Saturday, May 15, 2010

Superpowers! with Michelle Douglas

The Pink Heart Society welcomes back Harlequin Romance author Michelle Douglas!

It's a bird. It's a plane....

When I'm in the middle of revisions I have this strange habit of flitting off into the silliest flights of fancy. I'm about to emerge on the sunny side of heavy revisions and perhaps it's a stress release... or wish fulfilment, but...

This week I am dying for a superpower!

Problem is, which one? There are so many to choose from.

What's prompted this you might ask? I'm not planning to write a paranormal romance any time soon so it isn't research, but I did have a dream the other night that I was flying. It was superman-like flying too and it was brilliant. When I woke I decided it was a superpower all writers should have. A body gets a whole new perspective from up in the air – that bird's eye view could prove rather useful.

Of course, I'd need bionic eyes and x-ray vision to go with it. I'd need to be able to pinpoint and follow all those intriguing dramas playing out below me. Oh, and the superpower gods best throw in a bionic ear while they're at it. All writers know the benefits of eavesdropping on an intriguing conversation.

Invisibility could be useful for that too – you could listen in on anything. However, it might prove a drawback if you actually wanted to take part in a conversation. So, then again, perhaps not.

I've always been intrigued by physical superpowers. It's because I'm so envious of anyone who is physically dexterous – those who can hit a ball, kick a ball, dribble a ball... heck, anyone who can catch a ball. Oh and to be able to get the lid off the pickled onion jar! So the thought of having super-strength is VERY appealing. But only if I can have invulnerability to go with it, please. You see if I had super-strength I imagine there'd be some pretty super-strength-style villains out there who'd want to challenge me. I don't like fighting. If I can't have invulnerability then I'll settle for super-speed so I can run away. Super-speed? Hmm, I wonder if that would include super-speed writing and typing?

There are those more esoteric superpowers that have their own charm... like controlling the weather. I'm sure I could come up with a writer-ly reason why that could be useful. Fire starting, anyone? Handy for getting rid of truly dreadful first drafts and the odd less-than-glowing review. Need help squeezing your way out of a tight corner? Elasticity might be the answer. It'd be a great party trick too. Not particularly dignified perhaps, but certainly amusing. Ooh, controlling time – that could be nifty when on a tight deadline. Who doesn’t yearn for an extra hour or two in their day?

There are a couple of superpowers, however, I'd really rather not to have. ESP for one. It could be rather uncomfortable to know what other people were thinking. Besides, if their minds are anything like mine, most of the time all anyone would hear is an incoherent jumble. I shouldn't like to be able to see into the future either. I'm a firm believer in living in the present (even when in the middle of revisions). Writers, I believe, are neurotic enough without adding a crystal ball to the mix.

It's taken me a long time to figure out which superpower I really would like to have, but it came to me when I was watching telly the other night. A wonderful idea in relation to my current revisions occurred to me. As any writer will tell you, these ideas need to be jotted down asap if you don't want them reabsorbed into the ether. But I was watching a movie with the dh, I had a glass of wine in hand, and I had been working hard all day. The idea might've hit me upside the head, but it couldn't budge me from my comfy armchair. And the inevitable happened.

So... the superpower I most want is the ability to manipulate physical objects. How cool would that be? I could be downstairs watching a movie while, at the same time, my pen is silently scratching away upstairs in my study. I could take my laptop out into the garden on a sunny day, immerse myself in my story, while inside the vacuum cleaner is doing its thing, coffee is brewing, a cake is baking and lunch comes out to me fully prepared on a pretty tray. Oh and all while that palm frond is swaying back and forth and the grapes are peeling themselves. Like I said earlier, wish fulfilment.

In the meantime, until I develop a superpower I guess I'll have to stick to the old dictum: 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration.

But if you could pick one, I'd love to know what superpower you'd choose. And just to entice you all to come out and play, I'm giving away a copy of my latest release The Cattleman, The Baby and Me to one lucky commenter.

Michelle's latest release, The Cattleman, The Baby and Me is out now in North America and the UK, and next month in Australia/New Zealand.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Must Watch Friday: Robin Hood

Modern Heat author Heidi Rice takes a gander at Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's new look at the old Sherwood legend and finds a passionate, provocative and surprisingly complex action movie with a heart-melting and nicely subtle romance at its core...

Robin Hood is a legend that I absolutely adore. The anarchist in me loves all that stuff about stealing from the rich to feed the poor, the romantic in me swoons at the image of the handsome bad boy rebel and the tomboy in me loves all the fighting and swordplay and shooting of arrows and living in treehouses. And I've never been much of a purist, so I didn't mind a bit when Errol Flynn donned green tights and a curly perm in the middle of a forest, or Kevin Costner's Rob had an American accent or the white cliffs of Dover popped up next to Nottingham in Prince of Thieves!

So I was really looking forward to Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's much talked-about - and much troubled - new production, because early word said it was going to be an entirely new take on the old story and I was thinking... Ay, ay, that sounds interesting... Plus Ridley's films are always brilliantly made and I like Crowe. I think he's an intense, intuitive, take-no-prisoners kind of actor who isn't afraid to venture outside the box that defines his star persona. His performances in Master and Commander and LA Confidential being a case in point. And I'm glad to say I wasn't disappointed by this new Robin Hood in the least.

The story is bigger and much more politically complex than we're used to with the hooded man. This isn't just about local politics in Nottingham, it attempts to look at the broader picture of Medieval society at the time: the ludicrousness of the divine right of Kings; the crippling cost of Richard's folly in the Crusades; the threat of the French just across the Channel; the discontent of the Northern barons... etc. etc. and it has at its centre a brilliant conceit. What if Robin Hood wasn't an aristocrat who was outlawed for helping the poor? What if he was actually a common man? A simple archer whose experiences in the Crusades have made him aware that no man has the right to dictate to another?

Crowe is brilliant as this new, meatier Robin. He's heroic but in an entirely believable sense. Having fought for a vainglorious King, he's jaded by combat and yet must live by his fighting skills, for his own survival and that of his comrades. But then he's touched by the plea of a dying man... And ends up discovering a side of himself, a conscience and a purpose, that he had never before considered.

And then for us hopeless romantics we get to add Cate Blanchett's strong and fiesty Maid Marion to the mix. There are several deliciously subtle scenes between the pair, where it's obvious that Crowe's Robin and Blanchett's Marion don't have a clue what to make of each other. She's above him in status - and yet is drawn to his strength. They're attracted to each other but not just in a physical sense... Although for those of us who enjoy the odd guilty pleasure, there's a gloriously sexy but beautifully understated scene where she has to help him out of his chainmail! (And just in case you were wondering, Russell may be several years older than he was in Gladiator - and is not afraid to look his age - but he's still got a very nice chest.)

The epic finish of the film - which plays a bit like Saving Private Ryan meets Henry V - is gloriously over the top, and there's no doubt that Scott and Crowe had at this point decided to jettison the idea of being more realistic in favour of being more true to their story and their characters. But frankly this is myth and legend, so I could get behind that.

Myself I loved this movie.... The scope, the scale, the new elements it brings to the story, Crowe's wonderfully human Robin and Blanchett's feminist Marion. But maybe I'm not the most discerning judge, as I've loved all the big Robin Hood films - right back to Errol's daredevil Sherwood dandy, complete with curly perm!

Heidi's latest Modern Heat, Unfinished Business with the Duke, is currently available online in the UK and will be out in shops in June. It's due out in the US come October as a Harlequin Presents Extra. If you've got a passion for Robin Hood, or any other buff guys, come have a natter with her on her blog, on Facebook, or through her website. She loves to hear from readers... And indeed other writers.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Slushing Through : Play it again, Sam!

Yes, The Pink Heart Society editor Jenna Bayley-Burke knows how Casablanca is constantly misquoted. She just, well, likes it.

We've been doing well, my Slushing Through-ers. We've written our story, taken workshops to make it the best it can be, contested it, queried it, submitted it and now...well, now what?

While your manuscript sits in the waist-high slush pile of your favorite editor or agent, you have two choices -- wait or write. And since the waiting is liable to drive you insane, writing another story is the best option of the two. It can serve as a distraction, a creative outlet, and the opportunity to turn that single book contract into a double (or triple).

What should you write next? Whatever you want. No, I'm not kidding. There are people who will tell you to write something similar so you can brand yourself and blah blah blah... But the best stories are those written with passion and excitement, not the shoulda's and maybe's.

If you like the story you've written and you have an idea blazing for something in a similar vein, go for it! But if you want to cast a wider net, write that. There are some people who each story with a signature style, like The Pink Heart Society's own Donna Alward who has a gift for writing sexy cowboys without actually writing the sex (I'm left in wonderment every time she pulls it off). And then there are people like SuperRomance's Tracy Wolff who has also penned stories for Spice, or Julie Miller who writes for both Intrigue and Blaze, Joanne Rock who writes for both Blaze and Historicals (and beautifully married the two when Blaze opted to try weaving historical romance into the line, and Historicals began releasing shorter, sexier stories as Historical Undone).

The best way to sell a book is to have another coming out. So, think positively. The editor and the agent are going to love your story. They're going to want to see more of what you can do. So...get to writing! It's the best way to get your mind off of trying to figure out if your manuscript is collecting dust bunnies at the bottom of the stack, or coffee rings at the top.

Jenna has a new ebook out. Pride & Passion comes complete with a hero used to getting what he wants, a heroine determined not to give in to him, some indecent proposals, a fair amount of pride, and enough passion to burn up everyone’s control.To find out what Jenna is up to ...check out her website & blog.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

FIRST THINGS FIRST: Balance and the Books

It’s crunch time again. My deadline is looming in the not too far off future and I’m beginning to wonder what it’s going to take to get my third book turned in on schedule.

With Tabloid Affair, Secretly Pregnant!, in addition to an outpouring of support from my friends, family, and fellow writers holding my hands from the farthest reaches of the globe—to hit my deadline, it also took a total shutdown in the homemaking department. Neglect of my family. And compulsive bingeing on Nestle, Frito-Lays, and Keebler products (it was criminal the way those elves were worked on my behalf!)

The book got done and, in the process I lost control of my life and gained a little hip-side keepsake of fourteen pounds to remember it by. Needless to say, this is not the pattern I would like my writing career to follow.

I know, I know. Just last month I was waxing lyrical about my love affair with writing as my job. Dream job. Remember? Well, the thing about any job, dream or not, is that you can’t let it take over your entire life. Period.

So with this third book I’m aiming to strike a better balance between my need to write and my need to maintain a semblance of a life and be there for my family.

But how to do it?

Once again, I’ve gone back to consult with the experts. The lovely and talented Modern Heat girls.

The consensus seems to be this: Honest communication is your best tool. Be realistic with your family, your editor and yourself about what you can accomplish and when--both in setting your deadline schedules and as you work through the book, because sometimes things change. Life can unexpectedly get in the way.

The truth is, finding a balance between writing and life, especially as the deadline approaches, is tough. And not every system will fit every writer. For instance, while some of the girls have found strict organization the key to success, others have found that stepping back and relaxing about the demands of their book actually make them more productive. While some find working weekends the only way to get the job done, others keep weekends totally free for the family. So it’s all about finding where you fit on the spectrum and not letting the stress overwhelm you.

A few helpful tips for stress management: Get regular exercise--it's good for the body and brain. Train your family to take more responsibility around the house. Remember your editor is there to help when you get stuck. Keep a good supply of chocolate on hand. And a good supply of wine when the chocolate doesn't help.

I love flexibility, but the truth is, I know I do better without it. In fact, the more controlled my regiment gets, the better I handle the demands associated with it. So what I’m looking at over the next six weeks is a meticulous schedule to accommodate all of my priorities. If I have time dedicated to being with my family, getting exercise, and even doing the laundry (really, it has to get done), and I know that my writing slot picks up again two hours later, then I can be more “in the moment” instead of worrying about every moment that’s slipping by.

I’ll get to my writing, and if I need more time than I have blocked off, then I stay up later. And if I still can’t get it done without completely sacrificing the things that are important to me, then I’ll know it’s time to have a chat with my editor about how to structure my deadlines differently. Though, obviously, I’m really hoping it doesn’t go that way, lol!

Will report back my findings next month—unless it all goes to pot and you’ll know because my little sister will be posting for me. Really, she’s cool, so it'd be okay, lol!

WILD FLING OR A WEDDING RING? is available now in the UK and for download in the US from the eHarlequin site. Look for it in print in the US in June.
On her first night in Chicago, Cali McGovern meets seriously sexy surgeon Jake Tyler. She’s still sore after her last relationship, and her head’s yelling, run – but her body’s screaming for his touch... For the first time ever, her head gets overruled!

Jake isn’t looking for a wife – been there, done that – but his hot new neighbour is in town just long enough for a wild fling...perfect! Yet when the time’s up he can’t say goodbye. Is it just because of their sizzling chemistry – or something a whole

lot scarier?
Mira's second book, TABLOID AFFAIR, SECRETLY PREGNANT!, will be out in November 2010.
Come back next month for FIRST THINGS FIRST as we follow Mira's journey through the first year after The Call!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Male On Monday - Liev Schreiber

Today, PHS columnist Kate Hardy admits to her soft centre for clever men...

I have a weakness for clever men. Geeks, even. (This is why my heroes tend to have, um, slightly unusual jobs. The archaeologist, the stormchaser, the volcanologist, etc etc.) I love learning new things, so I tend to watch documentaries rather than drama; and, even when I’m watching drama, I’m likely to sit up and take notice of a secondary character who’s a geek.

And that’s how I came to notice Liev Schreiber; in ‘Kate and Leopold’, he played Stuart Besser, the eccentric scientist who was Meg Ryan’s ex – and for me he stole the film from Hugh Jackman!

Isaac Liev Schreiber was born in San Fransisco in 1967, the son of a painter and an actor. (His name is pronounced Lee-ev, though he tells a lovely story about how people usually mispronounce it: “People always pronounce it Leave. I walk into a casting person's office and the first thing I usually hear is ‘Leave!’”)

The family moved to Canada in 1968. When he was five, following his parents’ divorce, he moved to New York with his mother. She wouldn’t let him watch colour films, so he grew up with black and white films; the first colour film he saw was Star Wars in 1977. Although he wanted to be a playwright, one of his teachers persuaded him to become an actor. He trained at RADA in London and the Yale School of Drama, and his Broadway debut was in 1993 in The Summer House. His Shakespearean roles have gained wide critical approval – the New York Times called his performance in Cymbeline ‘revelatory’, and he had rave reviews for Hamlet, the following year. The New Yorker said of his Henry V, "He has a swiftness of mind which convinces the audience that language is being coined in the moment. His speech … feels lived rather than learned.”

As well as his work on stage, he has more than 70 films to his credit (either as an actor or a voice actor). In addition to ‘Kate and Leopold’, he worked with Hugh Jackman again in Wolverine, playing Sabretooth (aka Victor Creed). Other film credits include Charlie Townsend in ‘The Painted Veil’, Orson Welles in ‘RKO 281’ (about the making of ‘Citizen Kane’), Raymond Shaw in ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, and Frank in the recently-released ‘Repo Men’.

He has recently moved to the other side of the camera, writing the screenplay for and directing ‘Everything is Illuminated’ (which won seven awards and was nominated for three more). At the same time, he was acting the part of Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross on stage (and, incidentally, won the 2005 Tony award for best featured actor). On balancing the two roles, he said, “I think a certain amount of Ricky's rage and profanity has been a nice vent from the frustrations of the editing room, so it's great to come out screaming profanities at the audience for an hour and a half after eight hours of trying to be diplomatic in the editing room."

Apparently his nickname since childhood is ‘Huggy’. Liev himself says, "It's not easy being 6' 3" and being called 'Huggy'." And he’s certainly self-deprecating about his looks, when he talks about his experience as a director: "Trying to escape the powder puff and the man blush was the primary motivation for this whole endeavor. It's weird. You think, 'Now I'm going to direct, and they won't give me such a hard time about how I look.' But sure enough, there they are, coming at you with the powder puff and the man blush."

He has two children with the actress Naomi Watts, Alexander Peter and Samuel Kai – and he’s very much a devoted dad. In an interview in the magazine Hamptons, he said, “The minute that they show up and you hear that first scream, it’s a pretty profound feeling. You know that you’re in for it – you’re in for the best thing that ever happened to you and the hardest work you’ll ever do.” And in another interview in Time Out New York, he says how his children help him over the difficult parts of a role: “It’s been a total savior. [Sasha] is like, ‘Daddeeeeee!’ and he just wants to play. You dump the baggage right away and reconnect with all these human feelings. It’s such a good hit.” And he’s sensitive to his partner’s career, too, trading off work schedules so at least one of them can be with the children: “You gotta negotiate with each other and support each other in that regard.”

As a mum of two myself, I can really appreciate that – my Real Life Hero does the same!

In the US and Australia, Kate has a new book on the shelves this month: Good Girl or Gold Digger?, aka the fairground book. You can find out more about the book, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (