Thursday, March 28, 2019

My “Say Yes” Experiment

One of the most vital characteristics of a writer is being disciplined. Disciplined enough to sit down in a chair every day to work, even when the Muse is nowhere to be found. Disciplined enough to say “no” to fun opportunities until the writing is done. I’ve always excelled at this. I’ve got a great grasp of my boundaries and I’ll draw them as often as necessary to get my book finished. It’s a good skill to have for productivity purposes.

It’s not always so great for living a well-balanced life. Ever heard the one about how all work and no play made Jack a dull boy? This can be me if I’m not careful—so disciplined that I forget to have fun and live real life with real people.

That’s why I decided to employ more of the “say yes” mentality to my world. Remember the Jim Carrey movie where this was his guiding principle? To say “yes” to new experiences? I have to turn that switch on sometimes. Last year, after writing a lot of books, I decided that this year would be one of the years I had to start saying yes again. So when friends call me with an invitation for an impromptu girls trip, I jump on it, even if I’m hyperventilating about how I’ll get my work done.

This year, in March alone, I’ve hosted multiple guests, taken a weekend girls’ trip, and look forward to jetting off to New Orleans for another one on Sunday. Sounds fun, right? And it has been! But there’s always that little voice in my head that fears I’m doing too much and won’t get my work done. I really struggle to quiet that voice, because it can rob me of joy if I let it make too much noise.

Because I don’t need to sky dive or bungee jump to feel like I’m fully alive, but I absolutely need to savor the social connections in my world. Friends and family bring me more happiness than any workday, no matter how much I’m loving my work in progress, or how excited I am to share a story with readers. If I don’t savor my real life, my fictional one ends up dying a slow death too, since guess what feeds the stories I write? My family. My friends. They share stories about places they’ve visited and fill my head, my heart, and my pages with more than I could ever dream up alone.

These days, that’s the club that I use to beat back my inner disciplinarian when she grows too vocal, warning me that I need to get back to work soon, interrupting my fun and my joy with a dour expression and dire predictions of my failure.

This is work, I whisper back. This feeds everything I do.

And I mean it.

**Help feed my Muse! Share with me your favorite thing to do when you need to recharge. Do you unplug from social media? Take a day trip? I’ve got a copy of your choice of book from my 2017-2018 backlist for one random commenter!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Erp. Hi. Welcome to 2019.

I'm a little late with my Happy New Year.

I just realized I haven't visited since December. I wish I had a good excuse. I really don't. It plum slipped my mind and that's the truth.

Last time I was here, I was excited for my upcoming visit with my sister who was bringing her family from Australia for Christmas. She did. It was a gas. This is me with my sisters and our mom.

Then everyone went home and I got back to work and hi! It's spring. (Almost. We still have a *lot* of snow, but at least it's not on the driveway.)

I'm looking back on Jan/Feb wondering what I was doing that I forgot to blog and, honestly, shovelling is about it. This was a particularly vexing day when my husband had gone to work and it was all up to me. *gasp*

I wish I could show you photos of crocuses popping through and bringing signs of spring, but a bit of sunshine and dry, bare roads are about all we've seen so far. (But I'll take it!)

I've also been writing, of course. Look for a Cinderella story from me about this time next year. For now, please enjoy this duet that is available now.

Gisella and Rozalia are cousins who design jewelry at the family store, Barsi on Fifth.  They're obsessed with finding their grandmother's lost earrings.

One has gone to a tech billionaire in San Francisco, but Kaine has a grudge against Gisella's family and demands she pose as his mistress --which soon turns real in A Virgin to Redeem the Billionaire.

Then Rozi heads to Hungary to confront Viktor. Passion gets the better of both of them, then she gets arrested. Soon they're both staring at marrying a stranger in Innocent's Nine-Month Scandal.

Here's what they're saying over on Goodreads about this duet:
"This was more than just a romance about a man and a woman; it was a tale about family and its legacy of love, loyalty and trust." ~ Ivy H
Enjoy! And I hope to be back sooner than every three months.

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 Dani writes contemporary romance for Harlequin Presents and Tule’s Montana Born, but her backlist of nearly fifty books also 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.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Is that a factoid? by Michelle Styles

I was born in the US and even though I have lived over in the UK for more than 30 years, I still mainly think in American. I do like to think that I am reasonably fluent in British now as well.  I knew that a cot in the UK is a crib in the US for example. Or the differences between sandshoes and sneakers. However, I recently discovered that one word –factoid has two different and completely opposite meanings on either side of the Atlantic.

A factoid is in North America, a small piece of trivia, a tiny fact but crucially true.
A factoid in the UK is a statement which has been repeated so often that people believe it is true when it is in fact false.
So on one side of the Atlantic, a factoid is true and on the other, it is false. One word, completely opposite meanings depending on where you are or I suppose who you are talking to.
Ivy growing up a damson plum tree
 which is just coming into bloom.
Being American by birth, I had always assumed a factoid was true. Then I was reading Oliver Rackham’s Trees & Woodland in the British Landscape, the Complete History of Britain’s Trees, Woods & Hedgerows and he made this big point that factoids are false, and this had me scrambling for my Oxford English dictionary where I discovered the discrepancy with the two different meanings for one word.  And I have no idea how this discrepancy happened.
Ivy growing up a conifer tree
 on the border of Michelle
Styles' garden.Despite all her hopes,
the wind has not knocked it down yet!
  In case you were wondering Rackham used the statement Ivy kills the trees it grows up as a factoid or a false statement. In this case, the belief has been around since the 4th century and apparently often repeated by people who should know better but it is clearly not true. Ivy doesn’t kill its host tree.  The tree might not grow as well but it puts on growth and its leaves peek out from the ivy.  The tree might die from other causes or topple over in high wind due to the weight of the ivy but the ivy doesn’t kill it. I do live in how for that conifer at the end of my garden though...
The easiest way to solve this problem is just to avoid using the word. However, there have been times when discussing various aspects to  writing historical romance, I have had cause to use it – and mean the American understanding. Is it any wonder that people gave me puzzled looks? And here I was feeling so smug about being completely fluent in British English as well as American. It goes to show that the unknown unknowns that can trip you up.
It is why I double-check my facts when I am writing and now I am also going to have to check my factoids!

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical in a wide range of time periods. Her most recent Sent as the Viking’s Bride was published in December 2018.  She is currently working on her next Viking set romance and double checking all her facts and factoids to make sure they are true! You can find out more about Michelle and her books at

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Christina Hollis: A Busy Life of Service

As March is Women's History Month, I thought I'd tell you the story of an inspirational woman who is one of the stars of my new book, Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol. 

Pic : Bristol Charities
Ada Vachell (1866-1923) overcame both disability and the major handicap of being born a woman in Victorian Britain. She made life better for hundreds of Bristol's poor and disadvantaged. Her bright ideas had knock-on effects for the disabled which endured long after her death. 

Ada was a champion of the disabled at a time when they received no government help. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, disability was often seen as something shameful to be hidden away.  Ada helped to change attitudes. Born into a wealthy family, she was left frail and deaf after an almost fatal attack of scarlet fever. Despite that, she never let her own poor health hold her back for a minute.

Ada drove her parents mad with her enthusiastic schemes. On one occasion she hired a horse-drawn bus to take all the local servants on a day trip to the seaside. She became a helper at a club for poor girls who worked in the local factories. Inspired by what she heard and saw on the streets of Bristol, she founded the Guild of the Brave Poor Things in 1896. She delivered invitations to the Guild’s meeting by hand around the worst slums in Bristol. Anyone with disabilities was welcomed into the Guild. Instead of sitting around at home, frustrated, miserable and bored, they could escape every week for a couple of hours of crafts, lectures, games and chat.

The Guild grew fast. Ada found jobs for its members with local employers, and opened a purpose-built holiday home for members in Churchill, Somerset. For the first time, Bristol’s disabled children and adults could enjoy a break in country air. Back in the city, Ada’s Guild opened the first building to be specially designed for the needs of the disabled. It had wheelchair-friendly access, a gym, a large hall and plenty of room for arts and crafts as well as lectures.
Find out more here
Ada Vachell worked hard all her life for Bristol’s poor and disabled in the days before the welfare state. She died of pneumonia, aged only fifty-seven.

You can find out more about Ada, and many more brave, clever and independent women, here. If you live in the UK you can buy Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol direct from the publisher, here.

As well as non-fiction, Christina Hollis writes contemporary fiction starring complex men and independent women. She has written more than twenty novels, sold nearly three million books, and her work has been translated into twenty different languages. When she isn’t writing, Christina is cooking, walking her dog, or gardening.

You can catch up with her at, on TwitterFacebook, and see a full list of her published books at

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


 I spoke to a local group last month. Their theme for the meeting was procrastination.

It's not something I have a lot of experience with. I work for myself.  My only boss is me. I am probably my most exacting taskmaster. 

How do I get everything done?  I think the fact that I don’t have a lot of time helps.  I squeeze writing in between family and extended family and now school. It’s a tight space. There’s no time for writer’s block. There's no time to procrastinate. So when it’s time to write, I write. Even if it’s utter crap. (In writing that’s called a crap draft.) Here’s the thing, you can fix crap, you can’t fix a blank page. That same sense of get it done applies to more than just my writing. It's pretty much how I get through life in general. I wanted to put my thoughts on avoiding procrastination in concise terms for the talk. Here's what I came up with.

Love What You're Doing: I started a discussion about procrastination with my pottery professor. He said something very profound. Paraphrasing here…Artists don’t procrastinate because we love what we do. So maybe that’s something to think about. If there’s something in your life you’re always putting off, maybe it’s time to ask why? Some things just need done. Cleaning. Cooking. Chores. But life should also be filled with things we love. Things we feel passionate about. Maybe if your life is a series of putting it off as long as possible it's time to find something you love and can't wait to do. You'll get through the things you have to do faster in order to get to the things you love doing.

Nike…Just Do It: This isn’t just for the writers out there. It’s for life in general. Most of you follow my new love of pottery and have read about my promise to make 50 bowls—which grew into 100 bowls—for an Empty Bowl fundraiser.  My first bowls are inelegant, but the later ones were so much better. I set a deadline for myself and just did it. But even in the midst of it, there was a sense of accomplishment. I learned so much. So if you’ve said you’ll do it, or you have to do it, do it.

BUT Know your limits and set priorities.  When I started writing, I prioritized my life and my time. Family first, writing second, everything else after that.  There was this mom at school that constantly bugged me to come to salad bar days. Now, I volunteered often at school. When the kids wanted me there, that was my priority. They didn't care if I was at salad bar. So I went, but not often.  When this mom made a crack about me just sitting at home all day, I didn't justify my writing career. I just smiled and said, I don't chop lettuce and left it at that.  It might not always seem like it, but I know my limits and I try to avoid biting off more . . . uh lettuce than I can chew. I also know where my priorities are. That helps. For me it was always family first, then writing. Now it’s family, writing, pottery.

Set realistic goals. If you say you want to write a novel/build a rustic log cabin/run a marathon by the end of the year, you’re setting a lofty goal. I think goals of that size seem insurmountable and make it easy to procrastinate. But something more reasonable…write a chapter a month/find some wooded land to buy/run a 5K...those are doable. Breaking a large goal into smaller components helps.  When I'm writing I don’t think about the 300 pages. I think of it by the day. 10 pages.

Newton’s first law says a body at rest will stay at rest unless some force acts on it. Maybe that’s a boss or a spouse, but I think the most worthwhile source is internal. So maybe the best way to fight procrastination is to ask yourself why you’re putting something off and find a solution. Carve our more/specific times. Or even don’t do it. It's okay to decide something isn't working for you.

Perfection: I've already mentioned writing crap drafts. The lesson there is to allow yourself to not be perfect. Allow yourself to realize failure is an option, but not trying isn’t.

Pressure: My friend Susan and I were talking about procrastination. She works best under pressure. I do not. Realize how you work best and use that to get it done.

Next time you find yourself procrastinating, I hope you take a moment and ask yourself why. . . then find some solution.


PS. Have you missed our most recent Trippin' with Holly and Susan? You can catch up with them all on YouTube.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

How I start a story – Kandy Shepherd

I’m starting to write a new book—if all goes well, it will be my sixteenth for Harlequin Romance. My fourteenth is out now, Second Chance with the Single Dad and the fifteenth will be out in September.

So how do I start? I have a character from an earlier book who has been clamoring for his story. (I won’t go into any detail as who knows what might change after these preliminary thoughts!) It’s his time. I think I’ve found him the perfect woman, however neither he nor know this yet. There’ll be quite some mind changing to do to get them together!

I like to have a clear idea of what my characters look like, what they wear, where they live. I start a Pinterest board for each story and have a lot of fun with it. If you’d like to see my boards for my published stories, why not visit my Pinterest Boards?

 I have a special notebook for each book I write, to jot down ideas, try out paragraphs, keep by my bed in case I wake up at night with a brilliant idea that will be forgotten by morning if I don’t write it down.

Isn’t this notebook with the wisteria beautiful? It’s probably my favorite. I think I’ll have to include a scene with wisteria in the new story in honour of it! Yes, I do have nightmares about losing the notebook but so far that hasn’t happened. Fingers crossed it doesn’t!

 Some writers use computer programs to keep track of everything for their book. If I was writing a big book with lots of research and multiple story lines, I might try that. In the meantime, it either goes in the notebook or in a file on my computer. A timeline for a story is a must or I can get very muddled. But my version of a timeline is very simple, just a roughly sketched calendar for the months the story spans. 

 Now I’m working on the first chapter, the most important to get readers hooked into the story. It takes me forever! I might rewrite it many times until I get it right and move on to the next chapters which tend to flow more smoothly.

 So that’s where I’m at and I have to get cracking! A deadline that seems comfortably months away has a habit of sneaking up on me at a remarkable pace… So wish me luck as I set off on a new writing journey!

Second Chance with the Single Dad is a February 2019 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,Pinterestand Instagram

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Dogs in Books by Susan Sands

I've posted quite a lot about my canine friends, now friend, since I began blogging here at Tote Bag
'n' Blogs. As many of you know, we lost our sweet Boudreaux right after we moved into our new home just before Christmas. 

Our three-year-old Golden-doodle, Watson, has come through his confusion and sadness and surprised us by stepping up his game as single dog in the house. He's become the best dog ever. He's always been a good dog, but his behavior with Boudreaux had concerned us somewhat. We likened him to Eddie Haskell on a good day. If you don't know who that is, you should definitely look him up. 

The personalities in our pups vary so widely, as they do in people, so when authors write dogs as characters in our books, we must remember to create individual characteristics that set them apart from "just any dog." It wouldn't do the dogs we know and love justice to "under" write them as characters in fiction, and they wouldn't be believable.

While writing my recently-completed manuscript, I included a woman's best friend who my main character relied on heavily throughout her journey, both emotional and physical. Daisy Mae is a Beagle with soulful brown eyes and a heart of pure gold. She senses when her mistress needs support and stands by her the entire story.

I'd never written such a significant role for an animal before and found it quite challenging. Remembering to feed the animal, provide exercise, and let her out to potty consistently was exhausting. LOL. Of course, I do these things for my own dog, but remembering to include enough of the care taking in the story without a constant play-by-play that seemed monotonous created a new balancing act. 

This woman needed a dog, so I had to figure out the best way to include Daisy Mae and write her into the story well without detracting from the flow and plot line. 

I would love to hear about your furry friends!! And one day in the near future, I hope you can read about Daisy Mae and her journey with Sadie.

Looking forward toward better weather!!

Susan Sands