways to overcome writer's block

On the good days everything is easy.  Words flow, plots lines come together, my characters act out the scene in my head and I feel like I'm a mere observer frantically writing down the scene before me as it plays before my eyes.  Those days I can sit at my computer for hours and it seems like minutes.  My writing goals are exceeded with ease, and my husband has to drag me to bed to get me to stop.  Yes, those are the good days.

And then there are the rest of the 363 days of the year.

Writer's block.  It happens to everyone (I need to believe this so if it doesn't happen to you please don't let me know!).  I firmly believe the difference between a writer who actually finishes a manuscript and a writer who doesn't, is not in any natural talent or ability, it is found in persistence.  Writers who succeed are those who are willing to get down to work.  That might sound harsh, but actually I take great comfort in this thought.  I can't do anything to make myself naturally talented, but I can control my effort.

So I make myself sit down at the computer.  I stare at the blank page, the blinking cursor mocking me.  Now what?  Unlike household chores, which I can do whether I want to or not, writing isn't something I can physically force myself to do.  How do I find my muse when she seems to have left on extended vacation?  Here are my ways to break through writer's block and get back to that writing nirvana.

Top ten things to overcome writers block:

1.     Free associate - when I'm stuck I often need to turn off my internal editor and just start typing whatever comes to mind.  Sure it will be a lot of nonsense (edit it out later) but often I'll type something that jump starts the process.
2.    Write a different scene - sometimes I just don't know what happens next.  Transitions are often hard for me, so if I come to a block in the road I simply jump ahead to a scene I know is coming.  Sometimes my muse is linear, sometimes not.  Often if I bookend the trouble spot I can more easily figure it out when I come back later. 
3.    Change your location - sometimes my office is not the best place for me to find my muse.  If I'm stuck I've found getting some exercise, taking a walk, even taking a hot shower can be helpful.  Anything that improves the circulation and gets the blood flowing back to my brain can help me.
4.    Talk it through - sometimes I use my husband as a sounding board.  He is really no help at all, and will inevitably suggest alien abduction as a solution to my plot dilemma.  While this is not helpful in the least, sometimes in arguing with I can come up with my own solution.  Critique partners are probably more help in this regard!
5.    Plot it out visually - if the written word has your brain in knots, try a different modality.  Get a large whiteboard and draw out the plot lines.  Get different colored sticky notes and cover your wall.  I've done both and it can really help to see it visually.
6.    Take a break - I need to be careful with this one, because it is easy to have a break become longer than I intended (months instead of a day).  Sometimes though, I need to take a break, re-connect with my family, re-introduce myself to my spouse, and get re-inspired.
7.    Deal with a situation - sometimes my muse abandons me because I am avoiding something I need to do.  Maybe there is a call I need to make, an apology I need to make or accept, a bill I need to pay, or something that must be done.  If there is something you are avoiding, sometimes just doing it can get you past that stuck point so you can move on with your writing.
8.     Get some sleep - remember the old adage, "sleep on it"?  It does really work. My brain works better when I get adequate sleep.  Creativity requires at least a few working brain cells.
9.    Set small goals - the thought of writing a 90,000 word manuscript is so overwhelming it is paralyzing.  So I try to never look at the big picture.  I try to chunk it down into manageable goals.  Can I write 100 words?  500 words?  Sure, I can do that.  Keep it manageable and let go of the times you didn't reach that goal.  Each day is new.
10.  Embrace your inner tortoise - slow and steady wins the race.  This means sitting down at the computer regularly.  For me it means giving up some of my relaxing time, my "me" time with the TV or computer game, so I can work toward a larger goal.  I often don't "feel" like writing, so it I wait for those elusive days, I couldn't call myself a writer.  I need to be a writer even when I don't feel like it.  And in the end, I am always glad I did.

Do you have any great ways to overcome writer's block?  Please let me know - I can use all the help I can get!  Post a comment to be entered into a drawing to win a copy of my latest book, THE HIGHLANDER'S HEART!

Lady Isabelle escapes her murderous English husband only to be abducted by a Highland warrior and held for ransom.  Her determination to break free from captivity is exceeded only by the passion growing between her and the Highland Laird.  David Campbell plans to hold Isabelle for ransom as an easy way to line his pockets and return her back where she belongs, but he is unprepared for a feisty English lass with a penchant for finding trouble.  Caught between rival clans bent on claiming the throne of Scotland, Campbell must choose a side, and a bride.  Standing on the brink of war, Isabelle may be his only hope to save his clan, and his heart.

Visit Amanda:  website, facebook, or twitter.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trouble in the Trenches by Jenny Gardiner

Pity the man who looks like Charles Manson. Because no matter if he’s a perfectly sane accountant from Dubuque with 2.5 children, a wife and a home in the suburbs, most everyone will snap to judgment that he’s a crazed maniac with murder on his mind.

Perhaps the thing about Manson that set him apart was that maniacal glint in his eye, the very anti-twinkle that translated into the suggestion of the evil of which he was capable.

Thus was my thinking at my very first book signing. I was already apprehensive about the event, feeling an enormous sense of pressure to perform well, to sell enough books to justify the efforts the booksellers had gone to on my behalf. To not be a complete loser.

So when I ended up at a bookstore that was located in the sketchier part of the unfamiliar city in which I was signing, I was a little dismayed. Most of those entering the doors of this bookstore had more piercings on their faces than the sum total of pierced anythings on my entire street back home. These customers didn’t strike me as the type willing to pony up a moment of attention (let alone seven bucks) to learn about a book titled Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Nary a happy (or unhappy, for that matter) housewife meandered into the store for the first 15 minutes of my signing. That’s who I was on the lookout for: a wife, a mom, the type of person who would most definitely get the humor behind Sleeping with Ward Cleaver because let’s face it, there’s an experiential element to the novel. If you’ve been there, done that, with my protagonist Claire, you’re going to be far more receptive to randomly picking up a book you’ve never heard of and spending money on it at the behest of a newbie author, especially when you only went into the store to purchase a book for someone else in the first place.

Now, I’d heard warnings from authors about book signings:

Prepare yourself for everyone coming up to you, looking enthusiastic and ready purchase your book at first sight, only to instead ask you directions to the nearest bathroom.

Expect people to come up to your table just to grab a handful of the free candy you’ve got on display.

And expect the nut jobs, the ones who show up at your table with no intention of leaving, prepared to regale you with endless tales of their public transportation experiences and parents who don't love them, all the while helping themselves to half your candy stash.

So when the Charles Manson look-alike ventured into the store about 30 seconds after I’d sat down at the signing table, I wasn’t surprised. It was fate, I knew it. As soon as our eyes met, I immediately averted my gaze—I couldn’t not. I mean come on. Who wants to encourage a mass murderer over your way? But the eye contact had been made, and I knew, I just knew, sooner or later Charlie boy would wend his way over to my table.

Now I should mention that yes, this guy had the grizzled, unwashed look of Charles Manson. He had the creepy glint of madness in his eyes. He also was lugging a small watermelon beneath his armpit. Don’t ask me why.

Charlie didn’t come immediately to my table. Perhaps because the bookstore employee was nearby, who knows? But within ten minutes he’d made his way back to my lone desk. He looked at me. He looked at my candy. He looked at me. He looked at my candy. He then proceeded to pick up a copy of my novel from the pyramid of them stacked in front of me, and feigned interest. In case you haven’t seen my cover, I’ll describe it. It’s a campy 1960’s-style green, pink and aqua cover that triggers the tune of “I Dream of Jeannie” whenever I look at it, what with the Judy Jetson-lookalike woman perched atop the bed, her striped pink hair pulled back in a headband a la Marlo Thomas in “That Girl.”

Trust me, this is not the cover that normally lures 40-something men (and certainly not those who look like they’ve just been sprung from court-mandated rehab. Again.). I have yet to have a man pick it up and leaf through it out of interest, unless their wife is along or unless it’s someone I know.

So I was onto Charlie. I knew he wanted something from me, and it wasn’t a humorous 300-page novel about a housewife in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

I tried to make small-talk. But Charlie didn’t talk beyond a few indecipherable mutterings. It was like being in the presence of Sherry and Lambchop, or a ventriloquist from the Ed Sullivan show. Or Charles Manson.

Instead, Charlie plunked his watermelon onto my miniscule tabletop, knocking over books in the process, picked up my signing pen (and his dirt-encrusted fingers did sort of bum me out, since I knew I’d soon have to touch that very pen myself), took one of my business cards, flipped it over, and started to draw.

Now the first thing Charlie inked for me looked suspiciously like a puerile attempt at a set of naked breasts. I forced a weak smile, unwilling to ask exactly what he was illustrating. But he finished it off with what I soon realized was a mouth and eyebrows, and it dawned on me that he’d drawn a rudimentary smiley face. Okay, I was hoping Charlie was done at this point. I thanked him for his lovely illustration. But he continued. His palsied hand trembling in classic heroin-withdrawal fashion, he then sketched out a Keith Haring-like stick figure that had a hint of Mr. Bill to it. And topped off his masterpiece with his illegible signature. What do you think of it?

For all I know I am in possession of a work of art by a famed contemporary pen-and-ink master who took a wrong turn in life. Who once knew of fame and fortune and now wanders aimlessly, unwashed and odoriferous, with a watermelon tucked in his arm like a pigskin cradled by a running back. As much as I was oddly charmed by my newfound artwork, I wasn’t particularly interested in having Charlie block my signing perch from the few mom-like individuals who ventured into the store that night. So I immediately offered him some kisses (the kind from Hershey’s, not my lips), which mercifully satisfied his need. Grateful, he wandered off, peeling the silver wrapping and discarding it in his wake.

And leaving me well aware that I’d experienced one of my first rites of passage as a published author. Armed and ready for the next one to come along.

Excuse me, can you tell me where the bathroom is?


..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
¸.·´ .·´¨¨)).· ´¨¨)) -:¦:- ·´
((¸¸. ·´ .. ·Jenny-:¦:-
:¦:- ((¸¸.·´* -:¦:- ´* -:¦:- ´*


Saturday, November 19, 2011

The publication of my sixtieth book, FLIRTING WITH ITALIAN, this December is on the anniversary on the publication of my first book, AN IMAGE OF YOU, in December 1992, 19 years ago. Sixty books. Nineteen years.

It’s not just the books, though. The writing life tends to be a solitary one, but since my first book was published things have changed out of all recognition. There were no mobile phones in those early books. No internet. No email. My characters had to make do with a fixed landline to make those calls, write letters.

It was the same for authors.

My very first manuscripts were typed on a portable typewriter on the dining room table. By the time I sold my first book they were being laboriously printed out from a computer with the memory the size of a goldfish. Contact with my colleagues was via a photocopied newsletter produced by Valerie Parv in Australia and distributed by post in the UK by Charlotte Lamb. It was Charlotte who threw a tea party at the beautiful Brown’s Hotel in London where we all met for the first time and I was a bundle of nerves as I met iconic authors such as Carole Mortimer, Elizabeth Oldfield, Jessica Steele, Anne Weale and Sally Wentworth.

I need not have worried. Romantic novelists are the kindest, warmest, most welcoming women I’ve ever met. Many of them have become firm friends over the years and now that I am myself a veteran of the genre I never forget their kindness and do my best to pay it forward.

Millions of words. Millions of books. I did try and do the math but my brain fried. Whatever the number, it feels like a huge milestone and I’m delighted that FLIRTING WITH ITALIAN is the book I’m celebrating with. Set in Italy, one of my favourite places in the entire world here’s a little taste: -

     ‘Have you found him yet, Sarah Gratton?’
     For a moment she was mesmerized by the way he said her name. The vowels long and slow, like thick cream being poured from a jug. The man exuded sensuality. Every movement, every syllable seemed to stroke her…
     ‘Him?’ she repeated, before she began to purr. No… That wasn’t right. She was looking for Lucia…
     ‘The “…dark-eyed Italian lover…”?’ he prompted.
      Oh, great. He’d found Lex’s email. But no one who taught a mixed class of teenagers could afford to betray the slightest sign of embarrassment. The first hint of a blush and you were toast.
You had to look them in the eye, stand your ground, come back with a swift riposte that would make the class laugh with you, not at you.
     ‘Why?’ she asked. ‘Are you interested in the job?’
      It would have been spot on if it had come out sharp and snappy as intended but something had gone seriously wrong between her brain and her mouth. Between concept and delivery.
      It was his eyes. Dark as night but with the crackle of lightning in their depths…
     Under that gaze, sharp had lost its edge, snap had turned to a soft, gooey fudge and apparently taking it as an invitation, he reached out, slid his fingers through her hair, cradling her head in the palm of his hand. There was a seemingly endless pause while she frantically tried to redial her brain.  Send out a call for the cavalry.
     Her brain was apparently engaged, busy dealing with a bombardment of signals. The sun hot on her arms, her throat, her breasts. The sensuous sweep of the mouth hovering above her own. The scent of warm skin, leather…
     The world seemed to have slowed down and it took forever for his lips to reach hers. Somewhere, deep inside her brain the word “…no…” was teetering on the brink. All she had to do was move her lips, say it, but her butter-soft mouth seemed to belong to someone else.
     When it parted, it was not to protest and as his mouth found hers a tingle of something like recognition raced like wildfire through her blood, blotting out reason. Her body, with nothing to guide it, softened, melted against him, murmured, “Yes…”

FLIRTING WITH ITALIAN is available in paper and eBook format in December 2011.

For more information check out my Website

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Research . . . ah, research! : : Anne McAllister

nyfI’m off to New York City in early December to do research for the Christmas book I’m supposed to be writing for Harlequin Mills & Boon in 2012. 

It is, admittedly, a little late to be doing research. But the story of my life this year can be summed up in the words “a little late.”  So . . . I’m going. 

And when could I have done it earlier, anyway?  It wasn’t Christmas back in July when I first started thinking about this book.

So . . . I’m asking for your help, you New Yorkers. And you people who would like to be in New York at Christmas or who have been in New York at Christmas. 

I’ve been there most other times of the year, but only in NYC at what might loosely be brownstone xmascalled “Christmas” for a couple of days shortly after Thanksgiving nearly 20 years ago. 

I need a refresher course.  I have some things I want to take a look at again.  I’m heading for Rockefeller Center and the ice skating rink.  I’m checking out a museum on 5th Avenue, but I haven’t decided which one yet. The Frick beckons. I haven’t been there is a long time.

But if you have a better idea, especially for Christmas, speak up.

I want a wander around the department stores – Macy’s, Saks, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales.  I’m thinking maybe a quick visit to the Plaza for a pre-Christmas tea. And maybe a look in at FAO Schwartz while I’m over there.

HJ123I’m taking in Hugh Jackman’s one man show while I’m there. No one said research had to be painful.  And I’m thinking another show would be good. Suggestions? 

Holiday walking tours?  Roast chestnuts?  I’m open for all your best NYC-related ideas. 

I can’t promise they’ll make it in the book, but I can assure you I’ll take them all to heart and see which ones I can make happen.  And we’ll go from there.

Oh, and I promise to report back about what I did when I rock centerwrite next time (provided I’m back and not still there.) 

I don’t know what I’ll be able to write about Hugh.  There are times when words fail me. I suspect that will be one of them.

For her most recent book, The Night that Changed Everything, (Nov. Harlequin Presents Extra) Anne proved she could go home again, as she went back to Santa Barbara where she spent six wonderful years long long ago.  It was great fun – even if she kept getting lost. 

She discovered that lots has changed, except married student housing. It is EXACTLY the same.  She is not surprised.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lisa Dale: Couponing Grows Up

I was at a baby shower recently in my hometown when a woman piped up.

“I remember you,” she said. She was looking at me. Her eyes were bright. “I was your preschool teacher!”

I laughed. I remembered her too—not her face or her hair, but a general “her-ness.”

She went on: “You’re that kid who used to cut coupons out of the newspaper all the time.”

I laughed. “Yes that was me.”

My favorite thing to do the year before I went to kindergarten was to cut coupons out of the paper. God knows why. And if there were no coupons, I cut out the classifieds ads because they looked like coupons. I said it was for my mom. Really, I just liked to feel helpful. The woman used to pull me out of class so that I could sit with her and cut coupons while she read the paper. I’m thinking she must have been on her break.

The woman said, “You were the weirdest kid I ever met!” At which point, there was a round of laughter and I’m sure my face turned red.

Flash forward, oh, a couple dozen years. After preschool, I got bored with coupons. As an adult, I’ve never been a couponing person. I run to the store, grab what I need, and flee. Actually, I’ve been known to throw coupons away. Too much of a hassle to save thirty cents.

But TLC’s couponing show, Extreme Couponing, really got me thinking.

What if I just gave this coupon thing a try?

Well guess what?

My first trip out, I saved $42! Talk about awesome. And since that first trip about a week ago, I’ve saved about $150 more. Just yesterday I picked up a $100 super duper electric toothbrush for just $30! That’s seventy bucks saved! That’s a nice dinner with my husband. That’s a trip to a theme park. That’s a whole lotta books!

Granted, I’ve had to get organized. Dedicate a bit of time. I have to buy things now and store them until later. No more shopping on the fly. Plus, I’ve had to go to multiple stores to do my shopping, whereas before, I was one and done.

But so far it’s really been worth it. The key, apparently, isn’t just cutting coupons from the Sunday paper. It’s pairing those coupons with retailer deals. Actually, you can get quite a lot of stuff for free when you combine them.

I suspect the people featured on Extreme Couponing area bit showy for the cameras (seriously, how could a person physically use 60 bottles of allergy medication before they expire? You'd die trying!). But still…there are rewards.

QUESTION: Are you on the coupon train? Too much hassle? Or worth the while?


Lisa Dale

P.S. Comment on my new blog post to be entered to win my LOVE TO READERS prize (which is a gift card of your choice to a book retailer)!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Here's to A Lady Who Lunched: Evelyn Lauder

You probably have heard of her famous mother-in-law, Estee but Evelyn Lauder touched millions of women's lives in a highly significant way. Evelyn Lauder was the driving force behind the creation of Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer campaign. A breast cancer survivor (she was diagonosed in 1989), Evelyn created the Breast Cancer  Research Foundation in 1993 after a lunch at the 21 Club in 1992 where she decided to do more for women who suffered from breast cancer and to raise awareness of the condition. In all the Breast Cancer Research Foundation has raised more than $330 million of which $50 million Evelyn was personally responsible for.
She used her contacts and Estee Lauder muscle to help promote the campaign, badgering beauty and fashion editors to do pieces for example.The   Estee Lauder  Company also contributed by making a special Pink Ribbon lipstick and blusher as well as Berry Kiss pink lipstick where a portion of the sales went towards Breast Cancer Research. In short she got people talking about the disease.  Apparently she knew the campaign was a success when a stewardess looked at the pink ribbon she was wearing and said -- I know that is for Breast Cancer. And it is through her efforts and determination that the US Congress declared October to be Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Evelyn Lauder was born in Vienna in 1936 and her parents fled Austria because of the rise Hitler and the Nazis. Suffering great deprivation, she and her parents eventually made their way to New York City. She met her future husband on a blind date and fell in love, despite the approval of her father. Evelyn joined her mother-in-law's company and was responsible for among other things the creation of the Clinque product range. The firm continues to have family involvement but her true legacy is not its success but the success of her wonderful campaign and the countless lives it has saved.
Evelyn Lauder was one of those very rare unsung heroes who did leave the world a better place.
Evelyn Lauder died on 12 November 2011.
Wear your Pink Ribbon with pride and remember that all it takes is one very determined person to get things done.

In other news:
The Harlequin Historical Authors are once again doing an advent calendar -- starting 29 November. Win a Kindle Fire! The Harlequin Historical Authors Holiday Giveaway is back. In the spirit of an Advent calendar, the authors are giving away daily prizes and a Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire. Play every day for more chances to win.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical. You can read more about Michelle's books at her website

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Little Retail Therapy - Sharon Ashwood

Halloween has barely cooled its pumpkins but, when I was tearing around the streets of the downtown on my lunch hour, I noticed Christmas decorations. I was about to go into a huff about it being far, far too early for such things and then realized we’re pushing into the middle of November. Christmas Eve is six weeks away! For once, it’s not the retailers who are ahead of themselves; I’m just out of touch with the calendar.

I easily succumb to glitter. I like shiny. I like snow (in small doses) and turn to sentimental goo at the sound of carols.  In other words, I’m a merchandiser’s dream around this time of year. The catch is that when I go shopping, I turn out to carry home as many parcels for me as for everyone else because this is the time of year all the really cool stuff comes into the stores.

I’ll throw in a disclaimer here:  I actually buy a lot of presents at craft fairs because the money goes straight to the artisans and I can find really unique items that aren’t otherwise advertised. Here, though, I’m posting about things you can get through the web, because what’s the point if you can’t share the fun?

So here we go:  Sharon’s shopping picks, 2011
If you know any folks who do work at home, this might be a hit. I know I want one! This is a heavy vinyl mat that will take an office chair rolling back and forth – and yet it looks like a Persian carpet. This is definitely on my Christmas list because my place is small, so my office is in my living room. I need to get a chair mat to protect the carpet, but most are so ugly that I’ve been stalling. This would go a long way to a compromise between practical and pretty.

Speaking of pretty ... one of my very favourite craftspeople is Melissa Caron, who does amazing silver work. I love the organic feel of her designs. Click on the ring to visit her Etsy store and I guarantee that you’ll spend a lot of money, at least in your imagination!  I came across her booth at a local craft fair last year and one of her rings followed me home.

Speaking of Etsy, drop by the Steamworkshop to check out these decorative USB drives. They are both practical (they work for real—I have one from this seller) and fun—and could probably survive an airship crash. Just about everyone uses jump drives, so it might be the ticket for a hard-to-buy-for. I like having a bunch of different USB drives to keep my novels-in-progress separate.  The more unique-looking, the better for telling them apart.

Please keep in mind that while I’ve had good experiences with the Etsy retailers listed, it’s always buyer beware out there in the land of on-line shopping. This is not a paid advertisement nor is it a guarantee. However, I’ve had good service and a lot of pleasure out my purchases.
So, what nifty items are out there that you know about?  Care to share?


Just to get us in the right winter mood, I’ll offer a copy of Frostbound: the Dark Forgotten to a commenter!  And, just because I’ve been asked about this by so many people—the entire series is now available as ebooks.

Every dog might have his day, but the hellhound guards the night . . .
As a snowstorm locks down the city, more than the roads are getting iced. Someone's beheaded the wrong girl, and vampire-on-the-lam Talia Rostova thinks it was meant to be her. Now she's the prime suspect in her own botched murder—and the prisoner of her smoking-hot neighbor.
Lore is a hellhound, bred to serve and protect, so he's not freeing Talia until he's sure that she's the prey and not the hunter. You'd think a beautiful woman in his bedroom would be a good thing, but trouble-prone Talia has run afoul of someone more sinister than your average lunatic killer. An ancient Undead is wreaking vengeance on the city—and on her—and Lore will have to go far beyond a stake to put him back in his grave . . .

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Start Of Something Big?

Despite having the same number of days as April, June and September, November always feels like a very short month to me. Here in the UK, we've left summer far behind but it still seems too early to start thinking about Christmas. And you remember how short the summer holidays seemed when you were at school? Then you find time passing even faster, when you get out in the big wide world, with all its distractions. Six weeks ago we were basking in a warm, sunlit Indian summer. In exactly six weeks' time, it will be Christmas Day! It's pretty frightening when you look at it like that. I've decided that this year, I'm going to make the most of November. I've found it's a good time to start a new project - bringing a final burst of creativity to finish the year. 
November is National Novel Writing Month. Are you part of NaNoWriMo? If you want to write a novel, encouragement is almost as important as inspiration. The NaNoWriMo website is a great place to find help and support - their forums are a fund of useful information and encouragement.
For the past few weeks I've been doing a big blog tour (see, which has involved writing a lot of short pieces over and above the daily word count target for my current WIP. That means a lot of time spent sitting at the computer, which will only only increase as the days shorten and the weather closes in. It was while we were snowed in last winter that I wrote my current release for Harlequin Mills and Boon, Weight of the Crown. I decided then that I needed something I could do indoors during my non-writing time that involved more moving about. It's taken me this long to do anything about it, but I've finally sent my ancient sewing machine off to be cannibalised for spares, and bought myself a new model. It's pretty basic as all I usually do is repairs and make curtains, but after blogging about my urge to do something creative, lots of people commented with suggestions for craft sites. So far, I've managed to make fleecy hats for each of my triplet nephews (and resisted the temptation to embroider them with the names Huey, Dewey and Louie!) and I'm in the process of making draught excluders for our exterior doors. Sewing still involves a fair bit of sitting at a machine, but there are also breaks for measuring up and fabric shopping. That means trips to town,  which is a great excuse for meeting up with friends for coffee and cake....I can see the time is going to go faster than ever this November! 
How are you planning to spend the run up to the holiday season?

Christina Hollis writes Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon Ltd. You can catch up with her on her website,, read her blog at and on Twitter, where she tweets as @christinabooks.