Saturday, November 01, 2008

What do you do on the first?

For some reason, when blogging dates were handed out way back at the start of this column, I lucked into the first and fifteenth of each month. I say “lucked” because they’re easy dates to remember.

As a result, I get first shot each January at wishing you a happy New Year, and, on April first, the dubious honor of swearing that I’m really, truly not playing a joke. As for April 15, income tax day (in the U.S.), I try not to think about that.

Right now, I’m filling out significant dates and reminders in my calendar for 2009. Perhaps because I work at home, I never got into the electronic organizer habit. And let’s face it, I’m just too much of an old fuddy-duddy to keep my calendar in the computer.

As I jot down notations for my blog dates, I note that my other reminders really pile up on the first and fifteenth of each month. For instance, there’s performing a breast self-exam, fertilizing my plants and doing the monthly bookkeeping on the first, and checking under the hood of my car on the fifteenth. No particular reason for these dates; they’re just a simple way to keep track of necessary monthly tasks.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty compulsive about scheduling what I need to do. Take dyeing my hair – that’s assigned to the first Saturday of each month. What this means is that, if you run into me around the end of the month, you can check out my gray roots. But that’s nothing compared to what might happen if I didn’t plan ahead. I’d probably go three months and wonder why I was starting to look my age (as opposed to the age I fantasize about looking, which is thirty).

What do you do on the first of the month? Do you schedule your routine tasks, or do you just wing through life, checking your oil when the engine groans and dyeing your hair when the old color fades into oblivion?

I look forward to reading your responses, just as soon as I finish fertilizing my plants and – what else was I supposed to do today? I know I put that calendar somewhere…

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy 25th--A Q & A with Anne Stuart

And now to finish out the month, meet Anne Stuart.
Books: Began writing for American with Chain of Love (#30) in October 1983.

Bio: Anne Stuart is the grandmaster of the genre, winnter of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, survivor of 35 years in the romance business and still keeps getting better.

Her first novel was Barrett’s Hill, a gothic romance pubished by Ballantine in 1974 when Anne had just turned 25. Since then she’s written more gothics, regencies, romantic suspense, romantic adventure, series romance, suspense, historical romance and mainstream contemporary romance for publishers such as Doubleday, Harlequin, Silhouette, Avon, Zebra, St. Martin’s Press, Berkley, Dell, Pocket Books and Fawcett. She’s currently under contract with Mira for romantic supsense and historical romance. She’s won numerous awards, appeared on most best seller lists, and speaks all over the country. Her general outrageousness has gotten her on Entertainment Tonight, as well as in Vogue, People, USA Today, Women’s Day, and countless other national newspapers and magazines.

When she’s not traveling, she’s at home in Northern Vermont with her luscious husband of thirty years, and empty nest, three cats and one Springer Spaniel. And when she’s not working she’s watching movies, listening to rock and roll (preferably Japanese) and spending far too much time quilting.
The Q & A

1) How long have you been published? What was your very first book? My first book came out in 1974 (I was very young). It was a gothic romance for Ballantine called BARRETT’S HILL.

2) Describe your favorite Harlequin American Romance(s) that you wrote. How many total did you do?
Favorite would probably be NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM (which has never been reprinted). It was a re-writing of the Beauty and the Beast/Phantom of the Opera story (I’d just gone to see Phantom on Broadway for my 40th birthday present) and it even had Fabio on the cover (albeit with dark hair). They didn’t tend to put Fabio on too many series romances back then. As to how many – 27, counting the BURNING BRIGHT anthology and BANISH MISFORTUNE, part of the short-lived Harlequin American Premier Editions (there were five of them).

3) How was the Harlequin American Romance line different from the other Harlequin lines?
HAR went through many permutations. It was the first North American line that Harlequin had done (they had Harlequin Romance and Harlequin Presents at that point), and in the beginning it was simply that they were set in the U.S. They quickly turned into Disease of the Month – each book seemed to be centered around the romance equivalent of “a very special episode.” Stuff like drug addiction and abortion and other stuff. It got livelier fairly quickly though, with comic writers like Beverly Sommers and Judith Arnold, women’s fiction-y stuff by Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Barbara Bretton and Cathy Gillen Thacker, and my sneaky romantic suspense (which actually should have gone in Harlequin Intrigue) We also had the first romances with African-Americans as the protagonists (written by people like Sandra Kitt).

4) How did the Harlequin American Romances line change over the years you wrote for it?
The nice thing is there’s been room for a lot of different things in the line. There was a cool sub-imprint called More Than Men which had supernatural heroes – I did two, CINDERMAN, with a scientist who could turn invisible from 8 to 9 in the morning and the evening and could start fires by wiggling his nose like Samantha on Bewitched, and A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, about Selkies (seal people). Maggie Osborne wrote a wonderful early vampire novel called LOVE BITES as Margaret St. George.

We also did a series called A Century of Romance. I got the 1930s and it was one of my favorite HARs, but it tanked big-time. They tried to reissue them a couple of years ago but the audience still wasn’t there. The great thing about Harlequin is there’s always another chance – eventually those books, by people like Rebecca Flanders, Barbara Bretton, Margaret St. George and others, will find their audience.

5) How did writing for Harlequin American help you in your single-title career? The more you write the better you get. I spent more than 15 years writing them, and in that time I got to explore all sorts of characters and relationships. I’d published 5 books before I sold to HAR, and I learned more with each book. That doesn’t mean the older ones aren’t as good – sometimes a more polished book can lack the energy and heart of a rougher one.
My first single titles after I started writing for HAR were historicals for Avon (while I was still writing HARs). Jennifer Enderlin, who was at Penguin at the time, read NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM and my novella for the Silhouette Shadows launch, and offered me a six-figure contract just on the quality of my HAR work. So that was a direct correlation.

6). Describe a moment you remember related to Harlequin American Romance, either reading one, or a fan moment, or an editor moment, or….
God, I have tons of memories. Like torturing one of my poor editors so that she followed me around at conferences like my personal slave. (I was a very bad girl). Or when I wrote NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM and my entire career seemed to shift into high gear. Or the godawful time I was in the middle of writing a book called LAZARUS RISING, where my hero fakes his death and then appears, alive and well in the middle of the book. Unfortunately my 18 year old nephew died in a car accident when I was in the middle of writing it, and I knew that unlike my hero, he wasn’t coming back. I somehow managed to finish writing it, but I’ve always hated it because it reminds me of his death.

7) Do you hear from your Harlequin American readers who have also read your single titles? What do they say?
My HAR readers don’t seem to cross-over much with my single title readers. I don’t really know why.

8) Harlequin American Romance is 25 years old. Describe writing some of the first books for the line. Were there any taboos? Words you couldn’t use? What were the covers like? That sort of thing….
There were all sorts of taboos, and yet there were also things that we couldn’t do today. For instance, in one of the early ones written by Jackie Casto, the heroine had an abortion. Couldn’t say “shit” (can you now?), definitely couldn’t say God damn it or any kind of God or Jesus cursing. And while they let me use bitch and bastard they’d count how many times I used them, and sometimes I had to trade using a no-no word in one scene in order to get it into the scene where it was more important.

The covers were standard clinch covers with a silver border, usually a larger picture and then a smaller one in the corner. I remember one year I had the brilliant idea of doing Christmas books in December and having the silver stripe be green. They told me it was a good idea but too expensive. Obviously they should have listened – soon afterwards all the lines were doing Christmas books.

9) Anything else?
It was actually a wonderfully creative time. Many of us met at the third Romantic Times conference in New York, just as the line was being launched, and some of those friendships have lasted forever. Sandra Brown did the launch book, but unfortunately she also did the launch book for Loveswept, which was debuting at the same time, and the PTB were mightily pissed off. So instead of having the debut authors cut a cake at the launch party they had three of the launch authors (I think they were Kathy Seidel and Barbara Bretton and maybe Beverly Sommers) and invited Rebecca Flanders/Donna Ball to join them.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy 25th—Author Profile Ginger Chambers

Author: Ginger Chambers
Website: Find more about Ginger at
Years writing for the line: 1983-1991, 2005

Bio: Ginger Chambers had no plans to become a writer while she was growing up. But she always loved words and stories, so it was only natural that the inevitable happened. After writing over thirty books, Ginger still loves the profession she was ultimately drawn to. She considers it one of the great joys of her life to be able to create characters that come to life on the page and place them in situations that entertain her, as well as her readers.
Ginger started her career with Dell Publishing in the Candlelight Romance, Ecstasy and Ecstasy Supreme lines before moving to Harlequin, where she’s written for the Harlequin American Romance series, Special Projects — Welcome to Tyler and Hometown Reunion — and Superromance books. Within the Superromance line she authored the popular seven-book series The West Texans. Her most recent book is Love, Texas for the American Romance line. Presently, she is hard at work on another American Romance title.
Her two children now grown, Ginger makes her home with her husband near the beautiful Pacific in Northern California.

Q & A:

How long have you been published? What was your very first book?

I sold my first book, THE KINDRED SPIRIT (A Candlelight Romance, Dell Publishing), in October of 1979, so this month is my anniversary as well. It didn’t appear on the shelves until April of 1981, so the wait was a long one for an excited new author. Vivian Stephens, the line’s senior editor, soon started the Candlelight Ecstasy line for Dell, which I then contributed to. At the time Harlequin published few US authors, but when Vivian moved to Harlequin to start the American Romance line, I came right along with her. My first American Romance was #32, GAME OF HEARTS.

Describe your favorite Harlequin American Romance that you wrote. How many in total did you do?

That’s like trying to choose between your children! I feel disloyal even thinking about it … but I love animals, particularly dogs and cats, so my book where the hero is a veterinarian, PASSION’S PREY, is a favorite, as is CALL MY NAME SOFTLY. The last for an odd reason—there was a hit man in the book with orders to do away with the heroine, and all the while he was trying to fulfill his job, he had a horrible head cold. I had fun with that.

I also have a more recent American Romance, LOVE, TEXAS, #1064, which was published in April 2005. So, all together, I’ve written 11 American Romances. So far—

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

American Romance opened the door for US authors at a time when, previously, opportunities had been limited. It’s hard to believe there ever was such a time, considering the number of US Harlequin writers today, but many of us lived it. And readers responded--they loved to read Harlequin books set in places they knew or could easily visit, and which were peopled by characters who could be them or their neighbors.

How did the Harlequin American Romance line change over the years you wrote for it?

Vivian Stephens accepted only completed manuscripts before she would go to contract. And, with her track record, she proved to have a knack for choosing books that readers loved. She wanted well-written books with believable plots and characters where romance carried the story forward. I still remember hearing her say at a conference that she wanted us (the writers) to use all our senses. She wanted the stories to be sensual in the fullest sense of the word—hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch.

When Vivian left the line, Debra Matteucci became the senior editor and carried on in a similar vein. Debra was open to going to contract with a partial, though—50 pages and an outline. So I, along with other American writers, learned to do that. To this day, I’d still rather write the whole book , but then knowing the book is sold before completion is very nice too.

Over time the focus of the line changed. It’s hard to put my finger on how, but it was different. After being asked to contribute two books to the Welcome to Tyler series, Harlequin’s first continuity series, I jumped at the opportunity and loved every minute of researching and writing BACHELOR’S PUZZLE and COURTHOUSE STEPS. Along with two books in the follow-up Tyler continuity series Hometown Reunion, DADDY NEXT DOOR and PUPPY LOVE (another veterinarian book).

Since then, I’ve written for Superromance, where I’ve had 9 books published, 7 of which were my own series within the Superromance line, The West Texans, which followed the lives of the Parker family of the Parker Ranch.

Describe writing some of the first books for the American Romance line. Were there any taboos? Words you couldn’t use? What were the covers like? That sort of thing….
I never had any problem with taboos or words I couldn’t use, because my stories never went in those directions. Guess I’m just not a very venturesome person.

The silver strip on the covers of the early American Romances were beautiful and eye-catching. I was very happy with all of them. The art department at Harlequin has always been very kind to me … with one or two exceptions over the years that we won’t talk about.

Anything else?

Yes. My upcoming book! It’s a June 2009 Superromance that was originally an Everlasting Love. At present I’m desperately casting about for a title, which I’ll have to find soon, because a book can’t hit the shelves with UNTITLED on the cover. It’s about a couple who have been married for twenty-seven years, and are having problems in their relationship. An accident strands them off road in the mountains in a bad snowstorm, where they’re forced to work together to survive….

Michele Dunaway notes: Thanks Ginger. Readers--don't miss tomorrow, when we conclude the month with Anne Stuart!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tonight, We Carve!

I was doing a Q&A once and was highly amused when one reader earnestly asked how my kids dealt with my "celebrity" status. Did it affect their lives, were they proud, did they fit in with kids at their school with nonfamous parents? That reader made my day with her conviction that someone of my talent should be well known.

Let's face it, guys, Brangelina I am not. Very seldom do paparazzi follow my big blue mini-van, complete with soccer mom magnets and Proud Parent of a Terrific Kid bumper sticker, on my many trips to exotic locales such as...Kroger! It's funny because my kids are wowed by authors--like Mo Willems, of Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny fame, or Mary Pope Osborne (Magic Tree House). They just aren't wowed by "kissing books" or mom in general.

I mean, my kids love me. They're just all that impressed. Mommy can tell a story that makes readers laugh, cry or sigh over a happy ending? Yeah, but that's not as cool as Daddy getting to the next level in Mario Galaxy. Mommy's had books printed around the world in Korean, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Greek and Czech? Yes, but can she carve a really cool pumpkin?

Alas, the answer is no. I mean, for real. I was all kinds of impressed with myself the year I managed this:

I am the last person you want on your team if you're playing Pictionary or anything that requires above preschool levels or artistic skill (and, frankly, I can barely hold my own against most of the preschoolers I know.) Then you have my husband, the freakishly talented who once freehanded a Winnie the Pooh pumpkin and an incredibly detailed Goofy. When our oldest was eleven months old and I was pregnant with another, J carved a perfect Baby Einstein logo. And he managed this Franklin-stein from a children's book just by eyeballing it:

When we visit the pumpkin patch as a family, we come back with multiples. J sits at one end of the table with carved out pumpkins to take requests and help peple, and I sit at the other. His end always has a line, while I sit alone calling out, "Look, no waiting!" and get rolled eyes in response. Of course, usually I end up standing in line for one of J's creations myself. You should have seen the Pirates of the Caribbean pumpkin he did for me--unfortunately, it was so intricate I was never able to snap a picture that completely did it justice.

Tonight our family plans to watch Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV, toast pumpkin seeds and carve this year's pumpkins. I will try not to feel inferior. After all, J recently went through a lot of trouble to cook a dinner for us, calling his mom for a family recipe, spending an hour at the the store rounding up all the ingredients and slaving away in the kitchen. Both the kids, though they aren't rude enough to flat out say so, hated it. J was obviously depressed by the reception, so I tried to make a show of finishing mine and ended up sick as a dog the next day (which I keep telling him is probably a coincidence, but it was a severe beating to his self esteem. To compound matters, two nights later, I was lazy and scrambled some eggs for dinner and our seven year old enthusiastically proclaimed me The Best Cook Ever between bites.)

What about your family? Any special talents you or your relatives have, ways that you impress each other? (My grandmother can sew things you wouldn't believe, while I can barely thread a needle. One cousin has a photographic memory.) I have to admit, I'll never be able to compete with this.

Luckily, J loves me for my many other fine qualities! (If our pumpkins turn out well tonight, I'll post pictures later this week on my personal blog for anyone who's interested.)