Friday, October 28, 2016

Romance Authors Often Write About Love that Hurts our Characters by Roz Denny Fox

Perhaps romantic fiction sells so well because humans are, by design, interdependent. Our story people, like real life people, interact with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and as part of community organizations to which they belong.

I recall reading somewhere that maintaining healthy relationships can be challenging. Those in close male-female affiliations sometimes feel more anxious than not. So as part of building a story plot it’s not unusual to have a female lead character leave a relationship where maybe she did too much to please her former boyfriend. Maybe she gave the most in their daily lives, some things she later realizes weren’t in her best interest. Often she has risked her emotional health in a co-dependent alliance.

As a rule romance writers use hurtful love as part of a hero or heroine’s background. Why is that? Because at the start of a book protagonists need to be free to set forth on new, more sound loving relationships.

What are some of the issues left behind, but that may still worry (mostly) our heroines?

Perhaps she took an exaggerated sense of responsibility for a former partner. At work, or at home it might even have hurt her financially.

She may even now have difficulty at first identifying her feelings, but trust is difficult.

Might she worry that a new man she meets, who gives the appearance of being wonderful, be hiding traits she has yet to see? Has she not quite shed deep feelings of having had to “walk on eggshells” or risk angering or offending the man who had once been in her life?

A new heroine may exhibit signs at first of low self-esteem and tendencies to think she’s not worthy of love?

A big albatross in many successful books is when the main character fears being walked out on, left first as perhaps happened when someone she/ or he loved deeply found someone they deemed better, more loveable, etc.

Might she have stayed in a physically harmful relationship out of not knowing, seeing there were avenues to leave and leave safely? This plot device works especially well for a heroine who is already a mother.

Of course those unhealthy bits in our character’s makeup don’t last long into a story. Because readers want to buoy their own spirits and feel uplifted. They want to see characters who don’t sap their energy.

These are just a few reasons why I love scanning the self-help shelves in bookstores or libraries. We don’t have to send our main characters to counseling, although we may. There is a slew of information in real-life books about healthy communication, setting personal boundaries, and other tools that help us help our storybook people to eventually reach their HEA.

What is your favorite method of setting up anxious backgrounds, internal strife, self-doubt or other difficult life patterns for your main characters? Do you employ incidents overheard while out doing everyday errands? Does your ever-widening circle of friends provide true-life tales if changed a bit, you use successfully? Do you research on the Internet? Or pull up times from another decade where you may have been catalyst to help a flailing friend?

I’m always interested in how fellow writers create their wonderful, believable characters. One thing I find so fascinating is how many times writers essentially start with the same basic concepts and yet turn out gripping stories.

 A Heartwarming Holiday boxed set of novellas---great Christmas gift on sale now

“A Montana Christmas Reunion” Harlequin Western 11/2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Yikes I guess I am old!

I'm a news junkie. Yes, hate to admit it, but if I'm not watching a major news channel, I usually have it on as background noise. Although... lately the news has been more like a circus than a serious reporting of current events.

One snippet caught my attention yesterday. In 1949 Harry Truman raised the minimum wage in America from .40 cents an hour to .75 cents. A pittance, right? But in those days that was an almost 100% increase (if I messed up the math there, forgive me). Revolutionary! Much of the news cycle today is about minimum wage and having enough money to live a decent life. How did anyone do it on .75 cents an hour?

In the late fifties, I was old enough to run to the corner market for my mother. And I remember what some things cost in those days. I could buy an ice cream bar for .10 cents. A candy bar was .05 cents. A can of tomato sauce was .08 cents. And a loaf of bread was .25. Would I go back to those days? No. I still wonder how people who lived on less than $7.00 a day survived.

Not all of you reading this blog today are my age, but I'm curious what you remember from your own childhood days of shopping at the supermarket (or corner store). What could you buy for .10 or .20 cents?

What does any of this have to do with romance and writing? Not much unless you see "the good ol' days" as heartwarming like the books we write. Would you go back?

As for getting old, I'm going to continue living with the little white lie I keep telling myself - How come everyone my age looks so much older than me?


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fall Family Traditions

posted by Lee McKenzie and Janice Carter

I’m thrilled to have Janice Carter join me here on the Harlequin Heartwarming Authors Blog. Janice and I have a lot in common, including our nationality. O Canada! This means we’ve already celebrated Thanksgiving (Monday, October 10th) so we’ve decided to share some of our fall family traditions and a recipe that’s a new twist on an autumn classic. Over to you, Janice.

It’s a windy and chilly day as I write this post the last full week of October. Yesterday I briefly considered rummaging in my closet for my winter coat but the part of me that is in denial about winter’s approach held me back. I’m just not ready yet! I’ve never been a fan of winter even as a child. Growing up in southwest Ontario, Canada that led to many challenges once November kicked in. No, I don’t want to go skating. Can’t we play inside today, Mom? Excuse the weak pun, but it’s not cool being a sissy about winter here.

Yet I do love October, as ominous as the month can be. The bounty of the harvest, the brilliant foliage and even the slightly crisp nights when the moon is full and close to earth. So given my ambivalence about winter, why do I welcome October? I think for me the month is all about traditions connected with holidays and cultural folk lore. Canadian Thanksgiving, arbitrarily chosen as the second Monday in the month, is a big one for our family because we celebrate the holiday at our cottage on Garden Island, in the St. Lawrence. The whole community gathers on the Saturday night in the sail loft for a pot luck feast and every year we try to out-cook one another or keep people guessing—“who made that pear and parsnip casserole?”
Community Thanksgiving celebration on Garden Island
The next day we all gather again, this time for the annual pumpkin carving contest where the same competitive spirit is evident. Entrants are anonymous to avoid any whiff of favoritism though some nepotism secretly occurs.

Pumpkin carving competition on Garden Island
Perhaps traditions exist because we humans are a social group, loving our specific families and also tied to the larger cultural groups we belong to. We want and need those connections to continue long after our individual selves are gone and that’s why familial traditions are so important. We can create our personal stamp on the larger traditions we follow as a kind of insurance of permanence. My parents have passed away, but I still make my mother’s apple pie recipe and know my daughter will too, long after I’m gone. These smaller but no less important ‘traditions’ are comforting and a solace against the inevitability of time.

Ah yes, maybe I’ll give that winter coat an airing today—in preparation.

Like Janice, I’m not a fan of winter but here on the West Coast, I’m bracing for the season in a different way, umbrella and rain boots at the ready. October has had its share of wet and windy days, but November is typically our wettest month. Luckily, the sombre skies and dreary days are offset by a landscape that stays green all year round. I can harvest kale and Swiss chard in December, and by January we look forward to the appearance of crocuses and snowdrops.

Didn’t you love Janice’s description of her community’s Thanksgiving celebration? At my house, the holiday is much more of a low-key affair. I spend a lot of time planning the menu and working on centerpieces. For the table, my inspiration started with an artichoke from the produce market. To that I added springs of bay and Sedum, and arranged them in a vintage milk glass footed bowl. I have now dried the organic bay leaves are organic and they’re in my pantry, awaiting winter soups and stews.

Artichoke and bay leaf centerpiece
My second and much simpler arrangement consisted of assorted squashes on a splay of bay laurel (non-edible) snipped from my neighbor’s hedge. I love milk glass because I find it a perfect backdrop for any color combination.

Squash and laurel leaf centerpiece
There was pumpkin pie for dessert, of course, but this year I prepared a new twist on this old classic. This vegan spiced pumpkin tart from Desiree Nielsen's website was not only delicious and super easy to make, it was a hit with everyone! Every last morsel was devoured and the only complaint was that there were no leftovers. (Hint: I used my food processor and the filling came out very smooth but if you have a Vitamix, then making this pie will be a piece of cake!)

Desiree Nielsen's Spiced Pumpkin Tart (photo used with permission)
While not looking forward to winter, I am eager for the release of my first Heartwarming, sometime in early (I hope!) 2017.

And I’m excited to share the cover of my January 2017 release, His Best Friend’s Wife, the second book in The Finnegan Sisters trilogy.

Thank you so much for joining us today. Until next time, happy reading!

Janice & Lee

Monday, October 24, 2016

So you're getting married...

Dear Patricia Johns and Patricia Bradley,

I'm about to get married, and I need your advice. I thought getting engaged would be romantic, and it was for about a week, but then the stress started. Everyone has an opinion about everything. The guest list turned out to be longer than anticipated, and I had no idea how much a dress was going to cost until I started trying some on...

So my big day is coming up, and I'm excited, but I'm worried, too. My fiancee and I had our first big fight when his mom started insisting that we invite second cousins from Baltimore, and I made the mistake of calling his mother "overbearing."

I love him so much, but I hate the way we're starting our life together. Advice, please?


Freaked Out

Photo by Alan Ajifo

Dear Freaked Out,

The wedding is one day, and things will go wrong. Big things will go wrong. In my wedding, someone completely forgot the recorded music for my walk down the aisle. As in, I was standing there in dead silence... and nothing happened. Word was quickly passed that the music was missing, and everyone pulled together and hummed "Here Comes the Bride." It's my sweetest memory from the day... besides the vows, of course.

So here is my advice to you: a successful wedding day isn't the one that is the most photogenic or with the smoothest planning. A successful wedding day is where you say "I do," and he says "I do," and you walk away from it a married couple. I don't care if you're wearing a garbage bag!

So relax. And get married!

Yours truly,

Patricia Johns

Photo by Leffeben

Dear Freaked Out,

Since Patricia Johns covered the wedding, I'm going to give you the marriage advice I wish I'd received :

1. Keep your own identity. It will make you happier and if mamma's happy, everyone is happy.
2. Spend time together creating your memories. 
3. Never, ever vent about your husband to your family when you're angry with him.  You'll get over it, and even forget it, but your family won't. Same thing with your friends. 
4. Make a budget and stick to it. If someone had shown me how to do that, my first marriage might have made it. :-)
5. Have time alone for yourself and allow him time alone for himself. We all need space sometimes.

6. Make a commitment to him and your marriage.

You're going to be fine! I wish you a lifetime of happiness.

Yours truly,

Patricia Bradley

PS. If the cousins from Baltimore get an invitation, what about me and Patricia Johns? ;) We're writers, so you're guaranteed some fantastic toasts... Just putting that out there.

What about YOU? What's the best advice you could give a woman about to get married?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sit Down Saturday with Cheryl Harper and Keeping Cole's Promise

Hi, Heartwarmers! I'm a little late with my blog post because I've been getting prizes ready to go out. YAY, books in the mail! Here are 


5. Saturday afternoons are always better with a beagle by your side. This beagle is named Freddie and he has some "issues" so he needs a good, strong man with a kind heart and dog-training experience. Other famous beagles...Snoopy. Other adorable beagles? TOO MANY TO NAME.

4. I'm pretty sure this is the best first line I've ever written. We won't talk about the current first line of my work in progress. It needs help. What's the first line? Well...
THE DAY THAT Cole Ferguson walked out of Travis County State Jail was twice as terrifying as the day he walked in. 
3. When my editor Dana and I talked about writing a hero fresh out of prison, I was nervous and excited and NERVOUS, but I loved meeting Cole Ferguson and finding the flaws in my very sunny heroine, Rebecca. She's had a very comfortable life. Meeting him will expose all the ways she's missing opportunities to see and improve the town she loves. Also, she's got amazing friends who stick together no matter what.

2. Why were we talking about heroes fresh out of prison? Programs like this one: Paws in Prison. It's an instant pick-me-up on gloomy days (like when your book proposal is rejected...leading to a new, amazing, wonderful idea like the one that became my favorite book I've ever written). GO AND SEE. This is a prison program that takes shelter dogs and matches them with prisoners for basic obedience lessons and YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE.

1. If you're in the same spot I'm in and you need something that reminds you of the goodness of people and dogs, the promise of second chances (and third and fourth if you need them), and the fact that love changes everything, Keeping Cole's Promise is a solid option.

Bonus reason: This cover

Here's the blurb if your finger is still hovering over the Buy button:

It's time he lived up to his word 
Eleven years ago, Cole Ferguson made the biggest mistake of his life, but now he can finally get back on track. The first step? Nail the job at the local animal shelter and keep his head down. But working at the shelter means spending time with Rebecca Lincoln. Rebecca is beautiful and kind but she's also determined to save the world. Cole isn't about to join her. Helping Rebecca would mean breaking his promise—running toward trouble instead of staying clear. She doesn't need him anyway. How could she ever see him as more than just another charity project?

And how do you feel about sneak peeks? Because I have the cover for the final book in the series: A
HOME COME TRUE. Is that the best title or what? When I saw, it I'm pretty sure I screamed a little. I can't. I just cannot with this cover because I AM IN LOVE.

Friday, October 21, 2016

There's no place like Sophia Sasson

Back in April, my kids got into this amazing Spanish immersion program that the county public school system does through a lottery. So few kids get into this program that we had to accept. Except the program was an hour and a half bus ride from our house. My twins are in kindergarten—five year olds commuting three hours a day?! We did what was best for our children--we sold our home.

After months of house hunting, we found a house close to the kids school that we could afford but the house needed some work. Okay, a lot of work. Frankly, I thought about bull dozing it and upgrading to a mobile home on the lot. Reason won out and we hired a contractor to gut two floors of the split level house. We had grand plans to DIY the rest. I mean, they make it look so easy on TV.
Image result for split level
A split level is a house with staggered levels. I think of it as two small colonials smashed together. 
Despite doing our research and hiring someone who is licensed, bonded, insured, etc we ended up with a nightmare contractor. It started with workers demo-ing the wrong bathroom. We had one bathroom in the entire house that was not moldy. Yep, that’s the one they had to demo. Then the contractor didn’t pay the guys who did the erroneous demo and the guys called to threaten us. It has actually gone downhill from there. I’ll spare you the ugly details.

As it turns out, Maryland law protects the contractor so if we fire him, we still owe him the full price of the contract unless we go through an arduous several month long process after which we may not have to pay him more money but we don’t get any of ours back either. Note to self—pay more attention to state and county elections. 

So here I am, living with my children in a small apartment with my sister who I is sick of us, calculating whether I can use cabinets with no doors, an oven with no electric hooked up, or a bathroom with no toilet. My conclusion is I need to hire a new contractor.

But how will I ever trust anyone again? They all look so good on paper. And their references are always glowing. Apparently you can buy badges and pay to have your bad reviews scrubbed from certain well known home improvement sites. And no, I don’t know a single person who has been happy with their contractor.

So that got me thinking about my heroines. The ones who have dark pasts and bad experiences, How do they learn to trust and find love?

My heroine Kat Driscoll for example-- she’s been betrayed and abused by a past boyfriend. So how can she learn to trust an intense alpha male like Alex Santiago? It’s not Alex that convinces her, but her own journey of healing that allows her to love him. Here’s a fun book trailer for The Senators Daughter. Like how I'm sneaking this into a home improvement blog? 

As for me, I don’t think I’m going to be ready to trust another contractor until the gaping hole in the ceiling, that mocks me every day, is patched. Or the ironically advertised dumpster that’s been overflowing in my yard, waiting a pick up for three weeks, is gone.

I never realized just how important it was for me to have a place to call home. I’ve lived in everything from a roach infested studio apartment to a palatial five bedroom house and they all have a place in my heart.

One last sneak in--my book First Comes Marriage, which also deals with issues of heart and home is  bargain priced at $1.99 as part of Harlequin's big sale. And several of the heartwarming authors are doing this amazing thanksgiving giveaway.

So tell me, have you made a choice; whether it’s an item purchase, a service you hired, or a life decision that left you wondering whether you’d ever trust again?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"There is something in the autumn..."

Here's Helen DePrima!

“There is something in the autumn that is native to my soul . . .”

Fall is my most favorite and least productive season. Although I’m energized almost to point of frenzy, I have to vent the vitality out-of-doors, hiking if possible or at least driving though the incredible sights of New Hampshire in October. Rainy days are a special treat, the mists and wet black back roads making the leaving glow all the brighter.

As a child, I went into the Kentucky woods with my father where he taught me about may apples and mushrooms and how to break open honey locust pods to lick the bittersweet paste inside. To me, the scent of fallen leaves underfoot rivals the sweetest flower perfumes.

I manage to work off the mania by grubbing the dirt, digging carrots and beets, white and sweet potatoes, putting the garden to bed for another season. Cutting and stacking wood for winter keeps me close to the rough tangle of brush and woods where migrating songbirds stop to rest and gorge on wild cherries. Wild turkeys share the feast with airy disregard for the nearness of Thanksgiving.

The idea of any sort of indoor work this time of year seems ungrateful of the riches themselves outside my window. When November comes, I’ll sit gratefully beside my wood stove and start a new quilt or a new novel, but for now, look for me outdoors from dawn to dusk reveling in October’s extravagant farewell to summer.

And here's Liz Flaherty!

                I love Helen’s pictures, and, like her, I love autumn. Sights, smells, sounds—you name it. I even love the wardrobe because…well, because going back to wearing long pants means shaving my legs is less of an issue and because I just flat love sweatshirts.

                But I noticed something new the other day. I was driving into town, paying attention to the changing leaves and the fields cleared of corn and soybeans. I opened the car window at a four-way stop and just sat there and breathed deep for a few minutes. It smelled so good—the sweet smell of grain, the smoky scent of falling leaves, the aroma of summer somehow ripening into fall. And before I took off again, I had to wipe my eyes and blow my nose, because the season went from having a purely sensory effect on me to having an emotional one. I can’t explain it. I can only say it is very real.

                It made me remember when I took my youngest son to register for kindergarten. I knew I would have to leave him, that they would separate us, and steeled myself against his tears. I held his hand going up to the double doors, his curly blond head at a level with my hip. He wore his beloved denim jacket.

              When we got to the door, he released my hand and said, “Bye, Mom. You can go home now.”

              He wasn’t the one who cried.

              It wasn’t fall when he registered—it was spring—but in my mind it was autumn and the first day of school and he was never completely mine again. If I think about it too long, I will get sniffly all over again.

              I sold my first book on my brother’s birthday, October 23, in 1998. Last year A Heartwarming Christmas hit the USA Today list in October. Last week A Heartwarming Holiday became an Amazon best seller. Later last week, my editor called and made an offer—two more Heartwarmings! I mentioned to my brother that it would be fine with me if he had more birthdays just so I could have more nice things happen. He told me it was time I grew up and did things on my own. We laughed long and hard.

              In 1999, I went to Vermont for the first time and knew that in some indefinable way, I’d gone home. Whenever I think of the little state nestling in over there beside Helen’s New Hampshire, it is with waves of tenderness, especially in October, when the leaf-peepers and people selling maple syrup are out in full force and all of New England becomes a national post card.

              Saturday night was the hunter’s super moon and I stood in the back yard and watched it and was so thankful that in this time of political upheaval and anger and meanness, there are things so beautiful that even we as writers don’t have the right words to describe them.

              I haven’t said this at all the way I meant to—which is the way blogging usually goes!—but I’m so grateful to this season not only for its colors and its lovely smells and sounds, but for the emotions it brings forth. The “waves of tenderness,” the tears, the laughter, the warmth of beauty when there seems to be so much cold ugliness all around.

               I hope you get some good laughing and crying in this fall. Mostly, as we enter the holiday season, I hope you have joy throughout.


If you haven't ordered it yet, A Heartwarming Holiday is still 99 cents. For a limited time, A Heartwarming Christmas (last year's boxed set) is, too. 

And then, while you're out there, A Heartwarming Thanksgiving is available for pre-order. And don't forget that prize package Kate talked about yesterday!