Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Modern Tempted Day: #TemptedToWrite

Last month was a veritable treasure trove of Modern Tempted goodness.

With the announcement of the #TemptedToWrite competition came excitement and much discussion of my favourite Mills & Boon imprint.  The new M&B website - which has been marvellously revamped - lends itself perfectly to blogs, and so this month's #ModernTemptedDay feature, is all about the #TemptedToWrite advice, blogs and winner!

First up was 10 things you didn't know about...Modern Tempted.  The first piece of advice given to any writer, when they say that they want to write for Mills & Boon, is to do your research.  It's absolutely vital that you read up and know the imprint you want to write for.

For example, did you know that 30% of authors signed to Modern Tempted were discovered through competitions?!

And then there are the experts...

Flo Nicoll's an editor for Modern Tempted, so listening to what she has has to say about characterisation, plot twists and the authorial voice is probably a good idea.

Plus, she highlights the need for strong, sassy heroines.

Then there was the winning entry...  Kara Marshall's fantastic Law and Disorder tells the story of a police sergeant, and the man she bumps into.

I love the fact that it's the woman who's the law enforcer, as opposed to the man, who's a seriously hunky doctor.  It's funny and sweet and just the right amount of sexy.

Check out my interview with Kara...

And the judges:  Charlotte Phillips talks about what it was that she, Joss Wood and Heidi Rice - all published Modern Tempted authors - were looking for.  And of course, what it was that made Kara's submission stand out!

If you're looking for Modern Tempted books to get stuck into, this months offerings are pretty marvellous:

The Plus-One Agreement, or What Happens When You Begin with a Break-Up

Successful job? Check. Swish wardrobe? Check. 
Mr. Right? Not so much… 
Emma Burney might not have a man, but she has a very practical solution for that: the plus-one agreement. A guaranteed date for any occasion. The problem? Her date is the gorgeous Dan Morgan, the man she lusted after for years. 
Dan is all about keeping it casual, so when Emma decides to call it quits on their arrangement, he isn't bothered. Well, maybe there's just a little bit of dented ego. After all, he's always prided himself on his plus-one prowess. So when Emma begs just one last date…suddenly he's got something to prove!
This delivered a twist that I've actually never seen in a romance novel before, and this delighted me!  It's so rare that I come across a trope or theme that I haven't seen done in some way before, that it's a brilliant hook.

They break up.

Right at the beginning.  We're introduced to the two main characters,it's clear that they're made for each other, and in the very first chapter they break up.


Phillips takes the plus-one trope (aka the stand-in/fake boyfriend/girlfriend) and turns it on its head.  It's happened, they've done it and they haven't declared their love for one another.  But it's when Emma realises that she actually needs Dan to step in and help her out one last time (even after calling a halt to their arrangement), that the fun begins.

It turns out that he's now determined to get revenge.  Or laid.  Either way, he's certain that actually, this arrangement is the best thing that's ever happened to the two of them,and he'll do anything to keep it going.

So when they realise that actually, they've had feelings for each other all along, we just melt a little more.

There's also a depth to the characterisation that is really impressive; we, like Emma, underestimate Dan until his past is revealed and it certainly makes us rethink the assumptions we make about characters.

Phillips has outdone herself in a novel which twists the twist.  Love it!!

Mills & Boon boy Kevin loved the twist so much, that he couldn't stop working on it even whilst working on the armoured car...

Holiday with a Stranger, or Challenging the Bitchy Boss Stereotype

"Who are you?" 
After three months of traveling, all Connor Preston wants to do is sink into his own bed. The last thing he expects is to find a stark-naked woman already there... 
Josie Marchpane wasn't anticipating company either. Connor may be six feet four inches of pure muscle and boast a disturbingly sexy smile, but a fortnight in the South of France is the one thing standing between Josie and her sanity - and she's not about to give it up without a fight! 
Josie plays to win. The problem? Connor does, too. And with only one bed between them, things are about to get interesting...
Christy McKellan's debut for Modern Tempted is saucy, sassy and so much fun.  And more than that, it does the thing I claim that all good Mills & Boon books do - it's a mythbuster!

Women in business are routinely portrayed as bitches.  Hard, unwavering and without sympathy for anyone they work with.  This is something that McKellan undercuts brilliantly.

This Pantene advert highlights the way that women and men's attitudes in the workplace are viewed differently.

Josie is well-known in her company for being harsh, but she gets results and she also is under an immense amount of pressure.  As the narrative unfolds, we come to understand her and why she acts the way she does in the workplace.

I think what is most affirming for me, is that she realises that in order to get results, she can be whoever she wants to be.  Isn't that what all women want?

Plus, she has Connor who is a complete dreamboat.  Stubborn as hell, but sweet underneath it, these two firebrands are headed on a collision course that will leave every reader with the perfect HEA.

A fantastic debut, and I can't wait to see what else Christy McKellan has up her sleeve!

Mills & Boon boy Kevin - complete with naval uniform - definitely approved!

Waking Up Pregnant, or How Books Can Make You Broody

The night that changed everything! 
Waitress Darcy Penn is the smart, sensible type—flirting with the extremely cute guy in the bar just isn't her usual style. As for ending up in his hotel room? Definitely not! Sneaking out while he's in the bathroom to avoid the post-sex awkwardness? Much more like it…. 
If Darcy had stuck around, Jeff Norton could have told her about their "epic latex fail." So he shouldn't be quite so shocked when months later, Darcy turns up at his classy L.A. office and throws up in his wastepaper basket. She's got a bad case of morning sickness, and she's here to find out what he's going to do about it!
There's something about unexpected pregnancies in romance novels that usually turns me off the book; not always, but usually.  However - and it's a massive however - Waking Up Pregnant was completely different.

From the start, she doesn't get pregnant because they were irresponsible.  The condom split, as can actually happen, and though she doesn't realise this because she freaks out and leaves before he can tell her, there's a certain amount of sympathy that we have for her plight.

And also, the moment she gets pregnant, there's no falling into his arms straight away and letting him do everything for her.  She's ill, so he insists on helping her, but she's fully committed to work - even starting a new job during her pregnancy.

This is a woman who is feisty, who is determined, and who is everything a woman can be.

In today's media, there are so many representations of women who work whilst having children as either hard or unfeeling, and it's wonderful to see this combated so very well in Kelly's depiction of Darcy.

And then there's Jeff.  He's not entirely comfortable with the idea of Darcy working, and he's incredibly over-protective, but he comes to realise that "he wanted Darcy confident in the choices she made".  He backs off so that she can make her own decisions, and when he does tell her that he loves her, he embraces all of her- the sexy side and the workaholic side.

Mills & Boon boy Kevin decided to kick back and relax whilst reading this one...

Interviewing Kara Marshall

Kara Marshall won Mills & Boon's #TemptedToWrite competition with her story Law and Disorder.  I caught up with her to find out the story behind the story...

What made you submit your story for #TemptedToWrite?  Are you a die-hard Modern Tempted/Harlequin KISS fan already, or did you hear about it online?

I do love Tempted/ Kiss books and I started to read them when they were the RIVA line. However I did come across the competition online and because I needed a good kick up the backside to focus on my writing I decided to enter! I'd already started the story so I polished it off and sent it in on a whim hoping for some feedback at the most . The rest as they say is history.

What was the inspiration for your story?

The inspiration for the story came when I was out walking my lovely dog Jessie in the rain. I was listening to Carrie Underwoods song 'Before he cheats ' and Carly just popped into my head! 

All the best heroines, especially those in Modern Tempted narratives, are strong and sassy.  Yours is a police sergeant.  Why do you think it's important to write women who have careers and drive?

I think it's really important for women to have careers and drive and to do stuff for themselves. Having your own independence is important especially when life throws you a curveball. And also just because a woman is a police officer, a doctor or a lawyer doesn't mean she doesn't experience the same heartbreak and emotions as everyone else. 

Ben Hastings is scorchingly fiction founded in fact?

Yes, unfortunately Ben Hastings is merely a figment of my clearly over-active imagination. I work in a big, busy health centre and there are NO male staff who evenly remotely resemble him. And believe me I've looked (Sorry boys!)

How did you feel when you realised that you'd won?

When I found out I'd won I was speechless (very unusual for me), thrilled, shell-shocked and excited and humbled to be given such a great opportunity. Everyone has been so supportive and friendly, I'm really lucky!

Have you any other novels that you're currently working on at the moment?

Yes I'm working on two other stories at the moment but it's early days yet and I seriously need to start increasing my word count. I think it might be time to stop celebrating and start writing pronto!

Congratulations to Kara for her fantastic story!  You can find Law and Disorder on the Mills & Boon website.

photo credit: Slaff via photopin cc

For His Eyes Only, or The Sensuality of Art

"It's your body that I want to draw, not your clothes." 
Well, that's what she was afraid of! Hardworking estate agent Natasha Gordon finds her reputation in tatters when an ad she created gets bungled. She'll do anything to restore her good name--even beg seriously sexy artist Darius Hadley to give her another chance to sell his ancestral home. Only, he drives a hard bargain:  Natasha must pose naked, for his eyes only...! 
He's asking Natasha to take him on trust. But she's learned the hard way not to trust men--particularly those she's working with...and let alone men she's taking her clothes off for! 
Darius's next outrageous statement? "I will, too--if it will make it easier for you..."
There's a reason why Liz Fielding's been nominated for the RONA Rose Award.  Not only are her characters well-developed and stunningly gorgeous, but her prose is to die for.

The penultimate paragraph of the entire book has made me dream of Christmas.  (Due to the spoilerific content of the quote, you'll have to highlight it as I've written it in white):
Wedding bells, fairy lights glistening over a white frost.  Red berries and ivy twisted around the Christmas roses in her bouquet.  White velvet and her grandmother's pearls.  And Darius.
Isn't that just gorgeous?!  It almost makes one decide to opt for a Christmas wedding!

And the whole concept of this book is grounded in the beautiful.  After their first meeting, Darius can't help but sketch Natasha from memory, so when she turns up asking for his help, he's determined to be able to paint her in the flesh.

Woman Standing in Front of a Mirror, by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, 1841
When you look at paintings - whether old or new - there's something so very intimate about capturing a person on canvas.  In Edgar Allan Poe's The Oval Portrait, through painting a girl, the painter steals her soul and in doing so kills her.  Nothing so macabre happens in For His Eyes Only, but it does emphasise how very intimate the whole act of sitting for someone can be.

Therefore, it is no surprise to us when this develops more.  The passion transfers from the canvas to the characters and soon they're embroiled in an affair that will result in love.

Utterly enchanting and beautifully written, these two stubbornly different characters are drawn together through a sensuality that cannot be denied.  Delightful.

NB.  Mills & Boon boy Kevin likes to take along a decent Modern Tempted books in his armoured car...

Friday, 14 February 2014

One Year and Counting...

Last year I reset the clock on Valentine's Day.

At the time, I was in a job that I did enjoy at times, but was incredibly stressful.  I had multiple panic attacks most days, I was incredibly anxious and I wasn't doing any of the things I loved.

So I quit.

On Valentine's Day last year, I decided to stop dreaming my life, and instead live my dreams.  I went in, handed in my notice, thanked all my colleagues for their support and went home to cook a meal for some of my best friends.

I then looked at the things that I wanted to accomplish, and instead of putting them off and off and off, went out and did something about.

Today I'm in a job that I enjoy, but that finishes at 5.  I have space in my life to do the things I love and I do them.

Today, I'm Romance and Erotica Reporter for For Books' Sake and divide my time for them on writing features (today's being on everyday objects as sex toys in literature), and reporting on new developments in the romance world.  In fact, not two hours ago I finished interviewing Samantha Ellis about her new book and how books can help shape the narratives of our lives.

I'm also affiliated with Mills & Boon, hosting #ModernTemptedDay on the 18th of every month, and also writing a monthly guestblog for them.

I've returned to my academic roots and am heading to Greece this summer to give a paper on the impact of the internet on portrayals of weddings.

So this year, Valentine's Day isn't just about love and romance (though I'm so happy to be spending it with my wonderful bf), it's about *corny alert* loving yourself.  I'm happier than I've ever been, and I've made it because of everyone's who's helped and supported me.

If you have a dream, follow it.  Life is way to short to waste time doing stuff that stresses you out or you don't really care about.

So this is my Valentine to myself.  <3

Monday, 3 February 2014

Sarra Manning: I would be a much better writer if I didn’t have a dog…

Sarra Manning is one of my favourite "chick lit" authors.  Whenever people tell me that they can't stand the saccharine sickly sweetness of romance, I pretty much shove them in her direction.  Here characters are sassy, they're far from perfect and they've bite.  In other words, realistic and gorgeously written.

She claims, however, that she'd be a far better writer if she didn't have a dog...

Whenever I read writing tips from other authors, they usually extol the virtues of having a dog so you can go on long walks with them and think hard about your novel. Which I completely agree with. I’ve done some of my best plotting when I’m tramping about the woods with my rescue Staffy, Miss Betsy, but when we get home, she does everything she can to stop me from writing.

1)  Distraction
God forbid, I’m sitting in front of my laptop trying to write and not paying Betsy any attention. This is when she likes to get her toys and fling them about in the mistaken belief that this will tempt me away from my work. Eventually she flings the toy somewhere that she can’t retrieve it and I have to get up and find it for her. This can take quite a while. It always amazes me that Betsy knows the names of all her toys if I tell her to get Wubba or Tuggie, but she refuses to respond to a simple, “No!”

2)  Noise pollution
There’s the resentful snoring with her eyes wide open, which is actually quite soothing after a while, but the huffing which ends in a very human sigh of frustration always freaks me out a little bit.

3)  Headbutting
Miss Betsy had absolutely no respect for my personal space bubble. She likes to sit as close to me as possibly can and I’ve learned to ignore her because if I start to scratch behind her ears, then I’ve made a rod for my own back. However, Miss Betsy can’t be ignored for too long before she starts clonking my leg with her huge head just to remind me that she’s there.

4)  Noxious gases
Sometimes in winter when my feet are cold, it’s quite nice when Betsy scooches right under my desk and drapes herself over my feet. Oh, they’re so toasty! But then she starts farting, I’m sure she does it on purpose, and there is absolutely no way I can stay where I am. I get up, do does she, rolls onto her back and demands a belly rub.

5)  Creepy staring while sitting like a tiny human being (see photo)
Then there are the times that Betsy leaves me alone and I’m lost in my writing. Then I look up, look round, and she’s just sitting there, staring at me. She can go hours without blinking. Once I know she’s there, eyeballing me and giving it her best sadface, it becomes impossible to continue. She particularly loves to do her most creepy staring when I’m trying to write a sex scene.

So, there you have it. If you want to be a productive writer, don’t get a dog.

Sarra's latest novel, It Felt Like a Kiss, is out now.  When Ellie's loser of an ex-boyfriend decides to sell her out to the press, her entire life is turned upside down.  Suddenly everyone wants to know what it's like being the secret lovechild of an aging rockstar...all accept the gorgeous David Gold.  His her father's lawyer and is convinced that she's a gold-digger.  Just as well she doesn't fancy him...

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Day Ten of #TemptedToWrite

Day Ten:  How Do They Kiss And Make-Up?
It's been an emotional two weeks, with analysis of all aspects of the perfect Modern Tempted novel but, like all good things, it must come to an end.

And the ending is what I wish to talk about today.  To romance cynics, the ending of a Mills & Boon (or in fact any romance) novel is the same.  They get together and live Happily Ever After.  And I'd be lying if I said that that wasn't a part of it, but there's far more to the ending than that.

It's got to be believable.  Remember, you've just had some serious heartbreak, so this has to be believable as a resolution.  All the conflict that's come before needs to be resolved, and it needs to finish in a way that means that neither character loses their autonomy - it's the first rule of chick lit feminism.

Example Number One:  Gina and Carter in Heidi Rice's Maid of Dishonour

 "I love you Gina Carrington."  She bucked but he held firm and kept going.  "I love your fire and your passion, your honesty, your integrity, your smart mouth and your bad attitudde and that sexy dimple on your butt."
She gasped and found her voice at last.  "I do not have a dimple on my-"

"I love the way your eyes go all squinty with temper when you're mad," he interrupted, basking in that exact look.  "And I love the way they go all dazed and dewy when you come."

"Oh, for Pete's sake!"

"I love the fact that you think you're such a tough cookie.  And most of all I love that soft, giving, open heart that you try so hard to keep hidden - but you showed to me one incredible summer night a decade ago, and I've had several tempting glimpses of this summer in Savannah.  I'm not a great bet for the long haul, I know that.  But then neither are you, so I figure we're even there.  And if you'd be willing to take a chance on me, I'm more than ready to take a chance on you."
What makes this ending stand out?  Carter's acknowledgement that he isn't perfect, and that he doesn't know that this is going to be all sunshine and daisies makes it realistic.  Plus there's that gorgeous description of her and the fact that he's noticed all the tiny little things about her - some of which she didn't even realise herself.  Heidi Rice captures our hearts and Gina's and gives them a wonderful Happy Ever After.

Example Number Two:  Rowan and Seb in Joss Wood's The Last Guy She Should Call

"We'll be fine.  Yes,you'll turn my life upside down, but as long as you leave the War Room and my hackers alone you can do whatever you want.  And if you go too crazy I'll pull you back in.  In the same way, if I get too stuck in my head, you'll bully me out of it.  We're good for each other precisely because we are so different."
"I've been independent for so long and I'm worried that I'll get restless, feel hemmed in."  Rowan also felt it was important to warn him.  Maybe staying in one place would be enough for her, being with him would be enough, but there might come a day she needed to fly, just to know that she could...
What makes this ending stand out?  The fact that these two characters are so very different, highlights the fact that they're HEA won't be easy.  In the end, Seb comes up with a way for Rowan to be able to fly and travel and do everything she loves - he refuses to change her and she refuses to change him.  This is a relationship built on acceptance and understanding, and that's the best kind there is.

Endings always display a writer's skill, and Kathleen A Luton's caught my eye:
Freddie set off to Heathrow in lashing rain.  He drove through two junctions trying to concentrate on Sam coming out through the barrier and throwing her arms around him. The trouble was he could hardly remember what it had been like to hold her and caress her - she had become like a shadow in the far off past. 
The only person he could think of was Rose, huddled in her white bathrobe, flashing her furious dark brown eyes at him when he told her he had to go. He drove off the motorway at the next junction and, gripping the wheel tightly as strong gusts of wind and rain buffeted the car, he headed back to the hotel where he'd left her. 
He might just be in time. 
She was coming out through the revolving door as he screeched to a halt. Her bed hair was piled in an untidy knot on the top of her head and her skin tight jeans showed off her endless legs. "Rose," he shouted, "Rose."

She turned her head and hesitated.  Then very slowly she walked towards him.
What makes this moment stand out?  I've always been a sucker for an airport reunion - I blame Love Actually - so this seems perfect to me.  And I think what really comes through in Luton's writing, is the fact that Freddie is finally ready to let go - he's no longer holding onto the past and he's more than ready for Rose.  And fab use of a flashback!!