Saturday, June 13, 2009

My favorite river

The Guadalupe River in Texas is my favorite place to set a story. On its 432 mile trip to the Gulf of Mexico the cold, green water meanders through sheer cliffs of limestone, passes through fields of shrub cedar and live oaks and provides sustenance for pecan and peach groves. And that’s just the flora and fauna. On the human side you can discover dance halls dating from the 19th century, swimming holes that are deep and cold, floating block parties and world class ski jumping competitions.

The Guadalupe starts it journey high in the Texas Hill Country and flows past some of the oldest summer camps in the country. From there it wanders down to historic Gruene where you can spend the day tubing and the night two-stepping in Texas’s oldest dance hall. This is where George Strait and Lyle Lovett got their start. BTW - it was also the setting for my third book, Somewhere Down in Texas. When I visualized the hero in that story I imagined a cross between George and Tim McGraw.

Then the river meanders toward Seguin, my home town. As a kid I spent so much time in the water I’m surprised I didn’t grow web feet. My September 2007 book, Summer After Summer incorporated many memories from those lazy, hazy summer days of swimming, skiing and sunbathing.

But like most things there’s a downside – and in this case it’s flooding. Texans know that when Mother Nature decides to pitch a hissy they sit up and take notice. I know several people, including my brother, who returned home after a flood to find nothing but a slab foundation or water up to the eaves of their house. My February 2010 book, Hill Country Hero features a river rescue.

So here’s wishing I was spending my Saturday “toobing” my way to New Braunfels while sipping on an icy Shiner Bock.

Have a happy summer,

Ann DeFee
Top Gun Dad, HAR, October 2009
Hill Country Hero, HAR, February 2010

Friday, June 12, 2009


I'm one of those people who likes to use real settings. One of my favorites is my hometown of St. Louis. Since I've lived here all my life, including both undergraduate and graduate college, I feel that as a native I can take liberties. Some of my favorite books are here, such as Capturing the Cop, Catching the Corporate Playboy, About Last Night, The Playboy's Protegee, and Unwrapping Mr. Wright.

I'm a big city girl, and so most of my works take place in a bigger city. That doesn't mean that I don't move around. I let things inspire me. My trip to Branson and Manhattan, KS, brought about setting Twins for the Teacher in Branson. I used to spend summers on a lake in Wisconsin, and I used that lake, but moved it to Minnesota, for July's Bachelor CEO. In honor of Mike Storm, who gets a small role as a character in Bachelor CEO, I set the book in Iowa, which is where he and his wife are from. After having to work in the classroom next to me for 6 years, I figured it was the least I could do.

My first book A Little Office Romance took place in Washington DC, a setting usually taboo in the romance world for some reason. I ended that book in St. Louis, when the hero finds his heroine at the ball game.

The fun part of settings for me is what is real, what is fiction, and what is a little bit of both.

PS, I am now a public person on Facebook. You can be a fan at


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cleaning Dried Flower Arrangements

How many times have you walked past a dried flower arrangement in your house and cringed at the dust on it? I love dried flowers but they're a lot of trouble to clean. Before I found this shortcut I would spend way too long picking out the dust clumps and strands of dog fur (who knows how those floated up in the air and landed on the arrangements) and then I'd take a damp paper towel or rag and wipe each petal of the flower clean. If it was a silk-flower arrangement I'd take it apart and soak the flowers and greens in a tub of soapy water--but when I tried to put the arrangement back together I could never get it to look like it did before.

A friend passed along this incredible tip for cleaning silk or dried-flower arrangements. Take the arrangement out to the garage--make sure the garage door is up or if your back porch or patio has an outlet take the flowers out there. Check which way the wind is blowing ( I learned this the hard way after I got a face full of dust) Use the medium /cool setting and blow dry the arrangement. Most of the dust will fly right off and be carried away by the wind. Next use a silk-plant cleaner (Hobby Lobby sells a silk flower spray--sign up for their internet e-mails and you'll receive a 40% off coupon once in awhile) The spray will clean the rest of the dust off and make the flowers smell nice.

Marin Thomas
Samantha's Cowboy (August 2009)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The real Crested Butte

While Lisa prefers to write about fictional towns, I've chosen a real place as the setting for all my Harlequin American Romances. Crested Butte, Colorado is a real ski town in Southwest Colorado, and one of my very favorite places to visit.

I did contemplate changing the name when I first set out to write my series of books set in the carefree resort town, but I decided that the real thing is too unique and fun to try to copy.

Not only is the town real, but all the festivals and most of the businesses and landmarks in my books (Marriage On Her Mind, The Right Mr. Wrong, The Man Most Likely and the upcoming Daddy Auditon and Her Christmas Wish) are real. From Flauschink, which celebrates the flushing out o winter, to Vinotok, featuring a giant effigy of The Grump that goes up in flames with the complaint and regrets of townspeople inside, Crested Butte knows how to throw a good party.

None of the people in my books are real people, though. That probably doesn't stop people in Crested Butte from looking for their friends and neighbors in the pages, but so far I haven't had any complaints.

Of course, I'm writing fiction, so I don't pretend to stay true to every facet of life in the real Crested Butte. I try hard not to write anything derogatory or negative. I really do love the town and the people I've met there have always been very nice and supportive. If any of them are offended, I'll take this opportunity now to apologize to them.

Writing about a real time is a tricky balancing act between adhering to facts and choosing the details that work for my characters and story. I hope readers will see love visiting the town in my books as much as I love going there iin real life.

You can find out more about the real Crested Butte here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Settings are so important!

For Harlequin American especially, settings are so important. It’s more than where a story takes place – sometimes it seems that it’s also the who (whom, actually) and the why. At least that’s the case with my Citizens Police Academy series. Lakewood, Michigan is the whom my law enforcement officers have sworn to protect and serve, and it’s the why they do their job.

The Lakewood in my series is a fictional city, but since writing the books, I’ve learned that there is a real city with that name – and it’s eerily close to where I positioned my fictional city on the beautiful Lake Michigan shore in lower, western Michigan.

That’s just happened to me again – with a new Harlequin American I’m writing. I thought I created a city, but I’ve actually stumbled across one that already exists again – and in the same proximity of my new fictional setting. Maybe I’ve retained more information from Geography class than I realize, or I have a photographic memory for only the map of Michigan.

I prefer to use a fictional city or town for my settings, so that I don’t inadvertently offend anyone. For instance, the mayor of the Lakewood in my books is not a particularly nice man, and I would hate for the mayor of the real city to think I’m talking about him or her.

I’m often asked if I base any of my characters on real people I know. My brothers and sisters always look for themselves in my books, probably convinced that I’m giving away their secrets. But all my characters are definitely real only to me and hopefully my readers. I do, however, often base my cities on real cities. For instance, Lakewood is actually a composite of the Michigan cities of picturesque Grand Haven and more urban Muskegon. And I’ve called Grand Rapids, Michigan by many other names.

So do you like reading about real settings or fictional ones that become real to you? I’d love to read your comments!

Lisa Childs

In a Texas frame of mind...

In a Texas frame of mind…

Oh, one of my favorite topics—setting. It’s such a big part of our stories. My books are set in Texas from the beautiful Hill country in central Texas to the piney woods of east Texas to the rolling plains and prairies to desolate west Texas and to the Texas Gulf coast.
My characters have a kaleidoscope of landscapes where they work, play and fall in love.

My favorite is small town Texas and ranches. I grew up in rural Texas on a farm/ranch. That’s what I love about writing for the American line—I can draw upon those years for references and inspiration.

As a kid my dream was to live in the city. On a hot summer’s day I’d sit beneath a huge live oak whose branches spread out like an umbrella over a stock pond on our ranch. I’d look up and see the sun peeping through the branches and wish I was anywhere but here on this dusty, hot ranch. I’d dream of air-conditioning and the city where a girl didn’t have chores to do or have to get her hands dirty. As you can see I’m a daydreamer.

After high school, I finally left the ranch for college and the big city. It was rush, rush, rush. People weren’t as friendly as they were in our small community. It was a big adjustment. I then realized what I’d had all along; the serenity and comfort of wide open spaces and the security of family and home. I go back every chance I get. Most of the time I go back in my books. They contain a piece of my childhood and a slice of life in Texas.

I think most authors write about what touches their heart, their emotions and their senses. I’m always in a Texas frame of mind. How about you? Any favorite settings?

The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas – March AR
Caitlyn’s Prize – July SR

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Setting Influences Character

Hello Everyone!
This month some of us are talking about settings for our stories, and I have to say I'm more excited to read this blog than ever. Back in the dark ages, all the romances were set in exotic foreign places. Now, I love those books and still read them, don't get me wrong, but I thought: hmmm, don't American men and women fall in love? Isn't there any romantic city in the USA? So when the first American settings appeared, with American men I might dream about, and American women who could just as easily be friends I grew up with, I was thrilled. (Anyone willing to believe I was also three years old?)

My first book is set in Chicago, a city known for its wind, chill, pizza, politics, and most recently, our President. There are little neighborhoods, impossible one-way streets, and places that are--well, let's just say you wouldn't want to be caught there after dark. I love Chicago. I asked the Harlequin art department to put skyscrapers on the cover of Marrying the Boss since Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright (plus others I can't think of now, sorry) "invented" the tall buildings there after the Chicago Fire. It's a big city so it has an "on the edge" feel, but with a Midwest twang. This influences the lives of my characters, of course.

For my second book, I created a fictional town outside of Kansas City, Missouri. "Howard" has a small-town flavor, where everyone knows everyone else and your mom's friends tell her if you're out on a date--or not. My hero in The Fake Fiancee had to deal with this situation after he told his mom he was "practically" engaged, when in fact he wasn't seeing anyone. Poor Joe had been out on the West Coast too long and forgotten how small towns work. His intentions were good (protecting his mom's fragile health), as he's a decent Midwestern man. I loved when characters showed up to bedevil them--at the Garden Society Exhibit, the movie theater, in restaurants, everywhere he and his "fake fiancee" went. It's fun to place the hero and heroine in boring locations (the laudromat, for instance) and see how their presence there makes the spot romantic.

The big city whirlwind and the small town coziness both appeal to me since they "grow" such different crops of characters. Do you have a preference?

Till next month,
Megan Kelly