Saturday, February 20, 2010
When we read historical novels involving smugglers we think of dashing, heroic free-traders bringing ashore kegs of brandy and thwarting the dastardly Revenue Men. While this is a lovely image, and probably true in some cases, there was a much more sinister side to the trade as I discovered when I was researching for my latest novel, Wayward Captain, Wicked Wife.
There was a roaring trade in something intriguingly called “smouch” in the 1780’s. I first came across the term in the Bath Chronicle, a single item for 9th May 1782. It reads:-
"smouch" manufacture in Westbury - Excise officers seized 793 lbs at mill, house & bakehouse occupd by Daniel Tanner (giving him £50/week). (Smouch consisted of bran mixed with animal dung & dyed). Penalty £5 per lb…..
During the late eighteenth century the British government pushed up the tax on tea so much that it was too expensive for most people, so the trade in smuggled tea from the Continent exploded and of course there were unscrupulous gangs who exploited this by making “English tea” or “smouch”. This was a combination of ingredients such as ash and blackthorn leaves mixed with sheep’s dung and “chamber lye” (the contents of the chamber pot!) and even green vitriol (Ferrous sulphate).
Apparently when this was baked and ground up it resembled the black Bohea tea that was so fashionable. I can’t think that it tasted anything like tea, though!
Wicked Captain, Wayward Wife was a joy to write, so I hope you like it, too!
Wicked Captain, Wayward Wife is published in the UK February 2010 (hardback) and April 2010 (Paperback)
Friday, February 19, 2010
Modern Heat author Heidi Rice cozies up with a roster of star names and finds eye candy for every taste as she gets all touchy-feely with the box-office smash released globally last Friday. Just in time for, surprise, surprise, Valentine's Day.
All right, already, I know it's not V-Day anymore and some of you are probably sick to death of hearing about it. But as this star-studded romance-arama was released globally last Friday, there's still time to catch it in cinemas, wherever you happen to be, so I couldn't resist slipping it in to my Must-Watch Friday slot, just in case you missed it and are still in need of some good luvin'.
Now, I'm not going to go into the plot too much, because then we'd be here all day and most of the night too. But just as a little tastette...
First there's cute LA florist Ashton Kutcher who proposes to girlfriend Jessica Alba on V-Day morning. Then there's Ashton’s best friend schoolteacher Jennifer Garner who’s having a love affair with heart surgeon (geddit?) Patrick Dempsey (aka McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy). And then there's Jenn’s ten-year-old pupil who has a crush on her. And the love-sick little boy’s fiesty granny Shirley Maclaine and granddad Hector Elizondo. And Jamie Foxx the cynical sports reporter and his savvy boss Kathy Bates. And Ashton’s business partner George Lopez who gets in a fender-bender with American football star Eric Dane (aka McSteamy from Grey’s Anatomy, are you keeping up here?). And temp Anne Hathaway who’s falling for mailroom boy Topher Grace. And her new boss, sassy agent Queen Latifah. And soldier Julia Roberts who’s on a 14-hour flight back to LA sitting next to nice, businessman Bradley Cooper (for more Bradley, keep an eye on the Male on Monday slot)… And so it goes on…. Exhausting or what?
And it's all very touchy-feely, all very romantic and all very cutely interconnected. And not remotely deep or meaningful or even all that believable. But then it’s not meant to be. If Valentine’s Day has a point, it’s that it’s unashamedly non-deep and non-meaningful entertainment. This is popcorn escapism folks with a glossy layer of LA glamour, a director credit from rom-com maestro Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, anyone?) and a scattershot approach to star casting that ensures that pretty much everyone’s idea of eye candy will be catered for.
Valentine’s Day is a movie that does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a Hollywood Hallmark card come to life. Actually it’s about 20 Hollywood Hallmark cards come to life. It’s sweet, uncomplicated, funny, studded with stars and, unlike Love Actually, only very occasionally cringe-worthy (sorry, but has anyone ever met a ten-year-old boy who wanted to spend all his pocket money on flowers for his teacher?) plus there’s Shirley Maclaine in red satin and Eric ‘McSteamy’ Dane in faded denim showing off a very nice set of bronzed pecs.
In other words, it's the perfect chick-flick. So actually it's great news that Valentine's Day has been and gone, because now you don't have to strongarm your other half into going to see it with you and watch their eyes roll back in their heads, you can enjoy it on a girls' night out instead - with some mates that might actually appreciate it (and Eric Dane's pecs).
And as for the British wag who dubbed it ‘Love Actually without the irony’ - all I can say is, where the heck was the irony in Love Actually? Because let’s not forget, this was the movie that had Hugh Grant's Prime Minister falling in love with a cockney tea girl!
Personally, I thought Valentine's Day was better than Love Actually, but maybe that's just me!
Warm and fuzzy rating: A very respectable 8 out of 10!
Heidi's latest Harlequin Presents Public Affair, Secretly Expecting - featuring bad boy Irish movie star Mac Brody, London shopgirl Juno Delamare and some very hot LA nights - hits the shelves in the US in March just in time for Oscar season. While her next Modern Heat novel Unfinished Business with the Duke will be out in the UK at the end of May.
Talk to her on her blog or through her website. She loves to hear from readers - and other hopeless romantics.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
It's Thursday, which means another round of 'what are you reading?' here at the Pink Heart Society...but we can't tell you. It's very hush-hush...but for PHS editor Jenna Bayley-Burke, it's fabulous!!
Every year around this time, romance authors get very secretive about what they're reading. We can't tell you, we can't tell anyone. Well...I'll probably tell you if you buy me a drink, but I'm that kind of chick.
Most members of Romance Writers of America's Published Author Network (PAN) sign up to help choose the best romance books of the year for RWA's RITA Awards. This is our Oscars. Peer recognition for the most amazing stories told in a particular year. Just like Oscar, RITA is a golden statuette that you never know quite what to do with, but you never forget that you earned one.
The RITA Awards are named for Rita Clay Estrada, the first RWA president. There are 12 categories - from historical to young adult. Approximately 1,200 books are entered, and fewer than 100 are deemed finalists. From that, 12 books are chosen and presented at the RWA conference each year.
OK, so that's the history. What's happening right now is authors are reading and judging the RITA books they were assigned. In the eHarlequin reading challenge you might see these listed as RITA read 1, or something. We find new favorite authors this way, and we start to root for the stories we want to win.
I get quite a thrill when a story I loved makes to to the finals. Did you read last year's RITA finalist for best first book and Contemporary series Suspense The Secret Soldier by Jennifer Morey? It was fabulous! It didn't win in either category...but maybe it should have... You get invested in having a story you voted for win, even if you haven't read all the others in the category.
In 2008 I was torn...Sleeping Partner by Kelly Hunter was up against Mile High Club by Heidi Rice -- both Modern Heat. And then, to make things harder on me, The Tycoon's Princess Bride by Natasha Oakley (one of the Pink Heart Society founders) was in the same category! I might have been upset that none of my friends got the nod, except Snowbound by Janice Kay Johnson won that year and Janice Kay is something of a living legend in my mind. She's a wonderful writer and an even nicer person, so I couldn't be too put off. It really couldn't have gone to a better person!
This year, I'll be rooting for a certain debut author to feel the heat of a RITA nomination. Maybe a film lover will get her chance at taking home romance writing's version of Oscar. We're sworn to secrecy about what we're reading and how much we love it, but I will tell you I had a great grouping of books! Not a dud in the bunch. All I can say, is that I hope the best book wins!
Jenna's latest release is Compromising Positions -- available with chocolate, Kama Sutra yoga, a decade old crush and a steady addiction to sugar. To find out what Jenna is up to ...check out her website & blog.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been an agent, and what led you to Spencerhill Associates?
First let me say thank you so much for having me! It’s great to be blogging for the Pink Hearts—I represent a number of very talented category authors and it’s great to have the opportunity to meet more.
I joined Spencerhill in the summer of 2006 and have been acquiring for about 3 ½ years at this point selling over 100 books; my clients range from unpublished writers eager to break out, to New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling authors. Before I came to Spencerhill I was looking for a big change in my career path; I was gravitating towards writing actually. I never expected to become an agent… but one thing led to another and I met Spencerhill’s President Karen Solem, fantastic agent and my mentor! It seemed that the fates had aligned. I often say that when I started agenting, I finally felt at home--- all of my skills and education had once felt at odds with each other now merged perfectly— I feel lucky to have found a perfect fit and I like to think this has a positive effect on my clients.
I am still looking for new clients, published and unpublished and in all genres of women’s fiction. I also rep category and YA but no children’s. Check out our website at www.spencerhillassociates.com for more up to date info on submissions.
Lots of reasons-- Agents can provide a great deal more to authors than contract negotiation at this stage—although there still are key components of a category contract that can be negotiated!! I focus on career planning and career building which are two important aspects of maximizing your category career. This is especially important for those category writers who dream of writing single title, it’s helpful to have an agent who has experience building authors with this goal in mind. Also, helping an author navigate through the publishing business while enhancing their creativity and productivity is a part of my job that I love, and I think any author writing at any stage can benefit from this guidance.
I see myself as a business partner, guide and coach for my authors; sometimes I am even a mid-wife! Selling an author’s book is incredibly exhilarating and very important obviously, but helping an author to grow in her writing and her career and especially her readership is about having a long term perspective, not just a short term ‘sell the book’ view. Balancing the expectations of clients and that of the publisher is a big part of this job that can create a lot of stress on the author, and I actually enjoy helping the author in achieving an optimal work/life balance with the goal of building a sustaining career.
What are the top three things you looks for in an author? Is it any different for a category/series Romance author?
Talent, Professionalism, Moxie (drive, motivation, a little somethin’ special…)
A sense of humor is always appreciated in this line of business too!
Do you specialize in certain types of category? If so, why?
No, I don’t, but looking at my client list, I tend to gravitate towards the PRESENTS and DESIRE lines at Harlequin. I guess those Alpha Males strike a chord
What do you look for in a submission?
I look for talent, professionalism and moxie… that sounds familiar… I like when author’s really nail the line they are targeting…if they are targeting Desire their query has the tone fitting for a Desire. I like to know about the author, the history of this work *has someone asked to see it? The length etc. Show me what you got! Make me email you asap to read more!—please go to our website to see our guidelines www.spencerhillassocaites.com if you want to submit to me.
What makes you stop reading a manuscript?
Unpolished work, typos, bad grammar. If the writing isn’t strong, I don’t represent the genre you have submitted, etc. Rejections are a huge part of publishing so please remember: I am not rejecting YOU I am rejecting your WORK, don’t take it personally.
What makes you contract a manuscript?
If I feel something tingle in my spine, or deep in my gut… I know there is something special in the writer’s work. It’s a visceral thing for me. I also will feel confident that the book has commercial potential and that one of the editors I know will want to read a book just like this and then propose to it!
Do you suggest any books on writing or classes? If so, which ones?
Not really. I think it’s important to do your own research and discover what speaks to you and your process when choosing a workshop or book.
Which houses are actively acquiring and what do you hear is in demand? (e.g. Susie so and so from Whoosiewhatsit asks if I have any flapper YA every time we talk) Are those trends the same in category as they are in single title?
Every publishing house is looking for a fantastic story that melts hearts, heals wounds, cracks funny bones, requires boxes of Kleenex, makes you start a book club, etc. so trends shmends. Writing purely for a trend is a sure fire way of coming up with a clunker. Write what makes you feel passionate and your work will make an impact on that agent or editor of your dreams. Having said that, being aware of what is working in the marketplace is just good business and will help to make the book of your heart even more desirable to agents and editors, and eventually the reading public. A perfect book to me is one hits the right spots in me and in the market.
Should aspiring authors submit at more than one line, or target one specific line? (e.g. Presents, Desire & Blaze or just focus on Intrigue)
It’s best to target one line first. Eharlequin.ca has a great site for writers looking for guidelines for submissions. Each line has different requirements, so make sure you target the right one for the tone of your work. Don’t carpet bomb Harlequin with your MS! Editors like to think you know where your work fits before you send it.
What sort of stories do you wish you saw more of?
As I said above, I am looking for really deeply emotional women’s fiction right now with a commercial feel.
What is the best part of your job?
Besides selling the first book of a debut author? Being a part of the creative process of my clients is an honor and inspires me every day. AND for this bookworm you can’t beat reading for a living!
Check out Jennifer and Spencerhill Associates at their website: www.spencerhillassociates.com. Thanks for visiting with us today Jennifer!
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Anne McAllister is feeling landlocked and looking at horizons. She is also contemplating a couple of empty weeks in Europe this summer. How to fill the time?
Tuesday! And two of my favorite topics combined into one here on the Pink Heart -- temptation and travel. Ah, yes!
When I was a kid one of the best Christmas presents I ever got came from my grandparents. I think I must have hinted strongly because I can't imagine them thinking of this on their own, but what they gave me was a four volume set of books called The Encyclopedia of World Travel.
Talk about temptation . . .
I spent hours -- no, I spent days, weeks, probably months -- with my nose in those books.
I needed them because in those days during the school year my horizons stopped as far west as you could see from the Manhattan Beach pier in the Pacific ocean to as far east as you could see from the Pacific Coast Highway. Not far, in other words.
In the summer I got to Colorado or Montana or, once when I was almost too young to remember, Oklahoma.
The rest of the world was a large exotic mysterious enticing place.
And thanks to my grandparents, those books brought it all to my fingertips.
In one volume I read about wineries in France, mermaids in Copenhagen, and ancient monuments in Greece. In another I read about giant red rocks in Australia, glaciers in New Zealand, palaces in India and spice trade in Indonesia. I read about Incan ruins and Aztec pyramids, Amazon jungles and Caribbean islands. I dreamed about African safaris and Egyptian mummies and drooled over names like Marrakesh and Madagascar.
I made list upon list of places that I wanted someday to go.
I'm still making them. And now that I've been quite a few places on that list, it doesn't get any shorter because I almost always want to go back to all the places I've been.
The world is less mysterious now, but no less enticing.
And I've been giving serious thought to the fact that I have two weeks this summer when I will be in England between two workshops. That puts me considerably closer to lots of interesting places than I am when I'm home.
So I'm asking you: where should I go next?
Here are the criteria: It should be some place that I can set a book. Getting a book out of a trip is a good way to pay attention -- and it makes the taxman happy. It should also be close enough to Britain (or in Britain) that I can take advantage of my geographic proximity to that side of the pond.
And it doesn't have to be glitzy or glamorous (despite the fact that I write for Presents). But it should make my pulse race and my heart beat faster and my fingers itch to get online and buy tickets or find accommodations.
So, what do you think?
I'm thinking about Greece.
I've written several books set in Greece. I've picked all my friends' brains about Greece. I've picked their parents' brains, their siblings' brains, their childrens' brains. They all think I should go to Greece and let them get on with their lives.
I could. But then sometimes I think about Istanbul. Michelle Styles is a serious advocate of my taking a jaunt to Istanbul. Great museums, she says. Great Turkish baths. Great ambience. It's been on my list for years.
Sometimes I think I should take a train from Vienna to Istanbul. I've taken the train to Budapest from Vienna. It was like traveling across Iowa. Or it would be if we had trains (well, we do have one, I think, but barely, so it doesn't count).
Anyway, what do you think about trains? I could see Bulgaria that way -- unless we went at night. Then I could travel through Bulgaria without seeing it. Is this a good thing? I think I'd like to see Bulgaria.
Then again, there's Copenhagen.
I've never been to northern Europe. And there's something about Copenhagen that tempts me. (Besides Mads Mikkelsen, Michelle!)
Finland tempts me, too, but I'm having a hard time thinking I'll get a book set there past editorial. They don't like cold. I know it's not cold there all year round, but it's a matter of perception.
What about Lappland? Anyone been there? One of my cousins did an mtDNA test so we could figure out more about a mysterious relative we descend from. It turns out she is likely of Saami ancestry. That's very deeeeeeep ancestry, but it has piqued my curiosity about Lappland and those Finns who came to New Sweden in the 17th century. Though I can't see editorial going for that, either.
Ah, well . . . there is the Basque country. Seriously tempting. And maybe making a day or two's walk along some of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.
There's the Cornish coastal path, too. Another serious temptation. And maybe I could get part of a book set there.
Orkney? Always a possibility. Pretty far off the beaten path.
But I spent a day in Millom once, and as far as 'off the beaten path' goes, Millom is pretty far. I didn't get a book out of it. I loved the visit, though.
What do you think?
Mid-July. About 12 days to explore, absorb, be tempted. Where would you go, if you were me?
Anne picked a Brazilian friend's brain for the part of her book One-Night Mistress...Convenient Wife that was set in Brazil. The Manhattan Beach parts she knows like the back of her hand.
If you want a chance to win a copy of it (and two other great books as well), visit her webpage and check out the 4th Annual Here Come the Grooms! contest she and Liz Fielding and Kate Walker are holding from Valentine's Day until March 1.
Monday, February 15, 2010
It is Monday which can mean only one thing... MALE ON MONDAY! And on the day after Valentine's Day, Brigid Coady is here to remind you of the joy that is Mark Harmon
Ahhh Mark Harmon... where do I begin? We could begin about when I first found him, it was years ago when he was on St Elsewhere and I was a young and impressionable girl.
There he was Dr Robert Caldwell, so handsome. How we swooned. Of course he also of course played the first major character in a US TV series to be diagnosed with HIV.
Then of course he turned up playing opposite Sean Connery in The Presidio. And then he was back playing a medical man as Dr Jack McNeil in Chicago Hope.
But his finest hour is of course, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs in NCIS
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Mark Harmon was born on 2 September 1951 in Burbank, California. He was an excellent College football player and graduated from UCLA with a BA in Communications cum laude. Whilst he tried to figure out what he wanted to do he fell into acting. Aren't we all glad he did?
And he has been married to Pam Dawber, she played Mindy in 'Mork and Mindy' since 1987 and they have two children.
But why do we like Mark Harmon so much? I think it has to do with his latest character the gruff alpha Leroy Jethro Gibbs. The former Marine sniper who leads an NCIS investigation team with an iron fist. But it is an iron fist over what is obviously a caring and compassionate man. The small tells when he deals with small children or Abby tells you everything. And he is flawed. But we love him anyway. If you haven't caught NCIS, you should. Some might prefer the younger members of the cast but my heart will always be Mark's, it will beat always for Gibbs.
Brigid's short story 'The Great Leap Forward' will be published in Even More Tonto Short Stories on 6th May 2010