Friday, February 29, 2008

Interview with Victoria Dahl

by Jo Robertson

Hello, Banditas, Honorary Banditas, and Readers, today we’re very fortunate to have new historical writer VICTORIA DAHL with us.

Victoria Dahl’s debut novel TO TEMPT A SCOTSMAN from Kensington caught my attention for two reasons: the hot, hot cover (check out the deep-red, sexy color – isn’t that a gorgeous cover?) and the wickedly handsome Scotsman, Collin Blackburn, the hero of her story. I love a spunky heroine who isn’t afraid to step outside the strictures of her society. Lady Alexandra Huntington is such a woman and she’s more than a match for Collin Blackburn, who hounds her with a vengeance because he believes she’s responsible for the death of his brother.

So, I in turn, hounded Victoria until she agreed to interview with the Romance Bandits LOL. As you know we interview writers by invitation only, but having read her book, I knew Dahl was a talented author with many lovely books in her career. TTAS is sexy, fast-paced, and utterly delightful. You can click on the title and order it from Amazon. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Jo: We love call stories in the Lair, Victoria. Can you tell us about your road to publication and how you received your first contract?

Victoria: Hello, Banditas and readers! I’m so excited to be here! Thank you so much for the invitation, Jo. After reading that intro, you are now one of my best friends, so I hope you’re prepared to see a lot of me. Wanna cuddle?

Jo: Hehehehe, method to my madness.

Victoria: My road to publication was a fairly long one. I’ve been reading historical romance since about the age of twelve. I always hoped to be a writer, but I didn’t start seriously writing until seven years ago when I had my first child and became a stay at home mom. Cleaning the house wouldn’t hold my attention even if I did bother to do it, so I knew I’d need something else to occupy my mind. My first manuscript sucked harder than my unused vacuum cleaner, but it was a book! And I’d written it!

Jo: You’ll be happy to learn that housecleaning is verboten in the Lair.

Victoria: I joined RWA and started entering contests. I finaled for the first time with my second manuscript, and then I was hooked on contests. Four years (and four manuscripts) later, I finaled in the Golden Heart with TO TEMPT A SCOTSMAN!!! It was an unbelievable experience even before I won. A whirlwind of sparkly chaos! And then I came home, and my agent sent out the book with a triumphant cover letter and… nothing. Ten months of nothing before I finally got the call from John at Kensington! Woo-hoo!

Jo: Collin Blackburn is exactly the kind of hero I adore – a principled man who comes up against a woman he has the wrong idea about from the get-go. How did you come up with your characters and the story for TTAS?

Victoria: Well, I love to torture my hero. I really do. If I can arrange a fake death to send him into a spiral of despair, I’ll do it in a heartbeat. Mmmm. So delicious. I’m sorry, what were we talking about?

Jo: Uh, dunno, I got lost in imagining your hero being tickled to death with a feather on his bare chest.

Victoria: Oh, yeah. I also love a very steady, reliable hero who falls for a wild girl, perhaps because my husband is very steady and reliable, and I might be a tad wild. *g* Since Collin is such a good guy, I had great opportunity to torture him with his misconceptions and doubts about the woman he loves. He doesn’t want to suspect her of doing wicked things, but she’s just so naughty! Just to be clear though, I really hate plots that are built on easily-dispelled misconceptions. I don’t think you’ll find any of those in TTAS.

Jo: Absolutely, not at all! You really kept me going with the plot complications.

Victoria: My very first idea for TTAS was the post-love scene. (The one in the cottage, Jo.) For some reason, my characters introduced themselves to me with this truly disastrous moment. I knew I had to write the book as soon as this scene popped into my head. I couldn’t resist a story about two lovers whose first time doesn’t end with butterflies and melting hearts. Instead of bringing them closer together, this love scene is just the start of the bumpy road ahead. (Pssst. Don’t worry. It all works out in the end, I promise.)

Jo: You did it beautifully. I know you have an exciting and happening blogspace going on at What kinds of topics do you like to discuss? I’ve popped over and seen some quite naughty dialogue.

Victoria: Oh, God. Very little that has to do with writing, I’m afraid. I used to blog with the History Hoydens about professional kinds of topics that mature readers might want to read about. But due to scheduling conflicts and a shift in my career, I had to bow out. (It’s a great blog, so check it out at Now I do most of my blogging on my MySpace page, and there is no one there to guide me. Here are the last five topics as of mid-February: Irish Butts, My Great Weekend, The Mental Breakdown I Had While Planning my 6-Year-Old’s Birthday Party, A Hilarious & Disgusting Rap Video About George Washington and, finally, You May Have Heard a Rumor That I’m Strange. I also hold contests, of course. And sometimes I even talk about my books. Please stop by. If you don’t have a MySpace account, you won’t be able to post a comment, but I will be adding a mirror of my blog to LiveJournal in a few months. I’m waiting for my website redesign before I take that on. In the meantime, Friend me!

Jo: Everyone’s saying historicals are making a come back. Did you have any idea of writing in another genre when we all thought historicals were “dead”? Both your books are set in England, 1844. What did you find particularly attractive about this early Victorian period?

Victoria: Other genres? Definitely. I am a fickle book mistress. TTAS was the third historical I wrote, and then I decided the market had tanked. By the time I sold TTAS, I’d written three contemporary paranormals. Now, of course, that market is glutted. Ha! My agent actually took me on based on my paranormals, which are light and funny and sexy. She never even READ my historicals until after I won the GH. That’s how bad the market was! When my paranormals didn’t sell (not dark enough), my agent asked if I would write a straight contemporary… something funny and sexy but without vampires. I had never even considered it, frankly. I LOVE the automatic conflict that comes with both historicals and paranormals. Forced marriage or dating with fangs. You know what I’m saying. But I’d already written my second historical for Kensington, so I took a deep, terrified breath and wrote my first contemporary. Turns out my agent is a genius. It sold to HQN just a few months ago! As far as writing in the early Victorian era… I was drawn to this era because it is an age in transition. There are still a lot of Regency ideals left over and we haven’t gotten into the standard strict Victorian mores. It’s rather unexplored as far as romances go. I really wanted to write a story that didn’t automatically push preconceived notions into the reader’s head.

Jo: Your next historical from Kensington is coming out this year. Can you tell us a little about that?

Victoria: A RAKE’S GUIDE TO PLEASURE will be out in August and I can’t wait! I love this book. (Am I allowed to say that?)

Jo: Absolutely -- you, your mom and your agent LOL!

Victoria: The hero is the Duke of Somerhart, the older brother of the heroine of TTAS. He’s cold and controlled on the surface, but when he meets up with Lady Denmore, he finds himself tripping over bad decisions and an impulsive attraction. But Lady Denmore is not what she seems. In fact, she’s not Lady Denmore at all. Her real name is Emma Jensen and she’s masquerading as a titled widow in order to make her fortune at London’s gambling tables. Emma is hiding her real identity, and this masquerade is what draws her to Somerhart, a man who’s been hiding his true self for years. Together, they have to decide if love is really worth the gamble. (Warning: this book is a bit naughtier than TTAS, so if TTAS pushed any boundaries for you, approach with caution!)

Jo: I knew Somerhart would have his own book because I read the excerpt , but I’m so eager to read his complete story. And don’t worry, we Banditas love to go where no man – er, woman – has gone before!

Victoria: There’s a pretty long excerpt of RAKE’S GUIDE at the back of TTAS, which was a wonderful surprise for a first time author. Zebra’s Debut program has been an amazing opportunity for a lot of us new historical writers, btw. Kensington/Zebra is really stepping up to the plate, taking a chance on debut writers and giving readers a great opportunity to try out an unknown author for only $3.99. And the covers! Whew! I can’t say enough great things about this program. Distribution was amazing. TTAS was in Walmart!!!! One last thing… That contemporary I mentioned will be out with HQN in February 2009. TALK ME DOWN is the story of a young woman who goes back to her small hometown in Colorado and causes a huge stir with her secretive career, a mysterious stalker, and her burgeoning relationship with the chief of police. I like to say that if you like cold weather, hot sex, and dirty jokes, this is the book for you! But I haven’t walked away from historical in any way, shape or form. I’ll have another historical out with Kensington in 2009 as well as a novella in a Kensington historical anthology. Have I mentioned that 2009 will be a busy year? Thanks again to all the Banditas--and especially Jo!—for inviting me to come visit. I can’t wait to chat!!!

Victoria is giving away an autographed copy of TO TEMPT A SCOTSMAN to one lucky commenter. I promise you’ll adore it. I did!

Victoria will be hanging out in the Lair today so drop by, say hello, and shoot her any questions you have about her books, the genres, or her sassy MySpace blogspot. You can also check out her website at

Thursday, February 28, 2008


by Suzanne Welsh

One of the things people ask writers the most is, "where do you come up with these ideas?" I heard someone say once, "Oh, I just go to the Big Book Of Ideas and flip through the pages until I find one I like." Smart alec answer, so of course I loved it! But the truth is inspiration can come in many forms and in many ways. Here are some of mine.

Richard Sharpe. I loved this mini series on BBC America two summers ago! OMG...Sean Bean in period clothing. I love his intensity, his honor that stands out among the hardships of being at war in a foreign country and oh heck, he's just easy on the eyes.

At the time I was also submitting scenes to the Avon FanLit contest. The period was Regency, not my specialty, but I felt I had a handle on the Penninsular War hero after watching this series. So, of course, I started a Regency period book with a hero loosely based on Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe. Still working on it, and it seems to be a bit darker than the regular Regency books

Another source of inspiration is women in American History. This is one of my favorite characters, Clara Barton. I first read Clara's biography when I was in elementary school. My mom was studying to be a nurse, so I found duel interest in Miss Barton's life story. She took supplies to the battlefield of Antietem and found the surgeons wrapping men's wounds in corn husks. (ewww, the infection meter in my head just went off again!). Imagine their immense relief when this woman of courage showed up with bandages, medical supplies, blankets and lanterns! (Women are always thinking ahead.)

Clara inspired the budding nurse in me, but she wasn't the only woman in American history who inspired me. Rebecca Boone followed her husband by foot through the Cumberland Gap in the Appalchia mountains into a place called Kan-tuck-ee--a land of wilderness and unknown enemies. She helped him carve out a home and lead more settlers west. She and other pioneer women of courage inspired me to learn more and write stories about their time periods.

And then there's my hometown, Columbus, Ohio. Beautiful isn't it? I've set all my contemporary stories here or near here. I love the people here. Hard working people, who sometimes have extordinary things happen that change their lives. And the country side is so beautiful it makes me want to share it with people who've never been there. I also get to use the subtleness of an ordinary city as the background to some suspenseful elements, so the juxtaposition is great!
So what inspires you to write, create or to succeed in life?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Food for Thought

by Susan Seyfarth

I've got food on the brain. Couple reasons there. First, I gave up sweets for Lent. All sweets. Which means no chocolate. No ice cream. No doughnuts. (Somebody please revive Kirsten. I'm sure she's passed out cold at the idea of a doughnut-free existence.) In case anybody's wondering, life without refined white sugar is indeed a barren, empty place. Not recommended. But boy, it makes Easter really pop for me. Nobody's chocolate bunny is safe. :-)

Second, I'm brain storming a new book, & my heroine is a wedding cake baker. So, while I'm not eating any sweets, I'm devouring books devoted to the glossy photography of enormous, glorious cakes. Big ol' shrines to butter, eggs & yes, refined white sugar.

All this deprivation got me thinking about one of my favorite questions to ask people when I need to get a spirited conversation started:

If you could eat only three foods for the REST OF YOUR LIFE, what would they be?

Some people (mostly men for some reason) are baffled by this question. They've honestly never considered it. But most of us know our three without even thinking. I know I do. You ready?

#1) Ice cream. Any flavor but chocolate. Don't misunderstand now. I like chocolate IN my ice cream. The more the better. But I don't like chocolate flavored ice cream. Is that weird? I can't explain it but feel very strongly about it. Ice cream is hands-down my favorite food in the universe, but if somebody presented me with a bowl of chocolate ice cream on Easter morning & said, "Vanilla will be available at noon," even after the six dark weeks of Lent, I'd hold out for the vanilla.

#2) Pizza--whole grain, deep dish crust. Marinara sauce. Mozzarella, parmesan, & goat cheese on top. If pressed, I'd allow some fresh basil & a few kalamata olives. Perfection.

#3) This third slot is always harder. Over the years, I've gone back & forth. For a long time it was stir fry in brown sauce over brown rice. Heavy on the broccoli & fresh red peppers. Throw in some deep fried tofus cubes, the kind that only Asian restaurants can produce & I'm a happy girl. But then I became a mom & began to resent stir fries for all the time consuming chopping & mincing. I embraced the zen perfection of a bowl of cereal with milk. And I do love me a good bowl of cereal, any time of the day or night. But I already have cold & sweet covered with the ice cream choice. The pizza gives me all the gooey, fat-ladened carbs I could want. So really, I needed something that would satisfy the primal desire for something crunchy, veggie-based & filling that comes over me after a steady diet of pizza & ice cream. So I'm back to the stir fry. For now.

How about you? Are there any foods you could eat forever & never get sick of? Any odd-ball appetites you want to fess up to? You're among friends--share!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

From Kirtles to Kicking Butt

by Nancy Northcott

There's a reason Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, and every super-heroine since Wonder Woman wore catsuits or some variation thereof. Kicking butt in a kirtle would be pretty much impossible. The clothes, of course, suited the image of The Ideal Woman in their eras. In the Middle Ages, for example, Woman was supposed to be demure, devout, and dominated. This condition persisted until the late 20th century. In some parts of the world (and some regions of the United States), it's alive and thriving. This isn't a political blog, though. I suspect most of us, at least in the United States, get more than enough politics to suit us just by turning on the television. It's a fashion blog. Today we're going to look at the ways clothes reflected and do reflect the lives of the women wearing them.

The Middle Ages and the concept of courtly love certainly didn't include women slaying dragons. The woman shown here certainly couldn't. Her skirt would catch on fire, and that would be that. The man slew dragons, hags, and assorted other evil-doers. He, of course, wore the literal and figurative pants, sometimes armored. In fact, this woman would be hard pressed to clean her own kitchen. She'd be tripping on that skirt all the time. As for leading armies, forget it. Aside from the sheer physical power required to wield a lance or sword, not to mention the need for at least some maneuverability (though true medieval broadsword battles more closely resembled those in A Knight's Tale than those in my beloved Errol Flynn move, The Adventures of Robin Hood), there'd be all that fabric to manage.

The Middle Ages did, however, give us the first real-life action heroine, Joan of Arc. I discovered her via a Classics Illustrated comic book when I was in second grade (and if I still had it, I'd have a valuable contribution to the boy's tuition fund, but that's a subject for a different blog). Joan was cooler than any woman I'd ever seen. This was the age of TV moms who wore pearls in the kitchen and never seemed to wield a vacuum cleaner, only advice. My little comic book geek heart adored Joan. However, the men of her time, included my much-admired English, did not. They put Joan on trial, for heresy if I remember correctly, and part of their reasoning was that she wore men's clothes. This may be the only fatal fashion faux pas in history. At least Joan got sainthood, albeit posthumously, out of the deal.

From the Middle Ages, we move to the Renaissance, or supposed rebirth of learning and culture. For women, many of whom were well educated if they came from the upper classes or the nobility, the era offered more of the same. Except with better and more ornate fabrics. I have to admit I love the elaborate gowns of the Tudor period. The Henrys, I could do without, but their women were extremely well dressed. I'll probably have to see The Other Boleyn Girl just to look at the costumes. Wearing all this fabric did make a lot of sense, as did the cumbersome clothes of earlier periods. Whether you lived in a castle or a hut, your home wasn't draft-proof (hence the heavy tapestries hung on so many walls and sometimes over doors or windows). The Tudors presided over an exciting era, what with Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries and Elizabeth I's sponsorship of explorers/privateers like Sir Francis Drake, but Elizabeth did most of her butt-kicking via surrogates.

Things didn't improve much for women in the active wardrobe department over the next several centuries. We had bum rolls, farthingales, hoops, corsets, bustles, and other assorted impedimenta designed to interfere with actual living. Granted, most of the fashion extremes were popular among--indeed, only possible for--the very wealthy, but they were held up as ideals of everyone. Around World War I, when things were starting to loosen up, the talented and imaginative Paul Poiret gave (or inflicted upon, depending on your viewpoint) women the hobble skirt, which narrowed at the bottom. After the war, things loosened up considerably, thanks to Chanel and the flappers, but narrow skirts alternated with full in haute couture for the rest of the century. Still popular, judging by Sunday's red carpet coverage at the Oscars, is the "mermaid dress," which fits tightly through the body and hips but flares at the knees. Thank goodness it's not as extreme as it used to be, but can you imagine Sidney Bristow of Alias taking somebody on in an outfit like that?

Women in movie serials like The Perils of Pauline, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and The Hazards of Helen broke the mold with derring do, but that adventurous spirit didn't last. On television, Emma Peel was the first real action heroine. I still have a soft spot for Dame Diana Rigg because she was so dynamic. After Emma came the 1960s TV version of Batgirl, who had a few restrictions in the interest of being "ladylike." (Fewer restrictions prevailed in the comic book. The talented and agile actress who portrayed her, Yvonne Craig, just kicked people because the producers didn't think viewers would like to see a woman hitting people. Regardless of their methods, though, each of them frequently wore a catsuit. They had to if they wanted to move freely. Well, okay, maybe it didn't absolutely have to be a catsuit but they needed something less restrictive than a poodle skirt or a pencil skirt.

Then came Linda Hamilton as a super-buff Sarah Connor fighting to defend her son and Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully and Catherine Bell as Col. Sarah McKenzie on JAG. For eleven years, Amanda Tapping has played Col. Samantha Carter of Stargate SG-1, frequently appearing in camouflage gear with automatic weapons. I have to admit to a certain bias in favor of Carter, who's the prototype for the heroines I'd like to have seen on television when I was growing up. With shows like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Heroes, and Stargate Atlantis on the air, the action heroine and her wardrobe seem safe for the near future.

What's the most ridiculous or cumbersome outfit you ever saw? Was there one you owned? And yes, bridesmaid dresses count.

Who's your favorite action heroine on TV, in movies, or in books?

By the way, vote for Trish!

Monday, February 25, 2008

SURVIVOR—Who’s left on the American Title island?

by KJ Howe

Reality television has infiltrated the literary world with the American Title competition—talented writers vie with each other to impress fans with excerpts from their novels and the author with the most votes conquers the literary island! Our very own Bandita, Trish Milburn, has made the top two with her paranormal romance, Out of Sight. Please visit to vote or click on the American Title on the sidebar. Trish has had an unbelievable year, selling a traditional romance to Harlequin American and a Young Adult novel to Razorbill (Penguin). You may ask, “Who is this masked Bandita and how is she swashbuckling through the romance industry?” Let’s get Trish to answer a few of your questions!

KJ: First of all, congrats on making the top two of American Title. Your writing has obviously stood out as judges and voters alike are raving about your work. What do you like best about your hero and heroine in Out of Sight? And—give us the low-down on their faults. After all, the more interesting the faults, the more tantalizing the characters!

TM: Jenna, my heroine, has a special place in my heart because she’s tough and insists on being herself even when it might be easier to not be. Because of her special ability – she can make herself invisible – she’s recruited to work for a secret government agency. The catch? She doesn’t have a choice. If she doesn’t comply, her worst fears of becoming a government lab rat might come true. But she’s not going to just play Miss Meek Mouse. She balks on occasion, dictating her own terms even when the hero, Daniel, who is an agent for the secret agency, thinks she’s lost it and pushed his superiors too far. And even when she’s quaking inside despite her outward appearance. I guess this reason I admire her might also be seen as a fault because she finds it near impossible to trust anyone who works for the federal government, even when that person (like Daniel) might be on her side. Her distrust stems from the fact that her father once worked for the government in covert ops, but after he went missing the government refused to admit he’d ever worked for them.

As for Daniel, he’s sexy, is a fun mixture of serious about his job and a teasing smart aleck. He’s the perfect match for Jenna, even though she’d rather eat live worms than admit it. Perhaps his biggest fault is not questioning the why behind his own ability and the agency’s mission more.

KJ: You wrote 17 manuscripts and finaled 8 times in the Golden Heart (winning twice!) before selling. During that time, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned about the publishing industry?

TM: That you just have to keep at it. Perseverance is key to achieving that dream of publishing. After so many years of going to workshops, reading craft books, learning about the industry, and trying to improve my work with each new manuscript and each set of revisions, it was hard to keep going after so many “no, thank you” rejections. But we’ve probably all thought about quitting at some point. The thing is to not allow yourself to act on that thought if you really, really want to see your books on store shelves. It’s like athletes who fight through pain and injury for their one chance at the Olympics. Eventually, you will find the right editor at the right time with the right project.

KJ: Given that you write Young Adult, Traditional Romance, Paranormal Romance, and Romantic Suspense, what rituals do you have before sitting down to write to get those different voices down? Do you listen to different music, dress in unique clothes? Please give us the scoop.

TM: Honestly, I tend to watch TV shows or movies in the same genre to get the mood and feel. I have always loved TV and movies; I connect with them and the stories they present. They seep into my subconscious and put me in the right mood. For instance, if I’m getting ready to write YA, I’ll watch shows like Gossip Girl or Smallville or movies like 10 Things I Hate About You or The Prince and Me. That gets me to thinking “teen.” Same thing for the other sub-genres.

KJ: A Firefighter in the Family will be coming out September 2008. Your first Harlequin American. What is it about this line that appeals to you?

TM: I enjoy so many different sub-genres of romance that mix in other elements with the romance, but it’s nice to have a place to present stories that are just pure romance. A Firefighter in the Family has a bit of a mystery going on, but it’s dialed way back from some of my grittier romantic suspense manuscripts. Nobody is finding dead bodies in the woods. :-)

KJ: Adventure is as passion of mine as is nature—and you have combined those two in your YA novel Heartbreak River that comes out in Spring 2009. Can you tell us a little about your rafting experiences? I had the opportunity to raft in Pennsylvania and can’t wait to tackle it again!

TM: LOL! This is where my ability to research comes in rather than real-world experience. In reality, I’d be scared to death of getting in a raft and getting anywhere near whitewater. That’s actually good because I tapped into that fear for part of the story. Part of my fear comes from the fact that I can’t swim (Trish’s embarrassing admission of the day); part comes from the fact that I’m just a wienie. That’s why I like to write about tough gals who can take on anything physically. They can do things that I doubt I ever will. But while my idea of adventure is driving cross-country by myself (I have no problem doing that), I do love nature and being outdoors. Actually, I have this dream of through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, but that is not my dear hubby’s idea of a good time. :-) Heartbreak River is set in Colorado, and I drew inspiration during the writing of the book by simply looking out the window of the Amtrak train I was taking from my home in Tennessee to California. It was so cool to write about the river and rafting as the train meandered along the Colorado River.

KJ: I heard y’all from Nashville, the site for RWA’s National conference for 2010. Planning ahead is always fun. Can you give us a list of must-see sights when we venture into the land of country music?

TM: Of course, if you like country music, the Grand Ole Opry is a must-attend show, and it’s conveniently located next door to the Opryland Hotel where the conference is being held. You can also do one of those bus tours where they take you around to see the country music stars’ homes. A few years ago, they opened up the brand new Country Music Hall of Fame downtown, which replaced an older museum that was on Music Row, which is where a lot of the country music-related businesses are based.

For me, however, I love the historic homes and buildings in Nashville. Belle Meade is a plantation which has a thoroughbred horse raising history. Kentucky Derby winners such as Secretariat and Barbarro have bloodlines stretching back to when Belle Meade was active in the horse business. Historic Carnton Plantation was used as a field hospital during the bloody Battle of Franklin during the Civil War. One of my favorite places here is The Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson. A truly unique place to visit in Nashville is The Parthenon, the centerpiece of our Centennial Park. It is the only reproduction of Greece’s Parthenon in the world. Built in 1897 for the state’s Centennial Exposition, The Parthenon also houses a 42-foot statue of Athena and a city art museum. There’s a lot more to see, so you might want to take time to visit the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau site before arriving in Music City USA.

KJ: Thanks for joining us today, Trish, and best of luck in the finals of American Title. If you would like to learn more about our intrepid finalist, visit where you will have a chance to win free books!

TM: Thanks, KJ! It was a fun interview. And thanks for all the support given to me by my fellow Banditas and all of you fabulous people out there in Banditaland. :-)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I Love My Job

By Kate

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been immersing myself in research for my new Bibliophile Mystery series. Last week, I spent two days at the annual Antiquarian Book Fair in Los Angeles, where booksellers from all over the world meet to buy, sell and trade their treasures.

I attended two workshops on book collecting and restoration, then wandered through the hundreds of stalls and kiosks perusing exquisitely bound editions of William Shakespeare and Walt Whitman and Jane Austen. There were books on display that were so ancient, they looked like petrified forest mushrooms, as well as a collection of clever, three-dimensional, accordion-style books designed by a contemporary Parisian artist. First editions of mysteries by Raymond Chandler and Earl Stanley Garner sat alongside a nicely preserved, full set of Agatha Christie’s mysteries.

Then this weekend, my research brought me to San Francisco where I spent the last two days wandering around my heroine’s neighborhood, getting the lay of the land, soaking up the local color, searching out the perfect location for a murder—or two, and driving up to Sonoma County where my heroine was raised.

Oh, and the wine tasting I attended was a necessary part of my character development. ;-)

I’m also taking a two-day class on bookbinding at the San Francisco Center for the Book. That’s right, I’m not just writing a book, I’m making a book!

Shortly after I return home, I’ll be descending into the deadline cave where I’ll stay for the next month in order to finish my book. But for now, I’m writing this post while sitting at the restaurant bar, sipping a lovely cabernet and nibbling on bread dipped in olive oil as I wait for my steak and potato. Sigh. The things we do for our craft!

If you could choose the perfect spot to do research, where would you go? Are there books you choose simply because you love the setting? Do you find yourself drawn to a particular occupation of the main character? And how do you like your steak prepared? Or would you prefer the vegetarian selections? :-)

P.S. Vote for Trish!!!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chasing Dreams

by Donna MacMeans

I don't watch a lot of television, but I do like the early shows of American Idol. Thanks to the snow and ice that canceled my aerobic class last night, I was able to see the first reduction of the show's final twenty-four contestants. Did you watch it?

I identify with this show. Not that I can sing. (Okay so the photo is a fish - but that's the general reaction to my singing.) But for many years, I was an older version of those young hopefuls, chasing the dream of seeing my work in print. I'd enter a contest, wait and wait to learn that I was a finalist, and then hope and pray that my writing was good enough to win. Often it wasn't and someone else won the honor.

However, nothing ever happened to me like what happened Thursday night. Here's the deal:

The contestants, all young and all talented, performed a solo over two nights of shows. Some of the performances were absolutely amazing. Some were lackluster. After the performances, fans were invited to vote via telephone for their favorites and based on the tabulation, two men and two women were dismissed from the show.

Now we know all this from the get-go. Much like the writing contests, the finalists will slowly be weeded down to an ultimate winner. Honestly, this doesn't bother me as the contestants know a lot is riding on their performance and this contest gives them a shot they wouldn't ordinarily receive.

However, Thursday night, the moderator turned to judge Simon Cowell and asked if he had any advice for one of the departing male contestants. Cowell's advice: "go get a job and make music your hobby because you'll never make it in this industry."

OUCH! I think everyone was in shock for a few minutes.

Now I must admit the music industry is a hard road to fame. I think only one or two of the past winners of American Idol went on to release hits. This kid's one performance was lackluster compared to the others - not bad - just not as good.

So did he deserve to have his dreams trounced upon in such a public forum? Was Simon doing him a favor and sparing him future heartache? Could Simon's criticism actually spur the young singer to try harder and smarter? Has anyone ever trounced on your dreams either accidentally or in the vein of "doing you a favor"? How did you react?

I'll pick someone from the posted comments to receive a copy of The Education of Mrs. Brimley and - as Mardi Gras as recently passed - a sequined Mardi Gras bandit mask.

Don't forget our own Trish is embroiled in an American Idol like contest of her own. The American Title contest is down to two finalists and Trish is one of them. Anyone can vote for a winner and it won't even cost you a phone call. Click on the Vote Trish button in the scroll and help her reach the limelight.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Annoying Heroines

By Anna Sugden

Greetings from Dubai. At least, that’s where I hope I’ll be when this blog posts. So, with a bit of luck, as you read this, I’ll be sunning myself on a beach. Or tucking into some lovely spicy food.

As I write this post, the stack of books for my trip is all ready to go. [Christie - Every Night I’m Yours is on top of the pile!] I’m very excited as this is one of the few chances I get to read uninterrupted for long stretches of time. And I’m looking forward to some excellent reads.

What does this have to do with the topic in hand?

Part of the reason I’m excited is that I’ve read some real duds in February. You know, the kind where you just have to give up because they irritate you so much?

How did this happen? January got off to a kicking start with Tawny’s Does She Dare? [OMG is that book hot!!! And Dante *sigh*]. And continued with Stacey Kayne’s Maverick Wild [ Fab, fab, fab! And Chance *sigh*]

But, towards the end of the month, I found myself struggling through books. Now, I’m not normally one to give up, but in the past few weeks I’ve given up on several. What’s going on?

I’ll tell you - annoying heroines!

Now, I don’t have to feel that a heroine will be my best friend for life, or that she and I have everything in common, but I do have to like her, empathise with her and root for her. And I certainly need to feel that she deserves the hero!

So what annoyed me about the heroines in the dud books? Well, they fell into one of the following five categories:

Too stupid to live.

We all know the classic TSTL heroine - who goes down into the basement with the broken window at night, during an electrical storm which has blown the power … and there’s a serial killer/rapist on the loose in her small town. Thankfully, you don’t see too many of these any more.

But you do get the heroines who go against all advice and rush in where angels (and SEALs/cops/FBI agents etc) fear to tread. I don’t mind if the author has given good justification for why the heroine acts like this. But when it’s just because she thinks she knows better … aaargh!

Too wimpy for words

TWFW is another classic heroine type which we see rarely these days (you know, the violet-eyed, heaving-breasted damsel with the back of her hand to her forehead whimpering “hey-yelp”). But, the odd one does creep in.

This gal doesn’t seem to be able to do anything unless the big, strong hero is there to hold her hand. She dithers at length over the simplest decision (like whether or not to kiss said big, strong hero). She wails when the hero even looks cross and practically faints if there’s an argument. She frets ad nauseum over the slightest wrinkle in her life-plan, until you want to yell at her to get some backbone.

She is probably half-sister to Too Good to be True - see below

Too good to be true

Again, at first glance, this heroine seems okay. But, as the story develops, the reader senses something isn’t quite right.

Can anyone be that perfect? She always says the right things, acts the right way. Never puts a foot wrong, never loses her temper, never has a bad hair day. Her house is always spotless, her kids are perfectly-behaved little darlings, her body makes Elle Macpherson weep and she can rappel down that cliff without smudging her lipstick or breaking a nail. And she’s so kind and generous and sweet, you get tooth-ache.

Too clever by half

TCBH is a new breed of annoying heroine. On the surface, she seems okay. But at critical moments in the story, she suddenly possesses almost super-human talents in areas she has no previous knowledge or skill.

This is the woman who can barely switch a computer on, but is able to hack into some complex system at just the right time to get the information that will bring down the bad guys. Or the one who can come up with a brilliant business plan to save the town, but has never balanced her own cheque-book. Then, there’s the one who has never picked up a gun in her life, but is able to knee-cap the villain who is running away from her, in a rainstorm, at night, in a forest.

If you’re going to give a heroine the chance to save the day, then please make sure you justify it somewhere in her back-story. (eg the reason she can rappel down a sheer cliff at night with a cat in her arms and a child on her back is because her evil father made her do that on holiday as a kid *g*).

Too clichéd and caricatured

This category includes both clichéd heroines and clichéd ‘other women’. And it’s less about their behaviour - though sometimes the contrast between the two would make for a good pantomime - than their looks and their outfits.

TCAC ‘other women’ always have long scarlet nails, perfectly coiffed hair, skin-tight slinky clothes in bold, bright colours and gorgeous shoes (well, they always sound gorgeous to me. Just because the heroine couldn’t walk in them, doesn’t mean they’re not!)

TCAC heroines have short, pale pink or bare nails, wisps of hair escaping their attempt at a perfectly coiffed style, almost demure clothes (but with a surprising dip at the back which leaves her skin conveniently bare for the hero’s touch) in pale, cool colours or basic black. She often can’t walk properly in her shoes, or slips on a pair that is less glamorous, but comfortable!

So, there you have it.

Over to you - what is it about an annoying heroine that bugs you? How much will you put up with before you ditch the book … and her?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Monkey Wrenches and Stuff Like That

by guest blogger Colby Hodge

Futuristic action romance author and PRISM award winner Colby Hodge joins us in the lair today with insights about where unexpected revisions can lead. Her new book, Twist, has generated quite a buzz. Best-selling author Susan Squires calls it "a whip-smart rollercoaster ride with a tortured hero and a kick-ass heroine." RITA winner Linnea Sinclair describes it as a "[f]ast-paced, gripping, haunting and sexy . . . story of the redemptive power of love," and USA today best-seller Alyssa Day says "Twist rockets its way through enough twists and turns to satisfy any fan of action-adventure romance." However, it isn't the book she set out to write. Colby also writes historical romance as Cindy Holby and YA romance as Kassy Taylor. Welcome, Colby!

At around page 200 of my manuscript for Twist, my current release from Dorchester's exciting new Shomi line I had a monkey wrench thrown at me from out of the blue. Yes there are specific guidelines for this line. And apparently when I pitched it to the acquiring editor he got so excited about my concept that he forgot one part of the guidelines.

No vampires or werewolves.

So I'm halfway through the book I get a really sweet and apologetic email from my editor.

"Colby, I forgot...we're not using vampires or werewolves in this line."

"uh,” me immediately on the phone because I had to call him to yell at him and I knew he was hiding behind the email. “(insert editors name here). Did you forget that the vampires are my bad guys?"

"Nope.” Nervous laugh because I’m pretty sure he thought I was on my way to NYC to kill him. “But still, we got to do something. Make them nonvampire vampires or something like that." (That’s a generalization of what he said.)

I’d like to take time to mention that this email came while I was really cruising with the book. The words just trickled from my brain to my fingers to the keyboard to the screen without any effort on my part. I was in tra-la-la mode. I was thinking the book will be done six weeks before deadline. I can take some time to put together some proposals. I can go to the spa. I can actually take and enjoy my vacation.

So after I had a morning meltdown we put our heads together. And what did we come up with?

Aliens. Aliens who are the reason there is a vampire legend. Actually it was pretty cool to come up with a new concept on an old tale. Plus we made up lots of slang and my heroine only lost a few of her really snarky lines. It was also pretty cool to find out the things he saw in the manuscript. For instance, I called the bad guys ticks, as in ticks suck your blood. When I changed the blood sucking vampires to time sucking aliens I thought I’d loose the tick slang. He said leave it in. As in tick-tock you’re running out of time. And it totally worked. It was great to have someone to bounce things off of it and he applied himself to it just as much as I did. Of course he sort of had too since it was all his fault.

Then I had to go back and rewrite the first half of the book and make sure that it all made sense. When I got that done and was ready to start the down hill slide of finishing up the story my dad was diagnosed with Lymphoma and I spent a lot of time writing in quiet corners of hospital waiting rooms. I guess my time sucking aliens were pretty serious about coming after me. The book was two weeks late getting turned in then I got my edits during a really bad time with my dad. More time sucked away. But eventually the book got done and my dad is in remission. That was quite a few monkey wrenches for one book. But I think everything turned out okay in the end. For me, my dad, and my editor.

Meanwhile how do you handle revisions, in writing or in life? Have you ever had to adapt quickly to a surprise?

Colby is giving away a copy of Twist to one lucky commenter. To learn more about Colby and her alter-egos, visit the website they share,

Dee's Winner is . . .

Drumroll, please! The winner of Dee Davis's book Chain Reaction is Maureen. Congratulations, Maureen! If you'll email me, nancy AT nancynorthcott DOT com, with your contact information, I'll pass that on to Dee.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

And the Valentines Winner is...

da da dum da dum...

Eva S.

Eva - drop me an email at with RB Valentines in the subject line and I'll get your goodies right out to you! Congrats ;-)

On The Road Again

by Beth Andrews

A few weeks ago I had the chance to do something I love doing, something I haven't had the time or, to be totally honest, the desire to do for a long time. I went on a Road Trip.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm in the car a lot. A whole lot. Either running errands, or taking my girls to practice or a friend's house, or sitting shotgun while teaching my son to drive (heck, sometimes I even do all of the above at the same time *g*). But it's been a good long while since I had somewhere to go outside my county's limits.

That all changed when I discovered my Senior Editor was speaking at Toronto Romance Writers - yes, that's in Toronto. A city with 4.5 million people. How do I know that's the population? Because my husband told me. A dozen times. In fact, here's just a sample of what he said to me before I left:

"For the love of all that's good in the world, don't plot a book while you're driving in Toronto. You really need to pay attention to what you're doing! There are 4.5 million people there."


"Remember that one time when you picked up pizza for dinner at the pizzeria down the road and got in the wrong car and didn't even notice until you'd sat there a minute trying to figure out what was different? Well, please don't do that in Toronto. You know, there are 4.5 million people there. Leave their cars alone."

And also:

"Yes, I know you claim you're not lost when you drive aimlessly around a large city you're unfamiliar with - but just because you know you're in Canada, doesn't mean you know which direction to go in order to get home. Please take a map of the city with you. They've got enough people in Toronto (4.5 million) they don't need you living there too."

After this helpful advice, of course I was excited to get going. *g* And, as I'm no dummy, I decided to take someone with me to keep me company and help with the driving and navigate those big city streets. So, I took my son :-) Which was a great idea except, well, he's 16 which means his conversational skills could use some work, he only has his permit and there was no way I was letting him drive on those 8 lane highways (we only have the regular old 4 lanes of highways here - 2 on each side. Trust me, it's much safer) but he was an Ace as Chief Navigator! And he brought along some good CDs so we had classic rock tunes to listen to all the way up and back ;-)

It was a very successful road trip! My Senior Editor was a great speaker and the Toronto Chapter was warm and welcoming (even though I left in a hurry to avoid getting home too late), my son (despite my earlier teasing) was great company and he did drive part way. *g* Best of all, it brought back memories of the many road trips I've taken in my life and how I've evolved and changed.

During the late 80's/early 90's, I'd listen to 80's hair bands on the tape player of my Ford Escort while driving the 90 miles home from school. I'd munch on cheese popcorn or Combos (Combos are still a family road trip favorite) and chocolate milk (regular, none of that low fat stuff for me back then). My metabolism rocked in the 80's!!

The 90's brought with it three kids (I'm still not sure how I got them - although I'm starting to suspect they're to blame for my metabolism going to pot) and car seats. We'd pile in our mini-van and head to the beach as we snacked on animal crackers and juice boxes. Of course the windows were rolled down as the air conditioner didn't work but that's okay. That just meant everyone could hear Chumbawumba (anyone else remember them?) singing about getting knocked down and back up again. We liked to share the joy. *g*

A few years back the entire family went to Virginia to visit friends. About three hours into the trip, we stopped for lunch only to discover our son (then 12) had forgotten his shoes. We're still not sure how it happened - all we know is he thought he'd save time by putting his shoes on in the car once we were on our way (as opposed to actually wearing them out of the house) but never grabbed them. Luckily we were by a mall and able to pick him up some cheap sneakers. *g*

What about you, dear Readers? Do you love Road Trips? Or does the idea of being cooped up in a car for more than 30 minutes give you the heebie jeebies? What's your favorite traveling music? Snacks? We'd love it if you shared your favorite Road Trip memory ;-)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rituals Rule, so sayeth Annie Solomon

by Trish Milburn

Today's guest, Annie Solomon, not only is a fantastic, RITA-winning romantic suspense novelist; she also knows how to shop for cute clothes, is rarely found without knitting needles in hand, and harbors a great love for the sci-fi TV series Farscape and its star, Ben Browder. Her book, Blackout, won the 2007 RITA for Best Romantic Suspense. Her newest release is Dead Shot, which you can conveniently purchase from Amazon by clicking on the book cover at left. She's here today to talk about how rituals help in the writing process.


Rituals Rule

Writing is a mystery. Characters “talk” to you. They do things you didn’t expect or plan. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The most mysterious thing to me are the rituals that go along with the process. Why do they work? Do you have a piece of music that you can’t write without? A special corner of the house? A chair? For me, I’ve found the weirdest thing is that I can no longer write alone.

Several years ago, I struggled with a terrible back problem that was exacerbated by the chair in my home office. I don’t quake when I go in there now, but I can’t write there. I thought I was blocked. I was tearing my hair out, deadlines looming closer and closer. I was looking for any available cliff to jump off.

Then I discovered Panera Bread Company. Free Wi-Fi. Great coffee. And they ain’t no slouch in the bread department neither. But the most important thing about Panera is the people. Not just behind the counter, but all over the place. Coming and going, eating in, taking out.

Now you’d think that would be a distraction. See, that’s where the Twilight Zone music comes in. I think the people are what allows me to write again. Maybe it’s the public humiliation of sitting there staring at the empty screen. (Gotta fill that up or people will see I’m doing nothing.). Or maybe it’s the fact that I can’t roll out of bed and pretend to work in my PJs while I’m really playing Freecell and Scrabble. I gotta get up, get showered, get dressed, and go somewhere. Since I’ve made all this effort, might as well use it. That's me at the right, writing away. Pictured below is Mimi, the friendliest Paneraperson ever.

Whatever the reason, Panera has become my new ritual. I pretend I’m going to work just like I did when I was running the copy department at Gish, Sherwood & Friends Advertising Agency. I look professional and put together. I even put on makeup. And I write. I actually accomplish something. Some days I have breakfast there, some days breakfast and lunch. Once or twice I even brought home dinner (though, okay, maybe that’s getting a little out of hand). Maybe it’s the food?

Whatever it is, it works. And that is one mystery I’m not too eager to solve.

So, I’m curious—what are your writing rituals? Or do you have rituals in other parts of your life that help you get things done?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The latest winner is...

The winner of the $10 Barnes & Noble gift card and the mystery book from my overflowing bookshelves is...Wendy! Please e-mail me your full name and your mailing address to trishmilburn AT yahoo DOT com, and I'll get your prizes out to you.

The Waiting Game

posted by Aunty Cindy

I am not a patient person. (Waits for roars of laughter all over the Lair to die down.) However, two things in my life have forced me to develop and cultivate my patience: motherhood and publishing.

Since the former subject would fill volumes, suffice it to say that my son did not arrive until eleven days after his due date. Apparently he did not receive the memo about vacating in a timely manner, and I suffered through the longest eleven days of my life. I should have realized this was the start of an ugly trend.

As for publishing, every author who has ever submitted so much as a query letter knows that glaciers move faster. And with far more reliability. For example, I once sent a query letter (only a brief, to-the-point letter) via email to an agent who was reportedly looking for new clients. FOUR MONTHS later I received this reply (also via email): Sorry, not for me.


Still, not as bad as one of my Bandita sisters who had an editor request her manuscript and not respond for TWO YEARS! And worse, for the last five months of that time, she assured said Bandita that the manuscript was "...on top of my desk and I'll read it in the next week or two." Clearly the weeks on her calendar were MUCH DIFFERENT from any I or my Bandita sister had ever seen. Worst of all, when the editor FINALLY got around to giving an answer, it was the tired old "just didn't love it enough" rejection.


What's a writer to do?

Nothing, except keep waiting, keep submitting, then wait some more!

I am currently living this hurry-up-and-wait scenario all too painfully. It was one year ago last week that I sent my initial query letter to the editor that ultimately resulted in a sale seven months later. It has now been five months since that magical phone call and at this point I still have no specific publication date, no cover (Though I have a serious case of cover envy! Look at our sidebar and you'll see why.)... Heck, right now I don't even have a title since the editor told me a month ago that the marketing department wanted to change the one I originally had.

However, all whining aside, I'm sure that just like when my son finally decided to make his appearance, once I hold my book in my hot little hands, all the waiting will be WORTH IT!

How bout giving Aunty a wee bit of sympathy? Or better yet, tell us about something you had to wait 4 EVAH to finally get. And please tell me it was worth the wait.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Party Time?

posted by Christie Kelley

So, my release, Every Night I'm Yours, hits the bookstores this month. I was told by a certain pushy author (whose initials are AC and I don't mean Aunty Cindy) that I must have a release party here.

Okay, but what if I'm not in the partying kind of mood? That's not to say I'm not completely ecstatic that ENIY is out, it's just been an absolutely crazy month. To give you an example, I started writing this blog almost an hour and a half ago (6:00pm est yesterday). I'm only on my second paragraph.


Let's see, first there was the call from a client that used up a good 25 minutes, plus two emails from other clients, two emails back to them and
one to a different client. Then there was the wash. Did it have to be done at 7pm? Yes, if my son doesn't want to sleep in sheets that are damp from a little problem last night. (I've been gone all day and the workers were here) Now add in the time it took to get the washer and dryer back into place (see above about the workers being here today), then as the washer switches to the drain/spin, water rushes out all over the floor. We now have a backed up washer drain from the previously discussed workers being here.

Now you have a feel for
my entire month. It's been like this all month. So when people ask me if I'm excited about Every Night being out, I have no idea how to respond. I still haven't had a book signing yet. There was one scheduled for yesterday but it was postponed until March.

Today, eleven days after my book was "officially" released, I finally walked into a bookstore and saw it. Okay, that was really cool. I turned the two copies outward so people would see it and placed "local author" stickers on them.

I've decided I need to get out of this funk. I'm looking for you all to help me. I would love to answer questions anyone might have about the book. Or if you have a question for Avis or Banning, ask away. I might be able to convince them to stop by. They are a little slow with this whole internet thing. They really prefer paper and quill.

Give me a good question and you will either get a signed copy of Every Night I'm Yours or if you already have it, a $10 Amazon gift certificate.