Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Getting Out & About...by Rachel Brimble

As writers we're often at our happiest when sitting in front of the computer in a silent house, usually with a breed of an animal at our feet. Or maybe that's just me!

The only problem with staying in this blissful comfort zone? It's very likely we'll run out of ideas unless we get out and about from time to time. My Templeton Cove series is a mix of romantic suspense and mainstream romance stories set in a UK seaside town, however, these characters need experiences and interactions in order to make them viable, well-rounded and believable people.

Although Templeton Cove is a blend of UK seaside locations I stayed with my family throughout my childhood, I find I often use my foreign holidays, visit to historical places and festivals to sprinkle a little more of the exotic and interest into this small town.

I don't tend to use the actual places I've visited, what I use are the emotions I felt whilst there. One of my favorite holidays of all-time was Rhodes. One of my most comforting and relaxing holidays was at a log cabin in Wales. One of my memorable visits to a stately home was Highclere Castle (AKA Downton Abbey).

When I start a book, I usually try to pin down the 'theme' - this can be anything from trust, to self-acceptance, to grief, to regret...the list goes on. Once I have my theme pinned down, more often than now, one of the places or countries I've visited will come straight to mind. I then know I need to use everything I felt whilst there and pour it into my characters.

What are some of your favorite places to visit? Where can you think of that you immediately felt an emotional rush? There will be a story idea there...promise!

Rachel x


Monday, February 27, 2017

Building Community, One Pretty Card at a Time

Whenever I send out one of my author newsletters,  I always include some kind of cute, fun giveaway. Usually the giveaway relates to whatever my most recent book is about, or I put together a collection of pretty items with a holiday theme.

But in January, I was informing my newsletter subscribers about my Harlequin Online Read, Safe with the Rancher, which is about a woman who decides to face down her stalker.  What was I going to give away to celebrate that?  Mace?  Self defense classes?  I couldn't think of anything cute and fun. And as for holidays... the newsletter was going out during inauguration week. And after such a difficult election, after so much division in our country, I was having trouble celebrating that.

But then the inauguration gave me an idea. I wanted to offer a giveaway that could help heal some of those divisions. Something that might inspire people to reach out a hand of friendship to someone else.  So I found these wonderful greeting cards, meant to be sent to friends, that are so pretty and have such sweet messages on them.

I didn't know what my newsletter subscribers would think of this giveaway, since it was a lot less elaborate than my usual newsletter goodies.  But I explained that I wanted to spread love and friendship, and strengthen my community this year, and that these cards seemed like a great way to start.

Well, it turned out that I wasn't the only one wanting to send love and friendship out into the world!  I received many more giveaway entries than I normally do, and there was something very special about them.

Usually, when I offer a newsletter giveaway,  I get a bunch of simple email responses that say something like, 'Please enter me in your giveaway.'  Which is fine. Totally what I expect to get.  But this time I didn't get too many of those. Instead, almost everyone wrote me a personal note.  And in their notes, they shared what was in their hearts.

Some people just really loved the cards, and appreciated the sentiment behind the giveaway.  But many people told me that the election had caused divisions in their community of family and friends that they wanted to heal. Or that they were worried about a friend or a loved one, and wanted to make sure that person knew they still really cared. Mostly, people said they wanted to spread love and happiness, because there just isn't enough of it in our world right now.

I was so touched by these emails. So honored that people would share their worries and hopes with me, and that so many people wanted to spread goodwill around.

One lucky winner got the cards, and I wished I had more to give away because there was so much interest in them.  But I also know that it's very easy to find nice, inexpensive cards. I always check the stationary section at Target, and I've also found them at Marshall's, Ross, and other discount stores. I enjoy cards so much that I've ended up with a bit of a collection.  Here are a few of my favorites. You can see I have a bit of a bird, flower, sparkly obsession going on!

I hope you'll consider sending some love and friendship out in to the world. And to help you along, I have an extra box of these sweet flower cards to give away to one person who comments.  So please share with us how you reach out to friends and family, and thanks for stopping by today!

Greeting Card Giveaway!  Just leave a comment to enter!

P.S. If you'd like to sign up for my newsletter, to get my latest news and be a part of the giveaways, just head on over to my website and you'll see the sign-up form on the right side of the page.  I send my newsletter out about four times a year.

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
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