Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Film Night: Hard to Forget

Here at the Pink Heart Society we are delighted to have Silhouette Desire authors, Bronwyn Jameson and Maxine Sullivan, reviewing the Harlequin movies now available on DVD.

This month the reviews continue with Maxine Sullivan talking about Hard to Forget, a movie loosely based on a Harlequin Superomance called ‘So Hard to Forget’ by Evelyn Crowe and published in May 1997.

This movie starts off with a bang that is definitely hard to forget. And for PI, Max Warner, so is the woman supposedly killed in that explosion. Hired by the dead woman’s mother to prove the daughter’s new husband killed her for her money, Max becomes fascinated by all he learns about the young woman and starts to believe she is still alive. But unable to prove it, he is about to give up when he sees her picture on a poster for South Africa - and that leads him on a trail from Chicago, to South Africa, to an island in the Aegean Sea.

For all that, Max is still astounded when he does find the heroine. Now named Nicky, she is helping her father run their safari business. Nicky seems to be hiding something and we’re left to wonder if she has amnesia or is just protecting herself by hiding from her husband and scared to trust anyone.

As one would expect, the African scenery is beautiful and dramatic, with a tribal dance and the safari adding local flavour. And perhaps that primitive feel was the reason for the rather hot love scene between Max and Nicky at a waterfall. I’ve seen hotter love scenes on television at times, and read many love scenes in our romance novels, but this one took me by surprise. Perhaps it was the nudity and suggestive poses as they made love on a rock and then swam naked together in the river, but I just didn’t expect a Harlequin movie to be so…um, well, sexy. Colour me surprised. :)

There’s a lot going on in this movie. So much so, I didn’t quite feel an overwhelming romance between the hero and heroine apart from the love scene. Yes, Max showed he was intrigued by Nicky, and yes, Nicky was attracted to Max, but it didn’t appear to me to be the greatest love story ever told.

I won’t give away the spoiler but the story took a twist that surprised me. It was only later that I re-read the blurb on the back of the DVD cover and saw they’d given away the twist anyway.

The hero was played by Tim Dutton who reminded me very much of a young Tom Conti. Polly Shannon was the heroine who was feisty, independent and thin. Very thin. :)

Nicky’s father was played by Chad Everett, a heartthrob from the sixties. And the mother who hired Max to investigate her daughter’s death was Lois Maxwell, whom you may remember as Miss Moneypenny in the early James Bond movies.

Yet I did enjoy this movie, even if the story in the actual book was about a burned-out PI who goes to Montana for a fly-fishing vacation, and comes across a woman who is a dead ringer for a woman he has been investigating.

Putting that aside, the movie had intrigue, action, and romance, and I would give it 7 out of 10, which isn’t too bad in the scheme of things. I do love the Harlequin movies but they will never win major awards, and I don’t judge them on that criteria anyway. But they do make great midday movies. :)

Maxine’s latest book, Mistress & A Million Dollars, was released in the US and India (yes, India!) in March and will be available in Aus/NZ in April. It is the third book in the Silhouette Desire “Diamonds Down Under” series.

If you’d like to win a copy of Maxine’s second Desire, The Tycoon’s Blackmailed Mistress, then please share with us a good movie you’ve watched lately and she’ll choose a winner at random. And don’t forget to visit Diamonds Down Under for more chances to win books, editor critiques, and one of those things that sparkle. Yes, that gorgeous diamond pendant!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thursday Talk Time : : Jane Donnelly

This Thursday Pink Heart Society columnist, Anne McAllister, looks back on one of Harlequin's best-loved authors, Jane Donnelly.

Just as every published author has her own "call story," I'm pretty sure that every author can tell you about a handful of books or authors who have inspired them, whose books remain on their keeper shelves long after that first -- or even tenth -- reading, and who can say with absolute sincerity, "That's who I want to be when I grow up."

For me that author is Jane Donnelly.

When I first began reading romance back in 1980 (living a sheltered 'literary' sort of existence until then, with the notable exception of having discovered Georgette Heyer and having felt enormous relief at not simply being stuck reading Jane Austen over and over and over for a good 'relationship' book), I discovered the books of Jane Donnelly.

The first one I read, published in 1979, was Behind a Closed Door. And the experience was transforming.

I loved her style. I loved her insights. I loved her spare, elegant prose. Even more I loved her very restrained but no less emotional characters.

Janna, the heroine, was EveryGirl (or EveryWoman, but maybe just on the cusp). She was the sort of regular person that readers (like me) could immediately identify with. She had friends, she had a animals, she had an annoyingly user-sort of boyfriend of the type we've all known. And she had prejudices based on things she thought were true. It was easy to identify with Janna.

And then in walked Peter Craig.

He was, to me, the perfect Alpha hero. A very self-contained, restrained, buttoned-down, compartmentalized, successful man. And for all that Peter never gave anything away, something electric arced between the two of them right from the start.

Janna saw Peter as ruthless, a man who didn't suffer fools gladly. And, let's face it, he was. Yet over the course of the book, she learned there was much more to him than she imagined.

But the change wasn't just on Janna's part. Just by being who she was -- warm and accepting and giving -- she had a hand in humanizing Peter Craig. By being herself, wholly unintentionally, she got inside a very well-defended exterior, and made this strong, contained man recognize -- in her -- his other half.

At the end she says, 'I thought . . .that you could shut me out. Well, you can, can't you? You can close doors in your mind. You told me." And Peter, as desperate as he's ever been, says, "Not on you. . . On everything but you."

My breath caught because I could absolutely feel, to the depths of my being, the pain with which he managed those telling words -- and the joy Janna felt on hearing them. And I was crying at the end when I read, 'And those who said he was not a gentle man did not know him at all.'
Because that's what Jane Donnelly did to me in virtually every book of hers that I read -- she touched the emotional core.

She challenged her characters, forced them into situations they would much rather have avoided, and, in doing so, made them confront their needs and their weaknesses -- and the person who could bring out the best in them.

Again and again she distilled the essence of the relationship, and brought two people together who were meant to be together. They completed each other, were halves of the same soul.

The more I read of Jane Donnelly's back list -- and as I waited less than patiently for her books as she wrote them -- I really really really wanted to be Jane Donnelly when I grew up. Never mind that I was already past 30!

And so I began to write.

And eventually I had a book accepted. And about the time my first book was published, I went to London where Mills & Boon's offices were then.

The editorial director, Frances Whitehead, invited me into her office for a chat. She might have considered it a chat. I thought of it more like being invited to the Inquisition.

But Frances was lovely, especially when she asked me, "Who's your favorite M&B author?" and laughed delightedly when I said, "Jane Donnelly."

"Ah yes," Frances said. "You'd be amazed how many authors say that. She's an author's author, I think."

Maybe. But she's far more than that.

To me she is the perfect role model. Her work resonates with me. Her people are people I want to know. The relationships she wrote about are similar to ones that I would like to write about myself.

Not only that, but I had the pleasure of meeting her on two occasions and even when I, tongue-tied, expressed my admiration, she was so generous and self-effacing and kind that I even more wanted to grow up to be like her.

I was telling my friend Jenny Haddon, who writes for Harlequin Mills & Boon as Sophie Weston, that I was going to write this because I know Jenny shares my admiration for Jane.

And Jenny wrote back and said, "Jane Donnelly was the first HMB author I really loved. She had a distinctive style and her characters went to real emotional depths before they got their happy ending. The sexual tension sizzled and she was not afraid of dark stuff either: betrayal, bereavement, extreme misjudgement. In one of her best, Flash Point, the hero is a barrister who thinks the heroine manipulated his client into becoming a thief, thereby and destroying his life.

"She was particularly good at making the heroine's back story, often one of pain and secrets, throw the present action into relief. For instance, there is a scene in Moon Lady where the heroine is powering up and down the hero's swimming pool to block out her demons, and when she's tired he helps her out of the pool. 'She was light headed. She had swum too fast. A man had died on Tuesday but he had not been Prudence Cormack's father. Prudence Cormack had no roots, and if the past wasn't real, how could she be sure of the present? Maybe all her friends were shadows, and her cottage and her shop. and there was nothing anywhere that would endure. She put her hands flat on Jake's chest and it was solid as a rock; he was no shadow. She could feel his slow steady heartbeats against her cold fingertips, and she was asking to be kept alive when she whispered huskily, 'Hold me. please. Please, oh, please, love me!'

"I don't think I ever saw the point of the continuous present tense until I read Jane Donnelly! But it is her brave, complex heroines and enigmatic heroes that stay with me, years after I first read them."


Whatever else I can say about Jane Donnelly would be better said by simply advising you to read her books. They will speak more powerfully than anything about what a wonderful insightful writer -- and person -- she was.

Who are your favorites? The keeper few that you would rescue from a burning building and won't lend to anyone -- not even your best friend?

Anne still re-reads her collection of Jane Donnelly books every year. They still teach her things, and still give her standards to strive for. You can read her latest book One-Night Love Child, from Harlequin Presents in March and Mills & Boon Modern in April.

Stop by her blog where she will be talking about several of Jane Donnelly's best heroes. If you have a favorite, she'd be delighted to hear. Hers are Peter Craig, obviously, Connor Lammas from Dark Pursuer, and Luke Hannay from Collision Course.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - What's Your Brand?

This Wednesday at The Pink Heart Society SuperRomance author Kay Stockham talks to us about the topic of branding... do you know what yours would be?

When trying to come up with a topic for Writers Wednesday I considered blogging about everything from branding to writer’s block to my writing routine. I decided to stick with branding since it’s something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to since the start of my career three years ago when I sold to Harlequin Superromance.

As writers, we’re all different. No two authors will ever tell the same story exactly the same way. But that’s a gift, not a problem. How else would we have generations of stories to read? If not for that ability, we would’ve run out of reading material long ago.
But in the world of cyberspace, instant gratification and the media’s role in keeping us informed, the question has now become how do we market ourselves as being different than every other author out there? How will a reader know what kind of books you write?
Don’t know the answer? You’re not alone. As a new author I discovered it wasn’t easy to figure out your identity in the romance world. While trolling the net, the words sexy, sensual and the like are very abundant. But what do they mean? Romances as a whole are sexy and sensual. But do those words best describe your writing, or could they be more descriptive?
I found my brand after my first book was released in 2005, and I’ve worked at incorporating it into my promotional materials ever since. How did I find it? I let my readers and reviewers tell me.
I've learned about marketing the practical way: I've taken courses, attended workshops, and have helped companies market themselves effectively. And, yes, I've successfully sold ten books, which is a marketing education in and of itself.

I’ve also studied the romance community with all the due diligence of a stalker targeting her mark, and I see something happening. I see a huge divide slowly emerging in the genre market. Why is that important? Because it means now more than ever, authors have a need for identity in a market overtaken by two extremes. There have been letters in the Romance Writers Report, letters to the editor in RT. Some readers say they love the erotic stories on the shelves, some want more Christian fiction. Two polar opposites. But what does it all mean?
It means those who fall between are more likely to be overlooked unless we make ourselves known. When you don’t write explicit sex, and you don’t write inspirational fiction, where and how do you identify yourself to the readers? If you haven’t figured it out already, don’t delay. It’s my opinion that you’re going to need that special brand to stay afloat and help readers find you.
My stories for Superromance are highly emotional, family-oriented dramas. They’re gritty with real life experiences, full of painfully revealing moments with which every person can identify. They’re also the very type of stories I love to read and to tell. I’ve written about breast cancer, Shaken Baby Syndrome, paralysis, abandonment and single parenthood. But the stories? They’re all about the romance. The feelings. The act of falling in love and how freakishly frightening it can be to give your heart to someone you’re not sure you can trust.
Big deal, right? Isn’t that what most of the contemporary market is all about? Yes…and no. It’s about all the above and so much more because we have to individualize our writing, make it special in some way. Find our niche. If you write sex well, there’s your niche. If you write emotion, by all means, capitalize on it because emotional writing isn’t easy. Christian fiction? Find a verse from the Bible that speaks to you, one that gives you and your readers focus.
My stories come straight from my heart with all the love and dedication I give my family and fellow man. Thus in 2005 when reviewers and readers continually quoted my Waldenbooks Bestselling release Montana Secrets as being ‘emotional,’ ‘heart-warming,’ and ‘unforgettable,’ I chose those three words as my brand and added my own, “Romance from my heart to yours.” Why? Because that’s what it is. It’s why I write and I mean every word of it. I feel as if I’ve been placed on this earth for a God-given purpose. And I’ve been blessed to have the proof that my writing touches my readers’ lives because of the wonderful letters they send me telling me so. My characters are flawed but faithful, like myself, struggling to live a good life and make God proud.

What about you? What is your brand or identifier? How do you describe your writing? What’s been said about it? A lot of authors can say their writing is sexy or funny but what is sexy or funny? Think of words that bring an instant physical reaction.

Take my three descriptives: Emotional might mean tearful or powerful, perhaps painful. Heart-warming is that tender, fist-around-the-heart feeling we all want or get sometimes. Unforgettable… Have you forgotten your first kiss? Giving birth? Every reader has something simply unforgettable in their lives. They identify with it, sometimes the moment the word is used. You want your brand to bring an instant reaction to the readers’ mind.
So let’s talk. I’d love to hear your brands. Don’t have one? Let’s brainstorm. I’ll choose a winner from those who post and they’ll win a beautiful heart ornament in my favorite color—red. After all, the ornament is yet another example of romance from my heart to yours.
Grab your copy of ANOTHER MAN’S BABY, the first book of five in The Tulanes of Tennessee series, and play along with my Launch Party Scavenger Hunt! Want a sneak peek at the story? Check out my website at and view the book trailer. Contest details are on my Contest page. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Temptation Tuesday - YouTube

This week it's our Natasha's turn to inspire, titillate, tempt and distract, frankly!

Better grab yourself a coffee because this is horribly addictive.

I have a bit of a reputation for having a YouTube addiction - which I obviously deny - but this is Temptation Tuesday so, naturally, I have a responsibility to pull you away from what you should be doing.

BUT, if you earn your living writing stories you can just about argue it's 'research'. I do. You never do know from where a story will spring. :)

This first one is a David Mitchell and Robert Webb sketch and is a MUST view for any author who has ever been asked, 'have you ever thought about writing a sheikh/cowboy/millionaire/lost baby/royal book?' We don't know how lucky we are!

Next up is something very writerly. Whilst I deny the YouTube addiction, I will confess to having one for Sky Arts 'The Book Show'.

Here's what it says about itself on its website:

Hosted by writer and presenter Mariella Frostrup, The Book Show has returned for a second series, and this time it's bigger and better than ever before, featuring a selection of today's top authors, and books from classics to comics. A selection of authors reveal their current favourite bedtime reading; some of the country's top booksellers reveal their picks for book clubs; a number of publishing insiders, from agents to editors and jacket designers reveal the tricks of the trade and the best ways of getting work published, and there's a competition to win books donated by the guests - the book that they confess they wish they had written themselves...

What's more the programme posts all its interviews on YouTube. So that should keep you busy!

This being M&B's Centenary year (Mills & Boon being the UK brand name for Harlequin) Penny Jordan (Presents/Modern) and Roger aka Gill Sanderson (Medicals) were asked to appear.

So this is them:

I'm slightly irritated they were asked as a pair and they don't merit a photograph on The Book Show website (which is usual), but on the whole it's fine.

If we liked them the Book Show suggests we read:

And then they visited the Richmond editorial offices.

You've got to admit I'm being very writerly on a Temptation Tuesday day!

Better stop that straight away. So, here is my current favourite fan video of Elizabeth Gaskill's 'North and South'. Oh, okay, I like looking at Richard Armitage. But, just look at that kiss at the end. We'll count that video as inspiration shall we?

Then, if you're an aspiring romance writer I think you'll find everything you need here:

Better stop here before blogger decides it just can't cope!

With love

Natasha's next Harlequin Romance Wanted: White Wedding is released in NA and the UK in May.

You can find out more about it if she gets round to updating her website and you can hear her moan about her sheikhs, dying people carrier, broken boiler, broken sofa and other assorted disasters by visiting her blog.

Her contribution to the Niroli series, 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride', is available here and nominated by Romantic Times Magazine for Best Presents of 2007