Friday, April 18, 2014

MUST WATCH FRIDAY: 20 Feet From Stardom

Harlequin KISS/Modern Tempted author Heidi Rice gets behind a great little documentary with a big-hearted message.

A few weeks ago I was in Dublin for a night out with my best mate and we were trying to decide what film to go and see, when we noticed a little music documentary about background singers from the 60s-70s-80s-90s and noughties. We're both soul rebels at heart so the promise of some great voices was enough for us, what we didn't realise is that this is a movie about much, much more than just music.

It's about women with amazing voices but also amazing stories to tell. Stories of hard work, perseverence, constant disappointment, huge talent and cruel setbacks, but the determination to remain strong. It's a story about life really and all those little (and large) things it sticks in your way to stop you achieving your dreams, but most of all (and here's the big inspirational message) it's about how you can still make those dreams count... Even if you may never win the big prize, because sometimes the journey (and the enjoyment in the journey) is enough! Especially if you can sing like an angel.

There's sanguine and justifiably awed commentary from the likes of Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Stevie Wonder - all paying tribute to astonishing singers such as Darlene Love, Tata Vega, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill and Lisa Fischer. And about time too, because when you hear these women sing, you'll realise what a huge part they've played in making  these men look good on stage (and on their hit records). But ultimately the big draw of this movie is hearing the women themselves, and finding out how they've stayed true to the music even when what they do has been consistently undervalued - or deliberately erased.



Darlene Love's story is perhaps the most agonising and yet the most uplifting. The 'actual' voice behind the Crystals hit Christmas Baby Please Come Home, Love ended up cleaning houses to make ends meet... Until she heard the hit on the radio one afternoon while cleaning a woman's toilet and knew that she had to get back to what she loved. Now in her seventies, she's finally getting all the attention she deserves (and should have had long ago)... And then there's Merry Clayton and her awe-inspiring, send-shivers-down-your-spine singing on The Stones Gimme Shelter. Clayton's short-lived career as a solo singer faltered because... Why? Who knows? You'll be hard-pressed to figure it out when you hear her sing, and think of all those auto-tuned, talent-show micro-celebrities that rack up hit records these days thanks to some nifty packaging by the likes of Simon Cowell... Or Lisa Fischer who had her moment in the spotlight in the eighties, and somehow lost it, by not being tough enough or ambitious enough (or fast enough producing her second album) but can still blow an audience away and is happy in herself with what she has achieved... A lifelong career in a business that happily sucks people up and spits them out without pausing for breath.



Go see this movie, the music is awesome, but the stories are more so. It's an education, not just in life (and the music industry), but in holding on to your dreams.

Heidi is currently working on her 2nd Cosmo Red Hot Read. Her latest Harlequin KISS/Modern Tempted Beach Bar Baby is out now in the US & the UK. come have a natter on her blog, her website, FB or Twitter (@HeidiRomRice).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Harmony Evans: Spring Cleaning Writing Expectations



Is it spring in your part of the world? You're lucky! Here in Cleveland, we're still waiting, but ever-hopeful that the weather will turn into something that makes us smile, rather than cringe. In the meantime, I'm starting to get ready for brighter, sunnier and warmer days by giving my home some extra-special attention. I'm washing the baseboards (gasp!), scouring the floor on my hands and knees (ouch!) and actually replacing the filter in my window air conditioning units (finally!).

All this hard work is inspiring me to "spring clean" my expectations around my writing.

YES. I am still committed to writing every day and doing my very best.
YES. I am still committed to my writing career and continuing to move it forward.
YES. I am still committed to my readers and potential readers.

But here's what's changing....my expectations around the WHO, WHAT, WHY and WHEN of my writing journey.

WHO: I currently write for Harlequin and I love it, but I am also open to writing for other publishers, and even self-publishing some day. I know that there are many roads to publication, but I didn't really internalize this until recently. The sky is the limit for writers and authors today -- and the opportunities to reach readers are endless -- and that's a good thing! I've "spring cleaned" my tunnel vision and my goals are wider now.

WHAT: I currently write romance, but I'd love to write other genres too. I am just in awe of authors who can do this! I love reading articles about authors who have transitioned into other genres and who still write in their original genre. I've "spring cleaned" my expectation that I always have to write romance.

WHY: When I'm fighting to stay awake at night or I just don't think a scene is working, it's easy to start doubting myself. I've "spring cleaned" my expectation that my writing should always go smoothly, and now I try to consciously write to the joy...and not focus on anything else.

WHEN: I struggle with this one. When will I feel like I'm a success? When will this book ever be finished? Time is something that we never have enough of, and I'm working to "spring clean" my expectation that time is all I need to accomplish my writing goals. Time is important, but I also need strength and stamina and the ability to see past the deadline -- and finish my writing projects.

What about you? Does spring cleaning your home or apartment inspire you to change your thinking about your writing or other career? Comments welcome below!

Until next month -- stay blessed!
Harmony


Harmony Evans is an award-winning author for Harlequin Kimani Romance, the leading publisher of African-American romance. She received the 2013 Romance Slam Jam Emma Award for "Debut Author of the Year". In addition, she was a 2012 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Awards Double-Finalist ("First Series Romance" and "Kimani Romance").  

Her third novel, LOVING LANEY, will be released in June and is the third and final book in the "The Browards of Montana" series.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

RIDING THE EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER #4: WRITERS BLOCK

There you are, cruising along on your manuscript when suddenly, wham! You hit a wall. Or you’re finally going to start the new project you’ve been dreaming about for months only to find yourself stalled on page 2. You’ve got writer’s block.

Only you don’t.  Not really.  How do I know this?  Simple. 

Say we were in a workshop and I asked you to write a paragraph following up this sentence: “The princess looked to the door and gasped.” Chances are you would be able to write several paragraphs. You might even come up with an entire story idea based on what you wrote.

That’s because there’s no such thing as writer’s block.

There are, however, circumstances that can block your ability to work on a particular project.  In my experience, these circumstances fall into one of four categories:
  1. 1.      Story problems
  2. 2.      Physical issues
  3. 3.      Live Events
  4. 4.      Emotional and psychological hurdles.
Story problems.  These are the most obvious – and fortunately – the easiest types of blocks to fix.  Your story stalls because you took a wrong turn plot wise or your characters aren’t fleshed out as deeply as they should be.  These are the kinds of blocks that are solved by stepping back for an hour or two to look at the story from a different angle.  Most of the time we already intuitively know the answer out of block, and simply need a push to do so. 

Physical issues.  Take it from a chronic headache sufferer, if you feel lousy, your creativity will suffer.  If you didn’t get enough sleep, or if you have a nasty head cold, the words will seize up.

I’m going to take a moment to bring up another physical issue that often gets short shrift, and that’s PMS.  Do not underestimate the draining power of hormones!  I know for a fact there are days when I simply cannot focus to save my life.  I’m distracted, I’m moody and I have difficulty finishing sentences.  Interestingly, these days occur every 14 days in my cycle.  (Frequently they come with headaches or some other physical ailment as well.)  If you are a female writer, I strongly suggest you take a good look at your own monthly patterns to see if hormones are an issue for you as well.

Life events. We are not robots. Ailing parents, sick children, family crises – all of these happenings can zap our creativity.  Granted, like everyone else in the world dealing with problems, we often have to work regardless.  But there are times when life’s hassles become so overwhelming, we simply can’t write. 

Mental and Psychological issues.  Ahh, I saved the toughest issues for last. Writers are magnets for self-doubt and insecurity. A bad review or rejection can send us into an emotional tailspin.  Even good things like a RITA final or a request for a full manuscript can freeze the words in our head. I’ve become blocked after signing a new contract. 

Internal monsters are tenacious buggers.  They dig their claws into our brains and they don’t let go.  I wish I could tell you there’s a magic bullet to defeat these demons, but the truth is, there isn’t.  Self-doubt and insecurity never go away, no matter where we are in our career.  And in a way, we don’t want them to disappear completely.  After all, as nasty as our inner critics can be, they also drive you he can sound, they also drives us to create our best work.  It’s our inner critic that isn’t satisfied with “good enough”.  Without the inner critic, we’d never grow as a writers.  The best we can do therefore, is learn to quiet them for a short time  or learn to co-exist with them in order to get the work done.

So now that we know the causes of block, how do we beat it away so words reappear on the page?

First, we determine what is causing our block in the first place.  If it’s a physical issue or a life event overwhelming you, cut yourself some slack.  Like I said, writers aren’t word producing robots, no matter how much we’d like to be.  If you’re sick, take a sick day.  If you didn’t get enough sleep, take a nap.  If you’re drowning in stress, take a mental health day.  The solution is to give yourself the same advice you might give a non-writing friend in similar circumstances.  

If your block is a story problem, ask yourself how you might rewrite the scene differently.  Or if you are being stubborn.  Are you forcing the action on the page or are you letting your characters tell their story their way? 

Be careful of over-thinking, however!  Make sure you actually have a story problem and aren’t really battling a mental demon.  Remember the other month when I said you needed to understand your writing process?  This is where self-knowledge becomes invaluable.  I know that on page 90 of every manuscript, I will decide the story isn’t working.  Because I make that decision on page 90 of every book I’ve ever written, I ignore my impulse to chuck everything and start again.  Middle-book syndrome isn’t always caused by the book, if you get my drift.

If, after ruling out story, life and body problems, you are still blocked, then the problem lies inside your head.  Now there are a zillion tricks to get the words flowing short term.  For example:

  • Find a buddy and together, do timed writing springs where you are forced to produce something. 

  • Bribe yourself.  If you produce X number of words, you can watch Game of Thrones on DVR.
  • Post motivational signs.  I used to have one that read “You’re Only Writing a Draft” to remind myself the page doesn’t have to be perfect.  Right now, I have one that says "Keep Calm and Trust the Process" to remind myself of the page 90 freak out.
  • Give yourself a mental pep talk.  Argue with your demon.  Write a list of positives about your writing to deflect the inner critic.
  • Take a day off.  Granted, you don’t want to walk away too long because that can’t lead to inertia, but a day away to gain fresh perspective can help quell the demons.
  • Reduce your goals. Instead of demanding your muse produce 1000 words, tell her to produce 500. I know some people who do something called “100 words for 100 days.”  The idea is to take the pressure off your muse so she isn’t so stressed, thus eliminating the power your demon has over her.
  • Change media. Change location. Change your play list. Trick your demons by mixing up the brain signals.

In short, do whatever you need to do to put words on paper. Surviving the roller coaster means strapping yourself into that car no matter what.  In the end, by the way, you’ll find you feel better simply because you produced.  And happiness means you’ll be that much more confident about the writing the next day, and the day after that. Until the first draft is finished.

Do you have a tip for busting through your blocked periods?  Please share below.  The more tools we can share, the better!


Barb Wallace struggles with writer’s block of all sorts on a daily basis.  If not for word sprints and ledge buddies, she’d never have finished her last manuscript.  Her latest story, LOVE IN THE SHADOWS, is out this month from Entangled Indulgence. 

"A delicious hero and an emotional read," NY Times bestseller, Jennifer Probst.  For purchase information, visit Entangled Publishing. 

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Male on Monday: Sexy Celebrity Dads!

Kimani Romance author Pamela Yaye explains the thrill of the celebrity dad.




USHER                                    MARK WAHLBERG       MARIO LOPEZ      NICK LACHEY
Usher
Mark Walberg
Mario Lopez
Nick Lachey
        

I like dreamy eyes, juicy lips, and a washboard stomach as much
as the next girl, but to me there’s nothing sexier than a loving, sensitive
father. Every time I see a man dotting on his child I melt. Every. Single. Time.
Fathers often get a bad rap for not taking care of their children, but there
are tons of hot, sexy dads out there who step up to the plate every day. I see them
playing tag with their kids at the park, reading books to their daughters at the
public library, and cheering at little league soccer games. Men who love children  
make me swoon, and all of my girlfriends agree: Fathers are the hottest men on the
planet. (And, I think celebrity dads are especially hot!!!! Check out the pictures
throughout this post. I think you’ll agree.)

A few weeks ago, while shopping in the mall, a short, gregarious guy struck up a conversation
with me in the food court. I spoke to him for a few minutes, then found a quiet place to eat
my lunch. I spotted, “Mr. Gregarious” across the aisle, and did a double take. He was sitting
at a table, cradling a bright-eyed toddler in his arms. He was feeding her apple slices, and tenderly
stroking her curly hair. What a sight! I felt guilty staring at him, but I couldn’t help myself. He was
SO dreamy! And I wasn’t the only one making eyes at him. Other women were checking him out too,
and for good reason. A man who puts his child’s needs first is drop-dead gorgeous in my book, and
that will never, ever change.
David Beckham

Matthew McConaughey
Patrick Demsey

LL Cool J (Todd Smith)
                     
 DAVID BECKHAM MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY   PATRICK DEMPSEY            LL COOL J (TODD SMITH)

Pamela Yaye has a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education, and her love of African-American fiction inspired her



to pursue a career in writing romance. Her fourteenth Harlequin Kimani Romance novel, Designed by Desire, was released



in October 2013. When Pamela’s not writing about strong, feisty heroines and the alpha males who love them, this busy



wife, mother, and teacher is watching sports, experimenting in the kitchen, or planning her next family vacation. Pamela



lives in Alberta, Canada with her real-life hero, and adorable, but mischievous son and daughter. To learn more about,



Pamela, and her steamy romance novels visit: www.pamelayaye.com









Saturday, April 12, 2014

Writing Inspiration: Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance



PHS editor and Harlequin Historical author Michelle Styles revisits Kate Walker’s classic text on writing series romance.
Last week, Kate Walker finally published her updated 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance as an ebook. It is quite simply a masterclass in how to write series romance. A number of category authors do point to it as being instrumental in giving them the tools they needed before they sold.
Kate covers the basics as well as  advanced skills. She talks about creating emotional punch which resonates with the reader as well as dealing with sensuality and sex. She includes several worksheets and has various exercises that are designed to get you asking why.
I will always remember reading – why does the hero fall in love with  the heroine? Think beyond the obvious. The same thing goes for the heroine – why does she fall for the hero? It has to be more than he is rich and good looking.
When the book was released as a kindle book last week, it shot to the number one slot in writing craft books.  If  you are serious about writing series romance, you should have this ebook in your library.

You can learn more about Kate Walker, her books and her writing courses on her website : 

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods for Harlequin Historical. Her next book Return of the Viking Warrior is published in May 2014. You can learn more about Michelle and her over 20 books on www.michellestyles.co.uk


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Write Away with Jeannie Watt ~ My Favorite Comfort Food

I’m not going to talk about writing today. I’m going to talk about pancakes. Pancakes are my go-to comfort food and sometimes when I'm in the middle of taming a troublesome story (and losing) I need a whole lot of comfort.

In college, I was the person in charge of making the late night pancakes my friends and I ate while sitting around and talking deep college talk. I figured my pancakes were popular because I made them from scratch and no one else I knew did. My hypothesis was given a boost when my-hard-to-impress foodie father-in-law asked for the name of the pancake mix I used…which leads me to my first tip for making great pancakes:

Tip #1 Don’t use a mix. It’s almost (almost…) as fast to make pancakes from scratch—especially if you have all the dry ingredients mixed ahead of time.
 
Tip#2 Use a whisk, not a spoon. (I think this is common knowledge, but in case one is a pancake novice, I thought I'd mention it.)

Tip #3 Do not over-beat the batter! I cannot emphasize this enough. Beating the flour starts the gluten expansion and that takes away all lightness and fluffiness. Mix only enough to get the dry ingredients blended into the wet ingredients. Then when you add the water at the end, stir as little as possible.  (The same goes with biscuits—handle the dough as little as possible.)

Tip #4 When cooking the pancakes, turn them as soon as the bubbles that form in the batter pop.

Here’s my recipe for pancakes:

Mix in a small bowl:
                1 cup flour (I use just a little less than a cup)
                1 teaspoon baking powder
                ½ teaspoon baking soda
                ½ teaspoon salt
                1 tablespoon sugar

Mix in a larger bowl:
                1 egg
                1 cup of buttermilk
     2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (when I’m being a purist, I use two tablespoons of melted      shortening, which makes lighter pancakes than oil)

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just blended. The batter will be a little thick. Add water until it’s the consistency you like, mixing for as short a time as possible. I prefer a thinner batter, because it makes a lighter pancake.  (It’s hard to explain batter thickness in writing. I can’t think of a proper analogy.)

I cook mine in a nonstick pan with a very light layer of oil or shortening coating the pan. My husband (who stirs his batter too much) uses cast iron. Both pans work well.  This recipe can be doubled and tripled.


Harlequin Superromance author Jeannie Watt lives in rural Nevada and writes fast-paced, character driven stories set in the western United States. She also makes pancakes whenever there's buttermilk in the fridge.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Confessions of a Sophomore Author - Part IV - Let's Start at the Very Beginning


It occurred to me as I began my latest story, that figuring out where to start is one of those things that either comes to me immediately and ends up in the book, or I struggle with it and end up cutting scenes I didn’t need to start at the real beginning. Either way, any editor will tell you it’s crucial to find that right place to start. Readers will tell you the same thing – the book either hooked me or it didn’t. I wanted to see the hero and heroine on the page faster.
            First impressions are golden.

            In my latest WIP I wanted to get my heroine and hero on the page in the first scene, but as it turned out I couldn’t. I needed a couple of short scenes to set the premise of the book up, otherwise I would have been trying to insert that crucial backstory into that moment I wanted to be electric… where my hero and heroine meet. So better to set it up as quickly and efficiently as I can, then get to that meet scene.
            This was a struggle I had when I wrote The Divorce Party for Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write competition. I had a huge battle going on in my brain about where to start it. I had two scenes at the beginning I loved – one in third person omniscient point of view that set up the mood of the evening – the city’s most talked about divorce party of the season, and a scene I loved between the hero, Riccardo, and his brother Gabe in the mansion’s wine cellar that established both of their characterization. But in the end, I cut them to get to the action faster. I think it was the right decision, because particularly in a competition where you are weeded out in the early rounds, you need to grab people right away. However,  it doesn’t mean you will never get to write that kind of an opening, and in fact, I just did for my fifth book called The Magnate’s Manifesto due out in Dec.
            I thought it would be fun to share with you the original opening for The Divorce Party and, if you’d like to see what went to print you can find it here.


            
 The limos were lined up a mile long outside the stunning limestone mansion in one of Manhattan’s most desirable neighborhoods.  Normally a quiet, privilege-soaked street where an owner might walk a dog under the canopy of giant oaks and hear only the whisper of the leaves rustling overhead, tonight the neighborhood was buzzing—overrun with the gossiping presence of the New York elite.
They had come to see a spectacle—an event of epic proportions. Ricardo and Lilly De Campo were divorcing and throwing a million dollar party to celebrate. And not one person on the impossible-to-get-on guest list wanted to miss a second of it. It was to be the most scandalous, juiciest, talked about water cooler event of the season.
The guests swept out of the sleek long cars, an elegant tide of politicians, society types and business associates of the De Campo family, and made their way through the grand entrance of the Georgian-style home, all of them searching for a glimpse of Ricardo and Lilly, the couple many had agreed were the only passionately in love couple left in New York. Ricardo, oldest heir to the De Campo wine empire and glamorous former Iowa farm girl, Lilly, had made an undeniable impact on the social fabric of Manhattan society from the first night they’d appeared as a couple at the historic Hospital for Sick Children Christmas ball. They had been the it couple, the couple everyone wanted to be—but what had fascinated New Yorkers most was the spark that had always arced between Ricardo and Lilly. Like the Fourth of July fireworks over the Hudson River that transfixed the crowds on Independence Day, watching the couple was like watching an explosion poised to go off.
It was fascinating, intense, always floating just below the surface. And, apparently, given tonight’s event, hard to sustain.
‘I knew it would never last,’ the primped-to-within-an-inch-of-their-life New York socialites who’d tried to catch the elusive, single Ricardo said. ‘They were too perfect. And what couple could really be that much in love?’
‘You can take the farm girl out of Iowa,’ others, who’d watched Lilly De Campo try to keep up with her husband’s glamorous life, said, ‘but you can’t take the Iowa out of the farm girl…’
Speculation was flying as the catering staff directed the couple’s closest friends and family to the huge, second-floor ballroom. They held their Cristal-filled glasses, discussed how bizarre it was that intensely private Ricardo De Campo had chosen such a public way to announce the end of his marriage, and took in the spectacular, chandelier soaked ambience of a room the De Campos had rarely opened up to the public. They had finished their first glass when speculation turned rife and the tall, dark couple had still not appeared.
Where were the De Campos?

There you go. I still have a soft spot for this opening. In the opening I went to print with, I do still have a set up scene between Lilly and her sister, but I get to the meet between Lilly and Riccardo a heck of a lot faster than I did in the original. And the conversation between the sisters sets up the essential backstory and mood without bogging the reader down in narrative.
Here’s a few tips on writing your opening:
·      Start in an exciting place. Sounds obvious enough, but you need to hook the reader. Try and avoid clichéd openings like a heroine packing her suitcase
·      Only use the backstory you need to make sure the reader isn’t lost and knows what the story is about. Trust that they will follow if you make the opening compelling enough. They need something to make them want to read on
·      Get your hero and heroine on the page as soon as you can. After all, that’s why people pick up a romance
           
           I'm curious, do you find it easy to figure out where to start a book or do you find yourself writing a couple of scenes, then chopping until you have it right? I’m always fascinated by how different we writers are!
            Cheers and thanks for dropping by! Until next month…