Saturday, November 07, 2009

Weekend Wind Down :: NaNoWriMo!!

Jenna Bayley-Burke is here with The Pink Heart Society annual NaNoWriMo post!!

What is NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month comes every November. All around the world, writers vow to collect words until they hit 50,000, throwing aside all notions that tell them that they can’t. It is the brainchild of No Plot No Problem author Chris Baty. Each year the NaNoWriMo website and forum teem with writers hopeful to turn someday into today.

Anyone with an inkling they want to write a novel can join the NaNoWriMo brigade. It’s free, it’s fast, and it even has perks like a laptop loaner program, a free copy of your NaNo novel from LuLu if you finish, and a great reason to head out to your local community NaNo meeting and find likeminded writers in your area. If you’d prefer an online writing group, Romance Divas and eHarlequin both host specialized groups in their forums during November.

For years I found something wrong with the stories I wrote, usually right around chapter four. I’d drop it like a hot potato, chasing after the next idea so I’d soon forget I meant to go back and finish. Until I signed up for National Novel Writers Month in 2004, and forced myself to muddle through that fourth chapter, following it with more chapters until Just One Spark had a beginning, middle and an end. It became my first finished - and published book, put out by Mills & Boon in 2006.

Drafting a novel in thirty days isn’t for everyone, but for those who’ve never finished a novel, the magic of a deadline does pull you across the finish line. And those writers who hope to write category can benefit from the discipline. The draft that you have at the end of the month isn’t publishable, but it is fixable. As a great romance writer once said, you can’t fix a blank page.

Some might be concerned about how good a book could possibly be if it only took a month to write. There is magic in a book that spins together quickly. Don't take my word for it, be sure to read fabulous authors like Romance newcomer Nikki Logan & Modern Heat’s Natalie Anderson both of whom have told some amazing stories with stories they disovered in under 30 days.

What are you waiting for? Don’t write a novel someday, write it this November.

Jenna is actually writing this November. While she's busy, be sure to check out Compromising Positions -- available with chocolate, Kama Sutra yoga, a decade old crush and a steady addiction to sugar. To find out what Jenna is up to now...check out her website or daily NaNoWriMo reports on her blog.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Must Watch Friday - Spooks

Last month Kate Walker talked about her love of spooky ghost stories. This time, with the must watch TV slot, her focus is on some very different sort of Spooks.

Spooks is back. My autumn (Fall) viewing treat is guaranteed. I have a date and a space on my living-room sofa every Wednesday 9pm BBC 1 - for Spooks. (Well, I also have one for Flash Forward but that’s another topic.) Spooks is back and I’m happy. I’m also at the end of the current book and so can afford a little extra time to just totally relax, enjoy – and do some heavy duty research.

This is series 8 and so far nothing has grown tired or totally repetitive, the characters still fascinate even when the political machinations, behind the scenes machinations and need to save the world every week can sometimes blur into one. But it’s the characters who matter. I can still remember the first episode of the last series that had me sitting in the edge of my seat, watching Adam Carter played by Rupert Penry Jones drive a car that was literally a ticking bomb through London, thinking ‘They can’t. kill him off . . they won’t. . .’ But they can and they did. The car exploded and one of the main reasons for watching was gone. Spooks is like that. They are not precious with their stars. As the cast have often commented no one is safe on Spooks. Anyone can be killed off at any time.

And it’s that edge of the seat quality, the sheer sofa-chewing, nuclear bomb-defusing vividness of last December’s season-ending cliffhanger, that when the show blazed back onto our screens last night after a gap of almost a year it was as if time itself had stood still, leaving us effortlessly picking up the story with Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) the old –school knight of the realm, head of MI5’s counter-terrorism division still in the clutches of a Russian from Putin’s security service, trussed up in the boot of a car with tape across his mouth and that ‘they can and they might’ sense exerting its grip all over again

Spooks, after all, has a remarkably cavalier approach to its leading characters, and has a considerably higher personnel turnover than most long-running series. In fact, landing a big role here is just one step away from booking a spot on the mortuary slab – in the TV studios at least. No fewer than 12 major characters have been brutally decommissioned over the course of the last seven seasons, with almost the entire cast being regularly refreshed by way of bullet, bomb, radium injection or – most controversially – a head in a deep fat fryer. On this show, you’re lucky to make it to the end of an episode, let alone settle in for a comfortable retirement. And its that nerve-shredding feeling that you can’t relax and think ‘he/she’s a star so it’ll be all right’ that gives the show it’s extra special pull.

But for however long they last, the stars are worth the hour spent watching it every week. And that’s where the research come in. From the start the cast has been filled with the sort of actors who can deliver lines that can sometimes veer into ‘we have to save the world’ silliness with the sort of clench-jawed control and sang froid that somehow holds it just this side of melodrama in spite of the endless and often bonkers conspiracies they have to fight – both in the outside world and within ‘the Grid’ itself. (Because that’s another thing about Spooks – you can rarely, if ever, believe that just because a character has access to the central ‘grid’ they are in fact squeaky clean and totally trustworthy. Some aren’t and the revelation of just who can’t be trusted is another of those ‘Oh, they can’t’ elements because again they can - and they do.) )

Those stars have included , along with Peter Firth, Hugh Simon and Gemma Jones as the older team, the ever watchable Matthew MacFadayen, Keeley Hawes, Ruprt Penry-Jones, Hermione Norris, Alex Lanipekun. And that’s without including the list of guest stars such as Hugh Laurie, Robert Hardy, Tim McInnerny, Bruce Payne, Ian McDiarmid, Jimi Mistry, Andy Serkis, Andrew Tiernan, Anton Lesser, Anupam Kher, Alexander Siddig and Anthony Head.

And the last series provided compensation for the loss of Adam with then introduction of the new – and decidedly ambiguous - character of Lucas North played by the man the Romantic Novelists’ Association voted the sexiest thing on two legs – Richard Armitage. And as someone who has been addicted to dark, brooding , possibly untrustworthy, definitely ambiguous heroes who might turn out to be villains, this piece of casting just added to the ‘must see’ quality of the show. Especially when the BBC killed off Guy of Gisborne over on the much less watchable Robin Hood.
Incidentally, in an interview about this new season of Spooks, Richard Armitage admitted that he trained as a dancer, and his best dance was the Argentinian Tango. Now that is an Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing with the Stars I’d love to see. But for now I’ll settle for the heavy-duty research of Lucas North, steely blue eyes narrowed as he deals with one of Spook’s many puzzles, and many more villains - or those eyes warming as he charms the female American agent into cooperating with the scheme he has planned.

Spooks still delivers high-class escapism at its slickest, most glamorous and entertaining. Over the years it has had its ups and downs. But the last series managed to claw things back superbly, balancing pin-sharp characterisation with plots of such tension-ratcheting complexity that a rollercoaster ride was virtually guaranteed in every episode. If last night’s opener was anything to judge by, series eight promises to be just as good.

Kate Walker’s latest Presents title Kept For Her Baby is still available in Presents EXTRA. And the hero, Ricardo was inspired by none other than Richard Armitage in the last season of Spooks.
One reviewer called this book “a masterpiece that will live in the hearts of the reader for many years to come!” (We Write Romance)
You can find out more about Kate and her books on her website or her blog

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Thursday Reading - YA Books Aren't Just Twilight!

Brigid Coady is talking about her recent reading experiences.

I’m putting my hand up to confess that recently I have mostly been reading Young Adult books. Why you may ask? Why am I reading YA instead of grown up books?

Well I say to you that some of the best stories out there are being written for the YA market. Yes I have read the Twilight books and seen the movie (Robert Pattinson swoon) but there are some other YA books out there.

Here are some reasons I love YA books and what I am learning from them:

1. They mix up the genres, everything is YA whether crime, romance, paranormal, fantasy or historical. And sometimes they can be all of the above. They make me think out of the box, mix things up and take chances.

2. The books grip you from the start. These books are being written for an audience that has so many other pulls on their time. If they want to keep them reading they have to get in, grip you and keep it going till the end. I am learning loads about writing brilliant beginnings and pacing.

3. Who doesn’t remember being a teenager? Everything was more intense, ups and downs seemed more catastrophic. We had our first loves, our first kisses, our first dates. When I read YA books it comes flooding back and it reminds me of the intensity.

And because I am a nice person I’m going to recommend some recent books I’ve read.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. But Katniss has been close to death before—and survival, for her, is second nature. The Hunger Games is a searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present. Welcome to the deadliest reality TV show ever...

I read this book in one sitting and then haunted the bookshop until the second one came out! Brilliant, disturbing with a love triangle that has you picking teams.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
I'm Annabel. I'm the girl who has it all. Model looks, intelligence, a great social life. I'm one of the lucky ones. Aren't I? My 'best friend' Sophie is spreading rumours about me. My family is slowly falling apart. It's turning into a long, lonely summer, full of secrets and silence. But I've met this guy who won't let me hide away. He's one of those intense types, obsessed with music and totally unafraid of confrontation. He's determined to make me listen. Will I ever find the courage to tell him what really happened the night Sophie and I stopped being friends?

I would actually recommend any book by Sarah Dessen including ‘The Truth About Forever’ and ‘Lock and Key’.

They have all had me up until 2am sobbing my heart out by the end. Funny, sad, heart wrenching and dealing with difficult issues in a sympathetic way.

So go on, tell me what YA books have you been reading lately?

Brigid Coady is currently NaNoWriMoing (as BeeCee - come buddy up). She is finishing off ‘Bah Humbug!” and starting on a YA story of her own. Her short story ‘The Great Leap Forward’ will be published by Tonto Books in ‘Even More Tonto Short Stories’.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Writer’s Wednesday—Pondering Tension… aka An Excuse to Watch TV!

It's Wednesday at The Pink Heart Society, so we'll be writerly and talk about, you know, writing. Thankfully, Steeple Hill author Missy Tippens stopped by to make it fun!

Missy Tippens, here. I’ve recently discovered yet another reason to watch TV. :) To study tension in a story.

Have you ever watched a show week after week and been totally hooked. But then bam!, they do something that defuses the tension, and you find you’ve lost interest? Think of the classic example of this…Moonlighting.

I was pondering this the other night after watching the movie Tristan and Isolde. Man, what conflict there: loyalty vs loyalty. In Tristan’s case, it was loyalty to the man who saved him and took him in as a son (and also to country) versus loyalty to his true love (and thus self).Painful to watch. And it made me realize the proposal I’m working on doesn't have that kind of tension. It reminded me that we have to be sure come up with book-length conflict, and we can’t give our characters a break! The readers have to want to keep reading to the end of the book before they get the big payoff.

So what am I doing to add that tension to my proposal? I pulled out one of my favorite how-to workbooks, Alicia Rasley’s The Story Within Guidebook. In her books, she talks about heroic conflicts such as loyalty vs loyalty and gives a helpful list of some common heroic conflicts/issues. So I’m in the process of figuring out the type conflict my characters will be facing.

In my new release from Steeple Hill Love Inspired, A Forever Christmas, I planned these conflicts in the early stages of writing. For my heroine, Sarah, her conflict is betrayal versus trust (the hero, Gregory, had betrayed her in their past and she has to learn to trust him again). For Gregory, it is guilt versus expiation (he needs forgiveness for past mistakes to be able to move on and love again). And neither of these conflicts could be resolved until the end! I have to admit, this is one weakness of mine. I have a hard time creating conflict (torturing my characters) because I don’t like conflict in real life. But I’m learning to stick it to ‘em. And if I ease up on that tension in the least, my editor lets me know! :)

What about you? What do you do to make sure to keep that tension running through the whole story?

Missy Tippens’ third book for Steeple Hill Love Inspired, A Forever Christmas, has just released. Read an excerpt at It’s also available at or on the shelves wherever you buy Harlequin books.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Temptation Tuesday - Stationery

Today our columnist Annie West explores a widespread but little discussed temptation - stationery!

It doesn’t sound as sexy as a Male on Monday, does it? And when we talk about temptations most of us think of the usual indulgences: a tropical island retreat, a candlelight dinner, new shoes, a sleep in (!), luscious chocolate truffles, a day in retail therapy, a week alone with our TBR pile… Yet, among the many romance readers and writers I know a surprisingly large number have a weakness for stationery.

Whether it’s funky designs and brightly patterned sticky notes, pads with cute messages, elegant pens or the sort of thick, creamy velvet paper that makes you long to write something wonderful, stationery is a hugely popular item.

Maybe it’s to do with our love of books. Though e-reading is increasing in popularity a lot of readers still say they love the feel and smell of a book in their hands, the physical sensation of curling up with that story. From an early age we fell for words on paper. In a similar way I think many of us who love the written word are drawn to the gorgeous array of stationery items that we can’t do without.

Go on, put your hand up if you’ve succumbed to the lure of the glitter gel pen (just for special messages), the multi-coloured post it notes or kaleidoscope tinted paper clips. Do you drool over embossed stationery and envelopes with decorative rice paper lining? Do you run your hands possessively over soft as butter leather journals, or the ones made to look like a vintage traveller’s diary from Paris and Rome?

Do you have a soft spot for the old Florentine design or Mickey Mouse note paper or even custom designed stationery of your own? Personalised address stickers? Notice boards with fancy pins? Fun diaries? Novelty design erasers? Hand made paper or pens that glide across the page for those days when the words flow so fast you can barely get them down (I wish!).

For the really serious, how about calligraphy sets or sealing wax and a personalised seal? The smell of sealing wax seems to make writing and sending letters somehow more significant.

Have you ever used a (modern) quill pen? Late last year I spent a night in a castle looking across vineyards to the river below (yes, I know how disgustingly luck I was). At the desk in the window nook was some gorgeous linen-finish paper, embossed with a scene of the castle, and a ‘quill’ pen (no ink well required, this was an up market biro). I used all the stationery in the desk! I sat and sipped sherry and wrote letters and felt very special indeed. Why not share my adventures with friends who’d love the holiday update and also get a kick out of the castle stationery? And they did – without fail.
Getting letters and parcels in the mail is such a thrill (except for window envelopes with bills inside). Sending out letters on great stationery is something that makes me feel good too, as I know others like the treat of a hand written message, plus it’s an excuse to indulge a taste for nice paper and cards.

How about you? Does stationery tempt you? Do you linger over the stationery supplies even though you don’t need anything, just in case you see something you just have to have? What’s your favourite piece of office paraphernalia or stationery?

To stimulate discussion, Annie is offering a choice of backlist book to one person who leaves a comment.

This month Annie is celebrating the almost release of her next US release. BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE goes on sale in December.
It was written straight onto computer, but plot points and queries were scrawled in a large purple spiral notebook Annie keeps on her desk and her fluoro post it notes were invaluable to mark passages as she revised that book.
If you want to find out more about this story (with Annie's first sexy Sicilian hero) visit her website for details or better yet, just order the book!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Male on Monday :: GEEKS!

Silhouette Romantic Suspense author Sharron McClellan sneaks over to The Pink Heart Society to talk about her favorite kind of Male On Monday -- The Geeky Hero-Then and Now.

Geeks. Nerds. Trekkie. Or Techie. Whatever you call them, geeks are the new hotness.

Now, I have always loved nerdy males. Smart men are a turn on and whoever said that sex was mostly in the head wasn’t lying. So, one can only imagine what naughty, creative thoughts a nerd has rambling through his big ole’ noggin.

What I like about these guys is that most of them are like Clark Kent. They’re nice. They take out the garbage. Face it, when you’re down with the flu this is the guy you wants at your bedside because he will bring you soup and take care of you.

But that doesn’t make them weak. In fact, it makes them a little scarier and stronger, IMHO. No one expects the nerd to don the big-bad Alpha hat. But once the ones they care for are in threatened, look out—the good-guy suit is coming off and a geek will do whatever it takes to protect the ones he loves whether it’s using his MacGyver smarts or picking up a Glock and blowing someone away.

GEEKS THEN: The first Geeky Bad Ass

Richard Dean Anderson/Angus MacGyver

The original geek turned hero, MacGyver didn’t use guns. But he could use a paperclip and a stick of gum to disarm a bomb and save the girl. He was crazy creative, smarter than any two men put together and was a total bad ass. Plus, he made duct-tape a household word.

Hot then—mullet and all. Just a hot now!

GEEKS NOW: The New Geeky Bad Ass -- Zachary Levi/Chuck

Staring in the television show “Chuck”, Zachary Levi is the new nerdy hero. An “average” nerd, he’s turned into “super geek” when he opens an encoded email and ALL government secrets are downloaded into his brain.

Besides being wicked smart (and that’s even before the secrets were stuffed into his brain), he’s kind and I love a kind man. Plus, he’s funny. Tall. Has a great head of hair. And who could ignore that devastating, disarming smile! I think I am in love with him.

As far as fighting…. I’d be thrilled to have him guard my back. Whether it’s using his skills at Apache Commander (a computer game) to land a helicopter or using his knowledge of James Bond movies to cut the right wire on the bomb, he comes through in the end. And when the bad guys are in jail and the chaos is over, he brings you pizza just the way you like it. YUM!

When she's not travelling the world or writing about being on the run, catch Sharron at her blogs or website.