Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sit-Down Saturday with Cynthia Reese

Great to have you here today, Cynthia!

Where did you get the idea for this novel?
 I grew up with a mom who moved walls around furniture, not furniture around walls -- we lived in a constant cloud of sawdust. So I came to love old houses. Plus, my sister lives in an historic neighborhood. Because of that, I've heard all sorts of pros and cons of historic preservation restrictions. I wondered what it would be like to try to grow a relationship when two people had such vast differences in opinion about a renovation.

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

Hmmm ... Tough one! Maybe the corny one about when one door closes?
How long did it take you to write?
 I declare writer's amnesia! I think about three months, but honestly? I can't remember. 

What is your favorite scene?
 Has to be the "canning tomatoes" scene, where the home's AC gives up the ghost. I love how my hero rides into the rescue ... To me, a guy fixing things is the ultimate romantic gesture.

Who was your favorite character and why?
 Gran, hands down! I love her feisty, never give up attitude. I've known so many strong southern women with so much starch in them that they'll never wilt.

If you could pick fictional characters to play the hero and heroine, who would they be?
 You mean actresses and actors? My heroine Allison looks a lot like Maria Thayer, while my hero Kyle would be a more relaxed Ben McKenzie.

Tell us one thing you learned during research.
 I thoroughly enjoyed all the info about what historic preservation groups can and cannot do that Leah Michalek of the Savannah/Chatham Metropolitan Planning Commission's Historic Preservation division. She showed me tons of Second Empire and Victorian homes and was so patient with me.

What music would match the mood of this novel?
Anything Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin -- in fact, those old romantic dance tunes were what on my playlist as I wrote.

 This is your 6th book. Exactly what does that mean to you?
 That I'm not a fluke?? This book was special because it was my second original work specifically targeted toward Heartwarming ... It makes me hope I might be getting the hang of this writing business. 

What do you plan to work on next?
My next book, MAN OF HIS WORD, is the start of a series about a family of firefighters and the stresses the danger and risk can put on a relationship. It's such a wonderful feeling to be able to stay with a family for more than one book.

 What are you reading for pleasure right now?
Hmm ... I read A LOT. While I'm writing, I seldom read romance, opting instead for non-fiction or thrillers. I recently finished THE HUSBAND'S SECRET by Liane Moriarty (two thumbs up!) and a non-fiction book LONGITUDE by Dava Sobel (another two thumbs up!). Right now I'm reading a non-fiction personal finance book, HOW COME THAT IDIOT IS RICH AND I'M NOT?, by David Shemin, and about to start on Vince Vater's PAPERBOY.

Friday, December 19, 2014


Happy Holidays!  

The year is almost over and I look back on the goals I set for myself.  My plan was to complete six writing projects in 2014.  I buckled down, afraid I wouldn't complete them before 2015 rolled over on the calendar.  Well, I got them all done.  In fact, I had them all done by April and so I added four more and went on to finish them even with life intervening.  It has been an interesting and productive year and I have you to thank for it.  Let me take this opportunity to thank my readers for your support in the past and your continued support in the coming years.  Without your help, my career might not exist.  So I appreciate both the help and encouragement you give me.

As Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years celebrations begin, remember when you were a kid and wanted the must-have toy of the season? 

For me the toy I had to have was called Mini-Brix.  They were the precursor to Legos.  I was about seven and I longed for them.  You could build things with them just like you can with today's Legos.  However, my father said it was a boy's toy and I was a girl.  This was prior to the sexual revolution.  On Christmas morning the mini-brik were not there.  I got a doll and a tea set as all good little girls should want.

What is the toy you want today? If you could get your must-have toy, what would it be?  You're never too old for the perfect holiday present.  If I got to sit on Santa's lap and whisper in his ear what I want for Christmas, it wouldn't be a tangible toy, a coat or that one of my books makes the New York Times bestseller list (although I wouldn't refuse that).  I want peace.

This is probably why I choose to write romance.  There is always a happily-ever-after, and the characters remind me of Superman.  They stand for truth and justice.  So as the year comes to a close, let us all pray for our soldiers to come home safely, that the sons and daughters of our enemies lay down their weapons and return to their families, and for the world to work for peace.

Come January, I'll begin the year with new goals and a new book.  Summer on Kendall Farm is the story of Jace and his son returning to their family home only to discover it's been sold for taxes.  Kelly Ashton, a woman from the wrong side of the tracks, now owns the farm and her plans to make it a public showplace has sparks flying between the two over both the land and her flash of bright red hair.

I have written thirty-four novels.  This is my first Heartwarming novel and I am thrilled to be among such great authors and in the company of readers who loves these books.  I hope you enjoy Summer on Kendall Farm.  I sent a lot of time with Kendall Farm in my head before a story totally jelled.

The idea came with an explosion.  It's all right.  The explosion was in my brain and out of it came Ari, the young adopted son of hero Jace.  It was the love between a father and son and the sacrifices Jace makes to give his son a better life.  As parents, we make sacrifices for our children.  It may not be getting better medical care since we live in a society that provides many outlets for children's heath.  What we do is expose them to opportunities, music lessons, sports, play dates, or programs that will enhance them in the future or allow them to find their niche in life.  We sacrifice our time for pursuing our own dreams to help them attain theirs.  It may not appear as a sacrifice because we love our children and are happy to be there for them.

We'll drive for hours to get them to a meet, sit on hard bleachers all day to come home with ten minutes of video.  We'll spend hundred of dollars on overpriced costumes for dances programs and recitals.

When it's all done and they are safely home and in bed, we go to our offices and write wonderful stories that stem from our own experiences, some of which are provided by those long sacrificial days with our children.

Until next time, keep reading.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gift of Giving by Lee McKenzie

Everyone who knows me knows that I love Christmas! I love getting the house all glammed up for the holiday, preparing menus for all the meals I cook for my family, planning tablescapes for each of those just doesn’t get any better. The presents are fun, too, but the best gift of all is having my family gather in the dining room. I also volunteer with Homeless Partners, and this year I received an early Christmas present that I will cherish forever.

The homeless are more than just a statistic; each has his or her own story. To recognize that, volunteers for this program visit local shelters to meet homeless people and record their stories and Christmas wish lists, which are then uploaded to the Homeless Partners website where the public can read them and pledge gifts.

The pledges are personal items that the homeless recipients have requested, and as you might imagine, even a small gift can make a big impact. Homeless Partners can help bridge the gap between people like us and those who are less fortunate, helping us to show them someone cares and perhaps even help them step out of the cycle of homelessness.

Several weeks ago I spent an afternoon at a shelter in my city, where I meet with people and write up their bios for the website. I also pledge Christmas gifts for several homeless people and my daughter and I have great fun shopping for them, especially for the mothers and grandmother who have asked for gifts for their children or grandchildren.

This year I also had the privilege of interviewing a young man who changed my life. He had been in six foster homes by the age of four, then went into long-term foster care. It wasn't good. He said, "When you've been beaten and abused for eleven years, it's hard to turn your life around." He's now twenty-six, spent part of his teen years in a group home, has been in juvenile detention and incarcerated as an adult, and struggles with addiction.

To that point in our interview, I didn't feel as though we were connecting so I asked if he had any special interests or if there were things he would like to do if he had the resources. He told me he liked to draw, and then he opened his backpack and produced a set of designs he created while in prison—designs he hopes will someday lead to having his own business. I was in awe! He also showed me numerous drawings he'd done on bits of paper and salvaged cardboard before launching into an animated and eloquent discussion about the injustices in our society.

I was so moved that I reached out and put my hand on his arm. I told him I was saddened by the things that had happened to him as a foster child and an inmate. Then I told him that I believed the artist and social justice advocate who had come to life during our conversation is who he really is, and that his purpose in life is in his art, and in his heart.

We ended up having a long conversation, and then three consecutive hugs after the facilitator reminded me that I still had other people to interview. Then he pulled out the most impressive of his drawings, cradled it in his palms for a few seconds, and gave it to me. He said ever since he'd drawn it, he knew he had to give it to someone. That someone was me. It's an intricate design on a three-inch square of piece of pizza-box cardboard, and in the middle there’s an abstract heart with the word "love" in its centre. I have to tell you, I wept. And I'm having the piece framed because it's worthy, and because it will always be a poignant reminder of that afternoon. For his gift, I've pledged the art supplies on his Christmas wish list.

Part of me wishes I could do more. I've never been in foster care, in prison, abused...and I have no idea whether or not I’ve made a difference in this young man's life...but he certainly made a difference in mine.

Do you have a “heartwarming” memory about a special Christmas gift you’d like to share? Or maybe a unique person who came into your life during the holidays? Or maybe you’d just like to drop by and say, “Merry Christmas!” I hope you will because I’ll be drawing two names from the commenters on this post and offering a copy of my most recent book, The Parent Trap, or one of my backlist books. Your choice!

For all of you and your families and loved ones, I wish you peace and happiness and love and a very merry Christmas.

Until next time,
The Parent Trap, Harlequin Heartwarming, October 2014
“McKenzie takes a tired plot and turns it into a charming story.” 4 Stars (RT Book Reviews)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Life Can Be As Much Fun As Fiction
by Linda Sweeney, the "Lynn" of Lynn Patrick
I have never been a mother but I try my best to be a crazy aunt.  I think you kind of need crazy aunts in a family, someone who takes kids to get their ears pierced when their Mom didn’t plan on it and has 7,000 books, a real sword, an art studio in one corner of the kitchen, and various ancient artifacts in her apartment.  I only wish I could dye my hair bright red like the character Aunt Margaret in “Home to Sparrow Lake” and spray it to stand on end.  Unfortunately, my real hair is too fine to stand on end and I look terrible in bright red.  I am an artist like Aunt Margaret, however, and I dote on my little nieces and nephews.
My twin great-nieces, especially, have played a part in our Heartwarming books:  the aforementioned “Home to Sparrow Lake,” and “The Forever Home.”  They also have walk-on parts in the upcoming “The Long Road Home.”  

I’m going to call them Addison and Taylor, like the twins in the book, though those are not their real names.  "Addison" and "Taylor" are the daughters of my late middle sister's daughter and are bundles of joyous energy. 

The twins can also be a bit naughty and I'm always asking their mom what they've done lately in case I can use it in a book. 

The twins in their dad's karate outfit.
Some of the “twin” incidents in Lynn Patrick books have actually happened.  For example, the dolls and horses and bath scene in “Home to Sparrow Lake” was based on the time Addison’s and Taylor’s other crazy aunt, Stacy, their Mom’s sister, tried to babysit them and told them to take a bath.  After a bit, she heard a splashing uproar and went to find both twins, toys, their older brother, and pieces of clothing amid a mountain of towering bubbles in the bathtub.  It took a while to clean that up!

Like Addison and Taylor, my little great-nieces love animals.  They don’t have a dog like Kirby but they have two cats to dress up, sleep with, and play with.

Lady wearing princess crown

Taylor being kissed by Lady

Addison and Patches

Though it probably won’t be appearing in one of our books, the twins’ Mom told me the latest funny story.  The twins ride the bus to and from school.  One day, the bus driver came to the door after the twins had come home and asked to speak to their mother.  Concerned, she listened carefully. 

“I’m sorry to bring this up, Ma’am,” said the driver, “But your daughters have been using bad words on the bus.” 

“Bad words?” said Mom, thinking she was going to have to punish them.  She and their dad had been careful not to say anything questionable in their children’s hearing.  “Such as what?”

The driver looked uncomfortable.  “Uh, well, they used the 's' word.”

“Oh, dear,” said Mom.  “I’ll talk to them.”  Immediately.

After the bus driver left, Mom called the twins to task.  “The driver said you were using bad words on the bus, girls.  You can’t do that.”

Two pairs of big brown eyes stared up at her.  “We didn’t use any bad words, Mom.  Honest.”

“The bus driver said you used the 's' word and said it to other kids.”

Taylor, who had the most innocent and hurt look of all said, “The 's' word?  No, Mom.  We didn’t call anyone 'stupid.'"

May we all be so innocent and fun-loving these Holidays!
The twins and their older brother




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

5 Tips to Get the Most from Your Workout by Melinda Curtis

I’m a writer, which means I have Writer’s Butt (a documented phenomenon, similar to Reader’s Butt, I’m sure). But I’m also a fitness instructor, which means my Writer’s Butt isn’t as bad as it could be.  Here are five tips to combat Reader/Writer’s Butt and get the most out of your workout.

  1. Set Goals: Do you want to lose weight? Get stronger? Whittle your waist? Get fit? This impacts how much you need to up your cardio, increase the weight you lift, target trouble zones and/or change what you eat.  Bonus tip: always change what you eat to amp up your results. Replace chips with nuts (good fat), soda with Mio (carbonated water plus a squirt of water enhancer tastes just like soda), and your favorite Starbucks drink with the skinny version.
  2. Start Slow: Figure out what motivates you to exercise. Don’t just show up at a class without knowing what you’re getting into. You want to find something that fits your ability and makes you smile. If you like to walk outdoors, walk outdoors. If you hate to step to the music, don’t force yourself into a step class.  Similarly, if you aren’t a runner, don’t sign up for a 5K.
  3. Seek Variety: There’s been a lot of research into the science of muscle tone. One I find the most interesting is the 6-week theory. Basically, your muscles get smart after 6 weeks of the same routine. Yes, that means the step class you go to with weights 2x a week is no longer effective if the instructor isn’t varying the workout. Yes, that means the circuit you’ve been doing in the weight room for years has reached a plateau…long ago.
  4. Think in Intervals: World class athletes often train with a High Intensity Interval Workout.  What does that mean?  If they don’t offer a class like this at your gym, super-charge your workout with 10-30 second high intensity bursts – go faster, kick higher, dance with more hip action. For example, in the midst of climbing a hill in spin class or while road cycling, go faster for 10 seconds. Wait another 20-40 seconds and do it again. If you walk to music, pick up your pace on every chorus, slow back to your regular pace on the verse.
  5. Say Hello: You’re more likely to show up consistently at the gym (or at the park where you walk everyday) if you interact with other people. Say hello. Start up a conversation. If someone misses you, you’ll show up more often, and be more likely to meet your fitness goals.

Do you have any helpful workout tips you'd like to share?

Monday, December 15, 2014


     "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." We've all heard these words of wisdom (according to Wikipedia attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, and Knute Rockne), aimed to reassure us in times of trouble.
     Other inspirational quotes you may be familiar with:
     "Tough times never last, but tough people do," by Robert Schuller.
     "When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on," by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
     "In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity," by Albert Einstein.
     Here's one you may not have heard. This story comes from my friend, Celia, who volunteers in a nursing home.
     "One of my favorite residents to visit is Hank," Celia said. "He recently celebrated his 102nd birthday. He's a friendly guy, always in good spirits, and loves to talk.
     "On one visit, more to be conversational than anything else,  I asked him, 'So, Hank, are you having a good life?'
     "'Oh, yes,' he said with a big smile. Then he added, 'The first hundred years are the hardest.'
     "Despite his serious tone, I had to laugh. Really? The first hundred years?
     "When I got home I did some research, to see if maybe someone else had authored that bit of wisdom. Sure enough, the quote is credited to American playwright Wilson Mizner. But I think Hank should have some claim to it, having actually lived those first hundred years.
     "Since then," Celia continued, "whenever I've been stressed or upset, I say to myself, 'Remember, the first hundred years are the hardest,' and, by golly, I feel better!"
     Do you have a favorite inspirational quote that helps you through life's rough spots? If so, please share.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sit Down Saturday with Tara Randel

Today we’re celebrating the release of Honeysuckle Bride.
Book three in The Business of Weddings series.

 So, Tara, where did you get the idea for this novel?
I had the ideas for Magnolia Bride and Honeysuckle Bride sketched out a few years ago. I wanted to stay in the beachside town of Cypress Pointe, where I set Orange Blossom Brides, the first book in the series. I love to revisit the characters I’ve come to love, so although each story stands on its own, you can catch up with old friends.

In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption or captions, what would they say?
I’m looking for Mr. Right.

How long did it take you to write?
4 months.

What is your favorite scene?
When Wyatt comes to Jenna’s house to have dinner with Jenna and the twins. Disaster ensues and everyone gets a good laugh. As much as I love heartfelt scenes in books, I equally enjoy a good laugh along with my characters.

Who was your favorite character and why?
Wyatt. He is still struggling with the death of his son. I have plenty of experience and sympathy for Wyatt since I lost my own daughter two years ago. When I came up with the original concept, my daughter was still with us. Still, I decided to keep the original premise, knowing that much of what I was feeling would go into strengthening Wyatt’s character.

If you could pick fictional characters to play the hero and heroine, who would they be?
For Jenna, I pictured Scarlett Johansson. She portrays a mix between being sure of herself and doubting just how sure she is of herself. I love self-irony. Of course we must have a hunky hero, so I imagined Wyatt looking like Colin O’Donoghue, the dastardly pirate with a good heart from ABC’s Once Upon A Time. *Sigh*

This is your 10th book. Exactly what does that mean to you?
It means I’ve been blessed to do what I love.  Writing is a part of who I am, I’m always coming up with new ideas and story lines. My mind can get pretty crowded!

What do you plan to work on next?
I have proposals in with my editor for the next books in The Business of Weddings series.

What are you reading for pleasure right now?
I have six Christmas romance books on my nightstand ready to read. It's my personal goal to finish them all by year’s end.