Thursday, February 23, 2017

Paying Attention

Paying Attention
By Angel Smits

We live in an unhappy world sometimes.  Some days are tough to get through.  When I’m not writing, I work a day job as well as help my husband with our small business.  Some days I come home and plop down on the couch—and just sit.  Not the most exciting existence at times. 
            The other night, I couldn’t help wondering what my life would be like if I didn’t have romance novels to escape into.  To be honest, it looked pretty bleak. 
            Thankfully, I had a book due so, I pulled out my laptop and got to work.  Amazingly, I was able to leave this world behind and go with my characters to theirs. 
            Now, I’m not saying my hero or heroine have great lives.  I’m actually kind of mean to them.  (Poor things)  But no matter what I do to them, no matter how rotten I make their days, I always know in the back of my mind that everything will work out for them. 
            I know they’ll get their happy ending. 
            That’s comforting. 
            It’s the same when I read a book.  A really good romance promises that happily ever after from page one.  I don’t know how they’ll get there, but I know they will get there.  I can’t put the book down until I get to that point where the characters look at each other and realize they love each other.  And always will.
            Ah, that’s my escape.
            We all have our escapes.  We need them.  I think it’s what encourages good mental health.  It helps keep us stay sane in this insane world.  Sometimes I forget to do that and I feel weighed down.
            One of my critique partners is the most upbeat person I know.  She, and my other critique partners, have let me bend their ear about so many things over the years.  And somewhere along the line, she started to send us text messages.  Funny ones.  Serious, encouraging ones.  Hunky guys when she feels like we need a little “pick me up.” 
            She sends them throughout the day sometimes, and we end up in a text conversation that lasts just a few minutes.  (Somehow the guys in kilts inspire more discussion…) 
            But those few minutes are an amazing reprieve in the middle of this not-so-happy world.  Those little breaks are like a nice way of her smacking me upside the head and saying, “Wake up.  Pay attention to what’s important.”
            It's that same feeling I get when I've escaped into the pages of a book, even for a little while.  
            It reminds me that my critique group, my friends are always there.  It brings my dream world—my writing world—back into focus in my mind.  It makes me laugh, or cry—or sweat just a little. 
            Recently, though I’ve wanted to find things to send to her.  She makes me feel better when I need it.  (She sent me three pictures of Keith Urban when I had a nasty cold, for heaven’s sake.  Didn’t cure a blessed thing—but I didn’t care anymore.) 
She has gotten me to look at the world differently.  Actually, to really look at the world in my day.  There are good things in every day.  I’m trying to find at least one thing in each day that’s a positive.  A blessing.  A gift.  Something that might make a good photo to send.  I’m still working on that, and a couple weeks ago I started making a list of things I appreciate.  I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve notice lately.
            1- The thin, white ice on the curb in the early morning.
            2 - Deer in the parking lot at work.

Lunch break!
            3 - The scent of ANYTHING after your head’s been stuffed up for 2 weeks.
            4 - The silence when an annoying person stops talking.  (Like I said, I’m a work in progress.) 
            5 - Coffee (Some days are hard)
            6 - Chocolate vodka (Sometimes multiple days) 
            7 - And today’s addition -- chocolate fountains!  (Seriously, you really have to try this!) 
When you look around, what little things are there, just waiting for you to find and appreciate them?  Not necessarily the obvious ones, either.  Those are easy.  I’m challenging myself.  Look for them and think about how that slight moment is just a bit better for finding it.  How can you put more of those in your life?  And as a writer, I want to put those into my writing as well.      
            It’s a start.       


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Your Perfect Travel Strategy

A change is as good as a rest, or so the saying goes.

I happen to believe it's true, which is why my lovely hubby and I took a trip to Amsterdam last week. After a stressful six months, it was good to get away for a few days and an ideal way to unwind. Not because the weather was any different (it was snowy the first day and then warmed up) or we had to go too far (the flight was 40 mins!), but because it was away from home. Different. Yet, because we've been there so many times, comfortably familiar. What better way to relax than to potter through the streets of the old town, alongside the canals? We visited many places we'd been to before, but also managed to find some new ones too. We had coffee, lunch and dinner in both old favourites and new discoveries.

On Valentine's Day, we had dinner booked at a romantic restaurant. It was one of those skyscraper, rotating restaurants, with a fabulous view of the famous harbour, as well as the rest of the city. Finding our way there meant we had to take the free ferry across the harbour. A new experience. And the view gave us a whole new perspective on the city. So much so that we did the trip again the following day, during daylight hours. Why had we never done this before? [and yes, that is a swing on top of that building!]

Unfortunately, we weren't able to make our planned day trip to The Hague - we'll have to do that another time. It didn't matter too much in the end, because we were able to do other things.

All of which got me thinking about the perfect travel strategy. Some people, like some writers (called plotters), love to have every last detail and minute planned before they travel. They like to see and do everything they possibly can, so no time is wasted. Others, again like some writers (called pantsers, because they fly by the seat of their pants), like to just turn up and play it by ear. 

We are somewhere in the middle - which, coincidentally, is kind of like the way I write. We like to do plenty of research about the place we're visiting and a rough idea of the things we'd like to do. Where tickets or reservations are necessary, and if it's something we're very keen about, we'll make the booking. Otherwise, we like to keep things open. There will be a broad structure to what we would like to do, but also enough flexibility that we can take advantage of surprises and detours.

 So what is your travel strategy? Are you a plotter, a pantser, or like me, an in-betweener? Leave me a comment to be in with a chance to win a signed, limited edition, print copy of my Valentine's short story, A Perfect Bouquet.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Super Characters Have Multiple Facets

When I first started writing, I read romance novels voraciously in an effort to understand the genre from a creative standpoint. I’d read plenty before I started writing one, but once I wanted to write my own, I looked at the books with much different perspective. I got out highlighters and made marginal notes. I broke down the text into pieces so I could see how it was put together, sort of like a would-be mechanic taking apart a motor to see how it works.

I’m proud of all I learned, and very glad I took the time to study the craft of writers I admire. But I will confess, I’m glad to be beyond that point in my career! It’s exhausting to debate every word that goes on the paper, wondering if I’m moving in a positive direction. So much nicer to work from a point of confidence and strength. These days, my books aren’t perfect, but I feel sure they’re good. I’m offering stories I feel sure will entertain readers.

Another bonus of not needing to read my own genre so often if that I can look further afield for creative inspiration. I can binge watch television and find ideas for new characters. I can people watch on vacation and hear snippets of dialogue that I want to finish on paper. Acquaintances share stories about how they meet a significant other and I think about how I can rewrite it a bit to more dramatic effect.

This month, I’m especially excited to take in HBO”s spin on Liane Moriary’s Big Little Lies, a book
I adored. The cast is stellar from Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman to Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern—a veritable Who’s Who of Hollywood awesomeness. Plus they have a great base to work from in Moriarty’s book that lets the reader peer into multiple characters’ lives to reveal the secrets beneath the public facades.

I found the book inspiring when I read it since I always enjoy seeing what’s behind a less-than-lovable character’s backstory. Every villain is the hero of their own story, after all. Big Little Lies lets us experience the way multiple characters feel marginalized. The first character we meet, Madeline, might well be perceived as self-involved, superficial and unable to mind her own business by those around her. Yet I adored her strength and her willingness to champion others who needed that strength. Surely that’s a heroic quality?

In my Heartache, TN series, I play with this idea for characters like Tiffany McCord, the cheating mother who dates the town bad guy. We have plenty of reasons to dislike her throughout the series from her bragging to the fact that she is unfaithful to her wounded Veteran husband. But in Whispers Under a Southern Sky, I couldn’t resist letting readers see more to Tiffany. Her efforts to be a good mother, for one, and a glimpse into the darker side of the marriage she couldn’t hold together.

We are all heroes in our own stories is right. Sometimes the choices that look villainous on the outside are motivated by choices and circumstances we can’t begin to understand. I like Superromance for giving us the opportunity to paint those big worlds with complex characters, and I sure like that HBO is making Big Little Lies into a drama that will no doubt inspire more stories, more ideas and more characters than the initial book. The biggest gift of art is not just pleasure, but the ability to make us think. In the case of complex characters, our art also gives us the chance to experience empathy.

I couldn’t be happier to think that my efforts as an artist have moved from asking myself “how do I write dialogue?” to “how do I provide a deeper understanding of character?” The books grow as I grow, and that’s a lovely bonus.

***Do you like knowing what makes a character tick? Do you get impatient with too much characterization when you read? Ideally, the best authors don’t even let you see the way they do this! Name a show or movie where you felt like the characters (or one character) was really compelling… someone interesting you really rooted for. I’ll give one random poster an advance copy of my April Harlequin Desire story, The Magnate’s Mail-Order Bride

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Women Steal the Show in this year’s OSCAR nominations!
By Karen Reid, Editor, Harlequin Superromance & Heartwarming
(All images in this post have been, as usual, shamelessly stolen from various internet sights.)

Strong female roles are not always easy to find in movie theaters—and that is definitely a problem. However, this year’s OSCAR nominated movies feature inspiring performances by women that must be celebrated. Yay!

Let’s begin with Hidden Figures. This movie is based on the true story of the remarkable, determined, very smart women who played a critical role in the early days of the US space program. Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer play three African-American mathematicians—Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson—who crossed gender and race barriers to help NASA send astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Senior Editor Victoria Curran gives this movie a thumbs-up, calling it “the feel-good movie that everybody needs right now”. And not only is this untold piece of history a great movie, but it's also inspiring a whole new generation of girls and women to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects and to pursue STEM jobs. Dream large, reach far. A must-see!

Next up is Arrival. If I were to describe this film in one word, I would call it beautiful. It may seem like a straight-up Sci-Fi movie, but it’s so much more. Amy Adams portrays a linguistics professor recruited to interpret the language of aliens who’ve landed their spacecraft at different locations around the globe. Arrival will touch your heart as a mother, lift your soul as a human being and delight your imagination as a moviegoer. Need I say more to convince you to see this movie—a movie in which the fate of humanity rests on the shoulders of one woman? I didn’t think so! (Oh, and you’ll love the twist!)

Of course, we cannot forget Viola Davis in Fences. I’ve not seen this film yet, but it’s on my shortlist. Based on a Pullitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson, Fences is set in 1950s Pittsburgh. It explores race relations and the changing African-American experience at the time. Viola Davis first performed the role of Rose Maxson on Broadway, opposite her onscreen co-star Denzel Washington (um…yeah, he is another good reason to catch this movie!). She’s already won numerous awards this season (i.e. Golden Globe, BAFTA), so my hopes are high for OSCAR night. Every time I watch Davis in something—either on the small or big screen—I’m enthralled by the passion and strength she exudes. And I’m sure her portrayal of a woman trying to keep her family together, through pain and betrayal, will be no different.

I could go on—Ruth Negga (adore her!) in Loving, Natalie Portman in Jackie, Nicole Kidman in Lion... but I think I’ve “talked” enough—so what are some of your favorite performances? Let me know!

And before I go, I feel I must have some fun and share my OSCARS outfit for this year. But, of course, I can’t decide…so which do you think I should go with—the Chanel pantsuit or the Ralph & Russo gown? Tough choice, right?

See you in the theaters…and on the red carpet on Feb. 26th!  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Romance, Love and Rock & Roll - Dana Nussio

Garbage/Oct. 2015
Happy Valentine's Day! Today is the day when the people from nearly 40 countries celebrate love and romance through gifts, candlelit dinners and dreamy getaways. How could any event that features copious amounts of chocolate, long-stem roses and candy hearts with words like "Hot Stuff" and "I'm Yours" written on them be anything less than awesome? (No, I am not inhaling a package of heart-shaped Peeps as a write. ;))

Duran Duran/July 2016
Valentine's is also the banner holiday for those of us who spend our lives writing stories about happily ever after. We are often asked to make appearances associated the holiday, and sometimes we even are interviewed about how we keep the romance alive in our own relationships.

Metric/Sept. 2016
I always dreaded that question. Oh, I could write about the kind of love that could overcome tragedy and time and any antagonist. (My March Superromance, FALLING FOR THE COP, is a prime example. Shameless promotion here.) My own romance, however, was a little less sparkling. While my husband and I were in our child-rearing years, most of our "date nights" involved a trip to Home Depot and maybe a latte or an occasional movie. So as we entered the next phase of our lives, our romance was in need of a little spark.
Who knew that the sizzle would come in the form of light shows, guitar riffs, drum solos and killer lead vocals? Yes, these two empty nesters, with very different music tastes, are building this next stage of our romance with a little help from Rock & Roll. Date nights for us now include great music, screaming fans and some lovely quality time together. Sure, we'd attended a couple of concerts together while our daughters were still at home. A little Depeche Mode. Some Barenaked Ladies. I'd even showed up at a Cranberries concert, which was a surprise to me since I'd thought all day that we were going to see the Traveling Wilburys. :)
The Fray/Nov. 2016

As a romance writer, I would like to take credit for transforming a casual interest into a regular hobby pour deux, but this one I owe all to my husband. He cleared our calendars, made the plans and bought the tickets.
Yes, my '90s-music-loving guy has picked a few bands whose music I was unfamiliar with until the show, but we've taken turns selecting concerts and learning to appreciate something the other loves. We're veterans now, of bigger concerts at Joe Louis Arena and more intimate shows at the Fillmore Detroit and Royal Oak Music Theatre, where he insists on mosh pit tickets since we're "way too young" to sit in the balcony seats. On the calendar for March, we have Green Day (his choice) and Bon Jovi (definitely mine.) He's even promised to put up with my swooning.
Red Hot Chili Peppers/Feb. 2017

How do we keep our romance alive? I'm glad I don't have to shy away from that question anymore. It's all about finding something you can love together, something that will remind you of why you fell in love in the first place. As for me,  I'm not only building romances in the pages of my books, but my husband and I are also stoking the fire of our real-life romance with the help of some great music. Maybe one of these days we'll even get good at selfies!

Happy Valentine's Day to my Valentine!  I love you!

"If music be the food of love, play on..." William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

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