Huzzah! My buddy Monica Burns is in the house! Monica writes wonderful historical romance with a lot of heart, sizzle, and some really cool settings. She’s here to talk about her recently re-released, award-winning book, KISMET.
I have a confession. I’m a reader. A reader who happens to be an author. I enjoy reading all manner of books, biographies, non-fiction, fiction, and research books. But it’s romance that I keep returning too. Pssst, come closer. Do you do what I do? I pretend I’m the heroine in the book when I read. *blushing*
I have the greatest job in the world. I get to dream up exasperating, stubborn, autocratic, angst-ridden heroes that are devastating as sin. Sheikh Shaheen, from my book KISMET, is one of those types of heroes. Like all my characters, he has a deeply personal battle to fight if he’s going to find his happiness with my heroine, Allegra. I wrote KISMET a short time after my award-winning MIRAGE was published, simply because I had so much fun writing MIRAGE. I’ve always loved Egypt, the desert, and arid climates. I suppose you can guess I’m huge fan of the Lawrence of Arabia movie.
Since I’d set MIRAGE in Egypt, I wanted KISMET to be set in a different desert location. The perfect choice was Morocco. I knew nothing about the country, which meant research, and other than writing, there’s nothing I love more than doing research. Some people don’t enjoy digging for information. Me? I’ll spend hours trying to discover when a fork went from three tines to four. You can learn so many interesting things through research.
For example, while researching Morocco, I discovered a great deal about the Bedouin way of life. I had always known the term Bedouin referred to the nomadic tribes that inhabit North Africa and the Sahara Desert. What I didn’t realize was that they’ve been roaming the desert for more than three thousand years. Of real interest to me was the fact that the nomadic tribes I’ve always thought of as Bedouins are also referred to as Berbers.
The Bedouins/Berbers refer to themselves as Amazigh. Naturally, there are Amazigh tribes such as Tuaregs, Zenaga, Chaouis, Fulani, Riffians, Kabyles and a number of other smaller groups. Confused? I was. The best analogy to help me understand the culture’s structure was to think of it as someone saying they’re an American or Yank when they’re overseas, but when they’re here at home they call themselves based on the region they live in, southern, midwestern, or other regions of the country. Then the tribe level would be their state of residence.
Another interesting fact revolves around the word sheikh. Most people think it means leader, which it does. But there can be many leaders under the Bedouin class of people. The Amazigh as a “nation” could have a sheikh that rules over them. Then there are the different tribes within the Amazigh classification who have leaders and there are leaders among the clans within the tribes. Sounds quite complicated, but it all falls back to the fact that a sheikh is the leader of a group. It’s a hierarchy you could compare to the American elected official structure, only sheikhs aren’t elected. A great many are inherited roles. But no matter the size of the group, the leader is a sheikh. So when someone asks me how my English hero in KISMET could hold the title of sheikh, I refer to the fact that my hero earned his title with heroic deeds. Shaheen threw himself in harm’s way to save a family member of the Amazigh top leaders. The result was Shaheen earned his place as an adopted member of the Amazigh people and his role as the leader of a small band of nomads.
Naturally, all this information found its way into the structure of KISMET, and I think it lends itself to the ambiance of the book. I like my books to have a solid foundation when it comes to research and build off of it. I think it makes for a stronger story. It helps make the situations my characters find themselves in more realistic. But most important to me is that it’s as accurate as can be, and that it adds to the strength of the overall book. My stories build off of it, and I think it adds substance to the story. It’s like that American Express commercial. My story never gets published without it.
What book do you recall reading where the author used research to make the setting an actual character and ambiance in the book? One commenter will win a digital copy of Monica’s book, FOREVER MINE.
For more info and to read an excerpt from KISMET, visit Monica’s website!
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It wasn’t until I reread the completed draft of my new Regency romance Listen to the Moon that I realized responses to scarcity was one of its major themes. Most of the characters in the book are dealing with the aftermath of major childhood scarcities of one kind or another.
John Toogood, my valet hero, grew up with a scarcity of praise from his hypercritical father. Sukey Grimes, my maid-of-all-work heroine, grew up with a whole range of scarcities after her own father abandoned the family: food, money, clothes, fun, openly expressed affection…but I think the lack of security is the one she still has the most trouble getting over. Things feel precarious to her, and she responds by hoarding—not any physical thing, but her own emotional integrity. As she tells John, “I want to keep my heart for myself, because I feel as if, if I give it away, I’ll—I won’t have it anymore, and I need it.”
It takes a lot of work and a lot of love for her to finally decide that, in her words, “Hearts weren’t meant to be pickled and kept on the shelf for a hard winter.” Even after she’s decided, it takes more work and courage for her to act on it.
Sukey started out as a minor character in an earlier book, Sweet Disorder, about a wounded officer trying to get a prickly widow married off to help his brother’s election campaign. Sukey was Phoebe (the widow)’s part-time maid, and the rest of the time she worked for Mrs. Humphrey, who owned the boarding house across the street.
Mrs. Humphrey was a very minor character in that book, and pretty much all I knew about her was 1) that she was very abrasive in her manner; 2) that the corners of her mouth turned down like a bulldog; 3) that she demanded lunch when Phoebe hosted a charity committee quilting bee; and 4) that, as Phoebe explained angrily after Mrs. Humphrey embarrassed her in front of the hero, “Do you know she goes through the clothes we bring and selects the least worn sections for her own quilt?” But she isn’t all bad, either: she has Phoebe’s best interests at heart.
When I had to round her out into a more prominent character in Listen to the Moon, I decided to make those bits cohere by making her pathologically cheap as a reaction to extreme childhood poverty. She’s a food hoarder, too. None of which makes her a bad person, but it does make her a very unpleasant employer for poor Sukey, who’s expected to do the grocery shopping (or foraging, in some cases) and cook dinner on a tiny budget, without snacking!
“I’m not cheap, I’m thrifty,” my mother used to say a lot. The difference, to her, was that cheap implied stinginess, a lack of willingness to share resources. Her parents were working-class children of the Depression, and they rose to the middle class over the course of her childhood. They were two of the cheapest people you could ever meet, but they were also two of the most generous, especially when they started to have more to share. My grandfather did everyone in the extended family’s taxes pro bono (he was an accountant and then a tax lawyer), and for years every car my mom and her brothers drove was his hand-me-down. When my mom taught Head Start, my grandmother bought art supplies and bathing suits for her students. They regularly hosted the extended family holidays, too.
My grandfather’s mother (whose mouth turned down like a bulldog—my mom used to call it “making a Grandma Ettie face” when someone was really cranky or disgusted, but that was Great-Grandma Ettie’s face all the time) owned a little Jewish bodega in Brooklyn, and he grew up eating the food from the store that had gone bad and couldn’t be sold. I don’t know if it was as a result, or just luck, that he had a cast-iron stomach, but he would eat anything. I remember once we had a jar of applesauce in the fridge with mold growing on it. “It’s still fine,” my mom said. “Just scrape the moldy part off the top and eat the rest.”
My grandfather, though, said, “Don’t be ridiculous, mold puts hair on your chest,” and ate the mold off with a spoon. (The story in Sweet Disorder about the rotten sausage? That was his war story, by the way. Only it was a kosher salami IRL.)
And boy, did Grandpa hoard food. If it was on deep discount, he bought it and saved it. He never threw anything away. When he died, he had an entire enormous freezer in the basement (I’m not sure I can accurately convey the sheer size of this freezer) full of freezer-burned meat he’d bought on sale. At his shiva, my cousins and I poured ourselves bowls of cereal from the cabinet only to realize it was all about four or five years out of date. (We realized by biting into it. Maybe the grossest mouthful I’ve ever taken.)
The big difference between Grandpa and Mrs. Humphrey’s reaction to scarcity was that he hoarded food, but he shared it happily. He also got very little affection from his parents, and he grew up to be a really affectionate dad and grandfather. During my reread, I realized Mrs. Humphrey’s stinginess was a foil for Sukey; that she was struggling to be generous in spite of her childhood deprivations. So was John, in his own way.
Which, again, doesn’t make Mrs. Humphrey a bad person. I’ve never been that interested in “good” and “bad person” as categories of analysis anyway. What I care about is accountability for actions. People aren’t good or bad; they just make decisions, and then they and the people around them have to deal with the consequences.
Up to this point, Sukey and John have made a lot of decisions to maintain their status quos, and now, they want to make decisions that have the potential to make them (and the people they care about) happy.
Good things are always risky. Happiness is always risky. It isn’t always safe to trust, or hope, or rely on other people, or reach for what you want. In fact, it often isn’t. But I want to believe that it’s worth it to keep trying.
I work every day to move past stuff from my childhood and past that makes it hard for me and the people around me to be happy and enjoy ourselves. I think everyone does. Romances help me believe it’s possible. Because in a romance, the risks you take for happiness always pay off.
And they lived happily ever after.
I’ll be giving away an e-book of Listen to the Moon to a commenter chosen at random. Open internationally. Void where prohibited. Open for entries through Saturday, 1/23. The winner will be posted on Sunday, 1/24.
Tell me, are you a packrat or a minimalist? Why do you think that is?
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John Toogood dreamed of being valet to a great man…before he was laid off and blacklisted. Now he’s stuck in small-town Lively St. Lemeston until London’s Season opens and he can begin his embarrassing job hunt. His instant attraction to happy-go-lucky maid Sukey Grimes couldn’t come at a worse time. Her manners are provincial, her respect for authority nonexistent, and her outdated cleaning methods—well, the less said about them, the better.
Behind John’s austere façade, Sukey catches tantalizing glimpses of a lonely man with a gift for laughter. Yet her heart warns her not to fall for a man with one foot out the door, no matter how devastating his kiss.
Then he lands a butler job in town—but there’s a catch. His employer, the vicar, insists Toogood be respectably married. Against both their better judgments, he and Sukey come to an arrangement. But the knot is barely tied when Sukey realizes she underestimated just how vexing it can be to be married to the boss…
Thank you Jaunty Quills for letting me visit your fab blog! Welcome to the second half of November! Hope you’ve done everything you wanted to do before the holidays hit. When I say holidays, I’m including Thanksgiving which will be here in a few days. Are you screaming yet? I hope not, but if you are, I can offer you a nice royal escape to a safe island in the Mediterranean with A PRINCESS UNDER THE MISTLETOE. It’s available NOW!
This book features a princess and her sister who have been banished from their kingdom due to rough economic times. Their lives have been threatened, so they must assume new temporary identities. Princess Sasha becomes Nanny Sara to widower Gavin Sinclair’s young son and baby girl. Despite Sara’s best efforts, she finds herself falling not only for the children, but for Gavin, too. But this is temporary and what will happen when Gavin learns who she really is?
One of the more fun scenes in this book was inspired by my precious great-niece who got bored during her naptime. Anyone who’s ever taken care of a toddler knows that boredom can be messy. As you can see in this photo, my great-niece creatively took care of her boredom. (Now for the clean-up, Mom!) In my book, the three-year old took a green marker to himself and his 6-month old sister, explaining his action by saying, “I’m a frog because I’m fast and Adelaide is a turtle because she’s slow.” (Now for the clean-up, Nanny!)
Do you have a fun story about what a child did while you were caring for him or her? Or maybe even a pet story? Please share in the comments. I’ll draw one commenter’s name to receive a $15.00 Amazon gift card. If you get a chance to read A PRINCESS UNDER THE MISTLETOE, please write me at leannebbb @ aol.com (no spaces). I’d love to hear from you!
Please welcome Colleen Thompson!
Thank you so much for inviting me to stop by the Jaunty Quills blog, signing “sister” (we Thompsons have to stick together!) Nancy Robards Thompson! I’m delighted to be back to chat about and offer your readers a chance to win one of two copies of my latest release.
[NRT: So happy to have you here today, Colleen. Yes, we Thompsons must stick together! ]
This month’s Harlequin Romantic Suspense, Cowboy Christmas Rescue, began with a seed planted by an editor suggesting she was open to collaborative efforts of HRS authors. Some time afterward, Beth Cornelison reached out to suggest the idea of doing linked stories, and since I’d previously worked with her on a Harlequin-created continuity series (The Coltons of Wyoming), I knew that she was not only very talented but a real pleasure to work with.
The setting of our story turned out to be the easy part, along with the hero featured in my novella, “Rescuing the Bride.” I’d recently completed another HRS book, Lone Star Redemption, where I’d left behind a secondary character I loved, a champion bull-rider whose serious injury had forced him to retire to run the family ranch in the tiny town of Rusted Spur, Texas. Angry and dispirited about being forced to give up the high-flying lifestyle he’d enjoyed before he was ready, he’d “settled” for his new responsibilities but clearly wasn’t settled in his own mind. So what, I wondered, would happen if he were also forced to settle into the even greater responsibilities of a wife and child after getting his platonic friend, April, pregnant—the result of a one-time encounter while both were drinking away their disappointments? Surely, Nate, who in his heart was the most honorable of cowboys, would do what he felt was the right thing and propose to the girl next door. And surely, paralegal April, who wasn’t the kind of woman to accept being anybody’s noble sacrifice, would come to her senses in time before settling for a loveless marriage.
Beth Cornelison, who’s wonderful at writing cowboys, liked the idea of this mismatched couple’s crisis forming the backbone of the book, but how were we to make April’s jilting the cowboy she’s already in love with at the altar into the inciting incident to get her novella, “Rescuing the Witness,” moving, too? What if, Beth suggested, moments after the bride says “I don’t,” shots ring out and guests at the outdoor wedding scatter as the groom’s father—who was standing just behind the bride at an altar decorated with Christmas lights and poinsettias for the coming holiday—is struck down? And what if Beth’s vet tech/rodeo clown heroine, Kara, disturbed that she still has feelings for her former lover, Sheriff (and groomsman) Brady McCall, had fled to the barn in time to spot a shooter who’s now bent on seeing her dead?
As we worked to overcome the challenges of writing two interlocking stories, each of which could stand alone while solving a larger mystery when read together, we each discovered twists and turns, complex interrelationships and hidden motivations that deepened our characters and made this special two-in-one Harlequin Romantic Suspense a more satisfying read. And we discovered something else as well: writing this book together wasn’t only twice the story; it was twice the fun.
In Cowboy Christmas Rescue, Nate Wheeler, whose life was forever changed by a bull-riding accident during the previous year’s holiday season, begins the story loathing Christmas music. To be entered to win one of two copies of the book, write the name of your favorite holiday song or movie in the comments below!
A former teacher and prolific speaker on the craft of writing, Colleen Thompson is the RITA-nominated author of 27 books, from the fast-paced romantic thrillers she has written for Harlequin, Montlake, and Dorchester Publishing to the action-packed historical romances she wrote as Gwyneth Atlee for Kensington. Other honors include the National Readers’ Choice Award, multiple Romantic Times’ Top Picks, KISS Awards and a Reviewer’s Choice Award, Publisher’s Weekly starred review, and appearances on the Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, Bookscan and Amazon bestseller lists.
Upcoming releases include “Rescuing the Bride” in Cowboy Christmas Rescue (Harlequin Romantic Suspense, 11/15) and The Off Season (Montlake, 08/16). Visit Colleen online at www.colleen-thompson.com.
I’m so pleased to welcome one of my favorite writers–and people–to the blog today. Historical romance author Manda Collins is here to talk about the connection between reading and writing. Manda also has a new book out this week, so please be sure to check that out, too!
On Reading while Authoring
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King
Like most writers, I came to the craft because I was an avid reader. Some of my earliest memories are of reading with my mother, reading books by myself, and memorizing favorite books. And that hunger for books didn’t ebb as I grew older.
Now that I’ve become a professional author (which is still surreal to me five years in) I am always curious to know what other authors read. I know many of us (myself included) prefer not to read in the genre we’re writing while we’re writing it. This is both because we don’t want to unconsciously pick up someone else’s style or plot points, but also because it can lead to something I tend to think of in terms of erectile dysfunction—ie. I can’t read certain authors whose writing is so good it makes me as a writer feel inferior and consequently, lose my writing erection.
And there’s no little blue pill that will help this, so it’s imperative that I avoid certain other writers while I’m writing. Especially if it’s someone I feel competitive with.
So, you’ll hear a lot of writers say that they read in other subgenres while they’re drafting. A personal favorite of mine is mystery/romantic suspense, because I like to put those elements into my writing but because I write historical and most of what I’m reading is contemporary or set in a different era than Regency, it’s not so close there’s danger of competition or picking up styles.
One thing I will not do, however, is stop reading altogether when I’m writing.
Years ago when I was still just thinking about becoming a writer I heard the horrifying bit of advice that “one should not read at all while they are writing.” I can’t remember where this came from—I’m guessing in the “how to write a romance novel” course I took when I was in college. (As part of the community education program, mind you—my college wasn’t THAT progressive when it came to exciting courses). But I do know I listened, then roundly ignored it. Why? Because reading fiction is such a fundamental part of my existence that to stop doing it for any extended period of time would make said existence not worth living.
I realize these are strong words, but it’s something I feel quite strongly about. Reading for pleasure is that important to me.
So, you can imagine that when I hear other writers say that since they’ve become writers they no longer read for pleasure because they can’t turn off their critical eye, it makes me really, really sad for them. Perhaps there’s some flaw in me that I can’t rely on my own imaginings for entertainment, and that I must rely on the creativity of others. But if it ever got to point where I was in danger of losing my ability to lose myself in a book because of writing, I’d stop writing.
You heard me right. I’d stop writing cold turkey if it kept me from being able to read.
I love reading that much.
NB: Of course I don’t mean that my authorial reading policy should apply to everyone. (One thing my college was great at was teaching me to adopt postmodern relativism, which is great for “live and let live” sort of feelings.) Another thing I’ve learned about writing since becoming an Author with a capital “a” is that every author should do what works for her. If what you need to keep the words flowing is a Real Housewives of LA Marathon and a few glasses of wine, I’m not here to judge. Same goes for reading or lack thereof. If you can’t read any fiction at all while you’re writing, I’ll feel bad for you, but I won’t look down my nose either. We’ve all got different needs for getting the muse in gear.
So, what about you? Could you give up reading for pleasure? What would it take to make you do it? What kind of trade off would be worth it? (Obviously we’re talking non life-threatening things—if I had to stop reading to keep a serial killer from murdering my family, I’d definitely stop reading.) What other form of entertainment would you, could you, give up if you had to? I’ll give away a copy of my new release GOOD EARL GONE BAD to one lucky commenter!
Vanessa, here – today is my birthday. So, to celebrate, I’ll also give away a copy of my latest book, HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER, to Manda’s winner.