Monday, February 28, 2011

MALE ON MONDAY: Clive Owen

Jillian Burns joins Male On Monday with a look at international hunk Clive Owen…


I don’t mean to diss American Males, but it seems all my favorite Hotties lately have accents. There’s something about the British (Daniel Craig), Scots (Gerard Butler), Welsh (Christian Bale) and Australian (Russell Crow/Hugh Jackman/Eric Bana) inflection that sends my heart racing. Of course, all these men are totally hot just standing there not speaking at all… The accent just puts a little icing on the cake.




Recently, my drooling has been over British actor Clive Owen. He’s the inspiration for my hero Max, the cranky Alaskan bush pilot, in my new Blaze, Primal Calling. (cover)

The first time I saw Clive was in a movie called Gosford Park, in which Clive has a lovely kissing scene. Since then he’s played the romantic King Arthur, the dashing pirate, Sir Walter Raleigh, and an obsessed doctor in Beyond Borders.




Although most of his movies were Hollywood blockbusters, such as The International, with Julia Roberts, Clive has also starred in several low key, almost obscure films with unusual storylines and not always sympathetic characters.




Born in Coventry, England, Clive has been called the next great “Ruffian” actor from England. Askmen.com said of him, “Coming from squalid surroundings, the boy had to stand up for himself early on, especially when it came to chasing his acting aspirations. Ironically, it was the gruff guys that Clive Owen was born to play.”


And this, “-a man with sharp threads, a steely confident gaze and rugged good looks, Clive is testosterone on tap with rough hands and a firm grip. He's the tall, dark stranger who all women want.”




I couldn’t have said it better myself. Yum.

As I do with any current male obsession, I IMDB’d him and found the list of his movies I hadn’t seen yet, then set about renting them. My favorite so far, besides Children of God (not an HEA, but what a wonderful example of a reluctant hero who gives his all for RIGHT. Hard to resist, that. But one film that did have an HEA was a quirky little British romance called Greenfingers. This movie shows Clive’s softer side.




But enough of the intellectual jabber. Let’s get to the important stuff, shall we? Ahh, those light green eyes, or are they blue? They seem to change depending his what color he’s wearing. I love that. And, oh, those shoulders, that dark-stubbled jaw and dimpled chin. And how about those abs! Most men either look good with a beard and look awful without it, or vice versa, but Clive looks just as sexy with or without facial hair. He makes scruffy sexy, and cranky mysterious.




Ok, I’ve gushed on long enough. Even though Clive is British, he is the inspiration for my gruff Half Inupiat hero. But that’s okay. Eric Bana was the inspiration for my first Blaze hero and Gerard Butler the next. So, I really do have a thing for foreign men.




I’m giving away a copy of Primal Calling or my Oct 2010 Blaze, Seduce and Rescue to one commenter that can tell me what man inspires her. Famous or not.




Thank you to all the Pink Heart ladies for inviting me to be a guest today. Always fun, always a pleasure,




Jillian




Jillian Burns lives in Texas with her husband of twenty-two years and their three active kids. She likes to think her emotional nature—sometimes referred to as moodiness by those closest to her—has found the perfect outlet in writing stories filled with passion and romance. She spent her youth with her nose in a book, immersed in the worlds of Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennett, and believes romance novels have the power to change lives with their message of eternal love and hope. Her newest Harlequin Blaze, PRIMAL CALLING, will be in stores everywhere March 1st and she will have 2 more Blazes out in 2011. For more information and excerpts you can visit her website www.jillianburns.com









Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wildcard Weekend: To series or not to series

PHS is delighted to welcome back Harlequin Historical author Elaine Golden who investigates the whole question of series!

Written serial storytelling dates back centuries --to Scheherazade and One Thousand and One Nights (also known as Arabian Nights). You know the one, where poor Scheherazade tells the king a story every night that ends with a cliffhanger, so that he postpones her execution the next morning so he can learn what happens next in the story. One Thousand and One Nights is believed to be a compilation of Indian-influenced Persian tales told through the years and finally recorded in Arabic in the 10th century.

By the early 19th century, many writers earned their living by writing serial stores. Sometimes the serials were published in weekly newspapers (Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers). In Britain the penny dreadful was particularly popular, a type of serial booklet printed on cheap paper and sold weekly in installments for a penny apiece (Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and Oliver Twist among many others).
Then there are book series, that don’t rely on a cliffhanger so much as a common setting, characters or story arc. In the early 19th century, James Fennimore Cooper became wildly popular for his Leatherstocking Tales (of which included The Last of the Mohicans). And, by the late 19th century, Americans were producing the dime novel, the true antecedent of today’s mass-market paperback, printed on cheap paper and sold inexpensively for a dime.

Today, it seems that while the serial story has become less frequently published (though still alive and well, as demonstrated by eHarlequin.com’s Daily, Weekly and Featured serial reads), it seems it’s the series that’s grown ever more popular. From Laurens’ Cynsters to Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter series, and Kleypas’ Hathaways to Cole’s Immortals After Dark, romance series are thriving.
I enjoy reading romance series, when the characters evolve out of the world or overall story arc. I like to revisit the settings and ‘check in’ with characters to see how things are developing in their relationships –but only if it’s a natural progression of the current story.

When I wrote An Imprudent Lady, I never intended for it to be a series. I had a simple Regency story to tell of young lovers, separated for nearly two decades, suddenly bumping into each other again; I wanted to explore what they would go through to reconnect. But as I wrote the story, the heroine’s siblings began to share little bits of their own stories and, by the end of AIL, I felt compelled to tell their stories. Thankfully, Harlequin decided to buy those too!

This month, I’m delighted to see my debut romance, An Imprudent Lady, published with Harlequin Historical Undone, the first in the Fortney Follies series (click here for blurb and excerpt). The sequel, A Disgraceful Miss, will be available on March 1st.
How about you? Do you prefer to read books that are part of an author’s series? What appeals to you most about them? Or, if you aren’t a fan of the series novel, what is it that doesn’t appeal to you?
Harlequin Historical Undone! are short, sexy stories that are perfect when you’re limited on time but want a great romance read.

To learn more about Elaine and her wonderful Regency series visit her website: http://www.elainegolden.com/

Friday, February 25, 2011

Must Watch Friday: Megamind by Kate Hardy

OK, so it’s an animation. Have I gone crazy, saying that a kids’ film is actually a brilliantly done romantic comedy?

Maybe, because over the past couple of weekends I’ve seen some romcoms that fell utterly flat for me (even though they were box office hits). The first had a lead actor whose work I really like, but the film didn’t work for me because I didn’t see any real chemistry between the characters or any growth/change in the characters. The second… er, where was the romance? Where was the comedy? Why did it take ages for the hero and heroine to meet? And why, when there was finally a promise that the hero was going to change and grow, did the director add something to the mix that made me really dislike the heroine’s behaviour, and then the hero did an about-turn on the change front and stayed exactly as he was at the beginning?

Lessons to be learned there, methinks, in crafting a romantic novel (particularly category romance). We need the hero and heroine together quickly; we need characters we can care about (with flaws, but not deal-breaking flaws); and we need to meet them at a point of change (and care about the way they change).

And this is exactly what happens in Megamind.

I have to admit, I hated the trailer and thought it was going to be a really tedious, predictable film. The only reason we went to see it was because I had a deal with the kids that we’d go to the movies twice a week in the school holidays, and we’d already seen all the other suitable films that were out that week.

Wow. Talk about a pleasant surprise! The trailer really didn’t do the film justice. Great animation, fabulous soundtrack, and a plot that really worked for me.

So far, so simple: super-villain Megamind (Will Ferrell) with his big blue head conquers Metroman the super-hero (Brad Pitt), and discovers that life is no fun without a hero to fight. Megamind then creates a new super-hero, Titan.

Enter the feisty heroine, Roxanne (Tiny Fey) – whom Megamind has kidnapped quite a few times, and it’s obvious he thinks she’s gorgeous but she won’t give him the time of day. Except he has a device that allows him to take on someone else’s appearance, so he takes on the appearance of Bernard, the museum curator… and this allows him to get to know Roxanne. She falls in love with Megamind in his ‘Bernard’ guise, but he knows he’s living a lie because she’ll reject him if she discovers who he really is.

Roxanne and Megamind start working together to defeat Titan (who’s turned super-villain because Roxanne has rejected him in favour of ‘Bernard’). But then she discovers ‘Bernard’s’ true identity, and rejects him. Megamind at this point has lost his job (Titan’s taken over the supervillain role), his best friend and the love of his life… so he gives himself up and goes to prison.

But then Titan captures Roxanne, who begs Megamind to help. Megamind’s best friend returns to help him escape from prison; and finally Megamind conquers Titan and is accepted as the city’s new superhero… as well as winning his girl back.

I loved it. Really feel-good, and the kind of thing you can enjoy with the kids but also enjoy on a different level as an adult. Unlike the romcoms that let me down, this one had a good ‘meet’ between the hero and heroine, and definite character arcs and growth for both. The humour was great (not slapstick - really witty), the sountrack was superb, and I recommend it highly. (And I am SO getting it on Blu-ray when it's released!)

Kate has two medical romances coming out soon – The Doctor’s Royal Love Child (in the first Penhally series) is out in the US in April (featuring a royal wedding… just what we’re about to get in real life in April!), and The Fireman and Nurse Loveday (in the first St Piran’s series) is out in the UK in April.

You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website (http://www.katehardy.com/) and her blog (http://katehardy.blogspot.com/)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pink Heart Picks: Red Wine and Her Sexy Ex

This month it was Modern Heat time - or in North America, Presents Extra. I eschewed books that have been on my tbr longer because, well, my tbr, my rules. I can tackle it how I want to. :-) Red Wine and Her Sexy Ex by Kate Hardy is a recent release and the first in a duo (and yes, I have the next book, Champagne With A Celebrity on my tbr, and haven't read it yet because I've been judging RITA books).

Blurb:

Her head says no!
Yes, Xavier Lefevre was still the most gorgeous guy Allegra had ever met. If it were possible, he'd got even tastier with age! But everything has changed since that long, hot summer affair years ago. This time it's strictly business - like it or not they both own the vineyard, and she isn't going to sell Xavier her piece of the label!

But her body screams yes!
Now she has two months to prove to him she'll make a great partner, and to persuade herself she doesn't need him in her bed. Yet who is she kidding? Even the thought is far too tempting, far too delicious...

When I picked this book, I mentioned that the idea of a romantic French vineyard was just the thing for a cold January and I was right! It's a lovely book full of sensual delights and with a lot of "Kate" in it. If you've read Kate's blog, you'll know she's very much into music and food and this story was chock-a-block full. Beautiful piano selections, wines I would love to taste, and al fresco lunches of bread and cheese that seemed perfect. Add in a hot hero, a determined heroine, TWO romantic settings - the countryside and Paris - she really couldn't miss. She hit me in all the right spots. :-) It was a refreshing delight and I was sorry I had to wait to read the next - it won't languish on my tbr for long!


But I'm going to pick something different for next month. We're going to switch gears and lines and head into Love Inspired territory. In particular - Jillian Hart territory. The pick for March is A MCLASKIN HOMECOMING! You can download it HERE as it is an older release that has been brought out in e-format.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

WRITER'S WEDNESDAY: Exercising the Creative Flow

Fiona Lowe joins Writer's Wednesday to talk about how creating movement in her life helps her creative energy...

While the northern hemisphere is gearing up for spring break and are well into the second half of the school year, here ‘Down Under’ we’ve just started a new school year. It’s week three and routine is back. I need routine. During the summer I can write in short bursts but it’s not that easy although I am in love with my ear plugs!

As an author I sit a lot. Way more than my myotherapist is happy with but I find typing standing up a tad hard. I’m also over 35 and sadly, from about then and ever onwards, our body objects to too much sitting. Recently, my hips scream if I sit for more than an hour. Cue picture of me jumping to my feet, running down the stairs, making a cup of tea and doing circuits around the island bench while the kettle boils. Or pegging out the washing. Or walking to the mail box. Just moving in general.

When I was pregnant, I was a woman on a mission and I treated being pregnant as a job…have I mentioned I have a few anal retentive tendencies??? Anyway, I swam three times a week to be fit for labour and to be healthy for the baby. Once the baby came – job over- I stopped exercising. I’m not a naturally athletic person and I’ve had to work really hard at being a reasonable tennis player, and the thought of going for a run makes me sit down. But I know that to be creative, that to have a good work day, I need to exercise. The fact that I can talk myself out of it in a heartbeat is the problem.

Two years ago, the planets aligned. My youngest son started to take the bus to school so I lost the “walk to school” opportunity. However, the bus stop is next to a women’s gym. I had NEVER stepped foot inside a gym in my life. With great anxiety I walked in. Best decision I made. There were women there of all shapes and sizes and the fact that I am uncoordinated and fall over my feet when I try to raise my knee to my elbow didn’t matter. They just smile and said, “it takes a while to get it. You’ll be fine.” So I signed up.

I figured that DS2 had to catch the bus five times a week so I could attach my gym attendances to him walking out the door. Also, he is really bossy so he says, “Mum, shouldn’t you be coming to the gym?’ I love him to death but some days….

So I hit the gym three times a week and can be at my desk by 9am for my workday. I am more focused- ish (turn off the internet, Fiona) and my hips ache a lot less. Sure, when I’m tired, it’s hard to go but again my attendance is attached to a bossy 12 year old so I get thereJ If I don’t, I miss it. I miss the buzz I get, I miss the storylines running through my head or the manuscript problem solving that happens in the gym.

I think everyone needs to build some exercise into their day whether you’re writing or not and if you want to get started it doesn’t have to be the gym- I’ve done swimming, bike riding, walking and people tell me Zumba is great but I have that uncoordinated thing and figure I’d land on my face! If you don’t have a bossy 12 year old, then attach it to something in your daily routine so you can’t talk yourself out of it. I promise you, it will be worth it!

Fiona Lowe writes” romances for today” and her current release is a Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance. Single Dad’s Triple Trouble has a heroine who exercises occasionally. For more information about Fiona visit her at her website or on Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CRAFTY CORNER TUESDAY : : George's Cherry Pie

Anne McAllister is enduring an ice storm at the moment, so thoughts of baking are getting higher on her list of great things to do.

Regardless of when the U.S. celebrates "Presidents' Day" these days, when I was a kid in school we had TWO Presidents whose birthdays we celebrated -- Abraham Lincoln on February 12th and George Washington on February 22nd. And right in the middle, of course, there was Valentine's Day.

To say that we didn't get a lot done academically in February is not too far from the truth.

But we did manage to bake a lot,

We had Lincoln Logs -- which were rolled up sponge-cake sorts of things with filling,

We had Valentine's Day heart-shaped cookies.

And we had cherry pie.

The cherry pie was for George W's birthday, as we were all taught the George Washington cherry tree story, the one where he didn't tell a lie and, when asked, admitted he chopped down a particular cherry tree.

Thus it was that, as Americans, we had a value lesson: don't lie, and a history lesson: George Washington was the first President of the U.S., and good tasty comfort food at the same time.

We had a cherry tree in our yard for years, until a storm took it down one spring. But as a result we got lots of cherry pies, few of them, however, in February, unless I was prescient enough to remember to save a quart of frozen cherries from the previous summer's crop.

Fresh pie cherries are one of the best things in the world. But as you're not going to be finding lots of them right now, here's a recipe that uses canned cherries,

If you are going to use "cherry pie filling" -- the kind that you just dump into the pie shell, omit all the filling ingredients and use that instead.

Caveat: Don't just go for the cheapest brand. Get a good brand. One I got had 12 cherries floating around in syrupy stuff. I did not buy that brand again.

Apologies for the US measurements by volume, not weight. I'm sure you can find somewhere on the internet that will convert them for you to your local measures.



George's Cherry Pie


1/2 to 3/4 c. sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
dash salt
1 c. juice from cherries
1 tablespoon butter
5-8 drops almond extract
4 cups thawed, drained, frozen pitted pie (tart) cherries
pie crust for a 9" pie, with lattice topping
(use your own favorite pie crust recipe, Everyone seems to have their own version)

Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in pan. Add cherry juice gradually. Stir till smooth. Cook on top of stove over medium heat until thick and clear. Add butter and almond extract. Cool.

Line pie pan with bottom crust. Add cherries to cooled sugar and cornstarch mixture. Pour this into pastry-lined pie pan. Top with lattice strips. Crimp edges.

This pie can bubble over, so put aluminum foil around the edges to keep them from burning and the pie from running over. Bake in the middle level of the oven. Put a cookie sheet below it to catch drips unless you like to clean ovens.

Bake in hot oven (425 degrees. Google tells me this is gas mark 7) for about 40 minutes. If you dare, remove the foil for the last 10 minutes.

If you don't have canned cherries and you are, bless your heart, using fresh ones, combine 3 cups, pitted sour c herries with 1-1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 c all-purpose flour, anda dash of salt. You can do this in an 8" pie pan. Dot it with 2 tablespoons of butter, add the lattice top and bake as above.

Frankly, I think George was crazy to have cut down the cherry tree. There are just too many great things you can do with cherries!


Anne's current Presents (out in Feb in North America), Hired by Her Husband, coincidentally (really!) has a hero named George. He doesn't lie either. Nor does he cut down cherry trees.
She is very fond of him. So is Sophy, his heroine, and Lily, his daughter, and Gunnar, his dog. Even if he is a physicist.

Monday, February 21, 2011

MALE ON MONDAY – PATCH TOGETHER YOUR MANLIEST MAN

Silhouette Desire author Tessa Radley decides to see how the bits of a whole lot of gorgeous males work together.

Romance writers are always looking for the perfect alpha male. So what romance writer—or reader—wouldn't sit up and take notice on reading that shave cream company Bluebeard's Revenge found that:
"Our research of 2,000 voters revealed that the most rugged alpha male on Earth would have the wisdom of George Clooney’s silvery hair, the piercing eyes of Gerard Butler, the chiseled nose of Brad Pitt, the concrete jawline of Jason Statham, and the licenced-to-kill body of Daniel Craig."

Daniel Craig…YES YES YES…pure alpha. Ever since I saw Casino Royale this image of Daniel Craig has been sitting in my files. Inspiration, of course. It worked pretty well. I have the hero and the story to go with it. The heroine, too. But there are still a couple of plot kinks to iron out, so for now the photo—and the story—stay in my hard-drive.




I'd never considered Brad Pitt's nose before…but maybe I should. George Clooney figures on a lot of women's Gorgeous Guy lists. So I won't argue there. And Gerard Butler has great eyes…but I'd argue that Daniel Craig's are every bit as glorious.








But this is what Bluebeard's Revenge decided the guy they dubbed Bradiel Buthney, a composite of the famous features looked like:


So is the sum of the parts better than the original? My first reaction was wow…look at those eyes. Then I got more critical. Daniel Craig is pretty damn good just as he is. And, I have to admit, my manliest man would be more dangerous looking. I'd prefer him to be confronting the camera head-on (he has to be looking at me, see?). Less smile, more…well, alpha. Stubble, rather than a beard. Maybe a bit of Richard Gere as Zack Mayo thrown in there. And maybe higher cheekbones and all that intensity of the young Daniel Day Lewis.

So what's your opinion? Does Bradiel do it for you? Who would YOU pick to contribute eyes, hair, smile…and, of course, body…for the sum total of your manliest male on Monday?

Billionaires and Babies:



Powerful men—wrapped around their babies’ little fingers.


I love a hero with a baby and my February book The Boss’s Baby Affair is part of the new, year-long Billionaires and Babies series—only from DESIRE. Yippeeeee! For more excerpts and more information wiggle over to www.tessaradley.com.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

WILD CARD WEEKEND: Susan Stephens

Harlequin Presents author Susan Stephens joins Wild Card Weekend to share a little about the challenge and fun of writing about another era... and a chance to win a copy of GRAY QUINN'S BABY!


When I was asked to write a book set in the 60's with a modern day heroine for Harlequin Presents, my first thought was, wow, how incredible. I love that era. The fashions and music were nothing short of revolutionary, while the 'so called' sexual revolution made possible by the pill before the shadow of aids had been identified, was said to liberate women. It was an era of compelling figures who would open our eyes and our hearts, and technical advances that were both fast and thrilling. And, most crucially for my purposes, women were fighting for equal pay and rights with men.





Women might have been moving forward, but there were some men who had not caught up with the times, and I found the idea of pitting a modern woman against a man like this irresistible.





My second thought was - write a contemporary romance set in the 60's - how does that work? That's up to you, I was told.



Brilliant - A blank canvas with no rules. And so Gray Quinn was born.



I must admit Steve McQueen was a huge influence as I wrote this book. And, yes, being a motor bike fanatic he rode a 'monstrous throbbing machine' just like my hero, Gray Quinn!





I had my modern woman meet Gray Quinn in the current day. Magenta then falls asleep and dreams that they have both been transported back to the sixties.






The fun and games begin when Magenta starts to assert herself in this sixties dreamworld. Needless to say, Quinn is not amused. Nor is falling
in love with chauvinist Quinn part of Magenta's plan, but fate has other ideas.





Waking up from a deep sleep can be wonderful - Sleeping Beauty receiving that magic kiss, for instance. But when Magenta wakes up in the modern world without Quinn or the baby they were expecting she is thrown out of her beautiful dream into a nightmare.





Will fate be kind to Magenta just one more time?





What's the best dream you ever had - and did it come true?





I have a signed copy of Gray Quinn's Baby to give away for the best answer.



Look forward to hearing from you.




Happy reading!



Susan













Friday, February 18, 2011

A Date WIth Kate - What is Romance Anyway?

You can’t have missed it – all those red hearts and red roses all over the place. Cards, balloons and rows and rows of men rushing into the supermarkets to buy a card, a cheap bunch of flowers and a stuffed bear that says ‘I love you’ at the last minute because they’d forgotten. And nothing says ‘you mean the world to me ‘ like a stuffed teddy bear clutching a big red heart. I even saw some guys buying up the reduced price cards/toys/flowers on Tuesday – how ‘romantic’ is that?

Cynical? Moi? A romance writer?

No – the truth is that I’m the exact opposite of cynical. I believe in romance, in love and caring – and showing it. I just don’t like the commercialism of the day that someone on Eastenders just described as ‘the most romantic night of the year.’ Hmm. Sorry, but what’s romantic about wining, dining, flower and card buying because the cards manufacturers, rose growers , chocolate manufacturers all say you should? What about the rest of the days of the year? The special ones – for you - for him (who ever ‘he’ is)? The ones that have real meaning and importance.

This had me wondering - why then would anyone choose February 14th as the date to celebrate love, passion and all things romantic? A day in a cold, wet usually pretty miserable month where beauty is hard to find, the glow and excitement of Christmas and New Year is well behind us, red roses cost a fortune, and it takes an effort to even think of trying to be romantic.

Or perhaps that's the point? Perhaps it's the fact that because it's hard to make an effort that's what makes it more romantic. It's the effort, the trying, the doing something out of routine, something a little different and a bit special that makes Valentine's Day - or indeed any day - really romantic.

Because isn't that what romance is really all about? It certainly is in the books I write. People - people who don't know the truth - tend to think of romance novels as being about soft and pretty, chocolate box, kittens and flowers sort of love. Boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy falls in love with girl, they marry and live happily ever after. It's soppy, cheesy, a 'soft'.


Not the books I write. I write about people who have real problems in their relationship. People who have reason to dislike, even to hate each other. Reason to believe the worst of someone, even as they are acknowledging that this person is really affecting them like no other person ever has in all their life. People who have to fight - with their hero or heroine, with their mistaken beliefs, and, ultimately, with themselves to reach a real, honest, deep and long-lasting love. It's an adult affair, not boy meets girl, not hearts and flowers, not pretty pink cards easily picked up in the local supermarket.



After all, St Valentine himself didn't have things easy - St. Valentine was a Priest, martyred in 269 at Rome apparently beaten with clubs and then beheaded, and was buried on the Flaminian Way. He is the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travellers, young people. He is represented in pictures with birds and roses. One legend says, while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer's blind daughter. Another legend says, on the eve of his death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer's daughter, signing it, "From your Valentine."

So perhaps that's it. Perhaps it's because February is such a dark, gloomy, apparently unromantic month that we celebrate romantic love in the middle of it. And Valentine's Day is really like love and romance itself isn't it? Just when everything is dark and gloomy and bleak, we have a day that reminds us to make an effort for the person we love. To show them, tell them how we feel. It may be cold and wet but with the one you love you can curl up safe and sheltered and let love keep you warm

Because for me it’s making that effort that matters. It’s thinking about the other person and doing something for them. I wouldn’t want red roses – I don’t like them. I wouldn’t want chocolates – I struggle enough with my weight without them. I don’t really want a mass produced card. Personally I love the story in the paper about the couple who have recycled the same Valentine card every year for the 69 years they have been together because – as Harry, the husband says - ‘I knew Doris was the one for me the moment I met her. It was a heck of a night during the Blitz, but at least it meant we met each other. I gave her the Valentine’s card then and she is still my Valentine now.’

I asked several other romance writers what their definition of romance is – here are their answers

Anne McAllister whose book Hired by Her Husband is out now in Presents said:

It's one of those things, like pornography, that I would say I know it when I see it. If we call it "hearts and flowers" what do we really mean? It's not just gifts in honor of Valentine's Day or someone's birthday -- though that can be a part of it.


It's the attitude behind that behavior. Behaving romantically is focusing on the other person, thinking of things -- big or small -- that matter to that person and finding a way to make them happen.

It involves both joy in the moment and a promise for the future. Romance isn't a dead end. It doesn't look to "get something out of" the relationship, but to work at enhancing the potential for growth in the attachment between two people. It is a way of bringing hope to a relationship.

Liz Fielding who has Tempted by Trouble, her first book in the new RIVA series coming out in June sent this:

What is romance anyway? Romance is the fluffy stuff, the red roses, champagne, wooing. Sitting across the table staring into one another's eyes. Love is when two people turn to face the same way, each ready with a steadying hand to the back, aware that life isn't all moonlight and roses but mostly washing up and making the bed rather than lying on it. And maybe romance is still wanting to do that forty years later.

From Michelle Reid who has her new Modern Romance After Their Vows coming out in April  and admits she hates the word Romance (she very wisely calls our books Relationship stories, not Romance books.)

Hm, I suppose for me (the romantic fiction writer) romance is The Love Affair. It begins with that thrilling moment when two people connect emotionally followed by the excitement of coming together. The desire, the heat, the overwhelming passion, the wild – wild optimism that tells you this could be the one all muddled up by scary uncertainties you want to just go away.

Another RIVA writer Heidi Rice offered this

What does Romance mean to me? Gosh, that's such a huge question! I think of it as that wonderfully warm, fuzzy glow, that sizzle of excitement and anticipation you get when dream touches reality...

Heidi’s first bona fide Riva is Cupcakes and Killer Heels, which is a linked book to Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger, and is out in shops in May.



And finally, Abby Green whose book Bride in A Gilded Cage is shortlisted for the RNA Love Story of the Year Award – so she should know about romance – wrote this:

I think romance is...a belief in magic and fate. It's a belief that the world isn't such a cynical place after all. It's also about vulnerability, the cracking open of two people's tough or not so tough veneers to the beating and very human hearts underneath. Romance is the fairytale that exists all around us every day when two people meet and connect and find that magic in each other...

Abby has Secrets of The Oasis out in Modern Romance and In Christophides’ Keeping in Presents .



And me? I think they’re all right because I’ll go back to what I think is really romantic – thinking about the other person as an individual and caring for them in that way - finding what really matters to them and trying to make sure they have that in their lives. It’s all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s what I try to put in my books too.

Or, in my case, the BM remembering the 1940s Lucite brooch I looked at and loved when the shop was closed – and going back to fetch it for me not because it was Valentine’s Day but because I loved it. Nice one BM – that’s romance. 

What about you? What does romanc mean to you - in a book or in real life?


Kate Walker's latest Presents title - The Good Greek Wife? - was out in Presents Extra in October and is still available now on Amazon, eHarlequin etc. her next Presents Extra title is The Proud Wife (her editor has been on a 'title with Wife in it kick!) is out in March in the UK and April in America.
Her latest book, part of the The Powerful and the Pure mini series - The Return of The Stranger - has just been scheduled for September 2011.
You can get all Kate's news and read the latest updates over on her web site or her blog.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Deborah Hale

In the spotlight today is Harlequin Historical author Deborah Hale sharing a bit about herself and two books to giveaway!


Deborah, congratulations on the release of book one in your new GENTLEMEN OF FORTUNE series. Can you tell us a little about this story? What inspired it?

My latest release, Married: The Virgin Widow is a “man from the past” story. When Ford Barrett and Laura Penrose’s romance fell apart seven years ago, each felt betrayed by the other, especially Ford when Laura married his cousin and threatened his expectations to inherit the family title and estate. Now that Ford has made his fortune in the Far East, he returns to inherit the estate and take care of unfinished business with the fair widow. The inspiration for the story was a rejection I received on a previous proposal because it didn’t have enough conflict and emotional intensity. I wanted this one to have both in spades!

What are your favorite genres? Least favorites?

Most of my reading is historical – romance, fiction, non-fiction, fantasy and historical mysteries. I sometimes read contemporary romance if I know the author. Least favorite would be horror or anything with violence against children. I read for escape from the worries and stress of modern life. Nothing quite does that for me like reading about a somewhat idealized past.

Who is the most inspirational figure in your life?

My youngest sons are my personal heroes. They are twins who have high functioning autism. They’ve overcome so much, come so far and have such a unique perspective on life.

When the writing is done, how do you kick back to relax?

I practice Taoist tai-chi which I find both relaxing and energizing. I also sing with a Celtic choir which performs sacred and secular Celtic music. I enjoy scrapbooking but don’t often have time for that.

Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

I see bits of myself in all many of my characters – even the villains! I love writing the occasional witty/b*tchy other woman who gets to say all the nasty things I never would. J I find it easiest to relate to heroines who have a strong nurturing instinct and heroes who are loners. I find it harder to relate to very feisty heroines and heroes who are charmers – but I’ve written both and really enjoyed getting into their heads!

How long have you been writing and what prompted you to begin?

I’ve been writing pretty much since I could hold a pencil but didn’t complete my first novel until I was in my early thirties with two young children. I had a story idea that I didn’t want to die of “garbage can syndrome” like so many of my past ones, so I made a pact with a supportive friend to send her chapters as I finished them. That kept me motivated to finish my first book.

How do you manage your ideas for new stories before you’re able to really sit down and work on them?

I jot down as much as I can quickly on cards or paper and pop them in an idea file. If a story really gets under my skin, like the one I’m currently writing for LIH, I’ll even jot scene ideas or bits of dialogue. That’s usually enough to relieve the “new idea itch” until I have time to write the story. Sometimes enough time goes by that I’ve almost forgotten, so when I open my idea file, it’s like a trunk full of new toys to take out and play with!

How has your process changed through your career?

I wrote my first book by the seat of my pants because I didn’t know there was any other way. After I was contracted by HH and writing two or more book a year, I found I needed to do more pre-writing. These days, I find it very hard to write my first draft on my word processor. So I go out each morning to a cafĂ© and write a thousand or so words longhand then type them in later in the day. I find it easier to write a scene if I outline it first, but I don’t stick slavishly to the outline. It just lets me know where I’m going, otherwise my scenes can wander.

What’s the best piece of advice you have to offer to an aspiring author?

I have different ones for authors at different stages, but for someone just starting out, I’d say, “Don’t be afraid to make a mess.” Jump in and get the story written however you can. Don’t expect it to be perfect or even good. You’ll learn so much from completing a manuscript and other advice will make sense once you’ve gone through the process. Your next story will be better or maybe you’ll be able to rewrite the first one and improve it.

How would you describe what writing is to you? (Habit, hobby, outlet, obsession, sanity saver…?)

Probably all of the above at various stages. J When my four children were little, a friend of mine used to say writing was my “sanity-retention mechanism.” Since then, there have been times when it’s felt like just the opposite. But when the words flow, a new idea beckons or I hear a reader has been touched or entertained by one of my stories, it’s the greatest feeling in the world!


Deborah, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing a little about yourself and your writing!

One lucky commenter will be chosen at random to win MARRIED: THE VIRGIN WIDOW and BOUGHT: THE PENNILESS LADY!

Deborah is very excited to have six books out in the first six months of 2011. To find out more, visit her website www.deborahhale.com or join her Facebook page "Regency Author Deborah Hale."


MARRIED: THE VIRGIN WIDOW (First in THE GENTLEMEN OF FORTUNE series)



Her hands bound by blackmail and duty, Laura Penrose was forced to marry her sweetheart's ruthless cousin. Now a widow, her sweetheart has returned.

Ford Barrett, Lord Kingsfold, believes Laura betrayed him and has a debt to pay—she owes him a wedding… and a wedding night!

Laura sacrificed herself once out of duty—she won't be taken again for revenge. But this new, dark, dangerous Ford discards her pleas…. Can she tell him she never wronged him, before he discovers her more innocent secret?






Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: The Masks We Wear

Harlequin Romance author Nina Harrington joins us today with a wonderful post about breaking down barriers - and finding a happy ending!


Every romance writer I know seems to hold a fundamental and apparently intrinsic optimism that real, lasting and true love is possible.


The love of your life is not only out there , but when you find him or her, that person will love you for who you really are. No matter what characteristics you display to the world – that person will take the time to find out who you truly are and love who you are.

In life we all know people who are not what they seem. And perfection does not come into the equation.

So in our writing we want to create a love story which is so powerful that it will break down the barriers our characters have created to protect themselves from pain so that both out hero and heroine will find love as a reward for the battle they have to go through to win the prize.

Every character has a public face or persona which does not represent the inner self or true identity of the person, but is more of a disguise or protective outer shell they have created to project a specific image of themselves to the world.

In real life we all do this through our choices of clothing, accessories, hair, and the choices we make in our life and work and how we want the world to see us.

This carefully constructed public facade is the first impression or image the reader has about the character – and they have to accept the character's attitudes and actions at face value.

During the course of the story it is then the writer’s task to create dilemmas, choices, actions and reactions which will cause this surface veneer to be stripped away by bit, revealing that character’s most authentic self.

The character arc will not be a linear process of simple step by step change, but more of a two steps forward, one step back process, where the character resists change which is painful – especially when it is linked to the fear of revealing the very thing they have been trying to conceal.

One classic example would be the professional businesswoman with the elegant designer clothing and glossy slick accessories who strides into the room, head high, in impossibly high heels, confident and professional in every way.

Except that underneath this calm and cool exterior, she is quaking and desperate to conceal her traumatic poor childhood. This woman has had to fight every step of the way to what she has achieved, but what happens when she is faced with someone who knew her and her past and has the power to influence her future?

What happens when she is thrown into turmoil and has to change to survive? What choices does she make and how does that make her an interesting character?

Will the reader have any empathy or sympathy for her situation if they only see the external facade?

And what is the reward for being forced to expose your deep fears and hidden past?

Being loved for who you are as your true self.

The Hero or Heroine falls in love with the essence of who the character is. And is loved back in return. And that has to be worth the pain in getting there.

This is the situation the heroine of my latest Mills and Boon RIVA line book, ‘The Last Summer of Being Single’ finds herself in. Ella Martinez has made a home for herself and her young son in a French farmhouse in the Languedoc after the death of her estranged husband.


Ella may work as a housekeeper, but she is a trained pianist and singer, who spent most of her early life as a nomadic professional musician. She has had to fight hard to give her son a home in opposition to his grandparents, but that has meant sacrificing her own life and dreams.

Then into her world comes Sebastien Castellano, the stepson of the owner of the house where she works, who will challenge her life and her future in ways she had never expected. Seb thinks that his media company merger is the one thing that will bring him happiness but beneath the masks of a slick millionaire businessman lies a teenage boy whose life was riddled with heartache and loss and unanswered questions.

Their time together in the sunflowers and vineyards of the South of France will make both Ella and Sebastian reveal their authentic selves as they fall in love with the person beneath the facade.




‘The Last Summer of Being Single’ is released in February as a RIVA title and in March as a Harlequin Romance title. You can catch Nina at her site, http://www.ninaharrington.com/ !





Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Deadline Recipes: Tuna Steak with Spicy Mango Salsa

Michelle Styles gives her take on a quick and easy recipe.

Tuna Steak with Spicy Mango Salsa.

To make the salsa:
2 large reasonably ripe mangos -- peeled and chopped.
Juice of 2 limes,
 juice of an orange
1 thin red chile (fresh) and chopped -- I tend to use a jalapeno but it depends on what is fresh.
1 green chile (fresh) and chopped -- I tend to use a Anahiem but it depends on how much you like the heat.
2 red onions finely diced
1 small bunch cilantro (coriander) chopped fine
2 tablespoons mint finely chopped.

Stir above ingredients together and allow to chill. Season to taste.

4 fresh tuna steaks about 500 gms in total weight.
Heat ironcast grill pan until red hot, brush with olive oil. Place steaks on, sear, flip and sear again so you get a crosshatch pattern. Good tuna can be served very pink but if you like it well done, leave on the grill for longer.
Place tuna on plate, serve with salsa over the top and a green salad.


Serves four.

Total time: about 20 minutes
This recipe has saved me when I forgot about out of town guests arriving who expected something good on the table and I was on a deadline!
Michelle Styles writes historical romances for Harlequin Historical. Her latest release is The Perfect Concubine for Harlequin Historical Undone. In March Breaking the Governess's Rules will be released in the UK. See www.michellestyles.co.uk for more information on her books.