Friday, November 21, 2014

Thanksgiving...What's on the Good Side? by Shirley Hailstock

Back (before the flood) when I was in college, I met a woman who became a very good
friend.  She was the Director of Students, even though she was only a few years older than me.  She once told me that she was thoroughly depressed about losing a boyfriend.  He was a high-profile actor and everyone recognized him.  When she was with him, there was an added prestige she garnered from both her friends and his.

When the relationship broke up, the prestige went with it and it plunged her into a place that she thought was dark and so deep she couldn't claw her way out of it.  One night, in the wee hours of the morning when she was unable to sleep, she got up and took a piece of paper.  She drew a line down the middle and on one side wrote Good and the other Bad.  She wrote down the things in her life that were good and weighed them against those that were not.  The list was much longer on the good side of the page.

I have never forgotten this technique when I’m feeling low or feeling that my life is spinning out of control and there is nothing I can do about it.  The good always outweighs the bad.  At this writing, Thanksgiving is approaching and I have much to be thankful for.  I have a lot to list on the good side of my paper and very little on the not so good side.

I sent in a manuscript this morning (wee hours mind you, but it's done).  That, in and of itself, is a monumentally good thing.  I finished the book, developed the blank page into real live people I liked and wanted to spend time with.  People I want to share with readers.

I have my family, immediate and extended, all well and healthy.  I have my romance writer friends, all supportive and eager to share information.  I have non-romance writer friends who I’ll see and toast the holidays with.

I have my shopping done for the big meal on Thursday and the beginnings of some Christmas shopping too.  I can spend some quality time with my daughter since I don’t have a deadline to keep me chained to the computer.  We can do whatever it is she wants to do (within reason).  She’s twelve.

On the not so good side, I have to cook the meal.  But then I get the leftovers.  I have to clean the house, both for Thanksgiving and before I begin another writing project.  If I don’t, it won’t get done until after the next book.  And by then I won’t be able to get into my office or the front door.

So you see the good is much longer than the bad.  Have a wonderful holiday.  Don’t eat too much.

And remember the soldiers who are keeping us safe to enjoy family, friends, and a good meal.

Happy Thanksgiving!  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Aloha and Happy Thanksgiving from Lee McKenzie

Hello, Heartwarmers! I hope everyone’s having a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoying the transition from autumn to winter. I’m adjusting to cooler temperatures and waning daylight hours as I bask in the memories of my recent Hawaiian cruise with Handy Man—sixteen glorious days on the MS Zaandam, sailing from Vancouver to the Hawaiian Islands and back again.

The trip included five days at sea on the way to Hawaii and another five to sail back, which seemed like a long time before we embarked but not nearly long enough by the time we returned. Isn’t it funny how that happens?

Here are some photos and anecdotes of our Hawaii cruise and, if you read on, a giveaway.

I couldn’t believe we had the bow of the ship to ourselves as we sailed beneath and beyond the Lions Gate Bridge. Farewell, Vancouver!

I easily developed a routine for the days at sea:

  • a morning exercise class in the fitness centre (the reason for this will soon become apparent)
  • a hearty breakfast
  • two hours of reading and writing in the library
  • cooking demo in the Culinary Arts Centre
  • a three-course lunch in the dining room
  • time spent reading and writing
  • four laps around the promenade deck (the reason for this must now be apparent)
  • dress for dinner
  • drop by the Sip and Savor
  • an hour in the lounge listening to a violinist and pianist play classical music
  • a four-course dinner
  • evening entertainment

And trust me...“wash, rinse, repeat” never sounded better! Still, it was wonderful to say, “Hello, Honolulu!”

Instead of staying in the city, we rented a car and set off to explore the island, and we didn’t have to drive far to find a quiet beach.

After a wonderful day of sand, surf and sightseeing, we waved goodbye to Waikiki and Diamond Head as we set sail for The Big Island.

The next morning we said hello to Hilo.

And yes, the sand is black.

Then we were off to Maui, and the tenders were lowered to take us ashore.

Visitors to Lahaina are greeted by the city’s famous banyan tree. Yes, believe it or not, that’s one tree!

After a wonderful day of shopping and then lunch on an open-air lanai overlooking the water, we set sail once again.

On Kauai we cooled off with pineapple infused beer...

...and were greeted by an unexpected guest at the beachside restaurant in Nawiliwili.

That was the first time I've ever seen a chicken in a restaurant that wasn't on a plate.

 All too soon we were saying farewell to Hawaii and embarking for Victoria.

The return trip was equally memorable. I had entered a recipe contest sponsored by the ship's Culinary Arts Center...and I won! So on October 1, which was also release day for The Parent Trap, my most recent Heartwarming, I hosted that day's cooking demonstration, and the oh-so-adorable Chef Sebastiano prepared my Tomato, Basil and Goat Cheese Tart.

And here's my award-winning recipe.

Lee’s Tomato, Basil & Goat Cheese Tart


Pastry, enough to line a 10-inch tart pan
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 medium-sized ripe Roma or plum tomatoes
1 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced, plus whole leaves for garnish
8 ounces goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste


Prepare your favorite pastry, preferably one that’s extra flakey. (In other words, a recipe that calls for lots of butter!) Wrap pastry in plastic wrap, chill in refrigerator for half an hour. This makes it easier to roll. Roll the chilled pastry and line one 10-inch or four 4-inch tart pans. Brush the pastry with olive oil.

Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a skillet. Lightly sauté the garlic for about one minute, just until it starts to brown. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Cut tomatoes in half and remove the seeds and any tough membrane. Tomato seeds are bitter, so don’t skip this step! Roma or plum tomatoes are best because they maintain their meaty texture after baking. Season cut sides of tomatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place tomatoes cut side down in the skillet and cook over medium heat for four or five minutes. Remove the tomatoes to a plate and set aside.

Add the sautéed garlic and chopped basil to the remaining oil in the skillet and cook just until the basil wilts. Remove skillet from heat, add the goat cheese and stir or whisk until smooth.

Spread the cheese and basil mixture in the pastry-lined tart pan. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up, on the cheese. Arrange one or two whole basil leaves on each tomato.

Bake at 400 degrees for about one hour.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Cut the tart into wedges or remove the individual tarts from their pans, place on serving plates drizzled with a balsamic reduction and garnish with a sprigs of fresh basil leaves.

Enjoy! And to be eligible to win a copy of The Parent Trap, please leave a comment! Tomorrow I'll draw a winner and post the name in the comments.


Happy reading and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Until next time,
Lee McKenzie
Writing fifty shades of pink

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thankful by Syndi Powell

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, and in America we are only a little over a week away from it. Alice Walker, author of "The Color Purple" said, "'Thank you' is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding." It may be the best prayer, but at times it is also the hardest to say.

For those of you who know me, this has not been my best year. There have been a lot of challenges to overcome as well as pain and sorrow. But this has also been a year of tremendous growth and opportunities. It has been easier to say "thank you" for the opportunities but almost impossible to express my gratitude for the challenges.

 Still, I want to say thank you for a few things this year:
Thank you for my ex-husband for his courage to imagine a different life for us where we would both find contentment and strength.
Thank you for my parents who allowed me to move in when I needed somewhere to go and for all the support they have shown me through everything.
Thank you for my sisters who despite their own challenges have been there for me too.
Thank you for my managers and co-workers who have been a part of those challenges as well as those opportunities. I learned a lot about relationships because of them.
Thank you for my agent and editor who have pushed me to become a better writer and person.
Thank you for lawyers and doctors who use their expertise to advise and guide me.
Thank you for strength and courage and the refusal to give up.

What are you thankful for this year?

Join us at our Fall for Heartwarming Holiday Facebook party today between 3 and 9 pm ET/ noon and 6 pm PT. We're playing games and giving away prizes. we'd love to see you! You can find us HERE

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In Defense of Super Hero...Movies by Anna J Stewart

Every time they announce a new super hero movie, I hear the groans. I read the Tweets. I see the social media explosions.  Another one? Haven't they run out by now? Do we really need another super hero movie?

The logical answer--probably not.  My answer? Oh, yeah.  And I say that from a writer's and a movie fan's perspective.  The idea for this blog came recently when it was (finally!) confirmed that actor Jason Momoa would be playing the (until now) laughable and maligned Aquaman.  First off, I should admit to a major bias when it comes to this actor.  I've been mildly (to say the least) obsessed with him ever since he first appeared on Stargate Atlantis. I even modeled one of my heroes after him (when I was writing paranormals).
Some of you may recognize him from Game of Thrones. Confession time: he was the only reason I started watching the show.  He was a character of few words on Stargate; even fewer on GoT (and let's not discuss his fate on the latter *sob*).  But there's just something about him that hooks my heart.  He also stared in the remake of Conan the Barbarian (which, yes, I saw and I actually liked).  There's an intensity that comes with this man that makes the idea of him playing the aforementioned Aquaman all the more intriguing.  This will not be a cartoon. This will be amazing.

But another super hero movie?  Ugh, right?  Nope. Love them.  Here's why.  Super hero movies ARE the hero's journey.  Let me qualify that. GOOD super hero movies are the hero's journey (I'm still trying to pretend The Green Lantern didn't happen and do not get me started on The Green Hornet).

These movies are classic story telling...from Star Wars and Luke Skywalker (and Han Solo), to Iron Man to Thor...origin stories can be considered formulaic, but they work, because we relate to them. Because we understand them and because, when done properly, they're motivated characters.  Also, let's not kid ourselves. The right actor in the right part is also vital.  Try imagining someone else playing Tony Stark at this point other than Robert Downey, Jr.  Or another actress portraying Black Widow besides Scarlett Johansson. Or can you imagine Ben Afleck as Bat...oh. hmmm. Eesh.  We'll, we'll see on that one.

One of the earliest books I ever read on story telling and myth building was Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces. To this day it's one of the best books I've ever absorbed. Bits and pieces of that have stuck with me and echo in my mind whenever I'm watching one of these films.  The good ones, the ones that stand out from the rest...they're about character over explosions. Motivation over machinery.  It's also why, typically, the first in a franchise is the best.  Because its character exploration.  Sequels (ahem, Iron Man 2) tend to push character to the back burner in favor of special effects and idiotic villains.  Unless you get the right actor, the right director, and most importantly, the right writer to take these characters into different dimensions. The exception? Watch Nolan's BATMAN trilogy.  Now there's a character arc.

Even those I don't anticipate being good can surprise me. I was stunned at how much I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.  I truly felt going in, this was just Marvel's and Disney's way of getting more $$ into their overflowing superhero bank accounts. I was so wrong.  Because Peter Quill (Christ Pratt in a career making performance) is on his own hero's journey. And it is awesome. The baby dancing Groot at the end? Bonus!

So, I say bring them on.  Write them well. Do them justice and remember that even super heroes (even if they come from another planet), are in essence human.  Because on some level we relate to them...even when they're saving the world.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Are You a Wordsmith? by Marion Ekholm

I happen to enjoy words and would just as soon read a dictionary or thesaurus as I would a novel. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But I do find words that are new to me fascinating. I also have trouble with words that I can’t remember. I’m not referring to those times when I have a senior moment (although those times are becoming more frequent). I mean when my girlfriend and I want to go to a particular restaurant and I have to describe it – “You know where they have lovely clothes and unusual gifts.” And after I mention the address, the rocking chairs on the porch and the last time we were there she says, “Cracker Barrel?” That word forever eludes me. 

Part of my wordsmith library.
I’ve been asking people if they have particular words that give them problems. My friend in work said “Orange.” Anytime she has to spell that word, she has a hard time. Okay, that may be a stretch. After all, how often do you have to write the word, and where’s the problem if you misspell it on a grocery list?

Unless you’re dealing with my father. He had a fit every time my mother misspelled margarine or mayonnaise on the shopping lists she gave him. They’d argue over her spelling whenever he went to the store for her because she always managed to misspell at least one word. He never understood why she couldn’t learn the proper way to spell. (I sometime wondered if she refused to learn them on principle.) He read two newspapers, front to back, every day. Whenever I asked him to spell something for me for one of my school projects, he always told me to look it up in the dictionary. After struggling with it for a while, he’d give in and spell the word for me. And he was always right!
My parents on their 25th Wedding Anniversary.
And speaking of dictionaries. In fifth grade, I had a reading teacher obsessed with having us open the dictionary to within pages of the word she gave us. Can you imagine? To this day, I can’t use a dictionary without remembering the hours we wasted on that project. 

If I have a problem with a particular word, I’ll spend a great deal of time on it, so I’ll remember it in the future. Restaurant once gave me a lot of difficulties. I missed kitchen in a 4th grade spelling bee never to forget it again. Now I struggle every time I write “every time.” Sounds like a simple word, but I cannot understand why anytime is one word but every time is two?

I asked some writers at Valley of the Sun if they have any particular words that give them trouble. One woman has problems with lie or lay. Which one should she use? Instead of trying to figure it out, she tells her characters to just get on the bed!

What about effect or affect? How about shine verses shone? The latter never sounds right.

One website I enjoy for words is There are quizzes and all types of fun games with words if you don’t mind the popups that distract on the sides.  There’s a section for commonly confused words that includes affect and effect. But I didn’t see orange anywhere.

Do you have a word or words that boggle your mind? If you can think of one, let me know.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Promoting We Will Go

It's not just about writing.  It's about all the other things you do.
The first book signing I did was over a decade ago.  
It was for a book called It Only Takes A Spark.
It was the most exciting.
Here I'm at a booksigning at the Scottsdale Main Library, just last Saturday.
At the first book signing, all I did was sign and visit, and hawk.
At this signing, I signed, and visited, and worked on my next book.
One note:  My first book was with a line called Heartsong Presents.
This week, the line discontinued.
It's like when they tear down your old high school. 

Besides booksignings, authors wind up giving workshops.
Maybe not all authors, but most that I do.
I'm a handout kind of gal.
I also do not need a microphone and if you force me to use one,
I start talking monotone and freeze.

I've learned to team up with another author, usually from another genre.
It doubles your audience 
might introduce you to someone who's never read - in my case - sweet before. 

My favorite places to promote are libraries and festivals.
How about you?
Where do you go to promote...
Where do you like to hear authors promote?

Right now, I'm promoting two books.

Holiday Homecoming, my brand-new Heartwarming.  It's the third in the series.  
It's available from e-harlequin

I'm also promoting the first historical I've written in a decade.  
It's called Two by Two and is in an Indy Collection called Mistletoe Kisses.
For the month of November, it's only 99 cents.
Hop over to Amazon and get it today.

You want to know what I'm promoting today?  
Well, it's Sunday.  I'm off to church.  
Then, I've got to clean the stuff off the wood where my new countertops will go on Wednesday
 and inbetween all that
I need to write 3000 (yes, 3000) words.

Anybody got an aspirin?  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sit Down Saturday with Pamela Tracy

Today, we're celebrating the release of 
Holiday Homecoming 
Pamela Tracy

She loves to both write and read

Where did I get the idea for this novel?
Meredith was born in the first book of the Scorpion Ridge Series.  She’s a bit like me.  She likes to be in charge, gets a little possessive of what she thinks is hers, and loves animals.
What made this book was a story told to me by a mom sitting next to me at my son’s little league game.  It was about an old man who died and his children had to clean out his middle-of-nowhere Arizona desert cabin.  They found bones.  Human bones.  They were terrified.  Turns out, the dad was a grave robber of Native American sites. 

In looking at the cover, if I could add a caption or captions, what would they say? 
"I only look like I’m at peace."

How long did it take me to write?
This one took about four months.

What is my favorite scene?
LOL, ah the life of a writer.  I’ve already written two books since that one.  I know I love the scene where the heroine’s daughter make’s rainbow loom bracelets for everyone in the wedding party to wear.  My nine year old taught me how to make them :)

Who was your my character and why?
Meredith, because she softened.  Jimmy because he recognized a good thing when he found it and he learned how to prioritize.

If I could pick fictional characters to play the hero and heroine, who would they be?
I have a huge template.  Here's the character page for Meredith and Jimmy.


James Murphy
Meredith Stone
Age 29 - list maker
Works for Nature Times magazine
Dodge black 250 truck
Age 28 - fills calendars
   wears ponytails

Deceased wife - Regina, gone a year (cheated with a dark-haired personal trainer) was 26
Brother Danny (28)- left at alter
Father Mitch (cattle and sheep operation)  Mother Debbie
Uncle Matthew - farmed beans, squash, corn, etc.
Aunt Shari
Boss Thom Steward
Grandpa Ray (82) Wife Sandra. (Sandra dead five years) Only likes Zack driving him.
Dog Pepper

Dad Burt (doesn’t much like animals)
Mom Karen - busy Realtor
Brother Zack - in med school
Susan - about to get married, from college
  • owns a brown SUV

One thing I learned during research.
I took my son and five of his friends to a Wolfdog Habitat.  I learned that most people don’t have the time or knowledge to handle the needs of such a magnificent animal (notice I didn’t say pet or all people).

This is my 27 book.  Exactly what does that mean to me?
LOL, that maybe I do now how to write.  Now, if I could just get past horrible, horrible writer’s block on the one I’m working on.

What do I plan to work on next?
You met Adam in the first story.  He was the mural artist.  Well, he’s now working for Yolanda, who was the maid.  She’s no longer a maid!  

What am I reading for pleasure right now?
The Esther Diamond series by Laura Resnick.  I am just starting Doppelgangster