Saturday, July 19, 2008

Weekend Wind-Down - What's Your Favourite Recipe?

A great big Pink Heart welcome to Barbara Hannay, who asks us this weekend not about our favourite food recipe, but what ingredients make up our favourite books!

A short journey of self discovery…

At a retreat with writer friends earlier this year, Anne Gracie ( that we should make a list of the things we really enjoy in the novels we read. As a writer, I found the results of this exercise rather interesting and helpful, so I thought I’d share the exercise with you. But I might spoil the usefulness of it if I tell you about my experience first.

So… before you read on, why don’t you make a list of those aspects you love about your favourite books? In other words, make your list of ingredients for a really good read.

Don’t cheat now…

Done that?
Great, I’ll continue.

When I did this exercise, I didn’t hesitate to start my list and I scribbled madly, jotting down random thoughts as soon as they arrived.

As it turned out, right at the top of my list was: a sense of place.

It had been an instinctive reaction, but my choice of “place” to head my list was a revelation. Just the same, I knew it was accurate. All my favourite books have brought the story’s setting alive for me. That’s not to say that the characters and the plot weren’t important, too… but setting has played an extremely important role.

And when I thought about this further, I realised that this trend obviously started when I was a child. I don’t know how old I was when I read Heidi, but I was absolutely entranced by the image of her living way up in the Swiss Alps with her grandfather. For an Australian, in sub-tropical Brisbane, that picture of the towering snow-capped mountains, the little timber cottage, Alpine meadows and grazing goats was magical.

At around that same time, I started using the local library, and the first books I read was a series about sets of twins in various parts of the world. There were Dutch twins, Inuit twins, Japanese twins… and the books took me into the day to day realities of their worlds.

You might feel prompted to ask why I didn’t become a travel writer, but of course, my first love has always been fiction. I also loved strong characters and exciting plot twists. The settings were the icing on the cake.

Let’s take another of my favourite childhood reads, Anne of Green Gables. The highly impulsive and imaginative young redhead, Anne Shirley, captured hearts of girl readers around the globe. But I have to ask – would Anne have become so real to us if we hadn’t also been drawn into her world?

Do you remember her little bedroom in Green Gables with the white bed and the (Snow Queen) apple tree outside the window… or the orchard slope… the spruce wood, the rutted red roads and the bridges of Avonlea?

All my life, I have longed to see Prince Edward Island.

In recent years I’ve been transported regularly to snowbound Northern Scotland or to the cliffs and beaches of warm and sunny Cornwall in books by Rosamunde Pilcher. I’ve spent the whole gamut of seasons with a community living in the Catskill Mountains while reading Susan Wigg’s Lakeshore Chronicles.

And one of the things I love about the Harlequin Romance line is the wide range of settings – America, Europe, the Middle East, the UK, Australia…

Of course… your reading preferences are entirely personal. I don’t expect everyone to share my love of richly detailed settings. But the point of Anne Gracie’s exercise was this… when a writer identifies what she loves in the books she reads, she usually discovers something important about her own writing.

And that was something of a light bulb moment for me.

Until then, my inclusion of Outback settings in my books had been pretty much hit and miss. It all started by accident. When our children were little we couldn’t afford expensive holidays and we used to camp on a riverbank on a friend’s cattle property. After three rejections from Mills and Boon, I decided to set a book in the Outback… and it was the book that sold.

Now, I’m not saying that I have pages and pages of description in the book and I know that the Outback setting was not the reason it sold. I put most of my effort into creating a sexy hero and a strong heroine, and that elusive ingredient – emotional punch. But I do think my focus on the setting and the chance to convey my love of Outback Queensland helped me to find my writing voice.

And now, thanks to this exercise, I know it’s a quality I’ll continue to foster in my books – it’s part of my voice, of who I am.

So what’s on your list? I’d love to hear! If you’re a writer, did you find elements in your reading preferences that matched with your writing voice? Did you discover any food for thought?

If you’re a reader, could you see a pattern in the ingredients of your favourite books?

Barbara Hannay’s latest book Adopted: Outback Baby is set in the Queensland Outback and a cottage by the sea in Victoria. But she will be focused on other aspects of craft such as characters, plot and emotional punch when she joins Barbara McMahon and Jessica Hart in a workshop at RWA San Francisco called "Emotion, emotion, emotion – writing romance with global appeal".

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Film Night: Harlequin's "The Awakening"

This month on The Pink Heart Society, Silhouette Desire author Maxine Sullivan reviews the 1995 Harlequin movie “The Awakening”, based on a 1993 Silhouette Special Edition by Patricia Coughlin.

When I first saw the title "The Awakening" it reminded me of a science fiction or horror movie. :) I'd forgotten that obscure book titles were the rage until a few years ago, and why editors and readers alike prefer more specific titles these days. It really should have been called "The Bounty Hunter and Ms. Predictable Take a Ride", which gives a bit more of an idea of what the story is actually about as this is one of the more lighthearted of the Harlequin movies. It has comedy with a splash of slapstick, a mystery with the hint of danger, and romance with a touch of love.

Sara: “Let me go.”

Flynn: “I’d love to, but you’re the one who’s got the grip on me.”

Sara is a responsible, hardworking young woman who is dying of acute responsibility. She had been dumped by her boyfriend who is now married to someone else and trying to foreclose on her boarding house, so she isn’t about to take risks when a handsome bounty hunter by the name of Flynn comes into her life and turns it upside down. Yet somehow Sara teams up with Flynn to track one of her missing tenants, a convicted antiquities smuggler. Their adventure leads them to pose as archaeologists, art collectors and husband and wife. Along the way, Sara fully discovers herself.

Cynthia Geary (you’ll probably remember her from Northern Exposure) plays Sara MacAlister, a fresh-faced, girl-next-door type who lives in a small New England town. Despite being level-headed, Sara is ready to dip her toes in the water when she meets Flynn, but soon gets in above her head and suddenly she's swimming against the tide. It was easy to see that Sara would fall hard for him.

Flynn is played by David Beecroft, a gorgeous hunk of a man whose cockiness and fear of commitment is only surpassed by his good looks. :) He eventually talks to Sara about his past and that gives some insight into this man who has no need for any woman with a house and a white picket fence. I did find it a little strange that a bounty hunter had a fear of flying but that did endear him to me and made him seem less confident and even vulnerable.

Opposites attract and this was the case with Sara and Flynn. I didn’t feel a lot of chemistry between them at first but the sexual tension and the pace picks up when Flynn whisks Sara away to Florida where they do some playacting that leads them to find her missing tenant.

Flynn to Sara when they are sitting in his car staking out some premises: “Spread your legs.”

Sara: “In your dreams.”

Giving her a look, he reaches down between her legs and pulls a bottle of champagne from under her car seat.

I think what I liked most of all was Sara’s self-growth in this movie, with the romance surprisingly taking a backseat to that. I really liked the way she slowly developed into her own person but kept true to herself. At the end she had made a new life for herself not by going out into the world and searching for adventure, but by finding her adventure where she was most happy – in her own small town. So, what started out as a romantic comedy ended more a drama and that’s when I realized the title "The Awakening" truly did suit the movie after all.

I enjoyed this movie and would give it 7 out of 10 on the Harlequin movie Richter scale.

Maxine’s latest Silhouette Desire, The CEO Takes a Wife, is now on the shelves in the US and will be available in Australia and New Zealand in August. Details are available on her website

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Remember those dreaded essays when you returned to school about what you did on your summer break? Barbara McMahon joins us this week with her version of vacation...and read on to find if it was all worth it...

How I spent my summer vacation--or Travel ain’t what it used to be

We just returned from a two week trip to the East Coast where we visited Washington, D.C. and then drove south to the Carolinas to visit family and friends. I grew up in the greater Washington area and spent many weekends with my parents and siblings visiting the Smithsonian museums, going up in the Washington Monument, or wandering through the National Gallery of Art. Since we have a kid who will be graduating from high school next June, we decided to visit our nation’s capital so she’d have a chance to see it before she got caught up in summer jobs and college.

My, how travel has changed. Since 9/11 everything is tighter security wise. We knew this because we’ve traveled by plane a couple of times since then. But the chaos at the airport is still amazing after all these years. I would have thought they could have found ways to streamline things.

First was the check in. The airlines we flew has “automatic” check in. A passenger goes to a touch screen monitor and pushes the bars on the screen to access travel reservations and print out a ticket. In theory, this is probably a good idea, but needs refinement. I don’t think whoever instigated it considered all the people who are not computer savvy. Or foreigners visiting who may speak English enough to travel, but are unfamiliar with reading the language or computers. And instead of a nice, orderly line moving forward one passenger at a time, it was a mass of humanity all pushing forward and not knowing where we were going. Once we mastered the check in process--we had to wait in the milling crowd for baggage tags. Men for the airlines would yell out a last name and that family would surge forward to get their baggage weighed and tagged. Of course with no lines, with different people going to different monitors and then the baggage tags being issued from another area of the long counter--well picture chaos.

I really dislike air travel. The security lines were long, the TSA people never smiled and yelled out orders like a Drill Sargent. At least there was a semblance of order in the lines we had to stand in. I wore loafers knowing I had to take off my shoes. Jessie wore flip-flops, but my husband had lace up shoes--and had to balance on one foot while trying to put them back on as there was no available seating in the area.

There are dire warnings about not leaving your bags unattended, and the worry about theft, despite that-- my purse went through one x-ray machine and I was directed to a scanner two lanes over, so lost sight of it for about 2 minutes--way long enough for a thief to have snatched it. Fortunately, it was fine. Whew.

Then the flight. Crammed into tight seating, every seat full, as soon as we were airborne, the very tall man in front of me reclined his seat into my lap. The back was so close I couldn’t hold a book in front of me because it was too close to read. So I spent most of the flight sitting sort of sideways holding the book almost in front of my husband so I could read.

Finally we arrived in Washington, D.C. It was hot, humid and crowded. Did I mention hot? When I lived there, we would spend a Saturday at one locale and return home, to visit the city again at a later time. I don’t remember crowds. It could be as a child I viewed things differently. Or it could be there were actually fewer people sightseeing.

There were lines everywhere. To get into museums, we had to pass through checkpoints like at the airport. Some places refused backpacks. Finding lockers was difficult. Yet who wants to pay rip-off prices for a bottle of water if we could carry in a back pack?

The capitol has so much security it’s amazing. No one can climb the stairs out front any more. Cops all over the place, with barriers cordoning everything off from the man in the street. No one can access the stairs to the Washington Monument. And to get free tickets to see the capitol or the Washington Monument, arrive early (8 ish) in the morning because once they’re gone they are gone for the day. We got there before 8 and were met with a huge line. At least at the Washington Monument we had a retaining wall to sit on. At the capitol, it was standing only until we finally got tickets an hour and twenty minutes later.

The tour at the Capitol was very organized, groups limited to about 40 people. But they were only slightly staggered, so there was a huge crowd at the Rotunda. The whispering effect was almost impossible to hear due to the noise of so many people. But still, it was awe-inspiring and amazing to see what we could of that beautiful building.

We visited monuments to Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, veterans of World War II, Korea and Viet-Nam. We walked the entire Mall at least twice and still had lots we could have seen if we hadn’t run out of time and energy.

Since my current book, Parents in Training, is set in Washington, I was viewing everything with a critical eye, to make sure I hadn’t made any glaring gaffs. I visit every few years and used my memories of places when setting the story in DC.

The rest of our East Coast trip was lovely. We drove to Norfolk Virginia and stayed right at the beach for one night. Walking along the shore was delightful, wading and of course picking up sea shells to bring home.

A visit to relatives in the Carolinas, a few days in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and we returned home. Air travel had not improved in the two weeks since we started out. And to add to the problems, we had to change in Denver and our flight was moved from gate to gate four times. The last time from gate 29 to gate 94. At least we got our exercise.

So now we’re home. Our memories grow fonder as the problems of lines and air travel fade and the images we saw stay strong in our minds. We all decided we’d like to go again--but not in summer. This may be the last vacation we take together for a while as college and early careers take hold. But it will always be one of the best.

What is your best holiday memory? Don't you forget the not-so-great parts and enjoy the happy times?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Travelling Tuesday : : What's Writing Got to Do With It?

. . .in which Anne McAllister extols one of the joys of writing -- that it lets you travel all over the world and sometimes even tax-deduct it.

I've always loved to travel.

Not the sort of traveling we did when I was a kid, which entailed getting up far before the crack of dawn and driving madly across the desert (everywhere you go from Los Angeles is desert at some point before you get there) before it got so hot we couldn't stand it (no air-conditioned cars in those days), and my auto mechanic dad saying, "Hush," if we talked over the click-clack-rattle from the engine that he was trying to listen to so he could prevent disaster before it occurred.

No, not that sort of travel. Though in hindsight I do appreciate even that more than I did as a child.

But the other sort -- the laying out books and maps and travel brochures, the reading about exotic destinations and then actually going there, meeting new people, seeing different places, discovering how folks in other parts of the world really live.

And writing books about it.

Especially that.

Writing is such a great job for the congenitally nosy. You can go so many places and, instead of simply politely observing, you get to ask all kinds of questions. You have license to find out how the natives of any given place think, feel, see the world.

Stories have arcs, but they are told with details. And the details one gets from traveling -- from seeing and experiencing and living in places first hand -- cannot be beat.

That was why I went to Ireland last year. My Irish earl needed a castle. And while there were lots to pick from on the internet, I needed to have details to call my own. I needed to experience what my heroine would experience when she stepped inside. The details I used weren't the grandiose ones -- the "castley" ones.

They were the croquet mallets and wellies in piles inside the front door. They were the fishing creel and line of poles down the hallway to the kitchen. They were the amazing mirrors that caught and flashed the crystal infinite times over as they did with the Brio train tracks the children were weaving through the furniture legs on the parlor floor.

I've had a lot of mileage out of two trips to Harbour Island in the Bahamas. It's a fabulous place to go and forget that there's a world outside. There are pink sand beaches and key lime pies to die for. And once there was a sculpture (maybe there still is) made up of the flotsam and jetsam that came in with the tide. I got a whole premise for a book out of seeing that sculpture.

If I'd never gone there, I wouldn't have had a clue.

Right now I'm planning a trip to the south of France. I have a book set at least partly in Cannes. I need to find out about what it's like when the film festival is going on there -- and what it's like the rest of the year. I need out of the way places, a tiny restaurant, perhaps an inn off the beaten-track, the sights, the sounds, the smells.

The truth is, I won't know what I need until I see it, taste it, feel it when I'm there. That's the real joy of traveling and putting it in books -- the unexpected serendipity of discovering something my characters needed all the time.

From the places I go and the people I meet, I discover the hangers on which to suspend my story. When I know where my characters live, I have a world to put them in. They are no longer floating around in space. They have lives, relationships, worlds of their own -- detailed worlds that, I hope, feel as real and substantial to my readers as they do to my characters and to me.

Right now I'm getting prepared for my next book. I'm looking at maps, reading magazine articles, asking everyone I know if they've been to Cannes or Nice or anywhere along the French Riviera. If you've been there, speak up.

Suggestions are always welcome. Any not-to-be-missed places on the French Riviera that you would be willing to share?

Ah, but it's not all travel and fun and games in the writing world. Anne McAllister is currently dipping back into her Southern California beach years for the setting of her present book -- and discussing getting one's teeth knocked out on her blog.
The moral is: there is nothing that is not fair game for the Muse -- and that includes getting indigestion in Vienna, sailing in a leaky boat off the coast of Maine, taking Portuguese because the anthro class she needed was full, closing a bar with a bull rider, and the embarrassment getting a crush on an entirely unsuitable man even as he tried very hard not to notice.

Her next release is a reprint of her New York! New York! book,
Nathan's Child, coming out in UK in October in a three-fer called His Child, with books by Sharon Kendrick and Catherine Spencer. Antonides' Forbidden Wife (a spin-off of The Antonides Marriage Deal and The Santorini Bride) will come out from HM&B in November and Harlequin Presents in January '09. She would show you covers, but so far she hasn't seen any either.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Male On Monday:: Edward Burns

This Week at The Pink Heart Society our editor Trish Wylie puts forward another potential for hero inspiration in our Male On Monday slot... Edward Burns...

Edward J. Burns Jr. was born in Queens, New York on 29th January 1968 into an Irish American family. Parents Molly, a federal agency manager and Edward Sr., a public relations spokesperson and police officer welcomed him as the second of what would be three children.

"I suffer from Irish-Catholic guilt. Guilt is a good reality check. It keeps that 'do what makes you happy' thing in check."

Probably known the majority of us for his acting skills, Edward is one of a number of American independent filmmakers launched in the nineties by virtue of success at the Sundance Film Festival. In fact he’s a writer, director, producer AND actor. A man of many talents!

After attending Oneonta College and S.U.N.Y.-Albany, he transferred to Hunter College in Manhattan to study motion pictures - putting together a number of short films along the way. He got his start in the film industry right after college as a production assistant on Oliver Stone’s film; The Doors. Then thanks to his father's connections, he secured a job at Entertainment Tonight. It was while working there he began putting together an idea for what would become his first full length film; The Brothers McMullen. A comedy focusing on the romantic troubles facing three Irish-Catholic siblings, it was shot primarily in his parents' Long Island home, with a cast of unknowns including Edward himself. Filmed over eight months with the aid of a crew comprised largely of fellow ET staff it was rejected by a series of distributors but took a major bow at The Sundance Film Festival when it won the festival's Grand Jury Prize - becoming one of the most successful independent efforts of the year. Having beaten the odds Edward then sold the film to 20th Century Fox's Searchlight Pictures. Just goes to prove the old adage of never say never really, doesn’t it?

For his follow-up movie, She’s The One, he kept on most of the cast and crew from his previous success and thanks to his newfound fame was able to cast up-and-coming stars such as Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz in some of the pivotal roles. He even went out and got a soundtrack from one of my favs; Tom Petty. The romantic comedy premiered during the summer of 1996 and Edward soon began work on his third film, No Looking Back – a romantic drama set in a coastal town's working-class community. (Now is it just me or has he earned his Male On Monday slot just as much for the fact there was romance involved in all those early works???) The film was released in 1998 and that same year Edward co-starred in the Steven Spielberg blockbuster Saving Private Ryan.

On-screen roles include the likes of Confidence, Life Or Something Like, Will & Grace, The Holiday, Purple Violets, One Missed Call, Entourage and 27 Dresses to name but a few. Writing wise he has worked on and Sidewalks Of New York, Ash Wednesday, Flight Of The Phoenix, The Groomsmen and Purple Violets – again to name but a few. And there are countless ones he has written, directed, produced AND acted in. One of them; Looking For Kitty - shot with a hand held digital camera. without standard permits and with a tiny crew! He even discussed this unusual film-making process in the director's commentary on the DVD and wrote in the Director's Letter:

"If you are an aspiring filmmaker, in this day of inflating budgets and runaway production, the truth is you can make a movie for no money in New York...and have a blast".

From what I can glean having researched this guy, he’s not afraid to take chances. And you kinda gotta respect that. He also looks to the future of where film distribution might be going; his film Purple Violets released exclusively on iTunes in 2007. Innovative chap. But then the fast pace of changing technology is something even we romance authors are paying attention to these days, right?

In 2007 he announced plans to partner with Virgin Comics to create a series, using the comics as a springboard to a film (again innovation my friends!) And along with younger brother Brian, a TV producer, he runs a production company called 'Irish Twins'. Busy, isn’t he? And yet 6ft 1, brown haired Edward still managed to find time for romance in his life. He married supermodel Christy Turlington in June 2003 and the couple have a daughter called Grace and a son called Finn…

In one of the articles I found online about him he talked about his father the police officer. Their dad seems to have been pretty bloody minded about keeping his kids on the straight and narrow. And Edward Jnr. recalled him saying;

‘Be responsible for your own actions. Don’t tell me about what you’re gonna do, show me what you’re gonna do.’

I think his son has done that, don’t you?

The Random commenter from last Tuesday's post and receiving the pleasure of postcards from each of my USA destinations this summer and books from the RWA Conference is RUTH!!! So don't forget to email me through my Website Ruth with your snail mail addy so I can send you out your goodies! CONGRATULATIONS!

H's & K's

Trish’s current release is in Australia and New Zealand where GABE is making a bid for world wide recognition in Claimed By The Billionaire Bad Boy… The book is available from eharlequin Australia RIGHT NOW

To find out more about Trish and her books you can visit her Website or Her Blog