Saturday, October 03, 2015

Weekend Wildcard - My Fascination with the Past

Pink Heart Society columnist, Melinda Curtis, is talking about her fascination with history, and how it effected her storytelling...

I have a fascination with the past. I love antiques. I love old photos. I love to listen to stories about the old days.

My great grandmother owned a hat shop. She was rather particular about appearances, but during the Great Depression she couldn't sell any hats and had to close her shop. She moved in with her daughter (my grandmother) and her husband (my grandfather) and had to eat crow (so to speak). My grandfather always claimed to have seen the depression coming. He sold their house in downtown Oakland, California and moved the family to a small farm in the Oakland hills. I think Great Grandma (pictured to the right with the fabulous hat) was grateful to have food on the farm to eat.

On the other side of the family, my grandparents were outdoor enthusiasts. They hiked up mountains to ski down them. They took cross-country driving trips. They weren't independently wealthy. My grandfather was a manager in the forest service. At one time, he managed all the western state parks (including parks in Hawaii). Here's a picture of my grandmother's gear she had to lug up the hill to ski down. You had to really want to ski back then. Would you be up to it? I would volunteer to stay at the bottom of the hill and make dinner.

Then there was the story my dad told about how when his brother was 15 and he was 13, his parents (the outdoor enthusiasts), let them drive the car to Yosemite...Alone!!! Dude, drive three hours from home to camp alone? I don't think so. I used to tell my kids not to get any ideas. I don't think this is the car they took (it might have been my great uncle's - there's a story about him in Yosemite, too), but I like looking at it.

That's where my love of storytelling grew - from my family. And since my family had small town sensibilities, I think that's why I'm comfortable writing about small towns or small communities in the big city. 

One of my latest releases is Boycotting Christmas, which is only available in a set of sweet holiday romances from the authors at Sweet Romance Reads. My story - Boycotting Christmas - is about a woman who loves her family's holiday traditions, but she decides to boycott the holiday when her dad decides to marry her best friend. That's a story for the generations!

Do you have a family story you cherish and would like to share?

Friday, October 02, 2015

Friday Fun - For the Love of the Inexperienced Hero

We're delighted to welcome Maisey Yates back to the Pink Heart Society as she talks about the things that can make a work/life balance impossible.

Since it’s Friday Fun here at PHS, I decided to talk about a topic I always find fun: Heroes!

I love a playboy hero. What’s not to love? They’re wicked and devilish, and the idea that a man who can (and has) had any woman on earth, but wants you, is an intoxicating one. 

Prince Pato in A Royal Without Rules by Caitlin Crews is a fantastic example of a fun playboy, as is Crews’s Lucas Wolfe in The Disgraced Playboy

My August release Bad News Cowboy has a shameless playboy hero, Jack Monaghan, and a tomboy virgin heroine, Kate Garrett, which made for a fun and fabulous contrast. 

But the rare unicorn of romance heroes is definitely the inexperienced hero. My hero Connor Garrett in Brokedown Cowboy, married young and hadn’t slept with anyone but his late wife, so the first woman after her was a big deal for him. 

But, even rarer still, though, is the virgin hero. I’ll be honest, I love a virgin hero. But I think often there can be a mental block about them because…well, it’s hard to fantasize about a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing. But that, to me, isn’t the appeal of the virgin hero. 

To me, the appeal is much the same as the playboy hero. How so? Let me explain. It’s all about the heroine being different. The playboy could have anyone, yet chooses her. The virgin has had no one, yet chooses to change that pattern when he meets her. 

For my heroes, virginity is usually about control, not insecurity. In my Harlequin Presents A Royal World Apart, sexy bodyguard Mac is a virgin widower, who spent all of his marriage caring for his wife, and never forsaking his marriage vows. He was a virgin because of honor, which to me, was why it was sexy. 

Tarek, in Bound to the Warrior King is a virgin because he’s sworn to forsake earthly pleasures so that he can be the perfect weapon his country needs to protect them. So when Olivia awakens passion in him for the first time and breaks the control that defines him, it’s a pretty epic moment. 

I also like a damaged virgin hero. Hunter from Taking Him, by Jackie Ashenden has abuse in his past and resists being touched and avoids intimacy at all costs. But he’s tested by his best friend’s little sister, who is absolutely determined to fulfill her fantasy of…well, taking him. But the heroine Ellie doesn’t know that Hunter is a virgin, and after they have sex for the first time has to be my one of my favorite scenes of all time since Ashenden takes that common “WHAT? YOU’RE A VIRGIN?” scene and subverts it so that it’s the heroine who’s shocked to discover she’s just deflowered the gorgeous object of her fantasies.

One of my other favorite virgin heroes is Wes, from Nicole Helm’s upcoming release, All I Am. Wes has PTSD and serious anxiety issues, coupled with an injury sustained in Afghanistan. His heroine, Cara, is confident in her sexual appeal, while Wes really isn’t. (Though, he’s a hot, bearded man who rocks flannel, and he’s definitely sexy!) Watching him slowly come into his own and gain confidence is hot AND emotional. 

One of my favorite things about romance in general is the variety. I love that I can read a book centered around a motorcycle club, or a sweet small town, or a fated mates story about shifters. And I love the variety in heroes too. 

Basically, as long as I find him sexy, playboy or virgin, it’s all good for me. That’s what makes it fun. 

How about you?  Do you like inexperienced heroes?  And are you a fan of the variety of the heroes available to romance readers?  Join our debate in the comments!

Maisey's latest virgin hero, Tarek, can be found in Bound to the Warrior King, out now:

The warrior she tamed… 

 Wild and untamed, Tarek al-Khalij was never meant to rule Tahar. More familiar with a sword than a crown, this lethal warrior must now heal the suffering his brother's rule inflicted. To do it, he needs his most precious—and dangerous—weapon yet…a royal bride! 

The widow he conquered...

Elegant and poised, Queen Olivia will educate Tarek in the civilized art of political warfare. But in exchange, Tarek unleashes an unrestrained, primal passion she could never have guessed at possessing. Soon Olivia realizes that she has become inescapably bound…to the warrior king!

To find out more about Maisey Yates and her books, check out her website and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Time Out Thursday: See Forever

 Harlequin Intrigue author and new PHS Columnist Jenna Kernan plays tourist in her hometown of New York City

How many tourist attractions are there in your hometown?
And how many have you actually visited?

So that's my Thursday time-out topic for today. Being a tourist in your own hometown. I can tell you one of the fun parts about being a tourist in your own hometown is when you're chatting with the guide and they ask you where you are from you get to tell them you live three miles from where you are standing. That's always a surprise.

Now I'm a lucky girl because I currently live within 30 miles of New York City. The good part about that is there is more to do there than I could ever imagine. The bad thing is that almost every single thing cost money.

My latest excursion was to One World Observatory, ( @OneWorldNYC , #SeeForever).

This is in the new One World Towers also called the Freedom Towers in Lower Manhattan beside the site of the fallen Twin Towers. The observation is on the 102nd floor. My friendly tour guide tells me that this building is the tallest one in the Western Hemisphere and that the entire building is 1776 feet tall (including areal tower). Does that date sound familiar to anyone? It was done intentionally and that includes the aerial tower.

The ride up takes only one minute. I don't even want to think about how fast I was going. They have a movie that shows New York City evolving from the 1660s to 2015. I was too slow to catch the whole thing.  By the time I got my camera on I was already in the 1980s.

Here’s my attempt to capture time: My Facebook Video of One World Observatory.

We all waited in front of our elevators on the hundred and second floor and watched a very short video before the wall lifted up like a garage door and there it was—the view to forever. In fact, there hashtag is #Seeforever which seems very appropriate.

I skipped having my photo taken all by my lonesome up on the deck. Also skipped the $15 interactive iPad that will tell you exactly what you were looking at out of the 360 degree windows. For those who are unfamiliar with the New York City skyline I think that iPad is probably a very good deal. I did listen in on some of the other tourists who had ponied up the 15 bucks and did learn that there were videos and interesting historical facts about the buildings. Then we tourists had time to circle the observation deck at our leisure. Up on the 102nd floor, you'll also find a snack bar regular bar, restaurant and bathrooms.  My first stop was the restroom and I don’t even want to think about the hydrodynamics of water pumped up over a thousand feet only to go rocketing back down again.

If you want to figure the costs of a visit, take the price of anything you've ever had in a restaurant or gift shop and multiply by three.  That will give you a fairly accurate idea of the price for eating on 102nd floor. My favorite view was to the south to see both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty being crisscrossed by the white wakes of all the different boats and fairies. A close runner-up was seeing the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge spanning  the East River with traffic passing over and watercrafts gliding under. Looking straight north the new apartment building and the Empire State building dominate the skyline and beyond the George Washington Bridge past that I swear you can see all the way to the Berkshire Mountains. I chose a beautiful day and the experience is jaw-dropping.

You do have to be careful there are some hazards on the hundred and second floor including the price of the T-shirts and the regular tourists with their soapy sticks extended like limbo poles. There are some very friendly tour guides up there who will help you with finding a nice apartment in Manhattan. I understand Demi Moore's place is available for $75 million. There's also a nice apartment in the Plaza Hotel right on Central Park.

I have to admit that ponying up $32 to ride an elevator was a little hard to swallow. But it was worth the cost and the time to see the view from the most expensive building ever erected. If you have the time, take the trip, I recommend it and also recommend you take a time-out to explore the wonders
in your own backyard.

For more of my excursions sign up for my newsletter at

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writer's Wednesday - How To Approach Diversity

Pink Heart Society editor, Ali Williams, is talking about approaching diversity in her writing.

Firstly, I want to say that I'm not a woman of colour and I'm not (for the most part - I'm keeping gender out of this) marginalised by society.  I'm a hetero, cis-gendered, middle-class white girl, whose Catholic parents tried to shelter her a little too much (NB. this clearly failed when you look at all the erotic on my Kindle).

I'm saying this because I want to emphasise that I'm checking my privilege.

I am, by no means, the most qualified person to talk about approaching diversity, and I'm aware that this post may be full of mistakes and issues for people.  So perhaps I should explain why I'm writing:

I want to have a diverse cast of characters in my writing, and I want to do so without offending people.

So this is my plan.

Instead of having a long, rather drawn out post about what to do and how to do it, I'm going to link to posts and blogs that I think address the issue really really well.  

I don't want to appropriate aspects of people's culture or voice, but I do think that it's important to include diversity in my depictions of the world.  My world is diverse itself, and so art should mimic life.

Feel free to say if I've gone about this the wrong way, and please please please leave tips in the comments on research you've done or how you approach diversity!

What advice would you give to a romance writer who thinks that #WeNeedDiverseRomance?  Join us in the comments!

Ali Williams grew up in Croydon and spent her teenage years in a convent girls’ school. She then fled to university where she discovered champagne cocktails, a capella singing and erotica.

These days she blogs about perceptions of romance, chick lit and women in society and spends the rest of her time promoting #StrongRomanceHeroines on Twitter, and cracking on with her first novel, Breakfast in Tunford.

Editor for the Pink Heart Society, guest blogger for Mills & Boon and Harper Impulse, and occasional columnist for For Books' Sake, she defies you to slam romance novels within her hearing!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Talk Time - What's In a Cover?

New Pink Heart Society columnist, AlTonya Washington, is talking about diversity and romance covers...

Diversity in category romance is definitely a loaded topic. There are so many ways to dissect the subject-so many subtopics that can be fleshed out while covering it. I publish traditionally and independently. In both markets, diversity in cover art is a topic that generates as much discussion as it does upset.

Recently, I attended the annual Romance Slam Jam Conference. This year, the conference celebrated its 20th Anniversary. One of my favorite parts of the RSJ weekend, is the Town Hall meeting. 

Here, readers and authors come together for a robust and honest conversation about the state of the literary world with emphasis on Multicultural romantic fiction. This year, the cover art topic took the lion share of the conversation.  

Editors from various traditional publishing houses were on hand to participate in the discussion. Readers were not shy about voicing their displeasure on everything from discrepancies in back cover copy to the systematic ‘watering down’ of romantic heroes, but the failure of cover art to accurately represent characters was a key point. Now we all know that a great cover does not always translate to a great book, but a great cover is a necessity in this business. Unfortunately, a great cover doesn’t always translate to an accurate cover.

My views on how cover art relates to diversity in category romance, are primarily personal. I didn’t even realize they were an issue until I became an author and saw so many of my darker complexioned heroines portrayed several noticeable shades lighter on the covers of my books. 

Imagine an author tirelessly and lovingly telling the story of a raven haired heroine and then finding an auburn haired heroine on the cover. This is not to say that one is better than the other. Earlier in my career however, I did have an editor hint that it was believed that darker models- darker (female) models weren’t well received on romance covers. Can you believe that?!!! 

Okay…I’m calm, but it still baffles me that we can have so little cover diversity in a market that; by its very existence, should be improving diversity. 

We want our girls to love themselves and embrace their differences, yet we give them few examples of those differences. Editors on hand for the RSJ Town Hall meeting noted a lack of abundant stock art as a reason why many of the same models are used for the same covers. 

At this point, a comment was made about diversity as it relates to the hiring practices for traditional art departments. Score one for indie publishing-authors have a REAL say in their covers. Clearly, this topic is not a new one. What bothers me is that we’re approaching 2016 and little has changed. It is past time that solutions not only be discussed but implemented. The readers are definitely sharing their displeasure over expecting one thing and getting another. 

We'd love to hear your opinions about diversity in category romance - and particularly your opinions on the covers.  Join the discussion with AlTonya in the comments!

AlTonya's latest book, Treasure My Heart, is available now: 

The man every woman wants…wants her 

There are flings, and then there's real life. Minka Gerald, assistant to one of the country's top financiers, is too smart to confuse the two. But a business trip to Miami is the perfect place for a workaholic to let loose, and Oliver—brother to her boss's fiancĂ©e—is the ideal partner-in-pleasure. And with his heartbreaker reputation, that's as much as she expects. 

A ladies' man doesn't become a one-woman guy overnight. But once property developer Oliver Bauer has a taste of real connection, he wants more. Outwardly reserved but full of fire, Minka could hold his heart forever. Can he make her believe in him, before an old enemy's quest for revenge puts her safety and their sizzling new love in jeopardy?

For more information about AlTonya Washington and her books, check out her website and her blog, and say hello to her on Facebook, and Twitter.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Male on Monday - The Hero: We Can Build Him

We're delighted to welcome back Cynthia Eden to the Pink Heart Society as she talks about how to create a winning hero, complete with #GIVEAWAY...

It’s a pleasure to be back here at the Pink Heart Society—thank you so much for having me over again! Since it’s Monday, that means it is time to talk about males. For today’s post, I thought I’d reveal about my favorite way to create a winning hero.

First, let’s start with the physical composition. When it comes to heroes, I’m a splicer. I take physical traits that I enjoy (traits that I see on famous actors, models, musicians, etc.), and I blend those character traits to create the perfect heroes for my stories. Let me give you an example…

I really like Henry Cavill’s chin and jawline. (Come on, he’s Superman! Of course, he has a great jaw.) So, I start my design with Cavill’s chin. 

Then I give the hero cheekbones like Jensen Ackles (any Supernatural fans here?). 

I finish up with Vin Diesel’s compelling eyes—and, yes, while we are on the subject of Vin Diesel, I add in his voice, too—a rough deep voice that will be perfect for a commanding hero.

I know—all of this sounds a bit mad science-y, but it’s my method for creating the physical description for my hero (and I use a similar technique for my heroine). I don’t like to say that a hero or heroine resembles just one person. Instead, it is an assortment of traits that are blended together to create the character who will best work in my story.

Now, after the physical set-up is complete, I focus on my character’s internal motivations and personality traits. And again—I don’t just go for one “big” picture here—I mix flaws and strengths to create a multi-leveled individual. Someone who has Clark Kent’s sense of justice. Someone with my addiction to chocolate. Someone who has a slight OCD issue that might rear its head in the book—traits that can be real and relatable to the readers.

And once you’ve concocted a very powerful blend…well, then you have your character. All layered up and ready to jump into your book.

Now I’m curious…have you ever mixed and matched physical traits from famous actors? Created your own perfect character? I’d love to hear about your experiences!  I’ll pick one random commenter to win a copy of my latest romantic suspense.

Cynthia's latest book, Suspicions, is available now:

Mark Montgomery will never forget the night Ava McGuire galloped onto his ranch terrified out of her mind. Once he’d saved his best friend’s sister from harm, the hardest part was letting her go. Now she’s seeking safe haven again—and rekindling desire that will engulf them both.

Uncovering the truth about that long-ago night plunges Ava into a world where no one can be trusted. Except maybe the rancher she has loved for years… But with a vengeful killer stalking them and passion drawing them inexorably closer, will Mark’s secrets be their downfall…?

For more about Cynthia Eden and her books, check out her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Little Something for the Weekend - The Travel Bug

We're delighted to have Caitlin Crews to the Pink Heart Society today, as she talks about how her travel bug's gets her writing...

I love to travel.

I started one week this year in Iceland and ended it Hawaii—which might be the coolest thing I’ve ever done, if a little hard to pack appropriately.  

I love plotting new adventures and daydreaming about bucket list trips I’d like to take.  I do it all the time—but you can’t spend your entire life on far-flung vacations looking at glorious landscapes.  Believe me, I’ve tried. 

My husband and I are both creative professionals (he draws comic books while I write Presents, among other things).  This means that even with the best intentions, we often find ourselves working pretty much nonstop, seven days a week.  That makes it hard to plan grand adventures, much less go on them.  So recently we’ve decided to focus more on small ones.

Today, for example, is a quiet Sunday morning.  We got up early and grabbed a coffee in town, then spent a little time exploring.  The pretty valley in Oregon where we live is right on the cusp of fall, and there was that bite in the air and a hint of red in the leaves as we poked around the hills.  The fields are all gold and the mountains look navy in the distance.  It’s beautiful—and it’s right here in our backyard! 

Exploring doesn’t have to a long haul flight and a dramatic trek up the side of the Remarkables in New Zealand (though that would be a lot of fun—I should probably look into that!).  

It can be the long drive home.  The dinner with a view.  The quiet walk around your own sleepy town early in the morning.  The trick is looking at everything that you usually miss with a traveler’s eyes, not a resident’s.  The more you treat your every day life like a holiday, the more it begins to feel like one.  And who doesn't want to be on holiday?  Especially if you can be back at your desk in a couple of hours, refreshed and restored.

One of the many things I love about writing for Presents is that it allows me to indulge my travel bug all the time as I research all the glittering locales that might make excellent settings for my stories.  When I came up with Amaya, the heroine of my latest book, Traded to the Desert Sheikh, she was a secondary character in her brother’s book (Protecting the Desert Heir, June 2015).  All I knew about her was that she’d bolted after her betrothal ceremony with a warrior king in the neighboring sheikhdom, and that she’d managed to evade capture for six months as she traveled around the world.

I had a grand old time imagining exactly where in the world Amaya might have gone to keep herself out of her fiancĂ©’s clutches for so long.  That was a lot of fun.  Of course, what was even more fun was what happened when he finally tracked her down in a remote Canadian lake town and hauled her back to the desert to do her duty and become his queen.  As sheikhs are wont to do.

But travel is part of who Amaya is.  (I can relate!)  She had a largely vagabond youth with a restless, reckless mother and the places she felt safest were few and far between.  What does a woman who only knows what it is to run do when she finds herself caught by a man who might as well be a mountain, so fused is he to a single place? 

I hope you’ll read to find out.

Are you addicted to travelling?  Do you like exploring places through the books you read?  Join the discussion with Cailtin in the comments!

Cailtin's travel bug heroine, Amaya, can be found in Traded to the Desert Sheikh, out now: 

“You belong to me.” 

In the desert, Sheikh Kavian’s word is law. So the defiance of his promised queen, Amaya, who flees after their betrothal ceremony, is intolerable! Kavian’salready tasted her sweetness—perhaps his reluctant bride-to-be needs reminding of the pleasure he can give…

Once Amaya is back in his kingdom, Kavian commands her total sensual surrender in the secluded harem baths. Amaya fears such all-consuming lust makes her weak, but she’s proven she can match his desire. Kavian needs a queen who can endure everything about him—can Amaya face his dark past and embrace her desert destiny?

Caitlin Crews also writes under the name Megan Crane and for more information about her books under either name, check out her website, and say hello to her on Facebook, and Twitter.