Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Writer's Empty Nest

By Angel Smits

        Saying goodbye is always hard to do.  And it’s even harder when you’ve never actually met the person.
        As a writer, I meet someone new every day.  Granted, a lot of them are technically figments of my imagination, but still they’re full—living, breathing—people.  At least they seem that way to me.  (Other people maybe not so much.)
Over time, I spend a lot of hours with these people—sometimes more than with my real family.  I get to know them because I live inside their heads.  I hear what they think, see what they see—and sometimes do what they do.  (Research trips can be such fun!)
After doing five books in my CHAIR AT THE HAWKINS TABLE series, I’m now writing the last sister’s story.  Just saying that makes me sad.  Not that this is the last story for this series, but these brothers and sisters--and all their assorted friends and lovers--are finding their happy endings.  They’re moving on and I, well, I’m saying goodbye to them.
Oh, just like kids who’ve flown the nest, they pop in for a visit now and then, dropping by to tease or help a sibling in a scene.  But they don’t really come home to stay.  To be honest, I’m not sure I’d know what to do with them if they did.  I like their completed stories, the lives they’ve found.
One trick that many of my writing friends do to help them get into a character is to use actors/actresses as models for their characters.  Tons of us have “borrowed” characters from TV or movies to inspire stories.  It’s a great learning tool for one.  And it helps with the visuals.  But recently I found another benefit of doing that.  

In my second Super Romance, SEEKING SHELTER, I used the actor Christian Kane as the inspiration for my hero.  His music, his looks and his voice were my hero, Jace Holmes.  Recently, my husband and I watched some shows that Christian Kane was in (LEVERAGE) and it’s like going back to my story.  My characters are coming home to visit!  Part of me wants to go back and write more story—a lot like wishing your kids were little again, I guess.    
But just like my kids, I need to let my characters go and move on, even though the idea of writing a recurring character is tempting.  Besides, there’s always someone new to meet with a new story to tell.  And how exciting is that?  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Embracing Who We Are

I know the title of this blog post sounds like the title of a self-help book, but maybe that's fitting because the heroine of my May book, His Last Rodeo, reads a whole lot of self-help.  Kit Hayes has a broken heart, and is trying to figure out how to recover.  

As the story unfolds, her self-help books become an ongoing conversation between her and the hero, Tyler.  He's kind of fascinated by, and loves to tease her about, whatever self-help book she's currently reading.

But as I wrote this book, it became clear to me that Kit and Tyler's story wasn't about self-help as much as self-acceptance.  Kit had to learn to accept who she is, and not allow one person's rejection to devalue that. And Tyler, returning home to an unsupportive father, and struggling with a learning disability, had to learn to accept himself as well.

Which got me thinking about the rest of us.  How we are bombarded with information every day about how we should dress, what our weight should be, how many friends we should have, what we should eat.  We see pretty photos of our friends on social media and wonder if we should be as happy, active, and interesting as them.  But the truth is, if we get too caught up in all of those shoulds, we can end up feeling like we aren't okay just the way we are.  

I’ve had my own recent run-in with The Shoulds.  I’m turning 50 this year, and that saying, ‘50 and Fabulous’ keeps running through my mind.  I’m turning 50 so I should be fabulous.  I should be confident, and organized and strong.  But frankly, it’s not the most fabulous time in my life.  An injury to my leg has prevented me from exercising, and I’m busy with a young child, so it’s not like I’m running around (or hobbling around) looking amazing and doing a lot of glamorous, interesting things.

I was feeling almost guilty.  Like I was letting all women down with my lack of fabulous-ness.  Until recently I realized that, just like Kit and Tyler, I need a little self-acceptance here!  I need to let go of how I imagine I should be at this particular age, and just accept where I’m at, and enjoy it as much of it as possible.  Maybe my current form of fabulous is just hanging in there, doing physical therapy, trying to be a good mom and write a good book.

Every time I release a book, I do a themed giveaway in my author newsletter. And this time around the theme is to appreciate how wonderful we are, just the way we are.  So make sure you hop on over to my Facebook page (my website is down! How un-fabulous!) and sign up for my newsletter, if you haven’t already.  I found some really sweet items, like this cute bag, and I’m looking forward to sending this message out into the world. 

You are wonderful, just the way you are!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Do one thing a day that scares you by Piya Campana

“Do one thing a day that scares you” is the sort of suggestion I usually ignore because it doesn’t fit into my cocoon of books, Netflix and chips. But I definitely saw the value in it on my vacation to Belize in March.

Belize is a wonderful country to visit because it has so much to offer—if you like the beach, there are the sunny Cayes. There is ample opportunity to snorkel, scuba dive and kayak. The inland offers beautifully preserved jungle, fresh-water swimming holes, Maya ruin sites and a vast cave system.

Friezes on El Castillo at Maya ruin site Xunantunich
In the ten days I was there, I did many fun and exciting things I’ve done before, like swim in the ocean, read on the beach, explore new cities and eat at least four times my weight in local food (if you visit Belize, be sure to try the fryjack, the papaya, the rice and beans, the stew chicken, the conch curry…). And for the whole trip I had been looking forward to one particular expedition. Well, sort of.

It was with a degree of fearful excitement that I had been describing the ATM tour to others before I left for Belize. ATM, or Actun Tunichil Muknal, is a large cave an hour from San Ignacio, in the Cayo district. It is believed to be a Maya sacrifice site and is home to calcified human bones (including a nearly intact skeleton called The Crystal Maiden), pieces of ceremonial pottery and cave formations that were apparently modified into altars or carved in certain ways to create silhouettes and cast shadows of faces, figures and animals.

No cameras are allowed inside (thanks to one tourist who dropped theirs during the tour a few years ago, breaking a thousand-year-old skull), but that turned out to be fine with me! Because after a forty-five-minute hike through the jungle and shallow rivers, as well as a swim into the mouth of the cave, I needed both hands and all of my energy in the next three hours to squeeze through tight spaces, climb down into tunnels of rushing water and scale slippery rocks as we made our way around.

When we weren’t swimming through the cave’s river system, we took off our water shoes to walk the dry chamber areas in stocking feet to get up close to the artifacts. It was dark, damp and cool and we occasionally shared the space with some cute little bats…and a huge spider that I studiously avoided. I was grateful for my headlamp!

While wildly outside of my comfort zone, the ATM tour was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

In the spirit of pushing limits, what’s a story idea you’ve always wanted to explore but were too afraid to? Please tell me in the comments!

And if you’re interested in learning more about ATM and seeing some photos, here’s a good resource.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spring is Here ~ @AuthorKristina Knight

by Kristina Knight

Hey, there, everyone! April is almost over and that means spring is definitely here - at least in our area...and at least for today!

bebe and I have been taking in the scenery at one of our local nature preserves, and the scenery has made me so glad that I live at a lake. Ask me that again once December rolls around and I might say I was crazy...but when the weather warms up, and the flowers begin blooming, and the lake is starting to warm...its just perfect.

Here are three of my favorite things about spring:

3. The nights are still chilly. I'm over the super-cold, below-zero temps, I swear. But I do like a little bit to the air. For me that bite has a smell, it's sharp like the perfect cheddar. I smell it in the fall, too, before the first snows fall, but in spring it is just a bit sharper.

2. The feel of warm sunlight through the windows. There are moments when I just stand in the sunlight and bask, along with Hazel the Pup and Angel the Dog. Its the promise that things are changing and will continue to change, a reminder that I'm not always in control and that it okay.

1. The color. I'm not sure about where you live, but here in the winter it is very stark - grey when there is no snow on the ground and brilliantly white when there is. When we drive along the lakeshore there is a vast tundra of white and grey jumbled together and its pretty. But once spring comes, the grass turns green, the tulips bloom and it seems as if all of that starkness softens into every color you could imagine.

Kristina’s new book Famous in a SmallTown, is the first in her brand new SlipperyRock series and releases May 1!

Lifestyles of the small-town famous
Forced to leave Nashville after a scandal, Savannah Walters has come home to Slippery Rock, Missouri, with a bruised ego and her singing career in jeopardy. As if that isn't humiliating enough, on her way into town she's rescued by her swoon-worthy childhood crush, Collin Tyler.

His hands are full running the family orchard and dealing with his delinquent teen sister, so Collin doesn't need to get involved with someone as fiery and unpredictable as Savannah. But the intense attraction between them can't be denied. And when disaster strikes, they'll both be surprised by who's still standing when the dust settles.

Kristina Knight is a contemporary romance author, part-time swim-kid wrangler, and full-time Thin Mints enthusiast. You can find out more the book and Kristina on her website, and feel free to stalk follow her on FacebookTwitter or Instagram

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Question of the Month: What Are You Looking Forward To This Spring?

Spring is in bloom across the US, and we hope it's warm wherever you are, too! The nice weather has us wondering: what are you most looking forward to this spring?

Amber Leigh Williams: Springtime means a return to the beach! It's a struggle in summer to enjoy it because of 100+ weather and visiting crowds so springtime is our chance to grab as many beach afternoons with sun, salt and serenity. I love watching the kiddies rediscover seashells, dolphins and stingrays (these from a distance) and chase sand crabs, herons and seagulls. Plus, the hub brings home fresh Gulf fish. Nothing like a little kingfish or pompano for your dinner table!

Kristina Knight: Baseball! From Spring Training all the way through the World Series, I just can't get enough baseball. And I prefer going to the actual games, but I'll watch my favorites (Go Tribe!) on TV...or even listen on the radio if we're on a roadtrip.

Claire McEwen: I love the wildflowers in spring, and this year, after so much rain in California, the flowers are just gorgeous.  I also love the longer days, and we usually get some really great beach weather before the summer fog starts rolling in.

Tara Taylor Quinn: I am most looking forward to the return of my desert heat! It’s like an instant gift of a soothing hot tub without the water, or need to dry off! Anytime I want or need it, I just step outside and my body relaxes and spirit finds calm.

Jo McNally: Since moving to the South from the Northeast five years ago, I have a whole new love affair with spring. There is nothing genteel or subtle about a Southern spring--everything just bursts into blossom (seemingly overnight), and the world is suddenly full of color and perfume and birds singing. It's sort of an "in your face" springtime here, and I love its total lack of propriety!

Kris Fletcher: We moved at the end of August, so this will be our first spring in our new house. I'm excited to reclaim a couple of rock walls on the property that have been overgrown with brambles and picking out flowers to start there. And I can't wait to see what plants are already here, waiting to pop up and meet us!

Jennifer Lohmann: I'm with Kris. I also moved into a new house, so spring has been a time to discover what's growing. The Viking and I have ripped out some ugly shrubs, planted a pollinator garden, and are making plans for azaleas, a sitting place by the creek, and raspberries. I'm sure that's too much to conquer this spring -- but it's nice to imagine!

Sharon Hartley: Kayaking!  I love venturing out on Tampa Bay in my kayak to bird, but am a total wimp when the weather is chilly.  I really miss my kayak during the winter, but the days are beautiful and clear now  -- time to get back out on the water. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Retrospective Road Trip

Baby Organa & Young Skywalker with Scout, Dill, & Gem

It’s no secret I’ve found my nest near the white sand dunes of the U.S. Gulf Coast. But, growing up, I knew something slightly different and once every March/April I’m reminded of that. I’m the product of a Monroe County, Alabama childhood. First, I lived in a teensy town called Burntcorn before my family moved to Monroeville around the time of my sister’s birth. Before moving south to the coast, my parents built their first home in the middle of a dandelion field in Excel. Little did I know, just a few miles down the weather-beaten road in Repton, my husband was being raised as well. (Coincidentally, his clan moved to the coast within a year of mine though we didn’t meet there until I turned eighteen.)
Monroeville is known for many things. It’s billed as the literary capital of Alabama thanks to the long-time residency of literary giants Truman Capote and Pulitzer Prize-winner Harper Lee. Popular opinion has established Monroeville as the real-life equivalent of Maycomb, Alabama, the setting of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. To my husband and me, it’s the place we come back to get our taxes done. We pile the kids into our road-style Millennium Falcon and hit the interstate. Everything’s uphill from there. There’s a sign for a Creek Indian Reservation just before our exit. Monroeville’s a bit off the beaten track. It sits in the center of a rural county. Gentle green hills roll into fields of crop. The road bumbles over uncordoned railroad tracks. Tiny towns tick by on the GPS with nothing much to show for them but quaint city halls, box post offices and southern churches. There are houses and shop facades Lee and Capote might’ve seen in the Depression era, some that have been redeemed and renovated and others that have faded with the times. Our kids offer sound effects as we pass herds of cows, horses, goats, one preserved rail car in Fresco City (not actually a city) and a rusted graffiti train as we close in on our destination...

When we were young, Monroeville seemed like a hopping place, but the doors of the Vanity Fair visible from the house I lived in when my sister was born have long been shuttered. The sign for the Goodies department store my husband remembers his mother often shopping at stands, but the store itself closed years ago. As we cruise into town, memories come alive. Immediately to our left is the Monroe County Hospital where my husband was born (all ten pounds, four ounces of him). I point to the pizza place where one of my favorite birthday parties was held. He notes the outdoor market where his family regularly bought feed for their menagerie of animals and the fast food place with its once-wooden playground where he would chase his brothers. I remember another birthday party there as well as a celebratory play date after my preschool graduation. We were strangers then, but we can both recall the exact sound of the rickety bridge that stretched from tower to tower, the grainy texture and earthy scent of the bark mulch that littered much of the lot. I can still taste and feel the cold sticky touch of a vanilla soft serve ice cream cone dripping down my arm faster than I could eat it while my friend and I hid from the summer sun, resting against the cool walls of the round metal tunnel.
Our priority for much the journey involves sitting in an office building for an hour plus. For the last two years, we’ve rewarded the kids for behaving (mostly) so our trusty accountant can tell us how much we owe our government by taking them to the Monroe County Heritage Museum. Here lies the legacy of Harper Lee and Truman Capote. The impressive brick structure with its white clock tower was once Monroeville’s city hall and was used as the model for the courthouse in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird. It hosts the Alabama Writer’s Symposium, reading clubs, teacher workshops, theatrical productions of To Kill a Mockingbird and more. Since being made into a museum, the main part houses an life-size replica of the courthouse from the Oscar-winning movie. It’s also the centerpiece for the downtown walking tour and bus tour featuring the homes of Lee and Capote, the law office of Lee’s father (the inspiration behind the character Atticus Finch), and even the site of the hotel where Gregory Peck stayed in preparation for filming To Kill a Mockingbird.

This year, the museum was closed by the time we arrived, but the kids still got to run around the gardens and picnic area, interact with the statues of Scout, Gem and Dill and sneak in on an outdoor rehearsal for an upcoming performance of To Kill a Mockingbird. In the last afternoon light, I got to watch my daughter walk all by herself up the steps to the rotunda and hear my son giggle from his hiding spot behind a jasmine-lined trellis. We snapped pictures on the bench as we did last year for retrospect. We soaked in the last glow of nostalgia and my husband snipped the end off a jasmine vine by way of a fragrant memento. 
On the ride south toward home, I watched the sun sink beneath a tree-lined horizon. I was overwhelmed by nostalgia. I love the rich environment my parents eventually migrated to, just as I love raising my children there just as they did. Monroeville is a simple town. The pace of life there hasn't changed much since I was a girl. Yet I’m nevertheless struck by how fortuitous I was to have lived there – to at any point have been rolling my miniature shopping cart next to my mother’s at the Piggly Wiggly passing the distinguished likes of Harper Lee in the aisle -- to have accidentally bumped into the kid-sized version of my future spouse on the playground as children are ought to do. It’ll be years before our kids grasp why we continuously pilgrimage to the place neither of us think of as home anymore. But hopefully, one day, they’ll understand the sentiment as much as the history behind it.

There's still a chance to follow the virtual book tour for my latest Superromance novel, Wooing the Wedding Planner, for a chance to win a $50 Barnes & Noble Gift Card! Offer ends April 28th. Enter here!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Writing: A Job You Can Take Anywhere - Dana Nussio

Educators do most of their teaching in classrooms and labs. Archeologists  dig on excavation sites. Even the President of the United States is forced to perform the lion's share of his/her duties from a big white house and inside an office that isn't even round. But writers? We can write anywhere.

I came to this realization earlier this week as I sat scratching out words and scrawling new ones in a tiny spiral notebook while on a pretty nerve-racking flight (two really) from Atlanta-to-Detroit-to-Atlanta-to-Detroit. It started out that I was only writing in the notebook while waiting for the plane to reach cruising altitude, but that darn "Fasten Seatbelt" sign never clicked off, so my laptop had to remain stowed. Apparently, that was a good call on the pilot's part, that and the decision not to ascend to 30,000 feet since the cabin refused to pressurize. As passengers (and pilots for that matter) often lose consciousness at high-altitude situations when their lungs are starved for oxygen, I couldn't even fault him for returning our plane to the Peach State for repairs.

If I could draft words in that...we'll call it a heightened situation, I have to believe I can do it anywhere.  

Over the years, I must have been on a mission to prove that point, whether I realized it at the time or not.  I've written stories in notebooks at the pediatrician's office, in the lunchroom at my day job and at more soccer tournaments and swim meets than I can count. I've tapped away on my laptop at hospital patients' bedsides, in a lovely cabana at Romance Writers of America San Diego and at my neighbor's awesome lake cottage in the middle of a snowstorm. I've even written on my AlphaSmart at poolside while my little girls splashed not ten feet away (lifeguard present, of course).

Sure, I work in my sunny yellow office and on my beaten-down couch where I'm typing now, but I've spent enough time  writing in coffee shops that I would expect a scratch-and-sniff page with the scent of good java to be included inside each of my novels. My March Superromance, FALLING FOR THE COP, particularly, should have the sweet scent of a vanilla latte as much of that story I wrote among coffee lovers.

Hmmm, from the number of locations where I've been driven to put words to page over the past fifteen years, you would think that I would have written more than just eighteen titles. But that's a blog subject for another time.

Often, though we creative types say we want to share our stories, we give ourselves too many excuses not to write. We're too busy. We don't have any free time. We're dealing with this month's crisis or still recovering from the one last month. But just as we must challenge any of these excuses if we truly wish for our stories to become more than daydreams that live inside our minds, we must accept that though no writing location is perfect, we can write wherever we make the effort.

Writers write. It's what we do. We have these stories inside us that insist on being released whether we're on our lunch breaks, summer vacations and even on airplanes limping back to airports.
There'll never be a perfect writing location. So just grab your laptop, tablet, notebook or phone and let the words and your stories flow. Any place is just write.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Name Game

Kris Fletcher

I'm deep into writing my next Superromance, at the point where the characters are usually becoming fairly familiar to me, but I'm still having a problem with my hero. He has a great backstory. I know a lot about him. I'm figuring out his humor, what's important to him, what can reduce him to a pile of mush before he even knows it - but something is still wrong, and I finally put my finger on it.

He needs a new name.

I usually change names for my characters many times through the course of a story. It has to fit, you know? And even when I think I have the perfect name, it often changes, usually because I've learned more about the character and the original name no longer fits. Most of the time, that's easily fixed with a find-and-replace. It's not so easy when the character is one I used in a previous book and the name is one I would never have chosen if I'd known exactly how much time we would end up spending together.

This time, though, there was a different problem. This is a brand new guy, so I had a blank canvas to work with. I wanted a name that was one syllable, but not super short. It needed some depth to it. I went with Boone. Really, it was his last name, but for many reasons he went by that instead of his given name of Jackson.

Boone. Not bad, huh? Not really common, yet everyone knows it. Kind of rugged, but playful at the same time. Has great associations.

Yet it still wasn't sitting right with me.

The reason totally eluded me until I sat down to send an email to one of the young men in my family. His name is Daniel. When he was younger, we called him Daniel Boone. Or just - yep - Boone.

Well, heck.

I sighed, went back to my  taped-together favorite name book (The Baby Name Wizard, by Laura Wattenburg), and hit the drawing board. Levi? Eli? Doyle? Flynn? Rafe?

Rafe ....

That one lingered. It's been on my name radar for a long time, as one I would like to use but hadn't yet found the right character to wear it. But this guy ... this man who had a heartbreaking childhood, who now lives in South America but maintains his Canadian citizenship, who has been tested by time and circumstance but still has a core of decency that makes him desperately want to help ... this might just be the guy.

Hello, Rafe. It's good to meet you.

That is, unless you turn out to actually be a Joe ...

Saturday, April 1, 2017

April 2017 New Releases!

Boss Meets Her Match (The Cleaning Crew)
Janet Lee Nye

She can't fall for a guy like him… 

With kick-ass-and-take-names flair, hardworking Lena Reyes has everything a successful woman could want. Well…almost. She's still single, which means her family is practically auditioning guys for Hispanic Bachelor. But none of these guys compare to her newest client: a sexy trust-fund artist who's making Lena crazy in every way possible.

Born into wealth and privilege, Charles "Matt" Beaumont Matthews V is everything Lena isn't. So why does she find him so deliciously irresistible? Now their attraction is breaking all kinds of rules. Worse still, Lena's falling for Matt—hard. He's either the perfect mistake…or her perfect match. 

Plain Refuge
Janice Kay Johnson

 He's her only defense…and a frightening temptation 

Rebecca Holt thinks she's doing the right thing when she takes evidence proving her ex-husband is hiding a murder. But after two attempts on her life, she flees with her six-year-old son to rural Missouri, where the pair hide among Amish relatives, dressing "plain."

County sheriff Daniel Byler was raised Amish, but his protective instincts put him in conflict with his family's beliefs at an early age and he left the faith. Yet this background helps him to recognize Rebecca as someone who is out of place, in danger…and lying to him. 

The Soldier's Forever Family (Soldiers and Single Moms)
Gina Wilkins

 A weekend to remember…leads to the surprise of his life 

Adam Scott never thought he was missing out. Since leaving the military, he's been working at a luxurious resort: no commitments, no complications. Just the way he likes it. That is, until the morning Adam meets a young boy on the beach—a boy who looks very much like him. His son.

Six years ago, Adam and Joanna Zielinski indulged in a passionate, no-strings weekend. Even now, their chemistry still burns. But Adam knows all too well that some men shouldn't be fathers. He'll protect his son the best way he knows how…even if it means saying goodbye to the family he never knew he wanted. 

The Baby Arrangement (Business, Babies and Secrets)
Lisa Dyson

A nine-month business deal 

Bree Tucker's company is her everything. So when she becomes pregnant after a fling, she knows she can't be a mother. She has no room for a baby in her life and zero maternal instinct. But the father, Nick Harmon, vows to raise the child on his own. Fine by Bree. Thing is, he wants to be right by her side for the next nine months. That can only mean trouble. Nick makes her feel things no other man has. Surely her growing attraction to Nick is pregnancy hormones and not the idea that he'd make a wonderful dad… 

April 2017 Box Set

 Harlequin® Superromance brings you a collection of four new novels, available now! Experience powerful relationships that deliver a strong emotional punch and a guaranteed happily ever after.

This Superromance box set includes:

by Janice Kay Johnson

The Cleaning Crew
by Janet Lee Nye

by Lisa Dyson 

Soldiers and Single Moms
by Gina Wilkins

Look for 4 compelling new stories every month from Harlequin® Superromance!

Join HarlequinMyRewards…com to earn FREE books and more. Earn points for all your Harlequin purchases from wherever you shop.

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