Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lorraine Heath – The Pleasures and Perils of Books in a Series

It such a pleasure to be here today. I thought we could discuss books in a series.

I was four books into my career when I penned my first trilogy. I didn’t know enough about marketing to give it a name although it’s now often referred to by readers as the Texas trilogy. The books—Texas Destiny, Texas Glory, and Texas Splendor—were about three brothers who were shaped by the Civil War and were trying to make a go of it in West Texas.

I love writing books in a series for the same reasons that I enjoy reading them. I have the opportunity to visit with the characters a little bit longer as they appear in each book.  As a writer, I come to know the characters more in depth so writing the subsequent books, while not easier, usually—not always but usually—seems to go a bit more smoothly. As often happens with writers, it isn’t until I’m actually writing the second or third story that I fully understand all that will happen in those stories.

My latest trilogy—the Lost Lords of Pembrook—comes to a close April 30 with the release of Lord of Wicked Intentions. When I first met Rafe in She Tempts the Duke, he was all of ten years old, whining about being cold and hungry while his brothers were trying to figure out how to escape the tower in which their uncle had imprisoned them. When we see him as a man, he’s the owner of a gaming hell. He’s distant and hard, refusing to give any hint as to what transpired the years his brothers were away and he grew into adulthood. Unfortunately, he was also very secretive with me. Not until I started writing his story, did I really get to explore the effect that the years had on him and what truly occurred during those years. No spoiler alerts here.

But as a series progresses I think a writer might encounter what I perceive as a peril.  Expectations are higher for the next books in the series, especially for the final book.  Readers anxious for the next book might have to wait months to read it. All the while, when I’m working on a series I worry that readers have too long to ponder what the final story might be, and they will be disappointed.  I remember the original Star Wars trilogy.  The first movie was fun, but the second was my favorite.  Although I enjoyed the third, I didn't think it was equal to its predecessor.  And so I worry.

Another challenge is that readers’ approaches to series vary. Some readers are adamant that they must read the books in order. If they don’t start the trilogy when it first comes out, they may have difficulty finding the earlier books so they may bypass the series completely or they might not want to play “catch up”.

While I don’t mind reading books out of order, I know some readers enjoy a series more if they are able to read the books in order. I also know readers who buy the books when they come out but don’t read them until they have the last book in the series in hand. I admire that patience.

What is your approach to reading a series? Do you mind reading books out of order? Do you wait to read a series until you have all the books in the series? Is there such a thing as too many books in a series? What is your favorite/least favorite part of reading books in a series?

One lucky poster will receive an autographed set of the 1st two books in the Lost Lords of Pembrook series. Another lucky poster will receive an autographed set of the 1st two books in the Darkness Before Dawn trilogy that I wrote with my son under the name J. A. London.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jocelynn Drake: Digging in the Darkness for the Asylum Tales

The Asylum Tales takes place in a strange world, where humans are living side-by-side with all manner of creatures.  Walking down the street in Low Town in the evening, you could encounter trolls, satyrs, elves, pixies, vampires, sirens, and hobgoblins.  I created this open world when I started the series because I didn’t want to worry about hiding the existence of these amazing creatures from humans – I had bigger problems to tackle.

But this choice has had an unexpected benefit.  It has allowed me the chance to dig through my stacks of books on mythology, folklore, and fairy tales in search of magical creatures that don’t often get their time in the urban fantasy spotlight.  There are plenty of books on the shelves that feature vampires and werewolves, but there aren’t many books that spend time talking about Vestal Virgins or the Lorialets. 

With every new story for the series, I try to introduce 3-4 new creatures or mythical figures that I hadn’t been seen previously in the Asylum Tales.  In Dead Man’s Deal, one of my new favorites is Lori, the Lorialet.  Supposedly the children of Selene (goddess of the moon) and Edymion, Lorialets are dreamers and artists.  Pale with fine white hair, they are the star gazers, seers of the past and future, and somewhat melancholy figures as they wish to return to the moon. 

Writing the Asylum Tales has given me the chance to explore different legends and myths.  Picking out these strange creatures has been an interesting adventure, resulting in the story going in new and unexpected directions.
Stop by the Asylum Tales to see more dreams in ink.     

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Amy Raby: Writing the Flawed Hero

I’ve spent much of my life in majority-male environments. Not intentionally; it just worked out that way. My mother died when I was young, leaving me in a household that was all male except for myself. Many of my neighborhood friends happened to be boys. In college, I majored in Computer Science, ensuring that most of my classmates would be men, and then I worked at a technology company where the employees were, again, nearly all men.

Nowadays, most of my friends are women, but I feel comfortable around men, and I enjoy writing them. They are not a mysterious other species to me; they’re just people.

And that’s how I like to write them: as people. Not as billionaire hunks of masculine perfection, who always know the right things to say, but as human beings with flaws, who make mistakes and have moments of weakness and sometimes say the wrong thing. In my books, a hero isn’t somebody born with all the advantages: the right family, the right genes, the right opportunities. He’s a man who’s not perfect but who strives to be better, who makes mistakes and learns from them, who finds love with the woman who understands him and loves his flawed self.

In my fantasy romance novel Assassin’s Gambit, the hero is a powerful young emperor who is disabled. In his youth, he was attacked by a group of assassins, and while he managed to fight them off, he lost his lower left leg. Now he walks with a prosthetic and a crutch. The Kjallan Empire, which he rules, is steeped in warrior culture and holds up physical perfection in men as an ideal to be worshiped.

Lucien doesn’t fit this ideal. He will never take the field of battle again—at least not physically. Instead, he tries to prove his worth by being a great battlefield tactician and by playing the war game Caturanga. He is excellent at both, yet he knows that many people will not accept or value him. He yearns for a woman who can see past his physical limitations and appreciate his many other wonderful qualities.

I like to write about imperfect heroes and heroines because, let’s face it, hardly any of us are perfect. And I think imperfect people should have as much of a chance as anybody to find their happily ever after. Who are your favorite flawed heroes and heroines in literature?  

Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Assassin's Gambit!

***Amy's winner is Stefanie!  Please email with your mailing information! Thanks.***

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Writing a Trilogy by Fiona Lowe

My desk is a big mess and right now my brain is too! I'm writing the final book in my Wedding Fever trilogy, Runaway Groom and I have spread sheet failure. The first book,  Saved By The Bride , which is on sale right now was written back in 2011. Book two, Picture Perfect Wedding , I wrote in 2012 and it's been been fully edited and proofed and has gone to production but did I record every minor character's name, occupation on my spread sheet? I meant to! Sadly, I did not.  Thank goodness for the Find facility on Word, but oh, how much easier it would have been if I had been better organized.

I've loved creating Whitetail, Wisconsin and casting it. All the characters we meet on the opening pages of Saved By The Bride, end up having their stories told in the three books and each book has two significant romances in it!

If you enjoyed Stars Hollow on The Gilmore Girls, then you'll love Whitetail. It's nestled on a pristine, north woods lake and everyone has an opinion on how best to save the town from financial ruin and they're not backward in coming forward.

Writing the town meetings was lots of fun. Anyone who has served on a committee knows how hard it can be to keep a group focused on the main goal without allowing them to become bogged down in semantics. Annika, my heroine in Saved By The Bride, finds this particularly challenging. I think I channelled all my frustrations of being on a school carnival committee into some of the dialogue!

Do you have any stories about being a volunteer or being on a committee?

Here's the blurb on Saved By The Bride and just in case you missed the book trailer last month, I've popped it below.

Welcome to Whitetail, Wisconsin, future home of Weddings that WOW!

As acting mayor, Annika will do anything to revive the economy of the town that's been her refuge ever since her art career imploded and her fiancé walked out. Even if it means crashing an engagement party to talk business with the bride's billionaire father. But the evening starts with a kiss from a gorgeous stranger—and ends with a night in jail.

Finn Callahan can't believe his sister is getting married, not after their parents' disastrous track record. And he'd rather be anywhere than working from his family's vacation home. Until he catches a leggy blonde sneaking in the window, and suddenly telecommuting for the season is very appealing.

Unable to resist their mutual attraction, Annika and Finn are soon mixing business and pleasure—just for the summer. Too bad Annika's heart missed the memo about not falling in love…

Book one of Wedding Fever.
99,000 words

Read Reviews here!


Saved By the Bride is available from Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, Carina Press, Kobo  iBooks, and all other eBook retailers.

Fiona Lowe is a RITA® and R*BY award-winning, multi-published author with Harlequin and Carina Press. Whether her books are set in outback Australia or in the mid-west of the USA, they feature small towns with big hearts, and warm, likeable characters that make you fall in love. When she's not writing stories, she's a weekend wife, mother of two 'ginger' teenage boys, guardian of 80 rose bushes and often found collapsed on the couch with wine. You can find her at her websitefacebookTwitter and Goodreads where she'd love you to say, "HI".

Friday, April 26, 2013

Laura Lee Guhrke: Matchmaking in the modern world

The heroine of my next book is a matchmaker. My wedding is at the end of June. How are these connected? I’m getting to that.

I was a confirmed bachelorette. Having had my heart broken (or having unintentionally broken somebody else’s) too many times, I’d given up finding love. I went solo to every party or wedding. I stopped agreeing to blind dates (the last straw was the guy who wanted to roll a joint using my shoulder; I declined to oblige). I refused to do internet dating (too risky) or speed dating (too silly). I debated about matchmaking services: NYT bestselling romance novelist paired with hot multi-billionaire by high powered female exec matchmaker, but I decided there’s a reason I write fiction, and gave up that idea. No, I was Single Forever.

Then one night I met a guy through friends, and six years later, we’re getting married. None of us started out the evening thinking he and I would get together, but by the end of the night, everyone but me was in on the plot.

The stuff of my own love life has always been part of my writing. In my next book, WHEN THE MARQUESS MET HIS MATCH (out October 29), the matchmaking female exec of my imagination is now Belinda Featherstone, Victorian matchmaker to rich American girls seeking titled British husbands. Her matches always work out, until she falls in love with her own client. That’s a disaster that in real life probably would have happened to me. Thankfully, I found love by accident (sort of), and that’s the best thing that could ever have happened to me.

How about you? Have you ever been successfully matched up by friends? Have you matched up anyone else? If so, how did it go? Can matchmaking work, or is it just disaster waiting to happen?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Nancy Northcott: From the Familiar to the Strange

Thanks for having me, Lee.  I’m excited about my first appearance on Totebags ‘n’ Blogs.

I’ve always loved reading about people who visit exotic places and can do really cool things. Superheroes, spacefarers, and mages (or wizards) are always on my list of favorite characters. Growing up in a small, sleepy town, I enjoyed losing myself in Gotham City and Metropolis with their hustle and bustle.

Yet my paranormal romantic suspense series, The Protectors, ended up being set in and near a small, sleepy town.  I didn’t set out with that plan, but the world sort of evolved that way.  The hero of the first book, Renegade, is Griffin Dare, a fugitive who tops the mage world’s Most Wanted list.  While I love lone wolf heroes, I didn’t want Griff to be totally isolated.  So I gave him a home in a small town, where he lived under an alias and concealed his powers, and some friends and allies.

After all, I know small towns.  I grew up in one, went to college there, and worked in a slightly larger one.  They may be quiet, even sleepy, but there’s a sense of community I truly love.  I drew on that when I created the town of Wayfarer, Georgia.

Wayfarer sits very near the Okefenokee Swamp.  Many of my friends wrinkled their noses and said, “A swamp?  In a romance?  Seriously?” 

I couldn’t really blame them.  Swamps are associated with images of mud, bugs, and stinky air.  The Okefenokee isn’t like that, though.  A blackwater peat bog, it has no stink and not much mud.  Most of the time, you’re either on land or on the water.

My mages’ powers are nature-based, so a rural setting works better for them than an urban one. I picked the swamp because I wanted to incorporate a setting that hadn’t been used a lot in paranormal romance, and I remembered the name Okefenokee from a trip there with my parents many years ago.  We didn’t have time then to go back, but I could do the research I needed online since the swamp plays only a minimal role in Renegade.

After the series sold, my husband and our son and I visited there again.  Most of the swamp lies inside the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (  As we drove into the refuge, I turned to my guys and said, “I hope this is as cool as I think it is because I’m stuck with it now.”

I am so Not Nature Girl, but I fell totally and absolutely in love with the Okefenokee.  My husband and I have been back twice, most recently a couple of weeks ago.   I’m even thinking of taking lessons in canoeing so we can visit parts of the swamp a motorboat can’t reach.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m drawn to this place. I think it’s maybe because it’s so very different, so other, from what I’m accustomed to.  It’s beautiful and wild, with a hint of danger from alligators, bears, and snakes.  Being there is kind of like visiting a fantasy world.   So even though I usually prefer my surroundings tidy and any wildlife safely distant, the Okefenokee calls to me.

Its fantasy world would evolve into a hardwood forest if not for wildfires that periodically burn chunks of it.  The Honey Prairie fire in 2011 burned almost three quarters of the 400,000 or so acres in the swamp.  It also provided the inspiration for my latest release and first novella, Protector.  Reading about the fire online, I learned a lot about wildland firefighting and have tremendous admiration for those who do it.  I’ve never been in a  helicopter or on a fire line, but a couple of firefighters and a forester helped me with the novella.

The mage hero of Protector, Josh Campbell, is a combat helicopter pilot for the southeastern mages.  He flies them into battle against their enemies, the ghouls, users of dark magic whose talons can suck magic or life energy and who kidnap mages and normal, or Mundane, humans for breeding purposes.

Before Josh flew for the mages, he served in the army.  After that, he made water drops via helicopter as part of a wildland firefighting crew.  There, he met firefighter Edie Lang, who’s also a mage.  They were attracted, but Josh backed away.   Now ghouls have caused a fire in the Okefenokee, and fighting it reunites Edie and Josh as ghoul magic threatens their lives.

Both of them can do really cool things I can’t, so I get to live vicariously through them.   That’s part of the joy of writing. I can sit in my familiar house and immerse myself in strange, new experiences through research.  Writing The Protectors gives me the best of both worlds, the familiarity of a small town and the strangeness of the swamp, with a bonus in the expanding horizons of research.  That makes me feel really lucky.

What about you?  Do you like small towns and rural settings, or do you prefer cities?  If you could have a paranormal or magical ability, what would you pick?

I’ll give one commenter today a choice of a signed Renegade or Protector ARC.

Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman.  Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy and YA romance.  A sucker for fast action and wrenching emotion, Nancy combines the romance and high stakes she loves in The Protectors, her new contemporary mage series from Grand Central Forever Yours.

Her debut novel, Renegade, received a starred review from Library Journal.  The reviewer called it “genre writing at its best.”  Nancy is a three-time RWA Golden Heart finalist and has won the Maggie, the Molly, the Emerald City Opener, and Put Your Heart in a Book.

Twitter: @NancyNorthcott

***Nancy's winner is Jeanne! Please email with your mailing address.  Thanks!***

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Heather Snow: Madness in Regency and Victorian England

Hello. Thank you so much for inviting me to visit…I’m thrilled to be here!

A little about me for those who don’t know me: I’m a sleep-deprived mother of two young boys, known affectionately on social media as The Heir and The Spare. I’m an avid reader…or at least I was before deadlines and diaper duty. Now I’m more of an avid listener—God bless audiobooks! I’m a cat person who somehow just got tricked into agreeing to get a dog this summer (rotten husband…and he said it in front of the boys, who are now over the moon. I would be an evil mommy to say no now…), and I write historical romance with heroines who put the blue in bluestocking, the men who love them and the mysteries they have to solve.

Oh, and my latest novel starts in a sanatorium for the insane.

“What?”, you say.  “Don’t you write regency romance???”, you ask. “Shouldn’t you be putting your characters in a ballroom and make them be witty?”  Well, yes…and there are a couple of ballroom scenes, I promise.  But from the moment the story of SWEET MADNESS gripped me, it wouldn’t let me go.  And so I wrote it.

SWEET MADNESS is the story of strong man brought low, a traumatized soldier now facing the terrifying prospect of losing his mind. But Gabriel is a fighter…hope burns eternal in his heart and he’s willing to do what it takes to get well. Luckily for him, our heroine, Penelope, knows what it takes and is willing to fight by his side.

I did a lot of research about how “lunatics” were perceived and treated at the time, most of which couldn’t go into the book… It is a romance, after all, and as I’m sure you can imagine, the mentally ill were not dealt with in the most humane and compassionate manner in those days. But I thought I might share a little about it here with you today.

The study of mental maladies was a very muddy field in the 19th century…no one could agree on just what it was that caused insanity in a person. Some thought madness to be evidence of moral failing on the part of the patient. Others thought it was due to an imbalance of bodily humors. Some still suspected the devil had a hand in lunacy.

What can be agreed on, however, is that the treatments were barbaric. I won’t go into much detail here, but picture restraints (from straight waistcoats to chains, to being strapped in chairs for hours, days, even weeks at a time and even put in cages), purges (to force a patient to vomit out the bad humors), being plunged into freezing or very hot water, blistering (where hot rocks raise blisters all over your body, which are then lanced and drained to rid you of your bad humors) and much worse. It is not a pretty picture.

Nor is it one that I paint in Sweet Madness. Rather Sweet Madness is a story of the healing power of love. Yes, my hero suffers some of these treatments. In fact, he chooses to undergo them out of desperation. He’d do anything to be returned to the man he once was. Before the wars. Before whatever strange malady struck him and threatened his sanity and his future. But they happen long before our heroine comes onto the scene with scars of her own as well as her own compassionate approach…one that puts them both on the path to recovery.

I hope you enjoy Penelope and Gabriel’s journey.

Thank you so much for having me here today! While I’m here, I’d love to do a giveaway. One winner will get their choice of the first two books in the series, SWEET ENEMY or SWEET DECEPTION (which recently won the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence for published historical romance!).

Just answer me this question: What advances in medicine understanding or technology are you most grateful for?

Ever since her husband’s sudden and tragic death, Lady Penelope Bridgeman has dedicated herself to studying maladies of the mind, particularly those of soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars, but Gabriel Devereaux’s unpredictable episodes are like none she’s ever seen. Even though she knows the folly of loving a broken man, she can’t help herself from trying to save him, no matter the cost…

Read the Prologue and First Chapter HERE...

*Just as Sweet Madness is a story of the healing power of love, it is also a story of hope. Gabriel is a fictional war hero but there are many real life heroes and their families suffering today. Therefore, my husband and I have decided to donate a portion of all royalties earned from the sale of SWEET MADNESS to Hope For The Warriors®, an organization dedicated to “restoring a sense of self, restoring the family unit, and restoring hope for our service members and our military families.” You can find out more at

Heather Snow is an award winning historical romance author with a degree in Chemistry who discovered she preferred creating chemistry on the page rather than in the lab. She lives in the Midwest with her husband, two rambunctious boys and one very put upon cat. Mr. Snow has promised the boys a dog this summer. The cat is not happy.
The final book in her Veiled Seduction series, SWEET MADNESS, hit shelves April 2, 2013. RT Book Reviews Magazine gives it 4 ½ stars, saying “In this emotional, compassionate romance...the powerful love story will sweep readers away."
Find out more at or connect with Heather at , or at her blog, Heather’s Historical Reader Salon at

***Heather's winner is Lory Lee!  Please email with your mailing information! Thanks.***

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Julie Kenner: Mixing Business and Pleasure

It’s release day for Claim Me, book 2 in the Stark Trilogy that began with Release Me!  And that, folks, is exciting stuff!

I don’t think that the thrill of having a book come out has ever dissipated, even after having so many books under my belt.  It’s one of those things that just never gets old.  That always gives me that little thrill.  And it’s always a reason to celebrate.

I used to always travel to signings and conferences when I had a new book out, but unfortunately, that has changed a bit over the years.  When my first book came out, I had no kids and a husband in grad school.  Yeah, I worked as an attorney, but my schedule was reasonably flexible (though I didn’t realize it at the time!).  Then suddenly there was one kid, then another, and my husband had an actual day job (there goes the live-in child care).  Then we added homeschooling to the mix, and suddenly traveling became much more difficult. 

For years, about the only conferences I was consistently able to attend were the Romance Writers of America conference, because it’s in July, the one month that my husband has off (thus relegating him again to kid-duty) and Armadillocon (because it’s in my home town, and thus easy).

Even RWA became difficult in recent years, because of conflicts with various summer activities.  And that’s a shame, because I love to travel.  I even loved going to Continuing Legal Education seminars back in my lawyering days.  Sure, you had to sit through mind-numbing talks about securities regulations, but when the venue was the Del Coronado hotel outside of San Diego or the Four Seasons in Austin, is it really worth complaining?  And when you’re talking writing conferences, it’s even more fun because you get to visit fun places, mingle with other writers, and invariably hang out with readers.  Score!

Which is why I’m so thrilled that my kids are older, one is no longer homeschooled, and I can do more traveling!  This year I’m going to Dallas in June, Houston, Atlanta, Tampa (and Disneyland) in July, Savannah in August, and New Jersey in October!  I’ll get to meet readers and do signings in almost all those places (no, not Disney). So if you’re in those cities, be sure to check my newsletter or webpage!  I’d love to meet you.

How about you?  Do you travel for business?   Is it a pain, or is it something you enjoy?

One lucky commenter will win a copy of Claim Me! (print for US winners, digital for international winners!)

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J. Kenner has written over 40 books under multiple names including Julie Kenner and J.K. Beck.  Her newest release, CLAIM ME (April 23, 2013), is the second book in the bestselling Stark Trilogy, which began with RELEASE ME, continues with CLAIM ME, and which will conclude in July with COMPLETE ME.

You can learn more about her at her website ( or connect with her on Twitter (@juliekenner) or on Facebook (

***Julie's winner is Josie Hink!  Please email with your mailing information! Thanks.***

Monday, April 22, 2013

Vicky Dreiling: The Glamorous Life of an Author

The day I sold my first book (June 19, 2009) I knew my life would change, but for that shining moment, all I cared about was celebrating with my writing friends. I didn’t think too much beyond savoring my accomplishment, but despite knowing many published authors, I still had visions that my life would somehow become … glamorous. My first indication that the writer’s life might not be all glam occurred with the dreaded Professional Author Photo. I distinctly recall asking the photographer if he could work miracles with Photoshop. Notably, my Professional Author Photo looks ….like me.

So much for glamming up.

My second indication that the writer’s life might not be nearly as glamorous as I’d hoped occurred when I got my first revision letter. It was almost as long as the book. OK, I am exaggerating, but I gulped multiple times as I read that letter.

My third indication that the writer’s life might not be nearly as glamorous as I’d envisioned occurred in the frantic middle of revising my first book. One late evening, I paused for air and realized I’d never gotten out of my pajamas.

My fourth indication that writing might not be glamorous occurred while brushing my teeth one morning. I looked in the mirror and thought, OMG, my hair made me look like … Medusa.

My fifth indication that writing might be just a little glamorous occurred when I finished the final round of revisions on my first book. I got a bit teary eyed as I realized that my editor’s brilliant insights had helped me transform that debut novel.

After sending off that final version of my first book, I knew the actual writing wasn’t even remotely glamorous, but the day I received my first Advance Reader Copies of HOW TO MARRY A DUKE, I was thrilled and took multiple photos.

Four years after selling my first book, I find there is no glamor involved in the creation part of a book, but there is something far more special. My thanks to all of the readers who email, tweet or send Facebook messages letting me know they enjoyed one of my books. I assure you, that part is just a tiny bit glamorous.

Leave a comment for a chance to win an ARC of WHAT A WICKED EARL WANTS. (US/CA only)

Vicky Dreiling is a Triple RITA finalist, confirmed historical romance junkie, and Anglophile. Frequent business trips to the UK allowed her to indulge her passion for all things Regency England. Bath, Stonehenge, and Spencer House are among her favorite places. She is, however, truly sorry for accidentally setting off a security alarm in Windsor Castle. That unfortunate incident led her British colleagues to nickname her “Trouble.” Her upcoming release WHAT A WICKED EARL WANTS publishes May 28, 2013.
Visit her at:

***Vicky's winner is Herding Cats, Burning Soup!  Please email with your mailing information! Thanks.***

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Christina Hollis: Writing As Winter Retreats and Spring Advances...
By Philip Halling

They say other countries have climate, while England has weather. When you visit, you soon find out why we’re all obsessed by it.  English weather is always playing tricks of one sort or another. For instance, I’ve never known such a long-drawn out winter. On 14th April, the temperature here struggled into double figures for the first time since September last year.  That’s good, but the wind is still cold and blustery. It's more of a trial than a pleasure to spend much time outside. 

It’s been a terrible twelve months for both wildlife and farm livestock. A short burst of bright and dry weather got everything going very early in 2012. Then we had a big, long freeze, and all the chicks, lambs and young shoots were chilled. After that, it started to rain - and forgot how to stop.  The deluge eased several times, but everywhere was wet for at least eight months, and many places were under water for much of that time. In December, the rain turned to snow. Although here in Gloucestershire we didn’t suffer as badly as many places, for three weeks the last half-mile of country lane between our house and the main road was blocked by both snow and ice. 

Philip Halling [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsHTML
By Philip Halling
The terrain here is like an Escher staircase - a one in three slope, cut into a series of ninety-degree turns. The only way to get in, or out, was by walking.  We live in the middle of the countryside because we like solitude, and boy, did we have it this winter! At least I could do plenty of writing, while the temptations of the town were out-of-bounds.  It’s lovely to be snuggled up in front of  a  crackling log fire with bowls of hot soup, but by the beginning of March the novelty had worn off. I was worried about my bees, too. I didn’t harvest any honey in 2012 as it was such a poor summer, and I wanted to leave them with plenty of stores over winter. Even so, I still had to feed them additional food. Despite taking every precaution to help them get through, I lost 75% of my hives purely because of the terrible conditions.  

English: Pussy willow, Crawfordsburn Pussy willow catkins growing in Crawfordsburn Country Park. Date 17 April 2008 Source From Author Albert Bridge
By Albert Bridge
Thank goodness we seem to have turned a corner. As I write there’s a haze of golden pussy willow in the wood, and I heard the cuckoo for the first time this morning. Summer must be on its way.

The whole of the UK is in desperate need of some sunshine. Have you got any to spare? 

Christina Hollis is an award-winning writer whose work includes best-selling fiction for Harlequin Mills and Boon. You can find her latest title, Lady Rascal, here. Christina loves to hear from readers, and you can contact her via her blog, website or email 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Taking a Chance by Jenny Gardiner

Let's talk bracketology for a minute here. Well, aside from the fact that it makes me crazy when sports-types coin annoying terms like bracketology that become imprinted into our national jargon. But that word's a done deal, so let's explore some of the psychology of March Madness picks instead.
It wouldn't surprise many who know me to learn that I suck at picking winners in sports matches. It might be because I pay little attention to sports, and am peripherally aware of athletes only if they date celebrities and I read about it in People Magazine. Not that I'm proud of that shameful truth, but there you have it. Regardless, I have long contended that choosing winners for March Madness can't be far off from the proverbial chimpanzees who throw darts at the NASDAQ page in the newspaper to determine stock picks. My belief was reinforced long ago when my husband yearned to engage our young family in March Madness in order to be able to focus on basketball games for a period of a few weeks' time without major balking from the peanut gallery. So he enlisted all of the kids to "pick" their winners, and much of the selection process involved educating the kids on which teams had which mascots, because when you're a kindergartener, it's all about the Huskies and not the Huskers, or whatever. I mean no kid is going to select a team that's about peeling corn, am I right? Incredibly, that first year, my son — who was maybe all of about six at the time — won. Seriously. He won upwards of a thousand dollars, if memory serves me (of course my memory often cuts me off these days, sadly). Now back then, we were the worst parents on the block because we refused to allow our kids to even play video games, let alone own them. Nintendo was a dirty word around our home, and no way were we going to putrefy our children's brains with that rot. (I know, you laugh now). So after Kyle won far too much money for having picked adorable mascots, he came to us with a brilliant strategy. He wanted to donate some of the money to charity (warmed the cockles of our hearts, naturally); wanted to set aside money for college (ditto); wanted to take the family out to dinner (woot!); wanted to set aside some money in the bank. And he wanted to purchase his very own Nintendo. Dagger to the soul. But how could we deny him this joy? After all, not only did he win, but also he won responsibly, with a fiscal plan. We couldn't say no or we really would have been the worst parents on the block. Suffice it to say he was elated, and had visions of future March Madness wins dancing in his head for the next umpteen years. The following year, however, and for a few NCAA playoffs thereafter, things weren't so hunky dory. If Kyle was out early in the tournament, he'd pitch a fit and mope, which wasn't particularly pleasant to deal with. Worse still, this winning-the-big-bucks thing gave him the notion of getting something for nothing, which is also not a great concept to reinforce in a child. We'd realized too late that we'd created a March Madness Monster. Eventually time tamed the wild beast and he learned to lose with dignity, but for a while there it was not terribly joyful when his teams went down. Over the past few years, my middle daughter has had a tendency to be in the running for much of the tournament, gets her hopes elevated far too high with visions of early college loan paybacks, only to have them dashed dramatically by some lame team that chokes big time. She's devised a whole superstitious nature around this, much like the major league pitcher who won't wash his underwear or shave his beard while in the playoffs. She's convinced that if she watches the game, her team will invariably lose. This doesn't trouble me terribly, because it's that many less basketball games that are on in our house. (I mean really, after thirty or forty in a few-week period, it gets old). But it bears a hint of great irony around it, as now my husband can't watch the games live if she's in the house. Which kills the whole point of originally getting the family involved in the first place. Best laid plans… Now I, on the other hand, am a gargantuan loser with March Madness. Actually one year I think I came in second or third place and won a decent pot of money, but it only served to embitter me for the years in which I lost and lost big (every year since for probably two decades), and reinforces my ambivalence about the tournament (go ahead, call me a sore loser). So I can relate to my kids. This year, I named one of my selections "Mascot Crapshoot", harkening back to the family mascot picks of yore. I decided to choose teams based purely on their team emblem. I figured if it worked for lesser primates…Well, newsflash: you don't pick a bottom-seeded team just because you like Tigers, over a number one seed, regardless of your distaste for Cardinals. Teams just don't win based on cute mascots, darn it! I had the shameful distinction of being bottom-ranked after the first round finished up. Which I think should get some sort of booby prize, don't you agree? I for one am glad that March Madness has given way to April showers (although maybe we can bypass the showers altogether and just have pleasant spring weather). As much fun as the promise of March Madness offers us all during the tail end of our winter doldrums, the reality of it isn't much better than a late-season blizzard, that leaves us yearning to get away from it all. Stat. Like those loser Tigers she bet on, Jenny Gardiner is licking her March Madness wounds and gambling on a more reliable income writing books. You can find her and her books at
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Slim to None

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
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Friday, April 19, 2013

Kelly Meding: The Family You Make

I grew up as part of a fairly large family.  I have great parents, a sister, and three half-brothers.  I have three sets of aunts/uncles, and six cousins—seven now, since one cousin just had her first baby.  Grandparents.  We have family dinners, holiday gatherings, and most of us live within thirty minutes of each other—and that's just on my mom's side of the family.  So I know a lot about big, biological families.

But families are more than simple biology.  They the people you choose to love and to allow into your life.  They laugh with you, cry with you, and they'll bury a body for you (metaphorically, in most cases, but you never know….).   I appreciate "made families" in real life, but I truly enjoy exploring those dynamics in fiction—movies, television, and books.

I've made no secret that one of my inspirations for my MetaWars series was the early 80's comic series "The New Teen Titans."  Even before I understood it, this was a made family of teenage heroes who lived together and relied on each other for emotional support.  Robin and Wonder Girl were the parent figures in so many ways.  They led the group.  They guided their teammates and friends, and I loved the dynamics of the different characters and how they bonded.  Or didn't bond, because sometimes families fight.

I try to use this dynamic in my MetaWars books.  None of the heroes are blood-related, but they come together in TRANCE to create a family of sorts, bonding over common enemies and a shared history.  Teresa is definitely the parent of the group. She's even described once, in CHANGELING, as their beating heart.  As in real life, she has a different dynamic with each character, and they have different dynamics with each other.  Not everyone gets along.  They squabble.  They keep secrets.  But at the end of the day, they're still a family, and they'll die to protect each other (and sometimes do).

Beyond the Titans (and my own little superhero team), I have a few other favorite "made families" that I thought I'd share.

* "The Walking Dead."  Rick and his merry band of zombie apocalypse survivors.  These people were thrust together due to circumstance.  They didn't always trust or like each other, especially at the start.  Now in season three, you can really see the family that they've made.  They're hesitant to let others in, and every death is incredibly painful in a way it wasn't during those initial episodes.

* "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."  Even though the official fellowship of nine only lasted about forty-five minutes, the family began in the Shire when Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin fell down the side of the cliff and found their shortcut to mushrooms.  While the fellowship fractures a bit over the course of three films, seeing this family reunited at the end of "Return of the King" was a lovely thing indeed.

* "Watership Down," by Richard Adams.  This is hands down my favorite book ever, and I have a deep, abiding love for the film, as well.  It's another beautiful made family, and I don't care that it's rabbits.  A small group escapes a doomed warren, and they travel across unfriendly lands to find a safe place to call home.  They protect each other, they save each other's lives, and they defend the family and home they eventually create from any enemy that attacks them.  If Hazel is the father of the group, then Bigwig is the bad-ass big brother that no one wants to mess with.

What are some of your favorite "made families"?