Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Put More Spring in Your Step! Samantha Hunter

We walk pretty much every day, and have since we got our first dog 12 years ago. Actually we walked before that, usually about three miles a day, and having a dog to walk with us just made sense. We have winter gear, rain gear, mud gear, and whatever it takes to get out for our two-plus miles a day, but it’s so much nicer to have the walking path dry and clear and not to have to worry about being run over by snowmobiles. I love walking on new Spring days when we’re likely to see more wildlife – definitely birds, but also turtles, frogs and rabbits, all emerging from the cold months to find food.
So the nicer weather in and of itself is good for making me want to walk more and longer –especially after some winter walks felt like… well, you can imagine. Our trail is not always groomed, so we slug through as much as a foot of snow, as long as it’s manageable for the dog, or we put on trackers to walk over ice and through ruts carved into slush and then frozen – that’s probably my least favorite walk.
But Spring is the season that begs for walking after being closed up all winter. If you don’t walk regularly, this is the time to think about getting out and doing it, before the summer heat, when it’s harder (but still a lovely time to walk). If you’re like us, and you have a dog, you know dogs love their exercise, so taking your dog out is the best possible way to make sure you walk every day. (I advise, if you don’t have one, get one – the best and most affectionate exercise machine you will ever have). J
You can check out sites like this one, The Walker’s Site (, that will give you good advice and programs for starting to walk regularly. You could also read up, and a book I’ve always liked is Chi Walking (, though I have to admit, I don’t “Fitness Walk.” We walk, in the dry weather, at a pace of about 3 mph, maybe faster on some days. Now and then we mix that with a little jogging. But you have to do what’s good for you. If you try to work too hard too fast, you are likely to give up. If you want to run eventually, start by walking – and work your way up to it.
Walking is a good option if running is too strenuous or causes injury to you. Running is better for losing weight as a targeted goal, but walking at a brisk pace (this is important – working up to at least a 15 minute mile) will offer similar health benefits without the chance of injury. But the way I see it, walking has a lot more benefits than health: you can think, have a conversation, or simply enjoy and observe your surroundings. You can walk to new areas of your city or try new paths.  You can take pictures and visit with other people on the path instead of running by them. I do suggest finding a safe place to walk, somewhere where you don’t have to worry about being hit by a car or that sort of thing, so you can enjoy your walk, and to do some kind of stretching before and after, as walking can leave your muscles tight.
And Spring is the perfect time to start a walking habit that I hope would see you through the rest of the year – I know I hate to miss my daily walk, and I try never to do so.  Do you walk daily? Is it something you’d like to start? Now’s the time!

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Monday, April 21, 2014

New Project by Barbara Wallace

I’m starting a new project this week, which means casting a new hero. “Casting” is perhaps my favorite part of the job (besides indulging in post-manuscript rice pudding) because it lets me spend hours upon end playing on the Internet in search of the perfect sexy actor or model to use for inspiration. Like many of my colleagues, I need to have a mental picture of my characters before I can write. Lately, despite my web surfing, I find myself turning to the same five inspirational men over and over. They are, in no particular order: alex, alex, alexJake Silbermann. Yeah, I know, you’ve never heard of him. He played one half of a gay love story on As the World Turns. He also has the most amazing blue eyes and swimmer’s body. For some reason, when I want a handsome, but not quite perfect looking hero, he’s who comes to mind. Jake was the prototype for Alex Markoff in BEAUTY AND THE BROODING BOSS. His body also inspired Simon Cartwright in MAN BEHIND THE MASK. imagesCAH8MCJ2Matt Bomer. Now, he’s the man I go to when I want perfection. Seriously, look at that face? Does the man have any physical flaws? Matt was the inspiration for Charles Bishop in DARING TO DATE THE BOSS and Simon Cartwright in MAN BEHIND THE MASK. Cast member Max Martini arrives for theMax Martini. Rough and sexy, with a voice that sounds like whiskey. He’s a man’s man. The perfect person for a hero with edge. I used him for Ian Black in SWEPT AWAY BY THE TYCOON. I can hear his growl in my head. jensenacklesJensen Ackles. Okay, we’re back to physically perfect. Plus, he do has that rough bedroom voice that can make your knees weak. Doesn’t hurt that his character, Dean Winchester, is one of television’s most wounded heroes ever. He inspired both Oliver Harrington in FAIRYTALE CHRISTMAS and Grant Templeton in Mr. RIGHT, NEXT DOOR. EliottChris Meloni. Stereotypically handsome? No. But the man has so much testosterone, it practically leaps off the page. I haven’t used him yet, but he’s on the waiting list. Possibly for a project I'm starting this month. There are others too. Scott Foley, Michael Weatherly, Clive Owens. But these five are the guys I come back to again and again. So what actors inspire the stories in your head? Do these men fit the novel characters they were cast to play, or did you have someone else in mind. Come on, let’s have some fun and share the pretty.
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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spring Memories Part 2: Easter - by Donna Alward

I love Easter.

When I was a girl, Easter always seemed to mark the TRUE beginning of spring. I used to love getting up Easter morning to see what the Easter Bunny brought me, and it was usually a basket with treats and fun stuff like a new skipping rope or Frisbee or ball along with a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of chocolate and jelly beans. I didn’t even mind the chocolate-covered marshmallow stuff. It was AWESOME.

But my favourite part of Easter was the new dress and shoes. 

In our family, we took the “no white shoes after Labour Day but okay on/after Easter” thing very seriously.  I almost always had a new dress to wear to church on Sunday morning, probably in a pastel colour with some ruffles at sleeve, neck or hem.  You did not wear that dress before Easter.  And of course last year’s shoes wouldn’t fit, so it was off to town for a new pair of white ones. The best Easter Sundays were the ones where your white shoes were open toed or sandals for summer and it was warm enough that it made sense to wear them.
When my girls were little, Holy Week was fairly crazy. I sang in our church choir, which meant services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and again Easter Sunday. Our pieces on Thursday and Friday were always somber, and one was usually a version of “Were You There”.  In a darkened church on Good Friday, the sound of that hymn being sung a cappella by the choir in 3 part harmony was haunting. We would dress in winter clothes…dark trousers or dresses and black shoes. But then, Easter morning would arrive, and my girls would be able to wear THEIR Easter dresses and new shoes (usually courtesy of Payless) and we’d head off to church where we’d smell Easter Lilies and sing bright and happy songs to celebrate the Resurrection. I remember one year the girls had new dresses in lilac and golden yellow, with cute little box pleats and matching wide-brimmed hats. Oh my, those were the days (these days it’s more about heels and eyeliner).

I definitely understand that not everyone celebrates the religious holiday of Easter, but I think most can relate to a day where we leave the darkness of winter behind and celebrate a bright new season of life and colour.

Do you have a “Rite of Spring” where you throw off the shackles of winter?
Donna’s latest book is THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL, out on April 29th and the first title in her new Jewell Cove series from St. Martin’s Press. Catch up with her on her website at and don’t forget to enter the Blog Hop contest for your chance to win a great box of books, chocolate, T-shirts, a Tote bag and more!

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter – a food feast by Liz Fielding

Think Easter treats and the first thing that will come to mind is the chocolate egg. My mother always said that the chocolate in Easter eggs was better than any other and I imagine it’s because it has to be very smooth to get that thin, crisp shell. They are still, even with all the amazing chocolate on sale, a very special treat.

But Easter isn’t just about eggs.

It starts on Shrove Tuesday with the pancakes. We have ours exactly the way my mother made them. Thin pancakes, sprinkled with sugar and lemon juice and folded into quarters.

Then comes the Simnel cake, traditionally baked for Mothering Sunday. In the UK we have our very traditional Mother’s Day on the fourth Sunday in Lent, a day when girls in “service” were given time off to visit their mothers. They took home a cake and the wild flowers they picked as they walked home as gifts.

Then on Good Friday we have Hot Cross Buns. Fresh, soft, full of fruit and spices and buttered. I have to confess that these go on sale not long after Christmas and this last weekend my daughter brought us some particularly luscious ones with chocolate, orange and caramel. Yum.

And finally, Easter Day – the time for chocolate eggs and something very special for lunch. A turkey, maybe, if there’s to be a big family gathering, or a piece of pork roasted until the crackling is golden.

What special treats do you look forward to at this time of year? What are your special traditions?

Liz's latest romance, For His Eyes Only, published by Harlequin KISS is available now. You can find her at her website

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring-Board Your Story Idea with Character

By Shirley Jump

Thanks so much for having me here! I thought I’d talk about character today, because I get asked about creating characters all the time. For me, my book derives from my characters and plot at the same time, in sort of a ying-yang thing. Okay, that sounds crazy. It’s not as nut as it sounds. I swear ;-).

Lots of writers come up with an idea for a book but then aren’t quite sure where to go from there. I always start with character, and by doing that, the book becomes character driven, rather than plot driven. Character driven books are more emotional, connect more, than plot-driven stories.

For me, I have often have a What-If situation—What if a commitment phobic Coast Guard Lieutenant is suddenly saddled with two kids? What if a woman who is trying to start a new life finds out she’s walked into a money pit of a change?

Then I decide on WHO my character is. Is she a murderer? An actor? A chef? Is she the protagonist or antagonist? Is he the father of the murder victim? The doctor who diagnoses a life-threatening disease? A lot of times this vocation will come from the plot. If you’re writing a murder mystery, obviously you need a killer, a victim and a hero. If you’re writing a romance, you need a hero and a heroine who have a few conflicts between them but not so many that they can’t get together. If you’re working on a children’s story, then you need a child protagonist who goes through a life-changing event.
For THE SWEETHEART RULES, my latest in the Sweetheart Sisters series with Berkley, I chose a hero and a heroine who were opposites in everything from their jobs to their approach to life. Responsible single mom and veterinarian Diana has decided never to rely on a man again. Then she has a one-night stand with no-strings Coast Guard Lieutenant Mike Stark. Six months later, when Mike returns (after being saddled unexpectedly with his two daughters), she ends up having to rely on him when her life is un upheaval. So I had two great characters, with sparks between them. The next step was to figure out who each of these people were and why they were who they were.

Many things help you make these decisions. What kind of person would be thrust into this situation? And why? This can send your plotting into a 100 different directions so brainstorm on this. One of the best ways to brainstorm, and something I teach in my class on my “Brainmap” method, is the spoke and wheel. Draw one word in the center of the page (protagonist, murderer, and antagonist) then draw out lines that lead to all kinds of possibilities. Maybe the murderer is an innocent framed for the crime. Maybe it’s a desperate woman backed into a corner. Maybe it’s an accident. Maybe it’s a serial killer. Feel free to let yourself go, even if you end up with 100 ideas on the page, and come up with as many ideas as you can. Even if you don’t use all these ideas, hold on to the paper. When you get stuck later in the plot, pull this out and see where it leads you.

With THE SWEETHEART RULES, I had my heroine show a secret she is keeping at the very beginning of the book. That secret underlies every decisions she has made, and will come back to haunt her in several different ways. Then I figured out why she would keep such a secret, and what toll it has taken on her life and her relationships.

Third, you need to name your character. For me, I like names that have meaning. I have a baby name book I use to look up meanings, derivatives and nicknames. In THE SWEETHEART RULES, I wanted names that showed their characters. Dependable, reliable Diana and sexy, charming Mike seemed to fit well!

Fourth, create a character “bible.” This can come from a character interview, from your own thoughts, however you want to develop it. The character bible is comprised of the simple stuff - eye color, hair color, etc. But also tackle the bigger issues -- what happened to this character as a child? What is he or she afraid of? What’s his worst habit? Greatest trait? Biggest weakness? How does he feel about his parents/ pets? Last girlfriend? All of these things become fodder for great, well-developed characters. For THE SWEETHEART RULES, this became even more vital because it’s part of a three-book series, and I needed to keep everything and everyone straight.

These are the kids of details that give characters life. One of my first rejection letters praised my writing up and down but aid that my characters didn’t breathe and live on the page. I had no idea what this meant at the time, but learned later how to pump life into people on a page.

How do I do it? I filter EVERYTHING through that character’s past. When my character looks out the window at a tree, there is a memory associated with that tree, a memory that impacts on the plot, and that makes the tree and the moment with the character have ten times more meaning.

Characters shouldn’t be static -- they should have past habits, annoying traits, likes and dislikes, etc. Those are the little details that make them as real as the neighbor you don’t like or the favorite aunt you love. And creates books that readers love!

If you pick up THE SWEETHEART RULES, I hope you’ll share with me your favorite character! If not, tell me: Who was the most memorable character you read about? What made them so interesting? What kind of traits do you love in heroes and heroines?

If you love THE SWEETHEART RULES, it here or in a bookstore near you! And read an awesome review here, if you’re so inclined :-)

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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump spends her days writing romance and women's fiction to feed her shoe addiction and avoid cleaning the toilets. She cleverly finds writing time by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners.

Look for her Sweet and Savory Romance series, including the USA Today bestselling book, THE BRIDE WORE CHOCOLATE, on Amazon and Nook, and the debut of her Sweetheart Club series for Berkley, starting with THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN in September 2013.

Visit her website at or read recipes and life adventures at

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