Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Power of Play

I came across some interesting research notes this past summer. 

Now, don’t yawn yet.  I know the word “research” comes packed with stuffy connotations.  But the reading I’ve been doing lately has affected my thoughts in so many ways and on so many different levels that I can’t help but share.

Quick background – I participated in a study group at the university where I used to teach. We read a book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. It’s pop science in the Gladwell tradition—lots of vignettes and examples that make the science fast paced and reader-friendly. I thought it would be helpful to read the book for two reasons, to learn how to better motivate students and to learn how to better motivate myself.    

But I got a whole lot more than that.

Sure, the stuff on autonomous motivation was helpful. And I liked the idea of getting away from the rewards/punishments idea (extrinsic motivation) since it doesn’t always work for me.  But then I found a section on creativity, turning our work into play whenever possible, and finding ways to stay engaged with our work. Does that sound fun to you? Sure did to me. I’d like to make my job feel more like play. 

Citing noted psychology professor Mihayl Csikszentmihalyi, “once we realize that the boundaries
between work and play are artificial, we can take matters in hand and begin the difficult task of making life more livable.”  For inspiration on how to play, the same source (I won’t spell his name twice!) suggests we look at the children around us, who are engaged with the “work” of childhood, exploring their environment and learning boundaries through play. At some point, we forget how to do this effectively. We shut down some of that natural curiosity in an effort to earn grades, earn adult approval, and become socialized.  But we lose something in the process, something we all need to recover.

I’m still figuring out how to best incorporate more play into my work and leisure life. I think the answers are as unique as we all are.  Still, maybe we could learn from each other today. I think the easier task is to identify more ways to play.  What activities do you miss that you used to really enjoy as a kid?  Maybe the lesson there is—don’t wait for your kids to ask you to color or play on the swing. You can still pursue those activities now, or pursue them in a way that appeals to you as you’ve aged. For instance, bungee jumping might be your new swing. Watercolor lessons might be your new brand of coloring. A few revamped strategies might bring you a new level of fulfillment and engagement, a new energy that will spill over into the rest of your life. 

Because once we can identify more ways to play in our leisure time, I think it will follow that we’ll start to see ways to play at work. After all, more play in general will make us more creative, so the answers are there and just waiting to be discovered by our new and improved thinking skills. Can you make your work more social by starting an online group interested in the same facets of the job as you? Can you subscribe to a publication in a career that complements yours to see what kinds of researching they’re doing in a related field? Can you make a movie about your work? Mentor someone? Find a mentor? Take a professional detour? The goals don’t have to immediate. You just have to mine your field for the things that inspired you to go in that direction in the first place. 

Just think how much fun you could be having….

***Back to leisure time… if you had a free afternoon and weren’t allowed to catch up on laundry or work, in fact you had a mandate that you had to play, what would you do?  Do you already have a dedicated play activity that keeps you energized?  Share with me today and I’ll send a random poster a copy of my holiday Desire story from last Christmas-- His Pregnant Secretary

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Sneak Peek of Boy Toy by Jenny Gardiner

Ack! Working on deadline so I'm going to post a tease of my next release, Boy Toy, from my Confessions of a Chick Magnet series, which I'm trying to wrap up for my editor before I leave for a conference this weekend!

I hope you like it!

Chapter One
Sullivan Forester stared into his underwear drawer for what seemed like the thousandth time over the past year, at the black velvet box nestled between the side of the drawer and a stack of boxers, topped by the pair with embroidered Saint Bernards on them. He shook his head, smacked his lips, then ran his fingers through his wavy caramel hair, which had gotten a little longer than he liked it of late. Finally he took a deep breath and blew it out, deciding once and for all to make it official: today was the day he was going to start getting his shit together, which included trimming this shaggy head of hair.
But first, he had more important business to attend to: the ring.
He pulled the box out of the drawer where it had lurked, taunting him for what seemed like ages now, and flipped open the lid to stare at the Tiffany & Co. two-carat brilliant-cut diamond engagement ring, flanked on either side by fat indigo-blue sapphires. The gems caught the early morning sunlight streaming through the window and winked at him. He took it as yet one more sign that it was time to find a new home for this thing that only felt like bad juju now that it had taken up unproductive space in his life for far too long.
At first, when Gretchen dumped him, three whoppingly inconsiderate weeks before their wedding, it felt like he would never get over it. Why would she do something like that to him? Worse still, how could he have been so clueless and not seen it coming? 
A year ago, her words lacerated his heart, where he felt an achy tug that didn’t seem to want to let go of him for months. 
“Look, Sully,” she’d said. “I just realized marriage isn’t for me.”
He remembered staring into her brown eyes, the ones that had once seemed so warm and loving, finally seeing them for the cold dark they really had been all along. Her shiny black hair had been pulled back into a high ponytail, her make-up fresh. She had on one of those bright pastel sundresses she always wore—what were they called? Lilly something or other. He knew dick about fashion, but he always noticed that she was about the only woman in town who dressed every day as if she was going to a cocktail party at a beach resort. He knew that style of dress only because in a way it was emblematic of what he’d left behind when he’d moved to Bristol, Montana a handful of years ago after selling his start-up for more money than he’d have ever imagined attached to his name—not to mention his bank account.
He’d spent a couple of years dabbling in the lavish me-me-me lifestyle of the very rich in New York: the obligatory summers in the Hamptons, the mandatory charity events every night of the week at somebody or other’s exclusive penthouse apartment the rest of the year. The insincere air-kiss greetings by women who wanted your donations but not a decent conversation, the severe handshakes by the Wall Street assholes who were dipping into the cash reserves of the country to line their own pockets all while sticking their dicks into women young enough to be their daughters, as their air-kissing wives went under the knife for yet more unnecessary plastic surgery to try desperately to compete. 
Sully was over that bullshit, which was why he’d come to Bristol. He wanted to start new where no one knew him, where he could be his authentic self and not play the superficial games to which he’d become accustomed.
His mistake, however, was bringing Gretchen Penobscott with him. He and Gretchen had been together even during the leaner years, so at least he could take comfort knowing it wasn’t as if she’d been after his wealth. And to her credit, for a while, she went along with his plan, upending the lifestyle she’d become quite accustomed to. She came with him to Montana, Lilly whatever-the-name-was dresses and all, but it seemed from the minute they’d moved here, things never seemed quite the same between them. 
He’d hoped it was just a matter of getting used to things—it was admittedly weird going from endless black pavement and skyscrapers to fields of wildflowers and mountains that touched the skies instead—and that once married she’d settle in more. But then he never got the chance to see if he was right, because on that brutal early summer day a year ago, she slid her ring off of her left ring finger, tucked it into the palm of his hand, closing his fingers around it, gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek, and walked away.
Well. He eventually learned that time does heal old wounds. And that while he once loved Gretchen, he realized she’d done him a solid by not going through with what she knew in her heart would be a mistake. He’d never really understand it, but hey, much better than finding that out after the wedding. Sure, it sucked, worse still having to take the financial hit for everything wedding-related he had to cancel last-minute, but the good news was it hadn’t even put a dent in his bank account, so it was an emotionally costly but not financially detrimental lesson. 
And today, he was going to take the first step toward making some other man who couldn’t afford it that much happier.
He called for his Husky pup Blizzard, threw on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and a plaid flannel shirt to fend against the morning chill, grabbed his laptop and went out on the deck off of his bedroom. The sun was shining and the fog had just begun to lift off the still snow-capped mountain peaks as he fixed a quick cappuccino at the coffee bar he’d set up on his deck. He sat down at the long farmhouse table and opened his laptop, then snapped a quick picture of the ring on his phone, clicked on Facebook, then entered this:
Looking for a good home for this briefly used treasure, valued at $85,000. Tell me why you want to share this with the woman you love. Please email me at Deadline is one week from today. Please share.
He uploaded the image, clicked “post” and sent it off into the ether, then did the same on Twitter and Instagram. He rubbed his hands together, took a sip of his cappuccino, and made a mental note to remember to stop in at Jackson’s Barber Shop for a haircut when he went to town later on in the day.
Sully had been working on a song he’d been writing, reveling in the beautiful weather. It had started out chilly but by lunchtime it had become a quintessential Montana summer day: songbirds in full throat, the hum of bees vibrating through the air, all against the backdrop of a bluebird sky. Wildflowers were blooming like crazy in the fields surrounding his custom-built farmhouse that overlooked the Rocky Mountains. The place was truly a slice of heaven.
Life could not be any better. Sure, Sully didn’t have a bride at his side as he’d originally expected, but it was all good. He’d gotten some regular gigs playing guitar at local bars, and that made him supremely happy making others happy with his music. He had a great dog that made him laugh with his antics. He got to spend time each morning doing what he wanted to do: reading, meditating, working out at the gym. He volunteered with an animal rescue clinic, thanks to his friend Tanner Eliasson, who was a local vet. He even spent an inordinate amount of time cooking elaborate meals for himself each night, which was admittedly a little lonely, and occasionally hosted dinners with a handful of folks who’d become true friends, not the superficial acquaintances he’d encountered regularly back on the East Coast. 
Not to dig a jab at the East Coast—there was nothing wrong with that lifestyle for someone else; it just wasn’t for him. He was happy on his horse, or feeding his chickens, or taking a hike on his hundred acres of property. And more than happy to not have to deal with rush hour traffic and Type-A human beings ever again.
His phone buzzed and he pulled up a text message, from his friend Tanner:
Dude. What the fuck? Have you looked at your Facebook in the past hour?
Sully squinted, not knowing what exactly he was talking about. Until he remembered. 
Oh, that. You saw it?
He waited for the buzz of his phone.
Saw it? Me and a few thousand other complete strangers.
Sully’s eyes opened wide. Huh? 
You’re joking, right?
Tanner didn’t comment, but instead sent a screen shot of his post. 
Sully expanded the image to see details up close. Holy shit. He grabbed his phone and pressed Tanner’s number.
“Jesus, Sully,” Tanner said. “Next time give me heads-up on these things. I’ve had every female I know within two hundred miles message me about this, and I didn’t even know about it. You’re givingaway that ring?”
“I just figured it was time. The thing was just taking up space, reminding me of what was. No need in going there anymore. I’m finally past Gretchen, over that whole break-up, and I just want to make something that left a bad taste in my mouth become something better. Lemons to lemonade.”
“That’s a hell of a glass of lemonade,” Tanner said. 
“Yeah well, I thought it could be a fun project. And it would feel good helping someone else out who maybe couldn’t afford to get engaged.”
“Your fun project might turn into a full-time job if my suspicions are right—you’re going to be slammed with people begging for that thing.”
Sully shrugged. “Great! The good news is I’ve got time to do what I want. And right now this feels right. Besides, I’m sure I’ll be able to see through the scammers looking for an expensive ring they could hock, and find someone who is truly in love and has a legit reason for wanting this thing. And to be honest, the sooner I get rid of this, it better. I want to move on without any reminders.”
“Yeah, well, you’d better open up that laptop and start reading your emails because I think you’ve just given yourself a full-time unpaid job for the next year.”
Sully laughed. “No worries. It’s all good.”
“Talk to me about ‘all good’ when you have a million women pounding your door down because they think you’re the swooniest guy on the planet.”
Huh. Sully hadn’t thought about that. Shit. He sure as hell wasn’t looking for women to glom on him for his money. Over the last year since Gretchen left, Sully had been in the habit of one-off flings with women tourists who streamed through Bristol like a hard-running river, looking for sporty outdoors activities by day and even more sporty activities in the sack by night.
His music gigs offered the perfect opportunity to meet strangers in town for a short period of time, guaranteeing he could avoid anyone seeking commitment or anything more a few hours of escapist sex. He’d usually return with them to their hotel or Airbnb or rental up on the mountain, only to slip out hours later under cover of darkness, and be back in his own bed before sunrise. Sure it seemed impersonal, but that’s what he’d needed at the time—anonymous sex for the sake of sex, no strings attached, no commitment whatsoever.
But now, crap, did this mean women were going to seek him out? He hadn’t thought about that. He should’ve just donated the damned ring to charity, be done with it. Because the last thing he needed in his life was to have women honing in on him like a heat-seeking missile, wanting love and marriage and all those things he’d grown a bit cynical about. 
He opened his Facebook page and saw that his post had been seen by three thousand people and had comments by over four hundred people. Hell, another two thousand had shared it. Ho-ly shit. 
What had he gotten himself into?
Chapter Two
Isabelle Strong was tired of licking her wounds over her latest failed relationship. Granted the hot guy from HR, her last impetuous fling, was never truly going to be long-term material—first off, nothing good came from dating a guy from the office. Secondly, it turned out he wasn’t all that interesting. Once they got past the good sex—and she had to admit, it was good sex (the only reason it lasted as long as it did)—she found herself carrying most conversations while he spent an inordinate amount of time on the ESPN app of his phone. If he was going to be so deeply entrenched in his hand-held idiot device this early into a relationship, lord only knew how bad it would be after a few years together.
So she did what she knew she had to do, and lowered the boom, dumping HR-boy before things got any more involved. And now she really didn’t miss him so much as the idea of him. Rather, the idea of a guy she could just have fun with, go away for the weekend, enjoy staying in to cook dinner with and maybe binge-watch several episodes of a show on Netflix before retiring for the night to stimulating sex, then falling asleep curled up in each others arms. Was that so much to ask for?
Apparently so. Because she’d had a succession of equally lame relationships over the past few years—from the lifeguard in Santa Monica whose idea of a good time was watching shark documentaries, to the waiter at The Ivy who only cared which famous celebrity he’d waited on that week. She had to lose him because she couldn’t bear to hear one more time about how he’d yet again served lunch to one of the Kardashians. Then there was the weird guy who had the creepy toe fetish and insisted she wear sandals even when they went to Banff for the weekend to ski. In the winter. Uh, no.
She was stuck in traffic on the freeway and switched off her book tape and turned up the radio to try to find out what was causing the logjam this time on the highway. Instead she got the tail end of a news report about some guy who’d posted on Facebook about giving away a ridiculously expensive engagement ring to a deserving person, and that social networking sites had exploded over it. 
Huh. Intriguing. What sort of guy would have bought an eighty five thousand dollar engagement ring in the first place? And what self-respecting woman would ditch the kind of guy who did? Not that she was chasing after guys with money, but seriously, that woman must’ve been an idiot.
“The man, who lives in Bristol, Montana,” the reporter said. “Is taking pleas from hopeful suitors until the end of the week.”
Bristol, Montana? That was where her best friend Zoey Richards had moved to, after falling in love with a gorgeous veterinarian. She wondered if Zoey knew the guy. No time like the present to find out. She pulled out her phone to call her. Luckily Zoey answered on the first ring.
“What’s shakin’ bacon?” Zoey said in a half-whisper. “You are so not going to believe this but I’m sitting out back, sipping on my coffee, and all of a sudden I look off to my right, not a hundred and fifty feet from me, and see a moose. A moose! This place is amazing.”
Izzy sighed. “Ugh. Don’t be too jealous of me. I’m stuck in traffic on the Santa Monica freeway, bored out of my mind, and just heard something on the radio about some guy in your town who’s giving away a fancy engagement ring. What is up with that?” The traffic had slowed to a crawl so Izzy quickly pulled an elastic off her wrist and caught her hair in a ponytail, then put the phone back up to her ear. 
“Yeah, crazy, right?”
“You don’t know him, do you?”
“Of course I do. In a town this size you get to know pretty much everyone. Especially with Tanner’s line of work.”
“So what’s the deal?” Izzy saw a gap in the left lane and manipulated her car into it just as the driver laid on his horn and flipped her off. She reciprocated in kind. Damn, a girl could get repetitive stress disorder from flipping the finger while commuting in this town.
“He was engaged and she broke it off just before the wedding. It’s been a year now and he’s just ready to get rid of the ring—it felt like a bad luck thing to keep it. Not like he’d ever use it again anyhow.”
“Shit, I’d at least sell it. So he’s just giving it away? That seems crazy.”
“Believe me he doesn’t need the money.”
“Is he a nice guy?”
“He’s great. Very chill. Laid back. Never heard a cross word out of his mouth.”
“Great! I’m coming up to meet him.” Izzy took the first exit she could and pulled over to program her Waze app to redirect her out of the traffic pileup.
“O-kayyyy... That seems a bit extreme,” Zoey said. “But I’d be happy to see you regardless. You know you’re always welcome.”
“Perfect. I’m going home and packing a bag and driving up there. I’ll see you soon!”
Izzy always forgot what a long damned drive it was from L.A. to Bristol, a drive she’d done plenty of times since Zoey had transplanted herself there. It helped that it was right on the way to her place in Banff. But damn, she always felt like she’d been hit by a truck by the time she got there. It didn’t help that instead of overnighting somewhere, she’d just pull over and sleep every couple of hours. A quick peek in the mirror revealed that her usually lustrous long, wavy dark hair looked like a fluffed-up dandelion on steroids. Her mascara, applied yesterday before she knew she was road-tripping that very day, had raccooned beneath her eyes in a most attractive way to make her look like a maniacal Victorian-era slasher. Her unbrushed teeth felt as if they’d sprouted fur. She was sure she was a sight for only the sorest of eyes.
She wanted to grab a token hostess gift to bring to Zoey and Tanner and figured a bottle of wine would suffice. She parked her car on Main Street and got out, walking the block or so to the wine shop, marveling as she did at the spectacular three hundred and sixty degree mountain views set against a pristine blue sky. Even the air felt amazing here, compared to the funk she breathed in regularly in L.A. that she sometimes felt came in chunks. 
She was so busy staring at the scenery that she failed to pay attention to where she was walking, and before she knew it she’d stepped in a disgusting, fresh pile of doggy doo. Furious, she looked around to see who was responsible for it, and just ahead of her she saw a guy with a plaid shirt over a t-shirt and pair of shorts demanding that a nearby husky puppy with bright blue eyes to come to him. The dog instead kept running circles around the sidewalk, defying his orders. He might as well have been flipping the finger at his owner, not to mention at Izzy and her mucked-up boots.
“You!” she said to the man, her voice rising higher the angrier she got thinking about it. All that crapola smeared over her nice cowboy boots, and now she had to get disgusting poop off of them before she could even get to Zoey and Tanner’s.
The guy looked at her and pointed to himself, lifting a questioning brow.
“Yeah. You.” She furrowed her forehead, then pointed at his pup. “Look what your damned dog did to me.” She lifted her foot and showed him the smear on the sole of her boot that extended across the tip of the toe of the thing as well                                               .
The guy stopped walking and stared at her, eyes opened wide. 
“My dog?” he shook his head vigorously. “How do you know that my dog did that?”
Izzy spread her arms out wide. “Um, do you see any other dog around?”
He frowned. “Not at this very minute, but that could have been left there hours ago by someone else’s dog!”
“Not hardly,” she said. “It’s clearly freshly-laid. If that’s a term. Ugh. I cannot believe I’m parsing out terminology for dog poop.” She growled. “Look, dude. Curb your damned dog. You owe me a pair of boots. I just bought these things, too.” She wagged her finger at him, as if that was going to achieve anything.
The guy approached her, his eyebrows knit, his lips pursed. “Quit your bitching, lady. My dog didn’t do that. But if it’s going to make you happy, here.” He grabbed his wallet from his back pocket and pulled a handful of bills from within, reaching for her hand and stuffing them into her palm. “Now you can go out and buy yourself a new pair. Go crazy with it.”
With that he turned away, whistled for his dog and muttered loud enough for Izzy to hear, “Let’s go, Blizzard, and get away from the crazy lady before she hurts you.” Then she saw him shake his head as he added, “Fucking tourists.”
Izzy looked down at the money in her hand and realized he’d jammed six one hundred dollar bills there. Six hundred freaking dollars. In her hand. To replace her boots. That she’d gotten at TJ Maxx for about eighty bucks. Four years ago. Yeah, she knew she’d lied about them being new. But she’d wanted to make him feel particularly badly.
Well, that certainly was a best-case scenario for her boots, even if the guy was a bit of a jerk. She didn’t have time to replace the footwear right now but with the cash in her hand, she removed the yucky one and dumped it in the trash can, limping the rest of the way back to her car, where she put on another pair of shoes from her suitcase  till she got to Zoey’s. What an inauspicious beginning to her quest to meet the charming ring donor. The good news was at least he wouldn’t be a complete asshole like that guy was.

Great news! I've got another free book for you to try! Falling for Mr. Wrong from the Falling for Mr. Wrong series is now free here:

Google Play

Also Red Hot Romeo is free! A hot Italian, a gorgeous supermodel, and fabulous wines…what’s not to love?!
You can check out the first book in the Royal Romeo series for free here:

Lastly, don't forget, book one of the It's Reigning Men series, Something in the Heir, is free here!

I hope you'll have a chance to check out my Royal Romeos series, which is a spin-off of my wildly popular It's Reigning Men series--please do check them out!

Happy reading!




Sunday, September 16, 2018

Housekeeping and Other Dirty Words - Dani Collins

I'm on deadline as I write this. Sort of.

I'm taking some time off this month and want to send my WIP to my editor before I go. I reached The End last night after a marathon writing sprint. It needs polishing before it's fit for submission, but it felt good to finish. The downside is that my house is a pig sty, mostly because I'm trying to get a book in early. Also because the unending wildfire smoke has left a fine layer of soot on every surface, especially since it cooled off enough to open some windows.

Naturally, with all of that hanging over me, I spent the day on making travel arrangements for December, catching up on emails, pre-writing blog posts and going for a walk in the sun...

It's been a day of mental housekeeping and, for me, it's as necessary as the real kind. When I'm pushing for those final eight or ten thousand words, it's very common for me to go on complete strike where being human is concerned. Cooking? Forget it. Shower? Meh.

Last night, as I was pounding out a terrible epilogue just so I could go to bed after writing those final, magical two words, my husband came into my office. He was on the phone to his mother. And he kept coming back. I near about lost it. "No. YOU text our daughter and get her postal code for your mother. What makes you think you can come in here? Read the room."

I have arrived back at the station of 'rational' now, but my post-sprint brain demands I catch a breath and look after everything I ignored while I was making that final push. Bills. Crumpled notes that read, "I never fit. Knew why she left. Broken."(Your guess is as good as mine.)

Tomorrow I'll do my edits and get the manuscript off before I leave.

And this blog post will come out while I'm away, hopefully enjoying some nice pub food with my sister and her husband or maybe taking a selfie with a Viking statue in Gimli, Manitoba. Yes, these are the glamorous rewards for the hard labor of finishing a book--early, no less.

The truth is, I have no use for housekeeping until I need it to distract me from other things. Like writing. So I will go attend to some actual, physical housekeeping, but before I go, I'll take care of one more task here...

Watch for 
His Mistress With Two Secrets 
to go to 99c Sep 18-23.

His Mistress With Two Secrets is Book Two in my Sauveterre Siblings quartet about two sets of identical twins. This one has, you guessed it, another set of twins on the way!

Pregnant with the billionaire’s babies! 

After the painfully public demise of her intense fling with renowned tycoon Henri Sauveterre, Cinnia Whitley discovers she’s pregnant…with twins!

Cinnia burns with the memory of his touch, but bearing a new generation of the Sauveterre dynasty will bind her to Henri forever—unless she keeps it a secret…

Henri is infuriated when he discovers Cinnia’s deception. His little sister’s abduction ended all his intentions of having a family—but any Sauveterre deserves his full protection. Henri must make Cinnia his wife, and he’ll show her just how pleasurable their reunion can be! Buy Links are here.

Award-winning and USA Today Bestselling author Dani Collins thrives on giving readers emotional, compelling, heart-soaring romance with some laughter and heat thrown in, just like real life.

Mostly she writes contemporary romance for Harlequin Presents and Tule’s Montana Born, but her backlist of nearly fifty titles includes self-published erotic romance, romantic comedy, and even an epic medieval fantasy.

When she’s not writing—just kidding, she’s always writing. She lives in Christina Lake, BC with her high school sweetheart husband who occasionally enters her attic office uninvited.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Michelle Styles Perks of Being a Mills and Boon Author 2019

Yesterday was the annual Association of Mills and Boon Author’s lunch and afterwards the Toast to the Authors on the 17th floor of the News Building in London. It is one of those times that I always feel like – yes I am a published author and yes this is a glamorous occupation.
Michelle Styles and Kate Hardy
For those of you who don’t know—AMBA was founded back in the 1970’s (so before the RWA) by Charlotte Lamb, Anne Weale and Sara Craven to promote dialogue between the authors and the company.  It was a time when few agents were willing to take on M&B authors so these ladies felt a way was needed to raise concerns. Because of the sensitive nature of the topics, membership is limited to those authors who have a contract. Sadly as many of you know Sara Craven, the lasting founding member, passed last winter. A toast was raised in her honour. 
The True Love/Harlequin Romance authors who attended AMBA
I was struck earlier this year what a privilege it is to attend because it is a chance for authors to speak directly to the Powers That Be in the company. This year was no exception. The entire UK marketing team attended along with senior editors, the president, executive vice presidents etc. It was lovely to chat informally with these highly influential people in publishing.
There were several new authors. Ella Hayes who writes for True Love (Harlequin Romance) had recently signed her first contract and it was a real pleasure to welcome her. Authors came from all over the globe –Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Ireland and US to name the ones I can recall.
Lunch -- main
The lunch was delicious – I had goat’s cheese panna cotta with beetroot to start. Fillet of Hake for mains and a selection of cheese. There was coffee and chocolates for afterward.
Lunch starter
After a brief hiatus where people had coffee or in my case water, we trooped over to the News Building which is right next to the Shard. After proving our identities to security as the News Building houses The Times and The Sun newspapers along with Harper Collins, we went up to the 17th floor. The elevators are computerised and you have to make sure you go to the right one.
Not only were the senior executives there but all of the editors so it was lovely to catch up with my editor and speak to various other editors. I learned that one editor had the pleasure of phoning a woman to purchase her first book for the Historical line that morning!
The Goodie bag
At the Toast to the Authors, the champagne flowed and the canapes were passed around. There were cornucopias of fish and chips, sliders, smoked salmon and a wide variety of desserts.  Various authors were feted including Annie Burrows for her 25th Harlequin Historical. Several of the authors stayed late but I left early to catch a train back up to Northumberland. The Mills & Boon Marketing team had arranged goodie bags for each of the authors.
In other news:
I received my cover for Sent as the Viking’s Bride which will be out at the end of December. It has such a lovely feel to it.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical in a wide variety of time periods. Her next Viking set romance will be out at the end of December. To learn more about Michelle and her books, visit 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Christina Hollis—England's Finest Traditions

A parade of Morris Dancers, followed by tea, cakes and chatter in front of a roaring log fire. What could be more English? Rain of course—but more of that later. A lot more...

While the Romantic Novelists' Association has local groups all over Britain, its administration is mostly carried out in London.  The association's Summer and Winter parties are held in the capital, too. Using the trains here can be a trial, with lots of strikes and continuous engineering works, so a couple of years ago the RNA's York chapter decided to hold their own get-together once a year for all those "Up North" who might not otherwise get to meet fellow members. The York Tea is now a big event in the RNA's calendar.

On your marks, get set...
My daughter is an archaeologist who spent a lot of time training in York. She loves the city. Despite being Softy Southerners, we got such a lovely welcome at last year's York Tea that we booked our tickets to the 2018 party as soon as they went on sale.

We spent the morning before the party investigating York's shops. It's one of the few English cities which wasn't flattened, first by bombing during the Second World War, then by over-enthusiastic planners during the 1960's. York's little alleyways and quaint shops make it heaven for any writer in search of inspiration. There was an extra novelty the day we were there—a national assembly of Morris men—and women—plus other traditional dancers, all in full costume.

Just the thing on a wet day!
This year's York Tea was held in the Merchant Taylors Hall, a medieval guildhall. It is a stunning building, with beautiful stained glass and a log fire roaring in the hearth. The hall is so close to the city's famous wall that when we looked up through one of the high windows, we could see people walking along the rampart, almost within touching distance!

Catching up with fellow writers was a great way to start the afternoon, and the party got better and better as time went on. First, several delicate china cake-stands were delivered to each table. They were loaded with dainty sandwiches and delicious slices of cake. Next, waiters delivered a tiny cone of pretend newspaper filled with a little piece of fish in batter and a giant chip—a novel take on that British favourite, fish and chips. There was limitless tea and coffee, and a glass of prosecco for everyone.

Tea and cake is one of my favourite treats, so I was in heaven. That wasn't the end of the fun. Top author and stalwart of the RNA Jean Fullerton gave a brilliant speech inspiring us all to stand up and be counted as Romance writers. It's a genre that is always misrepresented in the press as "bodice rippers" written by Ladies of Leisure. We all know better, and Jean encouraged us to spread the word. 

After several hours of fun, DD and I said our goodbyes and stepped out into...the mother and father of an English downpour. Our hotel was less than a mile away from the hall and as both DD and I are used to being outdoors in all weathers, we decided to risk doing the journey on foot. That was a very bad idea. We had an umbrella, but in such heavy rain we needed the waterproofs and walking boots we'd left at home, not high heels and party dresses. We arrived back at our hotel looking like two drowned rats! 

Apart from our soaking, there was only one disappointment over our whole long weekend.  Before I left home, I'd searched everywhere for the book of walks through York's "snickleways" (historic alleys and byways) I'd bought in the city last year. I never found it, and we were so busy while we were in York, we never had time to buy a replacement—not that we had enough time to go for a walk! Still, when I eventually find my copy it'll be the perfect excuse to head back to York for another long weekend.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Over the last year, I've spent a lot time on my blog, talking about  My Novel Freshman Experience. Yes, I've gone back to school and talk about learning new things (so far just about ceramics, but maybe someday soon I'll take another type of class LOL).  But here's the big thing I hope to share...learning something new doesn't
require going back to school.  This weekend Himself (my husband's online name) and I started stoning behind the woodstove at The Cottage.  That is something very new.  We've laid tile before, but this is a different process altogether.  We're hoping to finish it over the course of a few visits.

It's not just people who learn new skills.  Since we lost Ethel Merman, Ella Fitzgerald has had to learn to be an only dog.  She's been more than a little lost.  But she's getting better.  We've been trying to convince her she's a camp dog.  She's pretty sure she's not, but we're still trying.  After we finished our stoning this weekend, we headed out to the truck. I didn't bother to put Ella on her lead...she's always happy to leave camp and head back to the house.  But this time...she took off.  She found her inner-wolf and led us on a merry chase.  Well, merry on her part.  She is very fast for a small sausage dog.  

But in the end, we lured her back to the truck with a treat.  She learned that camp can be fun.  We learned that she is a dog who will continued using her lead...even if it's just a short walk to the truck.  (This picture was taken after her wild wolf run...she doesn't looked the least bit sorry, does she?)

I'm still loving ceramics, but it's led me to painting as well.  I'm enjoying that as well.  That's the thing with thing leads to another.  I'm hoping Ella's done learning about her inner-wolf, but I know I'm not done learning about pottery and painting and stoning and...  Well, I'm not done with any of it.  Wishing you something new to learn about soon!


Speaking of news...check out my new releases:

PTA Moms: the Collection

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Out and about with Kate Walker

Sometimes the life of a writer is a quiet, solitary one.  It needs  a lot of tine sitting in silence, alone, at the keyboard.

Then there are other times when it’s all   being out and about – meeting fellow writers, editors, learning all the news and interest from  visitors from Harlequin in America.   This week  York – and now I’m heading for London for the heavy-duty stuff.
has been a bit like that – I’ve done the first half – in

First of all was last weekend -
The heatwave may have been a happy memory - replaced by low temperatures and heavy rain but nothing dampened the spirits of everyone who was at the fabulous Romantic Novelists' Association afternoon  Saturday - fantastic venue, fabulous food and service . And a wonderful opportunity to meet up with everyone and share a chat in a beautiful room - which was so warm and welcoming after the rainy trek across the city. A wonderful occasion.
tea in York on

 Many many thanks to you, Lynda Stacey for the great job you did planning and organising everything. This was the best one yet.  And saga writer Jean Fullerton was a great guest speaker - I know so many people were nodding along with the points she made.

Today I head for London, for editorial meetings and the annual Association of Mills and Boon Authors’  lunch. Ruby knows that I am  going away  - she has seen the case being packed and she does not approve. This is her silent 'I will not be moved' protest on my lap!

You can read more about me and my books on my web site and my blog -  and catch up with me too on my Facebook page

Saturday, September 08, 2018

A touch of spring - Kandy Shepherd

 In this topsy-turvy world where it’s Autumn in one part of the world and Spring in the other, my little farm garden is welcoming in the new season.

It’s very early Spring in my part of DownUnder. We’ve had an unseasonably cold Winter with heavy frosts and bone-chilling winds. Worse, our state is officially 100 percent in drought. This weekend, however, we had some rain, the most we have had in eighteen months.

While my Spring garden is very pretty, the plants are more subdued in their growth this year, no doubt because of the lack of water. But the fruit tree blossom, daffodils, jonquils and snowdrops are doing their best to cheer up the garden.

For those of you longing for crisp Fall days and even snow before too long, we are looking forward to warmth and sun and, please, some more good rains!

Whatever time of year it is, I always find time to curl up with a good book. That is, when I’m not writing one. My next book for Harlequin Romance, Second Chance With The Single Dad, comes out in February 2019. In the meantime I’m writing, writing, writing!

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you’re enjoying good weather!

My most recent book Best Man and the Runaway Bride was a July 2018 release from Harlequin Romance in North America; Mills & Boon True Love in the UK; and Mills & Boon Forever Romance in Australia and New Zealand.

Kandy Shepherd is a multi-published, award-winning author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She lives on a small farm in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, with her family and a menagerie of four-legged friends.

Visit Kandy at her website

Connect with Kandy on FacebookTwitter,Pinterest and Instagram

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Taking on the Tough Topics by Susan Sands

I took some time to read Kristan Higgins' new book, Good Luck With That, last week. Kristan is one
of my auto-buy authors because she writes with such humor about some pretty tough topics. This book was no exception. It tackled the difficult subject of obesity and her characters' lifelong struggles with weight. Many of us aren't considered obese by the doctor's charts but still fight our metabolisms daily to keep from gaining more than we should. I know I do. I love food and mostly the wrong kinds. I grew up in Louisiana where food was love. I envy those folks who consider food as fuel. But Kristan, through what I imagine was a great deal of research, handled the the story and the agony of how society treats the overweight, and the truly obese. And how those people, because of that lifelong abuse, treat themselves. The obsession with being skinny, the fixation on food, and the utter agony of being hated for their fat. The eating disorders and other psychological issues, not to mention the physical and medical conditions are many and vary widely. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to dive this deeply into such a sensitive subject unless it were part of my own reality. But I think Kristan did an amazing job portraying her characters with an emotional beauty and soul-baring honesty that readers will appreciate and identify with.

As writers, we walk a fine line. We want to accurately portray characters' lives and emotions and perspectives as accurately as possible. We're often told to "write what we know." This can't always be the case, obviously. We are only one person with a single perspective. I am only one race, one gender, and have only lived within my life experiences. To portray another's life is tricky. Can I authentically write in a woman of color's point of view? Or a man's? Like I said, it's tricky.

In my first book, Again, Alabama, I wrote about a woman who'd been cheated on by her fiancé. She was a celebrity chef and found solace back in her Alabama hometown after a hugely embarrassing ordeal. I'd had none of those particular experiences. But I'd been lied to and hurt by a guy as young woman, (who hasn't at some point?) I love to cook, and my family does make me feel safe and protected when things go wrong. So, I took those emotions and put them to work in my story.

When I write about something unfamiliar, I research, I speak to people extensively about their experiences and how they were affected by things out of my realm of understanding. Plus, writer's often tend to be intuitive and empathetic. We are really good at putting ourselves in others' shoes. Hopefully we get it right more often than not. And we use beta readers. Readers who are our target audience, or maybe the same gender, race, or circumstance as our characters in our stories. I wouldn't consider sending a book to my publisher without fist making sure the voice and tone is authentic.

Bravo to Kristan Higgins on her new book. It couldn't have been easy to write. I'm deeply impressed!

Have a fantastic week, everyone!

Susan Sands