Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wild Card Weekend - Last Minute Valentines


This weekend your editors bring you some ideas for last minute Valentine's Day prezzies...both sweet and sassy....


Once upon a time, I was a planner. I knew what I was getting people for Christmas, birthdays, Valentine's Day....but then life got busier, and busier, and suddenly the calendar screams at me that important dates are coming up and I haven't. Done. A. Single. Thing.

I have to say, my friends and family that knew me when smile VERY smugly when that happens.

So here are some last minute ideas from both of us if you've gotten to today and have yet to buy your sweetie a thing.

Forget cards. At this point they are picked over. Some people say you HAVE to have a card but I don't agree. My husband has this motto - Deeds, not words. So I think you can't go wrong with something that says I Choose You. And men being men....my suggestion is a little x-rated and Jenna will probably gasp but stop at the grocery store, grab a can of whipped cream or chocolate sauce, put on your best knickers and blow his mind. Seriously. The last thing he'll be thinking about will be A CARD.

Did sweet Donna just say what I think she said? Wowza, I'd expect that from me...heck my husband thinks it's synonomous with Valentine's Day...anywho...


I've never been one to plan. In fact, I don't know what we're having for dinner tonight. Spontanaity breeds creativity. If you have nothing planned, start the day by um...helping him wash his back in the shower. You're sure to wind up with roses by dinner. If that ship has sailed, grab that box of snapshots you've been meaning to do something with and tape them to the wall in the shape of a heart. Tuck a naughty note inside his lunch, or briefcase, or laptop, or portfolio...or all of the above...

He's already at work? Naughty texts are the new love letter. Go on, be bold.

Ooooh, naughty texts! I'm on board with that considering he spends more time with his blackberry these days than with me...

Ok, so now in keeping with the sweeter side of my personality, and the fact that, well yeah, like I just mentioned, our lives get busy. Sometimes all that's required is a little couple time, especially if you've got kids and work and a thousand other commitments. Put in your favourite movie, pop some popcorn, and open a bottle of wine. Indulge in some chocolate dipped strawberries. Use the glasses from your wedding for a little sentimentality. What do you think, Jenna?

According to my seven-year-old, Valentine's Day is all about how much candy you can get at your class party. My husband has a chocolate chip cookie addiction, so he'll usually find a dozen with extra walnuts just for him. Couple time is fleeting in my house - the baby is too small for us to take an overnight and I use the Grandma babysitting time to volunteer at the boys school - so doing something to let him know I think about just him once in a while is usually appreciated.

Well gee, Jenna, it seems that we come from similar minds, doesn't it? Making it about the little things with lots of meaning. And let's face it...guys aren't really into flowers and perfume. In that way, I think this is one time that men and women might actually want the same thing, even though it manifests in different ways...we all just want to know we come first in someone's heart.

(Aw come on, you knew my squishy side had to come out eventually)

And if any of you are of the male variety of reader, or if you wish to point your Johnny-come-lately boyfriend/husband to some important info, men can't go wrong with impulse buys of:


Jewelry

Spa certificates

Gift cards for a favourite bookstore

There's a Valentine's prezzie up for grabs for a random commenter who gives us their last minute Valentine's idea!




This weekend you can also download a free e-book from eharlequin as part of their anniversary celebrations. There are sixty stories from eharlequin hosted Author Blog Bashes inside (you might even find a familiar Pink Heart name or two) as well as a short story by Catherine Mann!



The link to download is at http://www.ebooks.eharlequin.com/ , starting on February 14th.




Jenna's celebrating Valentine's Day with the family and presumably sending naughty texts between batches of chocolate chip cookies.




Donna on the other hand is looking forward to that glass of wine and movie after signing copies of her latest release, The Rancher's Runaway Princess at a booksigning in Bedford, NS.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Must Watch Friday - The Secret of Moonacre

Here in the UK we've been having rather a lot of 'snow' days recently. That's when everything shuts down - schools, trains, the road network, airports ... Snow like we've been having happens so rarely we're just not prepared for it.

By 'snow' day three I decided my family had been in long enough and marched everyone to the cinema. It was a bit of a tricky call what to see. I have five children between the ages of ten and fifteen and their viewing preferences are diverse. 'The Secret of Moonacre' wasn't anyone's first choice but it seemed to the best compromise so that's what we went to see.

And, you know, it's fun!

It's an adaptation of 'The Little White Horse' by Elizabeth Goudge - and there are some notable changes from the book. Sir Benjamin is younger and far sexier than his literary counterpart, played by Ioan Gruffud. Loveday is also younger and Robin is not her son but her brother .....

But setting that aside - we all enjoyed it. That's really quite remarkable.

Maria Merryweather’s (Dakota Blue Richards) father dies forcing her to go and live with her uncle, Sir Benjamin, at the mysterious Moonacre Manor. Her sole inheritance is a beautifully illustrated book called 'The Secret Chronicles of Moonacre Valley' - and her uncle confiscates it.

When she retrieves it she discovers a tale of bitter rivalry ... and that she is the last Moon Princess of the valley with the responsibility of finding the magic pearls before the next full moon. If she fails to end the centuries old feud ... Moonacre Valley will be destroyed for all time.

If I'm honest, I enjoyed 'Stardust' more - but we're in the same kind of territory and it's such a beautiful film to watch. Whoever got to create Moonacre Manor in all its crumbling beauty must feel they'll never have such a perfect job again.



As an all-age family movie I reckon it's hard to beat ....

And there's a bit of romance, too. Can't be bad.

Much love
Natasha

'Cinderella and the Sheikh' is out in NA and the UK right now!

The Romantic Times Magazine gives Cinderella and the Sheikh 4.5 'Oakley begins her Brides of Amrah Kingdom duet with a well-told story. The exotic setting -- and Rashid -- add a dash of mystery and glamour.'

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Soundtrack Thursday - Romance Goes Country(ish)


There are two things I love most in life (well except for chocolate, food and Sam West to name some others) no the two loves I am talking about are BOOKS and MUSIC. Now I am pretty catholic (with a small c) in my tastes but let’s be honest here… I am a romance reading country music lovin’ gal!
And my do they go well together! I mean country music songs are tiny nuggets of stories all wrapped up in 3 or 4 minutes… and being a storyteller that appeals to me. And country music usually deals with love, love and loss in most cases but love all the same. Now some of you know that writers like to make up soundtracks for the books they are writing, I decided to try this when I was writing Dream Date (still sitting in Richmond… two months and counting).
I sat down with my rather extensive collection of music and chose those songs that made me think about the story in general. I can’t say I found one song that summed the whole book up but the songs I found are not only some of my favourite songs but songs I thought summed up different parts of the book. I have a huge love for Kenny Chesney but his music just didn’t work with the story and neither did Willie Nelson (who is a god!). And as my heroine was a singer songwriter I was surprised not to be drawn to the music of the lady whose image had inspired her, Lori McKenna.
Instead I found myself listening to two great tracks by Gary Allan, his rough voice spoke about volumes to be about how tough things make you stronger and about having met someone who was the best you’d ever had.
And then I moved on to Gretchen Wilson. Now I know what you’re thinking… doesn’t she sing all those partying, drinking and one of the boys sort of thing? Yes she does (and does them well) but she also can sing a humdinger of a love song. Her country voice just weeps heartbreak in the wonderful song ‘Come To Bed’ about how two people trying to reconnect. This is a great song that also features John Rich of Big & Rich fame. Which brings me to a song that I believe is a top pick at weddings these days, ‘Lost In This Moment’. A great song by Big & Rich and written by John Rich and Keith Anderson (more from him later);
I couldn’t have a playlist that didn’t have some Keith Urban in it; Kate Hardy would have my head for one. ‘Raining On Sunday’ is one of the sexiest songs I know, once I had it on repeat more times than I can safely say (or my neighbours appreciated) as I wrote a short sexy story based on it. For me this is when Zoe and Jack are mid fling each thinking it is nothing more than each enjoying each other. Oh how foolish can two people be? My second Keith Urban track was ‘You’ll Think Of Me’ which actually lyric-wise doesn’t fit the book but there is something about it makes me think of the time when Zoe has run away from her feelings. And she really does think of Jack. By the way this is a great break up song.
In my playlist I had three great Tim McGraw tracks, ‘Just Be Your Tear’, ‘Blank Piece of Paper’ and ‘Something’s Broken’. Of the three ‘Just Be Your Tear’ is my absolute favourite and for me is the song that inspired me when I wrote about Zoe performing. When ever I hear this song I have visions of an orchard covered in fairylights and lanterns and a couple dancing, the girl in a white Broderie Anglaise dress. So I imagine that is what Zoe is imagining and singing about when she is in the club performing her song about dreams.

‘Every Time I Hear Your Name’ by Keith Anderson… just listen to it. This is another song I have been known to have on repeat. It is just so… so… arghhh!! I have no words but it is another great song that explains how Jack and Zoe can’t get each other out of their minds.
You must all go out and buy a Julie Roberts album ‘Unlove Me’ was from her debut album and is a brilliant song for that heartbreaking time when you just want to get over someone. You want to go back to what life had been before.
And then comes the part of the list when things are going well… Billy Currington’s ‘Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right’ was great for this.

And then there was the song that wasn’t country but was absolutely the one that played when I wrote the final love scene. The scene when both realised how much the other person meant to them, Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘Like A Star’. Fantastic.
Have a listen to them all; let me know what you think. What are your favourite songs? To listen to, to write to, to… well do anything to.







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Biddy is still waiting to hear back from Richmond on ‘Dream Date’ but she is busy at work on a new story. And if you want to hear more country music then head over to CMR Nashville where Biddy hosts the weekly US Country Chartshow.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Writer's Wednesday - Waiting with Karen Sandler


This Writer's Wednesday Karen Sandler joins us with the bane of every writer's existence....Waiting...Not So Patiently!

I hate waiting. At the doctor’s, for stoplights, in traffic. Yuck. Drives me crazy. I just have no patience for it. Which is a little odd, since I love fishing. And what’s fishing, if not lots and lots of waiting?

But I digress. The thing I find most maddening to wait for is a response from an editor. This has not changed in the fifteen years I’ve been writing novels full-time. Even before that when I was sending out short stories scattershot to various publications, I’d be chewing my nails waiting the months and months it often took to get a reply. A reply that was more often than not a rejection.

The uninitiated might think that as a published author, as an author who has written many books under contract for Silhouette, that my editor drops everything the moment my newest proposal crosses his desk. That he reads through it that very day it arrives (I can hear some of you snickering). And the moment he finishes reading my masterpiece, he rushes it off to the senior editor (you're chuckling now, aren't you?) and stands by her door waiting for her rapid response (now you’re roaring with laughter).

Of course he doesn’t. And so I wait.

Is it unreasonable of me to want to know NOW if my editor loves my proposal and wants to go to contract? To not want to wait even another minute? Well, yeah, very unreasonable. But still, there’s an impatient little girl inside me that wants to stomp her feet and hold her breath until she hears a “yes.” It’s the adult me that has to remind that little girl that my editor has much much more on his plate than my next contract. And that I just...have...to...be...patient!

So those of you who are waiting for an answer from an editor, a call from an agent, feedback from a critiquer, or a check in the mail, I feel for you. If you’re as antsy as me, with your thumbs cramping up from twiddling, let me know.
Leave a comment so we can commiserate. If you drop me a note using the contact form on my website, www.karensandler.net, I'll include your name in a drawing for a signed copy of my book HER MIRACLE MAN from Silhouette Special Edition.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Travel Tuesday - Wales


Kate Walker has a big smile on her face this month as she plans, prepares, and finally packs her bags to head for one of the favourite places in all the world - the beautiful country of Wales which has some special memories - and one particular very special memory for her.

A week from today I’ll be packing my bags, ready to head for the writing weekend where I’m teaching the course from Friday. I can’t wait. Because not only will I get to meet interesting new - people who want to learn about writing are always intriguing – and catch up with some I already know, but also I get to visit one of my favourite places in the world. That’s because the Writers’ and Artists’ Weekend is held in Fishguard in Wales.

Wales has always held a very special place in my heart – and, really, it doesn’t seem to matter which part of the lovely country I visit. When I was a child, my family and I used to travel to the Isle of Anglesey in summer and stay in a tiny place called Treaddur Bay. Apparently this wasn't the first place I ever stayed in Wales. Before Anglesey, we used to stay in Nefyn, also in North West Wales, but I was only in my pram then so I don't remember too much about it!.



But I do remember Treaddur Bay. My aunt used to come over from Ireland - the Irish ferry docked at Holyhead, just down the road, and we would all get together for a family holiday. It was a perfect place for my sort of holiday – a wide, sandy beach, sand dunes to play adventure games in, the sea for swimming – if you were brave and immune to the cold. And there were outings to places like the South Stack Lighthouse where –once you’d got over the terrifying swaying bridge high over the sea – you could see puffins and other birds and occasionally dolphins or porpoises out in the waves.

When I was choosing a university to study at, some kind man told my mother that if he had a daughter who wanted to be a librarian – which I did at the time – he would make sure she went to University College of Wales Aberystwyth where they had just started to very first Bachelor of Librarianship degree. I went to ‘Aber’ for an interview and fell in love - twice. First with the place. I would work my hardest, I vowed, if only I would get a chance to study there in the wonderful ‘Old College’ building by the sea. There was another wide, curving beach – two of them actually, more dolphins in the sea, (They would occasionally come and swim with you if you were brave enough to venture into the freezing waves) and an old ruined castle looking out over the waves.

And that second time I fell in love? Well, I had to wait two and a half years for that but it was in Aberystwyth, one cold and very wet October night that I met my husband. Someone I already knew from the drama group brought a gang of friends round for a cup of coffee and one of them was the man who became my husband and is known worldwide as the Babe Magnet. So our relationship is very much tied up with connections to and memories of Wales.

Connections that were renewed when we started working with Caerleon Writing Holidays based in Newport near Cardiff. The Babe Magnet had written a How To book on Writing and Publishing Poetry and he was asked to run a course on poetry at Caerleon. Could I come along too, we asked. When they discovered that I wrote for Harlequin Mills & Boon, they asked me to give a ‘main’ talk on the subject. So back we went to Wales – and I fell in love all over again. With Caerleon village, with Writers’ Holidays as an event - and with Anne and Gerry Hobbs. The warm-hearted, generous, welcoming people who run the event for writers, with writers, with no financial support whatsoever.

Caerleon gets you addicted. Once you’ve been there, you want to go back – again and again. The Magnet and I have given lectures, taught courses, (Writing Romance, Writing Poetry, Write Yourself a New Life ) and sometimes we’ve just paid our money and joined in the event because we can’t bear to stay away. Last year we really couldn’t make it – the RWA Conference in San Francisco clashed with the week that Caerleon was running. We were devastated when we found out and we missed our time in the, University of Wales' College Caerleon. This year we’re going back again – can’t wait. We’re both teaching again. I’m running a five part course on the 12 Point Guide To Writing Romance and the Babe Magnet is teaching Writing the Past – a course for those wanting to write creatively from the past - biography, historical non-fiction, and fiction - covers research, writing techniques and writing for publication. We’ll meet up with old friends, make new ones – you always make friends at Caerleon. And we’ll help Anne and Gerry celebrate this special 25th year of the event.




Caerleon itself is lovely with the ancient Roman Fortress and it's supposed links with King Arthur. Some even think that it might have been the site of Camelot.In 830AD Nennius wrote Historia Brittonum. It included a list of Arthur's battles one of which he located at 'The City Of The Legion' - this could well be Caerleon. Caerleon is known to have had a large civilian population living immediately outside the fortress walls so it certainly would have been considered as being a city. But there's another attraction not too far away that always draws us - for the Babe Magnet a visit to this part of Wales wouldn't be complete without a trip to Hay-On-Wye.


Hay-on-Wye has become world famous for its secondhand and antiquarian bookshops. Founded by Mr Richard Booth in 1961, it has become the world's largest Secondhand and antiquarian book centre. At present there are thirty major bookshops in the town some specialising whilst others carry general stock. The larger bookshops are open 363 days a year and during the summer, stay open until late evening. Every year we visit, I arrive with lists of books to look for from friends and family - and I usually leave with - er - one or two for myself. The Magnet has been known to fill the boot of the car!



And this Writing Weekend I’m heading for next week? Well that follows on from Caerleon really. Anne and Gerry also run Writers’ and Artists’ weekends in Fishguard, a little further up the coast from Caerleon, where the ferries run to Rosslare in Ireland and where Dylan Thomas' famous tale 'Under Milk Wood' was filmed starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole. A couple of years ago Gerry asked me to run the Writing Romance course there at their Winter Novel Weekends in November. Sadly, those didn’t get enough numbers to run any more, but this year I’m teaching The Novel at the Writers’ and Artists’ Weekend from 20th - 22nd February. The Magnet is going back to his poetic roots, teaching Writing Poetry. From our first visit to Fishguard over 3 years ago, we fell in love with another part of Wales, its people, the scenery – and of course the sea. It’s a long journey to get there – around 300 miles – but we don’t care. We’re looking forward to being there. And to being in Caerleon in the summer.




After all, we have so many wonderful memories tied up with that country. If we hadn’t both decided to study at in Wales all those years ago we might never have met and our stories would have taken very different paths.

It doesn’t bear thinking of. So we have a lot to thank Wales for – and its no wonder we’re both looking forward to going back again – and again . . .

Kate's latest Harlequin Presents Cordero's Forced Bride is currently riding high on the Waldenbooks Best Seller Chart. Pink Heart Society Reviews described the book as :

" . . . intense, explosive and the passion leaps off the pages. It’s one of those books that once you begin you’ll literally stay up all night reading.


Cordero’s Force Bride is part of the Bedded by Blackmail series and a wonderful addition especially with this year being Harlequin’s Diamond Anniversary, celebrating sixty years. It’s a beautiful sensual and passionate love story and one you definitely won’t want to miss."


Cordero's Forced Bride will be released in Mills & Boon Modern in March and Mills & Boon Sexy in April.

You can find out more about Kate and her books on her website or for the most up to date news, visit her blog.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Male on Monday: Antonio Banderas

Colour me happy. Finally, I get a Male on Monday slot. FINALLY, I get to tell the world about the second most gorgeous man in the world. (Well, obviously I’m married to THE most gorgeous man...)

And I think Donna and Jenna have indulged me here for two reasons: a) it’s my birthday this week, and b) I’m off to the RNA Awards Lunch tomorrow, where I’ve been shortlisted for the Romance Prize. (And how I'm looking forward to seeing lots of friends there - should be a few PHS-ers...)

They say things come in threes, so my third reason has to be the man himself. A man who was nominated as one of the most beautiful people in the world by People Magazine back in 1996 and who’s a damn fine actor.

José Antonio Domínguez Banderas.


He could’ve been a soccer star, but he broke his foot when he was 14. Then he discovered the theatre; he toured with a small theatre group and was arrested several times for performing in a Brecht play (thanks to political censorship under Franco).

In 1992 he made his Hollywood debut with The Mambo Kings; he couldn’t speak English at the time, so he learned his dialogue phonetically.

I first saw him in Philadelphia, back in 1993. It didn’t matter that he was playing a gay man in the film. I thought he was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. (This is where my ed will leap in and say, ‘No, Kate, you ask EVERY SINGLE TIME, and you cannot have him as a cover model.’) Anyway, that scene where he kisses Tom Hanks’ fingers… it’s inspired a few scenes in my own books. Brilliantly done.

And then the following year I saw him in Interview with a Vampire. With long hair. Oh-h-h. Could the man get any more beautiful? Er, yes. Enter Desperado (1995), with Salma Hayek. (He was nominated for an award for best kiss, with that film. Mmm. And I might point out that my first RNA-shortlisted book, Where the Heart Is, references that film… Sadly, my ed nixed my hero having long hair on the cover.)

Then there was Evita (1996 - I was pregnant at the time, and the baby kicked like crazy all the way through the film. Probably because his mum was enjoying the film so much).

And then there’s The Mask of Zorro (1998). That smile. That mouth. When he did the sequel, Melanie Griffith’s take on it was ‘He's always been the superhero of the family.’ I can see that :o) And wouldn't you want to swap places with Catherine Zeta Jones? (That's a lightbulb moment picture.)



And as for superheroes… I was very happy to take the kids to see Spy Kids in 2001 (didn’t matter that my littlest was only a year old – she slept like a baby *g*, and son and I loved it).

Shrek 2 (2004) – his voice is just gorgeous. And from what I’ve seen of the interviews, he had enormous fun playing it. (And there’s a certain line in that film that I’ve borrowed. How I got it past my ed, I will never know. But anyone who reads my May UK release and spots it… Do come and tell me!)

Take the Lead (2006) went under my radar, until I saw the PHS post on it and, um, bought the DVD. The soundtrack wasn’t my cuppa tea, but I could watch the tango scene over and over again. (I admit, the ballroom dancing in the book I wrote in December/January owes even more to that than it did to Tom Chambers in Strictly Come Dancing.)

As far as I’m concerned, Antonio Banderas is the hottest romantic lead ever. The perfect alpha male. If any of my books were filmed and I had a say in casting (all right, all right, so I’m fantasising), he’d be my top choice for any of them. He acts beautifully (and has 24 awards and another 26 nominations to prove it – including being a star on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard), he has screen chemistry and he’s stunningly handsome.

But we all know looks aren’t everything.

So there’s the man himself.

Sadly, I’ve never met him (and if I was commissioned to interview him with my journo hat on, I’d be a gibbering puddle and make a complete fool of myself), but I’ve read interviews, and he comes over as a really nice guy and a lot of fun. The thing that does it for me: he really, really loves his wife Melanie Griffiths (they’ve been married for 13 years, this year), and he’s not scared of saying so. Given his job and the kind of pressures they must face, that’s something to be proud of. And how does he do it? I’ll leave you with a quote from the man himself. ‘To be married in our profession is not an easy thing. There's too many beautiful people around, very interesting people. It's just a matter of really being patient and probably having the capacity and the faith of falling in love with your own wife again. That happens to me.’

Just lovely.

Kate Hardy has, um, rather a lot of books out this month.
















In Australia, there’s the first half of the London Victoria duo: The Greek Doctor’s New Year Baby. In the US (and on the M&B website in the UK), there’s the second half of the duo: The Children’s Doctor’s Special Proposal. In the UK (on the M&B website), you can get an early copy of the first in her To Tame a Playboy duo, Surrender to the Playboy Sheikh (Modern Heat’s first sheikh!). And of course you can still get hold of the Presents enriched e-book of Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded...

You can find out more about these books, and Kate (who isn't really trying for world domination), on her website (http://www.katehardy.com/) and her blog (http://katehardy.blogspot.com/)