Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Umm...What’s it Called Again? by Carol Ross

I'm okay with cover-judging on this one!
Soon after my first book for Harlequin Heartwarming (Mountains Apart) was published, I agreed to write three more books set in the same little Alaskan town of Rankins. And that’s how my first series was born. But, like other precious things that are born, it needed a name. To a lot of you out there, this might sound like a fun project, but naming stuff is stressful to me. When you choose a name for your child, or even your dog or cat - they’re stuck it with it. Forever. Same with a book, or in this case, an entire series. A series name might even be worse than a book title, because you only have a few words to capture the flavor of several books - all at once. And, let’s not even get into the whole judging a book by its cover/title thing.

For many writers, this is easy because they are clever enough to pick cool names for their settings in the first place and then go with a twist on that, like Bourbon Street CEO’s, Glacier Creek Cowboys, or Montana Hunky Guys. Well, maybe not that last one, but you get my meaning.

In looking back on it now, I probably would have chosen a different name for “my” town of Rankins. It doesn’t really sound pretty or roll off the tongue very easily. I hear Rankin, Ran-kin, and Rankings quite a bit. Most of the time it’s a simple, “What’s the name of the town again?” Don’t get me wrong, these mispronunciations and misspellings don’t bother me. And I did have a reason when I originally chose it. (This was many years ago, before I was ever published and didn’t have to think about these kinds of things. In my mind, the man the town was originally named after has his own fascinating story. But, as with most backstory, it never ended up playing heavily in the book. Hey, that might be a fun topic for its own post...)

Actual Seasons of Alaska.
 My point here is that Rankins, even as quirky, colorful, fun, and wonderful a place it has turned out to be, didn’t exactly make for a catchy series title. So I racked my brain, I looked at photos for inspiration, I made lists - lots of lists. I came across one the other day in the back of one of my notebooks. Some of my ideas were really horrific, like “Tasting Alaska.” Um, sounds like a really weird reality cooking show where people go around licking glaciers or sampling pickled moose lung or something else as equally and decidedly not romantic…

But all this thinking and bad list-making did get me there - eventually. As a setting, Alaska is about as broad as it gets. Which is perfect, because from the beginning, one thing I wanted to do was give the reader a taste (there's that word again) of Alaska’s diversity. One of the most striking examples of this is its seasonal extremes. I love the way Alaskans seem to both tackle and embrace every dramatic and changing aspect - from the beauty and chill of fall to the coldest and loveliest depths of winter, to the promise of new life each spring, to the wild abandon that summer brings. They are accepting and connected to their environment in this really special way. Rather fortuitously, I think, there is also the fact that the word “season” can imply “flavor” or “spice.”  Seasons of Alaska. Mission accomplished, I say.

My Seasons of Alaska

 A Family Like Hannah’s, book 4 in the Seasons of Alaska series is available now!

I’m going to share the back cover copy because I love it so much:

Starting over is serious business 
With her professional skiing career cut short by an accident, Hannah James is putting all her energy into transforming Snowy Sky Resort into something special. There's only one obstacle. Famous pro-snowboarder-turned-consultant Tate Addison has his own ideas about taking the Rankins, Alaska, lodge to the next level. But Hannah won't compromise her dreams. She gets that Tate is trying to create a stable home for his orphaned six-year-old nephew—a boy Hannah already adores. And if she isn't careful, she could also fall for the boy's too-attractive uncle. Is she risking heartbreak? Or do she and Tate really want the same things out of life?

Buy links:

 Also available in select Walmart stores in March!

For more information about Carol Ross and a complete list of books, please visit her website:

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Off The Rails And Back On Again by Patricia Forsythe

Many years ago, when I first started writing, I had four small children and no such thing as a dedicated office space.  However, in my bedroom, I had a full wall of closets with mirrored doors, so I truly became a closet writer.  I put my computer, an Apple IIe, on a small desk inside the closet and sometimes used the walls as a bulletin board to post pictures of my current hero and heroine, usually ones I cut out of magazines.  Also, I wrote out lengthy backstories for these people and interviewed them as if I was a newbie reporter trying to nail down the breaking news story of the century.  When I needed to describe a facial expression, I would pull the closet door partway shut, lean around so I could see my face, and try to make the expression I wanted to recreate in words.  This technique was very helpful and my children laughed hysterically over my antics.  They learned, early on, that their mother wasn’t the norm.  This realization has probably saved them thousands of dollars in therapy fees.

Yesterday, while reading Cheryl Harper’s post about doing research by binge-watching television shows and creating Pinterest boards for her characters, I realized I no longer do the prep work on characters that I used to do, and I’m not sure how or why I ever went off the rails and got out of that habit.  Now, I tend to create characters, decide what they look like and what motivates them, and jump into writing.  It’s highly inefficient.  I have to keep going back in the story to see how I’ve described the characters and rediscover what makes them the way they are.  I’ve decided I need to step back in time -- although not back into that closet -- find photos and create backstories. 
Now, I have a space strictly for writing, a storage shed in my backyard that I had converted into an office.  I call it my Shoffice.  It has plenty of space for photos and write-ups of character interviews, although maybe I’ll make Pinterest boards instead.  I need to get back to what I was doing so long ago to get to know my characters.  After all, on Pinterest, I can always do research by looking for likenesses of my hero and heroine, inspirational sayings of my characters’ beliefs, recipes of things I’ll never cook, photos of kittens and puppies.  Oh, wait, I may be going off the rails again.

Monday, February 8, 2016

We call this "research" by Cheryl Harper

That six or seven seasons of that television show I just watched in about a month? The two hours I spent on Pinterest? That's research. It is! I was working. My main takeaways from watching all of 30 Rock in a row: I am Liz Lemon. I need Liz Lemon gifs at hand at all times. And not even losing my remote can stop me if I'm motivated.

Pinterest actually has a little more direct relation to writing (she says as the halo over her head tilts dangerously). Right now, I'm working on a proposal for a new series. Want to see my hero board? There's also one for heroines but it needs some work. For me, every story starts with one scene that I can see vividly in my head. Three friends at a girls' night in-Winner Takes All. A bombshell in a red dress with a goofy dog in the middle of a staid office-Heart's Refuge. My hero striding out of prison-Title TBD but it's coming! Unfortunately, publishing has not yet developed the capability of the editor/writer mind meld so I have to put some words on paper. And one scene won't cut it.

From the single scene, I can start to figure out who the people are. Then it's all 20 Questions in my brain, like I'm suffering through a first date and doing my best to make conversation.
What sort of work do you do?
Where did you grow up?
Is your family close?
What kind of music do you listen to?
How do you feel about the state of my bangs? (This is not a real question I ask, but it's been on my mind a lot lately. Also, I would never ask that on a first date because I would be afraid of the answer, no matter what it was.)

But the best part is turning to my old friend Pinterest as I search for ideas on what my characters look like. We do not judge books by covers, but if I can find the image that clicks, all this stuff that I've imagined might be the answer to my first date question slips into focus. One scene, fully formed characters with their own style, and then...the hard part. How do we get from that first scene to a happily ever after? Yeah, I'm still trying to find the foolproof method to get there. Mostly, I wander around in the wilderness until my editor hacks through and shows me the path. Editors are heroes, people.

I'd love to hear your suggestions on people who should be on my boards, heroines especially. What sort of character are you missing in your reading now? Or what's the type that that draws you in every single time?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Using my words

 …by Senior Editor Victoria Curran

I love words. I love talking about words. I especially love learning new things about words. So when I had lunch a week ago with one of Harlequin’s former copy editors, now retired, for our annual Toronto Winterlicious outing, it made me smile that she called over the waiter to grill him about the word “sassafras” describing the split-pea soup gumbo. And then she called him back about “celeriac remoulade” describing the chickpea and pea fitters.  (We go to very snobby restaurants for our annual prix fixe outing…and then we order tap water and fight over the exact tip…waiters love us.) But we really got sidetracked over her dessert, the key lime pudding described as a “posset.” For that one, she pulled out a pen and jotted it down in her notebook. That night I got an email from her outlining the etymology of the word, and I only wish I’d kept her email! (For those as unfamiliar as we were, a posset was in essence a popular medieval hot curdled milk drink that has somehow evolved into a pudding.)

From posset last week, my informal research took me to “slacks” this week. That’s a mighty polarizing word among editors and authors, and I turned to my nine older siblings and their spouses to find out if any of them wore “slacks.” The responses cracked me up. Apparently Canadians find “slacks” to be an older term that’s gone by the wayside and, debatably, they were only ever worn by the kids who weren’t cool. As far as my little crew of Canadians are concerned, slacks are something Trixie Belden’s mom would’ve forced her to wear, except she was already dressed in dungarees—a word I just had to look up to make sure I’d got it down right!

My family also includes Brits and Irishwomen, who weighed in against “pants”—the Canadian preferred choice of casual bottoms—as an alternative to “slacks” because pants mean underpants in the UK. Who knew? (One stray Brit thought “pants” meant the stretchy outerwear with stirrups worn for downhill skiing…but clearly she’s not a skier.)

In the middle of all this glorious luxuriating in words, a buddy of mine wrote a get-well note to a couple on Facebook that included the word “youse” and she put it apologetically in quotation marks. I immediately added my own get-well wishes and then told my buddy to man up, remove those quotation marks and proudly embrace her use of the Old English plural form of “you,” similar to the French “vous,” which made its way across to North America via ports of call like Boston back in the day. I love that it still exists, even if only to embarrass those who use it. And it warms my heart that traces of the Old English simple past of verbs like “drag” crop up occasionally in some of my authors’ stories, as for instance, the cowboy drug his heels across the floor. Yay! Old English in action.

The longer I’m an editor, the more I can see that there are no rights or wrongs for grammar and style in English. It’s an incredibly complex evolution over centuries with a ton of twists and turns that make it fascinating to study. And that’s why there are so many different style guides out there. For every rule of English, I challenge you that there’s an opposing rule and a strong argument for both. And proponents for one or the other will fight you to the death. I had been taught by my first magazine editor, for instance, that “comprised of” is a common error. That the correct sentence is “The house comprised ten rooms” rather than “The house was comprised of ten rooms.” I defended that “rule” for years until I recently researched it with a Harlequin copy editor and see that my former boss’s “rule” is the common error. There’s a whole history behind each school of thought. (To all the authors out there whose “comprised” I’ve self-righteously messed with, apologies. I suspect Jen Snow might be one, oops.)

The more I know, clearly the less I know. And I find that exhilarating. I look forward to discovering more about English and storytelling through working with the talented authors at Heartwarming (and let’s not forget Superromance, the other series I work on!), and the editors on our team who bring a wealth of diverse experience and knowledge to the table.

Also, I’d like to wish a belated happy book birthday to the authors of our February Heartwarming stories: Carol Ross (A Family Like Hannah’s), Eleanor Jones (The Little Dale Remedy), our Valentine anthology co-authors Melinda Curtis, Cari Lynn Webb and Anna J. Stewart (Make Me A Match) and debut author Sophia Sasson (First Comes Marriage), who caught our attention in the Heartwarming contest two years ago.

Paddywhacks all around! Aaaand now I’m off to research the etymology of “paddywhacks.” If it turns out I’m maligning any Irish people, apologies ahead of time. English, she is hard.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Friendships by Tara Randel

                                                  Friendship Royalty Free Stock Photos

I was thinking about a friend of mine the other day and realized how fortunate I am to have more than one good friend in my life. Friends come in a variety of ways, we never know where or when we might click with a person, but the bottom line is, friendships are irreplaceable. For most of us, friendships are essential. I’m sure you can relate to one or more of the friendships you’ve cultivated in your own life, but here are a few. 

Lifetime. I’m sure everyone has that one friend you’ve keep in contact with since you were a kid. They know everything about you; the good, bad and ugly. They know all about your first crush or remember the unfortunate fashion choices from high school. The bond with a lifetime friend is strong, comfortable and priceless.

Long-distance. How about those friend who live thousands of miles away? Yet somehow we stay tuned into their lives. One of my long-distance friends is also my lifetime friend. We may not see each other very often, but we keep up with cards, yearly visits and a phone call or text. When we do see I each other? It’s like no time has passed and we fall into that easy camaraderie. 

Family. Some might consider a sibling, a child  or parent as among your true friends. For me, my husband is my best friend. Not only do we love each other, but we have fun together. I couldn’t imagine traveling this journey without him.

Work. Oh, those friends who are with us every day at work. They hear about the kids and school and family and everything else going on currently in our lives. They are there when we need a breather, someone to listen to us at lunchtime or just simply to socialize with. Yep, they know a lot about us too. 

And for those of us who work at home? Well, I’m going to have to brag on my author friends right here. The Heartwarming authors are a very supportive group of women. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of you at RWA conferences, or worked with you on different projects. Yes, we love what we do, but because this is a solitary occupation, we need that network of friends in this industry. Some of you I haven’t met face-to-face, only through email, but I still feel that strong bond. 

I have two friends locally who have been writing for years and we still get together regularly to chat, not only about our personal lives, but about the craft. I still go to them to brainstorm or call them when I have story difficulties. I treasure them. 

Then there is my critique partner, Karen Rock, who I met when we started emailing after the Heartwarming series first launched. We became friends, then started working together and call each other if we've hit a snag in a plot. I’m so very grateful for our friendship. 

Church or organizations. Everyone likes to belong and help others. I have a strong network of friends at church who help me through the joyful times in life, as well as the lowest. Whether you attend a church or are involved in the community, it’s the like-minded connection that we can depend upon and grow with.

I’m sure you could think of many other types of friendships you value in your lives. Truly, friendships are a gift we should never take for granted. Call a friend, hug a buddy or email with someone who is important in your life. When you think about it, how could we get along without those wonderful friends in our lives?

Tara Randel is an award-winning,USA TODAY bestselling author of eleven novels. She is currently working on new stories for Harlequin Heartwarming, as well as a new mystery series. Her next Heartwarming, The Bridal Bouquet, is part of The Business of Weddings series and will be released in June 2016. Visit Tara at Like her on Facebook at Tara Randel Books

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Greetings from....Alaska?! by Anna J Stewart

Greeting Heartwarming peeps!  Great to be back with you again during this chilly month of February.  Hope everyone had a beautiful holiday season.  

As most of you know by now, I'm a California girl--through and through. I can't imagine another state I'd want to live in (maybe Hawaii), but if I had to choose one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited, Alaska would be on the top of the list.  How fortunate that my latest Heartwarming release MAKE ME A MATCH takes place there!

When Melinda Curtis, Cari Lynn Webb, and I bounced ideas around for a Valentine's anthology, the first notion was to do something with matchmaking.  It was the romance holiday, of course it had to revolve around love (and, well, romance, so duh). But...we decided to turn the expected on its head and made our heroes the ones determined to help unattached singles find their perfect mate. Not ones to make things easy on ourselves (or our heroes), we put these three men (Cooper, Ty, and Gideon) in the testosterone rich, estrogen lacking Alaska, because, hey, we needed to give them a challenge, right?

There is something inherently appealing about Alaska. You can almost hear the snow drifting down, the flakes landing feather light, and feel the chill against your cheeks simply by thinking about it.  I was fortunate to have visited there a number of years ago with my pseudo-little sister, Jessica--we took a cruise (she's originally from Alaska, so having the personal tour guide was a definite plus). Now I'm not normally a fan of drizzle, rain, and fog so thick you can't see to the other side (despite growing up in SF), but something magical happens in Alaska. It's like you're transported to another, much more quiet world. A place where what's important emerges from the chaos and craziness in the lower 48.

**Okay, I just spent 15 minutes digging for my photos (10 years ago meant pre-cell phone era)...I survived the avalanche in my closet to find them! Yay! See what I mean about other worldly?  *sigh*  Now I want to go back!**

In a scene I wrote for SUDDENLY SOPHIE, my contributed novella to the collection, Sophie, my heroine, is out on a date arranged by Gideon, one of our matchmaking bachelors. What Sophie doesn't know is that Gideon really doesn't want to find her a match, so...let's just say it isn't the best date ever. This should give you a clue--doesn't that just look...romantic? It does? Okay, then imagine it's night.  Ha!  That was fun to write. (This was actually taken in Sitka, far away from where our fictional town of K-Bay is).

At its heart, MAKE ME A MATCH is about friendship and the bonds that form. Coop, Ty, and Gideon have dreamed together, failed together and stalled out in life together, but nothing has torn them apart. And nothing will, not even as each of them find their perfect match.

I'm lucky to have friends like that. Melinda, Cari and I have been critique buddies for almost a decade now. We practically have our own language and a shorthand no one else would understand. We can be unflinchingly honest with one another, but we are also each others' first call when things get rough. We know there are two shoulders for us to cry on when need be (and trust me--there has been need). No one gets by in this life on their own. Having friends like I do, or like the three bachelors from K-Bay, makes all the difference in the world.

So I leave you with this beautiful flower (I have no idea what that is--it was pretty, so that was all that mattered, LOL--feel free to tell me what it is in the comments!). I hope that you, like Coop, Ty, and Gideon, surround yourself with forever friends as you go through life.

Happy reading, heartwarmers!

Anna J

USA Today and national bestselling author Anna J. Stewart can't remember a time she didn't have a book in her hands or a story in her head. Early obsessions with Star Wars, Star Trek and Wonder Woman set her on the path to creating fun, funny, and family-centric romances with happily ever afters for her independent heroines. Anna lives in Northern California where she deals with a serious Supernatural & Sherlock addiction, surrounds herself with friends and family and tolerates an overly affectionate cat named Snickers (or perhaps it's Snickers who tolerates her). Visit her online at

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Groundhog vs El Niño By Rula Sinara & Catherine Lanigan

Happy Groundhog’s Day everyone! Or is it? You have to admit that poor Punxsutawney Phil has his work cut out this year. In the past, all he had to do was pop out of his burrow, and either see his shadow (for a prediction of 6 more weeks of winter) or not see his shadow (for an early spring). But this year, the cute little guy is up against not-so-cute El Niño. Since El Niño literally means ‘the child’, I can’t help but picture two kids on a playground, with one being a bully. Sorry Mother Nature, but you have to admit we’ve had a lot of weather pranks this season.
Low visibility when Blizzard Jonas first hit Rula's backyard
Blizzard Jonas early on (during daylight). It got worse.
In general, El Niño events tend to cause warmer than average temps early in the winter season, followed by wetter/cooler weather later on. Beyond that trend, things can get unpredictable…including wacky weather such as blizzards. We were getting such unusually warm temps, I was starting to think we'd never see snow this year.
Yeah. Um. I was wrong. And I had to dig several times through all that snow to get to the chicken coop!
Rula's flock after the storm
I live in what the weather guy refers to as the mid-Atlantic region and we got a pretty good dose of snow with the recent Blizzard Jonas. In fact, schools were off Jan 22nd when the snow began and just reopened yesterday with a 2 hr delay! Some roads are still hard to navigate because of mountains of plowed snow and narrow passage. We got 3ft plus deeper drifts at my place and digging provided ample exercise opportunities.
That's a 4ft fence under all that snow!
Rula's backyard post Blizzard Jonas
You can see a few more of my Blizzard Jonas pics and my experience here.

And now, it looks like El Niño is gifting the U.S. with more blizzard conditions in the Midwest as winter storm Kayla comes through this week. Catherine is all ready for her predicted foot of snow. I don't know...we got a lot more than predicted with this last blizzard. Hunker down, Catherine! Is it the two of us or do all writers and readers love the coziness snowy weather provides? Nothing like relaxing in front of a roaring fireplace with a good book (especially if it’s a Heartwarming ;)!

Catherine sitting by her fire
Catherine's yard with normal snowfall. Can you spot the deer? I can't imagine it post-blizzard!
Catherine's winter wonderland. Beautiful!
One sure fire way to cope with the cold is to curl up with a great story. So when you’re out stocking up on supplies for bad weather, if you’re near one of the Walmart stores that’s carrying Harlequin Heartwarming books (check this list), be sure to stock up! Or if you’re shopping online, you can now purchase/preorder both Print and ebook versions of Heartwarming books on Amazon, B&N and at! Happy book birthday to this month’s release authors!

Speaking of book birthdays, when you're shopping for Heartwarming books online, you might notice that (ie on Amazon) the ebook and mass market paperback versions have different release dates. For example, Catherine's upcoming book Fear of Falling has a March 1st birthday, but you can get your hands on the paperback version on Amazon this month on Feb 23rd! Yay! And Rula's next release Through the Storm, due out May 1st, will be available in paperback April 19th! You get the idea :). I love the idea of getting my hands on print versions early ;).

So when it comes to today’s winter predictions, do you think El Niño made Groundhog Phil more or less accurate ? Are we going to exhaust our snow supply with a few blizzards, then set sail for an early spring? Or is winter going to drag through March? 

Were you in Blizzard Jonas’ path or are you gearing up for Storm Kayla? Are you planning to sneak in some reading while someone else shovels ;) or will a great book be your reward?

BREAKING NEWS! Groundhog Phil did NOT see his shadow today. That's supposed to mean an early spring. Will El Niño cooperate?