Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Little Something for the Weekend - Passing Through Paris

The Pink Heart Society is delighted to welcome Jessica Gilmore, as she talks about the research she undertook that allowed her to virtually pass through Paris...

When Jo March or Anne Shirley sat down to pen their books all they needed was a shawl to fling over their flannel nightgowns, a sheaf of paper, a filled inkpot, a good nib and a candle. 

My small desk, on the other hand, is crammed. My laptop and laptop stand, a fancy ergonomic keyboard and a handshake mouse. I sit on an office chair that is supposed to support my back and wonder everyday about replacing it for something a little sturdier. I wrap a support around my elbow, another around my wrist and in winter there’s usually a hot water bottle on my knees.

Three cups of tea later and my computer is fired up. I select a program; Word for a first draft or first edits, Scrivener for revisions, and if the wrist doesn’t improve then I’m considering throwing Dragon into the mix. It’s a lot of kit – and yet when I’m out and about I manage perfectly well with a notebook and a pen. Back to basics.
But although Anne and Jo may have had a simpler (and colder) writing life they missed out on some great tools. In my latest release, The Heiress’s Secret Baby, my hero, aka Hot Younger French Guy, Gabe and heroine, Polly Rafferty, travel to Provence and Paris. Lovely – except I’d never been to either! Oh, I had passed through Paris, glimpsed the Eiffel Tower from the back of a coach on a school trip. Stood outside Charles De Gaulle airport while waiting for the bus to Disneyland. But I’d never actually walked down the Champs Elysee, seen Notre Dame, climbed the hill to Montmartre. 

So how can a writer make a place come alive when she’s never set foot there?

Imagination - and research! My go to website is Pinterest. I love it for mood boards, to visualise my hero and heroine, their clothes, their house – even Polly’s beloved ginger cat, Mr Simpkins, has a pin. But it really comes into its own when you want to get into the heart of a place, put together the landscape you’re trying to capture. Google streetview is equally brilliant. 

Want to make sure your heroine can actually have the view you’re claiming? Is the street cobbled or paved? How would they walk from X to Y? What kind of stone are the houses built of? These are the details the guidebooks can’t help always you with.
My other favourite resource is travel blogs and lifestyle blogs, the tips from people who live in or have visited the places I write about. To conjure up a place I need more than a few photos; I need the sounds, the smells, the atmosphere. To know where the locals go, what they eat, how they travel, what they wear…

In October last year, once The Heiress’s Secret Baby had been signed off I finally got the chance to go to Paris. I have to admit I was pretty nervous – what if I had got it wrong? What if my research had led me astray? Luckily it was everything I had hoped it would be and I’ll definitely set another book there and include all the places I didn’t get a chance to use last time round! 

Where are your favourite novels set?  What do you think is vital in order for an author to capture the heart of a place?

Jess's Paris-set novel, The Heiress’s Secret Baby, is available now:

The secret is out...

Polly Rafferty, heiress and CEO of glamorous Rafferty's Stores is back! And this time, she's prepared for anything—well, except for the half-naked (and utterly gorgeous) Frenchman Gabe Beaufils lying in her office. And, after sharing an unexpectedly earth-shattering kiss, discovering that he is her new vice-CEO… 

When Polly learns that a no-strings summer fling had very unexpected consequences, Gabe is the one person she can trust with her baby secret…but with a man so full of surprises, she has no idea what his reaction will be!

To find out more about Jessica Gilmore's writing, check out her website and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Fun--Are You a Fun Quiz Lover?

Welcome to Friday Fun! Today Pink Heart editor Jeannie Watt invites you to steal a few minutes out of your day and take a fun quiz. (Or two.)

I'm totally a fun quiz lover. Talk about a great way to procrastinate spend time while waiting for inspiration to strike. What follows are links to a few quizzes that I've recently taken (links are in red):

First up-- What would you be in a fantasy world? Despite insisting that I wanted to keep my current body, I'm a Golden Dragon--a protector. I can see it. Just mess with someone I love and see what happens.

After that, I decided to discover my Super Power. I assumed being a dragon that it might involved fire or flight, but no. Enhanced Intelligence. I'm cool with that.

Since I was into the fantasy, super power realm, I decided to find out what super villain I should hook up with.  Loki  I'm Scandinavian. It seems fitting to hook up with Loki if one really must hook up with a super villain.

Where I started to have trouble was when I took a quiz to discover what kind of beer I was.  I took the quiz twice and both times I was pegged as a saison. Really? Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm an ale, sweet and full bodied, or perhaps a stout, strong and not quick to spoil. Saison? I don't think so.

Then I moved on to What's Your 80s Hair Style. Big hair (surprise, surprise, being the 80s) with bangs. I'm sure they meant those bangs that were all spiked up and could bring in radio signals. I was so relieved not to have been pegged as a mullet sporter, that I took my big hair and continued on to the next quiz.

How could I resist discovering What Kind of American Man are You Attracted to? I couldn't. Come to find out, I like Sophisticated City Men. Must be because I think cool glasses are the optimal male fashion accessory. 

And lastly, I took a quiz to discover What Romantic Comedy Defines Your Life?  I was a little disappointed to end up with You've Got Mail...until I recalled that it is a remake of one my all time favorite (and little known) romantic comedies Little Shop Around the Corner, with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. I adore that movie and even reviewed it here at the Pink Heart Society

If you have a few minutes, take one or more of these quizzes. Feel free to post your results in the comments. 

Perhaps  you'll find that you're like me--A golden dragon with enhanced intelligence and big 80s hair who's attracted to sophisticated city men, but somehow hooked up with Loki, is pegged as a Saison, but knows deep inside that she's an ale, who's life is defined by The Shop Around the Corner.

Jeannie Watt writes fast paced, character driven stories set in the American West. To find out more about Jeannie and her books, please visit her website or her Facebook page. Her next book, To Tempt a Cowgirl, will be released in July 2015.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Time Out Thursday - Romantic Couples from the Past

Desere Steenberg is telling the Pink Heart Society about her favourite romantic couples from the past...

I have always found that couples from the past and their remarkable journeys are often the most romantic. 

Let's take Cleopatra and Mark Anthony as an example (not least ebcause they're my favourite couple ever!!).  Their remarkable love story, the confrontation with the enemy (to some extent) and wanting to build a life together...before tragedy strikes.

It's a story that tears my heart to shreds each time I read or hear about it, yet I always wish I could find out more. What was it like for them to be in love in the century of countries literally tearing each other apart? Would their love have been strong enough to defeat captivity if Alexander the Great had manged to capture both? Or would they have taken the Romeo and Juliet way out?

Speaking of which, Romeo and Juliet, is one of those love stories that has lasted through the ages.  Unlike in Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare tells us everything: from how they met, to how they fell in love and to how they ultimately gave it all up in the name of love. 
Regardless of whether the couple in question were once living or invented only in the minds of readers and writer, it does not matter, not to me anyway. 

The past was fun, crazy, wild and sexy.

I'm not saying that modern times aren't exciting, but there's something a heck of a lot sexier about a Roman warrior slaying the enemies on the battlefield in honour of his beloved, than a guy just showing up with flowers or some fuzzy sentiment.

Yes, I realize that in the right setting, the right place at the right time does make it special and there is that magical feeling happening,  but to me it really is all about the perfect time and place...

I have tried to place myself in the shoes of two different scenarios: the modern woman meeting some hot guy and the lady from the past.  From meeting and falling in love, to him arriving to take her out for dinner and dancing. Then, at the right time, saying I love you... Lights or candles, it's suits, ties and fancy evening dresses or those amazing dresses where the woman actually seem to be literally wrapped in silk.

So naturally, when I sit down with a book, it's always more the older loves from the past then the newer reads that sweep my imagination off its feet...  Don't get me wrong, with the stunning array of authors out there today, there is a plenty of sexy off the charts hot heroes that are perfect and I definitely want to drool over all day long (I'm thinking here about a recent hero from a Jennifer Hayward book who I'd happily wander off with...) 

But as for those utterly delicious bad boys from the past...can someone just say "Fetch him and tie him to the throne please"?!

You are most likely wondering what exactly the point is that I am trying to get at.  The point is this, when you sit down to read a romance novel or watch that perfect romantic chick flick, do you ever imagine what it must be like to be the heroine? Do the heroes from the past get you more excited or are you more enamoured of the young, dashing businessman of today?  

To live in the past or not - or to romanticize the past or not - that is the question!

Tell us in the comments which your preference is: the past or the present?  Do romantic couples from the past make your heart that little bit faster?

To find out more about Desere, you can read her romance reviews on Romance Book Haven, and follow her on Twitter or Facebook

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Writer's Wednesday: Slowing Down The Runaway Train

It's Writer's Wednesday time again and Donna Alward is here at the Pink Heart Society, talking about falling in love with writing again...

I had two years of back to back, sometimes on top of each other deadlines. On one hand it was great: it meant I had contracts and steady work, and because I was writing a lot of series, it also meant that I knew WHAT I was going to write. It also meant fairly steady income, and I can't deny that was really, really nice. But it did come at a cost.

Here's the thing. I can actually write pretty fast. And I like writing fast because I get in "the zone". I think when I slow down too much, I don't get as immersed in the story as I should. When I am writing fast, I'm actually so deep into it that I think my writing is often better - at least on an emotional level. I go deeper with the characters because I'm living and breathing with them.

Know what I missed though? THE FUN STUFF.

I used to cast every single one of my books. I'd take a whole day and just look for the right picture for my hero and heroine. Perhaps of their house or the town where they live. Special name it. For Pete's sake, Pinterest has made visual inspiration boards a cinch, and I haven't done much there (though I did pin a bunch of stuff for Jewell Cove) because taking a day to do that was a luxury I didn't have.

I used to have a theme song for every book too. There'd be a song I'd hear on the radio and it would make me think of my protagonists and be really inspiring. I'd have a SOUNDTRACK. But I didn't have time to put those together either. I was too busy getting down to business.

I even kind of missed doing character sheets for my characters. Not that they're necessary, but sometimes when you start playing around with those things little flashes of insight into motivation happen.

You know where I'm going with this, right?

One of the things I've done for this year is slow my writing schedule down to what I like to consider a "normal" pace and not "Superwoman" pace. And because I've done that, I'm going to slow down, fall in love with writing again, fall in love with my STORIES again by juicing up my inspiration methods. After all, I started this gig because I love it, and shouldn't I take the time to enjoy the parts of it I especially love?

If I want you to fall in love with my characters, shouldn't I fall in love with them first?

OF COURSE I SHOULD! So hopefully this post finds my Pinterest boards a little more busy, my music turned up a bit, and me tapping away on the keys because I'm so stoked to be writing this particular story. Which, as it happens, is the last Jewell Cove book with a super hot cop and some holiday spirit.

What part of reading or writing romances do you love best?

Right now, though, I have my latest still available from Harlequin American - The Cowboy's Valentine - is the second in my Crooked Valley Ranch trilogy, with the third coming in May:

Coming home is hard enough without ranch manager Quinn Solomon making Lacey Duggan feel like an unwanted guest. She’s only here until she figures out what to do with her one-third ownership of Crooked Valley. But Quinn’s irresistible daughter is giving Lacey ideas about being part of a family. And though they don’t even like each other, Lacey’s having crazier notions about the widowed single dad.

Does Lacey think she can waltz in and turn Quinn’s life upside down…only to leave again? The pretty accountant knows nothing about running a ranch, yet she’s making the Montana homestead feel like a home. Quinn isn’t looking for love again. Until a woman who’s all heart and a determined little girl help one lovestruck cowboy see the light.

Find out more about Donna Alward on her website, as well as following her on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday Talk Time -- The State of the Heart

For the Pink Heart Society's Tuesday's Talk-Time, Anne McAllister talks about the state of the heart vs. the state of the art.

According to the Mills & Boon blog, Tuesday Talk-Time is when we at the Pink Heart Society talk about "the state of the industry and how it effects readers, the relevance of romance to modern day women, diversity in category romance-this will be the day for exercising the little grey cells."

My immediate reaction to that was, "Oh, dear."

It's not that I don't care about the relevance of romance to modern day women or about diversity in category romance. It's not that I think the state of the industry and how it affects (which is the word I think they meant to use) readers is irrelevant, it's that I don't write romance novels for any of those reasons. Not really.

So, if you want to talk about any of those things, feel free. It's Tuesday (or it will be eventually). But you will have to talk among yourselves because, honestly, I can't. Not with any authority, anyway.

If you want statistics about how many books that are selling are marketed as romance, no doubt you can find that online. You can also track how epublishing has changed the market, and how characters from various cultures and backgrounds are finding their way into romance novels (and thank God for that, I say).

I have no doubt that there is a lot that can be said about the role the author might taken in marketing her (or his or their) books using blogs and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other means that actually make my little grey cells hurt just to think about them. I am going to have to find a very understanding mentor when I tackle them seriously. In the meantime I will leave it to our resident experts -- I am sure we have them -- to discuss those things on other Tuesdays.

Because for me none of those things is what got me to write in the first place when I was ten years old. And none of them was what made me put my fingers on the keyboard thirty-four years ago when I began my first romance novel. And none of them kept me writing when I hit brick walls or uncooperative characters or shallow motivations or plot mazes that I couldn't seem to find my way out of many times since.

What kept me writing was Story.

I always wanted to know what happened in the story. I wanted to know the people better. I cared about them -- about their lives, their families, the decisions they made. I so badly wanted them to make the right ones, the ones that would bring them happiness, bring them together at last with a person to share their life with, who would bring out the best in them, support them in trials and heart ache, and celebrate with them in joy.

That's what has kept me writing. That's what makes me turn up at the computer day after day. Not the industry, not the diversity, not social media or abstract or even concrete business considerations.

I believe that is what readers keep coming back for, too. The state of the industry doesn't matter to them. Story matters to them. Characters matter.

The Pink Heart Society's own reader columnist, Desere Steenberg, said it best when she wrote, "Many say romance books aren't like real life, but to me they truly do feel real. When I'm reading I climb inside the book and live every single emotion of each character."

While some (and I include myself) are heartened to see a greater variety of cultures and backgrounds among our heroes and heroines, what ultimately matters to all of us who come back to romance fiction book after book, I suspect, is something very basic. It is the experience of living that story, feeling those emotions -- which are universal underneath all colors, creeds and cultural trappings -- and of finding a soul mate and falling in love again. And again.

It's the heart of the book that draws me every time.

What keeps you reading? I'd love to hear about your first encounter with a romance novel -- and what brings you back again.
Two-time RITA winner (and eleven-time finalist) Anne McAllister finds relationships endlessly fascinating. She finds contracts and spreadsheets less so (though she does recognize a need for them). She just finished her last Savas-Antonides book, Lukas's story. The Return of Antonides, will be out in Harlequin Presents in October, 2015.

Her most recent book was Last Year's Bride, part of the Great Wedding Giveaway mini-series, which is also out now in trade paperback with the wonderful, witty, clever Sarah Mayberry's Make-Believe Wedding in a collection called Love Me Always.

1. Statistics photo credit: spierzchala / Foter / CC BY

2. Girl Writing photo credit: pedrosimoes7 / Foter / CC BY

3. Sunset photo credit: mrhayata / Foter / CC BY-SA

Monday, February 23, 2015

Male on Monday - Danny Dyer

Pink Heart Society editor Ali Williams is swooning over actor Danny Dyer for today's Male on Monday column... 

Over the last week, the UK has been buzzing about the 30th anniversary of EastEnders, the long-running BBC soap.

The week's seen episodes being filmed and sent out live, in which we've seen: people taken away in police cars; a baby born on the floor of the Queen Vic's toilets; a death in the Queen Vic's cellar (yeah, as pubs go, the Queen Vic definitely has its ups and downs); and a number of small, but entertaining slip-ups.

Plus, there's been the unveiling of Lucy Beale's killer after nearly nine months of waiting...

So this week, I'm talking about the man who plays Mick Carter, the landlord of Queen Vic:  Danny Dyer.

As Mick Carter in EastEnders, he's shown diversity and skill - inverting the architypical east end "hardman" into someone quite different.

His character is fiercely loyal, unafraid to walk around in his wife's pink dressing gown on occasion, and Dyer's performance made critics sit up when his character's son came out to him as gay.

As a character, Mick Carter embodies many traits of a romance hero.  He absolutely worships his wife, his life falling apart recently, when he discovered that she's been hurt by a member of their own family, and he's a family man through and through.  

And even though he had a traumatic childhood, he works to overcome it with Linda's help, and the help of his family.

Dyer's role on EastEnders inverts some of the roles that he's played over the years, including in The Football Factory and The Business; in those films, characterised by violence and danger, the "hardman" has less to redeem him, even if Dyer's acting means that we find ourselves aligning ourselves with them. 

His latest film role (a very funny cameo in The Hooligan Factory aside) is in Vendetta as special ops interrogation officer Jimmy Vickers, who's seeking brutal vengeance for the death of his parents.

Commercially successful, Rob James argues that it can be seen "as a Brit answer to '70s and '80s exploitation flicks, endless Seagal movies and First Blood."

But despite most of his filmic roles, Danny Dyer's acting ability isn't limited to shooting guns and running pubs.  

He's got plenty of experience on the stage, acting in three plays by Harold Pinter, two of which were directed by the Nobel Laureate himself, as well as taking on the role of Sid Vicious in Roy Smiles' Kurt & Sid.

Do you have a favourite soap star who you think would make a good romantic hero?  Do you think that "hardmen" with a heart make for a perfect romantic hero?  Join the discussion in the comments!

Ali Williams grew up in Croydon and spent her teenage years in a convent girls' school. She then fled to university where she discovered champagne cocktails, a capella singing and erotica.

These days she blogs about perceptions of romance, chick lit and women in society and spends an extraordinary amount of time coercing male friends to pose with her favourite Mills & Boon books to the bemusement of the Twittersphere.

Genre reporter for chick lit and erotica at For Books' Sake and guest blogger for Mills & Boon, she defies you to slam romance novels within her hearing!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Weekend Wildcard - Retro Makeovers

We're delighted to have Amy Andrews back at the Pink Heart Society, talking about retro makeovers, the ultimate way to dwindle away some hours...

I have the coolest way to lose a few hours for you today. Thanks to my author friend Ainslie Paton (you should really check her out – ahhmazing books!) I was put onto this site called Thrilling Tales that has a Pulp-O-Mizer!

What the hell is a Pulp-O-Mizer I hear you ask? A customisable Pulp Magazine cover generator.

Clear as mud, right? But oh soooooo cool!

And you don’t have to be an author or have a book to use it. You can use a favourite saying or quote or anything really and at the end it creates an image that you could put on posters or mugs or t-shirts or whatever! It took a little tinkering to figure out how to use it but trust me, if a techno-dunce like me can figure it out, anyone can!

I’ll show you what I mean.

This is No More Mr Nice Guy:

This is it after I Pulp-O-Mized it:

This is Ask Me Nicely (yes, for those of you who’ve been asking for Sal’s story it’s out March 3!!!):

And after I Pulp-O-Mized it:

And my urban-family noir (don’t ask..) May release Limbo. This is it before:

This is it after:

How cool is that? And so much fun!

Apart from the wonderfully kitsch appeal of this I think I’m particularly drawn to pulp fiction covers as I’ve just written my first P.I. in Limbo and also Samantha, the heroine in Risky Business, decides to expand into the second hand pulp fiction market. I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something!

I highly recommend it. And that’s totally where I’ll be hanging out today! 

What are your thoughts on retro and noir-esque book covers?  How do you prefer to spend a lazy, procrasti-worthy afternoon?

Amy's latest novel - No More Mr Nice Guy - is out now, and climbing up the bestseller charts:

He's done playing the nice guy...

Newly single school counselor Josie Butler just made herself a Sexy To-Do list. To her mortification, her best friend's gorgeous older brother Mack finds it…and laughs. But when Josie goes looking for some sexy fun, Mack's nice guy side turns all hot bad-assery, and suddenly she's pinned against an alley wall. Hottest. Sex. Ever.  

Veterinarian Mack Kennedy can't believe Josie wants to ditch her sweet, girl-next-door lifestyle. Even worse, that she'd consider doing it with anyone but him. When she leaves for London they'll go back to being 'just friends' but until then, he'll show her just how bad nice guys can be.

And it's the perfect plan, as long as no one finds out... and no one falls in love.

For more information about Amy Andrews and her writing exploits, check out her website, subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on Facebook and Twitter