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A Month of Romance Reads - Final Week!

I began this month long foray into romance with Nora Roberts, one of my all time favorites and a queen of the industry.  So I'll book-end it with my other absolute favorite, equal queen of romance, Jayne Ann Krentz.
Grand Passion  is classic Krentz - witty, sexy, fast-paced and dolloped with a generous hint of mystery.  She's always got a quirky heroine and a dark, brooding and intensely sexy hero that has to be brought out of his shell.  This time the heroine is an innkeeper and the hero is searching for five valuable paintings.  The secondary characters bring the inn to life, and the sex brings this book to red hot levels.

The beauty of discovering Ms. Krentz is that she not only delivers solid contemporaries, but also wonderful historicals and paranormals.  Start plowing through the backlist in whichever genre you prefer.  However, do keep an eye out for the throughline series.  In historicals, she has two trilogies under the Arcane Society written as Amanda Quick.  As Jayne Castle she has the Harmony series, and her new contemporary paranormal series as Jayne Ann Krentz.  Take the time to read them all.  You will love her!

How Much Do You Visualize Book Characters?

I adore every hero I've ever written.  They are each sexy and funny and awesome.  And for each one, I use a very specific physical model. I can't begin to write the story until I've figured out exactly which Hollywood hottie I'll be picturing every time my fingers hit the keyboard (current WIP features Dylan McDermott - yum!).  So when my editor asked me yesterday for a description for the art department, I thought it wouldn't be a problem.

And it wasn't - for the hero.  Turns out I slight my heroines a bit.  All of the visualizations of her were from the hero's POV.  So there is much emphasis on lips, for example:

Because he couldn’t help himself, couldn’t resist those glossy pink lips even after all the nonsense she’d spouted from them, he pressed a firm, fast kiss, fighting the urge to take it deeper.  The woman had a mouth built for pleasing a man, and she knew how to use it. 

From that, you definitely get that the hero is attracted to her.  But do you know what she looks like?  Not so much!  I've got details on her perky ponytail, the bow in her hair, strappy sandals and full-skirted dresses.  Obviously, I'm going to go back in and add a bit more detail.  Do men really notice high cheekbones, delicate bone structure, uptilted noses?  I guess mine will have to.

However, this morning someone did a cover reveal where the hero was chopped off at the jaw.  It mostly focused on his naked, taut abs (not complaining, trust me!).  I realized there are many covers, from historical to contemporary to paranormal, where you simply are not shown faces AT ALL.  Is this to leave it up to our imagination?  Does that mean those authors skimp a bit on detail, too?  And is that okay? 

When you are deeply engrossed in a book, do you constantly visualize the characters, like a movie running in your head?  Do you just notice their overall type (short, tall, rangy, bosom-y), or truly focus on the hero's Roman nose, and the heroine's heavy-lidded sultry eyes?  Let me know!

A Month of Romance Reads: Week 3

To switch things up a bit, I'm going to recommend a paranormal romance today.  And, being the generous type, I'm hooking you up with not just one book, but a six book series.
Georgina Kincaid is a succubus who's lived for centuries.  Her life's work is, well, sex.  But since every time she has sex with a man it drains him of his life force, she hasn't had what you'd call quality relationships.  When her favorite author shows up at her job, the sparks fly.  But when a single kiss can knock a few years off of a guy, how's a love match supposed to work out?

Well, you'll have to read all six books to find out.  But know that the love story is only part of this sexy, hysterically funny series.  A succubus is a creature of hell, which means vampires, demons, and angels also fill the pages.  And there's always something twisted and spooky going on, with dead bodies being linked to our heroine, demons on the warpath, great action, steamy sex and sparkling humor on every page.  Once you make it through Succubus Blues, you'll want to race through the rest of the series!

A Winter Salad You'll Want To Eat Year Round

We're deep in the midst of winter (not that you can tell from the lack of snow here in Baltimore.  I'm crossing my fingers we get some tonight.).  Comfort food is great, but our bodies still need veggies.  Yet it often doesn't seem like there's anything new and exciting to do with winter vegetables.  Well, here's a salad that will knock your socks off.  It is super easy, and from the fabulous folks at Bon Appetit, so you KNOW it is terrific.  I substitute arugula for the endive - but use whatever you like!  I also sauteed the cauliflower for a few minutes, just to cut down on the crunch factor a little bit.  Enjoy! 

Cauliflower, White Bean, and Feta Salad Bon Appétit | January 2007
The colors are pale, but the flavors in this winter mix are vivid and fresh.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
ingredients
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 medium head of cauliflower, trimmed, cut into small florets (about 3 cups)
1 (15-ounce) can white beans (such as Great Northern or navy beans), drained
2 large heads of Belgian endive, trimmed, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 3 ounces)
preparation
Combine oil and rosemary in small saucepan. Stir over medium heat just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Cool.
Whisk lemon juice, vinegar, lemon peel, salt, and pepper in small bowl.
Combine cauliflower, beans, endive, chives, parsley, and rosemary oil in medium bowl; toss. Mix in cheese. Add lemon juice mixture and toss to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper.

Should Characters Scream During Sex?

At my Maryland Romance Writer's meeting last night, the guest speakers were sex therapists (yup, I love my job!).  They were thoroughly engaging, educational and entertaining.  But one of their points rubbed me the wrong way, as an author.  Apparently most people don't scream during sex.  Who knew?  If you want the gory details, there's something called a glottal reflex in the throat, and closing it (i.e. holding your breath) actually makes an orgasm better.  So screaming is self-defeating.

Good to know and all that, but not at all romantic to write about.  Which is sexier:

"Now, Nate.  Take me now," she panted.

Or

As he thrust into her, her glottal reflex kicked in.  Callie held her breath.

Do you see my problem?  Of course, authors want to portray things as truthfully and realistically as possible.  If I wasn't writing science fiction and my heroine suddenly sprouted a third breast, it would be ridiculous.  On the other hand, it is an unwritten romance convention that women never have their periods as they are being romanced in a book - no matter how much time a book spans. 

Call me a die hard romantic, but I'm going to continue to write a little...oral enthusiasm, shall we say...into my books.  But what do you think?  Should characters scream during sex?  Or by doing so, are we horribly short-changing their orgasms, therefore being very mean authors?

A Month of Romance Reads - Week 2

As a romance writer, I read a TON of romances.  So the pressure of coming up with the perfect recommendation for Valentines Day  was dauntin.  Too many choices, rather like the menu at the Cheesecake Factory.  However, I think I came up with the perfect choice:  Just One Taste by Louisa Edwards.
Why is this the perfect choice, you might ask?  This is part of her Recipe for Love series, all revolving around cooks.  And the hero of this book convinces a food chemist to help him scientifically test the love-enhancing power of aphrodesiacs.  What better for Valentine's Day than finding out if sharing chocolate with your sweetie really does up the love quotient?

To be fair, I'd actually urge you to read the entire series.  Louisa Edwards is a master of funny, super sexy writing.  Her characters ring oh-so-true, and have incredible depth.  And in case I didn't make it clear enough, the sex scenes are off the charts hot.  You'll have to defog your glasses after reading them.  In addition, you get the bonus of a secondary love story between two chefs.  So read this one for Valentine's Day, and then go back and devour all of her books.

Valentine's Day Treat

I'm a hopeless romantic, which means I TOTALLY buy into Valentine's Day.  My husband and I like to think it is the rest of the world elevating their romantic game to our level for a day.  That being said, you need some serious chocolate for Tuesday.  I know I usually recommend recipes that are healthy (well, healthier, anyway), but Valentine's Day is about excess.  I guarantee your guy will FLIP for these giant chocolate toffee cookies.  They are from Bon Appetit, so you know they are delectable - and you can always work off the extra calories in the bedroom.

Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies Bon Appétit | March 2000

Terrific with cappuccino or ice-cold milk.
Yield: Makes about 18
ingredients
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 3/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped (optional)
 
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.
Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto sheets, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 15 minutes. Cool on sheets. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Do Writers Have To Be Method Actors?

Before the magical day I signed my first book contract, I lived a life on stage.  But I was NOT a method actor.  Method actors believe you can't truly convey emotions or experiences unless you've lived them.  These are people who will - I kid you not - try cocaine if they are cast as a drug addict.  I swear that is not an exaggeration.  Then there are those of us who believe the whole point of acting is...wait for it...that you act.  You pretend.  You don't need to rush out and bungee jump from skyscrapers if you're cast as Spiderman.  You don't need to hold up a bank if you're cast as a bank robber.

Then I became a writer.  I promise that all the research I conducted on drug smuggling in the Caribbean for my third book was done solely on the Internet.  And although I made it sound really sexy and exciting in my fourth book, I've never made out in an elevator (due to the whole phobia about the cable snapping and hurtling 20 stories to the ground.  Kind of kills the libido).  The fanciful twists and turns come from my head, not necessarily from real life.

Except.....I recently contracted to write a Christmas novella.  And then burst into a panic that I wouldn't be feeling the Christmas spirit for another ten months, so how on earth could I do it?  I demanded my husband bring up all the holiday music he'd so carefully packed away in the basement just a few weeks prior.  My plan is to (although I almost never write to music) have it blasting in the background every time I sit down to write.

It didn't take me long to decide I was being irrational.  Although it would be fun, for example, to (if I was fabulously wealthy) to move to Chicago for three months while I write my next book that's set there, there's no need.  I don't write day scenes exclusively in the day, or night scenes exclusively at night.  I don't strip down to a corset and garter belt to write love scenes.  So why on earth do I have this hang up about Christmas?

Maybe because it is such a special time of year.  Despite grocery stores starting with their Christmas push as early as August (noted with disgust last year as I shopped for my beach vacation!), in my house the season begins the day after Thanksgiving, and ends on New Years Day.  Encapsulating it heightens the anticipation and sets it apart.  Only now I have to dive into the joy and festiveness of the season while I'm knee deep in hearts and chocolate.

I may end up still playing some of those holiday cds, but I'm sure I can muddle through either way.  What about you?  Is there anything you feel MUST be experience before you can write about it?

A Month of Romance Reads

When I began posting Tuesday book recommendations, I said they'd be non-romance books.  But then February, the month of love and hearts and chocolate rolled around.  So I'm compelled to share with you some of my favorite romances.  The inspiration for today's choice was from being home sick watching some truly terrible television.  While I'm a HUGE Nora Roberts fan, the Lifetime network did a really good job of ruining her wonderful books.  So let me introduce you properly to Montana Sky.

What makes this book so terrific is that you get three love stories in one.  Talk about bang for your reading buck!  To claim their inheritance, three half sisters who don't know each other are forced to live together for a year on their deceased father's ranch.  Of course, they couldn't be more different, ranging from a Hollywood screenwriter to a victim of spousal abuse to the strong rancher.  The interplay as the sisters learn to like each other is indeed a fourth love story.  They all get their own sexy heroes, and there's also a suspense component which starts with dead cattle and quickly escalates to murder.  Pack all that into the beauty of Big Sky country, and you've got one heck of a book.  Please give it a try!

A Beautifully Written Page Turner!

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick is perfect to tuck into on a cold winter's night.  Once you curl up in a chair, be prepared to stay there the entire night, because this book will sink its talons into you and not let go.  If you are looking for a title for your next book club, this should be it.  It will give you enough discussion topics for two meetings.
This is a dark and twisty psychological tale of a woman who answers an ad for "a reliable wife" in 1909 rural Wisconsin.  Sounds simple, right?  A little turn of the century marital story in the bleak Wisconsin winter?  Heck, no.  Stylized and suspenseful, it is the story of a woman who plans to kill her new husband for his fortune.  Slowly.  Believe it or not, that isn't a spoiler, because SOOOO much more happens.  Each plot twist will physically rock you back on your heels.  The characters are scheming and powerful and the plot has more layers and richness than a Sachertorte.  It will transfix you.