Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wildcard Weekend: How to Analyse Romance Fiction plus giveway

Harlequin Romance author Barbara Hannay explains what she looks for in a romance novel when she wants to learn about why a book works.

At the next meeting of our local romance writers group, we’re going to share and discuss our favourite romance novels. At home, before the meeting we’re going to try to analyse these books in depth. We want to try to understand why they work so well for us. And we’re sure this will help to improve our own writing.

Some time ago, when I was “teaching myself” how to write a romance novel, I found this kind of analysis particularly helpful, but I think it can be useful for readers, too, not only if you want to talk about books with other readers, but because it can actually deepen your enjoyment of the reading process. After all, readers are the other half of the book’s reason for being, and thoughtful, appreciative readers are a writer’s best friend.
So I thought I’d list the kinds of questions our group are going to consider in the hope that they might be helpful for aspiring writers or for readers.

Why does a certain book have special appeal for you?
Is it the setting? Does the writer draw you into an intriguing world you’d love to visit?

Is it the situation? Are you hooked by the events the characters are caught up in? By twists and turns of this story? Is this novel a perfect example of one of your favourite romantic themes such as friends to lovers, marriage of convenience, wounded hero or revenge?

Are the characters very appealing? Why do you like the heroine? Do you admire her? Does she come across as real?
Are you falling in love with the hero? How does the writer make this happen? Is the hero alpha, or of the gentler variety? Do you care about the characters and want them to get together? Can you work out why?
Are their actions well motivated?
Is the novel a page turner? Fast paced? Or leisurely and lush, so you want to stay in that world?
Is there one utterly unforgettable scene that you absolutely love? Can you work out why it works so well? Is it carefully placed in the novel for maximum impact? Is there a sustained lead up to this moment? Is it incredibly daring or sexy or emotional? Does it make you cry? Lump in the throat? Is it beautifully written?
Is the ending very satisfying? Can you explain why?

Is there something else – something indefinable – a special magic? When you look more closely, can you work out how the writer did this trick? Perhaps it’s simply the writer’s voice? Do you just love the way she (or he) writes? The touches of humour or description or sparkly dialogue?
OK – you’re probably wondering what book I’m taking along to my meeting. I’ve decided it will be my most recent “romance find” – Sarah Mayberry’s Superromance Her Best Friend.

I think, Sarah’s voice is the reason for my enjoyment. There is warmth and humour and lust and a wonderfully contemporary realism to her story. It ticks so many boxes for me. I’m going to share just share it.
It’s a friends to lovers story, an all time favourite theme of mine.
The heroine has a big and admirable goal and she works hard throughout the novel to achieve it.
The hero is sexy, but not in an overpowering way. He’s been married to the heroine’s best friend, but this delicate triangle is handled very deftly, without any clunking coincidences, or major regrets.

I’ve written 39 romance novels, but I love the fact that I can still learn from my gifted colleagues. What’s your current favourite? If you can tell me why, I’ll put your name in the hat, for a signed copy of my latest release Bridesmaid Says: ‘I do!

This is Book 1 in my Changing Grooms duet, and is released as Harlequin Romance and Mills and Boon Riva in October.

Book 2, Runaway Bride, will be on sale in America in December and in the UK in January.
To learn more about Barbara Hannay and her sparklingly emotional books visit her website:

Friday, October 14, 2011

MUST WATCH FRIDAY: Disney's Pocahontas

Riva/Presents Extra author Heidi Rice revisits her favourite Disney Princess, and dicusses why when it comes to romance sometimes it's better not to pay too much attention to the truth!

So when it comes to little girls (and some little boys too) and their princess fantasies, Disney have a lot to answer for. There's Walt's very sweet but almost indecently child-like Snow White, his sappy Cinderella (and all those annoying mice!) and the completely vaccuous Sleeping Beauty (who I'm reliably informed only appears in about 17 minutes of the film). All beautifully animated of course, but not really women most modern  mums would want their daughters to have as role models. That said, these princesses are all very much of their time, and frankly their plank-like princes are even less enchanting!

Moving swiftly on to Disney's modern era, when they gave their princesses a decidedly modern twist. And while Ariel and Belle, Mulan and Tiana all have their moments... By far my favourite is Pocahontas. Not only is she a real woman — being a full-figured Amazonian-style chief's daughter who dives off cliffs — she also has a 'prince' — in the form of brave, handsome and misguided adventurer John Smith — who is worthy of her.

Making this movie by far the most grown-up of Disney's princess yarns.

Now, of course, this isn't the real story of the Native Virginian girl who stepped in to save the life of a settler, Disney having taken a fair few liberties with that. But frankly, it doesn't pretend to be, so I'm not too concerned about that.

Rather this is a lavishly told and defiantly dramatic Romeo and Juliet-style romantic adventure yarn complete with epic New World scenery, a playlist of terrific songs, a match-making willow tree, action, spectacle and drama aplenty, two engaging central characters and Mel Gibson proving he can sing! And at it's centre is that compelling culture-clash romance as the smart, independent and stunningly beautiful Pocahontas falls for a man who has come to her land to tame her savage people and instead discovers that the only real savages are him and his men.

What's perhaps most rewarding about this film for me, is that Disney have taken a few risks with their material. One man dies, the lovers have a proper snog at the end, and there are even scenes here which have a striking (if innocent) sexual tension.

Check out this first meeting between Pocahontas and John Smith (it's certainly the hottest Mel Gibson has ever been IMHO!):

I went to see Pocahontas again recently with my two teenage sons, who are now a lot older and more distainful than they used to be. But as the lights went up, they both admitted (in a moment of weakness) to having been thoroughly blown away by this movie. Result!!

Heidi is currently busy preparing for her mentoring duties in Mills and Boon's New Voices competition. Watch out for her latest story, On the First Night of Christmas... which is coming out as a Harlequin Presents Extra in the US in Dec and a Riva in the UK next month. Contact her on her blog, Facebook and Twitter (@HeidiRomRice), she loves to natter with readers and writers alike!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Are You Reading Thursday: Magazines

This week PHS Editor Donna Alward goes beyond the TBR to magazine world.

I don't read a lot of magazines, but I do get a select few in the mail courtesy of my daughter's fundraising campaign last year, and I get a few more industry magazines as well. Then there's the odd one I pick up while waiting in line at the grocery store. They are a guilty pleasure - interesting tidbits in a thousand words or less, perfect for flipping through with a cup of coffee or out on the deck.

So what magazines do I read?

First there's the RWA publication, the RWR (Romance Writers Report). This is the staple of my mag reading and the one I rip from the plastic first and devour as soon as I get it. Informative articles and industry information geared towards writers. I'm all over it.

I also get RT Book Reviews - this is a little more reader centered but it's great for reading reviews, seeing what's coming, getting behind the scenes info on trends and series and authors. It's a great way to study the market and get inspired.

For research I get American Cowboy. Need I say more? I love finding new twists I can use in my westerns, as well as adding to my knowledge about the ranching way of life.

And to look after ME, I get Fitness magazine. There are recipes and workouts and inspiring stories to keep me from falling off the wagon.

And every now and again I'll grab something off the rack - HELLO CANADA and of course the yearly People edition of the Sexiest Man Alive. Hero inspiration anyone?

Do you read magazines, and which ones are your favourites?

Donna's current release is HOW A COWBOY STOLE HER HEART, available this month in North America and next month in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. You can find out more at her website,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Writers' Wednesday: Revisions by Kate Hardy

I’ll nail my colours to the mast upfront – I’m a planner, so for me having lists and spreadsheets and the like frees up my creativity rather than boxing me into a corner. I did try ‘writing into the mist’, and it just doesn’t work for me – all I do is play online word games! For me, I like to know where my characters are going and it doesn’t ruin the story for me or make me bored. (In fact, it sometimes helps a lot, because if I get stuck or really need to get words down because my deadline’s getting tight then I can write in ‘dirty draft’ form, which is basically expanding on my outline.)

But where being a planner really comes into its own for me is when it comes to tackling revisions.

How the process normally goes for me is:

  • Revisions letter from editor arrives

  • A few moments of ‘OMG, I am so crap and she hates my book’ authorial panic

  • Eat chocolate to calm self down

  • Read letter properly (with highlighter pen to pick out the important points)

  • Email ed to agree some points, argue case on others, and suggest compromise on others

  • Do something else to keep myself busy while I wait to hear back (preferably not eating chocolate, or the scales will have something to say about it)

  • Ed’s verdict arrives, agreeing/arguing/compromising

… and then I can get cracking on the actual revisions process.

From the first draft, I keep an outline of my book in a simple table format (and update it as I go, because although I’m a planner I’m open to change if my characters tell me something more interesting halfway through). Column one gives the chapter number and where it is in the timespan of the book (eg day 1, day 15, ‘several weeks later’); column two gives a very brief outline of what happens (i.e. plot points).

For revisions, I add a third column to the table, detailing what needs to be cut, what needs to be added, and sometimes what I’m going to move and where.

And then, instead of seeing a four-page letter from my ed and wondering where to start, I have a plan to work to. It’s been broken down into chunks, so it’s manageable. I can tick off the changes as I go and scribble all over my plan as I change things.

Scribble? Yes. At the moment, I do my revisions longhand – which has the added bonuses of stopping me having long email conversations with writer friends and keeping me off the internet :o) I type them up using ‘track changes’, and then print out any new scenes and revise them longhand, too.

Points to think about while I’m revising:

  • Are the characters consistent? Can the reader identify with them/fall for them/understand their motivations?

  • Enough emotional turning points and obstacles?

  • Scenes in the right order? Would it be stronger if I moved them round? Or if I switched viewpoint?

  • Who cares? (Have I gone off on a tangent/let my research show too much? – this one is my particular bad habit!)

And then, when I’m finished, that third column in my table can be cut and pasted as a note to my editor, explaining exactly what I’ve done and where.

How do you tackle revisions?

Kate’s new Modern Romance, A Moment on the Lips, is out in shops right now in the UK (next month in the US), and she’s thrilled that her new, has Vesuvius on the front cover! You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Deadline Recipes: Casseroles and Story Structure

Harlequin Intrigue author Paula Graves joins us with a few basic principles she applies to cooking and the writing craft...

I'm pretty sure I've blogged somewhere about my love of casseroles. As a not particularly successful cook, I've found over the years that casseroles are about the easiest way for me to create something not just edible but enjoyable, probably because I understand casserole structure. Broken down to the basics, casseroles are: vegetable and/or grain, protein, sauce and topping. Or, in the case of a sweet casserole: fruit, sauce, topping, which is even simpler. But the fun of casseroles is that once you get that structure in your head, it frees you to experiment with the components to create new and unusual casseroles. Having the structure in place, simplified to its basic elements, unleashes your creativity as a cook.

I think stories can also be broken down that way, into their simplest components. A story has a few more components than a casserole, of course, but once you understand the structure, once it's as basic to your storytelling as breathing, then you can unleash your creativity as a writer, too.

I think there are seven basic components to a story, at least in genre stories. I call them the Seven Cs: Change, choice, complication, commitment, crisis, climax and conclusion. I've written a longer explanation of the Seven C's in an article on my website ( if you'd like to read it, but in recipe terms, the Seven Cs are the basic components of your storytelling casserole. All of these elements are part of telling a complete and satisfying story. But within each of these elements, the variety is almost limitless.

A casserole can start with a common staple, such as ground beef or canned tuna fish. Or it can feature something like wild truffles or freshly caught Maine lobster. Likewise, the change that propels a lead character into a journey of discovery can be as simple as getting fired from a job or as complex as waking up to discover you're being tortured by terrorists and a year of your life is missing.

The choices the characters make can be obvious, just as potatoes might be obvious in a casserole, or unexpected, like putting chopped bananas in your savory casserole. (Not that I've tried that—yet). The complications can come from the outside or from the inside. They can be frustrating or dangerous. The crisis can be external or internal. Focus on emotional dangers or physical ones. (Or both). As long as you understand the structure of the story casserole you're cooking, you can go for the tried and true or branch out and take bigger and bigger storytelling risks. It's up to your imagination.

Category romance authors, in particular, hear people say our books are written to formula. Well, you know what? They are. Just as almost every commercial fiction genre book is written to a formula. It's called the three-act structure, which I've further broken down to the Seven Cs of story structure. The formula isn't a bad thing. It's a freeing thing. Just as the basic components of a casserole recipe allow you to think outside the casserole dish, a good understanding of story structure and its basic components gives you a solid foundation from which you can build a story as big and amazing as your imagination can conceive.

Monday, October 10, 2011

MALE ON MONDAY: Calling in the Authorities

USA Today Bestselling Author RaeAnne Thayne has a thing for the authorities...

I’ve got a thing for police officers. Okay, not just police officers, to be fair. FBI agents, spies (burned or otherwise!), DEA agents. I’m not picky.

I would venture to say this is probably not breaking news to anyone who’s read any of my books. I’ve working on my fortieth book and in a fairly unscientific survey (anything more than that would take research, which is too much for a Monday morning!) I would guess at least a third of my backlist titles features a hero in some sort of law enforcement capacity – and a third more would probably feature military guys!

Yes, I wrote a bunch of titles for Intimate Moments/Romantic Suspense, where spies and FBI agents made perfect sense. But I’ve been writing Special Editions for the last five years and I still find myself leaning toward guys who carry guns. I find something so intriguing about men willing to risk their lives to protect perfect strangers. My favorite TV shows all feature compelling, damaged men who do just that – Bones, Hawaii 5-0, Burn Notice. Is it any wonder I enjoy writing the same kind of guys?

I first introduced my latest hero, Trace Bowman, in a 2010 release for Special Edition, A COLD CREEK BABY. The Pine Gulch police chief was supposed to be just a minor secondary character, intended mostly to make the hero of that book (an undercover DEA agent!) jealous and finally realize he couldn’t let the heroine go. As soon as he stepped onto the page, though, I knew I was going to have to give Trace a happy ending of his own.

He finds that in CHRISTMAS IN COLD CREEK, my November release for Special Edition. Trace doesn’t get to shoot at any bad guys in CICC, though he does stand up against a few people who are making trouble for the heroine – something she’s totally not used to, that just steals her heart.

I love the idea of showing rough-edged, dangerous men coming to realize how very much they need a strong woman in their lives. What about you?

USA Today Bestselling Author RaeAnne Thayne’s latest book CHRISTMAS IN COLD CREEK, goes on sale October 18.

Back cover copy:

She claimed to be a waitress and a single mother, but Rebecca Parsons doesn't look like any hash-slinger Pine Gulch Police Chief Trace Bowman has ever seen. And she doesn't seem particularly maternal toward her little girl, either. Still, one look in her vulnerable green eyes and his protective instincts go into overdrive. Attention from local law enforcement is the last thing Becca needs. She'll do anything to protect her little sister Gabi from their con-artist mother, even lie about their identities. When Trace shows up at their house carrying a Christmas tree and stirring desires she can't afford to indulge, she longs to surrender to the magic of the season with him. But Becca's past is catching up—fast. Can her sexy police chief perform a Christmas miracle?