Friday, December 13, 2013

The Advent of Christmas

According to German tradition, the celebration of Advent over the four Sundays before Christmas started in an orphanage in Hamburg.

In much the same way children of today count down to big events in terms of the number of sleeps, the orphans counted down the weeks to Christmas using a wreath of candles - six smaller candles for weekdays, and a big white candle for each Sunday. Each day another candle was lit.

Image Source: Wikipedia


Since 28 candles would be a fire hazard in most homes, the wreath was simplified to four candles - one for each Sunday, which is what we use today.

For those of us who celebrate the tradition, Advent is a whole lot more than just an evergreen wreath and a few candles. It's about family, community and about remembering what Christmas is really about.

When I was a child I was blessed to have a large family of aunts, uncles and cousins living close by. Every Sunday evening for the four weeks before Christmas we would get together to sing Christmas carols by the light of candles and the special Advent star.


My mother put together booklets containing dozens of English and German carols, and we each had a turn to select a song, starting with the youngest member of the family (usually my little brother) and ending with Omi, the family matriarch.

The last song was always Silent Night, to be sung in whichever language you chose. I always liked to mix it up and sing alternate verses in different languages.

After the carolling, we kids would do battle to blow out the most candles, and then there'd be coffee and Christmas biscuits (and cooldrinks for us kids). If we were really lucky, my grandmother would ration out the biscuits that came to be known as Omi's Specials, the Elisen biscuits containing almonds, hazelnuts and a spoonful of rum, baked on a rice paper base.

These days the family is scattered around the planet and my children are growing up wthout this wonderful experience. Advent celebrations are usually five of us sitting in the lounge singing along to CDs! At least we still have the Advent star, the candles and the cookies.

On the first Sunday of Advent this year, though, we joined the local German church for their Advent celebration. What a joy to be part of a community again, and to sing with loads of other voices - and the biscuits and cakes always taste so much better shared in company than eaten alone!

For me, the celebration of Advent represents everything that is best about Christmas. Not Santa Claus or gifts or the decorations in all the shopping malls, but family, tradition, and the whole reason for Christmas in the first place: the birth of a child who brought hope and light to the world.
Very apt, even for those of us who celebrate it in the brightness of midsummer rather than the darkness of midwinter.

What is your favourite part of Christmas, and what does it mean to you? I'd love to hear your stories!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Written Fireside: His Way Home, Part 5

Welcome to the fifth installment in the ongoing round-the-campfire story of His Way Home.

If you haven't yet read the previous installments, you can find them here:
Part 1 - Lori Connelly
Part 2 - Sarah Lefebve
Part 3 - Zara Stoneley
Part 4 - Lynn Marie Hulsman

Source: www.freedigitalphotos.net

Now read on...

Beth’s mouth opened, but no words came out. Matthew wouldn’t believe her anyway. Just last night he’d told her to get her head out the clouds and face reality, and the thought that had started to form... it was too improbable.
Improbable but inescapable. And there wasn’t much time.

“We need to talk,” she told Matthew.

His brow furrowed. “Then talk.”

She drew in a deep breath. She had no idea where to start. She sat in the chair where Walter had sat not so long ago. “Tell me about your grandmother.”

His frown deepened, but he sat in the armchair across from her. “I don’t remember much about her. Towards the end she was a little batty. Kept going on about a slip in time and how she needed to get home to undo the damage she’d done.”

“How did she die?”

Matthew looked away. “One day she walked out into the woods towards Watchtower Hill and she never came home. We searched everywhere but we never found her.”

The tower-shaped hill brooded over the neighbourhood. The woods that surrounded it were dark and eerie, and Beth had never dared ventured there in all the time she’d lived here on the farm with Matthew.

He sighed, and when his gaze again met hers there was sadness in them. “My grandmother grew up in a cabin in those woods. It’s the first place we looked, but the place was a ruin and there was no sign of her.”

Beth squared her shoulders. “Then that’s where we need to start.” She rose and headed for the closet where they stored their emergency gear. They’d worked with search and rescue teams in the area before, helping to find lost hikers. This wouldn’t be much different.

Matthew rose behind her. “Are you insane? Do you have any idea how cold it is outside? And a storm warning’s been issued. That’s why I came home.”

She stopped in her tracks. He was right. Walter would never make it on foot. Not as fast as he was aging. “We’ll have to take the old sled,” she said.

Matthew came around and took her hands. “You’re starting to frighten me, Beth. What’s got into you?”

The door behind him swung open, and Walter stood in the door. They both gasped.


Part Six will be up on Jane Lark's blog on 17th December.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

And then the magic happens

When you're writing in addition to a day job and a ton of other commitments, writing becomes a chore to do at the end of the day when you're at your most tired and unenthused. The joy of doing Nanowrimo is that you drag yourself through it, no matter how you feel. You put those words down on paper (or screen) when, on any other day, you'd simply say "sod it" and go to sleep.

And then something magical happens. One day as you're writing you get swept up in the words. You feel what your character feels. Your heart beats a little faster. You want to cry, or laugh.

That happened to me today. I'm excited again. Tired, but excited.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tortuga - the cursed island of 'The Trouble with Mojitos'

In The Trouble with Mojitos, my heroine Kenzie is a film location scout desperate to photograph the island of Tortuga in the fictional island group of Los Pajaros - but no-one has stepped foot on the island in several centuries. Something about a curse...

From the day I conceived this island, I knew it had to be named for the sea turtles (read the book and you'll understand why). Since Los Pajaros is owned by my fictional Germanic kingdom of Westerwald, a German or Dutch name seemed a good idea. But Schildkröte or Zeeschildpad don't exactly roll off the tongue.

Enter Google Translate. 

The moment I saw the Spanish translation of 'Turtle' I knew I had my island's name. But Tortuga is already a  popular name in the Caribbean (Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Ecuador all have islands with this name) and there's also Isle de la Tortue off Haiti. Not to mention that fans of Pirates of the Caribbean are sure to recognise the name...

But as my hero Rik would say, "sod them all!" I like the name, so I'm keeping it.

Englishman's Bay, Tobago by Denni Schnapp
My Isla Tortuga is a large island, uninhabited except by parrots and monkeys, densely forested, with pristine white beaches, waterfalls and rivers, and almost completely encircled by a protective coral reef.
Paradise, right? Kenzie thinks so, but Rik's not so sure. He wonders if the famous curse might be the real reason for his exile.

What is the curse, I hear you ask?
Read the prologue of The Trouble with Mojitos to find out.

Can the curse be broken?
It can, but you'll have to wait for Book 3 to find out how...

El Limon Waterfall in the Dominican Republic from www.paradise-islands.org

The Trouble with Mojitos

Turquoise blue waters. Sandy white beaches. Mojitos...
Film location scout Kenzie Cole has found herself in paradise. Working in the Caribbean for a week is just what she needs to escape the long line of exes in her closet. Though the last thing she expects is to be picked up at the resort bar by a disgraced former Prince!

Luckily for Kenzie, exile is suiting the man formerly known as Prince Fredrik very well. And it’s not long before his rugged, pirate charm is proving hard to resist.

But Rik’s been spending his time in paradise exorcising demons of his own and he has danger written all over him. If Kenzie was sensible she’d run a mile instead of lose herself to lust - although, they do say sometimes you have to get lost before you can be found...


Available now from the following online retailers: Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes and All Romance eBooks.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Let's play a game...

The possibilities are endless. This could be anywhere in the world - where do you think it could be? And what lies waiting at the top of the stairs?
Let's have a little fun, exercise our imaginations and throw out some possibilities...

Bonaire photo by Greg Johnston available from www.AllPosters.com


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Written Fireside - Part 10

We're back again! Luckily, someone flipped the switch in South Africa last week, ushering winter out the door and the most beautiful summery heat in ... the perfect weather to sit around a campfire telling scary stories as the flames leap up and make eery shadows all around.

If you need to catch up on the story so far:

Part 1 - Lori Connelly
Part 2 - Teresa F Morgan
Part 3 - Carmel Harrington
Part 4 - that was me!
Part 5 - AJ Nuest
Part 6 - Charlotte Phillips
Part 7 - Lori Connelly
Part 8 - Carmel Harrington
Part 9 - Teresa F Morgan

And for Part 10 read on...

Clara slid a shaking hand beneath her sweater and shirt. The burden was too great to carry alone. With Barbara gone, she needed a friend more than ever, and there was no one else but Mark.

She pulled out the cloth-wrapped bundle. After an entire night strapped against her skin, she'd grown so used to the weight that without it she felt naked.

As she slowly unwrapped it, Mark took his eyes off the road just long enough to look at what lay in her lap. His eyes rounded. "Great Almighty, Clara! That's not the answer!"

"Keep your eyes on the road." She lifted the small silver hand gun. "I don't think it's loaded. It belonged to Barbara's grandfather. I guess you could say he left it to her along with the summer house."

Carefully she untwisted the sparkling cord wound around the barrel and held it up for Mark to see without having to look away from the road. "Derek paid us each $20,000 to keep our mouths shut. When we were persuaded to testify against him, neither of us could bring ourselves to spend a cent of the money. But we sure as hell weren't going to give it back either. $40,000 is a lot of money."

"No kidding." Mark swallowed and glanced again at the diamond bracelet she held up. Then his gaze shifted to the rear view mirror. Clara didn't need to look to know what he saw. She could only pray Mark's car could outrun Derek's battered Ford.
She clutched the seat as Mark suddenly swung the car onto an offramp. A moment later she heard the squeal of brakes as Derek corrected his trajectory. But she couldn't bear to look back. Not with her heart in her throat as Mark set his foot flat on the gas. The road ahead was narrow, with trees pressing in on either side, and so twisty she couldn't see more than a couple of car lengths ahead. She had no idea where they were.

She gripped the diamond bracelet even tighter as Mark swung the car again, off the road and onto a barely visible dirt track. The forest swallowed them.

They sat in silence for a heart stopping moment before the roar of Derek's truck disappeared into the distance. "Hopefully it'll be a few miles before he realises he's lost us."

He stretched his arm across the back of her seat and this time Clara's heart began to race in a very familiar and not at all unpleasant way.

"So you spent Derek's pay-off on a piece of jewellery?"

"This isn't just any piece of jewellery." She carefully wound the string of diamonds back onto the gun's barrel and folded the cloth closed around it. "And it was worth every bit of the $40,000 Barbara and I had to pay to get our hands on it. This is the famous Duval bracelet. And it's the reason Derek killed Etienne Duval ten years ago."

Are you hooked yet? If so, check out the next instalment on AJ Nuest's blog on September 24th. Just two more instalments to go!!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remember


Yet still, in almost every corner of our world, people are killing people. Let's remember the innocents who suffer and put an end to war and violence. And no, it's not impossible. Just watch Star Trek and you can see a future in which the people of Earth stand together. Let's make it so.

Fellow Harper Impulse author Nic Tatano has suggested we honour those who lost their lives 12 years ago by remembering one victim.

I have chosen firefighter Kevin Smith. You can read about him here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/09/national/portraits/POG-09SMITH2.html

Monday, August 19, 2013

Written Fireside - Part 4

Here's the story so far:

Part 1 - Lori Connelly
Part 2 - Teresa F Morgan
Part 3 - Carmel Harrington

We're seated around the camp fire, marshmallows toasting, wine and warmth making us rosy... now here's my contribution to the story:

Clara cruised down Main Street, her eyes scanning for a parking outside the Lucky Number Café. A car pulled out into the street ahead of her, leaving a space right out front of the café.
But what she saw through the front window made her put her foot on the gas and keep on going. The summer house it was.

Only when she hit the freeway did her heartbeat slow down enough to enable her to think. What was Derek doing back in town? And what business did he and Mark have together?

Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the steering wheel. Had Mark’s invitation to talk been a trap? She didn’t want to believe it of him...not him of all people...but what other explanation could there be for the two of them sitting together like old friends in the café?

The sun was already going down when she pulled into the long, overgrown drive leading to the summer house. She hid her car in the garage and walked to the house. Her hands still shook so badly she dropped the key twice before she managed to get the front door open.

Inside, the house was full of creepy shadows and smelled musty. But Clara didn’t turn on any lights or open any windows. Better not to advertise her presence. She shut the front door behind her and double locked it.

Barbara had told her she’d sold the house years ago. She’d said she couldn’t face returning here, where the memories of that fateful night cast a pall over everything, obliterating every happy memory they’d ever made here. So why had she kept it, after all?

Clara found the flashlight in its usual spot on the shelf behind the door. She flicked it on. The beam was weak, but it was enough.

There was only one reason Barbara would have kept the house, and only one reason she would have lied to Clara. She’d hidden It in the house. And Clara needed to find it.

The next installment of this story will be from AJ Nuest, followed by Charlotte Phillips

* * *


Don't forget to check out Lori Connelly's new release The Outlaw of Cedar Ridge, available now from Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and all other good eBook stores.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Behind the Scenes: the punishing hours of a movie set

I'm dishing out a lot of reading today (but it's worth it, I promise!) so you don't notice that I'm not really here. I'm in my writing cave, adding the finishing touches to my Westerwald Book 2 (Rik's story) which is now due.

If you're interested in how the film business really works, then this article on The Unglamorous, Punishing Hours of Working on a Hollywood Set should be fascinating. (Thanks to Elle Matthews for the link!)

Another interesting Behind the Scenes post, this time from a Visual Effects artist who has worked on some big name films, is this one from the Stage 32 blog.


Writing Cave

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You rock!

Film-making might seem glamorous to outsiders, but you wouldn't believe how much abuse we film-makers take. To most people we're an unwelcome intrusion rather than an exotic novelty. Our trucks are big and noisy, we have lots of cables and clutter, and we start work at ungodly hours of the day  (and often shoot until ungodly hours of the night).

A lot of my day job is spent dealing with angry residents and local business owners, fending off rude traffic officers (even when we have permits and a right to be where we are) and grumpy crew who are just trying to do their jobs in often challenging circumstances.

So when I come online and see the overwhelming support that writers give each other, it restores my faith in humankind. The generosity, support and friendliness I find among my fellow writers is inspiring.

I want to thank every romance writer I know, and especially my fellow Harper Impulse authors and my Minxy sisters. You rock and I love you all!

Thank you.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Loving for only 99c

Check out the Minxes blog today for a special promotion running Mon 15th to Thurs 18th July only: 6 romances priced at only 99c each (77p in the UK).



Friday, July 5, 2013

10 Screenwriting Tips from Billy Wilder

These tips come courtesy of the film and theatre industry forum blog, Stage 32. These apply just as well to witing novels as they do to writing movies.

SCREENWRITING – 10 Tips From The Great Billy Wilder

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs [introspection], be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.
And a final tip from the Raindance Film Festival:

Nothing glues you to the screen more than a good story. If the story is there, does one really care about the budget of the film?

If the story is there, the reader will hardly notice the writing!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

I need your help

Everyone loves a reformed bad boy, right? The man the heroine's mother always warned her about. The man the heroine herself would rather have nothing to do with, but of course she still falls for him.

So why am I struggling to come up with movie examples of rom-coms where the bad boy is reformed through the love of the right woman? It really shouldn't be so hard!

So far I've come up with the following examples:
  • Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing. The bad boy who turns out not to be so bad after all.
  • Matthew McConaughey in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The heartless womaniser who finds the one woman he wants to settle down with.
  • Flynn Rider in Disney's Tangled.
  • Edward Cullen in Twilight.
But there must be more, and this is where I need your help. Can you suggest any other movies with a bad boy hero?

PS: This is serious research, I promise, not just an excuse to indulge a bad boy fetish!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Movie Review: The Next Best Thing

I had a blast from the past on the weekend when I rewatched this movie from 2000. I remember it being a sweet, touching story - which just goes to show that either my memory is failing or I've changed a lot in thirteen years.

Madonna's character is such a bitch through the second part of the movie that I'd have slapped her if I could.
After spending the first part of the movie convincng us (a tad unbelievably) how much she wants a child, and what a great mom she is, this entire characterisation goes out the window when she meets a man. She becomes completely selfish, severing all ties between her son and the only father he's ever known.

Why? Because Rupert Everett as the Dad is an abusive waste of space? No, simply because he doesn't want his son to move across the country and never see him again.
Huh? Does she not know how many single women struggle to find a positive father figure for their sons in this day and age?

But it gets worse. The custody battle between the two made my blood boil. The devoted dad is told by his lawyer that he doesn't stand a chance of getting any sort of custody because ... wait for this ... he's gay.

This wasn't the 1980s. This was the start of the new millenium. Were US laws seriously that discriminatory such a short time ago?

The final scene is played out on a hilltop. Rupert Everett walks up the hill to his parked car. Why had he parked his car in this arb spot? Why was he walking to get to it? We'll never know.
Though no doubt the director thought the view would make a sweeping backdrop to the movie's climax. It does, but it's also so random that it completely took me out the scene when I should have been crying great big crocodile tears.


And what was with the shadows over everyone's foreheads throughout the movie? Boom shadow - or someone's idea of art?



The Amazon editorial review describes this movie as "lazily directed" and I completely agree. There was some great material here - great actors (Lynn Redgrave among them) and a wonderful opportunity to examine the modern family dynamic - but it never reaches its potential. The only highlight of this seriously anti-climactic movie was Neil Patrick Harris in a supporting role.

The best thing to come out of The Next Best Thing is that I'd love to rewrite this story in my own way. Maybe I will...



Endless Possibilities

It's play time! Today we're playing Endless Possibilities. Guess where in the world this is and who lives behind these doors.

There are no prizes, just the fun of letting your imagination run free. Leave a comment below to tell me your story behind this picture.

From www.pinterest.com


Friday, June 14, 2013

Reviews!

I've been a bad, bad blogger these last few weeks, but I rationalise it by saying I'm sure you'd all rather have my next book than yet another blog post. Right?

But just so you don't forget me, here's a quick round-up of some of the lovely reviews Waking up in Vegas has had so far. Thank you to all the reviewers for taking the time to not only read the book, but to write down and share your thoughts. Reviewers rock!

Desere Steenberg of Romance Book Haven's Contemporary Romance Reviews gave the book 5/5:
"I highly recommend this read to everyone that enjoys a fun and spicy romance read with a difference. The fact that the author incorporated a fairy tale backdrop made it that much more magical!"
You can read the full review here.

Jeannie Zelos gave the book 4 stars on her blog:
"This is a fun romantic tale with a lovely HEA. Sometimes you want light-hearted and funny and this book does it."
You can read the full review here.

And 4 hearts from Cat at The Cat's Meow:
"If you like a Cinderella type sweet romance, complete with princes, and castles and kingdoms, toss in  a modern day setting, with a strong female lead, that is afraid to follow her heart and accept her prince charming,  lots of sensuous romance you will love this one."
You can read the full review here.

From Andrea Heltsley Books: "I give this read four glittery stars for being a fun, romantic read!"
You can read the full review here.

And the most recent review is from Laura at Laura's Book Reviews:
"I really enjoyed this author's writing style; it was easy to read and the pace and flow was perfect. This was quite a surreal book in places; it bordered on the fantasy boundary but was deep seated in reality for the most part....This would be a great read for the beach or sitting in the garden."
You can read the full review here.
[Best of all, Laura got my Katy Perry glitter reference!]

Another review from Jackie's Book World.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Mega congratulations to my fellow Minx, Lorraine Wilson, whose debut book, Confessions of a Chalet Girl has sold to Harper Impulse! Well done, Lorraine - so, so proud of you!

* * *

I’ve been tagged by Rachel Brimble (a friend from our earliest days together with The Wild Rose Press) to join in The Next Big Thing.

Rachel is a versatile and prolific author who writes historical & contemporary romances and romantic suspense for (amongst others) Harlequin's SuperRomance and Omnific. She lives near Bath in England, which is the setting for the book she talks about in her contribution to The Next Big Thing. You can find out more about Rachel's books here.

If anyone isn’t familiar with The Next Big Thing, it's a blog chain that gives authors the opportunity to discuss their latest books, while getting word out about the author who tagged them - and then tagging other authors to keep the chain going. It’s also a great way for readers to learn more about the many wonderful stories out there and new soon-to-be-favorite authors!

I participated in The Next Big Thing once before, chatting about An Innocent Abroad.
Here are my new questions and my answers...

1) What is the working title of your book?
I've tentatively titled this book Plan B (which is a whole lot catchier than its original name of Rik's Story!)  

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?  
Even before I started writing my debut novel Waking up in Vegas, I was intrigued to know what became of Max's big brother Rik after he was unceremoniously booted out of Westerwald. This is Rik's story.

3) What genre does your book come under?

It's a contemporary romance, with some comic elements thrown in.

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is easy to answer since I start planning my books by first finding images online that fit the characters.

Rik is very definitely Tom Hardy as he appears in This Means War. Beneath the tattoos and stubble, he's a complete gentleman - but for the first time in his life he's giving in to a rebellious streak.

The heroine, Kenzie, is a little more difficult to cast, since the perfect image I found was on Pinterest and I have absolutely no idea who she is!

Can you recommend any ginger-haired, delicate actresses who might suit the role?

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Rik is in desperate need of a Plan B for his life. Kenzie is the queen of coming up with Plan Bs. Will there be a place for her in his new life?

6) Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

 This book will be published by Harper Impulse.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Ouch - I'm still busy with it! But since my deadline to deliver to Harper Impulse is 8 weeks away, I can tell you that it definitely won't be more than another 8 weeks!

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I find it so hard to compare my books to others, because every book seems so different. The one book that it most certainly compares to is my debut novel, Waking up in Vegas, to which this story is linked.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See question two! In a way I guess you could say it was my curiosity about Rik that inspired this story.

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
This book is set in a sunny, exotic locale. And there are sea turtles.

***

Now it's time to tag some of my fellow authors to participate in the Next Big Thing. However, since almost everyone I know has already taken part, if you're reading this, are a writer, and haven't yet done a Next Big Thing post, then consider yourselves tagged!

And just because it's my blog and I can, here's another gratuitous picture of Tom Hardy.




Friday, May 31, 2013

An epiphany... that's just not me, but how cool is that?

I grew up in love with movies. I dreamed myself into more movies and TV shows than you can imagine. I loved movies so much that I wanted to make them. So I went off to film school and then started working in the movie business.

Maybe it's because I shifted from making real films to advertising that (finally!) helped me realise today's epiphany. There are people who believe in the art of advertising and who have dedicated their lives to crafting great TV ads, but from where I sit it's just the pretty face of selling stuff. There are people who love the process of making movies, the technical and creative challenges. Thank heavens for all those people - but I've finally realised that's not me.

It's taken me close to 20 years (okay, maybe not that long, but some days it feels longer!) to realise that I didn't really want to make movies, and that what I loved about them was stories.

I wanted to be involved in making stories and I finally am. Now I get to write stories that others can imagine themselves in. And I get to write the stories that I imagine myself in!
At long last I can watch a TV show, fantasise that I know the fictional characters ... and then write down those stories that I dream up. And I get to call it work! How cool is that?

Thank you Universe for helping me (finally!) discover a career as a writer, and thank you for letting me do what I love.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Endless Possibilities

It's very nearly pay day, so let's celebrate by getting our creative juices flowing with a game of Endless Possibilities. How to play? Just look at the picture below and let your imagination fly. Where is this? And who lives behind that door. Tell me your story...

From www.pinterest.com

My newest 1920s Rae Summers romance Prohibited Passion is free today and tomorrow only (Friday 24 and Saturday 25 May) on Amazon and Amazon UK. Please, please download!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Inspiration, opening chapter and Kansas



If you haven't yet got your hands on a copy of Waking up in Vegas, you can read the opening chapter here for free to try before you buy.

Finally, my heartfelt wishes go out to everyone in Kansas. I cannot imagine the devastation you're dealing with today, and I hope you're safe.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Out and About

It's been just over a week since Waking up in Vegas released and what an awesome ride it's been!

During this week I've been interviewed by Hot Pink Typewriter, received reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Contemporary Romance Reviews and I've introduced you to my hero Max and to my heroine Phoenix. More fabulousness coming your way soon.

If you'd like a visual glimpse behind the scenes of Waking up in Vegas, including the settings as well as the characters, take a look at my WuiV Pinterest board.

I also want to send a shout out to my fellow Minx, Kitty French. Way to go, girl! (PS: I want to be like you when I grow up).

And now... YAY!! It's Friday! Roll on the weekend!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The inspiration behind Waking up in Vegas

Today is release day for Waking up in Vegas!

And as you're reading this I'm sitting beside the road somewhere watching a Toyota TV advert being filmed. Hopefully I'm warm, comfortable and not too exhausted from an early morning start.

So what are you still doing here? Have you gone off and bought my book yet?
Oh, okay. If you've already bought your copy, then you're allowed to stay a little longer and read on...

Waking up in Vegas started with a dream. Not a metaphorical dream but a literal one. I woke up one morning and thought “now that would make a great story”.

I wrote the first draft three years ago, in 30 days during the mad month of November. I submitted it to a publisher only to receive a personalised rejection that said the opening just wasn’t innovative enough.

So I set the story aside, wrote a bunch of other stuff, learned the craft, and then one day late last year, as I was driving home from work, singing at the top of my lungs to Katy Perry (my car being the only safe place I can sing without being heard) it came to me – the perfect opening to Max and Phoenix’s story.

It was just about November and I was planning on doing Nanowrimo again, so I decided to give these poor star-struck lovers another go. I wrote the entire story over again from scratch. The only things that remained from that draft three years ago were the characters, and the fictional country of Westerwald.

This time it only took me 29 days to write their new story, and it was the most fun I’ve had writing. Ever. Thank you Katy Perry!

I knew in my heart this story was going places, so I made a list of my ideal publishers who I thought could do justice to it (all two of them) and sent off my manuscript. Cue two rejections (one of which has to be the loveliest rejection letter of all time). But I wasn’t fazed.

I still believed in this story, and I wasn’t going to let just anyone get their hands on it. If I couldn’t get a dream publisher to back this story, then I’d go it alone. I bought a cover and contracted an editor, and was all set to brave the Sea of Self Publishing.

A few days later, as I idly surfed my Twitter stream, I spotted a link to an announcement of a new digital first imprint from Harper Collins. I clicked on the link and landed up on a Facebook page. There wasn’t much information, what with the page being brand new, but I was sold.

Not only was this a Big 5 Publisher, but it had Kimberly Young at the helm. Since I’d met Kimberly at a conference last year, I sent off my manuscript straight away, with a cheeky reminder that we’d met. Then I sat back, anticipating a lengthy wait. After all, this is publishing - where everything happens two years from now.

This was the least anxious wait I’ve ever endured. I knew this story was a winner, and I knew I had a back-up plan in case Harper Impulse didn’t like it. Two weeks into the wait I heard (via one of those friends of a friend but you can never remember afterwards where you heard it from) that the HI editors were having an acquisitions meeting. And I just knew.

That was when the sweating started. And the doubts. They’d only had my story a couple of weeks. Perhaps they hadn’t even read mine yet? Was I insane to think they’d buy my book?
I stalked my Inbox. A week passed. Nope, they definitely hadn’t read it yet. Or if they had, they hated it.
I gave up stalking my Inbox. Oh well, there was always Plan B…

Then, when I’d stopped watching my inbox altogether, the email arrived…

You can read more about The Call here.

You can’t get a better dream publisher than Harper Collins – unless it’s being a launch title for a brand new HC imprint, and unless it’s staffed by such lovely and talented people as Harper Impulse is.

Thank you Universe for sending me the dream that made every other dream come true!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Starting the journey with Harper Impulse

Since this is the week in which Harper Impulse launches, I thought I'd bring you a couple of posts on my journey so far with this brand new imprint.

Next week I'll give some glimpses into the inspiration, characters and setting for Waking up in Vegas, and once the exhiliration of release day is over I'll be back with normal scheduled programming (just in case you're looking for my Behind the Scenes in the movies posts).

* * *

There has been a great deal said recently, by some of the most respected names in self-publishing, about how publishers are a dying breed.

The most commonly cited reasons for the death of traditional publishing is that the big publishing houses don’t listen to their readers and that they are unable to turn on a dime.

The Big 6 publishers (now Big 5, but since I’m South African, that just makes me giggle as I wonder which publisher is the elephant!) have been likened to the Titanic, too large and unwieldy to avoid collision with the iceberg.

Harper Impulse have just proven that to be poppycock.

From their first submission call little more than a month ago, to launching their first titles in early May, they’ve proven that Harper Collins can move as quickly as anyone else in the digital age. Acquiring titles, designing covers, revisions and promotions and contracts, and a ton of other behind-the-scenes stuff that we readers and writers have no clue about – they’ve done it all in record time.

But what impresses me the most is that while they’ve been doing all this, they’ve also taken the time to interact with their readers. They’ve chatted on Twitter and introduced themselves on Facebook, run fun polls and started discussions. They genuinely want to know what readers want to read.

From the day the first submission call went out on Facebook, I’ve been excited about Harper Impulse. I love their vision for books that are fun and contemporary. I love that they’re actively looking for books that push boundaries and try new things. I love that they’re working towards turn-arounds that are previously unimagined in traditional publishing. And I love how excited the editors all are about this line.
I’m excited too. Are you?



Friday, May 3, 2013

Coronations and Celebrations

I have a confession to make ... I'm a Royalist.

Did anyone else catch the abdication of the Dutch Queen Beatrix on Tuesday and the coronation of her eldest son, Willem Alexander, as the Netherlands' first king in 120 years?
Sadly I had to work on Tuesday, so I only caught the highlights on German TV that evening, but I was riveted.

Why the fascination?

Back in my childhood my Omi (my German grandmother) used to get the Neue Post gossip rag (this was back in the days before Amazon and the internet, and the magazines used to reach us months after they were out of date), and she and I used to pore over the pictures of Europe's young royals. To this day, when I follow the goings-on of the European royals I feel connected to my Omi and the unspoilt innocence of that time.

I always felt more of a connection to the European royals than the British, probably because so many of them had children roughly my age (born in the late 60s and through the 70s). Those same children married roughly when I did, and now have young children...as I do.


So Tuesday's coronation of the first of what I consider 'my' generation was already something special. Add in the fact that my imminent release, Waking up in Vegas, features a very similar coronation, and I'm sure you can see why I was so fascinated.

Admittedly, this real life coronation was a much happier family affair than my hero Max's ... but you'll have to read Waking up in Vegas when it releases next week to find out why his day is not the happy event it should be.


Aside from how genuinely warm and likeable the Dutch royals seem, the moment that captured my heart was the moment Queen Beatrix signed her abdication document and passed it to her son. The look she gave him as she handed him the papers wasn't the look a queen gives her successor. It was the look of a proud mother saying to her son "I believe in you. I'm proud of you. You can do this."


This is the way all coronations should be. No grief, no tears for the departed, just a simple handing on of the baton with everyone working together for the good of a nation. And the emphasis firmly placed on the future rather than the past. A lesson my own homeland seriously needs to learn.

Oh, and my heroine, Phoenix, gets to take a walk along a canal much like this one, though sans coronation finery:

From www.timeanddate.com


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Endless Possibilities

It's (nearly!) a brand new shiny month, so let's play a little game. Look at the picture below and tell me where in the world you think this is and who lives behind the door.

from www.pinterest.com

To spice it up, I'm going to offer a copy of my new Rae Summers novel, Prohibited Passion, to the commenter with the most imaginative response.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Call

It's Friday morning, 5th April. I return to my desk at the day job from a coffee run to see an email in my inbox titled 'Harper Impulse submission'.

My heart starts thumping wildly. It's only been three weeks since I submitted to Harper Impulse, the brand new imprint from Harper Collins, but I've heard via the grapevine that the editors had an acquisitions meeting...

I'm not too stressed. A sale would be a dream come true, but a rejection won't be the end of the world. If it's a rejection, then I plan to self-publish. I have a freelance editor on standby and a cover already designed.

I may not be anxious, but I can still scarcely breathe as I click open the email. It's two lines only. "Are you free today for a quick call? I'd love to chat further to you about your submission."

I've already had friends go through this, so I know editors don't just call to chat about your work. They call to buy.

I shoot back a reply. "Any time" and my mobile number. And I sit there trying to remember how to breathe.
It's 11:40am.

Then my phone beeps, reminding me the battery is running low. Just that morning I'd decided to let it run itself out before re-charging and its death is imminent. Oops.

I plug in the charger and naturally, for the first time ever, it won't take a charge. I run all over the office, trying all the plug points, swearing, sweating, as the phone refuses to charge. Thank heavens the rest of my team are out and there are no witnesses.

Finally, the screen lights up, the charge indicator starts to move, and I breathe a massive sigh of relief.

Just then the hair & make-up stylist who's doing prep for our next film shoot pops her head in my door, and I can scarcely manage a coherent conversation about aging make-up and contacts and hair extensions. She looks at me funny, so I say "I'm so excited! I'm about to get The Call!" Then I have to explain what The Call is.

As soon as the stylist leaves, I email the Minxes, because they're my soul sisters and they know exactly what The Call means. And because I don't want to be alone in this.

Then I make a toilet run, get pen and paper ready, make a list of points to discuss with the editor in case my brain stops working, get a glass of water ready, and ask the kitchen to keep me lunch. I don't plan to leave the desk where my phone is now plugged in and charging until that call comes in.
I'm ready.

Time ceases to have meaning, but I think it's about 12:15 when the phone rings.

Thank heavens for that list! I manage to have a sane and sensible conversation with the editor, even though my brain stops working after she utters the words "we'd like to offer you a two book deal."

Since the phone is still plugged into the charger, I spend the entire phone call bent down with my head practically between my knees. Which is probably a good position to be in when you take a call of this magnitude.

We talk royalties and contracts and covers, what the imprint is about, estimated release dates, and changes to the opening scene. We even talk about writing conferences and the editor's holiday on the South African coast. (Now that I'm typing up this story, I'm amazed I remember so much of the conversation!)

I even manage to mention the fact that Waking up in Vegas is in fact the first in a series of three. Three rings, three stories. Read the book when it goes on sale and you'll know what I mean.

When we hang up, I literally stand up and dance. And there may have been an air punch. Again, I'm truly grateful it's a quiet day at the office and I'm alone.

The rest of the afternoon was, needless to say, a write-off. It's hard to focus on everyday day job type stuff when you're floating a few feet off the ground.

So that's my Call Story. There's a great deal more that's happened since, but that'll have to wait for another blog post. Because I'm going off to dance some more.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Misbehaving

If you're here looking for the next instalment in my Behind the Scenes series, my apologies. Those posts take a little time to put together, and since I've been kept busy on a shoot for a headache tablet commercial (and the house we were shooting in had zero signal) the next post will be delayed.

In the meantime, I've gotten my rights back to Let's Misbehave and have been re-writing it ready to self-publish. There are moments when I see flashes of brilliance, but mostly I'm thanking all the writing gods for the opportunity to edit.

There are 'had's and 'that's all over the place, and my characters 'notice' or 'watch' everything around them. Happily, I not only get to fix these basics, but to add more depth to the characters. The new and improved version will be available on Amazon later this coming week.

Here's a sneak peek at the new cover, courtesy of Viola Estrella.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Behind the Scenes 11: The Sound Department

The only thing I remember from my years in film school (at least, the only thing I remember learning inside a lecture hall) is that the audience only notices the soundtrack when it's done wrong.

A good movie soundtrack should be so realistic and integral to the scene that you never even notice it's there. Footsteps, bird song, doors opening and closing, background traffic... all those normal sounds we hear every day and take for granted.

The on-set sound recordist's job is to capture all the different audio elements as cleanly as possible for the Sound Designer. Aside from capturing all the background elements (sometimes recorded separately as 'wild' takes), he or she also needs to record those elements while also ensuring the actors' dialogue is audible at at all times (preferably with no unseen aeroplanes flying overhead, or crew members chatting about the weather in the background).
Of course, this isn't always possible.


From www.domgee.com

Imagine shooting a street scene in Manhattan... You can hardly ask all traffic in a three block radius to stop so you can hear the actors talk. Or when ther are big SFX explosions going off. So that's where re-recording comes in. The audio for most big budget movies is almost entirely put together in a studio once the picture has been edited, a job so big it definitely deserves it's own blog post.

On smaller jobs, like the ones I work on, almost all the audio is recorded live on set and only minor adjustments are done in post production.

In this post I'm just going to concentrate on the on-set recordists, those poor slobs who are on set at the crack of dawn, usually are parked the furthest away from set and have to schlep ther gear the greatest distance, spend all day out in the elements, either baking hot or freezing cold (because it's always one extreme or the other), usually over-looked by the Director and DOP who only have eyes for what the camera is doing...
Yeah, whoever thinks film work is glamorous has never been on a real film set.

The Sound Department is one of the smallest departments on any film set, seldom more than three people, and on most of the TV commercials I shoot it's a 'one man band'.

From www.trewaudio.com
The head of the department is the Sound Mixer, who places the microphones on set, then monitors the audio levels, quality etc during takes, and liases with the AD when another take needs to be done because the audio was not 'clean enough' on the previous take. He will also let the Lighting team know if he needs baffles (great big screens of cloth) erected to reduce extraneous sound.




From www.canford.co.uk
On bigger shoots, the Sound Mixer will be assisted by a Boomswinger. This is the guy (or gal) you see most often in movies about movies, the one holding a big stick over the heads of the actors with a big grey fluffy sock on the end. The boom pole is used whenever microphones cannot be placed on the actors themselves. Boomswinging is an art in itself, as the operator not only has to keep moving the microphone to whoever is speaking, but also needs to watch that his pole (or its shadow) aren't in shot, even when the camera is on the move. (BTW, the grey fluffy sock dampens wind noise).

On even bigger shoots, the third and most junior team member, often an apprentice, is the Cable Basher, sometimes very boringly known as the Sound Utility Technician. Apart from assisting the team in everything else they do, changing batteries, perhaps operating a second boom, he also keeps track of the microphone cables, making sure they don't get snagged, tripped over, wound too tight etc. He's also the Sound Mixer's personal tea boy.

In this digital age, with radio mics and other equipment working wirelessly, cables are no longer such a big thing. But there are still many instances when wireless doesn't work, such as when there is too much wireless interference, no clear line of sight between the microphone and the sound recordist, or when the actors cannot be 'wired' or 'mic-ed' because of their clothing or action.


From www.filmjob.info

So what does it take to be a sound recordist?
Aside from excellent hearing, a good awareness of the world around you, technical knowledge of audio equipment and the science of sound, years and years of experience, there's also a certain amount of artistry and talent involved. Sound, so often take for granted, can heighten the emotion of a scene, and catching just the right sounds on set can make the sound editor or designer's life so much easier.

From next week I'll be looking at the more creative departments of a film unit, starting with the Art Department.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The best April Fool's joke

Today's winning April Fool's joke comes courtesy of JA Konrath.

I'm back working on my Superstorm Sandy Story, and getting to do what we writers do best: research. Today I had the onerous task of picking Halloween costumes for my hero and heroine. This is the costume Ana ended up picking for Cam:

"As you wish."


Friday, March 15, 2013

Thought for the day

"If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride - and never quit, you'll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards." - Paul Bryant

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Behind the Scenes 10: Toys!

For those not technically minded, you're excused from today's lesson, because today I'm going to show you some of the toys we get to play with in the film industry.

Dollies
These are part of the standard operating equipment you'll find on almost every shoot. They enable the camera to move along tracks to get closer into the action or run alongside the action. The movement created is a little different from an ordinary zoom in or out. The dolly is moved manually so it usually requires its own dedicated technicians, the dolly grips.

Dolly image courtesy of www.needlegirlhaystackworld.com

Dolly tracks come in both curved and straight lengths, so they can cover pretty much any motion at floor level, but what happens if you have a location with a floor so uneven you can't lay tracks (like a forest floor covered in twisting roots) or too narrow to fit a dolly (like a doorway in an apartment)?

That's when we might use a...

Steadicam
This is a body-mounted rig usually carried by a particularly buff specialist operator. Film cameras might be getting lighter as technology improves, but you try carrying this weight over and over again as a scene is re-shot and re-shot and you'll develop muscles too!

The steadicam also has built-in stabilisers to offset the body's natural up/down walking rhythm to avoid making viewers seasick.

Steadicam image courtesy of www.focalimageproductions.com.au

Ladderpod
An amazingly simple contraption for getting a little height. The camera is rigged at the top, the operator climbs up, and a couple of brawny grips keep the ladder stable. The one pictured below is quite a fancy model. Most are much shorter and much less impressive.

Image courtesy of South African grips company Dragon Grips
 
But if you want the camera to sweep dramatically upwards or sideways, you need a...

Jib arm / Crane
These are long arms that can lift the camera up high or extend the camera into hard to reach areas. Jibs are lighter and smaller and come with interesting names like Jimmy Jibs and Meerkats.

Jimmy Jib from South African company Crow's Nest in use at the Augrabies Gorge

Cranes are longer, reach higher, and are more stable. Both use weights to balance out the long reach.

In the Olden Days, directors and camera operators still sat on the end of a crane to manually operate the camera. In this age of safety and liability issues, this gung-ho approach is rare.

Gung-ho approach on The Hunger Games - courtesy of Dragon Grips

Reaching the unreachable - courtesy of Dragon Grips

These days we have remote camera heads (head = the fancy doodat on which the camera is mounted which connects it to whatever else is supporting it) which can swivel the camera up, down or tilt side to side.
Cam Remote from www.camerasystems.com

These remote heads are also highly specialised pieces of equipment that have their own specialist technicians with fancy job titles like Scorpio Head Operator or Powerpod Technician.

Tracking cars and Process trailers
You know those scenes where the actors are driving along, engrossed in conversation and not paying the least attention to the road? That's because they're not!
Their car has been secured on the back of a process trailer, rigged with lights and cameras, and all the actors need do is remember their dialogue.

Process trailer courtesy of San Diego Film Commission


A tracking vehicle is any vehicle, be it a quad bike, golf cart or truck, that transports the camera alongside the action

Tracking vehicle courtesy of Dragon Grips


Aerial Camera Mounts
Last, but by no means least, are the special rigs that enable cameras to fly above the heads of us mere mortals. Cable cams and helicopter mounts are the ultimate toys on any film shoot, but since they also cost a pretty penny to use, it's not often we get to play with them!

Image courtesy of www.aerialstar.com



Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Behind the Scenes 9: The Grips Department

Question: What’s the difference between a grip and a PA?
Answer: A PA can spell “grip.”

The Grips boys are the butt of a lot of film industry jokes because they're the brawn rather than the brains of the film industry. That said, considering these guys often have to understand technical things like velocity to weight ratios and other stuff I have no hope of understanding, they can't be too stupid.

My note: While gripping is not exclusively a male job, in a line of work  that involves as much muscle as this it's rare to find a female grip.

"But what do Grips do?" I hear you wail.

Put very simply, the grips department is responsible for everything underneath the camera. So while the camera team work on the camera itself, the grips are in control of everything that moves or supports the camera - legs (tripods), dollies, jibs, cranes, tracks and other camera mounts.

Put even more simply, their job is to push, pull, mount and hang stuff.

The head of the department is the Key Grip. Aside from supervising where the camera goes and how it moves, he is often also responsible for safety around the camera.
According to one website I visited, the name Grip comes from old circus terminology. Since I don't know much about circuses, I can't comment.

The key's chief assistant is the Best Boy. As with the Lighting Department, the Best Boy is the most senior assistant. On larger shoots and feature films, he also handles the logistics and paperwork for the team.

On our smaller shoots we often only have one key grip and one assistant, but the more complicated the equipment, the more assistants will be needed. For example, to build a length of track, level it across often very uneven ground, and assemble it (including loading on the very heavy crane weights) requires a great deal of labour.

Question: Why was the dolly invented?
Answer: To teach grips how to walk upright.

While reporting to the Key Grip, the Dolly Grip works closely wth the camera department. His role is to move the dolly (see picture below) or crane on which the camera is mounted and to ensure it runs smooth and level at all times.

Dolly in motion - from www.act.org.li

Rigging Grips are the guys who assist lighting with preparing the next set-up by setting the lights, rigging scaffolding, hanging black-out cloth etc. However in the UK, where union rules are very specific about who can do what, this is handled exclusively by the lighting team.

There are a whole bunch of other specialists involved in mounting and/or moving the camera, which we'll look at next week. [Warning: it may get a little technical.] And if you have any questions, just ask.

For a great insider's view of being a grip, here's a fun blog post.

And finally, for some light relief for anyone who's made it to the end of this post, here's a whole bunch of film industry "how many people does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" jokes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Behind the Scenes 8: The Lighting Department

What the heck is a Gaffer?

The Gaffer is the head of the Lighting department, also often known as the Electrical department. The quaint job title comes from the archaic English name for 'the old man'. (Lord of the Rings fans will remember that Sam Gamgee called his father the Old Gaffer).

Until quite recently film technicians were highly unionised and the only way to get a union card was to be invited in by an existing member. As a result, sons followed their fathers into the business and a lighting team could consist of an entire family, with the Old Man at its head! Check out modern movie credits and you'll still see the same surname feature quite frequently.

Another version has the name Gaffer deriving from ship's gaff poles and claims that the earliest lighting technicians on film sets were off-duty sailors, or that the first sound stages had canvas roofs that were opened and closed with large gaffing hooks (fishing hooks) to control the amount of light entering the stage. I prefer my explanation!

The Gaffer works closely with the Cinematographer and determines which lights to use to create certain effects or moods, the strength, size and position of each light, as well as making adjustments throughout the scene for cloud cover or the brightness of the sun.

He should be a certified electrician, since his responsibilities not only include designing pretty lighting effects, but also maintaining the electrical equipment and ensuring health and safety for everyone in the film unit.

The Best Boy is the second in command in the team, the Gaffer's right hand man (and on very rare occasions right hand woman). He's the foreman, in charge of the team's logistics, such as ordering equipment, scheduling the team, keeping time-sheets and liaising with Production, as well as over-seeing teh rigging of lights and cables.

Spark with Checkerboard reflector
The majority of the team, the workers, are lighting electricians known by the nick-name of Sparks. These are the junior electricians who do the manual labour of carrying and rigging lights, laying cables, placing trace or gels over the lights, hanging black-out cloths etc.

The Generator Operator (most commonly called the Genny Op) does ... well, that's fairly self-explanatory, isn't it?

Generators are necessary no matter where the film unit is shooting, whether it be a game reserve with no access to power, or a surburban house. Since film lights require a huge amount of power, it would be hugely unfair to expect the location owner to foot the power bill - and might even blow the house power! The film lights also need to be matched to the generator (eg, single phase or double phase) and all the connectors and cables also need to match.

The Genny Op's duties also include ensuring the generator has enough fuel to keep running so the entire film unit isn't stranded in the middle of nowhere without power.

Finally, Rigging Electricians are the electricians who move ahead of the main film unit, laying cables and positioning lights for the next scene while the main unit is still shooting elsewhere. Not every shoot has (or can afford) this advance team, but they are certainly worth it when time is of the essence.

Next week .... the Grips Department. [Get your mind out the gutter, you erotica writers out there!]

Image courtesy of www.training728.com