6

The Unexpected Goodbye

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A few years ago, Patti Reagan, daughter of President Ronald Reagan, wrote a book THE LONG GOODBYE, talking about losing her father to Alzheimer’s. It was a heart-breaking book, filled with the truth that a person with Alzheimer’s leaves his or her family long before they die. This week, we had to make the difficult decision of putting my mother-in-law into a rest home. We never expected the emotional difficulty that parallels Patti Reagan’s observations.

Before any child considers putting a parent into a home, there has to be big problems with her care. In our case, my husband’s mom was losing her memory and normal function. My father-in-law, already in his late eighties himself, couldn’t really care for her. But my in-laws had been married over sixty years and my father-in-law rebelled at the idea of their living apart. So no matter how obvious the choice, he was upset.

It took a while for us to realize he wasn’t upset with the fact that his wife had to go into a home, as much as he was rebelling against the unfairness of it all. His life would totally change. His wife wasn’t ever coming back. He would be alone.

His grief fed ours. When the decisions had been made and we all expected a sigh of relief, we got, instead, a wave of sadness. Grief so intense I almost can’t describe it. There would be no more Christmas Day lunches, or Thanksgivings, or Easters filled with sugar-free candy so her diabetes wouldn’t act up.

There will be no more impromptu barbecues. No more phone calls over stupid things that resulted in nice chats.  No more…Anything. Except visits with a woman who usually won’t remember us.

It’s been said that getting old isn’t for sissies or that it sucks … but, really, that doesn’t even hit the tip of the iceberg. No matter how much you prepare yourself for the losses big and small, there is no escaping the sadness, the grief.

And that’s it. Though I typically end my posts with something profound, today the only thing I have for you is profound sadness. And maybe the hopeful sentiment that life goes on, and as humans we’re geared to go on.

But for today, I may get out my albums and remember some much, much better times.

 

susan meier

4

Conference low down with Michelle Douglas

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The weekend of the 7—10th of August was the Romance Writers of Australia conference and I thought I’d share some of my highlights from the weekend.

The Australian conference has a professional development day for published authors on the Thursday, there’s a Friday Workshop, with the core conference on Saturday and Sunday. I, of course, am greedy and attend the lot. :-)

Thurday highlights:

  • The squeals and hugs as 90 attendees catch sight of friends they only see once a year.
  • Jim Azevdo’s session: 10 Trends Impacting the Future of Book Publishing. He’s the marketing Director at Smashwords and this talk was seriously thought provoking. So… first session in and my brain already feels like it’s going to explode from all the new (and useful!) information. I sense it’s going to be an excellent conference then. ;-)
  • The gasps around the room when Marie Force during her session Rejection Was My Friend said her income in 2007 was $2500 and that her income last year was three million dollars. She has staff. I dream of staff. :-)
  • The creative exercises Sarah Donovan gave us during A User’s Guide to the Creative Writer’s Brain. She made us speak out aloud to ourselves for one-minute non-stop in relation to something we were struggling with in our current work in progress. The 2 people beside me were in fits of giggles about the nonsense coming from my mouth (and now want to read my next book). ;-)
  • Sneaking off to my room to have tea and shortbread with one of my writer friends who I only see face to face once a year.
  • The Harlequin Dinner. Harlequin takes their authors out to a lovely restaurant to wine and dine us. It’s great to chat with the Harlequin staff and I loved meeting Flo Nichol from the London office.
Harlequin authors: Rachel Bailey, Helen Lacey, Sue Mackay, Louisa George, and Michelle Douglas (front)

Harlequin authors: Rachel Bailey, Helen Lacey, Sue Mackay, Louisa George, Annie West, and Michelle Douglas (front)

Friday highlights:

  • The squeals as 200 attendees catch sight of friends they only see once a year.
  • James Scott Bell ran his Writing the Knockout Novel workshop. This was all foundation stuff—stuff I know—but heaven’s it was useful to hear it again and apply the exercises to my current romance novel. You can never hear this stuff too often.
  • The Cocktail party. The theme this year was Leather or Lace. I love how everyone gets into the spirit. Of course, one does end up in the bar of the hotel afterwards talking books and publishing, and exchanging news and new ideas. Pure gold.

 

The Austalain Harlequin team with Malle Vallik (Director of Harlequin E) at the Leather and Lace cocktail party

The Australian Harlequin team with Malle Vallik (Director of Harlequin E) at the Leather and Lace cocktail party

 

Annie West, Michelle Douglas and Cathryn Hein

Annie West, Michelle Douglas and Cathryn Hein

Core Conference highlights:

  • The squeals as 350 attendees catch sight of friends they only see once a year.
  • Cherry Adair’s keynote speech. Cherry is hilarious. She could’ve been a stand-up comedian. She was generous too. Every lunch session and in the evenings she was in the bar—surrounded by attendees—giving tips on how to plot.
  • The amazing break-out sessions. We’d be here for days if I tried to tell you about them all. I loved James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing. I don’t regret anything I went to, but there was a lot of hype about Rachel Bailey’s Conflict: The Key to Your Romance Novel, and Dr John Barletta’s On Being a Rockin’ Resilient Romance Writer. It’s such a pity one has to choose between such fab sessions.
  • The Awards Night. This is our chance to applaud those in the field who have done so well. While eating excellent food and in the company of excellent friends…and the night ends with dancing. Truly, what more could one want? Also, at 2am I found myself sitting on the end of someone’s bed with Emma Darcy. We talked. I had to keep pinching myself.
  • Malle Vallik, Director of Harlequin E, gave the most brilliant talk on author branding. This was worth the price of admission alone.
  • Sneaking down to the bar with 2 friends I only see once a year to share chai lattes and a catch-up chat.
  • The Stand Up. This is how the conference ends. Anne Gracie (fab historical author and former RWAus president) takes the mike to ask a series of questions (these change each year) such as: Who made a bestseller list this year? Who won a RITA? (Yay, Leah!) Who had a book published this year? Who sent a query letter to an editor or agent? If you answer yes to any question you have to stand up and remain standing. By the end nearly everyone in the room is standing up. We then give ourselves a round of applause because we’re all so darn wonderful. I gotta tell you it’s hard to beat.

 

The Awards Dinner: Rachel Bailey, Michelle Douglas, Nikki Logan and Anita Joy (who won the Lynn Wilding Service award)

The Awards Dinner: Rachel Bailey, Michelle Douglas, Nikki Logan and Anita Joy (who won the Lynn Wilding Service award)

 

But the biggest takeaway from the conference was WRITE A BRILLIANT BOOK. The book counts more than anything else. And writing the book is the one thing I can control. I left the conference worn and weary but with a giant smile on my face.

Your turn, now. :-) What do you love best about conference season?

TRATH small

 

Michelle’s latest The Rebel and the Heiress is on the shelves now!

www.michelle-douglas.com

24

Bad cover contest: Does this guy do it for you?

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By Jackie Braun

In my last blog, I asked for feedback on the packaging for one of my books. And I have to say, you guys were awesome. And blunt. LOL. But that’s exactly what I was after. So, thank you.

This time around,their very special giftI’m sharing what I consider my worst cover ever. No offense to the folks in my publisher’s art department. It can’t be easy coming up with these things. But this cover, well, it makes me cringe. The baby is adorable, but I can’t get beyond the guy. They turned my hunky hero into Tony Curtis.

You can view a larger cover image on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Their-Very-Special-Jackie-Braun-ebook/dp/B000O76NVO/ref=sr_1_38?ie=UTF8&qid=undefined&sr=8-38&keywords=jackie+braun

Don’t get me wrong. I love Tony Curtis. He was a stitch in Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon. But he also wore a dress in that movie, so …

What’s more, the title and artwork seem to be at odds. It’s Their Very Special Gift, but the hero is the only one on the cover with the baby.

A little background about this book. It’s about a couple whose marriage is in tatters after a long struggle with infertility. On the verge of divorce, they get a call from their adoption agency. They have a son. Now, they have to pretend to be happily married for the adoption to go through. Along the way, of course, they remember all the reasons they fell in love in the first place.

It was a very emotional book to write, not only because my boys are adopted, but because I was one chapter into it when my dad died. Between the subject matter and my own dark place at the time, I’d say it was one of the heaviest books I’ve ever written.

tablet coverAnd then it wound up with Tony Curtis on the cover…

Or am I wrong? Does this hero do it for you? Is he hunky enough?

Leave a comment. I’ll choose a winner on Thursday. The prize? Your choice: An e-copy of Their Very Special Gift or (inside the US only) a   Chocolate Box tablet cover. (Fits iPad.)

Jackie Braun is the author of more than 30 books, including Falling For Her Rival from Harlequin KISS and Mine Tomorrow, part of a paranormal and urban fantasy box set from Harlequin E. Both are available on Amazon.com, etc.

 

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Is TV getting too edgy? by Donna Alward

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True Blood. Sons of Anarchy. Game of Thrones. Strike Back. Orange is the New Black. Breaking Bad.

Strike-BackThese are all shows I watch…or at least have watched in the past. I’m not so much into OitNB, and I was meh about Breaking Bad (I know, I know) and I could do a whole other massive post on the current popularity of the anti-hero. But today I’m going to talk about sex and profanity.

The idea for this post came to me yesterday. I was sitting the car, waiting for my daughter to come out of an appointment, and it was hot so my window was down. A car pulled in next to me, and three guys – I would say in their late 20′s – ran into the pizza place for a slice. They came back and ate in the car and I could hear their conversation, peppered with f-bombs. The f word is so common now that it is liberally sprinkled in speech everywhere, and I don’t think people even realize they’re doing it. But I got thinking of all the places where we hear really strong language. And one of the main places is television.

I’m not trying to come off as a prude or uptight whatever, by the way. If I were really offended, I wouldn’t watch much HBO at all, lol. But as I watched the season opener for True Blood the other night (we’re just getting started on it now), and I got to a scene with Jason, I was kind of…yeah, yeah, pick another word. Because this f-thing is getting BORING.

And then there’s the sex.

Again, not a prude. But the husband really likes Orange is the New Black. As we were walking the other day, we were talking about why there are full-on girl on girl scenes. The characterization in that show is SO strong. The writing is great. He even commented that the show didn’t need it, that it was definitely strong enough on its own. So why? Is it shock factor? Is it sensationalism? Is adding the “edgy” what makes the show competitive in today’s market? Or is it just trendy? There are some shows that I’d let my kids watch, if it weren’t for some of the over-the-top stuff. But I don’t because often it goes a step or two too far.

NewsroomThere’s a lot of great writing on cable right now, but know what? I’m getting tired of a lot of the f-ing both in language and content. I kind of roll my eyes and think “again? Really?” I suppose it’s the same with my reading material. I’m not against a hot and steamy read but sometimes I like something a little…more gentle. It’s kind of like my diet. I love a good burger, dripping with cheese and bacon and fried onions. But I wouldn’t want one every day. Sometimes I feel like a salad. LOL

And I think that’s why I temper my watching with other shows. The Newsroom and Longmire are two I love, and my kids like them too. And in the regular tv season I also indulge in some plain old network tv shows: NCIS, Person of Interest, Big Bang Theory.

So what do you think? I’m pretty sure not everyone is going to agree with me on this one. :)

http://www.donnaalward.com

 

 

7

Barb Wallace’s Procrastination Pie

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piece of nutella pieWhen some writers want to waste time, they surf the ‘Net for photos of sexy guys (or cute kittens), or they play on Facebook.  Me – I like to Google recipes.  Then, when I’m truly looking to avoid a project (like my current WIP), I cook.  Let me state off the bat – I am not a foodie.  My tastes run far closer to the common man than the gourmet.  In other words, you won’t see me on the Food Channel any time soon. (Unless there’s a show touting Jell-0)

Lately, though, as I grow in confidence, I’ve taken to creating my own recipes.  Or more accurately, taking the recipes I find online and mashing them together to create something new.  Procrastination Pie began when my college pal, Kate Scarlata (author of the 21 Day Tummy) posted that she was experimenting with chocolate chip cookie pie crust.  A few days later, my neighbor gave me a gluten free cookbook for my birthday. In it was a recipe for Nutella Torte.  “Hmmm,” I said one day while avoiding Chapter 1.  “I wonder what would happen if I combined a Chocolate Chip Cookie Crust with a Nutella Filling?”

Thus, Procrastination Pie was born.  Here’s the recipe:

Barb Wallace’s Procrastination Pie

Crust

2 sticks butter
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pie Filling

2 cups Nutella
1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt

PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees.

GREASE an 8 inch pie plate.

nutella pieMIX together the crust ingredients to make a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough.  Divide into thirds.  Press 1/3 of the dough into the pie plate to make a crust.  Save the rest of the dough to make chocolate chip cookies.  (Note: I used 1/2 the dough and the crust came out a bit too thick. Reducing the amount should make a thinner, easier to cut crust.)

BAKE crust at 375 for 10-15 minutes. (Keep an eye on it so you don’t overcook.)  If necessary, while pie crust is still warm, mold and shape to the pie plate using wax paper.  (I had to do this to make the crust a little deeper in the middle.  No worries no one will know.)

COOL CRUST COMPLETELY

COMBINE mascarpone cheese, nutella and salt and beat until fluffy.  Fold mixture into crust.  CHILL for one hour or more.  Serve with whipped cream topping.

The result is a very rich, very decadent pie.  nutella pie two

After making this, I realized a couple tweaks that might make a better pie.  The first is to bake the cookie in advance, crush them in a food processor and combine with melted butter to make the crust.  EVEN BETTER, crush PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES to make a peanut butter crust.

I hope you enjoy! If you make this, let me know how it turns out.

 

When she’s not procrastinating, Barb Wallace really does write romances.  In fact, you can read her serialized novella, THE MILLIONAIRE’S REDEMPTION, right now on Harlequin.com.

7

The Ubiquitous “Bucket List” by Samantha Hunter

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bucketlistI never made a bucket list, but it seems like everyone in the world has in the last few years. They are everywhere you look, and there are even apps or websites to help you make a one. I have to admit, it’s never been something I saw as useful. I get that it sets an intention, and perhaps we end up doing things we might not have done before, but making a list seems to put pressure on life — like, now I MUST do this.

But maybe one of the powers of a bucket list is that it actually helps us imagine what we could do.

In Neil Gaiman’s famous keynote speech, he says:

The nearest thing I had [to a career plan] was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, write an episode of Doctor Who… and so on. I didn’t have a career. I just did the next thing on the list.

This speech was recommended to me by a friend after I mentioned to her that I had considered making a “writing bucket list” — things I’d like to write, but haven’t made time or haven’t had a chance to write yet. I saw exactly what I had in mind in Gaiman’s list, though it’s amazing that he made his when he was 15. I’m the inverse of that age, but here is some of my list:

  • an article for National Geographic (I’d like to write more for magazines in general, but I have a fixation on National Geographic…).
  • an essay,
  • a very (very) dirty erotica,
  • a screenplay,
  • a romantic comedy (maybe I could combine that with the very dirty erotica?). ;)

I could create a very long list — there are a lot of things I would like to write — but this is a sampling. I maybe would try something with time travel, or a young adult or a play, who knows?

The truth is that usually the best things that have happened to me, I never expected or planned for. I never planned on being a romance author, or that I would meet my husband online, or that I would one day ride in a Ferrari at 110mph, because I couldn’t imagine those things happening. But they did. This is what is wonderful about life.I don’t want to close off random possibilities, but maybe the bucket list helps us imagine even more, even in just one part of our lives, like writing.

Gaiman, in the same speech, goes on to discuss something that really resonated for me:

I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn’t writing something in my head, or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It’s been an amazing ride. But there were parts of the ride I missed, because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit I was on. That was the hardest lesson for me, I think: to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places. And here, on this platform, today, is one of those places. (I am enjoying myself immensely.)samcover

Do you keep a bucket list (whether writing-focused or not)? Share, and I’ll send a copy of my Sept Christmas two-fer with Leslie Kelly, White Hot Reunions, to one lucky winner. :)

 

13

The science behind “show, don’t tell” by Fiona Harper

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Show, don’t tell.

Anyone who’s looked into writing fiction has probably heard this a thousand times. We all know it works. We all know it helps pull a reader into the story and engage them emotionally, but how? And why?

neuronFinally, science might have the answer and they come in the shape of little things called mirror neurons. What are neurons? Well, they’re nerve cells that transmit electrical and chemical information. For example, sensory neurons carry information about smell, taste, touch, sound and sight to your brain.

Mirror neurons are a fairly recent discovery. Scientists who were monitoring monkey’s brains with electrodes noticed that certain neurons fired when they picked up food to eat it. What they hadn’t expected to discover was that when that same monkey watched one of the scientists reaching for his lunch, that the same neurons fired, even though the monkey himself wasn’t moving. Scientists started to realise that with mirror neurons we don’t have to do something ourselves to experience it, but that we can get the same feeling by observing others doing that same thing.
brain
Think about what it’s like when someone else stubs their toe. You might flinch. You definitely think “ouch!’ to yourself. You might even grimace. While you’re not actually experiencing the pain with them, you are empathising with them.

How does this apply to “showing” and “telling”? Let’s see… How about this for a story:

Ellie took her last case to the car. It started to rain. She put the case in the boot and got inside the car.

Hardly going to win me any awards, is it? It gives us the basic action, but there’s no detail. No flavour. How about this version?

A large drop of rain splashed onto the top of Ellie’s head. She shuddered, picked up the last piece of luggage, then turned and walked down the path towards her waiting car.
Dark clouds multiplied above the cottage. She looked out across the fields. An over-stuffed grey cloud was devouring the sunshine, heading straight towards her. Another plop of rain dropped on the back of her neck and ran down between her shoulder blades. She increased her speed. The boot of her old hatchback stood gaping and she slung the holdall in the back, slammed the door shut and hurried round to the driver’s door. The tempo of the rain increased. By the time she was inside, it was drumming an unpromising rhythm on the roof of the car. Warm, earthy smells drifted through the ventilation system.
From ‘Housekeeper’s Happy-Ever-After’.

Mother and Daughter Reading TogetherThere, that’s a bit better, even if I do say so myself. There’s lots of sensory data in there – how the clouds look, the feel of the rain on her skin, even the smell of the warm ground as the downpour starts. These words haven’t just told the bare-bones action; they’ve painted a picture. (I hope!)

And if we can paint vivid pictures for our readers, so they can hear, taste, smell, see and feel what our characters feel, their happy little mirror neurons will start firing and they’ll experience these things along with your character too. Cause them to empathise, make them feel what your character is feeling, and you’ve got them!

I first started thinking about this when I heard RWAus president Nikki Logan talk about ‘’How to Arouse Your Reader’ at the RNA conference last month. She mentioned mirror neurons and immediately I understood this is why using five-sense data and rich description helps drag readers into the story. I knew it worked before; I just didn’t know why. If you want to discover more, pick up Nikki’s amazing book The Chemistry of Reading: How To Arouse Your Reader! You won’t be sorry you did.

2

Behind the book: Crown Prince, Pregnant Bride by Kate Hardy

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Kate HardyLast month, I mentioned that my new book has a stained glass restorer as the heroine. So I thought I’d share a couple of things from behind the book with you – aka Kate’s excuse to talk about stained glass :)

Partway through the book, Indi takes Lorenzo to visit a little country church (which happens to be all of five miles down the road from my house) to see two of her favourite pieces of glass (aka my own favourites).

 

This is the centaur. He’s fourteenth century (yup – around 700 years old) and I love the little dog running around under his feet, and the richness of the purple border. (I sound like Indi – or maybe she sounds like me!)

sept ringland centaur

And this is the angel Gabriel – his feathery trousers are exactly what an actor would have worn as his costume in the medieval Mystery plays.

Ringland Gabriel

But my really spooky moment came last month when we were in Prague. You see, in Crown Prince, Pregnant Bride, Lorenzo is about to become the king of Melvante. The place exists only in my head. But when we went round the cathedral of St Vitus in Prague, it felt eerily familiar. There’s a rose window in the cathedral here.

prague day 3 005 cathedral

 

prague day 3 050 st vitus cathedral

I had something very similar in mind for the cathedral in Melvante – though I guess that probably owes a bit to Notre Dame in Paris, and the light on the floor of the cathedral owes much to the cathedral in Norwich, which for me is the most beautiful cathedral in the world.

There’s also some beautiful Art Deco glass in the cathedral at Prague, designed by Alfons Mucha. I loved this window in particular.

prague day 3 048 st vitus cathedralAnd there are the rooftops of the town. These were in my head, too, for Melvante – though this is actually Prague, from the castle walls.

prague day 3 028 view

And I’ll tell you about the mermaid, next time… :)

Do you have a favourite kind of stained glass?

CPPB coverKate’s latest book, Crown Prince, Pregnant Bride, is out now in the US, UK and Aus, but you can get an early copy from Harlequin/M&B right now! You can find out more about Kate and her books at her website and her blog. Kate has actually updated her website! Kate has still been pretty slack about updating her blog, but she is on Facebook most days if you want to come and say hello :o)

16

Coming Soon: The Chocolate Box Reader Newsletter

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chocolate_1920x1080_wallpaper_Wallpaper_1100x180_www_wallpaperswa_com

Want to know when your favorite Chocolate Box author has a new release on the shelves?  Want exclusive access to free previews and contests?  Want special behind the scenes info?

Then sign up for the Chocolate Box newsletter!

To be added to our mailing list, simply comment below.*  (While you’re at it, why not let us know what you think of our new look.)

Our inaugural issue is going out soon, and you won’t want to miss out.  Just like our blog – you never know what you’re going to get!

* All emails will be kept private.  Newsletters will be sent on release months only.

4

Picking My Top Three Sunsets

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IMG_3874.JPG

I live on the Gulf Coast of Florida, a place I feel very blessed to live in because, quite honestly, every day is spectacular in some way. There are amazing animals and plants at every turn, incredible beaches and wonderful people.

But what I love most are the sunsets. The sunrises are pretty amazing, but the sunsets are each unique in their own way. When I watch the sun slowly melt into the horizon, I feel quiet, calm, centered. As if all is right in the world again. It’s a few moments of exquisite beauty that still catches me by surprise.

So I watch the sunsets, trying to capture the beauty I see in a tiny iphone camera. It never is quite as good as the real thing, but this week I’m sharing a few of my favorites so you can pick for me :-)

IMG_3780.JPGIMG_5124.JPG

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And just for something extra, here’s one of my favorite sunrises. It makes getting up at 4:30 to run totally worth it!

IMG_5139.JPG

What’s your favorite? Sunrise or sunset?

Shirley

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