Saturday, March 01, 2008

Weekend Wind Down - A Book With Biddy

Welcome back to month three with A Book With Biddy...this time a taste of what lies in store at that pinnacle of publication....

Writing? What writing?

As reported last month, the beginning of February saw “Coady Towers” at full capacity with various people staying. February as we have all seen was a social whirly gig in the romance world and I was the B&B of choice for some of them.

It was a tough gig but I seemed to have survived it. It meant I gate-crashed the end of the RNA lunch where the first person I spotted was RNA Romance Prize winner, Kate Hardy! I then got to hang out in the pub with Judy Astley, Katie Fforde, Kate Hardy, Gill Sanderson, Jan Jones, Julie Cohen, Anna Lousie Lucia and Liz Fenwick and many more… and also drinking champagne bought by Judy’s lovely publisher, Transworld. I could get used to this life…

And then with hardly a breath between it was the M&B 100 year cocktail party. Sadly this was one event I couldn’t gate-crash but I made the most of personalising “The Coady Towers Experience” for my guests, Julie Cohen and Michelle Styles by ensuring that I picked them up from the venue. I stood nose pressed, metaphorically, at the window looking in. (It was more hanging around the door trying to look inconspicuous.) The detritus of a glamorous party, the candy floss machines, the beautiful waiters, the tired and emotional writers and tipsy editors. And all I could think about was… if I didn’t get fed soon I was going to gnaw off my own leg! I can’t help it, I get grumpy when not fed and watered regularly. But yes it reminded me of what could be.

The next day it was off for dinner and drinks with Kate Walker, the Babe Magnet, Abby Green and Trish Wylie. Much gossip and laughter and wine… I think I got home about 1.30am. I blame Trish!

And then suddenly I was alone with nothing but my writing. Or was I? Actually I was alone with my DVD collection and Season two of ‘Bones’. So that wiped out that weekend. And then I just HAD to buy the first three seasons of ‘NCIS’. Mark Harmon… *swoon*. And as I type I still haven’t quite finished season three and all I want to write about it a damaged NCIS investigator who is a former Marine sniper and has a thing for red heads. Which really doesn’t help my book which has a London artist in it does it?

I was trying to figure out why I have become so obsessive about these shows. I think it is due to a lack of head space to deal with anything else. You see this month I have just not had the head space for writing. Things in the non-writing world are busy and complicated; contracts ending, people relocating, that sort of thing. Plus I have been preparing for the Country Radio Seminar (CRS) in Nashville next week… I have to interview twenty or so artists and of course catch up with friends and colleagues all in the space of three days. I am exhausted just thinking about it.

Oh and on top of all that I also recorded my demo for voice-over work as well! My dulcet tones could be coming to your radio/TV/telephone (or another media) soon!

So was there any space for Lucas and Jo, ‘The Artist and The Ugly Duckling’? Not at “Coady Towers” this month.

So how do I feel about the writing? I still feel good about it all; I refuse to beat myself up because it has taken a backseat this month. But I must keep an eye on it. If March ends up the same then I need to have a serious word with myself. At least I have transatlantic flights I can use for some writing time… unless they are showing season four of NCIS.

Then all bets are off.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Film Night Kate and Leopold

This week columnist Kate Walker gets to pick the Friday night film - and surprise, surprise it's one that stars a certain Aussie hunk.

Kate's pick for Friday Film Night is the romantic comedy
Kate and Leopold.

Kate and Leopold was described by one critic as “ a Harlequin romance novel come to life. Where else but in the land of the bodice-ripper could Mr. Right (or, in this case, Sir Right) turn up out of the blue, sweep you off your feet in a single weekend, and make you realize that your life — prior to his appearance, of course — is an empty shell that's devoid of the one thing that makes living worthwhile in the first place?” So that makes it a perfect film for a PHS Friday film night.

It also stars a certain Mr Hugh Jackman, another reason to recommend it to the PHS members. Sadly, this is not the film which contains those memorable scenes of Hugh-in-a-towel, but if you can’t have that then Hugh in a 19th century costume, frock coat, white shirt, cravat, waistcoat, boots, will still suit me fine.

As for the plot – well, yes it takes a fair bit of suspension of disbelief. You have to accept that time travel is not only possible but that a 19th century Duke of Albany could end up in 21st century New York, cope with modern life and fall in love with a modern young woman. And you don’t have to question the ending too much. But when you’re enjoying the film those points don’t matter.

Leopold, the Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman), lives a life of privilege in 1876. He’s also an aspiring inventor and future inventor of the elevator. He draws pictures of what would be the modern day elevator, even though everyone thinks he's crazy. But Leo has yet to find a marriage that would secure his family's financial future, much to the chagrin of his demanding uncle.

One night he spies a stranger in his uncle's house. It turns out the strange man is Stuart (Liev Schreiber), who comes from the present day. Stuart found a rip in the fabric of time beneath the Brooklyn bridge that is only open very rarely. By jumping off the bridge, he found a portal into 1876 and when he jumped off the bridge while in 1876, it sent him back to the present. Leo pursues the man and ends up in 2001 in New York City, in the apartment of the man who is in fact his great-great-grandson. When Stuart is involved in an elevator accident that lands him in the hospital before he can send Leopold back to 1876, the Duke comes under the care of Stuart's ex-girlfriend and downstairs neighbour, a stressed-out marketing executive, Kate (Meg Ryan), and her actor brother, Charlie (Breckin Meyer). Kate knows the truth about Leopold, but doesn't believe it, and she considers the obligation of looking after him to be a real burden - until she realizes that he would be the perfect spokesperson for an advertising campaign her marketing company is working on. Suddenly, hard-bitten, unromantic Kate and Leopold, the "psychotic escapee from a Renaissance Fair", are spending quite a bit of time together and falling in love. But there's an obvious problem in the form of a 125-year age gap.

Hugh Jackman is the perfect mix of rogue and gentleman. His role is comic when he’s playing with modern technology, or trying to walk the daftest dog in the world through New York street, romantic when he’s showing the perfect manners that Kate has long ceased come to expect or chivalrously tucking her under the covers. Being a progressive-minded noble who invented the elevator and admires engineers, Leopold is fascinated by the future, but he's unwilling to relinquish the courtly, more leisurely pace of life in 1876. "Life is not solely composed of tasks, but tastes," he tells the harried Kate when she rushes through breakfast.

It's that kind of attitude that wins Leopold a job as a pitchman for a low-fat butter substitute, in a running subplot that creates some of the movie's funniest scenes. Even though she initially thinks he's lying about where he comes from, Kate is quick to recognize Leopold's appeal to the her own sex — when he tells housewives that Farmer's Bounty is low-calorie and delicious, she knows they'll buy it.

Meanwhile, Stuart, who had been sent to a psychiatric hospital because of his stories about time travel, manages to escape and tells Leo that he has to go back to his own time. All the elevators aren't working because Leo wasn't there to invent them in the past. Unfortunately, Leo has fallen in love with Kate. Not only that, but he's doing fine in the present day, and has been giving Charlie superb advice on how to behave towards women. But Leo knows what he has to do, and goes back to the 19th century.

Stuart gets his photographs of the past back, and lets Charlie see them so that he notices that Kate is in the background of the pictures of 1876. Stuart is convinced that this means that Kate is supposed to go back to that time to be with Leopold, but Kate is at a business dinner to accept a promotion to vice-president of the company. If she wants to go back she has only 23 minutes before the time portal closes. . .

Time-travel romance. is a great concept, but as with books, good films are made when characters have strong personalities as well as situations. Leopold is not simply a nobleman from another time, but one with a lack of satisfaction with his situation and a keen interest in science. Meg Ryan as Kate doesn't sigh and wonder if she'll find the man of her dreams, she has simply given up, and it's making her bitter, impatient and selfish. (OK, I'll admit it - for me she's also a bit too old for this part which makes her seem less appealing than the character should be.) She has only the faintest glimmers of what was presumably, once upon a time, a hopeful spark.

Leopold sees the glimmers. He's a gentleman, and when he recognises that Kate is needy, he wants to provide her with the comfort and support that previous men have been unable to offer. He can see that she feels more deeply than she appears to, that she deserves to be more than a cog in the wheel. There is a wonderful scene in which he interrupts her at a dinner date to tell her boss, "There are those who would say that a man courting a woman in his employ is perpetrating nothing more than a serpentine attempt to turn a lady into a whore."

Kate & Leopold does not go for the easy route of having a modern girl falling in love with an old-fashioned guy because she's swept away by his knowledge of etiquette in the face of contemporary gaucheness. Kate thinks Leopold is weird for the first half of the picture -- she reacts to his decorum with cynical scoffs, and declares that she’s about to call the police when he announces that he's from the 1800s. When a romance does develop, it's because Kate has never been able to rely on anyone before, and she recognises that Leopold is a good man, willing to devote himself to her. That critic I quoted didn’t get it quite right – there is no bodice ripping, the chemistry between the two lead bubbles pleasantly rather than burns. . There's no powerful sexual attraction, but this movie is more about innocent romance than passion, so it works. Leopold is the perfect Romance hero – strong, masculine, courteous, considerate. He is also a handsome, heroic and gallant figure whose old-fashioned sense of right and wrong is refreshing to see at a time when cynicism is the norm.

There are plenty of laughs too but they’re not the expected fish-out-of-water jokes. The humour comes from Leopold's bemused curiosity with the speed and nature of modern conventions, and the way he adapts to them. Scenes like the one in which his eyes marvel at the efficiency of aerosol shaving foam, or the moment where he rants about the impossibility of toasters. And then there’s the filming of the ad for Farmer’s Bounty. . .

Okay, so it’s a nonsensical plot, but Kate & Leopold is the kind of flight of fancy where romance and chivalry work over narrative logic. Never mind how the time travel works, if you care enough about the fate of these two likeable leads, then common sense is irrelevant to the film's enjoyment factor.

It's that enjoyment factor that makes it the perfect relaxing Friday night film - And Hugh Jackman is always worth watching . In a towel or in a frock coat and boots.
PS from Kate - I'd like to remind you that that as it's Leap Year, February 29th is the day when the ladies can propose to their heroes if they want to. There has to be a great romance plot in that. . . .

But until I come up with one, you'll have to be content with my next Modern Romance - Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife, which is published on March 7th - well, that's the official date but knowing the way the books are distributed it could turn up in in the shops tomorrow - or even today. American readers will have to wait until June when it comes out in the Presents edition.

I have a copy to give away. As always, I'll get my own Alpha Male - Sid the cat - to pick a winner from everyone who posts in the comments section. You can talk about Leap Year - or tell me how you received your marriage proposal (or how you proposed if you were the one who did!) You can even talk about Hugh in boots . . . I'm not picky

Thursday Talk-Time :: Sweet Dreams books

Now hands up who used to read Sweet Dreams books before they were 'old enough' to read their mum's Mills and Boons? Me! Me! Me!

And looking at these covers ...boy does that bring back memories! I'm sure I read at least half of these titles. Wow...

Do you remember them? They were pretty much Harlequin novels for teens. Whenever I visited my older cousins I was allowed to trawl their collections and borrow whichever titles I pleased as they owned the whole kit and caboodle.

With titles like It's a Prom Thing and Campfire Nights all were set in American high school type settings, or the equivalent holiday fun of camp counsellors and beachside summer jobs. And just like Mills and Boon novels they were numbered, beginning with the first ever # 1 P.S. I Love You. It was published by Bantam in 1981, so I reckon I'm showing my age, or my generation at least..

(For a pretty good list of the books out there, check out Fantastic Fiction, or Amazon - it'll bring back some memories!)

P.S. I Love You was something special. A romance novel to be sure, and the only Sweet Dreams novel without a happily ever after. Heartbreaking book. Poignant, sweet, romantic and truly a weepie. In fact writing about it now makes me soooo want to track down a copy so I can read it all over again.

I can picture myself in my bedroom when I was about 12 years old, the moonlight seeping through the venetian blinds onto my desk as I lay in bed, pretending to be asleep and reading about Mariah and Paul far far into the night. Sigh...

Barbara Conklin wrote the first book, and never any more. I wonder why...

The reason these books suddenly came back into my memory this week? Tomorrow is the 29th of February, a fact that only comes around once every four years. And you know why that is important in romance circles? Because by tradition on that day a woman is allowed to propose to her man.

And I only know this because my very favourite Sweet Dreams book, one I have kept for around 25 years in my treasure chest of "keepers" at my parents place, one I can't for the life of me remember the title of, was about a girl (short dark hair on the cover) who asked the cool boy in school to the prom. There was this whole "learning how to use the computer by having secret email buddy's" side story going on. Anyone remember what it was called???? Boy oh boy am I gonna have to fish that book out the next time I visit my mum and dad. I can feel a reading fest coming on!

Now don't get me started on what I learned from Sweet Valley High ;).

Do you have a favourite Sweet Dreams book that you remember reading way back when?

Ally’s next book, FALLING FOR THE REBEL HEIR, is out in North America and the UK come March.

To find out just how a girl goes from reading such books to writing them, pick up a copy from eHarlequin online now, or check your local bookstores next month!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - The Call with Lee McKenzie

This Writer's Wednesday, the Pink Hearters are please to have with us Lee McKenzie, Harlequin American author with her inspiring call story. Welcome, Lee!

When I began to write romance, I believed my path to publication would be short and direct. I joined RWA, finished my first book, and attended my first romance conference. I pitched that book to an editor and she requested the complete manuscript. Convinced that I was about to launch a brilliant career, I mailed the manuscript to New York. Three weeks later I received my first rejection letter. I was stunned by the speed at which she rejected it and devastated that she didn’t want to buy it.

Looking back it’s hard to believe I was so naive, but I had a lot to learn. I’m very lucky that on my eight-year journey to publication I was accompanied by an extremely supportive family, some excellent critique partners, and several published authors who constantly assured me that someday I would be published.

My first three manuscripts were contemporary romances, but then I switched to romantic suspense. Although those projects fared better in contests, they never sold.

But I was nothing if I wasn’t persistent. During those eight years I wrote six complete manuscripts and five partials. I sent out eight-seven submissions to editors and agents. I entered fifty-one contests and won or finaled twenty-nine times, including four Golden Heart finals. The highlight of being a GH finalist in 2003 was becoming a member of the Wet Noodle Posse. []

Gradually I began to realize that romantic suspense was not my thing. I’d had interest from several editors after those Golden Heart finals but no sale, and to be honest I was getting a little discouraged. I switched back to writing short contemporary romance with a more light-hearted tone and finally seemed to hit my stride.

I loved the characters and the storyline in that new book, and writing was fun again! I entered Maggie’s Makeovers in the Golden Heart Contest but it didn’t final. I worked on it some more, changed the title to Fixing Mr. Fix-it, and entered the Golden Heart Contest again. It still wasn’t a finalist. I also pitched it to an editor at a conference. The editor and I hadn’t met before but she was familiar with my writing because she’d judged one of my Golden Heart entries. Even better, she wanted to see the complete manuscript. There was only one small hitch. I had to lengthen it to fit her line.

Could I really add twenty thousand words to an already completed book? It was a challenge, but I decided to go for it. I took my time and it paid off because six weeks after I mailed the complete manuscript to the editor, I got The Call!

My daughter had a break between her college classes that day so she was at home with me when the phone rang. The editor introduced herself and told me she’d read a manuscript the day before and she wanted to turn it into a book. My book! My daughter came into the kitchen to find out what was going on. Amidst all the excitement, the editor graciously asked if she should call me back in an hour. After I hung up, my daughter and I danced around the house, hugging each other and laughing and crying. Then she made me a cup of tea while I did my best to collect myself and prepare for the next call from the editor. My editor!

She didn’t want me to do any revisions, but she did want to see a proposal for a second book I had pitched in my cover letter. Luckily for me that proposal was already written, and a week later I had a two-book contract. The first book was given a new title, and The Man for Maggie was a June 2007 Harlequin American Romance. The sequel, With This Ring, was a December 2007 release.

I’ve sold two more books to Harlequin American Romance (titles and release dates TBA) and at the end of December I was thrilled to learn that The Man for Maggie is a double nominee in the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards -- for Best First Series Romance and Best Harlequin American Romance. []

After eight years my persistence had paid off. I am beyond grateful for all the support and encouragement I received along the way, especially from family, and dedicating my first book to them was a dream come true. It’s my wish that all aspiring authors will achieve their dreams.

From the time she was ten years old and read Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, Lee McKenzie knew she wanted to be a writer, just like Anne and Jo. In the intervening years she has written advertising copy, magazine articles, and an honors thesis in paleontology, and edited conference proceedings, educational material and technical publications. Along the way her imagination demanded a more creative outlet, and she soon discovered the world of romance. Becoming a four-time Golden Heart finalist and a Harlequin author are her proudest accomplishments yet.

Lee and her artist/teacher husband live on an island in the Pacific Northwest, and she loves to spend time with two of her best friends—her grown-up children. For more about Lee and her books, readers are invited to visit her at and at

Temptation Tuesday :: Tempted To Take the Easy Path?

Today the lovely Sharron McLellan tells us all about the temptation of taking the easy path. Or then again, maybe not!

The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.

I am a big believer in breaking out of comfort zones. Children do it all the time. They instinctively know that to grow and mature, they have to push boundaries. I’m not sure why or how or when, but somehow, we forget how to push as we get older. Instead, many of us settle. Grow complacent instead of continuing to grow up. Take the easy route instead of the rocky path.

I know I was a ‘settler’—at least for a time. Hard to believe if you know me. What changed me? What made me realize the rut was growing deeper?

Romance novels.

Seriously. I was working in a call center for a cruise line and one of my cube-mates brought in a stack of Harlequins to read when the phones weren’t ringing.

I was hooked. And from that little change (I’d always read SF or fantasy—not romance) my boundaries expanded. Sure, I fought it. Romance novels? At first, I was almost embarrassed. But it was too late to go back to who I’d been. I’d found something I loved and decided that I wasn’t going to be apologetic about it. Instead, I was going to embrace it.

And from that tiny change in perception and habit, I decided to take up writing again. Seven short years later I am published with Silhouette. And a category romance novel was the catalyst.

Which is probably one of the reason I love them.

And write them. For me, my heroes and heroines mirror my need (the human need, really) to take risk. To change. Take the Alpha Male for example...Mmmmm, alpha men. They are so HAWT! Indiana Jones. Roarke. My own Zach Holiday. Sigh. I want them! But I digress—

Change is forced when the Alpha Male realizes that the world he lives in can’t include the woman he loves. What does he do? He takes charge and makes changes to himself and/or his world.

Okay, it’s not as easy as that. He fights it. A lot. They are Alpha, after all, not fuzzy kittens. It’s not like they’re going to say, “Yay—change!” Nope, they push back. And lose. And then win by losing.

Don’t you love that part?

And it all comes down to taking a chance and following the path of MOST resistance.

Today, my challenge to you as readers—hell, as people—is to do the same. Let go of the comfortable and forge ahead into the unknown. It might be a hike through an unknown jungle. It might be getting rid of the haircut you’ve had for twenty years (you know who you are).

But I challenge you to take that chance. Get out of the rut before it get’s any deeper and see what’s around the next bend.

Sharron is giving away a copy of her new book “Breathless” to a random comment leaver, so let her know here and now what you do to get out of a rut?

She'll reveal the winner on her blog!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Male On Monday : Dancing With The Stars

PHS editor Jenna Bayley-Burke takes a turn at the Male On Monday slot...filling it up with her favorite things -- hot guys, fantasy situations, and reality television!

ABC recently announced the line-up for this season of Dancing With The Stars. I love this show for lots of reasons - there is no negativity surrounding it, everyone is dressed up, the music makes a good backdrop when writing...and something about men dancing...I don't know what it is exactly, but I like it!

Dancing With The Stars has a kind of glamour that television is lacking. It seems most things do these days - I secretly think this is the draw of so many to Harlequin Presents...we want the glamor of the clothes, the flash of the cars, the regalness of the parties. But this post is about the men of Dancing With The Stars...who are a big part of why we tune in!

Alec Mazo partnered with actress Kelly Monoco to win the first season. He's married to dancer Edyta Sliwinska, who I think is the reason my husband tolerates the show. My favorite thing about him is that when Kelly had a slight wardrobe malfunction, he kept her dancing AND kept anything from showing.

Last season we got to watch Mark Ballas fall for his singer/actress partner, Sabrina Bryan. They didn't make it as far in the competition as I thought they would, but they were fun to watch never the less. He's back this season, dancing with figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.

Jonathan Roberts has been with the show every year (I think). He's either remembered as being the guy who didn't quite catch Marie Osmond when she fainted, or the one who danced with Heather Mills. This year he's dancing with tennis star Monica Seles.
Tony Dovolani has danced with wrestler Stacy Keibler, country music star Sara Evans, infomercial host Leeza Gibbons, and my favorite, actress Jane Seymour. They were amazingly elegant to watch. Mesmerizing really.

Tony is also thought of as one of the pin-ups from the show. Of course, the one that comes first to mind isn't dancing this season - Maksim Chmerkovskiy.

After being voted off last season, Maksim said he wouldn't be returning, then quickly retracted the statement. But, it seems he is taking this season off. No surprise given how grueling the training is, but it does look bad because of his sore loser statement. Oh well, that's a brooding male for you.

I think the show fulfills a fantasy - we all want to dance like those women do, with a man who knows how to keep you from falling all over your two left feet!

So tell me, which shows do you think gather a Male On Monday worthy group? Which Dancing With The Stars guy is your favorite?

Jenna is hard at work on her next title for Mills & Boon Modern Heat. In the meantime, Her Cinderella Complex is available with a millionaire, secretary, engagement of convenience, private island, and a hot pool sccene.

Check out her website, or blog.