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The Vineyards of Calanetti

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VineyardsCalanetti_flash (1)

This summer Harlequin Romance begins releasing the eight books of the Vineyards of Calanetti continuity series. My book A BRIDE FOR THE ITALIAN BOSS is the first book but the series actually kicks off on Harlequin.com with a FREE serialized online story–twenty short chapters that are put up on Harlequin.com one chapter a day five days a week.

I loved writing A BRIDE FOR HER ITALIAN BOSS,

bride for the Italian Boss

but the online story A MARRIAGE MADE IN MONTE CALANETTI was even more fun to write.

First, every chapter had to have a very clear point and with only 3 pages to work with, I couldn’t dilly, dally getting to that point! But the story itself was one of my favorites. Set in a lovely small town in Tuscany, with a mix of international characters, the story has the feel of the kind of world we’d all like to live in.

There are cafes and taverns, quaint homes, cobbled streets and even a fountain with a legend of making your wish come true.

After the online read and book one, A BRIDE FOR THE ITALIAN BOSS, Jennifer Faye’s book RETURN OF THE ITALIAN TYCOON comes out in August. And every month after that for eight glorious months there will be a new installment that culminates in a book by Barbara Wallace. Her character is introduced in book one and we watch her as she not only becomes a fixture in Monte Calanetti, but also finds her own true love. <3

Here’s a sneak peak at the online story that will begin releasing on June 15!

Chapter 1

Michele Patruno walked into the kitchen of Mancini’s, the new Tuscan restaurant in Monte Calanetti owned by his friend Chef Rafe Mancini. The scents of risotto, sweet sausage, succulent lamb hit him as he stepped into the ultra-modern, stainless steel kitchen.

At the sound of the door closing, Rafe spun from the prep table. His silver-gray eyes widened. His turned-down lips lifted into a rarely seen smile.

“Michele!”

He bounded over, enfolding Mic into an embrace that could only be described as the hug of a bear. Then he pushed him away. “What are you doing here?”

“You don’t think my favorite mentor could open a restaurant and I would stay away?”

Rafe studied him, those gray eyes always astute. “It took you long enough to come by.”

Michele deliberately avoided the unspoken question of why he never returned to his hometown. “I wanted to make sure you had at least one Michelin star before I tested the food.”

“One?” Rafe batted a hand. “Bah! You underestimate me. Everyone underestimates me.”

No one underestimated Chef Rafe. Aspiring chefs emulated him. Apprenticing chefs wanted to be him. Secretly in love with the tall, handsome chef, critics worked to find things wrong with his food, his restaurant, so they wouldn’t be accused of favoritism. Chef Rafe’s star was on the rise…as long as he could keep his temper in check.

“So you are here for food?”

“My aunt and uncle moved south. While I have a little time, I told them I’d stay in their condo until it sold.” He glanced around. “But that risotto does smell nice.”

“Nice! I will have you arrested for insulting me.”

Mic laughed. A feeling of normalcy, rightness, rippled through his blood and muscles. He loved teasing his friend. “Okay. It does smell amazing.”

Rafe dropped his arm to Mic’s shoulders. “It is good to see you, Mic.” He turned them to the door. “Now, we find you a table. And I will treat you to food so tempting, so brilliant, you will fall to your knees and thank your maker.”

Mic laughed again.

He followed Rafe to the dining room. It was exactly as Mic pictured it would be. Though Rafe had added a modern kitchen to the back of the old farm house he’d renovated, he’d kept the dining room true to the house’s origins. Antique tables covered in white linen clothes sat on earth-tone ceramic tile floors. The rustic shutters on the huge window in the back were open, revealing the resting countryside of Tuscany. The bar by the kitchen bustled with business as waitresses shouted wine orders.

“Are you the chef?”

Rafe stopped at the question from the customer. Behind him, Mic stopped too.

“Si.”

The customer smiled. “Your spaghetti sucks.”

Rafe scoffed. “My spaghetti is superb. If you disagree, your pallet…how you say? … Sucks?”

Rafe’s response didn’t surprise Mic. Rafe was so good at what he did that he sometimes couldn’t relate to ordinary people. What shocked Mic was the laughter that quietly rippled through the dining room.

Rafe moved on as if unconcerned, marching Mic to a table in the back as he waved over a waitress. “Tonight’s dinner is on me. Give me twenty minutes and I will make you the happiest man on earth.”

Watching Rafe leave, he didn’t see the waitress who’d appeared at the side of the table and slid a menu in front of him. He opened it, as he glanced up with a smile, then his breathing and – he was sure – his heart stopped.

“Liliana?”

Her waitress smile faded. Her brown eyes darkened. “Mic?”

He tried to think of something clever to say, but words failed him. After two years of teaching himself to forget her and another six years of believing he had. Here she was.

The question was could he be polite? Or should he demand the answers he should have gotten eight years ago?

***

Poor Liliana and Mic. These former lovers are going to have to face a past both of them wish they could change…but you can’t change the past and you certainly can’t run from it.

And btw…the hero of book one A BRIDE FOR THE ITALIAN BOSS is temperamental, gorgeous, talented Chef Rafe! Trust me. This guy is enough to make your mouth water…for more than food. LOL

Happy Reading!

susan meier

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Cooking the book with Michelle Douglas

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MichelleD

I’m discovering that the demands of each book I write can be quite different. Honestly, this shouldn’t be news to me. I should’ve realised it long before now, but (apparently) I’m not always quick on the uptake. 😉 No doubt, though, on some level I’ve been aware of it. I just haven’t verbalised it before now.

By demands, I’m not talking about research (that’s a whole separate topic). What I’m talking about is what my book wants me to do to in…well…in my leisure time when my day’s writing is done.

 

I’ve had books that have flowed better because I’ve religiously gone for a walk at 4 pm every day. I’ve had books that wanted me to take them on a picnic to the beach so I could plot them out in style. I’ve had books that have demanded movie marathons (with popcorn!). And it appears that my current book is demanding that I cook.

I don’t know why this is the activity of choice at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I like to cook, but I like reading and watching movies and glomming a TV series far more. It’s not like either of my characters are chefs or cooks either. But in the couple of weeks since I started brewing and then writing this story, I’ve been cooking up a storm.

What have I cooked? To start with I’ve made four pots of soup:

  • Vegetable and Lentil
  • Split pea and Vegetable (though I threw in some ham)
  • Vegetable and Chickpea (though I threw in some beef)
  • Beef, Vegetable and Barley

All brand new recipes I’d never tried before.

soup

I’ve made two batches of biscuits:

  • Choc chip cookies
  • ANZAC biscuits

Anzacs

I’ve cooked a new to me pasta dish from the rather fabulous Natasha Oakley’s food blog—Cherry Plum Kitchen—called Penne Rigate with Vodka.

I baked a chocolate cake…and made icing,

I experimented with a recipe I discovered last winter: Roast Winter Vegetable with Chorizo Frittata (twice, I might add).

Because I’d discovered the wonders of barley due to the above soup recipes, I made the recipe that came on the back of the pearl barley pack called: Spiced Apple and Barley (barley is, apparently, so good for you that I really wished I liked this more).

I also made—ahem, tried to make—a rice custard pudding with apricots thing, but the saucepan boiled over (I swear I only turned my back on it for five minutes!) and most of the contents ended up all over the stove top. Rather than scoop it all back into said saucepan, I set said saucepan in some hot soapy water to soak for the night and made custard…with custard powder. It was good. 😉

Seriously I’ve been cooking up a storm. There’s obviously something about chopping up a veritable mountain of vegetables, or creaming butter and sugar and measuring out ingredients that my muse is finding meditative and necessary at the moment.

Has anybody else been seized by the cooking bug recently? Hmm…and is there anything you think I should add to my cooking repertoire?

www.michelle-douglas.com

 

All Hail the Spaghetti Squash

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baked-spaghetti-squash-garlic-butter-4564As usual, I’m late to the party (both in terms of getting this post up and the subject matter) but I have recently discovered the wonder that is spaghetti squash.

I love pasta. Sadly, pasta loves clinging to my butt and thighs. Plus I’m allergic to gluten. Needless to say, pasta has become a reduced part of my life.

Enter the wonderful spaghetti squash. It’s like pasta BUT IT’S A VEGETABLE! You can eat it like spaghetti with sauce and sausage, or you can create wonderful, yummy salads and other dishes.

For example, here’s one of my favorites:

BAKED SPAGHETTI SQUASH CASSEROLE

Ingredients:
1 spaghetti squash
1 jar prepared Spaghetti sauce. (I like Prego. The meat version is GF.)
1 lb crumbled Italian sweet sausage.
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat Oven to 375°F.

Wash squash and prick all over with a fork. Place in a shallow roasting pan and bake (like a potato) for an hour.

Spaghetti-Squash-300x195Cool, slice squash in half and remove seeds. Then, with a fork, scrape the squash pulp and set aside.

While squash is cooking, brown Italian sausage. Stir in jar of spaghetti sauce.
.
In a slightly greased casserole dish, spread half the squash, then a lawyer of sausage mixture followed by a layer of mozzarella cheese. Repeat, Bake for 20-30 minutes until cheese is melted.

Trust me, it’s amazing – and good for you too!

You can also make this as a “twice baked squash” recipe by placing the sausage and cheese inside the squash shell and baking that way.

I also recently discovered this recipe for Warm Spaghetti Squash Salad from Food & Wine that I’m eager to try.

Here’s my question: Am I truly the last person to discover the wonders of the spaghetti squash?  If so, do you have any recipes that you can share?

Barbara Wallace is currently running a Goodreads contest to giveaway four free copies of her upcoming June release A MILLIONAIRE FOR CINDERELLA.  Click on the notice below to enter.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Millionaire for Cinderella by Barbara  Wallace

A Millionaire for Cinderella

by Barbara Wallace

Giveaway ends May 20, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

Top tips for cover design by Fiona Harper

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Last month I blogged about going to London Book Fair for the first time. This month I thought I’d share with you some insights from the session on cover design, which was fascinating!

I’m going to start off with a something from author Karen Healey Wallace, who has won awards for the cover design of her self-published book, The Perfect Capital. She ended her spot by showing us an image (see left) that emphasised just how effective good packaging can be!

The clear message that came out of the session, especially for me as an author, is that actually a cover design has a lot bigger job to do than just sitting there looking pretty, and sometimes the ‘prettiest’ options just aren’t going to do the job.

One of the other experts on the panel was Damian Horner, who is brand development director at Hachette in the UK. Here are his down and dirty rules for making sure your book cover does its best for you:

The book cover panel at London Book Fair

The book cover panel at London Book Fair

1. Membership
A book cover is not just about making a pretty picture; it has to communicate something to the potential buyer. What you want them to ask when they look at that cover is, “Am I member of that group?”.
In other words, do I think this book is going to be ‘my thing’? Who is your target audience and are you speaking to them with this design?

2. Lust factor
Do you look at the cover and love it? Does it stand out from other books on the shelves?
During my LBF sessions, a number of different panelists in different sesions mentioned that they often print their cover out, wrap it around another book and then put it on a shelf in a bookshop to see how the design stands up. Not a bad idea!

3. The blink test
Can someone understand what your book is about in the blink of an eye?
What is the one thing potential readers will take away from your cover design if they just get a flash of it?
And this is all we often get. Readers apparently make up their minds about whether they are going to pick up a book to find out more or move on in a matter of seconds. There’s no point having a complex design that you have to stare at for five minutes to see what’s really going on. You need a strong image that can grab from the get-go.
(Look at the cover image to the left. Is it clear what this book is about in a flash?)

 

4. The title
Often, the design is strongly influenced by the title. Does your title communicate what your book is about too?
Damian used the example of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong. It’s a World War I book, but there’s no hint of that in the title, so the designers had to work extra hard to find a way to communicate that with the cover image. Now, Sebastian Faulks can get away with this because, well, he’s Sebastian Faulks, but if you’re not already a bestseller, you may want to choose a title that helps your cover design with that all-important communication.

5. Straplines
If you need a strapline, something is wrong, because if you have to add a strapline to explain your title, you probably need a better title.
This to-the-point advice doesn’t need much exposition, does it? Basically, too much text on the cover is distracting. Use with caution.

6. How is your cover going to work for retailers?
On Amazon, you’ll only see a thumbnail. Does it work in that context? Does it grab attention when it’s on a bookshelf, spine out?

7. Hierarchy
We’re talking about the elements on the cover here: title, author name, strapline.
Which is most important and, therefore, needs to be biggest – title or author? Make sure people know where look first on a cover by making the design strong and effective. Don’t have the separate elements warring against each other for attention.

And, finishing off, Damian’s golden rule: Be clear before you are clever!

DDVFC small cover

 

Fiona Harper writes flirty, funny romances. Her latest book, The Doris Day Vintage Film Club is out now. (And, by the way, Fiona thinks its her best cover yet!)

If you go down to the woods today by Kate Hardy

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Kate HardyOne of the very best things about an English spring, for me, is visiting a bluebell wood. I’m fortunate to live not that far from Foxley Wood, a local nature reserve which the Norfolk Wildlife Trust calls ‘the largest ancient woodland in Norfolk’. it’s actually recorded in the Domesday book, and parts of it are more than 6,000 years old.

Every spring, we visit Foxley to see the bluebells. So I thought today I’d share our walk with you. So this is the bit where we follow the path deep into the woods.

P1130376

 

In the hope of seeing these…

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And here again – it really is a bluebell carpet (and I will confess, I’ve used this as a setting in a book before – The Brooding Doctor’s Redemption features a bluebell wood which, ahem, might look a bit familiar. Except in real life dogs aren’t allowed, and in the book my spaniel masqueraded as a chocolate labrador). There’s something so magical about seeing that bluey-purple haze everywhere, and I think this year the bluebells were the best ever.

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English bluebells are apparently signs of ancient woodland. You do see them in gardens and stately homes (Blickling Hall in Norfolk has wonderful bluebells), but often these are hybrids rather than the wild ones. How do you tell the difference? Wild ones are scented; the bell is narrower and the flowers are only on one side of the stem.

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For me, bluebells are just magical. And walking around, able to see something like this, is a true privilege.

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I’ll leave you with my favourite pic from our walk. Do you have any gorgeous woodland like this near you? What’s your favourite walk in spring? (Or autumn, for those of you in the southern hemisphere?)

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Kate’s latest releases are Bachelor at her Bidding (the cake book, and It Started At a Wedding… (which, if you love Italy, wedding dresses and toffee, will be right up your street). You can find out more about the books, and Kate, on her website (http://www.katehardy.com/) and her blog (http://katehardy.blogspot.com/) – or find her on Facebook

it started at a weddingHARDY-BachelorAtHerBidding-SMALL

Starting Somewhere

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I’m a firm believer that no matter what you want to do or what your passion is . . . you have to start somewhere.

It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you get moving.

When I lived in Maryland, just out of nursing school, I shared a home with an actress whose start was in dinner theatre. She also provided voice/vocal lessons to local students. She now lives in New York City giving vocal lessons to actors and actresses.

Here’s some other interesting ‘starts':

Baconxmen— Bill Paxton (Twister, Titantic) was part of Bill Murray’s troops in Stripes.

— Before Footloose, Kevin Bacon was in the original Friday the 13th.

 

 

 

 

— Hugh Jackman worked theatre playing Gaston of Beauty and the Beast.

JackmanGaston

(I’d figure him for more of a ‘Beast’ than Gaston.)

 

For the next few weeks I’ll be posting where I started with publishing. I did write for Maryland newspapers but my start in fiction was When She Said Yes. For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting chapters up on Wattpad. To read, click here.

Of course, if I wanted to talk about my real start, I’d tell you about my home town, population: 170. Eight students in my 8th grade graduating class and fields of corn as far as the eye could see.

Any other interesting ‘starts’?

Abbi :-)

Real Age

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After two years of working out with a trainer and dieting (experimenting with dieting! LOL It took a while before I found one that worked!) I’ve finally passed the twenty pound mark in weight loss. I’m pretty happy about this because I will soon have lost down into a new size. My closet is filled with clothes that are too small for me. So I’m finally, finally at the place where I can wear these brand new clothes which I gained out of even before I could wear them.

But…

The real purpose of this post isn’t to talk dieting. It’s to talk real age. When I began my journey, my trainer put me on a scale which doesn’t merely weigh you. It also tells you the % of visceral fat and your real age. Ouch. My “real” age was 12 years over my actual age.

Interestingly, Christine Northrop, author of such great books as WOMEN’S BODIES, WOMEN’S WISDOM and her latest GODDESSES NEVER AGE, talked about Real Age on Oprah’s Supersoul Sunday.

Her contention was the everyone gets older, but no one has to age. Liking the sound of that, I sat forward, listening (even making a note or two) as she discussed things like “owning it.”

She said if you’re 90 and you want to get purple streaks in your hair then do it. But don’t slink into church. Own it. Be proud of your purple stripes. Walk into church with your head high. If you like skinny jeans and high heels…wear them. But don’t slink. Strut.

The essence of her message was to be proud of who you are. And why not? I’ve spent decades raising kids, making a home, writing, teaching writing, mentoring writers and being a style icon of a sort (you had to know me when I was younger) then boom I turned fifty and people were telling me I wasn’t relevant anymore.

Well, then what the hell was I if I wasn’t relevant?

It took years for me to realize that the most important person to be relevant to was myself. I’m all I have. Or as Joyce Meyer says, “Everywhere you go, there you are.”

If you don’t love yourself with a deep down, realistic appreciation for the fact that YOU are the gift you’ve been searching for, life will pass you by. And even if it doesn’t full on pass you by, you will miss the wonder and exquisite joy of being you. Testing limits. Experimenting. And, yes, even having your own style.

And why shouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you?

So today I go to the gym and step on the scale that tells me my weight, my % of visceral fat and my real age. Two years ago I would have closed my eyes and let my trainer record numbers I didn’t want to know. Today…they almost don’t matter. Not because I suddenly don’t care if I have a real age ten points over my actual age. LOL They don’t matter because age is a state of mind. I finally love who I am. I’m not loud or showy or gaudy. I’m me.

I…my life…my days…my time…my quirks…my loves…the ways I spend my time, love others, accept love…I am the gift I’ve been seeking.

And you, my friend, are the gift you’ve been seeking. Go enjoy.

Happy Reading

susan meier

 

PS…as a gift to you, I’m giving away a copy of HER SUMMER WITH THE MARINE and CHASING THE RUNAWAY BRIDE. Two winners. One book each. Comment below. And, sorry, US only can be winners. I know this seems cheap but my income crashed last year. :( Sadly I find myself no longer contributing to the household…I actually (seriously) sadly only own writing expenses.)

 

 

The prickly problem of process

by

MichelleD

Once upon a time I had this glorious picture in my mind of what a perfect writing day looked like. I’d wake, have a cuppa and then head upstairs to my office to write—I’d be up there from 8 am to 11 am and in those three super-productive hours I’d get 2500 words written (longhand). In the afternoon I’d type up my pages, go for a lovely relaxing 40 min walk, read a chapter or two of whatever book I happened to be reading, cook a delightful dinner and spend time with my DH.

I lived this dream for a while (well, sort of…sometimes dinner might’ve been a take-out while grocery shopping replaced the reading time, but you know what I mean). And then along came Book 6—the book that nearly broke me (Christmas at Candlebark Farm, if you’re interested). When I received the third set of revisions on the darn thing I realised I needed to completely rewrite it. Let me repeat that: I NEEDED TO COMPLETELY REWRITE THE BOOK.

The offending book! How dare it be so pretty. ;-)

The offending book! How dare it be so pretty. ;-)

The experience shook me up and as a result I decided to change the way I approached writing a book. I figured I’d become too complacent, so I moved to a Fast-Draft method. This meant drafting a chapter a day (five thousand words) for ten days. It’s a bit of a killer, but there’s a sense of intensity and urgency when writing this fast that seemed to transfer itself to my characters’ motivations and conflicts, which was a rather fine thing. :-)

But…

I’m about to start writing Book 20 and I have absolutely no desire to fast-draft it, and I have no idea why (I mean I’m dying to dive into the book). So…what to do? After 19 books you’d think I’d have the confidence to write the book in whatever way I wanted, huh? Instead I’m questioning and second-guessing myself, wondering if I’m just feeling lazy. I mean the Fast-Draft method has worked so well for me in the past…and if it’s not broke don’t fix it, right?

Still…I’m not so sure. You see I want to plant myself at my desk each day enthusiastic about the story I’m in the process of writing, not crying into my coffee because writing 5000 words a day is so hard. So my question is: Should I stick with the tried and true Fast-Draft method or is it time to dust off my perfect-writing-day method and give it another whirl? What would you do?

 

www.michelle-douglas.com

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