Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wildcard Weekend: Conquering Writer's Bottom

Harlequin Historical author and PHS editor Michelle Styles explains how she got herself back to a Healthy BMI

 Back in early 2007, I became aware of writer's bottom (partly because of Trish Wylie and her inspired posts on PHS). I joined in and lost weight quickly and then lost interest. I moved into elasticated waists which seemed like God send but are actually incredibly dangerous.  I made it to RNA's fab award lunch that year with the help of Magic Knickers (Natasha Oakley blogged about those and they are a Life Saver!) 
And so began my battle with Writer's Bottom. There were some interesting skirmishes. I lost weight due to taking up rowing, regained it, did the same with walking the collies. In 2009, I learnt that I had lymphoedema in my left arm and my metabolism went south. At Christmas 2009, my husband accidentally got me a pair of tweed plus fours that were my old size  -- UK 14 (US size 10). Actually I didn't have the heart to say that I was really a US 14 now and barely that. By August 2010, I weighed about 200 lbs with a Body Mass Index of 32. I went to the RWA Nationals wearing several pairs of magic knickers. When I returned home, I went on a diet and that helped a bit. I lost about 25 lbs but was very flabby.
Last January World Beat which goes out to all Harlequin authors had pictures from the 2010 Harlequin Party and I finally saw my back. Yuck! I ordered some dvds -- Jillian Michaels The 30 Day Shred and 10 minute solutions.  The Jillian Micheals worked wonderfully. Although I only lost about 6 lbs, I lost inches and discovered I enjoyed sweating. I went from a size 18 UK to a size 14. The plus fours nearly fit. I threw away lots of my fat clothes and vowed never to go into elasticated waists again. I did one of Jillian's dvds every day or a complete 10 minute solution with Suzanne Brockman. I wasn't losing any weight but then I wasn't exactly dieting either. The lymph oedema in my arm had gone slightly but I still couldn't really get my wedding ring off. I started to accept I would be big and never really get into those trousers or indeed some of the clothes I wore when I was younger. My metabolism had changed. My BMI was about 28. Overweight rather than obese.
I attended the RWA Nationals and had a great time. Lots of compliments. When I returned home, I noticed that not only was my wieght not moving, my clothes were starting to get tighter. Rock bottom hit on 23 August. I had eaten pasta and a piece of chocolate cake, my head spun and I knew if I allowed this state of affairs to continue, I would be regaining all that weight. I didn't want to.
Time to try the Tracy Anderson Method and in particular her 30 Day Boot Camp.
I had heard about her and knew she was hard core. I also liked the look of the women who had been through her programme. I have no wish to build weight lifter muscles or look like a gym rat. I have a bad back anyway and so, lifting weights has always been problematic. Also I read in the Times that according the recent study at the University of Newcastle, a diet with purees is good for combating Type 2 Diabetes.  I knew it involved Dance Cardio which I thought I'd hate. I can't dance. I have two left feet, little sense of rythm and a tendency to hit other partcipents in dance classes in the face. Humliations in dance class? Yes, I have had a few. I am the one who always ends up facing the wrong way. But I decided to try. I'd wear my Harlequin socks for luck.
Amazon delivered the book and I made the commitment. I would do it but if I hit a healthy BMI before Day 26, I wouldn't do the Cleanse because it sounded stomach churning. Kale beetroot juice, carrot and parsnip purree, sweet corn and sweet potatoe purree. I wasn't hopeful. But I started, doing the Dance Cardio first and then the muscle strenthening exercises.
The results have been jaw dropping.The first 10 days I lost 14 lbs.  I achieved my healthy BMI on about Day 20 and therefore have avoided the Cleanse!  On Day 30 I weighed 152 and had lost over 25 inches over all. My waist went from 30 to 25, my hips from 40 to 36, each of my thighs from 25 to 20, and my bust from 38 to 36. My upper abs went from 35 to 30.
 The strangest thing is that my heels which pinched are now too big. I didn't know that I had fat feet.
 My plus fours are now almost too large and I can fit into clothes that I made 25 years ago. I actually went out and bought a UK size 10 (US size 6)black  sheath dress because it fit.I shall be wearing it to AMBA at the end of October but with a new pair of heels.
   Most importantly, the lymph oedema in my arm has subsided and gone to very mild. I have to wear the hated bandages while I am exercising but that is all.
I am looking forward to continuing on with her Method of exercising (I ordered the Meta Omni from her website and will start that once it arrives.)  My  writer's bottom has been conquered (for the moment) but I am under no illusion -- after a certain age, you just have to SWEAT.
Writers are prone to writer's bottom and it is up to the indivdual author to do something about it if she so wishes. And it is important to find the exercise programme that works for you. Do your research. Look at before and after pictures. See what is involved. But above make a commitment to show up.
If you are interested in learning more about the Tracy Anderson Method, the video explains a bit and shows some of her moves. It is from her Perfect Design series but the book follows a similar sequence:
All I can say is that the Tracy Anderson Method really worked for me and the time I had to put in each day exercising is worth it. And having conquered my writer's bottom, I can now stop talking about it.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical in a wide variety of time periods. Her most recent book To Marry A Matchmaker was published in the UK in July and in Australia/New Zealand in September.You can read more about her books on

Friday, September 23, 2011


Elle Kennedy steps into the Author Spotlight to dish on sizzle and suspense, and talk about how she delivers both... plus, she's got a giveaway!

A RITA-award nominated author, Elle Kennedy grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, Ontario, and holds a B.A. in English from York University. From an early age, she knew she wanted to be a writer, and actively began pursuing that dream when she was a teenager.
Elle currently publishes with Silhouette Romantic Suspense, Harlequin Blaze, and Samhain Publishing. She loves strong heroines and sexy alpha heroes, and just enough heat and danger to keep things interesting!

Elle, thanks so much for joining us here at The Pink Heart Society today. Can you tell us a little about your latest story? What inspired it?
Witness Seduction is my latest release from Harlequin Blaze. It's about a sexy cop on a stakeout - because who doesn’t love sexy cops on stakeouts?! Seriously though, I love a man in uniform and there is something incredibly alluring about someone ‘being watched’ - it sets up an interesting dynamic between the hero and heroine.

Couldn't agree more! Men in uniform definitely get a double take from me. And the premise of Witness Seduction sounds great. How about a blurb?
Night after night, Caleb Ford stakes out the house of the curvy and tantalizing woman next door, waiting for her fugitive ex-fiancĂ© to show up. Yet for an assignment that should be easy, this one is turning out to be oh so hard, especially when he can’t stop fantasizing about the woman who might very well be working with the enemy. But who said he can’t use a little bit of seduction to uncover the sexy nurse’s secrets?

Surveillance Report

DEA Agent: Caleb Ford

Subject: Marley Kincaid, aka Nurse Hottie

Purpose: Kincaid's drug–dealing ex, Patrick Grier, is on the run after killing a DEA agent. Grier won't be able to stay away from Kincaid—she's way too tempting…

Day One: Kincaid's oblivious to the danger. Spends all her time renovating and doing sexy yoga. Damn, she moves her body in tantalizing ways.

Day Three: If I see her curvy silhouette one more time I'm in serious trouble.

Day Five: No sign of Grier, but after a few days of observation, things are getting incredibly…er, hard.

Day Seven: I had no choice but to make contact with Kincaid. Now that I've touched her, it's im-possible to stop. The investigation is jeopardized. Seduction is imminent…God help me.

Who are a few of your favorite authors to read?
I love Iris Johansen (I drop everything when she releases a new book), Diana Gabaldon (her Outlander series is amazing), J.R. Ward, Suzanne Brockmann, Danielle Steel...I could go on for hours so I’ll just stop there.

What’s in your TBR pile and why?
First, the ‘Game of Thrones’ series by George R. R. Martin -- I got hooked on the first one and now I must finish the rest! Also, everything by Philippa Gregory. I loved ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and can’t wait to read her other work - I’m a bit of a history junkie.

When the writing is done, how do you kick back to relax?
Sometimes with more writing! I often have a project or two on the go that’s ‘just for fun’. Sometimes it’s nice to work on something just for me, without any expectations around it. I also watch a lot of movies, read, play scrabble, and if I’m lucky, get away to a beach.

What’s something about you that would shock your readers to know?
I'm NOT a romantic at all! I really don’t go for a the ‘mushy’ stuff in my own life. I’m pretty content just hanging out with my guy & having some laughs -- I don’t need or want any big romantic gestures! I suppose some people would be surprised to hear that from a romance writer!

How long have you been writing and what prompted you to begin?
I’ve been writing since I was little - I’ve always loved it and always knew that this is what I wanted to do. I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was 12!

When you write, how many projects do you generally have going at once?
As many as will fit in my head! Well, probably around 4...with a few more ideas and rough drafts floating around. It depends - when I get an idea I like to run with it. Some-times I am very inspired, so I’ll have a lot on the go. Other times not as many.

How do you manage your ideas for new stories before you’re able to really sit down and work on them?
I think about new ideas a lot - for me, ‘daydreaming’ is work! I’ll often figure stuff out in my head before I put anything down on paper. Often I’ll talk about it with friends - some-times talking it out really helps to flesh out ideas. And then I’ll jot down notes, write a synopsis or the first few chapters.

What’s the best piece of advice you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Keep writing! Find a good critique partner who will give you honest feedback. Submit your work to as many places as you can. And don’t be discouraged by rejection letters - I have a gigantic stack of them myself.

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

Elle, wonderful chatting with you today. Is there anything else you'd like to share with the readers?
I’ll be giving away a copy of Witness Seduction to a lucky reader. Just leave a comment to enter! Check back tomorrow for the winner!

For more from Elle...
twitter: @ellekennedy

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What are you reading Thursday by Kate Hardy

Kate Hardy talks about what she's been reading this summer.

I hardly seem to have had a moment to breathe, lately, let alone read! But I have read three books (well, two and a half, as I’m partway through one) recently which I’ve really enjoyed and would like to share.

The first is Rachel Hore’s “A Place of Secrets”. I loved it (and not just because she happens to live near me and it’s set in my part of the world - though I thoroughly enjoyed “location-spotting”!). I always enjoy Rachel’s books because they show how the past affects the present, and she’s very, very good at doing this. Kind of timeslip, but very, very contemporary. Add in some excellent characterisation, a fascinating sub-plot (astronomy, so this was right up my street), and a gradual unravelling of various family secrets until the truth was told (i.e. the pace is excellent, too) – highly recommended.

The next is Lynn Raye Harris’s “Strangers in the Desert”. I like Lynn’s voice very much – there’s a lot of warmth there as well as passion, and her heroes are strong without being the sort I’d want to push into a puddle. Anyway, what I liked about this was that it was an amnesia story. I haven’t written one myself, and they are tough to pull off, but Lynn managed it really credibly. Great characterisation, and there’s something in there I wish I’d thought of writing first – go and read the book if you want to know what it is!

And the one I’m halfway through right now is David Nicholls’ “One Day”, which has been on my TBR for about a year, but I had such a glowing recommendation from my mate Heidi Rice that I grabbed it from the shelf at the beginning of this week. I really want to shake the hero and make him grow up (though he’s very true to the spirit of the times – these are my own growing-up years, so I recognise the music and the attitudes and the clothes and everything). And I like the heroine very much. I also like the concept: spanning twenty years, but only focusing on one day a year. It’s clever but – even better – the format doesn’t get in the way of telling the story. So that's a definite recommendation here.

Kate’s new medical romance, Italian Doctor, No Strings Attached, is out in shops right now in the UK (next month in Australia) and is also available from e-Harlequin in September. She’s thrilled that her new Modern Romance, A Moment on the Lips, has Vesuvius on the front cover! It’s available in the UK in October (or right now from the M&B website) and in the US in November. You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Writers Wednesday : Break Into Fiction

What is left for a writer to do when she's done all she can and still the book doesn't feel 'right'? The Pink Heart Society editor Jenna Bayley-Burke tells how an intensive workshop can turn the whole thing around.

Each year, the romance community rallies around Brenda Novak's auction to raise money for juvenile diabetes research. My local RWA group was luck enough to win the auction for a two-day workshop from Break Into Fiction authors Dianna Love & Mary Buckham. 

The two best selling authors got together to create the book to show (not tell) how good stories are woven together, turning point by turning point. Now, the two work travel into their busy writing schedules to give workshops based on the lessons from the book.  

BREAK INTO FICTION Power Writing Day with Dianna Love & Mary Buckham

Opening Hooks :: What makes this book break out and intrigue readers? Readers resonate to different hooks. The more hooks you incorporate, the more likely you are to draw a reader in. Action, surprise, raising a question, introducing a new element.

Use hooks in the opening sentence, end of opening paragraph, end of first page, end of third page, end of 3rd chapter, opening a chapter, beginning of every scene, final sentence (when writing a series).

An editor/agent tends to read the first 3 pages and if they like it, they’ll flip to the synopsis to make sure your story is solid. If they like that, they’ll read the 3 chapters.

If you are targeting an agent, editor, line, read books by newer authors to see what hooks work for them.


SCENES are units of action and emotion that stamp indelibly upon one’s awareness. A scene as a unit of conflict, of struggle, lived through by the character and the reader. Multiple points of view dilutes the emotion of the character.

Thank ACTION. The sequel, which is also an element of pacing, is the REACTION

3 functions of a scene

• Move your character toward their goal or show how the goal has changed
• Bring the character into greater conflict
• Strengthens or changes motivation

We spend our whole lives trying to tone down conflict – make the kids and the husband and boss are all happy. If you do that in a novel, nothing is going to happen. To avoid that, you work with scenes, conflict on the page. If your scene is not functioning, it is not working hard enough.

Dwight Swain’s Scene Advice :: Establish a goal that is clear for the character and thus for the reader. Each scene begins with a goal, then comes conflict.

Conflict is what creates the tension on the pages. Great conflict happens when the stakes are high, when the forces of opposition are equal.

When goal meets conflict what must happen next is a DISASTER or COMPLICATION. The STORY QUESTION

SEQUELS : Sequels are the reaction to the preceding scene. They create breathing space.

3 parts of a sequel

• Reaction
• dilemma
• decision

Clarify motivation for your character, and thus for your reader. Sequel clarifies the motivation for the reader.


Use settings to make your sentences do more than one thing. Relate your character to the setting. It can be more than just the description of a place.

Use setting ::

• to share backstory

• in an action sequence

• as a segue in a scene
• to show characterization
• to impact pacing
• to create sensory detail
• to show emotion
• to create complication
Make setting work hard by ::

1. Add one or more of the 5 senses
2. Add an emotion or reaction
3. Use action in this setting
4. Introduce new information
5. Slip in some backstory

Day two ofthe workshop focused on characterization. We started with ennegrams. I love using them when creating characters. I have an abbreviated method for character charts I call point-and-click characterization -- ennegrams, archetypes, astrology and sex. What more do you need?

Knowing our ennegram type helps us learn our default personality type for characters, and what to look for when comments on our story come back saying our heroine is acting out of character - it's probably when she's reacting as we would, not as she would.

Next, we moved on to character traits. We saw how using unexpected traits made for more rounded characters. Mary taught us not to write default characterization, more dimensional characters are what editors are looking for when they say they want the same, but different.
Character traits for career choices
COP -- controlling, helper, jaded, dominant, observant
FACTORY WORKER -- exacting, reliable, disenchanted
EXOTIC DANCER -- exhibitionist, confident, resourceful

What if they are spun around, and we change the assumed gender of the character?

female COP -- exhibitionist, confident, resourceful
female FACTORY WORKER -- controlling, helper, jaded, dominant, observant
male EXOTIC DANCER -- exacting, reliable, disenchanted

TOTALLY different characters come to mind, and they are much more interesting than before.

To explore character traits, we wrote five character traits of our hero or heroine...these were collected and doled out. We took the traits provided and then expanded on them. And then we passed it to the left and did it again. This really opened up personalities.

Here's mine
  1. busy > hyperactive > high achiever
  2. responsibile > stodgy > reliable
  3. determined > stubborn > persistent
  4. adventurous > reckless > curious
  5. charming > manipulative > self-assured
Not every suggestion works, but it does help brighten the picture of your character.

Next, the conversation turned from characters to plot structure. As a proud non-plotter, I mainly listened. One thing I was able to see yesterday was that I naturally work in scene and structure. I didn't understand it twenty-four hours ago, but was able to find the elements easily in the story I'd brought to analyze.

We worked through goals and turning points, fears and black moments. Getting back to the basics of the story really helped me see where my story had snagged...and hopefully can be repaied and knit back together.
Jenna's juggling the last few weeks of having the taller kiddos home for the summer, getting the small one ready for preschool, and finishing the road trip book right now. Until it's ready, be sure to check out her latest. Private Scandal is ripe with secrets, sass, and sensational sex. Keep up with Jenna's spin on things on her website & blog

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Deadline Recipe – Goop!

As we head into autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere. The nights are drawing in and the temperature is dropping. The craving for filling stews and casseroles is tickling the taste buds... Brigid Coady is hear to tell us of a soup/casserole/stew which ticks the boxes and had sustained her through the years both as a student and as a writer.

I call this recipe Goop! The exclamation mark is a necessary part (like that perfume from the mid-90s Joop!) It has NOTHING to do with the Gwyneth Paltrow website. In fact it pre-dates it by at least a decade.

It is the dish I existed on at University days so it is cheap and lasts for many meals afterwards with a judicious addition of rice.

When I was a student it was traditional for all UK students to subsist on tuna, sweetcorn and cheese in various different ways. In pasta bakes, served with jacket potatoes. I was different. I loathe tuna and most cheese. So instead I became very adept at creating dishes using a can of tomatoes, an onion and a pepper or two.

One of the dishes that came from my experimentation was Goop! Minimum prep time. Can leave to cook in a casserole or slow cooker. And if you don’t want to cook the next day the juice with rice added makes a lovely comforting soup/stew or as I like to call it Goop!

Goop! (serves 4)

4 x chicken breast on bone (or other bits of chicken on bone, thighs or legs etc)
2 x onion (Spanish or red) roughly chopped
3 x large peppers (any colour) roughly chopped
1 x clove of garlic, crushed
Dust of flour (wheat or corn)
1 can of chopped plum tomatoes
1/2 pint of hot chicken stock(or hot water)
Dried flaked chilli peppers
Mixed herbs
Salt and pepper

Use a large saucepan or casserole dish. Dust chicken in flour and brown in saucepan. Remove. Add onion cook till soft then add peppers. Once soften add chicken breasts back to pan and add tomatoes and stock Add chilli, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Put on lid and simmer on low heat for 45 mins (make sure chicken cooked through).

Serve with rice.

There should be sauce leftover. The next day add loads of rice to the sauce and cook until rice is tender.

Welcome to the world of Goop!

Brigid’s YA novel, The Stone Voice, is currently having a second read as part of the RNA New Writers Scheme. She is working on her second YA novel, The Silver Assassin.

Monday, September 19, 2011

MALE ON MONDAY: Kevin Costner

Blaze author, Jillian Burns, joins the Pink Heart Society with a timeless Male on Monday pick...Kevin Costner

Still Sexy and Still Going Strong

While I love me some young hot studs from today’s blockbusters like Gerard Butler or Mark Wahlberg, my favorite movie star’s hairline may be receding a little, and he may be a little gray around the temples, but he’s STILL sexy as hell, Kevin Costner. Mmm, those blue-green eyes can still pierce right through me.

But besides the sexy factor, actor, director, singer, environmental activist, Kevin Costner represents what a TRUE romantic hero is to me, both in real life and in the roles he’s played. He’s been in 2 of the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time: Dances with Wolves and Field of Dreams. And those, while I love them, aren’t even my personal favorites. Just think of all the other wonderful movies he’s made: Bull Durham, The Untouchables, JFK, and most recently, I loved him in The Company Men. But one of my Top Ten favorite Romance movies of all time is a baseball movie he made called FOR LOVE OF THE GAME. Rent it. It’s NOT about the baseball. And the ending is just as satisfying as any romance novel Happy ending I’ve ever read.

And I’ll never understand why The Postman was not a huge hit. It’s a wonderful action/adventure/ Romance with the perfect Reluctant Hero archetype.

In real life, Kevin Costner is just as devoted and determined a man as he plays in the movies. When he believes in something he gives his whole heart and mind and body and soul to the project. And sometimes, he puts up his own money. He put up $3 million of his own money to make Dances with Wolves. People in Hollywood derided him back then for attempting Dances. It was 3 hours long. Too long. And it was a Western! Nobody wanted to see Westerns anymore. Or so they told Kevin. But he believed in the story and just kept right on doing what he believed in.

More recently, he founded with his brother Dan, the Costner Industries Nevada Corporation (CINC) in Carson City. This company product a Liquid-Liquid Centrifugal Separator using clean-up the oil in the Gulf of Mexico. He’s put up more than 20 million of his own money for this project, and even testified before congress to fight for its use after the BP oil spill of 09. At the time, he was ridiculed for it, but he never wavered in his belief that what he was doing was right. And NOW, BP has purchased 32 of the machines to clean up the Gulf oil disaster. Said BP CEO, “Once we got over the Waterworld jokes, we realized that the centrifuge-like device is actually fairly useful--it sits on a barge, sucks in dirty water, separates the oil, and deposits the clean water back into the ocean.!

What’s not to love about Kevin Costner? He’s the perfect romance hero. He’s sexy, he’s humble, he’s passionate, and he’s steadfast.

Perhaps Kevin himself says it best: "Real heroes are men who fall and fail and are flawed, but win out in the end because they've stayed true to their ideals and beliefs and commitments." -- Interview with David Giammarco, Cigar Aficionado Magazine, Nov/Dec 2000

Jillian Burns lives in Texas with her husband of twenty-three years and their three active kids. She likes to think her emotional nature has found the perfect outlet in writing stories filled with passion and romance. Her newest Harlequin Blaze, NIGHT MANEUVERS, is on shelves now and her next Blaze, ONCE A HERO will be out in March 2012. For more information and excerpts you can visit her website