Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wild Card Weekend - Girls' Weekend

Welcome Melissa McClone with a post about Girls' Weekend! Makes me want to get away....
Girls' Weekend. The two words bring up lots of memories. Some old and some new. No matter when the weekends occurred, they are so clear in my mind. Late night talks. Tasty food and drinks. Glowing luminaries. The sea breeze against my face. Red Rocks. Wondering if a B and B might be haunted or not. The sound of coins clinking in slot machines. And in one case, tears.

My most recent girls' weekend was in August, just a few short weeks ago. I'd befriended a reader on-line through my blog. Commenting on on each other's blogs for a few years turned into emailing, Christmas cards being exchanged and phone calls. I told her if she ever came out to the Pacific Northwest I'd show her around. Another mutual friend made the same offer.

After winning a plane ticket from Jet Blue, she decided to take us up on the offer. She flew out from the east coast for five days. We toured Oregon from Newport on the coast to Mount Hood. She's a big Leverage fan so got to see many of the places we film. We even caught the American Idol tour concert one night!  Fun times with two girlfriends that I'll cherish always.  A special thanks to Dru for providing the pictures for this blog!

While I love vacationing with my family, there's just something about getting away from it all with girlfriends. It's the comraderie, the chatting, the eating!

Our first stop took us from Portland, Oregon to Newport on the coast. This was my surprise for my friends. I booked us into the Sylvia Beach Hotel where each room is decorated after an author. We stayed in the Colette room. Ocean views, a fireplace and cats. Needless to say, I was in heaven. One of my friends tolerated the cat for my sake. And we had some good laughs over my new feline friend, Shelley.

What do three friends do for five days?  We walked on the beach, through town, at Multnomah Falls and around Timberline Lodge. We went to two different Powell's bookstores. We attended the American Idol Concert. We ate wonderful meals together. We also talked and talked and talked! Amazingly, I even got some early morning and late night writing in!

Our days together reminded me of the other girls' weekends I've had. Most have been places like Las Vegas, Sedona, Mendocino.  The memories are all good.

One girls' weekend wasn't. The best way to describe it was brutal. I'd been dumped by my boyfriend and was in my all men suck phase. One of my closest friends from college and I decided to have a girls weekend skiing in Vail. We could ski during the day and bash men at night. It sounded pretty perfect to me. She decided, however, to invite a guy to join us. Another couple they knew happened to be there, too, so I was the proverbial fifth wheel. Not what I had in mind.

But the experience along with all the other girls' weekends I'd gone on over the years really came in handy when it came time to work on the Harlequin Romance continuity series Girls'Weekend in Las Vegas.

Myrna Mackenzie, Shirley Jump, Jackie Braun and I wrote about four best friends from San Diego who go on a girls weekend in Las Vegas to help one of them, my heroine Jayne, get over her cheating fiance and broken engagement.

The weekend doesn't quite turn out like any of them expected, which seems par for the course when it comes to girls' weekends. But that's okay. Friendship prevails, as well as love which, for us romance writers, is what matters most! I just wish I could get Myrna, Shirley and Jackie to join me for a girls' weekend somewhere. I bet we'd have a really good time together!

What is your favorite girls' weekend locale?  Do you have a favorite memory of a time you got away with your girlfriends?

Melissa McClone lives in the Pacific Northwest and writes for Harlequin Romance. Her newest release, Wedding Date with the Best Man, is book four of the Girls' Weekend in Las Vegas series and on sale in the US in September 2010. Later this month, her eight part eHarlequin free on-line read, Snow-Kissed Reunion will be available.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Must Watch Friday - Those Other Cooking Shows

TV schedules are full of cooking shows. How many celebrity chefs do we know on first name terms? We see programs showing professionals whipping up exotic dishes while we wonder if we can make something like that in our own kitchen. Then there are all the cooking shows where contestants are pitted against each other and the clock to produce stunning meals that will excite the judges. This week our columnist Annie West takes a look at another type of food program.

I have friends who are chefs. I've seen them at work. I know how much effort goes into keeping all that stainless steel in a commercial kitchen so shiny and I have no desire to go that route. I love good food and yes, I'll drool over a beautifully cooked meal prepared by someone else, but I've concluded that there's something far better than celebrity chef shows. Give me a programs where ordinary people take us into their homes and cook the things they love to eat! That's my idea of great entertainment. It covers the basics for me: good food, a touch of the exotic and a chance to peek into other people's kitchens. What could be better?

Lately there have been a number of programs on Australian TV that have had me glued. They're down to earth, they show fantastic food from all sorts of marvellous countries and they take us into other people's homes and lives (absolutely rivetting TV for a writer).

One of my favourites is 'My Family Feast' an Australian production showing Sean Connolly visiting a different family each week. These families are often relatively new arrivals to Australia and their food preparations and customs usually seem pretty different to those in my own family. Afghan feasts over a fire in the back yard, salami making in a farm shed (I'll pass on that one, thanks), an Italian feast for an extended family, or spending the afternoon preparing delicious food under the shade of a tree. Sean meets the family, learns about the special occasion they're celebrating, helps prepare the food and then joins the crowd that gets to enjoy it.

I love the warmth and vibrancy of this show. The chance to peep into another world I've barely heard about that might exist just a few streets away from my own. These are real people making food the way their families have cooked for generations and it's fascinating watching their deft hands create wonderful food you can almost smell. By the end of each program I want to be there, joining in the fun.

And one of the best things about the show is that the recipes are available on the web to try for yourself. My elderly father even had me printing off a Serbian meatball recipe because it looked so tempting. He's given me the energy to try some of the Cuban dishes or perhaps some from Burma or the Congo.

In a similar vein there's Maeve O'Mara's 'Food Safari'. Another great Aussie show that has her visiting restaurants and homes in search of delicious foods. Each episode is devoted to a particular type of cuisine. I love being taken into other people's kitchens and watching them whip up something tasty on their stovetop or the BBQ and have them explain what some of those exotic ingredients are for. My only gripe is that the food looks so great and it's Maeve, not me, getting to taste the results.

Another recent fave is a BBC production: 'A Taste of Iran' with Sadeq Saba as a guide to his homeland. Just the names Isfahan and Shiraz conjure up a taste for travel and this program shows me just what I'm missing. Saba travels from the north of Iran to the south, showing wonderful scenery, cities, people, customs and of course food. Where else could I get to drool over the ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis (a place I've long wanted to visit) and learn the best way to eat candy floss or watch all sorts of other tasty delights being prepared? A cross between armchair travel and culinary pleasure, this one is must see TV for me.

How about you? Do you have a favourite food program? Or maybe a food and travel program combined? What do you watch to unwind after a hard day?

Annie's latest story PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE was inspired by European winter markets with the scent of snow and mulled wine on the air. By tasty treats with dark cherries and chocolate, by half metre long sausages cooked on grill plates in tiny market tents, and memories of fresh roasted chestnuts and hot, sugared almonds straight from the cooker. PASSION is a Cinderella story, about a bookish, bespectacled heroine who meets a prince who looks 'like Prince Charming's far more experienced and infinitely more dangerous brother'. It's out now in the UK. You can buy it at UK Amazon, Mills and Boon or the Book Depository. To read an excerpt or enter a contest to win a copy, visit Annie's website.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Soundtrack - Seth Lakeman

Brigid Coady talks Seth Lakeman and how sometimes you need music that evokes the place you are writing about.

If you have been reading The Pink Heart Society for awhile you'll know that I am a country music fan. More than that I write, produce and present a country music chart show every week on CMR Nashville, an internet radio station. For me country has always hit the spot when looking for soundtracks to my writing. Other genres are there but the base is country. Until the latest one.

I am writing a YA novel set in Cumbria in the north of England just before you hit Scotland. Rugged, beautiful and quintessentially English. I am writing about places thousands of years old, looking at stories and folk tales. And much as I love country music it was too American. It was made for wide open spaces while I was looking for something more intimate, more English. Now I scoffed my parents taste in the folk music of the 60s and 70s. But yet I was drawn towards folk music but I needed something up to date yet timeless which is why I ended up with Seth Lakeman.

Seth Lakeman was born in Devon in 1977 and began playing with his parents and brothers from an early age. His second album Kitty Jay was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2004/5 which is when I came across him. And as you can see he is as beautiful to look at as to listen to. Future Male on Monday maybe?

Ok so the picky ones among you might notice that Devon is quite a way from Cumbria. And that folk music is influenced by the Scots and the Irish but really go with me on this. Listening to his first three albums as I wrote my YA kept me going weaving the fantastical with the real.

On Sunday night I was lucky enough to hear him play at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre. WOW! The setting, the music all came together. I was spellbound. The songs that had been mine and my characters alone for the past six months were suddenly being shared by hundreds of other people. It was fantastic.

It was also serendipitous. I am about to start revising the YA and hearing its soundtrack live revved my engines, got my juices going and if it hadn't been so dark I would have started taking notes! It also sparked in me a new story.

How do music and place relate for you?

Brigid's short story 'The Great Leap Forward' is published in 'Even More Tonto Short Stories'. And the revising of the YA novel begins... NOW!!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Writer's Wednesday: Bad Boys as Heroes?

This Writer's Wednesday Intrigue author Paula Graves asks a great question - can bad boys be hero material?

I'm a sucker for a good redemption story. I'm also a bit of a sucker for a story where someone who seems completely irredeemable gets a second chance to get it right. Which got me to thinking about what a guy has to do to be a romance hero. Regardless of his background and history, what does it take to be heroic?

Could a thief be redeemed? I think this particular crime has the most potential, because slick, sexy jewel thiefs are an old staple of movies and stories, so you wouldn't have far to jump to make one of those guys a hero. But what about a guy who steals to keep his family fed? It seems a little more sympathetic on the surface--but heroes are supposed to be able to take care of their families without resorting to crime. In a perverted sort of way, it's more egregious for men to steal food than diamonds, at least in terms of what we're looking for in a hero. A diamond thief is doing something very difficult, breaking security systems, taking big risks. He's proactive and alpha in a way a common grocery thief wouldn't be.

But let's think a little harder about the food thief. What if he was a young, single father, left to take care of a new baby, out of work because the economy tanked and thanks to a troubled family life and having a child so young, he's never gotten enough education and training to pick himself up and make something of himself? We could set his story later in his life, after he's worked his way out of the mess he was in and now he's trying to go back to every place he stole money from (because he's so consciencious, he actually kept a journal documenting where he stole and what he stole because he intended to pay them back. Now we've got a hero with a real quirk, a real sense of honor, and someone who could make a very interesting hero with the right story. By going to lengths to pay back the money he owed, by even keeping the record in the first place, he's displaying honor as well as being proactive and daring about doing what's right. That's the kind of behavior we look for in our heroes, no matter what the background.

Could a con artist be redeemed? I'm reminded of the TV show LOST because all of those characters needed redemption in one way or another. But James "Sawyer" Ford was, for much of the early run, a near villain on the show who slowly, over time and with much suffering in the meantime, found his way to a measure of redemption. He ended the show still an anti-hero type, rather than a full-blown hero, but he was rootable enough to be considered a strong protagonist by the end. What made his redemption story work was that his essential self didn't really change--he was still clever, determined and at times ruthless--but his motives changed. He cared about other people in a way he didn't in the beginning He began taking into account the feelings and needs of others. He even put himself on the line to help others, something he didn't do in the early, unrootable days of the show. He was always proactive, but at the end, he showed honor as well.

I should point out that Sawyer was also a murderer--twice over--which I think is normally very hard to forgive in a hero. In both instances, Sawyer thought he was killing the man who destroyed his family. He was right one of the times, but not before he mistakenly murdered a man who was not guilty of the crimes he thought. The otherworldy, almost allegorical nature of LOST allows for viewers to overlook some pretty egregious behavior by the characters. But in a romance, I think it would be very hard to have a murderer as a hero unless the circumstances were extremely mitigating (like killing a man who killed your daughter or wife) and the hero had since repented of his behavior and accepted the moral and legal consequences of such a crime as being fully deserved.

I don't think rapists or sexual predators of any sort would be likely candidates for heroes because sexual violence is usually rooted in deeper psychological problems that those who commit the crimes won't be able to overcome. It would be a really, really, REALLY hard sell, both to an editor and to the reader.

But are there other crimes you think would be unforgivable for a potential hero to have ever committed in his lifetime? And are there bad guy characters in books, on TV or in movies that you think are prime candidates for a redemption story and their own happily ever after? Tell us about them!

Paula's latest release is BACHELOR SHERIFF.  Come back on the 28th as it is also our PINK HEART PICK Book Club selection for September! 

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Destination Life : The ghosts of Prague

In her latest Destination Life column, Michelle Styles recounts a visit to Prague.
When I first thought about writing this blog about Prague, I thought I would write about the many marionette shops, the cobbled streets and the fantastic atmosphere. Because it was never bombed during WW2 and then mouldered gently under the Communists, it boasts of many unique buildings with place names that seem straight out of fairy tale. Who can resist a place which boasts of  a Winter Queen and a Street of Gold where alchemists once toiled to turn base metal in the real thing. But Prague and my visit to it had a much more profound effect on me.
It is a city of ghosts and memories. The most obvious were in the old Jewish Quarter. In the 19th century, the Jewish ghetto of Prague was a byword for  over crowding. Many tales were told of the magical happenings, in part inspired by Rabbi Low's golem. Supposedly in the late 16th century, Rabbi Low created a clay creature and brought it to life by placing a magical tablet in its mouth. The creature went berserk and the Rabbi had to risk life and limb to remove the tablet and stop the golem. Later he secreted the creature in the rafters of the Old-New synagogue where legend has it remains to this day. However, in the late 19th and early 20th century, the city authorities started to raze the ghetto and move people out. This was exacerbated by WW2. Hitler had plans to make the Old Jewish Quarter a memorial to a dead race. The Jewish Quarter is now mainly silent except for tourists, but it is a different sort of memorial. The Pinkas Synagogue serves as a memorial to all those Jewish Czecholslovak citizens who were deported by the Nazis to concentration camps and did not return. The names of  77,297 people are inscribed on the walls but it was the exhibition of children's drawings from the Terezin concentration camp that had tears flooding down my face. There was one which said -- Dreaming of Palestine and freedom.
The ghosts of WW2 are not just confined to the Jewish Quarter, the Orthodox cathedral of SS Cyril and Methodius still bear the bullet holes and scars of when the Czech agents who had assassinated the hated Heydrich were captured. They had initially escaped and everyone thought it was going to plan but they were eventually betrayed by a member of the Czech Resistance. The Nazi fury at what happened led directly to the death of 10,000 Czechs, including those who were burnt alive in a barn near the village of  Lidlice. The memorial to the men and the rest of the victims of the brutal reign of Heydrich is covered in flowers. Their story was told in the 1977 movie Operation Daybreak. It is a profoundly moving place not the least for the sacrifices of the bishops and priests involved.
Finally because my husband wanted to get my eldest who was studying Russian a real communist souvenir rather than something from one of the many vendors, we ended up down a back street in a used military equipment place, hung with cigarette smoke and full of odd exhibits. Several guns, a black leather over coat, and a knife with rust stains. It reminded me of a cross between something from a John le Carre novel and the black magic shop in Harry Potter. The former KGB agent/army officer was on the phone and we backed out of the place, returning to the light and bustle of modern day Prague. My sons had to make due with fake Soviet Army hats...
Sometimes when you go to a city, it can be good to visit the hidden byways and it can be the least expected things that linger in your mind. Is there any place unexpected that has lingered far longer than you thought it would?
Michelle Styles writes for Harlequin Historical. Her next UK release is the Viking's Captive Princess in December and A Question of Impropriety will be her next US release also in December. You can learn more about Michelle's books on her website

Monday, September 06, 2010

Male on Monday David Morrissey

Kate Walker looks forward to a new drama starring one of her favourite actors (though by the time this post apears, it will have been broadcast and over and done with.)

Last week, my September TV viewing was looking a little empty. For three happy weeks the Babe Magnet and I have been happily glued to the new BBC comedy detective series Vexed which starred a previous Male on Monday Toby Stephens in a bravura performance as lazy, careless, disorganised DI Jack Armstrong. But that finished last weekend. Just what was going to replace it?

But then the new drama U Be Dead was announced and when I saw who was starring in the role of Dr Jan Falkowski, a London psychiatrist who in 2003 was subjected to three years of what the police describe as the worst case of stalking they had ever encountered, I knew the space left by Mr Stephens would be filled by one of my favourite and most watchable actors, David Morrissey.
David Morrissey is one of the not exactly tall dark and handsome actors who fascinate me. Like other favourites, John Simm, even at time Kenneth Branagh, he sometimes, particularly in still photographs looks - well, yes, tall, admittedly (he’s 6’ 3” ) but slightly pasty faced, and ugly-goodlooking in a hard man, tough cop sort of way. But given a meaty dramatic role and a tense plot and he is infinitely watchable.

David Mark Morrissey was born 21 June 1964. He grew up in the Kensington and Knotty Ash areas of Liverpool. He learned to act at the Everyman Youth Theatre, alongside Ian Hart, Mark and Stephen McGann, and Cathy Tyson. At the age of 18, he and Hart were cast in the television series One Summer (1983), which won them recognition throughout the country. After making One Summer, Morrissey attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

In the early stage in his career, he tried to avoid being typecast as policemen and soldiers on television, though still ended up playing the former in Black and Blue, Framed, Between the Lines and Out of the Blue, and the latter playing Andy McNab in The One That Got Away (Paul Greengrass, 1996)]
Throughout the rest of the 1990s, Morrissey began to assert himself as a leading actor; in 1996, he made his first appearance in a Tony Marchant drama, playing Michael Ride in Into the Fire. The following year he played the lead role of Shaun Southerns in Marchant's BBC series Holding On. Southerns, a crooked tax inspector, was the first of many "men in turmoil" roles for Morrissey, and it earned him a nomination for the Royal Television Society Programme Award for Best Male Actor the next year. In 1998, he appeared in Our Mutual Friend where he played schoolmaster Bradley Headstone, a part Morrissey was reluctant to take until reading the script. He studied the role and decided that the character was "an unloved person who keeps on getting it wrong. He could see what a big issue class was for [Headstone], which eventually tips him over into madness." His performance was described by a Guardian writer as bringing "unprecedented depth to a character [...] who is more commonly portrayed as just another horrible Dickens git." In the same year, he played Christopher "Kiffer" Finzi in Hilary and Jackie.

For his next film role as Nazi Captain Weber in Captain Corelli's Mandolin Morrissey researched the Hitler Youth and read Gitta Sereney's biography of Albert Speer, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. As with all of his roles, Morrissey created an extensive backstory for Weber to build up the character.

Morrissey returned to television in 2002, playing Franny Rothwell, a factory canteen worker who wants to adopt his dead sister's son, in an episode of Paul Abbott's Clocking Off. His performance was described as "fine, characteristically powerful" in The Independent. He also played tabloid journalist Dave Dewston in the four-part BBC serial Murder, and prison officer Mike in the part-improvised single drama Out of Control. He researched the latter part by shadowing prison officers in a young offenders' institution for a week.

Morrissey was cast in the leading role of Member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Collins for Paul Abbott's BBC serial State of Play (2003). Morrissey's role as Gordon Brown in The Deal (Stephen Frears, 2003), a single drama about a pact made between the two politicians in 1994, for which he put on 2 stone and had his hair permed and dyed, won him acclaim.
His acting in State of Play and The Deal won him considerable acclaim; he was nominated for the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor for his role as Collins but lost to his co-star Bill Nighy. The following year, Morrissey won the RTS Programme Award for Best Male Actor, in his role in The Deal this time beating Nighy.

In 2004, eager to play a comic role, he reunited with Peter Bowker for the BBC One musical serial Blackpool, in which he plays Blackpool arcade owner Ripley Holde. His performance was described as "a powerful mixture of barely suppressed danger and vulnerable, boyish charm." A public poll on ranked him the second best actor of 2004. Morrissey reprised the role in 2006 in Viva Blackpool!, a one-off sequel. The following years saw him cast in two high-profile feature films; while filming the Brian Jones biopic Stoned, he got an audition for Dr Michael Glass, the male lead in Basic Instinct 2.Then later he starred in The Reaping with Hilary Swank. None of these films were major box office or critical success.

In 2007 he played the part of Colonel Brandon in Andrew Davies' Sense and Sensibility. He also appeared as Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk in The Other Boleyn Girl .
In December 2008 he appeared alongside his Blackpool co-star David Tennant in "The Next Doctor", the 2008 Christmas special of Doctor Who, playing Jackson Lake—a man who believes he is the Doctor after his mind is affected by alien technology .This prompted media speculation that Morrissey would be taking over the lead role after Tennant quit, and in October 2008 he was the bookmakers' favourite to take on the role.

In March 2009, he appeared as corrupt police detective Maurice Jobson in Red Riding, the Channel 4 adaptation of David Peace's Red Riding Quartet. 2009 also saw Morrissey play Dr Jan Falkowski in U Be Dead, a fact-based drama for ITV about a doctor who becomes the victim of stalking via text messaging. The drama was first broadcast in New Zealand. At the end of the year, Morrissey played Bobby Dykins in the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy . As a self-confessed "Beatles geek", Morrissey relished the opportunity to star in the film about Lennon's childhood.

In 2010, Morrissey starred in the BBC single drama Mrs Mandela as Theunis Swanepoel, the interrogator of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (played by Sophie Okonedo). His performance was praised by Guardian and Independent critics] In March, he starred in the second series of BBC One's Five Days, playing British Transport Police officer Mal Craig. The following month saw the release of Neil Marshall's Centurion, in which Morrissey plays Roman soldier Bothos, and in July he featured as Colonel John Arbuthnot in the Agatha Christie's Poirot adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, which was first broadcast in the United States.

Morrisey also works as a director on productions like Sweet Revenge which won him a BAFTA nomination for Best New Director (Fiction) , Bring Me Flowers and Don’t Worry About Me. He is married to novelist Esther Freud and they have three children; Albie, Anna and Gene.

So that's my 'research' sorted for now. Sadly, U Be Dead is only a one off - but then I do have a performance of another of my favourite actors to look forward to in a couple of weeks time when I get to see John Simm live on stage in Hamlet at the Sheffiled Crucible. It's a tough j0b but someone has to do it.

Kate Walker's latest release for Harlequin Mills and Boon is a little unusual. The Good Greek Wife? is part of a four book mini-series that retells classic Greek Myths, updating and 'Modernising' them in romance form. The mini-series is labelled The Greek Tycoons - Legends are Made of Men Like These.

The Good Greek Wife? is available as an ebook and a print edition now on eHarlequin and will be released in America in October when it is out in Presents Extra but Kate's most recent Presents title The Konstantos Marriage Demand with another sexy Greek hero is still available on eHarlequin and Amazon.

You can read how Kate approached writing The Good Greek Wife? on her website and all her most up to date news can be found on her blog.