Wednesday, April 02, 2008

IT'S SPRING!

How brilliant is that. April is here and instantly we have the kind of warm, balmy days that make me want to forget about work and rush into the garden and start clearing out the pots, cutting back the stuff that's out of control and flinging weedkiller on the lawn. I dare not actually do the last of those. It's only the moss and weeds that's holding the thing together!

Okay, competition winners. Lois has won last week's guest blogger, Julie Cohen's book, ONE NIGHT STAND. And Christy has won the jigsaw puzzle. I just loved a Scribble of Romantic Novelists.

I still can't tell you my lovely piece of news, but I can direct you to the A Bride for All Seasons blog where you can see all the pictures, the background, and some extra snips from The Bride's Baby, my 50th Harlequin Romance which is OUT NOW!

You'll also find all the latest Harlequin Romance news here as well as a chance to win Claire Baxter's latest book.

But now to this week's guest. Michelle Douglas is one of Harlequin Romance's newest authors. She burst on the scene at the end of last year with a 4.5 stars from Romantic Times for her delightful debut novel HIS CHRISTMAS ANGEL. It's always wonderful to welcome a new author into the series and I know that Michelle is going to steal hearts wherever fine books are read.

Michelle...

It is such an honour to be asked by Liz to help her celebrate her 50th book. 50 books! Yay, Liz! I’m blowing up balloons and throwing streamers and pouring champagne as we speak. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be here. Ever since I picked up my first Liz Fielding romance, I was hooked. I mean, seriously, can you imagine a nicer fate than being a Liz Fielding heroine?

Thanks for having me here, Liz!

The “What If...” Game

As I was sitting in my armchair, staring aimlessly out the glass sliding door at my jungle of a garden, I idly wondered (as you do) – what if I saw a tiger? I’m talking Bengal, orange with black stripes here, not a snarly little Tasmanian number. Maybe it’s because my garden IS a jungle that led me to thoughts of tigers. But... What if I was outside in my backyard when I saw that tiger? What would I do? How could I get away from it with life and limb intact?

Aha! My eyes lit on the big, old-fashioned rotary clothesline that every Australian backyard is equipped with, and knew I had found my solution – I’d shinny up the clothesline.

Oh my, thought I. What an interesting thing to do in a story – strand a character in a clothesline – and the beginnings of THE LONER’S GUARDED HEART were born. I had to dispense with the tiger, of course. I couldn’t see how I’d get away with a tiger prowling the Australian landscape. And if I could, mightn’t it prove just a tad too distracting? Okay dispense with said tiger.

So... how to get my heroine up a clothesline? And c’mon, Michelle, why is this such a good idea anyway? Isn’t it a bit... gimmicky? But the image kept pestering me, nagging away at me, and wouldn’t let go. Somehow I had to get my heroine up a clothesline. [By the way, it had to be the heroine. No matter which way I looked at it, I couldn’t find myself even remotely attracted to a hero stuck in a clothesline.]

This is where the “What If...” game becomes useful rather than plain, idle fun.

What if my heroine is a city girl and she’s forced to spend a month on a remote property? I do like a good fish-out-of-water story. I love watching characters pushed outside their comfort zones.

What if – like me, my sister, my mother and most of my girlfriends – my heroine is a bit wary, or downright scared for that matter, of dogs that growl, and not too keen on goannas, ticks and spiders?

Don’t forget you have a hero to create, Michelle...

What if my hero is tall, dark and reclusive? (Ooh, I love a tortured hero)

What if it’s his clothesline the heroine takes refuge in? (Of course it’s his clothesline!)

Time to start thinking conflict...

What if the hero is the heroine’s only neighbour for miles around?

What if the last thing my heroine needs is time to brood and endless solitude?

What if solitude is the only thing my hero seeks?

I think the stage is set for plenty of conflict there. This is my heroine’s reaction when she finds herself alone, at a seemingly deserted farmhouse, miles from anywhere.

In her hunger to clap eyes on a friendly face, Josie rushed around the side of the house to open the gate. Her fingers fumbled with the latch. Need ballooned inside her, a need for companionship, a need to connect with someone. The gate finally swung back to reveal a neat yard. Again, no garden beds or flower pots broke the austerity, but the lawn here too was clipped and short, the edges so precise they looked as if they’d been trimmed using a set square.

The fence was painted white to match the house and the obligatory rotary clothes-line sat smack-bang in the middle of it all. An old fashioned steel one like the one Josie had at home. Its prosaic familiarity reassured her. She stared at the faded jeans, blue chambray shirt and navy boxer shorts hanging from it and figured her landlord must be male.

Why hadn’t she found out his name from Marty or Frank? Though, everything had moved so fast. They’d popped this surprise on her last night and had insisted on seeing her off at the crack of dawn this morning. Mrs Pengilly’s bad turn, though, had put paid to any early start. Josie bit her lip. Maybe she should’ve stayed and–

A low vicious growl halted her in her tracks. Icy fingers shot down her back and across her scalp. No.

Please God, no.

There hadn’t been a ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign on the gate. She’d have seen it. She paid attention to those things. Close attention.

The growl came again followed by the owner of the growl and Josie’s heart slugged so hard against her ribs she thought it might dash itself to pieces before the dog got anywhere near her. Her knees started to shake.

‘Nice doggy,’ she tried, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth slurring her words and making them unintelligible.

The dog growled in answer. Nuh-uh, it wasn’t a nice doggy and, although it wasn’t as large as a Rottweiler or a Dobermann, it was heavy-set and its teeth, when bared, looked just as vicious. She could imagine how easily those teeth would tear flesh.

She took a step back. The dog took a step forward.

She stopped. It stopped.

Her heart pounded so hard it hurt. She wanted to buckle over but she refused to drop her eyes from the dog’s glare. It lowered its head and showed its teeth. All the hackles on its back lifted.

Ooh. Not a good sign. Everything inside Josie strained towards the gate and freedom, but she knew she wouldn’t make it. The dog would be on her before she was halfway there. And those teeth...

Swallowing, she took another step back. The dog stayed put.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Another step. The dog didn’t move. Its hackles didn’t lower.

With a half-sob, Josie flung herself sideways and somehow managed to half climb, half pull her way up until she was sitting on top of the rotary clothes-line.

‘Help!’ she hollered at the top of her voice.

Something tickled her face. She lifted a hand to brush it away. Spider web! She tried to claw it off but it stuck with clammy tentacles to her face and neck. It was the last straw. Josie burst into tears.

The dog took up position directly beneath her. Lifting its head, it howled. It made Josie cry harder.

‘What in the devil–’

A person. ‘Thank you, God.’ Finally, a friendly face. She swung towards the voice, almost falling out of the clothesline in relief.

She stared.

Her heart all but stopped.

Then it dropped clean out of her chest to lie gasping and flailing on the ground like a dying fish. This was her friendly face?

No!

Fresh sobs shook her. The dog started up its mournful howl again.

‘For the love of–’

The man glared at her, shifted his feet, hands on hips. Nice lean hips she couldn’t help noticing.

‘Why in the dickens are you crying?’

She’d give up the sight of those lean hips and taut male thighs for a single smile.

He didn’t smile. She stared at the hard, rocky crags of his face and doubted this man could do friendly. He didn’t have a single friendly feature in his face. Not one. Not even a tiny little one. The flint of his eyes didn’t hold a speck of softness or warmth. She bet dickens wasn’t the term he wanted to use either.



I love playing the “What If...” game. I also love blowing my too-confident heroes’ expectations out of the water. Kent, the hero of THE LONER’S GUARDED HEART, is convinced Josie is a mouse who can’t look after herself, someone he continually has to rescue. But when they find themselves on Josie’s home turf... What if it’s her turn to rescue him?

Josie finds herself stranded on this remote property because her brothers have sent her there for a holiday. She’s been dreaming of poolside cocktails. She gets a rustic cabin in the wilderness instead. A copy of THE LONER’S GUARDED HEART is up for grabs. All you have to do is leave a comment sharing with us your idea of the holiday from hell.

Once again, thanks for having me here, Liz. Congratulations on 50 books! Glass of champagne anyone?

42 comments:

Estella said...

I am a country girl, so a holiday from hell for me would be in a large city , like NYC.

Jan Jones said...

Terrific excerpt, Michelle.

My holiday hell would be one of those group tours where every single minute of every single day is organised for you.

And they make you sing songs and do quizzes on the coach.

And you have to share a room.

Virginia said...

My holiday from hell would be going to a large city and having to drive in all those lanes of traffic. I hate driving in a lot of traffic.

michelle Douglas said...

LOL, Estella. I love how one person's poison is another's pleasure. I love big cities - and maybe it's because I grew up in a small country town and couldn't wait to spread my wings in the big wide world. NYC, however... there's absolutely and utterly something scary (and possibly exhilarating) about that place.

michelle Douglas said...

Glad you like the excerpt, Jan.

I have to agree, those group tours have the potential to be a nightmare. You always know there's going to be one person on the tour who is going to rub you up the wrong way... and who's probably decided you're their new best friend.

You know what makes me shudder - the thought of one of those 18-35 boat cruises through the Pacific. If a coach tour becomes too much you can find the nearest train station and run away, but on a boat...

michelle Douglas said...

I'm with you Virginia - I hate driving in big cities. I don't think it's so much the traffic as I never know where I'm going. Is there a worse sentence in the English language than "You should be in the right hand lane," when the right hand lane is six lanes of traffic away. I don't have the nerve to cross six lanes of traffic in ten seconds to make a turn off.

Jane said...

The holiday from hell starts when you have to wait in the airport security for more than an hour and then you realize the flight is either delayed or cancelled due to weather.

michelle Douglas said...

Oh, Jane, it sounds like that's happened to you. I had to wait six hours in Tegel airport in Berlin once to get back to Heathrow - but that was mid-holiday. And it did give me time to catch up on my travel diary.

Donna Alward said...

I'm with Jan on this one. Add in a tour that's through a kazillion lanes in a big city, and you're put on a hotel floor with every member of every team of a midget hockey tournament.

Liz Fielding said...

I loved NYC, Michelle and hope to get back there one day v. soon.

As for the coach tour, Jan -- we went on an trip when we were in Holland a couple of years ago and there was one of those infuriating people who talked very loudly so that everyone could hear how brilliant he was and how much he knew. After after ten minutes of this fellow citizen of the guy, who was sitting behind me just said "Do you mind keeping your conversation to yourself." Worked a charm. I wish he'd been with us on the train from Rome to Bari last year. For five hours a British woman with one of those carrying voices, didn't draw breath. And then I discovered she was on the mini bus to Matera as well!

Lois said...

Oh geez, I sooooo love that idea, and the excerpt sounded great!!!! :) To me, it doesn't sound like something one sees everyday, anyone in anyone's clothes line. But of course it had to be the hero's! ;)

Oh me, without going into details, would be all the holidays from my earlier years on the planet when the family came. Ugh. Dysfunctional is probably the correct word for it. LOL They're vastly quieter and a bit more functional since then. :)

Lois

BethRe said...

I don't like driving so it would be driving in a city with lots of lanes of traffice just like Virginia

Annie West said...

Michelle,

It's wonderful to have a chance to read the excerpt of your next book. I loved His Christmas Angel and this one is shaping up to be just as good. Love the description of your hero!

I'd really love to see your back garden - if you can imagine Bengal Tigers stalking there it must be terrific!

Holiday from hell? Weather that keeps you indoors while you're bunking in a room with not-so-friendly strangers?

Have you found any of your holidays have inspired you to write, or was it just the tiger?

BTW, I'm really pleased to see the humble rotary clothesline take a key role in getting hero and heroine together. I'd never think of that one (G) though I do love playing 'what if'.

Annie

Anonymous said...

My holiday from hell would be to go overseas and then lose my passport or my money. That happened on a trip I was on and my friend liked to never get home.
Also I like to go places where I can get my hair fixed and not have to do my own.
JWIsley@aol.com

michelle Douglas said...

It doesn't look like anyone here is going for the packaged coach tour.

Donna - I have to ask - do you think the midget hockey players would be noisier than the usual kind? My dh is a hockey player and while he's a lot of things, light on his feet in the middle of the night... Not.

michelle Douglas said...

Liz, your story reminded me... My late f-in-law, dear man, who was a retired school teacher (deputy principal and head of History) went on a coach tour to Barcelona. Where he then preceded to correct the tour guide each time he uttered an historical inaccuracy. I think coach tours would be perfect fun if you're the person who is driving everyone else insane.

michelle Douglas said...

Lois, the clothes-line absolutely had to be the hero's. I'm thinking a hero has to be heroic... and that isn't going to happen if he's the one stuck up the clothes-line. One of those serendipitous things did happen, though. Obviously I had to get rid of the Bengal tiger, so my answer was to use a dog instead. But Molly the dog, became a character in her own right and she plays quite a part in getting Josie and Kent together (I love it when those things happen).

Ugh, family holiday. I seriously think my holiday from hell would be to spend a week in the small coal-mining town where I grew up and to have ALL my family there. Which makes me sound horrid and ungrateful. Which isn't to say I don't love them. I just love them better when they're not all together, in one place, for too long a period of time.

michelle Douglas said...

Bethre, I have to agree. Driving ourselves around in big, traffic-filled cities - nuh uh. I can't see how there's any holiday relaxation in that.

michelle Douglas said...

Hi, Annie, you're too kind. Coffee is on me next time. But NOT in my back garden.

We have over twenty trees and an unhealthy amount of lantana, as well as a plant which has beautiful yellow flowers, but which everyone tells us is a noxious weed (and as it seems to be co-existing too nicely with said lantana, maybe they're right). There are possums in the roof, cockroaches the size of your fist, blue-tongue lizards (which I like), red-bellied black snakes (which I don't), red back spiders (treated with caution and a handy shoe), funnel web spiders (which I'd climb the clothes-line to avoid), and hornets the size of helicopters.

But then... there are the rosellas, King parrots and rainbow lorikeets that come in to feed. The kookaburras who eat the snakes, and a magpie that says "hello." And in Spring jasmine lays over the lot and scents the entire street.

Grimacing at your holiday from hell. Loads of potential conflict there for a story or three. I can't say any of my holidays have inspired stories... yet. But there is such a delicious sense of "anything can happen" on holidays, don't you think?

michelle Douglas said...

Hi JWsley - I have nightmares before leaving on o/s trips that I'll lose my passport, my plane ticket... and everything else.

Ooh, yes please. I'd love a holiday hairstylist. I am so not handy with hair and bad hair days should be banned on holidays.

Carol said...

I think a vacation from hell would be one of those group tours where every moment is planned. I like to sleep late and do and see what I want to see. Not some preprogrammed series of sights to see. UGGHH!!!!

michelle Douglas said...

Carol, I have to admit, I get visions of those packaged tours coming equipped with some kind of class-president-type tour guide who's all Ra! Ra! Ra! first thing in the morning when I just want to drink my coffee and scowl. And who's a wet blanket in the evenings and demands everyone get a good night's sleep because it's an early start tomorrow, when all you want to do is go out and party.

And you just know you're going to get one of THOSE looks if you turn up late for anything.

Hmm... think I'll skip that too.

Annie West said...

Michelle,

It sounds like you'd be right at home in my overgrown garden. We have whopping big blue tongue lizards which are so gentle and same as you: redbacks, funnelwebs and the occasional black snake, more than made up for by gorgeous king parrots, rosellas, kookaburras and magpies. Hm, with that lot a tiger wouldn't seem out of place.

You're right, there's something about a holiday that is so promising, rather like the beginning of a story.

I'm still in awe of you imagining a tiger chasing a heroine up a clothesline! I'm afraid you don't get off the backyard inspection so easily. One day I'll manage to visit.

Have you envisaged other plot ideas from places so close to home, or do they mostley come from somewhere further afield?

Annie

Dena said...

Hi Michelle, Great excerpt it sounds like a really good story.

I think a holiday from hell would start out with being late to the airport and missing your flight and when you finally arrived at your destination your luggage would be lost. Then when you reached the hotel it looks nothing like the brochure and you get a room the size of a jail cell with no air-conditioning.

Donna Alward said...

Michelle...I don't know, boys of that age are particularly rambunctious. Girls aren't much better. I remember on our honeymoon the dh and I stayed in a very plain, but clean hotel for a night. We'd spent the whole day hiking and we're exhausted. There was a girl's basketball team on the same floor. We didn't get much sleep. They kept screaming and running between rooms and slamming doors.

You know the spiders and snakes in the garden has cured me for the time being of feeling too jealous that you live where you do. :-) Especially the funnel webs. *Shudders*

The thing about tours that is good is that if you DON'T want to drive in a foreign country, that's looked after. You also get to see highlights with someone else chaufferring you around. My mum loves them. I'm more of a free spirit.

Liz Fielding said...

I actually love bus rides, Donna. You can see so much more and there's the added advantage of not having to read maps/look for road signs.

And I've suddenly gone right off any desire to visit Australia although when the dd had her zoo day a couple of years ago -- handling the tarantula/snake thing -- the keeper told her that UK spiders have equally nasty venom. They jsut don't have strong enough teeth (!) to get through human skin.

Jan Jones said...

Me, I'm going nowhere near Australia. Ever.

And we're clearly all too free-spirited to do a pre-planned coach tour.

Otoh, I do feel a story scenario coming on...

michelle Douglas said...

Annie, you are welcome to come and point and laugh at my back garden any time. It's amazing the effect that 12 year's worth of neglect can create. In all honesty, the tiger probably came into being because my dh and I affectionately (?) call the garden, The Jungle.

I can't say my back garden has prompted any other story ideas, but I've certainly used settings close to home. The manuscript I've just handed in to my editor is set in Nelson's Bay (I hr north of Newcastle and a water lover's playground), and that setting certainly plays a big role in the book. I set an old story in your part of the world - Lake Macquarie - and although that story will never see the light of day, I might have to dust off that setting.

All of your stories are set in ultra exotic - Greek islands and sheikdoms - which I love. But do you plan to set a story closer to home?

michelle Douglas said...

Thanks, Dena, I'm glad you liked the excerpt. And yes! To miss your flight, I couldn't imagine anything worse (well, actually, I can, but...). One of the things I enjoy almost as much as the holiday itself is the anticipation leading up to it. And to then miss your flight... I'd sit down and cry.

I've had my luggage arrive a day late, which was strangely convenient as it meant I didn't have to lug it from Heathrow to the centre of London on the tube in peak hour. And I've heard some horror stories about flea-bitten hotels, but thankfully so far that hasn't happened to me.

michelle Douglas said...

Yeah, you're right, Donna. Kids can make way more noise than anybody else on the planet. I don't envy you having to share the same floor as that basketball team - I hope you made a lot of noise in the morning in retaliation.

My grandmother and great aunts love package tours too. There is a certain convenience in having everything taken care of for you.

michelle Douglas said...

Liz, I love train rides - the windows are bigger than in buses. Unless, of course, it's a big red London double-decker. When in London - that makes me sound like such a jetsetter (I wish!) - I love to jump on a double-decker, run upstairs and take the front seat and just watch and wait to find where it'll take me.

michelle Douglas said...

Donna, Liz and Jan, I didn't mean to scare you off. You have to remember, an awful lot of Australians never see the nasties I've mentioned except in a zoo. And, honestly, since I've lived here I've not been bitten by anything worse than a mosquito. I have to admit, I was most relieved when I discovered all those things were far more afraid of me and did all they could to avoid me.

And if you could've just been here during the last two weeks. The sun hasn't stopped shining, the skies are perfect blue, the days warm and the nights cool. I live in a crescent, my house is right on the bend on the high side of the street. In the afternoons, when the sun has sunk behind the ridge of trees, I sit on my veranda with a cup of tea. One end of the street is in shade, the other still in full sunshine with the shadows starting to lengthen. The air is still and starting to cool, and everything is so fresh and green. Heavenly.

And don't even get me started on the coast and beaches!

Annie West said...

Michelle,

Your place sounds just lovely. I'm looking forward to reading your next book set around Nelson's Bay. That's a gorgeous part of the world (for those who don't know the area it's a bigger natural harbour than Sydney Harbour, containing a marine reserve, a few resort towns and lots of bush).

You're right about my writing far from home lately. I've been thinking about another Aussie story soon. My first published book (not with Mills and Boon) was set in the Blue Mtns west of Sydney which was great fun (some in the city and most in the bush). My first Mills and Boon was also in Sydney but after that I've only had scenes in Australia and most of the action elsewhere. I don't think that was intentional but simply related to the story I wanted to tell. My October book opens not far from here but all we see of the scenery is a storm on a muddy road (G)!

Liz, do you draw lots of inspiration from places you know well?

I'm looking forward to seeing what inspires you for future books, Michelle. Any hints of what might come up? I'm wondering now if you might write about another holiday gone wrong now you have all the great input from this blog.

Annie

michelle Douglas said...

I haven't read your Sydney book yet, Annie. But it's sitting in my TBR pile and now that I have a bit of spare time again I'm going to dig it out and lose myself in it. I'd love to set a story in Sydney. I had to laugh, my latest WIP is set in the Blue Mountains (maybe I'll just start recycling your old settings). The Blue Mts are so beautiful and dramatic, though. They just beg to be used in a book.

Liz, you do London so well. I have to admit, that's another place I'd love to set a story.

Michele L. said...

This was an absolute treat to read the excerpt of your new book! I absolutely loved it! I am excited to read what happens next!

The ultimate holiday from hell was getting the truck stuck out at my parents property on Thanksgiving! My hubby and I went to the property to blow holes in the sky. We were shooting at old boxes we were throwing up in the air.

Anyway, it had lightly rained that morning and the day before. When it came time to leave the ground was pretty wet. The road going in and out of the property was a dirt road with grass in the middle of it. So we bumped our way along over tree ruts and we were getting close to the entrance that leads to the road and whomp! We slid to side in the mud off the road and the tires got stuck. Al is pretty good about rocking the truck out of spots like that but nothing he tried worked. We spent the better of 2 hours trying to get the truck out.

We wound up going to one of the neighbor's houses and asking if they could pull us out with a chain. One of the guys had a 4x4 truck so we hooked the chain to the rear and he pulled us out of the muck.

We hurriedly went home, called my relatives. Everyone was worried what happened to us. We wound up not going since dinner was already over with. We just stayed home and heated up leftovers.

That is one Thanksgiving I will never forget!
Michele L.

Annie West said...

Michelle, with autumn coming in quickly here in Aus I'm sure you'll be able to sit looking at your back yard and dreaming of London instead. Or, of course, you could go on a research trip there!

Annie

michelle Douglas said...

Michelle, I'm pleased you like the excerpt. And after reading your holiday from hell experience, it occurs to me that I missed a perfect opportunity for making Josie's holiday experience just that little bit more... special. I didn't think of getting her and her car stuck in the mud.

And although it was a nightmare, I bet you remember and laugh about that Thanksgiving every year.

michelle Douglas said...

Oh, Annie, I'm always dreaming of London. I doubt the budget will stretch to it in the next 12 months. But the 12 months after... hmm... research trip, you say? Might just have to look into that.

michelle Douglas said...

Liz, Donna and Jan... did I really brag about all the beautiful weather we'd been having here in sunny Newcastle, Australia. We'll I should've bitten my tongue - we're rain-sodden and grey. And expected to stay that way for the next week. Sigh. I guess there really isn't any excuse to stop me from diving into my next WIP now, huh?

Anne McAllister said...

What a great "what if" Michelle! Sounds like a book I'm going to love to read! So good to see you here celebrating with Liz.

michelle Douglas said...

Thanks, Anne. It's wonderful to be here celebrating with Liz. And if you do happen to pick up a copy of The Loner's Guarded Heart I hope you enjoy it half as much as I'm enjoying One-Night Love Child.

Liz Fielding said...

Dena, are you there? I think I might have mispelled your name in my blog, but you are Michelle's winner, so email me at liz @ lizfielding.com with all your details and I'll pass them on to Michelle.