Friday, November 22, 2013

Creativity doesn't get much tougher than this ...

I don’t get a lot of time to watch TV these days, but when I do I’m very selective and possessive about my turn on the sofa with a Do Not Disturb expression on my face. Note, I haven’t managed to assert my turn with the remote control – with two children and a fully grown male in the house, that would be absurd. In fact even the cat gets a look in on that more than I do!  Anyway, one of my most favorite programs is currently running in the UK: Masterchef !

If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s basically a competition that runs over a number of weeks to find a top chef from either amateurs, professionals or celebrities. As the weeks progress, contestants have to leave the competition because they’re not up to scratch and eventually there are 3 chefs fighting it out for the ultimate prize. It started in the UK in about 1990, but is now produced in over 35 countries – so this show clearly has global appeal, but it recently occurred to me that it has come to represent more than just posh meals on plates for me. 

Once upon a time when I was young, free and single, I fancied my chances on getting on the show one day and would think nothing of spending a whole weekend creating something amazing from scratch. Like an authentic curry for instance, grinding the whole spices in a pestle and mortar, creating aromatic purees, marinading for hours and then trying to emulate an Indian tandoor oven somehow … Now I have a busy family life, such pursuits are the stuff of dreams (especially when they all want something different for dinner!), but Masterchef  has begun to impact on me in another quite unexpected way.  The entire competition, the heats and rounds and ultimately the selection of the winner is almost a mirror of what it’s like to become a published author … I can’t get the emotional parallels out of my head. Think I’m mad? Reckon all those hours sat hunched over a laptop surrounded by laundry and dust have turned my head and sautéed my brain? Let me set out my case:
  • Wanting to be a published author and a competition-winning  chef requires passion, dedication and a lot of practice. It’s not something that can be achieved overnight even if you are the world’s most genius/lucky author or chef.
  • You want to experiment and trail blaze with your exciting new ideas, but you have to master the basics first: chefs have to be able to at least identify the parts of the animal they’re cooking, an author will be expected to pitch their masterpiece as fitting into a distinct genre it they want to get anywhere. And there are rules that have to be abided by whether you like it or not – you are not in charge of this kitchen/publisher. Scrupulous hygiene and damn good punctuation are non-negotiable. 
  • Both the chef and the author need patience and tenacity. In the same way it takes hours to make a fine cooking stock from bones and exotic vegetables, an author will spend an almost unbelievable amount of time reading through their work trying to improve it. The skill lies in layers of flavour and sensation for the chef, and emotional highs and lows, gripping plot and a convincing character arc for the author. It’s not easy and it ain’t quick.
  • You must please the gatekeeper if you’re to achieve your dream; the author needs to snare an editor’s interest and follow through with a manuscript that lies up to expectations. The Masterchef contestant will have to suffer the scrutiny of the professional judges; watching in agony while they sip, wince and shake their heads.  Those first mouthfuls are like sending in your three chapter partial and synopsis; will it be good enough? Will I get through to the next round and get asked for the full manuscript?
  • Both the author and chef are always learning and criticism comes with the territory. Unfortunately it’s not a precise science either, there’s no right or wrong answer as to whether the seasoning of a sauce is completely right because everyone’s taste is different. An editor may say a sentence (or entire book!) is too flowery/clunky/ inappropriate. They may even go as far as to simply say they don’t like it. There’s nothing you can do but keep trying; chef takes the plate back to the kitchen, author sits down and rewrites the bloody thing or rips it up and starts again …
  • Both chefs and authors tend to curse a lot.
  • Then both the author and the chef face the ultimate judgement ; readers and diners. There will be rejections, mixed feedback, poor earnings, long hours, moments of overwhelming self-doubt, tears and possibly neglected spouses ...

The emotions, highs and lows, stresses and high stakes intensity are present in both scenarios and it makes you wonder why people put themselves through it all. The answer is simple, it’s their dream and ultimately, somebody has to win … I cry every year when the winner is announced because being handed that Masterchef trophy and a glass of champagne is just the same as getting your first ‘call’, signing your first contract and holding your first book. In that moment all the pain is forgotten until you go through the whole process again.

However, I do think the author has a slightly better deal over all because nobody checks if my fingernails are clean and when it comes to dinner time these days I can cheat!

Have you ever watched Masterchef? Or similar shows? Have any particular recipes stuck in your mind? Someone did vanilla potatoes the other week. I’m not so sure about that idea …

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Q&A + Giveaway With Olivia Miles: 'Twas the Week Before Christmas

I may be the most excited guest at this party. Olivia is my oldest and dearest friend and my trusted critique partner, and I'm thrilled to have her in the Hot Seat today to talk about her charming debut, 'Twas the Week Before Christmas. Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy!

Congratulations on your debut release, Olivia! Holly and Max are so easy to like and root for. What do you love most about each of them?
Max has had a hard life in many ways and I love the fact that he’s tough but not bitter. He has a good sense of people, he’s friendly, and even though he has a wall up, he’s approachable. With Holly, I love her creative side and the way she approaches everything she does with her whole heart. She’s not just playing a role of innkeeper; she wants to open her doors and bring people into her home. She’s very genuine.

When I read 'Twas the Week Before Christmas, I'm instantly transported to a little town that loves Christmas. Am I right to assume that this reflects an author who loves the holiday?
I do love Christmas. I’m a homebody, and I love cold weather months in general because it’s a reason to stay inside. The holidays are an extra cozy time of year because the house is filled with so many more beautiful things than it normally is--lights and ornaments, music and delicious smells. What’s not to love?

What inspired you to write 'Twas the Week Before Christmas?
I have a bit of a “thing” for made for television Christmas movies. I get excited about them every year. I re-watch my favorites and make sure to record all the new ones. I even go through the channel websites to check the line up and make sure I don’t miss any. Needless to say, when that Happy Holidays contest popped up, it was like a sign from above. It was my calling. I love watching holiday romances,  so what better than to write one myself?

Can we talk about the food? Cookies, pies, rich hot chocolate – your books ruin my diet! But there's something very warm and nostalgic about these food references. What are Max and Holly's favorite holiday foods? What's yours?
Hmm, I never even thought about this but that’s an interesting observation. After all, my next Special Edition is called Recipe for Romance and I’m yet again working on a book set in a restaurant…! Well, this really isn’t conscious. I must have food on the brain! For this particular book, it’s set over the holidays, and what are the holidays without rich foods? I’d say that Max doesn’t have many holiday traditions to fall back on, so he’s open to the traditions Holly has carried over into her inn. He loves the pies she picks up fresh in town. Holly enjoys cooking; it’s yet another way for her to nurture and take care of people. She’s a people pleaser, and she’s creative, and I think that she sees delicious food as part of the overall service she provides. As for my favorite holiday foods, I do like cookies, but again, I’d rather eat cookie dough. I’m not much of a chocolate person (really!) but I do love vanilla, and we’ve made a wonderful trifle for the past few holidays. The one thing I really do think of as a true Christmas treat is eggnog.

Do you have any more books planned for the characters in 'Twas the Week Before Christmas?
My next release, Recipe for Romance, is also set in the town of Maple Woods and several of the characters from ‘Twas the Week Before Christmas will make an appearance.

What role did writing competitions play in your publication journey?
The first chapter of this book was the winning entry for Special Edition’s Happy Holidays Contest. The win led to a full request and shortly thereafter ‘The Call.’ I have no way of knowing how things might have played out had I not entered that contest, but it was a turning moment in my road to publication. I’d have to think it kick started something that might otherwise have taken a considerably longer time.

You're a mom, a wife, and a writer with (ahem) a number of books under contract. How do you manage to make it all work?
I have become very organized, and this was not per se in my nature before I was forced to juggle so many daily responsibilities. My writing time is limited to my daughter’s schedule more or less, and I make sure to put the time I have for writing to the best possible use. I plan ahead and know what I need to accomplish that day. I don’t always meet my goals, but I usually come close.

You're a fairly prolific writer -- do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it? And if not, why not?
Yes and no. Sometimes a story idea just isn’t working, and when that happens, I find myself unable to move forward with my writing. I often still try to force it, but I have realized it is better not to. It only leads to frustration. Often a day or two away from writing is the best thing I can do for myself, and of course a little feedback from my critique partner never hurts J When I come back to the draft I’m working on, I am almost in a better place with it. I think it’s common to write yourself into a dead end, but I don’t think that’s the same as feeling like you just can’t write. I imagine that for most writers, like myself, the mind just never switches off…there are always ideas floating around, and it’s about deciding which ones work the best.

Your book just hit shelves. Pinch yourself. Do you feel like a real writer?
I wish I could say that I felt like a real writer but I really just feel like nothing has changed. I keep waiting for something to click, to feel like my life’s goal has been reached, but I’m always setting new goals for myself, so I never feel like I am quite there. I am a writer. It’s what I do. But a real writer? I just feel like me.

What are you working on now, and what's next?
My second Special Edition, Recipe for Romance, releases on March 18th. In September, my first single-title romance, Mistletoe on Main Street, will release. This book is the first in my Briar Creek Series from Grand Central Publishing. Right now I’m working on my second Briar Creek novel, A Match Made on Main Street, which has a release date of April 2015.

Any departing words of wisdom for aspiring writers?

Create a goal for yourself, however big or small, and never lose sight of it.

 A romantic inn. . .a white Christmas. . .hot cocoa by a roaring fire. . .it all adds up to a perfect holiday romance from Special Edition debut author Olivia Miles!  

A storm is about to shake up Holly Tate’s quaint lifestyle, and the Nor’easter scheduled to hit the small town of Maple Woods, Connecticut will have nothing on the upheaval real estate tycoon Max Hamilton creates during his week-long stay at The White Barn Inn. Since inheriting her grandmother’s house five years ago, Holly has poured her heart and soul into transforming the old mansion into a successful inn, hoping to be able to save enough to buy the property when the ninety-nine year lease expires on Christmas Day. 

Max has a different plan. But as attraction builds and emotions stir, will Holly’s contagious Christmas spirit have him changing his mind? Or will Holly be forced to start the new year with no home or business, but instead, only a broken heart?


Monday, November 18, 2013

Q&A with SYTYCW Finalist Jan Schliesman

I was thrilled to be asked to mentor Harlequin's 2013 So You Think You Can Write finalist Jan Schliesman. Jan is the only finalist writing romantic suspense -- the subgenre nearest and dearest to my heart. Every writer has a journey, right? I invited Jan to the Hot Seat to talk about hers.

Welcome, Jan! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thanks for having me on your blog, Natalie.  I’m originally from eastern Iowa and currently reside in Wichita, Kansas.  I believe in love at first sight because I met my future husband, Tim, while working as a bank teller.  One look and I knew he was the one. He, on the other hand, waited several months before asking me out. We’ve been married for twenty-five years and have three kids: Jalynn, Tanner and Karlee. I worked for five years as a police dispatcher, which sent me back to college. I earned my criminal justice degree in 2012 and really thought I’d get another chance to dispatch but the crazy hours aren’t conducive to a family life.  I currently work at a jewelry store and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be my last day job;)

Can you tell us about your manuscript, Kira's Keeper?

Kira’s Keeper is a romantic suspense story.  My heroine, Kira Kincaid, works as an insurance investigator and has always believed in playing by the rules and doing the right thing. Then she’s arrested for embezzling from the government’s Medicare program after a large sum of money is found in an old bank account.  Her almost ex-husband, Joshua Kincaid, swore the account had been closed right after their marriage and now she needs to track him down.  Without his help to clear her name, she’ll end up in prison.

Dalton Matthews, CEO for Buckshot’s Coffee, has been hiding out in the woods for over a year. After his wife’s suicide, the overzealous paparazzi are fighting for any picture of him in exile. When Kira arrives at his cabin, he’s certain she’s motivated by dollar signs. Then an attempt is made on her life and he’s forced into action. But his plan to turn her over to the police is derailed when she insists she’s married to his brother…his dead brother. The last thing his family needs is another headline.

But when a second attempt is made on her life he’s torn. Should he walk away from the woman who’s succeeded in dredging up a few family secrets? Or should he believe the danger surrounding her is real and remain Kira’s Keeper?

Every writer's journey has ups and downs. What has yours been like so far?

I started writing in 1997. I got a subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine and purchased several books on writing. I found a nearby writer’s group, Heart of Iowa Fiction Authors. To show how determined I was, I drove seventy miles (one way) on a Thursday night to attend a meeting!  My kids were little and it required a lot of planning.  But the gals I met were all very enthusiastic and welcoming. I brought along part of the story I had started and no one laughed at me, even though it was single spaced on lavender paperJ  I tried to learn as much as I could and attended my first RWA national conference in Chicago in 1999. Although determination was high, I was also dealing with a child with autism and his needs frequently outweighed anything else.  In 2003, I attended the New York conference and came home with a new attitude. I could do this!  Discipline was all I needed.  Tanner had his first seizure three weeks later while I was working as a police dispatcher.  I still get chills thinking about the 911 call from my husband.  Our family relocated to Iowa City to be closer to a hospital that could treat him.  As you can guess, writing was the furthest thing from my mind.  It was the fall of 2008 before I really got serious about writing again. I entered chapter contests and won my first award in 2009---I got an email while sitting in a Laundromat in Wichita, a week after my husband took a promotion. The next year I took second place in the Daphne’s, along with a request for my full manuscript. It took me six months, but I got it polished and sent in. I started writing a new story and entering contests again, but as any parent of a special needs child can tell you, working outside the home is sometimes your only salvation. I also wanted to finish my degree, and everything seemed to be vying for my attention. I returned to college full-time, took a job as a 911 call taker, and then received a revision request on Kira’s Keeper.  Three more months and I sent the revisions.  In May 2012, I graduated from college and received a second revision request, this one telling me that the romantic suspense line had increased to 70,000 words.  More writing and revising before I stumbled upon a writer’s loop that turned out to be my ultimate support.  And I don’t know if I’d call it a total rewrite (nods headJ), but I finally got it finished last spring and started a new story.  Evidently I’m getting a little better at this writing thing because my second book won the Sheila contest in August and is a finalist in the Golden Pen.  I had this brilliant plan to enter my new story in the SYTYCW contest, when another author suggested I stick with Kira’s Keeper.  Really?  I stalled a bit before entering and was so disappointed when I didn’t make the Top 50.  Yes, you read that correctly…I didn’t make the Top 50!  It took me a week to get over the disappointment, and then the next day I received an email stating another spot had opened up and requesting my book by Friday. I made that deadline with the support of my Texas ladies: Angi Morgan, Jen FitzGerald and Sarah Cannon.  I also started calling myself Magic #51!  Because someone in the initial 50 hadn’t been able to meet their deadline, I was granted another chance.  Imagine my shock when I made it into the Top 10!  So, there’s my story.  Sixteen years of writing brought me to this point, along with some amazing highs and bottomless lows.  I have a bulletin board above my desk with lots of important phrases written on index cards.  My favorite: Determination Trumps Talent.

In addition to being a writer, you're a wife and a mother. How do you find balance?

Balance?  That’s a tough question.  For many years I didn’t feel like I balanced things very well.  Other writers made it look easy and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. But when you have kids, especially one with special needs, they have to come first. Everyone has a different path and different challenges.  Feeling like a real author was a big turning point for me.  When our youngest moved to the college dorms, I took over one of the bedrooms for my office.  My hubby painted the walls red and I have an official “wall of fame”.  I’ve gotten used to interruptions but I’ve also learned to ignore a lot of things.  I am never going to have a perfect life so I don’t know why I ever thought that my writing world had to be perfect or I couldn’t function. Sometimes I’m in my office and if the words aren’t flowing, I move to another room and switch to my laptop. I also say no a lot now.  I have to write.  No one else is going to do it for me.  No one else has invested what I’ve invested.  There are still days where everything doesn’t work out the way I wish it would, but tomorrow is another chance to get it right.

Where do you find inspiration?

I got a lot of great story ideas while working for the police department and through my college classes.  Sometimes a single line of dialogue will pop into my head and it’s enough to write an entire scene. If my day is going well, I might get a few pages down where my heroine is overcoming an obstacle. If nothing is going right in my real world, I’ll escape to my current story and write an emotional scene. If I’m angry…I’m gonna have to kill somebody off! I’ve also gotten many ideas from brainstorming with other authors.

You can check out Jan's entry, Kira's Keeper, right here. Don't forget to vote for your favorite entry! Voting closes November 25.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writing through the pain: What happens when real life overshadows the happily ever after? -- by Tina Vaughn

Three months ago on August 13, my husband, ten-year-old daughter and I were busy getting ready for the arrival of our newest family member, a darling baby girl who seemed to enjoy tap-dancing in my ever-growing belly.

On August 14, she died.

This isn't a post about stillbirth. Or heartbreak. Or grief. I'll save those painful thoughts and dark musings for my private journals.

This post is about writing romance. Plain and simple.

How can we continue to write the happily ever after when real-life tragedy strikes?

I'll preface the following suggestions with this disclaimer: I'm not an expert…on anything. These are just a few tips that, in recent weeks, have helped me start writing again.

  1. Find support. Surround yourself with people who love to read and write and friends and family who encourage and uplift you and your craft. This will help you stay motivated.

  2. Write sad scenes. Write angry scenes. Write the Black Moment. It's so difficult to write those sexy scenes and sweet romantic moments when your heart is breaking. Pour that emotion into your writing. Fiction is a perfect outlet for your grief, frustration and anger.
  1. Listen to some of your favorite songs or playlists. Watch one of your favorite romantic movies. Read a new book you've been looking forward to. Re-read one of your favorites. Go for a walk or run. Find inspiration wherever and whenever you can.
  1. If you typically write in front of the computer, then scribble in a notebook or journal instead. This small change may be just the spark you need.
  1. Set goals. If you are published and have an editor, then chances are you already have deadlines, which will help keep you on track. If you're unpublished, set your own deadlines. Want that chapter finished in five days? Mark it on your calendar and make a commitment to meet that goal.
  1. Take a break. You may not have the time, energy or desire to write. That's fine. Give yourself permission to rest…for a while. But don't wait too long. A prolonged absence from your work in progress may make it harder for you to resume your writing.


What helps or motivates you when writing gets tough?

What do you do when real life intrudes on your fiction world?

What are your suggestions for overcoming or using your own grief, and other emotions, in your writing?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Guest Post: Decorating a New Home + Giveaway! by C.J. Miller

My family and I recently moved to a new home and I feel like I have a blank canvas to start with. Or maybe since I'm a writer, I should say I have a blank document in front of me.

Unlike when I write, I don’t know where to start with furnishing and decorating the house. I've never been big into decorating and I don’t know a thing about coordinating colors and textures. When I like something, I start to wonder how it will look with everything else in the room and if it's something I want to look at day in and day out. I could burn hours on and Both sites are filled with cool ideas.

My brother is a great decorator. He coordinates, he changes color schemes and his place just works. Walking from room to room, I feel like I am in a home, not a series of random spaces with clashing colors and piles of mess. I'm planning to invite him for dinner and then pump him for ideas.

I have two young children, so my home will not be filled with vases and glass, but I like comfortable furniture and pretty things! Have any decorating tips? What's your favorite place to shop for home and décor items?

Share your thoughts and leave your email address (or email me at cj AT cj-miller DOT COM with the subject line HPT Giveaway) for your chance to win a copy of Protecting His PrincessGiveaway limited to US mailing addresses only, adults aged 18+.

In this kingdom, not even the royals are immune to danger

With a sexy FBI agent posing as her suitor, Princess Laila of Qamsar is home for the wedding of her brother the Emir. In truth, the beautiful royal and Harris Truman are on an undercover mission: to find the infamous terrorist her brother is suspected of aiding.

But once the festivities begin, Laila faces a bigger threat than Al-Adel. Her secret meetings with Harris pose a danger to her safety­—and her heart. To gain his love and live in freedom as his equal is her ardent desire. But will she betray her traditions for a man whose kisses are part of a charade?

Protecting His Princess, the third and final book in the Truman brother miniseries, is out this month from Harlequin Romantic Suspense and is available in print and e-book.

Amazon || BN 

About C.J. Miller:
A 3rd generation Harlequin reader and the 1st in her family to write professionally, C.J. published her first book with Harlequin Romantic Suspense in 2012.

She lives in Maryland with her family. When she isn't writing, she enjoys spending time with family and friends and reading. C.J. believes in first loves, second chances, and happily ever after.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Guest Post: Cover vs Cover! by Donna Alward

hosted by: Jennifer Faye

This month the fifth book in my Cadence Creek Cowboys series hits the shelves! I’m pretty excited about it; there’s something I love about holiday stories. They’re extra sparkly and heart-warming, don’t you think? In particular, I love that I was able to combine both the holiday with a wedding in A CADENCE CREEK CHRISTMAS – Taylor Shepard is in Cadence Creek to plan her brother’s wedding and spend some time with family. Callum gets married off in fine fashion, and there are twinkle lights and evergreen boughs galore.

A CADENCE CREEK CHRISTMAS is also out in the UK this month and has a different cover. I thought I’d ask you: which one do you prefer? I mean,  the first one is sort of fun and romantic and wintery, but the second one is also a little more fancy with the wedding tuxedo and the holiday lights and everything.

I’ll give away a copy of EACH edition today here at The Hot Pink Typewriter! Just put your preference in the comments!

In the meantime you can find me on my website at or on twitter @DonnaAlward. 

Here’s the blurb for A CADENCE CREEK CHRISTMAS:

It's Christmas in Donna Alward's Cadence Creek...

Taylor Shepard has come to Cadence Creek to organize her brother's Christmas wedding. Organizing such a special event might be a little bit stressful - but she can't deny she's swept away by the town's holiday charm...and by brooding rancher Rhys Bullock. 

Loner Rhys has been burned far too many times in the past. He's sure he has city girl Taylor all figured out -she'll be hightailing it straight back to the city in a few days! But as the snow starts to fall, Rhys and Taylor embark on a tentative winter romance. Could Taylor be the Christmas present Rhys never even knew he wanted?