Saturday, October 04, 2008

Let's get creative!

My fingers have been flying over the keyboard on the current Work in Progress. In addition to that, I'm busy plotting another book or two. Sometimes the Muse cannot be controlled! She just wants to get up and get moving.

It doesn't always work that way, of course, so when Ms. Muse is in the mood to create, I run with her. Lately, I feel as if I've done the Boston Marathon three times over--but I'm not complaining! For a writer, that burst of energy is the best feeling in the world!

It's great to have inspiration handy when you need it. That lucky situation doesn't happen only with writers, either. There are all kinds of ways to be creative.

Cooking. Baking. Needlework.

Artwork. Aerobics.

Feng shui-ing your laundry room.

Giving your kid a haircut.

I'm on a two-minute stretch break before the next leg of the Marathon. So, be quick! And tell me, please--what gets your creativity going?

All my best to you,



Barbara White Daille

Launch! Happy 25th Harlequin American!

The above photos come from Barbara Bretton, one of the launch authors for the line. You'll hear from her again later this month, but first here are two photos showcasing early ads and displays for the line.

Friday, October 03, 2008

My Turn

It’s my turn to answer a few questions.

1)Tell us a little about your family and where you're from

I grew up in Houston, Texas. I was a true city girl, and loved living in Houston. Now I live in a small town outside of Cincinnati. I have two kids who are in high school, and I’ve been married to the guy I met my second week in college for almost twenty years.

2)If you could be lazy for an entire day what would you do?

That’s easy. Read. Nap. Read some more. Eat cookies.

3)What is your writing routine?

I hate to procrastinate, so I write pretty much every day for at least a few hours. I like to write in the morning as soon as my kids are off to school. Oh, I almost always count pages, too. As in, I've got to write five more pages today.

4)What inspired you to write your first book?

My first book for Harlequin was called Cinderella Christmas. It was about a janitor who agreed to accompany an executive to a ball, in exchange for a pair of beautiful shoes. One of my critique partners had inspired me. She thought there were probably a bunch of stories that could be written about women doing a lot for shoes. On a side note, I love to shop, but I'm not much of a shoe person.

5) How long have you been writing?

10 years. To date, I've sold 20 books. I've written for Avalon, Five Star, Harlequin American, and now also Avon Inspire.

6) What did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to write, but didn’t think I’d ever be a writer. Actually, I thought I’d grow up to be one of those ladies who lunch. When reality hit-in the form of a stern talking to from my father-I became a teacher. I taught elementary school for ten years and really enjoyed it.

7) What were you doing at midnight last night?

I’m one of those people who loves to sleep. Usually, I’m asleep by eleven. However, last night I was rereading Mary Balogh’s novel, Simply Love. Oh, I love, love, love her regency historicals. I read them over and over again. So, last night I was finishing up that book even though I knew exactly how it ended.

8) Are you a cat or dog person? A dog! We have a beagle and a miniature dachshund named Suzy.

9) What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

For me, the most important element is characterization. If I don’t connect with the heroine, I usually won't finish the book.

10) Describe your writing space.

I’m in my son’s old bedroom. I painted the walls pink, and I have all my book covers framed on one wall. It is truly the messiest room in the house. Suzy the weiner dog usually sleeps in a bed by my desk. Oh, and I have a space heater that’s almost always on.

11) Do you re-read your books once they're in print?

I usually do if people like them. I’m the type of person who’s always sure the book I wrote could've been a lot better.

12) Can you taste the difference between Pepsi and Coke? If so, which do you prefer?

I’m a Diet Coke girl, but only rarely. I usually only drink coffee and hot water. The hot water habit is an old trick a teacher friend taught me. Back in Colorado, Kim and I realized we were drinking way too much coffee while teaching 6th graders-we were as hyper as they were! Let me tell you, it wasn't a good situation. So, I started sipping hot water. Now it’s my drink.

13) Have you ever made a crank phone call?

Nope. I’m one of those annoying people who follows rules. It pretty much drives my children crazy.

14) Do you have any interesting special talents?

Hmm. I can walk down a flight of stairs in four inch heels and not look down. Yes, I went to charm school for that. No, it hasn't come in handy.

Well, that's it for me! I hope everyone has a nice weekend.


Thursday, October 02, 2008


This month's winner is Sara!!!!!! Congratulations!!! To get your free, autographed books, please contact Shelley Galloway and Trish Milburn through their websites.

Tell all your friends to visit us. For your chance to win, simply comment and your name is entered in our drawing.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

How was your trip to China?

When you return from a trip, friends naturally ask how it went. If you traveled somewhere unusual, they prepare to hear you rave about the fabulous sights, the food and the people you met.

They aren’t prepared to hear that your 91-year-old mother slipped in the shower, broke her pelvis and had to be medically evacuated from the city of Xi’an in the interior of China.

What followed was a series of sometimes downright weird events. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about Chinese hospitals (they provide neither food nor drinking water. You have to go outside and buy those from a vendor), not to mention the difficulty of getting permission to fly a medical jet through Chinese air space in the middle of a three-day weekend – the Full Moon Festival.

On the plus side, we met a lot of very helpful people of many nationalities. And let me state right here that my mother has now returned safely to Nashville, Tennessee, and is in the hospital, recovering from surgery.

Let’s go back to the beginning. My mother, ceramic sculptor Sylvia Hyman, and I traveled with our friend Cathy Moberg, Sylvia’s neighbor and studio assistant, to Shanghai for several days of sightseeing. We then took a two-hour flight to Xi’an, home of the terra cotta warriors, to attend a conference of the International Academy of Ceramics. Our Shanghai adventure went great. Chinese-American ceramist, author and tour organizer Guangzhen Zhou, known to his friends as Po, arranged that part of the trip and shepherded us around with great care.

He flew with us to Xi’an, where Sylvia celebrated her 91st birthday with longtime friends from the IAC. We prepared to enjoy local sights, visit an international pottery village and attend presentations by artists from around the world about their cutting-edge work.

The next morning, Sylvia fell while showering. Cathy, who thank heaven has some medical training, and I accompanied her to the hospital for X-rays, where we got the bad news.

I don’t have space to go into the events of the next few days, but let me tell you, they were hairier than a yeti. Even though Sylvia had bought insurance for a medical jet, it took the efforts of the medical jet company, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Cathy and me to get permission for it to land.

Since the Learjet only had room for Sylvia and Cathy, I had to return alone. Po (whom I now rank among my best friends in the world) changed his own travel plans to fly back with me to Shanghai to make sure I made my connection to the U.S. Luckily, all went smoothly.

During the visit, I did manage to see some impressive sights, including those famous warriors and another ancient tomb in Xi’an. Mostly, my head is stuffed with impressions of a culture involved in a dramatic transition unlike anything I’ve seen. Since I went behind the Iron Curtain in the mid-70s, I’m not a complete novice on the subject.

Two weeks later, I’m thankful to be home and gradually recovering from the 15-hour time difference. So how was my trip? Let’s put it this way: It’s something I’ll never forget.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy 25th--Author Profile Judith Arnold

Continuing in our series of celebratory posts, next up is Judith Arnold.

Name/Pen Name: Barbara Keiler/Judith Arnold

Years writing for the line: 1985-1994 (with a novella in 2004)

Number of books for the line: 30

Sample titles: I wrote HAR's first linked trilogy, "Keeping the Faith," in 1987. (The titles of the three books were PROMISES, COMMITMENTS and DREAMS.) Other favorites: SPECIAL DELIVERY, COMFORT AND JOY (winner, RT Reviewers Choice Award for best HAR), SURVIVORS, SAFE HARBOR (Rita finalist), SWEET LIGHT, JUST LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET.

Special memories of Harlequin American Romance: Vivien Stephens originally conceived HAR as a series grounded in reality--real people facing real problems and experiencing love as it occurs in real life. This was practically revolutionary at the time, and I loved both reading and writing these books. I was proud to be one of the line's early mainstays, along with authors like Rebecca Flanders, Barbara Bretton, Anne Stuart, Beverly Sommers, Anne McAllister, Pamela Browning and Kathleen Gilles Seidel. I think those early HAR's were some of the best series romances being published, not only at that time but for all time. It was a wonderful, creative place to work.

Now the Q & A:

1) How was the Harlequin American Romance line different from the other Harlequin lines?

Harlequin Americans were grounded in reality. I loved reading and writing romances in which the heroine was someone I could identify with. She didn't have to be a gorgeous orphan or a simpering virgin barely out of adolescence. She was a recognizable American woman facing real-life problems. Harlequin Americans weren't fairy-tale romances. They tackled subjects readers could identify with.

2) How did the Harlequin American Romances line change over the years you wrote for it?

In the early '90's, the line decided to shift its focus and become lighter, more fantasy-oriented and a little less realistic. It was this shift in tone and vision that prompted me to start writing for the Superromance line, which had started out in the '80's publishing more glamorous, exotic stories but then shifted to more grounded, realistic stories. Superromance was ready for me when I was ready for it.

3) How did writing for Harlequin American help you in your single-title career?

I started my writing career with Silhouette Desire, back when the books were 50-55,000 words. Writing for Harlequin American, when the books were 70-75,000 words, gave me the room to develop more complex plots and subplots, and to go deeper into the characters. I kept writing longer and longer (the jump to the 80-85,000-word Superromances was also necessary because after a while I needed those extra 10,000 words to tell my more complex stories) until ultimately I realized I needed the greater length of ST books to say everything I wanted to say. I should add that in the early days, the editors at Harlequin American were really open to everything in terms of subject matter. As long as there was a strong, believable romance at the center of the story, we writers were allowed, even encouraged, to explore unusual plots and to structure our stories in all different ways. One of the books I wrote for Harlequin American (SAFE HARBOR) spanned twelve years and broke into three sections, the first written in the heroine's POV, the second in the hero's and the third in both their POV's.

4). Describe a moment you remember related to Harlequin American Romance, either reading one, or a fan moment, or an editor moment, or….

Harlequin American came up with A Century of American Romance, a project that would span a year ('90-'91.) Each month, one Harlequin American would be set in a different decade in American history, starting at the turn of the 20th century and moving chronologically forward (I believe Anne Stuart and Barbara Bretton both had books in this program, too.) I volunteered to do the final book in the series, which would be set in the future, at the turn of the 21st century. My editor emphasized that she didn't want a futuristic science-fiction novel, but rather a book set in a future I could envision--a "possible" future.

The book I wrote, A>LOVERBOY, struck me as pretty fanciful as I was writing it. In 1989, when I wrote it, the Internet was new and mysterious, and a lot of computer text was prefaced with the A prompt (A>.) I conceived of a kind of Cyrano de Bergerac romance in which the hero--a coworker of the heroine's and a thorn in her side--wooed her through what would now be called Instant Messaging (which didn't exist back then), and he hid behind the nom-de-computer "Loverboy." While sparring with the actual hero, the heroine gradually fell in love with her computer Romeo.

Now, of course, people IM all the time (and sometimes hide behind fake web names.) But when I wrote A>LOVERBOY, none of that existed.

In the near-future world of A>LOVERBOY, people did short-distance commuting in solar-powered electric cars. (I'd love to see that come true!) Global warming had created an environment in which people had to wear lightweight clothing that covered their arms and legs to protect them from sunburn. Restaurants had heart-healthy entrees listed on the menus. (That came to pass!) A big earthquake struck California. (That's happened a couple of times since I wrote the book, alas.) Cloth diapers with Velcro tabs were in vogue. (They're now available.) People could call up whatever movies and TV shows they wanted to watch, when they wanted to watch them (like today's Tivo and on-demand.) So many of my predictions for the future came true that my editor started teasing me about picking her lottery numbers for her.

Best of all was reader reaction. I heard from lots of computer geeks who absolutely loved the book and related to it. I still run into people at conferences and book signings who remember having read and loved A>LOVERBOY, with its surprisingly accurate glimpse into a future that has since come to pass.

5) Do you hear from your Harlequin American readers who have also read your single titles? What do they say?

A lot of readers found me in single title and have then gone back and scoured the used book stores for my old Harlequin American titles. But other readers started with me back in the mid-80's and have stuck with me all these years. I still meet readers at booksignings who will show up with a pile of the old silver-colored early Harlequin Americans from their keeper shelves and ask me to sign them.

6) Harlequin American Romance is 25 years old. Describe writing some of the earlier books for the line. Were there any taboos? Words you couldn't use? What were the covers like? That sort of thing.

As I noted above, Harlequin Americans were a lot less restrictive than other lines being published in the mid-'80's. Given the concept of the line, the books had to be set mostly in the United States, although characters could travel outside the USA if necessary. And there had to be a central love story. Other than that, though, there weren't many restrictions. I was able to explore some edgy ideas in my Harlequin Americans, ideas no other publishers were touching back in the '80's: atheism and mega-churches; campus radicalism during the Vietnam era; Vietnam veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome; rape and recovery; freedom of speech; marriage in middle age... I don't mean to imply all my books were ponderous with capital-I Issues. A lot of the books I wrote for the line were comedies. But they were meaty, too. Characters weren't locked inside the hermetically sealed world of their relationship.

The early covers were busy. There was always a main picture of the hero and heroine, and then a smaller picture tucked into one corner of the cover that depicted something about the story. (I had an obscene name for the little "secondary element" pictures. I felt they made the cover look cluttered and tacky.) Then we went to what we called the "Easter Egg" covers. These were the opposite--stark and bland, just the hero and heroine against a blank white background. (The bindings were pastel-colored; hence the "Easter Egg" nickname.) A small box on the cover contained the book's title and the author's name. My book TURNING TABLES was the launch book for the new covers, and my editor told me my original title (INDEPENDENCE DAY) didn't fit inside the box, so I'd have to come up with a new title that would fit. I proposed a second title, which I liked even better: TAKING LIBERTIES. (This was my freedom-of-speech comedy, and the story ends with a July 4th parade.) But no, TAKING LIBERTIES didn't fit inside the box, either. TURNING TABLES was a title my editor came up with. It has nothing to do with the story at all--but it fit inside the box!

Needless to say, I didn't like those covers, either.
The third cover concept was a huge improvement, with the cover art encompassing the spine and spilling onto the back cover. These covers were introduced in 1991 or thereabouts.

When I was a child, I never really thought about becoming an author. Creating stories was simply something I did, like eating, sleeping and hanging out with my friends. I could not remember a time when my mind wasn't full of stories begging to be put into words. Even before I knew how to write, I used to tell myself bedtime stories when I couldn't find an adult to tell me one. I still have a copy of my first short story, written when I was six. It told the tale of a lonely bear. None of the other animals in the forest wanted to play with him. Then he met a boy, and they became friends and lived happily ever after.

I went on to write countless stories, poems and theater pieces. I wrote the fourth grade class play. In sixth grade, I wrote an award-winning poem honoring National Dental Week. As a teenager, I wrote dozens of short stories about adolescent angst, as well as free-verse poetry railing against war, oppression, hypocrisy and other great evils. I wrote for my high school's creative writing magazine and edited the school newspaper. But it never occurred to me that I might actually become an author. In college, I wrote a play that won a money prize and was produced on campus. I took this as a sign and decided to become a playwright. Over the next ten years, I wrote several plays and had them professionally produced at regional theaters around the country. All the while, I continued to write short stories and novels. Eventually I burned out on theater work. It required me to travel, usually at my own expense, to the theaters staging my work, and once there I had to deal with directors, actors and producers who all wanted to rewrite my scripts. Since I found it nearly impossible to earn a living as a playwright, I also taught bonehead English at a couple of local colleges. My husband dared me to take a year off from teaching to see if I could write and sell a novel. How much did I dislike teaching bonehead English? So much that I planted myself at my typewriter and wrote non-stop, one eye on the page and the other on the calendar. Before the year was up, I had sold a romance novel to Silhouette Books. That first novel, Silent Beginnings, came out in October, 1983. My first son also came out in October, 1983. Needless to say, it was an eventful month. Since then, I've written more than eighty-five novels which have been published by Silhouette, Second Chance at Love, and Harlequin's Temptation, American and Superromance lines, as well as MIRA Books. Nine books after Silent Beginnings, right between False Impressions and Flowing to the Sky, I also gave birth to a second son. My family lives in a small town not far from Boston, Massachusetts. My three boys-one husband and two sons-take good care of me. They make me laugh and keep me supplied in chocolate. Since chocolate and laughter are essential to my creativity, I guess they deserve a little credit for my having become an author.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Amusing Cultural Differences

Most of the time, the fact that American Romances are edited by Canadian editors makes no difference. The Canadian editors I've met are conversant enough in American culture--which isn't all that different from theirs--to edit even our uniquely American books.

But every once in a while, a difference pops up that amuses me.

Recently I was going over my line edits for my April 2009 book, THE GOOD FATHER, when I saw this change: The hero wanted to open a box of magazines, so he took out his pocket knife and slit open the box. The editor had him instead grab a box cutter. "It seems odd that he just happens to have a pocket knife in his pocket," she remarked in the margin.

Really? Not in Texas it doesn't. Lots of Texas men I know carry pocketknives. In fact, lots of Texas women I know carry pocketknives. I usually have a small Swiss Army knife in my purse (though not if I have to fly--I had one confiscated at security once).

Since my hero had recently transplanted to Texas from New York, maybe he wasn't the pocketknife type. Yet. So the box cutter change was fine. But it did make me smile.

One time a friend had her rural Midwesterners in her book eat come chili mixed with mac & cheese--a common dish in that region. (In fact, Hormel makes a canned "Chili Mac.") But her Canadian editor (or maybe it was a Brit) thought it was so strange that she asked her to change it to avoid jarring the reader. And another of my Texas writer friends had an editor who wanted to insert a blizzard in her East Texas ranch story. (Um, we don't get blizzards in East Texas. Maybe in the Panhandle ...)

More than once I've seen oddities on my covers--Spanish moss on the cover of a book set in Dallas, and snow-capped mountains in the distance of an East Texas scene. And I've lost count of the number of editors who visited Texas and were genuinely surprised and disappointed that not every man wears tight jeans and a cowboy hat.

I would love to hear other funny editor stories that resulted from a cultural disconnect. I know I've hard a zillion, but I can't remember any more at the moment.