Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday Talk Time: The "S" Word...

Today on The Pink Heart Society, author Taryn Leigh Taylor discusses the "S" word.

Things are intense right now, you guys. 

My next book is due in a couple of weeks, so it's writing crunch time. Coincidentally, this is just about the time the day job also starts to ramp up, in anticipation of university students returning to campus. Add to that the usual life stuff--family, bills, the daily commute...

All that to say is that is I have been operating at level STRESSED OUT. All capital letters.

And then I saw this:

And the gold medal for stress management goes to... #DEBOLT

It was an incredible moment. It was adorable. It was funny. And most notably, it was during the dang race! Top Olympic athletes sharing a moment of levity before they'd even crossed the finish line and officially punched their respective tickets to the 200m finals.

It really hit home, then, that I needed to remember to enjoy the journey because the journey is 98% of the process. I am notoriously bad for forgetting this in the moment, for berating myself for all the things I haven't done, or should've done, or still have to do.

These challenges show themselves in all aspects of my life. In things as big as writing a novel and things as small as making dinner. If I dread going to the grocery store, begrudge unpacking and washing the produce, bemoan the chopping and slicing and boiling and grilling required to make the recipe come to life, then how much can I really enjoy the first bite of the meal I worked so hard on?

Usain Bolt and Andre DeGrasse reminded me there's a difference between a semi-final and a final. There are moments to enjoy, and moments to buckle down. There was much more seriousness and focus the night they blazed their way to gold and silver medals, respectively, as there should have been.

But this moment, the one where they just got to be two guys who love to run, where they got to remember why they train so hard day after day, month after month, year after year? These are the moments that make life worthwhile.

And I plan to start valuing those moments a little more.

I'd love to hear your best tips and tricks for managing stress, because I'm not even close to making the podium for the stress reduction Olympics. Leave'em in the comments below!

Taryn Leigh Taylor's first novel, KISS AND MAKEUP, was shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize.

If you'd like to learn more about Taryn or her novels, check out her website. If you'd like to connect, she can be found on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Male on Monday - Male Viewpoints

Pink Heart Society columnist Tara Taylor Quinn is talking about how she handles male viewpoints...

As an author, one of the things you watch for, wait for, is someone of stature to notice – and like – your work. Big name author quotes for lesser known authors is huge in our line of work. If someone like Debbie Macomber likes what you do, then maybe some of her readers will, too. (Yes, I have a Debbie Macomber quote! More than one, but the most recent is on the header on my website.)

But Debbie wasn’t the first big quote I ever received. I remember the first. Distinctly. It came from New York Times Bestselling author Jennifer Blake. She hadn’t even been asked for it! She’d been a speaker at our local writer’s conference here in Phoenix. Somehow she ended up on the plane with my book. (I’d only written three at the time.) She hadn’t bought it and I hadn’t given it to her, but for some reason there she was, on the plane home reading my book. Apparently she finished the whole thing. And wrote and offered her opinion. 

I’ve never forgotten it. 

She said, in part, “Her handling of male viewpoint is exceptional. She seems to genuinely like and understand men as a species, an attitude as refreshing as it is unusual.”

So, Male on Monday? I wish I could tell you that I have a particular man in mind when I write my books. Or give you some celebrity who sticks out for me. But I’d have to lie. I don’t know where my heroes come from. Or how I know about them. I just sit down to write, go in and they appear. And I can’t tell you which of my heroes are favorites. That’s like asking a mother to choose one of her kids over another. Sort of.

I guess what I have to do is tell you about a hero who has grabbed me by the throat. His name is Pierce Westin. None of you will have met him yet. Only my editor, copy editor, and proofreader know him. He makes his debut in November, in a book titled, Her Soldier’s Baby. It’s a hokey title. Pierce hates it, I just know he does. If you meet him, you’ll understand. He’s…troubled. But honest about it. He did something he can’t take back. Something he can’t forgive. But did it for all the right reasons. He lives, now, to make life better for others. But knows his limitations. 

I don’t want to say too much. I’ll just share this from my editor, ‘When you said that this story took you through the ringer, I now completely understand what you meant. Pierce Westin is probably one of the most tragic heroes I’ve ever met, and his dedication and love for his wife are just as heartbreaking as his backstory.’ And after the editing stage, when she sent me the completely copy to proof, ‘Thank you so much for this story. I teared up AGAIN.’

Those are the quotes that I live for. The ones where I’ve done my job well enough to get the attention of a professional who reads all of the greats. In this case, it wasn’t me who got her, it was Pierce.

Tara Taylor Quinn's latest book, Love By Association, is out now:

A man of his word 

Dr. Bloom Freelander thought it was safe to breathe again when Detective Sam Larson put her abusive ex away for good. She's been moving on, running a private practice and providing psychiatry services to The Lemonade Stand women's shelter. But now that her ex is a free man, she's in danger once again. 

Forced into protective custody, Bloom can't help but fall for her protector. But she has every reason to doubt the handsome detective's word. Sam broke his promise to her once. Who says he won't break it again—along with her heart this time?

To find out more about Tara and her books, you can visit her website and follow her on InstagramPinterestTwitter and Facebook.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Little Something for the Weekend - Where Obsessions Become Pastimes

We're delighted to welcome back Elisabeth Hobbes to the Pink Heart Society as she talks about why she loves reading romance.

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’

Wise advice from William Morris the 19th century writer and designer. It’s an adage I try (and frequently fail) to follow but as I was wondering how to fill this page it struck me the quote could easily read ‘do nothing with your time that you do not know to be useful.’ 

It’s the weekend so hopefully we’ve all found time for a bit of relaxation as well as cleaning the house and catching up on laundry. For that reason I’m going to talk to you about hobbies, specifically the ones I’ve managed to make use of when writing.

I’m a real flitter with an attention span that lasts around a year before I get bored and want to try something new. Combined with circumstances including childcare issues, classes being cancelled or demands of the day job taking over, in my time I’ve tried every hobby from Arabic dance to Zumba (fortunately, or that sentence wouldn’t have worked half as well).

Like my heroine Joanna in The Blacksmith’s Wife I fancied discovering my hidden artistic talents and for years took classes in various different media. I’ve got sketchbooks full of watercolours, charcoal and oil paint daubs that are better for not seeing the light of day. 

While Hal discovers his creative mojo through his wife’s drawings, if it had been left to my efforts, he would still have been knocking out horseshoes and door hinges so he’s definitely lucky he ended up with her not me.

My heroes - and occasional heroine - have often had to prove their handiness with a sword. Though fencing isn’t strictly medieval a sword is a sword (I can hear my instructor’s teeth grinding from here) and I reached Bronze level in Foil. 

 As a result I’m able to confidently tell which end of a sword to hold (stick them with the pointy end), a few fancy names and foot moves, and know first-hand how much it stings to get swiped across the boobs with a snapping blade. 

 This was one of my favourite hobbies and I was really sad when the class ended, not least because I enjoyed quoting The Princess Bride and confusing people by being left-handed, a trait I shared with Will, my hero from A Wager for the Widow.

My most recent obsession which has come in useful is horse riding, which I started along with my daughter. 

Sources are mixed whether women in the middle ages rode side-saddle. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath wore two spurs so probably rode astride but drawings also show women riding sideways and being led. I suspect it was an individual choice in some cases and I chose to let my heroines sit astride. Almost all of them can ride. 

Aline, Eleanor and Constance (from my upcoming December release) are confident riders. Joanna starts to learn with Hal as her teacher but Lucy, my WIP’s heroine doesn’t, prompting the hero to scathingly pick up on her lack of experience. “Horse. The large, black animal I arrived here on. Four legs. About as tall as you.”

Disclaimer: the scene in A Wager for the Widow where Eleanor gets her skirt caught in the saddle and has to be untangled by Will is not at all based on any real experience.

One pastime I love to do with my whole family is visiting museums and historic sights where I’m always ready with a camera in case inspiration strikes or I see something useful. They’re used to me leaning over barriers and battlements trying to get the best angle. 

 A lot of National Trust sites have dressing up boxes so I always look out for the chance to stick on a costume if I can. One of my happiest days ever was turning up at Lyme Park where the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice was filmed and discovering they now have a room which loans out costumes you can wear to go wandering round the grounds.

Hobbies I haven’t managed to get into a story yet include Arabic dancing, skiing, cycling and playing the violin, mainly because of the time period and settings I write in, although I’ll never rule anything out.

I couldn’t finish an article this without mentioning the one hobby that I’ve stuck to and which has become more than a way of filling a few hours. Of course I’m talking about writing. What started off as a way to stave off boredom and stop my brain turning to mush on long evenings alone (documented elsewhere if anyone wants to know the curious call story) has now become a second career. Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m a published author and while I know I’ll never become a champion skier or set the world of bellydance alight, my interest writing shows no sign of tailing off anytime soon. 

Whatever hobby you love and however you’ve spent your weekend, I hope it’s been a great one.

Love Elisabeth (currently camping in France and indulging my passions for Breton cider and teaching medieval architecture through the medium of sandcastles).

What obsessions fill your free time?  Elisabeth is dying to know, so join in the discussion in the comments!

Elisabeth’s newest book, The Blacksmith's Wife, is available now: 

A passion forged from fire

Rejected by her favoured knight, Joanna Sollers knows she will never love again. Especially when the man she’s now forced to marry is none other than her beloved’s half-brother!

For blacksmith Hal Danby, marrying Joanna makes his life-long dream of entering the Smiths’ Guild possible, even if the secrets in his past mean he’ll forever keep his distance. But everything changes with one stolen night, and in the arms of his new bride, Hal wonders if this loveless arrangement could transform into something real…

To find out more about Elisabeth Hobbes and her books you can visit her website and follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

WILDCARD WEEKEND -- When Moving is like Writing a Book

Anne McAllister has just moved. She is still recovering.  She wishes she had finished her latest book. She would like to be recovering from that.

Fifteen months ago my husband, The Prof, and I bought a house.  It was not entirely unexpected since we had been saying we were going to move permanently to Montana someday -- and we meant it. But we weren't expecting to do it then.

But then we saw this house. It had bookshelves. Lots of bookshelves. A whole wall of them.  And it had a view across an alfalfa field that seemed to go on and on and on. The view ended in mountains whichever way we looked. What's more, the house was on one floor; it had a garage; it had more than one bathroom.  These may not seem like big deals to you, but to us they were new and exciting prospects.

There were also grandchildren nearby. Four of them.

How could we resist?

Well, we couldn't.   So we bought the house.

And because it really was more spur of the moment than even we are used to doing, we thought, next year we'll move, that will give us plenty of time to sort out 43 years of living in the same house. Yes, I know, lots and lots of people have not lived for 43 years, let alone done it all in one house.

But we had.  

We'd raised kids there and dogs there. We'd raised a rabbit there, and a bionic cat. We had memories upon memories of life in that house which we loved. And I had an attic load of books.  

Too many books.  Besides all the author's copies of the nearly 70 books I'd written, I had foreign editions of all those books in multiples. I had research books. I had genealogy and family history books. I come from a family that never stayed in one place (unlike us, apparently) for more than a generation, so I had books about South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Montana, Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan -- not to mention England (two whole shelves on Cornwall alone), Germany, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and the like.

Oh, and I have a husband who was an English professor.  Suffice to say, he has his own fair share of books.

So over the months that followed, we weeded and tossed and boxed, and weeded and tossed and boxed.  And our daughter came to visit and tossed even more and packed some and weeded out a lot.  And eventually we got it down to, well, still more books than most people can even think about in a lifetime.  But it never seemed urgent.  We were moving next year, after all.

And then it was -- next year.

Not only next year, it was June of next year which had, apparently, become June of this year!  The Iowa grandsons were coming for summer camp and then I was going to Pittsburgh for a genealogy conference, and then we had to pack and pack and pack and pack. 

And the more we dragged out of the attic, the more I began to see the similarity to writing a book.  Once you open the attic, you're in the middle of a book. Everything started out smoothly as first chapters often do. Then the end is a long way away and you don't worry so much about how you're going to get there. You just b.e.l.i.e.v.e. that you will.

But in the middle it isn't so easy to believe. The stalagmites of books were everywhere.  The more we brought down and sorted (how many Czech copies of A Cowboy's Gift shall I keep? What about Turkish Santorini Brides?), the more of a mess the living room became (very much like the middle of a book).  Where should I put them while I tried to sort them?   And where did I put the ones I had already sorted?

It seemed endless, but the deadline continued  to approach.  The movers had a date in July they'd written in blood on their calendar. It was up to us to meet it.

While I was struggling with the books and the china (we are the repository of several family lines' china collections, it seems) and a myriad other things on the first floor, the second floor and the attic, The Prof was struggling, it turned out, with his own debacle: the basement.

For years I had thought of the basement as a sort of subtext -- where we put the freezer where the gallons of turkey soup he made every year after Thanksgiving and Christmas went to hibernate, where the titles to the cars were in neat little folders all their own. That sort of thing.  Turns out I was wrong.  The basement was very nearly the downfall of the whole affair.

In the end we had to get a couple of college students to come in and help him drag stuff out and  dispose of most of it because, well, it needed to be disposed of.  It turns out that the basement saga was a sort of giant multi-volume addendum to the book being written upstairs, a multi-volume addendum that didn't have much to do with the book.  So some of it survived and got boxed and came with us, and some is living in a landfill in Iowa. 

This is the cutting process that I do regularly at the end of a book, when I know what a book is going to be about at last, which is almost never what I thought it was going to be about at the beginning.   

What we needed, I discovered, was the judiciously editorial hand of Ann Leslie Tuttle who was my editor for a number of years and whom I could always count on to cut the irrelevancies in my books. She knew what I was writing about even when I didn't.  Our move needed her badly.

But at last things pulled together. The contents of the house were boxed and waiting for the movers who took one look at the various flights of stairs and, sweltering under the July Iowa heat and humidity, muttered to themselves and manfully lugged all of it down to their very very very big truck.

Then we had three days to clean things up and make things look as if we'd never lived there for 43 years.  This might be the copyediting process after the fact, just a little more fraught. Well, okay, a lot more fraught.

And then we left.  With our two dogs, our oldest grandson and his mom, we set off on our 1100 mile journey to our new life.  The moving book was done (well, except for the moving in part, which is still ongoing and which is the topic for another blog). 

The real book, of course, got lost in the process somewhere around June 10th.  I would have loved to have finished it before we left. I tried.  O'Driscoll didn't cooperate.  So I'm back dealing with him again.

He likes our new digs, as do I. As do the dogs. As does The Prof. The eldest grandson and his mom gave their stamp of approval, too, before they headed back to their lives. Nancy the Cat Slayer (no, she doesn't, but once in a photo it looked like she was and the name has stuck), my dear friend, has already come and approved as well.

It's like opening a new manuscript, starting fresh.  We're opening boxes and wondering where the heck we put stuff.  Kind of like a book all over again!

In publishing there are not just new books, but revised reprints of earlier books. Recently Anne re-issued the first three books about the Tanner brothers, Robert, Luke and Noah.  

These are, it turns out, much easier than either writing a new book -- or moving -- and they got really fine covers as well. If you haven't met the Tanners and you like cowboys, you might want to check them out!