Weekly Wind-Up and Stella Makes Good

This week was my birthday 🙂 And my boys made the most beautiful birthday cake EVER. Okay, maybe it was the type of cake that only a mum could love (they decorated it) but it was truly delicious (Granny helped them with the actual baking). My hubby gave me the most lovely card and told me to enjoy myself in Sydney (aka spend/buy whatever I like) when I go to the ARRA Awards in a couple of weeks. My Mum gave me my Kindle (which I got a few weeks back). All in all, it was a lovely day!

This week I also took a break from JILTED edits (while waiting for next round) to write more of MAN DROUGHT. Am loving this book and just hope I can do the story and characters justice.

In the waiting stakes, I’m three weeks into the wait on my revised full of HOLLYWOOD HEARTBREAK. So pray the eds at Carina love it and you all get to meet the sexy Nate and gorgeous Holly!

And, almost best of all, I managed to finish reading another book this week. I’ve been so slow with reading lately, focusing on writing and edits, that each time I finish one now I feel like throwing a little party.

So, this is my SECOND review in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

STELLA MAKES GOOD by Lisa Heidke

I’m a great fan of Lisa’s books – Claudia’s Big Break was one of my fave reads of 2011 and Stella Makes Good did it for me too. I find it hard to pin point exactly what I like about a book. This one had a fabulously quirky start – cringe-worthy (in a good way) in fact with the famous sex party Lisa has been blogging about. I don’t want to give too much away but the events that spiral from this one party make this book into a truly emotional and enjoyable read.

The characters (Stella and her three friends) are very REAL. They could be your own group of girlfriends and their lives are believable. I like that. And some of the writing is just down-right brilliant. There’s a conversation between Stella and her mother-in-law June about marriage and how in the good old days, if you were unhappy you either put up with it or died. That cracked me AND my husband up (yes, this was the type of book where I had to read out certain lines to him)!

The story is also somewhat realistic. It is about marriage and how some can be worked on during tough spots and others are over when they’re over. It’s about knowing whether to fight or concede and it’s about women over-coming difficulties and disappointments to become strong and happy again. It’s about female friendship and celebrating these precious bonds.

All in all I found STELLA MAKES GOOD a VERY GOOD read and I can’t wait to read Lisa’s next book.

Also I’d like to announce the winner of Veronica Scott’s blog contest earlier this week – Veronica used a random winner generator and the lucky number belonged to Leah Ashton. Congrats Leah. Veronica will be in contact with you shortly  regarding your prize!

Theory on Thursday with Sami Lee

So excited to have Samhain author Sami Lee visiting today. I first met Sami a few years back at an RWAus conf – I think it was both our first – and immediately fell in love with her. I’m so excited Sami has two new releases coming out this year but in the meantime I can recommend anything from her backlist!! And best of all, she’s talking today about something VERY close to my heart and I’m sure to many of you as well – FEAR!


 Welcome Sami…


Stephen King’s On Writing
“When you write a story, you’re tellingyourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out the thingsthat are not the story.”
Sometime after Easter in 2009, Icontracted a case of writer’s block. I didn’t know it at the time. Like manymaladies it didn’t immediately announce itself. I continued to write as thoughnothing was amiss–until I started to notice something. Nothing I wrote was anygood. Not a single story was worthy of the effort I was putting in. I keptscrapping them after three to five chapters to start something totally new,only to have that story suffer the same fate. I simply wasn’t inspired by myown words. The joy of writing was gone, to be replaced by a horrible, insidiousfear that annihilated my creativity. The fear of not selling, of not being goodenough, of never living up to my own expectations.
When I finally realised (after around 18months of insisting all I needed was a serious chunk of time in which to work)that I had a problem, I took a step away from the computer. I read novels,watched movies, played with my kids and baked cookies. I started to see thingsmore clearly. I had so much going on in my life. A day job, a family, friendsand Cadbury chocolate. The realisation came to me that if I never had anotherbook published I’d still have a rich and fulfilling life. Ironically, it waswhen I finally realised I didn’t needwriting to complete me that I at last felt able to embrace it again.
It was at this time that I bought a copyof Stephen King’s On Writing, a bookwhich restored my faith in my own vision and made me realise all my problemscould be boiled down to one stark fact: I was afraid.
After close to two years of writer’s block, to read the words”The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, thingscan only get better” made me realise the main thing holding me back fromfinishing a book was fear. I was afraid it wouldn’t be good, that the plotwould tie me in knots and I’d lose patience with it, afraid I was wasting mytime. Fear is no friend to creativity my fellow writers. It is creativity’s archenemy.
Another enemy of creativity is guilt. The famous King quote reads:”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Apart of a writer’s job it to READ. It is RESEARCH. This seems logical enough,but it’s easy when you have such limited writing time to get bogged down inguilt when you spend some of that time reading someone else’s work instead ofcrafting your own. Don’t let the guilts get you. If the writing isn’t working,go read. Refill the well and start again another day, another hour.
Which brings me to another thing this book taught me. King states:“Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” Writingis not the most vital thing in your life. It’s not. Really. IT’S NOT THATIMPORTANT. Your family, your REAL life is what’s important. Writing can totallyconsume you and sometimes, when you’re on a roll, that’s a good thing. The restof the time go be with your family, go for a swim or to a movie. Keep it inperspective and stop beating yourself up for not being Tolstoy.
Toward the end of 2010 I grabbed a notebook and pen and beganwriting a story. I had no idea what it was or where it was going but the deal Imade with myself was to finish it no matter what, even if it really did suck.In order to do that I put the very idea of publishing it out of my mind. Byusing ye olde fashioned pen and paper I felt like I was transported back tothose days when I’d hide my notebooks inside school texts and write withabsolutely no plan, simply because I wanted to do that more than anything else.The absence of that intimidating concept of publication took all the fear outof the process.
It took a year of writing and re-writing and critiquing andsubmitting (ok so I decided to try and publish it after all J), receiving at first a ‘no’ from my editor, andmore rewrites until finally the book was accepted for publication with SamhainPublishing. Erica’s Choice will be released in August 2012, and I couldn’t bemore proud of the final result. It’s the book I wrote when my writer’s self waslearning to walk again, and if it’s not a bestseller or never receives afavourable review, it will still be one of my hardest-won, proudestachievements. Thanks to Stephen King’s book, I won’t forget that my own senseof achievement is what really matters. 

WOW – that’s a heart-warming story Sami. HUGE congrats on ERICA’S CHOICE – I can’t wait to read it. And thanks for the very important reminder about what really matters in life!! 

If you (like me) found Sami’s words inspiring, do check out her website here or find her on Facebook and Twitter

Covers of Sami’s gorgeous backlist are below. You can read about all these books and purchase them here 🙂


Do you remember your first…?

My Twitter buddy and stablemate at Carina Press, Veronica Scott is visiting my blog today and I’m stoked about it. Veronica’s debut novel looks very sexy and very unique and I can’t wait to delve between the pages…

I’m so happy to be visiting Rachel’s blogtoday! She’s one of my best friends in the world of writers, always generously supportiveand encouraging!

Do you still remember the first Harlequinbook you ever read? My first was OutbackMan by Amanda Doyle. Not only did I enjoy the romance and appreciate theresilient heroine (my recent review of it here ), that bookstarted me off on a lifelong fascination with Australia. Flash forward agenerous number of years, to this week and my debut novella Priestess of the Nile…publishedby…..wait for it – Carina Press, a branch of Harlequin! It’s a double thrill.Signing the contract with the big Harlequin logo on every page still seems alittle unreal.
Priestess of the Nile is a paranormalromance novella, set in Ancient Egypt, around 1500 BC and tells the story ofSobek the Crocodile God. Drawn to his abandoned temple on the banks of the Nileby an enchanting song, he’s even more captivated by the sight of the singerherself. Appearing to her as a man, he learns she is Merys, a descendant of hislast priestess. Though he desires her greatly, Sobek believes Merys deserves tobe more than just his mistress.
Merys is attracted to the handsomestranger, who arouses passions in her that no man ever has. But with no dowryand no hope of ever leaving her village, she dares not dream of the future—orlove.
Sobek takes every opportunity to visitMerys, taxing his resolve to leave her pure. When he saves her life, theirmutual desire must be sated. But of course in the world of paranormal romancenothing can be uncomplicated, the gods have rules about such romances, thegoddess Isis is very unhappy and so the couple face manychallenges along the way.
I started writing this book because in myresearch for another WIP I became fascinated with the idea of the CrocodileGod, eventually concluding he was a shifter (as we paranormal romance writersunderstand the concept).  Therefore hecould appear as a fully human man and fall in love with a woman. But what kindof a woman would be the right person to touch the heart of an Egyptian god?
Fortunately for me and the plot of mynovel, the Ancient Egyptian society gave women many rights and freedoms, whichencouraged them to be strong, equal partners. The head of the household was the man but women were equal in theeyes of the law and could own property, borrow money, sign contracts, appear incourt as witnesses, obtain a divorce…sounding pretty modern in a lot of ways,yes? And to an Egyptian, home and family were major sources of happiness andjoy. Children were greatly desired and treasured. There are many happy familyscenes depicted in various tomb paintings and statuary.
Merys intrigues Sobek at first purely withher beauty and her voice, as well as the fact that she tries to keep hisabandoned temple in some kind of acceptable condition. But as he talks to herand visits her, he learns how strong she is, living in her father’s house yetdenied a dowry by her stepmother, forced to shoulder a large part of thehousehold burden. Not a complainer, my heroine does what needs to be done andfinds time for herself as best she can. Merys has her valid reasons for puttingup with her living conditions. Sobek is used to thinking on the grand scale –maintaining the Nile river, standing with other gods in battle against theirenemies – but Merys teaches him the simple joys of a human’s life, touches aplace in his heart he never even knew he had. And then events threaten to breakthat immortal heart unless Sobek  canfigure out a way to overcome the challenges life throws at them.
I’m thoroughly fascinated with the world ofAncient Egypt, especially with the paranormal twist I couldn’t resist applyingto it and I hope you’ll enjoy it as well. The culture, the rich mythology andtradition, the sheer history gave mea lot to work with…and bottom line, the people who lived all those thousands ofyears ago weren’t that different from you and me.
Veronica is VERY generously giving away a copy of her book AND a $25 Amazon giftcard to one lucky commenter. All you have to do to enter is tell us what the first romance you ever read was!



Blurb – Priestess of the Nile

Egypt, 1500 BC
Drawn to his abandoned temple on the banks of the Nile by an enchanting song, Sobek the Crocodile God is even more captivated by the sight of the singer herself. Appearing to her as a man, he learns she is Merys, a descendant of his last priestess. Though filled with lust, Sobek believes Merys deserves to be more than just his mistress. But the rules that govern the Egyptian pantheon forbid anything beyond a physical joining of a Great One and a human.
Merys is attracted to the handsome stranger, who arouses passions in her that no man ever has. But with no dowry and no hope of ever leaving her village, she dares not dream of the future—or love.
Sobek takes every opportunity to visit Merys, taxing his resolve to leave her pure. When he saves her life, their mutual desire must be sated. But can a love between a human and an immortal survive the ultimate test of the gods?


You can find Veronica on Twitter and Facebook or visit her at her blog

AND you can buy her fabulous book on Amazon, at Carina Press or other e-book shops. 

Six Sentence Sunday: One Perfect Night

It’s been a while since I did a Six Sentence Sunday post, but since I’m faffing about, I thought I may as well do one now. I have every intention to do them more often from now on… will someone please hold me to that?

Today SS, comes from ONE PERFECT NIGHT – which released from Carina Press in December. To set the scene, let me just say, the hero and heroine only met a few hours ago and are currently pretending to be together at his Aunt’s place for dinner!

It was all she could do not tovisibly swoon as his fingers trekked slowly up her leg trailing a hot path andshooting a delicious heat right to her core.
“Can you pass the potatoes?” askedCameron, his fist nudging between her knees.
She really should squeeze themtogether tightly, but two could play at this game and she wondered how far he’dgo. Smiling sweetly and lifting the serving dish of crisp roasted potatoes, sheopened her legs a fraction.
“Thanks.” He gave a dangerous grinas one hand took the bowl and the other slid up the inside of her thigh. 

If you enjoyed that snippet and would like to see just how far Cameron and Peppa go at the dinner table, you can grab a copy of ONE PERFECT NIGHT from Amazon or Carina Press


Hope you all had a fab weekend. I have some awesome guests lined up this week!

First AWW Challenge book for 2012 (and a winner)!

A HUGE congrats to Gemma Moore – winner of MADE FOR MARRIAGE by Helen Lacey. To claim your prize, Gemma, please contact Helen through her website.

Now, today I’m going to share my thoughts on my first Aussie read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. This week past I read Loretta Hill’s The Girl In Steel-Capped Boots and I LOVED it.

Boots (as Loretta calls it) is a bit chick-litty, a bit rural, a bit romance with a whole host of fabulous characters who are real but immensely loveable. At first Lena, the heroine, seems a bit ditsy and shallow (a city girl tossed in the deep end of life on the Pilbara) but she redeems herself and grows and develops as the story continues into a really strong and like-able woman. Even the blokes who work with her (and her gender is very much in the minority up there) grow to admire and respect her.

It was also great to read a book set in the far north WA – a region that doesn’t get much limelight in fiction, especially my favourite genre romance. And while Boots is classified as Women’s Fiction, it has a VERY strong romance plot line. The heroine has strong reason NOT to fall for the hero but of course she can’t resist his strong, silent charm. His reasons for being with her aren’t as strong – although he does have a massive conflict in his own life as well and the book isn’t less enjoyable because there isn’t a strong reason for him not to fall for her. Dan is just my type of hero – strong, guarded, honest and OF COURSE, deadly attractive.

Boots is an easy read but Loretta has some fabulous one-liners that made me extremely jealous I didn’t think of them myself!! This is a well-crafted, enjoyable novel and I’ll be eagerly awaiting more books from Loretta Hill.

My next AWW12 book is Lisa Heidke’s STELLA MAKES GOOD, which I started on Thursday and am loving! In fact, I’m very resentful of all the things that are keeping me from reading it!

Theory on Thursday with Helen Lacey

I’m so pleased to have debut Special Edition author, Helen Lacey joining me today! Not only is Helen the CP of one of my gorgeous CPs, I was also lucky enough to meet her at the RWAus conf last year. She is so lovely and fun and approachable and well… if her book is anything like she is, we are all gonna adore it!

Today though, Helen is talking about something that makes romance writers twitchy – the FORMULA!! Over to you Helen…

Category + Romance = Formula?

Last year I attended a writer’s dinner, which was held theevening before a regional day long writing conference. This was my firstofficial ‘do’ as a published author. Well, a contracted author at least. As anunpublished writer I had attended several Romance Writers of Australiafunctions and always felt comfortable in my skin and in the kind of books Iwrote. This was a little different. Although I knew several writers who werethere and some were RWA members, the majority of attendees were mainstreamwriters – some young adult, some straight fantasy, some literary, a few poetsand some working on their memoirs.
I introduced myself as a romance writer and Harlequin authorand received a few cursory smiles and everything seemed to be going well until midintroduction to someone I was asked, “So – how exactly to you write one ofthose books? To a formula, right?” Of course I smiled, and determined to answerpolitely I said, “Not exactly. I work to publishers guidelines of course. Thereare specific parameters within the line I write for.” She looked at me and said.“So, yeah, like I said, to a formula?”
To which I smiled again and replied. “In my experience,romance novels are no more written to formula than say, a crime novel.” Towhich the lady in question looked at me again, clearly  perplexed. “Oh, you know,” I went on to say,“you have a good guy, a bad guy, and a crime to be solved. In a romance youhave a hero, a heroine and they fall in love.” I was just about to continuewith my – “And like in fantasy novels where there is always a quest….” But shelost interest and left me to my internal ramblings.
But it got me thinking. Of course I’d heard the word‘formula’ being bandied around for years. A hero, a heroine, a love scene, twoarguments and a happy ever after – that’s the secret, right? If it was thateasy I figured everyone would do it – and not just the committed thousands who submit a manuscript toHarlequin every year. Of course, in this secret formula there’s no mention of the conflicts keeping them apart, themaintaining the tension, the characters development, the emotional journey forthe reader. There’s a great article here at MyRomance Story. com which talks about the fabled formula for writing aromance novel.
The first ‘How To’ book I read on romance writing was by ValerieParv I can’t remember reading any chapters on a secret formula that would helpme write a better book. Not even in Romance Writing For Dummies by HarlequinEditor Lesley Wainger did I see a chapter instructing me on how This + That =Book That Will Get Published. Oh, there are chapters onGoal/Motivation/Conflict, on creating compelling characters, on maintainingpace in a novel, on creating the perfect love scene, writing and outline etc.But a secret formula? Not anywhere.
And that’s okay. Because it means we can take our hero andheroine on a journey that isn’t constrained by any scientific way of expressing information symbolically – wecan simply let them fall in love.
Thanks Rachaelfor having me on Theory on Thursday. I have a copy of Made For Marriage to giveaway to one commenter. 



Equestrian CallieJones was used to difficult parents at her riding school. But Noah Preston tookthe cake.
How dare he questionher teaching abilities, after his headstrong daughter paid no heed to rules—herteacher’s or her father’s?

Single dad Noah wasready to apologize for overreacting. But he wasn’t sorry for the way thestunning American riding instructor made him feel. And he soon learned thatthere was more to Callie than her smarts, sass and fire: a shattered heart thatthreatened to splinter even further. Could he make her see that he—and hisfamily—were for keeps?

Buy Links:

Amazon       Amazon UK     Book Depository

 Helen Lacey on the web:
Website    Facebook     Twitter    Blog          Helen’s Page at RomanceWiki
For full itinerary on Helen’s Celebration tourcheck out Helen Lacey- Author Page.

Guest Blogging and Good News

I’m over at the lovely Shannon Curtis’ blog today talking about EPILOGUES!! I’d love you to come and over and offer up your opinion on this heated topic – do you love em or hate em?

Also, I was absolutely STOKED and totally GOBSMACKED to find out yesterday that I’m a finalist in the contemporary romance category of the fabulous Australian Romance Reader Awards 2011 with my debut novel ONE PERFECT NIGHT from Carina Press. I’m up against some HUGE and really TALENTED authors, some of whom happen to be close friends of mine, so I’m not expecting miracles but just to be up there is more than I ever imagined.

So HUGE thanks to those people who nominated me. I’m so grateful and I hope you continue to enjoy my stories.

What I’m NOT blogging about!

Today I’d planned on doing my first review of a novel for the Australian Women Writer’s challenge. I’d planned to review (or write what I liked about it cos I’m not really comfortable reviewing a) as a writer and b) a friend’s book) Loretta Hill’s The Girl In Steel-Capped Books.  I decided I’d do a write up of one Aussie women’s fiction book every two weeks, but maybe this’ll have to start next week. I have started Loretta’s book and I’m REALLY loving it, but there’s a number of things that have stopped me reading as much as I’d like this week.

1) Copy-edits landed for JILTED – these are not actually that bad and more involve going through the document and accepting or rejecting minor changes my editor as made. I’d say I’m accepting 99% of such changes because let’s face it, he’s the editor and he knows what he’s doing. Every time I read his changes I think – WOW why didn’t I think of that. They’re mostly minor – deleting a word here and replacing it with something else or even just shifting around the words I already have but its amazing how such small changes can really improve the writing. So, I’m very grateful to have worked with two fantastic editors on my books. For JILTED my editor is a man and this has been particularly useful in making sure the male pov in my book is spot-on!

2) It’s school holidays here. Not only is it school holidays, but we are away from home in Perth for two weeks, which equals daily swimming lessons for the boys, social outings to catch up with friends and a whole load of fun school holiday type activities. So far in six days we’ve been to AQUA (WA Aquarium), a really cool play centre, a park with a massive fake volcano that actually ruptures, San Churros (to eat loads and loads of chocolate), the Zoo, the drive in movies (to see Alvin and The Chipmunks Shipwrecked), I’ve had a pedicure and my Mum also took the boys to see Happy Feet 2 at the cinemas. THIS is only the first week. My men have been good and have let me have a bit of me time but most of this precious time has been spent on copy-edits.

3) Before the copy-edits landed – I’d been trying to get stuck into my current wip (working title MAN DROUGHT). I love the concept of this story but am at the stage, where I’m just writing myself into the story (anyone else do that?) and hoping like hell it all works out!

So, unfortunately I’m gonna be late with my first installment for the Australian Women Writer’s challenge, but I promise there’ll be a write up on The Girl In Steel-Capped Boots. Soon!

WINNERS!!!

Today I used http://www.random.org to choose the winner’s of last week’s two book contests.

Huge congrats to Bec (the first one who commented on Jennifer Weiner’s book post), winner of Jennifer Weiner’s THEN CAME YOU!!

Huge congrats to Eleri Stone, winner of Ruthie Knox’s RIDE WITH ME!!

If you could email me at Rachaeljohns at gmail dot com I’ll arrange for delivery of your books!

🙂
Rach!

Theory on Thursday with Louise Cusack

Today I have romantic fantasy author Louise Cusack visiting. Not only is Louise an award winningfantasy author whose Shadow Through Timetrilogy is about to be released by Pan Macmillan’s eBook arm MomentumBooks.  She is also a highly successfulmanuscript developer, writing mentor and tutor with several clients publishedand many more winning prestigious competitions.

Louise is going to tell us a bit about her manuscript assessment service, but first, don’t forget – if you haven’t already done so – to read the two posts below and comment for a chance to win a book by Ruthie Knox and a book by Jennifer Weiner. Only a couple of days left to enter both.

Here’s Louise…

Getting serious: Manuscript Assessment
There comes a time in every unpublishedwriter’s career when they wonder what they have to do to get across the line,to get a publisher or an agent to take them on. They might have been writing for years, doing well in contests, and havecrit buddies who love their work, but still… no contract.
So what can they do?
           
Well if this is you and you can’tsee a way forward, you might decide to give up your dream of being published byHarlequin or Berkley or Avon and go with a smaller ePublisher or even selfpublish, not realising how challenging it is to drum up sales when you don’thave the huge distribution machinery of a big International publisher behindyou.  And while there are the rare,celebrated authors who rise from self-publishing obscurity to becomeInternational best sellers, the vast majority of authors who have long,successful careers have been published by big publishing houses.  So if you also want to go the traditionalroute, what can you do to lift the quality of your work to a standard that willexcite publishers and agents?
One way to give your career ajump-start is to have a manuscript assessment by an industry professional, andthe Australian Writers Marketplace amongother sites will give you a range of assessors to choose from.  Always query them first to see what you getfor your money, but to give you an overview I’ll tell you what I do, so you cansee if an assessment might help you.  Icharge a touch under $400 for a sixty thousand word manuscript, and my clientsconsider that to be an inexpensive way to help them bridge the gap between wherethey are and where they want to be: signing a contract that delivers thousandsor even hundreds of thousands of dollars if they can create a novel publisherswill bid on.  Every business spends moneyon development, and career writers are no different. 
A good assessment can help youeliminate the craft issues that are holding you back, and clarify andstrengthen plot structure and characterisation. Every manuscript is different, but the number one flaw I see inmanuscripts is lack of tension (most often caused by a goal/motivation/conflictstructure that is unclear or not compelling). Other problems I’ve diagnosed in the 150 manuscripts I’ve assessed arestructural flaws that affect tension or pacing, characterisation weaknesses(either due to viewpoint control issues, lack of internalisations or clichédreactions) or problems with dialogue, visuals, pacing or grammar.   The most heartbreaking are manuscripts thathave been beautiful written with faultless grammar, but have either no viewpointcontrol, predictable plots or clichéd characters.  On the surface these manuscripts shine andtheir authors don’t see the critical flaws that are stopping them beingpublished, so I find it very satisfying to help these talented writers uncovertheir Achilles Heel and offer direction towards overcoming it.
Knowing what isn’t working ishalf the battle.  Having clear directionon how to fix the problem is vitally important as well, and that not only helpsyou edit to make your novel more saleable, it also makes you mindful of that craftissue in the next story, ensuring that each future draft is stronger.
If you’d like to check out mywebpage on manuscriptdevelopment or the rest of my writingtips website you may find something that helps you turn your good storyinto a great story, and my New Year’swish for you is that your manuscript snags the attention of a jaded publisheror agent searching for the next big thing.
Remember: Luck happens when opportunity and preparation meet.  Abig contract can happen, but you needto work to make it happen for you!

Thanks Louise – sounds really helpful! I’m curious, have any of you tried a manuscript assessor? If so, how did it work for you?