Sunday, October 26, 2014

Weekend Wildcard - Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend...?

Pink Heart Society columnist Avril Tremayne is here to talk about the pros and cons of engagement rings...

I don’t like dwelling on my many character flaws but one that I am confronted with every day of my life is my unerring ability to cut off my nose to spite my face.

Why am I confronted with this daily?

Because this is the picture of my ‘ring’ finger…

Yep – it is NAKED! Despite my being married since Adam and Eve were children! No engagement ring. No wedding ring. In short – an abomination.

Back in the day (waaaaaaay back), my husband proposed to me in what he thought was the most romantic spot in the world – the walls of St Malo, France. (The fact that it was the middle of the day and the walls were teeming with tourists didn’t make it romantic enough in my view – but that’s another story.)

In our usual way of doing things back to front, we were having a honeymoon before actually becoming engaged and were on an extended European holiday. And my husband (known in the Tremayne circle as The Honorable, or The Hon for short) was not brave enough to have selected an engagement ring for me. That pleasure was to be mine. Smart man.

We duly started looking…right up until The Hon confessed, mid-gaze into the window of an Italian jeweler at a truly spectacular ring, resplendent with diamonds, emeralds and rubies, that he had no intention of wearing a nuptial band himself.

Er…hello? If he wasn’t wearing a ring, why should I? Why should I be branded like chattel? Why should I advertise to the world that I was off the market when he was still visually on it? Why should I…well, you get the drift.

So at the end of a somewhat short, sharp discussion outside that jewelry store in Rome, I had my way. No ring for me!

And that was it.

What. An. Idiot.

The only (paltry) satisfaction I’ve had from this situation was having the digits of my left hand discreetly fondled by uncomprehending female friends and relatives entering my wedding reception. I was hoping they were thinking – what a liberated woman she is. But I suspect they were thinking: What. An. Idiot.

And then…. (Yes, my life has been that much of a soap opera it deserves an ‘And then…’)

I was offered a job in the Middle East. It was a great job, with a great company, and no way was I turning it down, even though it meant going solo – no husband, just me.

Lo and behold, The Hon had a sudden desire to revisit shoving a ring on my finger, perhaps fearing its bareness would be an irresistible temptation to all those hot, sexy Harlequin Presents sheikhs who were about to enter my orbit... Whatever the reason, I was game. Second chance at a rock with no loss of face? You betcha!

Just one little problem. This was what The Hon was envisaging on my finger…
 Whereas I was thinking more along the lines of...

Another of those short, sharp discussions....and I found myself ring-free in the Middle East. (Where I did indeed meet an array of utterly gorgeous, fragrant, charming, generous, kind, smart, poetic men…none of whom, I hasten to point out, was eager to take advantage of my ring-free state.)

I do occasionally wonder, though, about engagement rings – where did the tradition start, and why all the fuss?

Not wanting to get all encyclopedic, but engagement rings have been around in some form or another since cavemen popped rings of braided grass on their mates. Since the Romans gave their wives rings attached to keys to signify ownership. Since the ancient Egyptians slipped burial rings of silver or gold wire onto their wives' fingers. And the sultans and sheikhs kept tabs on their wives with puzzle rings back in the first century BC – fancy not being able to reconstruct the puzzle if you dared to remove it while the cat was away?

The first recorded account of an actual diamond betrothal ring, however, was not until 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented one to Mary of Burgundy.

But diamonds were rare, and so out of almost everyone else’s price range up until the 1870s, when the discovery of African diamond mines took the 'rare' out. By rights, they should have bee more affordable, but... Enter De Beers and its famous monopoly, and diamonds remained the province of the wealthy.

By the 1930s, in what had become a tough economic climate, the new challenge was how to expand the market and get people from all walks of life to covet the unaffordable luxury of a diamond over, say, a car. The De Beers Company – no slouches in the marketing department – went for glamor appeal, using images of diamond-encrusted movie stars to drive up desire. And then in 1947, came out with the famous slogan "A Diamond is Forever” and the modern engagement ring was born.

And I, for one, don’t have a problem with brilliant marketing! Or with diamonds.

So my questions for you are…

How much should a man spend on a ring? Apparently the average cost of an engagement today is in the ballpark of $5,000. Consensus seems to be that about three months’ of a guy’s annual salary is the right level of spend. Yowzer!

Do you prefer a diamond or a coloured stone? I’m partial to the Australian pink diamond myself (dreaming), but click here for a few eye-poppers, just because they’re gorgeous and I can’t help myself.

And, very importantly, is Avril Tremayne going to scratch your eyes out when she claps eyes on your ring and views it alongside her own denuded digit? Beware!

Whatever your answers, you can be sure I don’t let the heroines or heroes in my books make the mistake that I made back in Rome.

In fact, you can bet that when Max Rutherford slips a ring on the finger of his PA Catherine North in Turning The Good Girl Bad, it’s going to look a bit like this Faberge number…

And just to finish off – for the non-traditional amongst us, click here to see assorted rings that are fabulous but do not necessarily cost three months’ of your dearly beloved’s salary, and I have to say, I’m partial to #23 and #44…

Avril's latest book - Turning The Good Girl Bad - is available now:

How bad can this good girl be?

PA Catherine North is twin-set-and-pearls perfect.  Her hair is tightly coiled and so is her sex life – it’s safer that way.  Her only release comes from the steamy romance novel she secretly pens, featuring her too-hot-to-handle boss, Max Rutherford. After all, a girl has to channel those fantasies into something productive… ! 

But when Max finds the steamy book he sees his perfect PA in a whole new light.  Now he wants to know just how bad his good girl can be… and he’s going to enjoy every minute of finding out!

To find out more about Avril and the books which brought her to Harlequin Mills & Boon's attention in both the #SYTYCW and #WattPad contests, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Great Escape with Lucy King

Today Harlequin Presents author Lucy King joins The Pink Heart Society to discuss her favorite means of escape. 

Hello, PHS, and thank you so much for having me here. I’m such a fan, and a huge lover of little books with lots of heart – just check out my Kindle!

One of the main reasons I adore reading fiction – and romantic fiction in particular – is the escapism it offers. TV I can take or leave (although I am rather loving The Code at the moment), computer games, nope, not my bag, and films dubbed into Spanish somehow just aren’t quite right. A book, however, is a wonderful thing, and if it’s gripping enough, well, who needs sleep?

While life is generally pretty OK, I do find it deeply banal at times. All the washing and ironing, sweeping up Lego and trying to conjure up something interesting/different for supper makes me occasionally wonder why I bothered to go to university (cheap booze and fab social life aside). Supermarket shopping has to be one of the most soul-destroying activities on the planet. And while being asked by my four year old to make up a story about, for example, a shark, a dinosaur, a beach and a broken window exercises my creative muscles, it can get a bit wearing after the tenth request.

Then there are all the things that need doing around the house. The hole in the plaster in the sitting room wall which I made when I mis-hung a picture a year ago and still needs filling, for example. Or the pair of curtains in the playroom, one side of which I shortened and hemmed, the other I left  for ‘later’ – two  months ago. A 5 page to-do list + rubbish time management skills = low grade rumbling stress.

But banalities, frustrations, looming deadlines and the myriad other stuff I have churning around in my head are all made bearable by once in a while (OK, every night, the minute the children are in bed!) picking up a book and getting totally lost in a completely different world. I love it. Can’t get enough of it. Whether it’s historical romance or contemporary romance the minute I open it up I’m there, suffering, smiling, laughing and crying right along with the characters.

Why some people consider this to be a bad thing beats me. What’s wrong with escaping reality for an hour or two, especially if it keeps you sane? Surely it must be good for the imagination as well as the soul? And when life hurls one of its curved balls at you and everything seems to be going pear-shaped, or worse, well, who wouldn’t want to run away from that for a while?

I’m taking escapism one step further and actually leaving real life behind soon. Not just for an hour or two, but for a whole week.

At the end of November I’m heading to the Alpujarra region in south-east Spain where I’ve booked myself on a writing retreat. I’ve never done it before and I have no idea what it’s going to be like, but I have high hopes. There’ll be no curtains to sort out or holes in the wall to fix, for one thing. No suppers to cook or washing to do, for another. I also imagine it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be asked to make up stories out of randomly-selected objects (although I might actually miss that!).

There’ll just be me, my laptop and maybe my Kindle, and you know what? I. Can’t. Wait.

What’s your favourite way to escape?  And do you have to escape to write?

The Party Starts at Midnight is Lucy's latest release from Harlequin Presents.

This was not the itinerary that events planner Abby had intended:
8:00 p.m.: Leave the spectacular party you've organized in search of Leo Cartwright—international playboy, notorious tycoon and your most prestigious new client.
8:10 p.m.: Find Leo asleep, half-naked, in a penthouse suite that just screams decadence—and battle a wildly-out-of-character impulse to kiss him awake.
8:30–11:30 p.m.: Return to the party. Spend all evening avoiding Mr. Cartwright—and trying to forget his tempting demands…
11:59 p.m.: Assure Leo that you will not be mixing business with pleasure.
Midnight: Break your own vow… All. Night. Long…

To find out more about Lucy King and her books, please visit her website.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Fun - I asked for an escape; what I got was a dose of reality...

Today brings with it the return of superfan Desere Steenberg to the Pink Heart Society.  She's talking today about the intrusion of reality on the escape of reading...

When most of us sit down to read it comes down to wanting to escape from the hassle of everyday life, the bad news in the media, the running around with activities and the mad house our world has become.

But sometimes I find stepping in to the pages of a book is a little too close to the truth of our world and quite frankly it freaks me out, as in I immediately want to stuff the book in the freezer or fling it out the window!

Gone with the WindNow before you go thinking I quit reading anything that feels to real, let me set you straight, I finish it to the very end. Why? Because even though it’s too close for comfort and I am completely freaked out the whole read through I am a sucker for wanting to find out what happens in the end.

With suspense reads I want to find out if the good guys make it out or if it’s a romance I want to find out if the heroine or hero that have been through utter hell and back finds the courage to get up and live again.

The Great GatsbyBut sadly there is always the very harsh truth that at the end of the book it offered me no escape and I feel let down, and pretty much like I just stepped out from, well, nowhere, because I never really left the real world to begin with.

Of course there are those that tell me am completely mad and off my ever loving reading rocker, because as they say “It’s just a book” or “So what, we all see this type of thing happen every day “but to me it is truly upsetting and at the end of the day I wish I could truly make the book go away and rather go back to land of fantasy.  Of course that is not possible and instead I have to find a way to deal with my escapism being ruined. 

Three Blind Mice - Agatha ChristieI start thinking about good things I see every day, I seek out time with my loved ones or simply reread a book that I know for a definite fact did not have harsh reality rearing its ugly head and messing up my fantasy escape.

Tell us in the comments what you think about harsh reality in books. Do you wish you never picked up the book to begin with? Do you toss it into the bin and forget you ever read a part of it or do you like me finish it and try to find a way to live with it?

To find out more about Desere, you can read her romance reviews on Romance Book Haven, and follow her on Twitter or Facebook

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Time Out Thursday - Dead Relatives

When Anne McAllister takes a time out from writing these days, it's more often than not time spent prowling graveyards and archives and, increasingly, online databases to uncover the names and lives of dead relatives.  She also relishes the opportunities -- when they arise -- to meet live ones. She explains it all today on The Pink Heart Society.

It's all about stories, really. Maybe it's something innate -- some weird story-seeking gene I was born with -- but for as long as I can remember I was asking questions about where we came from, who we came from, why we ended up where we did.

I didn't just want names and dates. I wanted stories!

When I was a child, my grandmother obliged. She told me lots of stories about her Cornish parents and their move to Montana with her two oldest sisters. She brought to life the turn-of-the-20th century mining community where she grew up.  She told me all about her mother taking her and her sister, my prim and proper Aunt Rene (always prim and proper, according to my tomboy grandmother) to visit a friend who was baking bread one morning, and Rene sitting very primly down onto the chair already occupied by two rising bread loaves.

She told me about her dad's sister Harriet who drank vinegar and was always "a little strange," and about how she (Grandma) had prided herself on her swimming ability until the day she'd dived off the springboard and the sensation of being sprung up into the air so startled her that when she came down, she swallowed half the pool and had to be rescued!

Great stories. I'm thrilled to have them -- and to share those and others with my own kids and, more recently, grandkids. But sadly, I don't have Grandma to tell me stories anymore, so I've had to find them for myself.

That's when I started in earnest doing family history research.  I wanted to know the truth behind my dad's tale that his grandfather was shot in the back on the road to Pauls Valley.  Who shot him? I wanted to know.  When did they shoot him? Why?

The story, as I began to piece it together, wasn't about my dad's grandfather at all.  He, I told my dad when I got the death certificate, had died of complications resulting from alcoholism.  Dad didn't much like that spin on the tale.  I took it as a cautionary one myself. And I didn't doubt it the way he did.  But I promised him I'd keep looking to discover the truth.

I found it a few years later.  Dad's grandpa wasn't the man in the story.  It was his great-grandfather who'd been shot in the back.  He wasn't on the road to Pauls Valley, either. That death had been an uncle's and he hadn't been shot.  The bits and pieces I discovered led me to other records, other relatives, other stories.  A murder or two.

Dad was gone by the time I put it all together.  I wonder sometimes if he would have wished I'd leave well enough alone!

But I love the stories. I love learning about the people whose decisions in the past have brought me to where I am today.  I feel connections -- not just with blood relatives, but with all those whose actions have had an impact on mine.  In fact, I don't even need my own family stories to get excited about.

Pretty much anyone's family stories will do.

It's the thrill of the hunt, the questions about motivation, the puzzles that tempt and tantalize and challenge me to solve them.  And, unlike my own writing, I don't have to come up with the people or the motivations. I just have to learn what they were.

And sometimes I get to work with other similarly obsessed people.  Grandma's dad had a first cousin back in Cornwall.  Unlike great-grandpa who was a hard-rock miner his whole life, his cousin became a mining engineer. Even though he probably saw his share of the bottoms of mines, too, he saw them in Spain and in Mexico and the US before settling permanently in Australia.

Did great-grandpa and his first cousin stay in touch?  Not at all. In fact there's a fair chance that they never even met.  But I've now met the cousin's great-grandson and his wife.  We've trekked over the wilds of Southwestern Wisconsin together in search of Cornish miners and the perfect Cornish pasty.

Just this week, too, their journey to England took them to the record office where I had noted records they should try to access.  And hours later I got not only photos of local ponies and sheep and bridges, I got the apprenticeship records of our mutual third-great-grandfather and his brothers as well.

The apprenticeship records, combined with other records of family births and deaths and parish poorhouse records, definitely told stories -- of three young boys, "poor children of the parish."  The eldest, William, was apprenticed at age eight to a local farmer.  Barely nine months later, his father died. The parish paid for his funeral and provided funds for his pregnant wife "in necessity."  Two weeks after that, John, the second boy, turning six that year, was sent as apprentice to another farm.  Only three year old Samuel was left home with his widowed mother, to be joined by a baby sister that summer.

Samuel was in the poorhouse at age four. His mother and sister came there the following summer. A year later the parish paid a pound to bury his mother.  At age eight Samuel was apprenticed to a third farmer in the parish.

It's not a pretty story.  It's stark and it's painful. Yet seen from the distance of two hundred plus years, it is a testimony to three young boys' fortitude, to their determination to make something of themselves, to rise out of the poverty they were born into.  William became a thatcher. He provided for a family of nine.  At his death at age seventy-two, he left a wife with an annuity to provide for her support.  Sam, too, rose out of poverty.  He became a carpenter and joiner by trade.  He married twice, had no children, but when two of William's daughters were old enough to work outside the home (not at eight, but at fifteen), they came to work in Exeter where Sam was living.

Bit by bit, record by record, the stories come alive again.  Some are funny. Some are eye-opening. Some are tragic. They're all worth discovering, sharing, remembering.  They've informed my own life and my own decisions.  They've provided role models and cautionary tales and sometimes inspiration.

A few have found their way into my books.  They've all found their way into my heart -- even the stories about people who don't actually belong to me by blood or by family ties. They belong to me because by sharing their stories, they become part of mine.

Do you have family stories?  Have you researched your own family or someone else's?  I'd love to hear about them.

Anne's Montana cowboys, like Cole McCullough in her most recent book, Last Year's Bride, share family history with her own family on both sides,  Cole's wife Nell, an adopted child, shares the story of a mixed biological and adopted family with Anne's own.  To find out more about Anne and her books, please visit her website.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writer's Wednesday ~ Characters From Nowhere

Today Pink Heart Society editor and Harlequin Superromance author Jeannie Watt discusses the surprising appearance of Characters From Nowhere.

I’m pretty much a scientist. I have a degree in geology and I teach high school science. I love organization, breaking things down into small logical bits that fit together sequentially. My life became better when I bought smaller plastic bureaus into which I could sort my underwear according to type and function. Oh yeah. Left brain in action.

Therefore, it seemed reasonable to assume early in my writing career that I was a plotter—a writer who knows every detail before writing. A writer who has the story broken down into small logical bits that fit together in an orderly fashion.

I’m not and it’s taken me a long time, and several characters from nowhere, to admit this.

I should have had a clue while writing my first book, A Difficult Woman.  My heroine was behaving according to plan, wallpapering her B&B, muttering to herself about the uselessness of men, when there was a knock on the door.

A knock on the door? Where’d that come from?

I had the heroine answer the door, because I was curious as to who was there. Come to find out, it was her first abusive boyfriend whom I didn’t know existed. At least my left brain hadn’t been aware of his existence. I’m sure my right brain knew or he wouldn’t have knocked on the door. Ryan became an integral part of the story and was actually mentioned in my first RT review as a great villain.

This character-out-of-nowhere tendency has occurred in almost every one of my books. Sometimes it takes the form of an animal, such as Hiss the snake in Cowgirl in High Heels. Hiss is part of the scene in which the heroine realizes where her allegiance lies. 

Other animals out of nowhere include the Houdini-like pony in The Horseman’s Secret and Clyde the poodle in All for a Cowboy. Clyde instigates the scene in which the hero suddenly sees his situation and his relationship with the heroine in a new light.
And sometimes kids show up out of nowhere. In Once a Champion, my hero sees a car in his driveway as he’s approaching his home. Who is it? My left brain was just as curious as it was when I wrote my first book. It turned out to be the hero’s cousin, there to drop off her teenage son for a few weeks while she pursues a job opportunity. Wait a minute, my left brain cried, I don’t want to write a teen. But the kid was there to stay. He helped show to the reader an entirely different, more giving side of my apparently self-absorbed hero and I ended up loving him—even if he was a teen and I didn’t want to write a teen.

The moral of the story…just because the left brain thinks it’s running the show, don’t be afraid to let your right brain have some say. When you feel an odd nudge to go in a different direction, to answer that knock on the door…do it. It may take you in a wonderful direction and add things to your story your left brain never considered.

Jeannie's most recent Harlequin Superromance release, All for a Cowboy, features a stray poodle that was most definitely not in the original synopsis.

Jordan Bryan didn’t know how much longer he could drive without finding a place to pull over and sleep. His travel partner had been drifting in and out for most of the day, but once it got dark, the poodle had conked out for good.
The poodle. 
Go figure.
Once he’d made his mind up to go, Jordan had tried to slip away while the dog was on his neighborhood rounds, but Clyde had come scampering around the Arlington apartment complex at the last minute, skidding to a stop at the curb next to the car, curly head cocked to one side as if to say, “Really, man? After all this you’re running out on me?”
Yeah, he was. He was running out on everything and nothing. He was running and he couldn’t even say why, except that every day he stayed where he was, doing the mindless job he’d been given, had added to his raging sense of unrest...

To learn more about Jeannie and her books, please visit her website.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday Talk-Time - When Marriages are Tested

Donna Alward is back at Pink Heart Society this month, talking about the trials and tribulations of being married after years and years.  PLUS she's got a GIVEAWAY for one lucky reader...

I was scrolling through a list of potential topics for today's blog when one jumped out at me and I thought "yes, I can write about that"! It was "how you keep the romance alive after 5, 10, 20 years of marriage". Now, I'm in my forties, I work, I have kids, and I KNOW my husband will say "Romance? Hah!". Those of you who've been married a while know that the, well, wilder "romance" years are often behind us when life gets a little heavier. But I can say this: a week ago we celebrated our 19th anniversary. And we're still going, and we still love each other, and I think I appreciate him more now than I did even five years ago. No, I KNOW I do.

Aren't we adorable?!
Marriages are always tested. There are times when it seems easier and then times when it's hard. When people are stressed for any number of reasons. It could be work. It could be health, or money, or just life in general. We've been together for over 23 years. I'd be lying if I said it's been all roses and sunshine since then.

But we're still here.

And lately I've heard about other couples splitting up and I simply thank God that we're still here.

Why do some relationships last and others not? I don't really know. I do know that the last year or so has been really, really rough. I've had a lot of work. A LOT. Deadlines on top of deadlines. And our kids are teenagers and ask any parent who is bringing up teens or has been through that war zone and they'll tell you IT IS NOT EASY. I love my kids and I'm proud of them and they are smart and wonderful and it's still a hard, hard job. I've found it very, very difficult. But know what? I feel like my husband and I are closer. I think when marriages are tested, when times get rough, it either brings couples together or pushes them apart. Have I mentioned how glad I am that it seems to have brought us together?

And when I say brought us together, I mean being in a place where we can rely on each other. That at the end of the day there's one person there, your rock, that will snuggle up to you under the covers and hold you close and tell you that you can get through anything together. And mean it.

One of the things we did last winter and that we'll be starting up again soon is Saturday morning breakfast. Our kids have a rehearsal in the mornings, and after we drop them off we frequently go for breakfast, just us. After years of never going on dates, it's something we really got to enjoy.

I'm also lightening my schedule a little this year, to help with both my stress level and my time commitments, so I can enjoy my family a little more.

I don't know what the magic ingredient is. I don't know why some couples make it through and others don't. I just know that as I get older, I get ever more thankful that he married me. I hope he feels the same way, even though I'm far from the perfect wife.

In the spirit of marital bliss (or partners or what not) go ahead and post something lovely in the comments - either advice for keeping that romance alive, or something you're grateful for in your significant other. Let's make it a real love-fest!

I'll choose one commenter to receive a kindle copy of Treasure on Lilac Lane, my new release on the 28th!

Find out more about Donna Alward and the rest of her Jewell Cove series at her website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Male On Monday - Jake Ballard aka Scott Foley

Today at The Pink Heart Society, columnist Jenna Bayley-Burke extols the virtues of Scandal's Jake Ballard, who is played by actor, Scott Foley.

Do not be fooled by his appearance on TV's Scandal

Jake Ballard is as vivid as any book boyfriend in romancelandia. Because really, you wouldn't want to run into him in real life. Unless it is in a bedroom. For an hour.

Jake Ballard strode onto the screen on Scandal with a purpose - learn all he can about Olivia Pope. And has he ever, inside and out. This soldier has made it his mission to protect her, body and soul. The only thing more attractive than that is the way he looks in full military dress. Or shirtless. Both equally effective.
Played by actor Scott Foley, who I've crushed on forever, Jake had an edge over President Grant from the beginning. Smart, hot, and without that pesky adultery thing that annoys me to no end. 

Why is the most powerful female lead on television settling for less? Star-crossed lovers and twisted motivations aside, Olivia Pope is no one's side piece. That Jake Ballard realizes this is just one of the things I love about him.
I look for the romance in all stories - novels, television, movies, gossip at the grocery store. If it's not a romance, I'm likely making it one in my head. Jake Ballard is a beautiful bastard in many ways; he is the ideal romance hero.
The soldier. The spy. The lover. The protector. The sexy guy wearing nothing on the beach but a smile. Complicated, determined, and yet gentle enough to look at his woman and say, "Save me."
Let's all share a sigh, shall we?

Do you watch Scandal? Are you a Jake Ballard fan? What is it about him that does it for you? And what about the actor who plays him-Scott Foley? Are you a long-time Scott fan? Let us know in the comments!
Jenna Bayley-Burke's latest release is a reissue of her first book, Just One Spark. European readers loved it back in the day, but North American readers couldn't get theirs eyes on the sexy rom-com until now.

For more info on Jenna and her books you can visit her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.