Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Visit from Santa Claus

Someone recently asked me about my favorite childhood Christmas memory. Though I have lots to choose from, one year does stand out more than the rest (warning – yes, it’s heartwarming)
My parents used to tell my brother John and me that under no circumstances were we to come downstairs after they put us to bed on Christmas Eve because if Santa saw us, all our presents would turn to coal. At five-years-old, I believed this wholeheartedly. Nonetheless, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I quietly crept down the stairs to the living room.
My mom had a hand painted platter that hung over the fireplace mantle. You know how things can look different in the dark than they do in the light of day? For whatever reason, my young brain imagined the platter as Santa’s head. I immediately ran back upstairs, certain Santa had seen me and all my gifts were now coal. Back in bed, I cried myself to sleep. At the crack of dawn, my brother bounded into my room shouting that there were presents under the tree. I literally dragged my feet all the way downstairs where my parents waited, smiles on their faces. Why be happy, all my gifts were coal? Well, as you can guess, I opened the first package, very slowly to delay the misery as long as possible, to discover a toy. Yeah, best Christmas ever. Somehow, miraculously, Santa hadn’t seen me, though I remained convinced for four more years that I’d seen him.
What's your favorite childhood holiday memory?
However you chose to celebrate the season, I hope it’s one of your best, spent filled with joy and surrounded by loved ones. If you’re like me, you might still have more shopping to do, food to buy,  and presents to wrap. Honestly, my husband and I only just the other day finished decorating the tree and putting up the outside lights.
Warmest wishes to all, and here's to making many more wonderful memories.
Cathy McDavid

Winner Announcement for the 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' Giveaway!

Someone just won a 'sleigh full' of prizes! We have a winner for the December authors' Ho! Ho! Ho! Giveaway! Congratulations to...


Winner has also been emailed and announced on the original giveaway post here:

Many thanks to all who entered!

Wishing every one of you a happy, peaceful and joyous holiday season.

Rula, Catherine, Liz & Beth

Saturday, December 16, 2017


Today we’re celebrating the December release of A Gift for Santa.

Who is your favorite character, and why?  

I’m quite fond of several characters, but I have a soft spot for Chris. He’s a bighearted easygoing kind of guy, and while he has regrets, he’s not one to waste a lot of time agonizing over ancient history. Eventually, though, he comes to realize that taking responsibility for his past can open up possibilities for a better future.

Tell us one thing you learned during research.

Since the story takes place on a reindeer farm, I spent a lot of time researching reindeer, including a visit to the reindeer farm in Palmer, Alaska. I learned that both male and female reindeer have antlers. The male shed theirs in the fall, but the females keep theirs until their calves are born in the spring. That means Santa’s reindeer are most likely all female. But considering they manage to deliver happiness to children over the entire world in a single night, you probably already suspected that.

In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption, what would it say?


I picture Chris teaching Ryan all the skills he’ll need someday to care for the reindeer at the reindeer farm.

What music would match the mood of this novel?

What is your favorite scene?

One of my favorites is when Ryan “borrows” the dog. Kimmik, the dog, has gotten out once before, and Chris found him playing with a neighbor’s foster child, Ryan. One of the chores Chris plans to accomplish today is to check the gate and make sure the dog can’t open it again. But this happens:

It was midafternoon when Chris remembered about the gate. He pulled on boots, and was reaching for his jacket when he glanced out the window to see Ryan lifting the latch and calling Kimmik outside. By the time Chris pulled on his coat and made it to the door, boy and dog were playing fetch in the cul-de-sac.

“Hey, Ryan.”

The boy looked up, eyes wide and startled, but then turned his back and threw the stick again. Kimmik ran after it and galloped back, carrying it in his mouth with his head held high.

Chris trotted over to the boy. “Ryan, you can’t just be letting the dog out of the yard without asking.”

Ryan took the stick and threw it again. “He got out. Maybe he dug a hole.”

“I saw you open the gate.”

The kid raised his chin. “Well, he’s lonely. You don’t ever play with him.”

“I do, but you’re right, not as much as he’d like. Ryan, I don’t mind you playing with the dog, but you have to ask first. You can’t just take somebody else’s dog without permission.”

“If he was my dog, I’d take good care of him. I’d play with him and brush him and feed him.” He patted Kimmik on the head and threw the stick again. “You should take better care of your dog.”

Clever way to shift the blame. Chris smiled. “Technically, he’s not my dog. He belongs to my roommate, Sam. But I think we take pretty good care of him.”

“He’s not yours?” Ryan looked him in the eye for the first time.

“No. He’s Sam’s dog.”

“Is it your house?”

“Nope. Sam’s house, too. I just live there.” Chris rubbed Kimmik’s ears and took the stick, handing it to Ryan.

The boy threw the stick and turned to him. “So are you, like, a foster kid, too?”

Chris chuckled. “Not exactly. I pay rent and help with the chores, like taking care of the dog.”

“I do chores, too.”

“Good. That shows you’re responsible.”

“Ryan?” a man’s voice called from up the street.

The kid made a face. “Homework.” He made no move to answer, instead throwing the stick again.

Brent, a neighbor from up the street, walked toward them. “Ryan, it’s time to come inside.” He looked at Chris. “Sorry. Hope he wasn’t bothering you.”

“No, he just wanted to play with the dog.” Ryan shot Chris a look of alarm, but Chris patted him on the shoulder. “I told him he was welcome to play with Kimmik anytime, as long as he comes to ask first.”

“He loves dogs. He might drive you crazy.”

“Nah, he’s fine. I’ll let Sam and Dana know he might be stopping by.”

“Thanks.” Brent grasped Ryan by the shoulders and turned him around. “But right now, you need to go inside. Sandy wants to go over your spelling words with you while the baby’s napping.”

“But Kimmik wants to play.”

“Ryan, now.”

Ryan dropped his chin onto his chest with a mighty sigh, and trudged away.

You can find A Gift for Santa in paperback or ebook at these online bookstores.

And don't forget, today is the last day to enter the Sleigh Full of Prizes December Heartwarming Giveaway. Winner will be announced tomorrow!

When you were a child, did you ever have a neighbor with an interesting pet, or maybe a trampoline, or something else you found irristable?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Building a Book Cover

by Shirley Hailstock

Since there have been so many blogs on Christmas, I decided to do something different. So let's get to it...

We all do it. We judge a book by its cover. Since most of the bookstores closed where we used to browse the shelves of life-size images, we now see cover after cover online and choose what we want to click on and read.

So I was playing around with Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud). I should be writing, reading a book I promised to provide a quote for, or icing those cupcakes that I have to take to school tomorrow. Instead I'm creating book covers.

I thought I'd share some of my fun with you. Many readers ask authors about the covers that appear on their releases. I'm not a professional and the process will be the basics, but you'll get the gist.

It's a good thing if you have an idea of what you want the cover to look like. I have books set in Washington, DC, so I began there. And additionally, I thought of the color I wanted the background to be. I experimented with several covers.

And decided on this one.

In the foreground, you can see that the grass is very dark. What you can't see is the reflection of the Capitol in the water that's in the front of the building. So through the magic of Photoshop, I added it.

Notice the color changed a little. That's because I have a background behind the entire scene that is not visible.  It's white and changes the color a little. I liked the change, so I kept it. The reflection is also clearly visible.

Now, I have to add people, mainly because I like to see the people who are in the story. The couple I chose are clearly on a beach.

 There's no beach in my story, so I cut it away and only left them.

Now it's a matter of combining the two images. Each image is its own story, so I needed to blend them. 

Initially, when you put the two images together, you can't see through them. Using a blending technique, I expose part of the couple in the background.

The photo comes out looking like this.

Now, it's time for the text. The fonts for the author's name remains constant on all their books if the publisher chooses to do that. On self-published books, the author generally chooses a font she likes and uses it as part of her brand.  I chose the font Anastasia for my name.

The font used for the title presents another area that needs to be addressed. Not only the font itself, but the color(s) needs to blend with the other colors and the words need to be clear enough to see, especially as a thumbnail (very small image). Notice that my name is huge on the cover. That's a branding technique. The author's name will remain the same (exceptions are not addressed here) while book titles will change. And we want readers to remember our names.

That's just about it. Since this is a December blog, I hung a candy cane on the title. Using another method I painted out (not the technical term) part of the candy cane image so it appears to hang from the letter T in The.

As I said, this is very rudimentary. The process can take many more images. I used 8 here, including the text which is also an image. Each word is separate, allowing me to place them where I want them or move them around to see if it looks better.

Finally, we get to the point where the cover is done. It relays the story at a glance. This cover would say the book is a contemporary romance, set in Washington, DC with a light plot. You wouldn't expect to find a dark paranormal or a dark suspense from the makeup and title of the cover.

As a note, I do not have a book called The Promise.  I used it to demonstrate the color and fonts that complement the total artwork. All the images used were either free for use or I purchased the intellectual property.

So next time, you browse or look at an author's cover, you can see that there's branding and communications through the images and fonts.

Happy reading...

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Where books come from by Amie Denman

Earlier this fall, I had a wonderful trip to the Harlequin Distribution Center near Buffalo, New York. My 15-year-old son is a shutterbug and was my official photographer for the trip. Here I am before heading inside:

I had heard of the magical place where books are printed, boxed, and shipped, but it was even more amazing than I had expected. The call center for Harlequin is inside this location, and that's where you'll hear the friendly voices of customer service representatives when you call about your subscription service or to ask a question about Harlequin's many series lines. I was fortunate enough to meet dozens of the people who work in this facility, and it made me almost as excited as the first time I got the call from a Harlequin editor. Their professionalism, dedication, and enthusiasm for Harlequin is truly wonderful.

As a double bonus, the day I visited was the day they were printing books from the Harlequin Heartwarming line. Back in July, I danced with Rula Sinara and Catherine Lanigan at the Harlequin party during the Romance Writers of America convention in Orlando. I was thrilled to see books being printed that were written by such lovely ladies--and great dancers!

Rolling off the line--check out these December releases: Every Serengeti Sunrise and His Baby Dilemma.

In addition to the call center and the book printing functions, the Harlequin Distribution Center boxes and ships SO MANY BOOKS! The massive building smelled like new books--which probably accounted for my euphoria and far too much babbling during the luncheon. Seriously, look at all these beautiful books!
One of my favorite aspects of the trip was meeting the lovely people who work there. My fantastic editor Dana Grimaldi helped set up my visit, and I loved meeting Heather Allen and Rossana Cappuccitti from the Toronto office. It was especially fun for me to take my family along for the tour and visit. I allowed my teenaged sons to miss a day of school because I wanted them to share in the delight that being part of Harlequin brings me. My husband and sons were fascinated by the automation of the factory!

Just for fun, we went to Niagara Falls for the weekend following our tour of the Harlequin Distribution Center. It's only a short drive away, and it's always beautiful. As you can see, it was a little chilly the day my son took this picture of my husband and me. We just celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary last week, and he's still my favorite romantic hero.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Would You Rather Holiday Edition by Amy Vastine & Carol Ross

Decorating, traveling, getting those cards in the mail, meal planning, shopping, parties, in-laws, secret Santa gifts for that person you know nothing about, and on it goes. Whatever holiday task you’re worrying about or working on right now, put it aside for a few minutes because we’re going to have some fun! Amy and I are going to help you imagine your holidays in a whole new way by playing a little game. So, grab your cup of coffee or a mug of eggnog and play along!

Carol and Amy visiting Santa earlier this month.
Would you rather shop with a limited budget and finish before Thanksgiving or have an unlimited budget and do all your shopping in one store in one hour on Christmas Eve?

Amy: Love this question, Carol! I don’t know if you know this about me, but I am the queen of speed shopping. I manage this by plotting and planning ahead of time. In real life, I clip my coupons the night before and write out my list so I can get everything I need at the best price. But what if I didn’t have to worry about money? Sign me up! I would absolutely pick unlimited budget on Christmas Eve because if you can give me a supercenter (Target preferably!) and all the money in the world, I can fill multiple carts full of everything my loved ones would want in sixty minutes or less!

Would you rather spend Christmas all alone in the location of your choice or spend it at home with EVERY single member of your extended family (no exceptions)?

Carol: All alone. Hawaii. Nuff said.

Would you rather eat an entire pound of fudge at one sitting or drink a gallon of eggnog?

Amy: This one is no contest. Fudge all the way. I don’t like eggnog and I think a drinking a gallon of anything might make me throw up. My one sitting might have to take me all day long, but I would give it my best shot! In fact, I just found this recipe for Peppermint Bark Fudge. Who’s with me?  

Would you rather give up your Christmas morning coffee or your Christmas dinner dessert?

Carol: Oh my goodness, Amy, you know how much I love dessert! I am definitely with you and I cannot wait to try this recipe! I know this may shock you (and others who know me best) but I would sacrifice my dessert. And my family and friends would want me to choose this since they’d have to put up with me if I was caffeine-deprived on Christmas!

Now it’s your turn! We want to know:

Would you rather wear the ugliest ever light-up Christmas sweater to a formal holiday party where you know absolutely no one or dress as Santa Claus every day during the month of December?

Amy’s holiday novella, A Case for Christmas Magic, and Carol’s story, Gingerbread Girl are both a part of the holiday anthology, Heartwarming Holiday Wishes. Get your copy today on Amazon!

For more information and complete lists of books, please visit their websites:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas and Solstice Greetings from Patricia Forsythe and Virginia McCullough

Hello Everyone! Most everyone agrees December is the busiest month of the year, with plenty of important days and holidays leading to celebrating the New Year. In Virginia’s case, that means the excitement of anticipating the January release of SOMETHING TO TREASURE. This month we decided to join forces and give our take on favorite holidays in this season of light and hope. Patricia offers her look at Christmas and Virginia adds her thoughts about winter solstice. May every December day be filled with joy, light, and hope! 

It’s Almost Christmastime
By Patricia Forsythe

Everyone I know has a special way to celebrate their favorite holiday at this time of year, usually involving family and friends. Whenever we go through our boxes of decorations, we are reminded of where we bought them, who gave them to us, or which child made which ornament. They are all precious memories. I have added a picture of one of my most beloved ornaments, a macrame angel that I swear I’m going to work into a story someday. It was made many years ago by a friend named Mary, who had the same sweet smile and big blue eyes she painted on my angel. I have no idea whatever became of her, but I think of her each time I take my angel from the box and hang her near the top of my tree. 

For many reasons, the past couple of years have been hard for a lot of us, and I think that’s why Christmas this year seems so precious. Opening up our containers of decorations, untangling the strings of lights, sharing gifts, food, and fun helps us recall happier times, and create fond memories to bring out and treasure during future hard times. 

So, I’d like to say Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and a Blessed New Year to you all, as well as a thank you to Mary, wherever you are, for the memories and the angel.

It’s Almost Solstice Time
By Virginia McCullough

For obvious reasons, the magical December holidays in the northern hemisphere involve light, first its absence and then the chance to joyously welcome its return. Last year I was in Iceland for the winter solstice, and that trip saw us trekking through the snow in the dark in search of morning coffee. Then, still in the dark, we’d wander around Reykjavik’s downtown streets filled with all sorts of fun shops—and a wealth of bookstores. We’d stroll along the waterfront at sunrise, around 11:30 a.m. and explore museums and galleries until sunset, around 3:30 p.m., when we (and everyone else, it seemed) relaxed in the fading light with hot chocolate or a cup of spiced wine. 

To offer day trips to the famous waterfalls and lava beaches, the local tour companies had to schedule the highlights within that four-hour window of light, and that meant starting out early. No lazing around ’til noon to take a quick trip out to the countryside!

As dark as Iceland is in the winter, we noticed that most homes and shops celebrated light with candles everywhere and fairy-lights and strings of bulbs wrapped around windows and doorways and even picture frames and tables. We came home from this magical adventure understanding exactly why Reykjavik’s New Year’s Eve fireworks are legendary. They started around dinnertime and went on well past midnight in one long show of light against the otherwise dark sky. 

The solstice isn’t much of a holiday in our modern era. It’s not even widely marked, although some do honor the occasion with various kinds of rituals. Mostly it’s simply noted as one of the panoply of holidays this time of year, and we like knowing the light will last a tiny bit longer each day until June 21, when the whole cycle toward the shorter days starts again.

But the winter solstice is my second favorite holiday, the first being Thanksgiving, which kicks off the season. I especially enjoy the winter solstice because, like the sunrise and sunset, we don’t have to acknowledge it or do one thing to make it happen. No need to plan, shop, wrap, cook, and make lists about it—and we can’t even pretend to “manage” it. The solstice doesn’t depend on anyone believing in it; like the phases of the moon and the changing tides, it just is. No one can claim ownership of the solstice, but we can all share the day.

For sure, solstice (and many other natural phenomena) has a legacy. It’s led to speculation about the still hazy meaning of Stonehenge and other ancient stone circles, to give just one example. And ways of celebrating the return of the light have carried over through the ages to the evergreens and Yule logs of Christmas or even the Hanukkah menorah representing the oil lamp in the temple. I grew up surrounded by all these symbols of the season, and my whole life has been richer for it. 

I wish you all a Happy Solstice wherever you are and whatever winter holidays you celebrate—may you have lots of light and love during the next festive weeks and in 2018! 

Patricia Forsythe is the author of more than three dozen romance novels, some written as Patricia Knoll. She loves telling the stories of how two people overcome their differences to find their 'happily ever after'. Her current book series, Oklahoma Girls, includes At Odds With the Midwife, The Husband She Can't Forget, and His Twin Baby Surprise.                 

Virginia McCullough is happily anticipating her January Heartwarming release, SOMETHING TO TREASURE (available for pre-order), the second of her Two Moon Bay series. (Book 1, GIRL IN THE SPOTLIGHT, was released in June.) Virginia’s novels are stories of hope, healing, and second chances, and they introduce readers to characters who could be their neighbors and friends struggling with everyday life issues. 

A ghostwriter for many years, Virginia wrote over 100 books for physicians, business owners, professional speakers and many others with information to share or a story to tell. A vagabond by nature, she’s moved around a lot, and now lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she enjoys hanging out with other romance writers and hunkering down during the long winter to write and read. Her other award-winning romance and women’s fiction titles include THE JACKS OF HER HEART, AMBER LIGHT, and GRETA’S GRACE. 

Visit Virginia on Facebook: and her website:  You also can participate in Virginia’s Prism Book Tour, January 8-13, and put your name in for a chance to win something fun.