Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wildcard Weekend: Not An Option

Harlequin Historical Author Michelle Styles Explains How to Own Your Dreams

Before I became serious about my writing, I often wondered how people found the time. However, once I became serious, writing became a requirement, rather than an optional exercise. I knew I had to get things completed. It is a habit. Twitchiness sets in if I don't write. I stopped listening to that little voice that told me to stop or that there were other more interesting things to do. I did it for me, because it was a dream to be a published author. I carved out the time. My dream became more than adream. It became a priority. I get the words done. I consider the story, rather than day dreaming about what it would be like to be a writer.  I also take the risk and send it to my editor for her thoughts and when I get those back, I make the story better.
The same is now true about me and exercise. Before this year, finding any time to exercise was like pulling teeth. I kept listening to that little voice that said told me I couldn't. In January I stopping listening and started exercising and increased that in August when I started the Tracy Anderson Method. Along the way I have discovered that I can exercise and it does feel good. Exercising has become a Required Activity, rather than an optional one. it means I move the rug and get up a half early to fit it in. I wash my kit every day and lay out so it is ready and waiting when I get up in the morning.
Earlier this week, I read The Secrets of A Former Fat Girl by Lisa Collins where she explained about the Not An Option mantra and how she used it to get her bottom around the track over 20 years ago and has stayed fit since then. Reading her words made me realised how many times I have used this. It is not an option to miss my deadline. It is not an option not to write. It is not an option to whimp out of exercising. You get the idea.
Not An Option means that you do things and you set yourself rules. You start by choosing you rather than anyone else. I suffer from people pleasing and volunteering mania. It is very hard for me to say no as I hate disappointing people. But sometimes saying no is the ONLY option as you do have to choose yourself. No one will look after you better than you can. No one will pursue that dream for you. You have to own your dreams and that means working hard towards those dreams.
Success tastes far sweeter when you have drunk heavily from failure. You can't avoid failure and humliation if you take risks but if you fail forward, you are little further on the path towards your dream. So take a look at the list of resolutions that you gave yourself at New Year's. What were optional dreams and which were required ones? What have you done lately to make sure that the excuses are no longer valid and following that dream becomes a requirement? Once something becomes a requirement, it is amazing how your time expands and how you find a way around obstacles.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical. her most recent novel, To Marry A Matchmaker  appeared in the UK in July 2011 and Australia in September 2011. Her next novel will be out in August 2012. You can read more about Michelle's books on

Friday, October 21, 2011

Date With Kate - Animal help with New Voices disapppointment!

Hares and Tortoises, Swans  and  Rams – and any other animals who give us lessons to be learned from New Voices

So the big event of the week was the announcement of the  Top Twenty  - the Top 21 actually in the big Mills and Boon New Voices contest.  21 lucky ‘winners’ – 21 writers whose work caught the eye of the editors. 21 out of 1088  entries.  They will go forward into the next  round, write their second chapters, be judged again, move on . . .
And the rest of you? What are you going to do?  Put your entry in the bin – or the recycle bin on your computer?    Sit in a corner and cry? Curse, swear, kick the cat? 
Well yes, you’re entitled to do all of those – exc ept perhaps kick the cat. I can’t recommend that.  Charlie  and Flora would mever forgive me.  But disappointment will do  things to all of us that we might regret later. It’s natural. Disappointment isn’t easy to cope with, no one likes it, everyone wants success . And in such a public event as the New Voices contest there’s a success that is much  more visible than most.

So first of all – congratulations to those  in that select 21.  And good luck for the future. And , at the risk of sounding slightly callous and perhaps a touch cynical, the ‘Good luck’ bit are the words I want to give the most emphasis to. Because even if you are in that top 21, you haven’t   got there yet – there’s that second  chapter and the second judging and then the Top 4  - and then writing the pivotal scene ., . . and then more judging . . ..  and even when there is a winner – what does she have to do?

To write the book.

And the book will  need to be submitted, and assessed and probably revised and the revisions revised . . . .

There are lots of wonderful things about being a writer of popular romance  - not the least of which is sitting here, chatting with you  -  but one of the most difficult things  is that from the very start of your career – that moment when you think to yourself ‘I’d love to write a romance’ or, reading a great romance book ‘I’d love to write a book like this,’ or even when reading a not so good romance ‘I could write a better romance that this’ . . .  From that point when you set out on the road  to write your first book  and all the attempts afterwards, you put yourself out in to the public arena – and you risk getting kicked in the teeth by rejection. It’s part of the job, part of the path to success, part of being a writer. And I’ll let you into a secret – it doesn’t get any easier.  I may have 60  titles behind me but every time I send a script in to my editor  or a book comes out I panic.  My editor usually has  revisions she wants to see, sometimes – and it has happened  - twice - - there’s the dreaded ‘set aside’ ( We think perhaps that you should set this book aside for now  . .. )  Just this week I saw that Romantic Times only gave The Return of the Stranger 2stars. Ouch! That stung – and it’s funny isn’t it the  way that the  2 stars stick around in your head much longer and stronger than the  5 star:
Mrs Walker triumphantly produces a powerful and intense novel which involves your emotions from start to finish. Heath is a super hero full of brooding passion and the delightful Katherine evokes your sympathy. Not to be missed - as they say they saved the best till last.

(Oh yes, I feel a lot better now!)

So you were up against 1087 others - When I started out  there were  4 -5,000 unsolicited manuscripts arriving at M&B every year.  When I went to the offices for the first time they showed me the filing cabinets, walls and walls of them,  filled with the other submissions. I was so glad they did that after they said they liked my book (The Chalk Line)  otherwise I’s had turned round, run away- fast – and never looked back.

I had two submissions  rejected before The Chalk Line was accepted and then – I’m sure I’ve told this before – I stumbled badly over ‘second book blues’ – and ‘third book blues’ if the truth is told.   Both books had to be ‘set aside’ and come back to when I was ready, Admittedly there was a lot going on in my life, I was ill, my mother was dying – but the truth is that those books just weren’t good enough.  So Game of Hazard was my second book  - though really it was my 4th – and The Golden Thief and Chase the Dawn became books  rather later on.

So where do all those animal references in the title come into this ? The Hare and the Tortoise – surely that’s obviously  - the Hare and the Tortoise had a race and speedy Mr Hare set off  fast -  but the tortoise  kept on going at his own pace and  he gets to the end too. In fact he wins.   We all have our own pace for writing, our own pace for success -  some of us will  flare brightly and shoot high – but  I would always suggest that would be writers remember that editors are not looking for the fireworks  of one book wonders but the slow and steady and regular production of  books by a career novelist.  That’s what category romance publishing is all about.

And the swan and the ram? Well there is a theory that that fairy story that most resonates with you is the ‘script’ for your life -  it doesn’t have to be the one you enjoy  - personally I always hated The Ugly Duckling – the way the poor little creature was mocked at and laughed at – and then one day . . .”He looked . ..  and he saw . ..  and he said ‘I am a swan!”   And as someone who was always told I would never, ever be a writer, that it was all just a daydream, and I’d do better to forget it . .  . that resonates with me.

And the ram? Well, way back when – in  the long ago ancient times before I was a published author – before I’d even finished my very first  - very bad – submission to M&B,  there was a song that I couldn’t get out of my head. I hated it – but it wouldn’t go away. It was sung by Frank Sinatra  and it was called High Hopes. It’s going round and round in my head now.

Once there was a silly old ram

Thought he'd punch a hole in a dam

No one could make that ram, scram

He kept buttin' that dam

And why? Because he had High Hopes.  high apple pie, in the sky hopes.
I don’t like the song  - but it’s sort of become a theme tune of mine. It certainly was way back  over 25 years ago when I sent in The Chalk Line to M&B  and  put my courage on the line and risked another rejection.  26+ years later I still feel I’m doing that with every  manuscript I submit. I may sometimes end up, like that ram, with a bit of a sore head, but  I have this stubborn determination that I keep on butting that dam  then “Oops there goes a billion kilowatt dam.”

So to return to the New Voices Contest  - those 21 writers have achieved a lot -  but they aren’t yet  winners. The winners are the ones who get their books finished, whether through a contest or  ‘the slush pile’  - and revise it, and revise it again if necessary –  until it’s accepted and they see it on a bookshop shelf and on Amazon – and  then they really are a winner. And no one will care if the book won a contest or came up through the ranks if it’s a great read.

So are you going to  give up now – or are you going to become one stubborn determined ram and keep on butting your head against the dam?   It’s the only way.

I’ll admit something now  - I’ve never won a contest in my life. But last year I did have the amazing feeling of seeing my book The Konstantos Marriage Demand  chosen as Best Presents Extra by Romantic Times.   So – to encourage you not to give up  and I hope inspire you to keep going  - I have a signed copy of  The Konstantos Marriage Demand to give away  to someone who posts a comment to this post today. Tell me what you’re writing,   what you plan to do now  - no moaning about not finaling  in the New Voices allowed -  the disappointment should have turned to iron in  your spine now – it’s onward and, I hope, upward . As I keep saying ,  nothing I do can guarantee that you’ll be published – but there is one thing that will guarantee that you’ll never succeed and the only person who can do that to yourself is you – by giving in. 
So any time you’re feelin’ bad
’stead of feelin’ sad
Just remember that ram

Oops there goes a billion kilowatt dam

Kate's book, The Return of the Stranger is available now  in Presents EXTRA on  and Mills & Boon Sexy in Australia. 
You can read all her most up to date news on her web site and her blog

Charlie took some finding - but eventually he came in and  his winner - well, there are 2 winners because Flora came along and helped to pick too  - so the winners are:
Have won copies of The Konstantos Marriage Demand - please email me your postal address to kate AT and I'll get the book in the post

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Are You Reading Thursday :: Magazines

The Pink Heart Society editor Jenna Bayley-Burke thought PHS editor Donna Alward had such a great topic last week, she's using it again! Magazines are one of her favorite things.

Donna's post on magazines last week got me thinking. I read a TON of magazines. In fact, when I give my 'where do you get your ideas' workshop, I bring a bag of magazines. And they are all from my office. I just passed a bag of magazines to my son's 3rd-grade classroom. All from the basket in the living room. 

I may have an addiction. But I'm okay with that. I pay next to nothing for my subscriptions, whether from internet freebies or discount websites or gifts. Plus, you can snag an entire year of back issues at the library.

What do I read? For work it is RWR (Romance Writers Report from RWA), Cosmopolitan (because it gets me in the headspace of my sexy, sassy heroines), Maxim (to put me in the hero frame of mind...though I am thinking of switching to Men's Health. Crappy magazine title, but great stuff.) and Travel + Leisure for locations, locations, locations.

In fact, I don't think I've recycled a Cosmo in two years. You can reference them over and over. Same with Travel. Magazines have more pictures than books, and they are infinitely rippable - so you can use them when making story collages. Every holiday season Amazon does a $5 subscription to Cosmo. Worth every penny.

Magazines I read for my real life...are quite the list. Again, I pay very little for them. Good Housekeeping came free with an $8 year of Redbook. Both have given me some great jumping off points for stories, as well as ideas of what to make for dinner. Cooking Light and Sunset are annual gifts from my mother-in-law. Probably because I kept reminding her for her old issues. Sunset has really great writing and travel pieces, but again, I use it for dinner ideas.

My best foodie mags are Food & Wine, Everyday Food, Rachel Ray, and my personal fave -- Cuisine at Home. It's a gorgeous magazine with no ads. So, you really pay for it. But the recipes! I've kept every issue...and even been tempted to buy the issues I've had to miss because...well, it's spendy!

For the kids I get Parents and Family Fun. Both were online freebies. They've given us wonderful craft ideas, as well as rainy day activities and backyard games. They have a section where people share their embarassing kid story...I've always thought it would be great to turn those into a novel.

But, I won't. I don't write about kids. I have them in my real life. I write about things I dream of doing and places I want to go - fantasies. And what better place to start a fantasy than in the massage chair at the pedicure spa. I can work while I get my toes done.

Anyone want to babysit so I can go to work?

Jenna's juggling soccer practice, taikwondo, Cub Scouts, chess club, ballet, and oh yeah...writing. She's gearing up for NaNoWriMo next month which should bring on another fun adventure. In the meantime, 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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Love Inspired author Lyn Cote joins the Pink Heart Society to share a few tips from J Johnston's RWA workshop... and offer a chance to win BUILDING A FAMILY

Today I want to share a list I took down in notes from a Romance Writer's of America National Conference workshop by J Johnston. She gave her list of the best ways to keep a reader reading pages. Here is her list of Eight "hooks" for scene and chapter endings

1-asking the reader a question
2-creating a crisis, threat or unsolvable problem
3-anticipating a clash-verbal or physical between characters
4-riveting action or unusual or compelling behavior of a character
5-anticipating what will happen when a secret is revealed
6-setting up a conflict or beginning one
7-forecasting disaster unless --------?
8-setting an ultimatum or a deadline for a decision

I think this is an excellent list. How about some examples?

Here are a few examples from my latest Love Inspired, Building a Family. Why don't you see if you can identify which # in the list each of the examples demonstrates and I'll be giving away a copy of this book to one commenter. (BTW, hero=Pete Beck, his little girl=Cassie, heroine=Eleanor, and Pete's ex=Suzann)

Example 1
"A shrill scream shattered the peace. Pete swung around, his heart lodged in his throat. He recognized that voice. Cassie! Where was she? Why had she screamed?"

Example 2
"Eleanor lifted her chin, ready to deal with Mr. Beck's disapproval. Then she saw his face, and her sympathy flowed toward him. He looked worried, upset."

Example 3
"Pete had expected to be able to fall asleep easily, but he couldn't turn his mind off. Images of Eleanor flitted through his thoughts. Finally, he gave up and went downstairs for a glass of milk.
The phone rang.
He glanced at the clock. Nearly eleven p.m. An emergency? He warily lifted the receiver off the wall. "Hello, this is the Beck house."
Then he heard a voice had hadn't heard for over three years. 'Pete, it's me. Suzann.'"

So have some fun deciding which hooks I gave as examples. And if you have a great end of scene or chapter hook you'd like to share, FEEL FREE!

Blurb of Building a Family, final book in the New Friends Street series-Where love and dreams find a home

Lawyer Eleanor Washburn defends wayward teenagers and supervises volunteers for Habitat for Humanity without missing a beat. But she is unnerved by fascinating single dad Pete Beck—especially since his chaotic life includes a little girl wishing for a mother. Sweet Cassie has Eleanor yearning for what's been missing from her lonely existence. Soon, both dad and daughter are chipping away at Eleanor's defenses. Can she find the courage to risk losing her heart to this ready-made family?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

DEADLINE RECIPES - Spicy Mango Relish

Do you ever wonder how to get more of your 5 a day on your plate without getting bored with too many steamed veggies? Well today Fiona Harper gives us a recipe for a spicy mango salsa that will jazz up any plate!

While there's a little chopping involved in this recipe, it only takes 5 minutes to knock up and it's totally worth the effort - especially if you like your mango salsa with a bit of a kick! I'm on deadline at the moment, so I know what I'm talking about.

Last night I added mangetout and cooked peeled prawns to make a yummy salad, but chicken would also work well.

Spicy Mango Salsa
1 large mango, diced
half a red onion, chopped
half a red pepper, chopped
10g coriander, chopped
half a red chili, finely chopped

 Juice of 1 lime
dessertspoon of rice wine vinegar
teaspoon of agave nectar (or tsp of sugar)

Combine all the salsa ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix well.
In a separate jug, combine the dressing ingredients and then toss into the salsa.
Serve immediately, or leave it to sit for a while if you want the chili to heat up the dressing further!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Male on Monday - Librarians

Brigid Coady is happily drooling about men who love books...

I have never been happier than I was when someone linked to this on Twitter.

It is a calendar dedicated to showcasing the men who work in libraries. Now I am all for good looking men but that is all academic if they don't have a brain. Also I did once dump a man because he didn't read. How could I possibly spend time with someone who didn't get books like I did.

And here for your delectation are three of our boys...

Zack - Mr January

Megan - Mr November

Gabriel - Mr December

If only the librarian at my local library looked like them *sigh*

Brigid's book The Stone Voice has successfully completed the RNA's New Writer Scheme and once she's finished tweaking it will be off to agents.