Theory on Thursday with Fiona McCallum

Today, I’m very excited to have BEST-SELLING rural author Fiona McCallum on Theory on Thursday (especially because Fiona’s books are also published by Harlequin Australia, so we’re stable-mates). And she’s answering the question EVERYONE wants to know of authors – WHERE DO WE GET OUR IDEAS?! 

Over to you Fiona…

I thought today I’d address one of the most common questions an author is asked: “Where do your ideas come from?” The short answer is “Everywhere and anywhere”. But that wouldn’t make much of a Blog entry, now would it?

I tend to write about what I know. So far my books have been set around a framework of two main themes:
Theme 1: rural setting
I was raised on a cereal and wool farm near the small town of Cleve on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. I loved farm lifeso much that when I was in my final years of school my dream was to work the farm with Dad. But as I had a brother, it wasn’t even worth mentioning.
I stayed in the area and did what I though twas the next best thing; marry a farmer. I had grand notions of working as atrue partnership. But the man I married turned out to be very threatened by astrong woman with ideas and get-up-and-go. I was to shut up and drive my tractor and stop and get meals when appropriate. We split after three and a half years.
They say “You can take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl”. It’s certainly true for me. I write about rural and farm life because that’s what I know and that’s what I have a passion for. Also, by writing about it, in some way I’m probably still processing my thwarted ambition at a psychological level. Beats paying for years and years of therapy!
Theme 2: journey of self-discoverystoryline

It’s a bit of a long story, but after leaving the farm I ended up in Melbourne with an ambitious fellow who was inexecutive sales and marketing. Inner-city life in Melbourne and then Sydney and being embroiled in the corporate world was a huge eye-opener for this down-to-earth country girl with humble values and relatively simple needs.
I was stunned at the huge amounts of money floating around, the excesses being displayed, the worshipping of material possessions, generally, and the adoration of companies by staff despite watching friends being retrenched. It seemed to me that people were offering more loyalty to the company than their own family by working ridiculous hours anddoing lots of travelling away from home.
I felt like an outsider looking in. And the whole time I was thinking, “Can’t you see what you’re doing?” Fascinating stuff! I watched my new partner climb the corporate ladder. The higher his salary went, the less I saw him and the more arrogant he became.
Gradually it became clear that all that mattered to this person was money and looking wealthy to his peers – not just keeping up with the Joneses, but passing them. When I complained that he wasn’t spending enough time at home, I was told to “Take the credit card for a spin”.After seven years together, clearly this person didn’t know me at all.
It was whilst standing in the cemetery at the funeral of a very dear friend, having travelled alone halfway across the country, that I realised I may as well be single. What was the point of having a life-partner if I didn’t have his emotional support? We had all this money to buy heaps of stuff, but all the stuff in the world can’t give you a shoulder to cry on or a hug when you need it.
I had worked towards being a novelist for a few years and written a couple of well-rejected manuscripts. It was then I decided that I would rather be financially poor and chasing my dream than selling my soul, which is what I realised I was doing staying with this man in this environment. So I left and came to Adelaide and started all over again.There’s a whole other long story in here, but you’ll have to wait for my biography in about thirty years for that one!
Apologies, but I’m no good at telling a short story! The point is, I’ve been on the journey of self-discovery that I tend to send my characters on. Sure, I use different settings and characters with different jobs and different dreams, but the emotion behind it is the same. It’s learning to have the courage to have a dream and then chase it, no matter how hard it might get. Because ultimately being rich isn’t actually about financial gains; I believe it’s about how comfortable you are at a soul level. If in your heart of hearts you believe you’re living a truly fulfilling life. If not, do something about it. I think modern society with all its ads and marketing has too many shackled to lives they don’t like in order to conform. Oops, sorry, now I’m on my soapbox! I’m meant to be telling you whereI get my ideas from.
Filling in the gaps around the themes

So, with the basic platform of my stories sorted (the rural and journey of self-discovery themes), the gaps then need to be filled in. This I do with ideas that come from all sorts of places. Gems of ideas seem to pop up in the strangest places, at the strangest times; whilst reading books, standing in the shower, sitting on the loo, when out walking, staring at the TV – really whenever my mind is relaxed enough. They often start as the tiniest seed and then just grow, gathering more detail as they go.
For instance, the idea of using horse racing for Paycheque came from watching the Caulfield Cup in 2005. The runner-up, Mummify, had won the year before. He was a great horse that had made the connections millions. Anyway, he pulled up lame after the race and was put down that night. It really upset me because, while I’m not involved with horse racing and I wasn’t there, I felt that they had just treated him like a money-making machine and not a wonderful creature that deserved every chance. So I decided to write Paycheque as a bit of a tribute, and give Mummify, and every other horse that hadn’t had it, their second chance.
I’m a huge animal lover, so there willusually be a creature of some sort feature in my stories. I had horses for mostof my life until leaving the land; so again, with Paycheque, I was able todraw on the knowledge I had even though it was in a slightly differentrealm.
The origins for Nowhere Else were a little different. I lost two friends in a plane crash in South Australia in May 2000. I was living in Melbourne at the time and hadn’t seen them for a few years when they died. I knew that one day I wanted to somehow incorporate a bit of a tribute to them in one of my books. Somehow,somewhere I realised that having a character who was a journalist tell the story and have a personal connection would do the trick. And of course she had to go on her own journey of self-discovery, and it had to include the bush.
These are just two examples. I could go on forever, but I’d better stop here and let Rachael have her blog back!
So, you see, I tend to write about what I’ve lived, what I’ve experienced, and what I’ve observed. Ideas just pop into my head – and often at the most ridiculous, in opportune times. Many are banished as not worth pursuing at that point. But those that hang around long enough get used. I don’t write a journal so the ideas just float around up there or disappear to come back better formed at a later date.
Thanks so much Rachael for having me on your Thursday Theory segment. I hope I haven’t bored everyone with my long,convoluted explanation of where I get my ideas from. But, as I’m sure you can all appreciate, it’s not a question with a simple, quick answer.

Fiona’s latest novel WATTLE CREEK is available in-stores now and online at You can find Fiona online at her website and also on Facebook.

Blurb for Wattle Creek:

Damien McAllister is a man on the brink. Spending long, hard days on a farm he has no affection for, and nights ignoring the criticisms of his mother, Damien can no longer remember what he’s living for. But in a small town like Wattle Creek, there are few people to turn to – and Damien learned long ago to keep his problems to himself.

Until Jacqueline Havelock, a young psychologist escaping her own issues, arrives fresh from the city and makes Damien question everything he has known about himself…also igniting a spark in his lonely heart.

Soon Damien is daring to ask for more than an ordinary life, and can glimpse the possibility of happiness. Will this accidental farmer dare to fulfil the long-forgotten legacy of his father and find peace in the arms of the doctor?

Or will the ghosts of their pasts threaten the fragile new lives they’ve just begun to build?


HUGE congrats!!

My very good friend Fiona Lowe (Medical romance author for Harlequin Mills and Boon and RITA-AWARD winning author for Carina Press) has just been nominated for a RITA AWARD, which you probably got from my description of her.

I had the VERY HUGE honour of reading this book BEFORE it was published and I just fell in love with it. I was not at all surprised when the clever Charlotte Herscher (who also happens to be my Carina Press editor – see, did I not tell you she was clever?) snapped Fiona’s BOOMERANG BRIDE up. Since it was published by Carina Press last August, this book has gone Direct-to-consumer in the US and now this… the first CARINA book to be nominated for the prestigious RITA Awards.

I am just so thrilled for Fiona, Charlotte and Carina and I hope if you haven’t yet read this book, you do so soon. It’s such a gorgeous story!!! I WISH you the best with the final round Fiona. xo

Matilda Geoffrey risked it all for love. She left Australia to be with Barry—the man who had swept her off her virtual feet. Now, wearing a wedding dress, she’s alone on Main Street in small-town Wisconsin, and things aren’t working out exactly as planned…
In town for his annual family visit, Marc Olsen had never seen a bride quite like Matilda—staring into a storefront window, holding a tottering wedding cake, and looking desperately in need of a groom. He may not have any warm feelings for his hometown,but meeting Matilda just as she discovers she’s been scammed by her online “fiancé” stirs something in him.
Matilda is not the kind of woman Marc imagined himself with, and Marc is anything but the romantic hero that Matilda has always dreamed of. But as unlikely circumstances throw them together, can they let go of their misconceptions and risk their hearts for love?
To buy links:

Bits and Bobs!

It’s my turn over at the Sassy Sisters today! I’m talking about how my muse surprises with me and I run with it. Fascinating stuff – or at least I think so 🙂 Please pop over here and say Hi!!

I’m sure you’ve all seen my new cover as I’ve been flashing around the beautiful JILTED (Mira Australia, June) cover on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads, but just in case you’ve some how missed out, I thought I’d share it again here. This time the whole book jacket – blurb and all. I’m guessing my next AMAZING moment will be getting my author copies and I can’t wait!

Since that blurb is a little small to read, I’ll post it again below:

She left him at thealtar, but her heart was always his…

After more than ten years away, Australian soap star EllieHughes returns to the small country town of Hope Junction, determined to remainanonymous while caring for her injured godmother, Matilda.
But word spreads fast in the tight-knit community. It isn’tlong before the people of Hope’s are gossiping about the real reason forEllie’s visit and why she broke the heart of golden boy Flynn Quartermaine allthose years ago.

Soon Ellie and Flynn are thrown back together again, forcedto deal with the unresolved emotions between them. For Ellie is not the onlyone with secrets. Flynn has his own demons to battle, and Matilda is hidingsomething from her much-loved goddaughter.

When all is uncovered, can the ill-fated lovers overcome thewounds of their past? Or is Flynn destined to be jilted again?

And in other news… my new website will launch a week today on April 1st!! I’m looking forward to showing off this gorgeous site made by the awesome and truly fabulous Paula Roe. Just a service announcement that this blog will also be moving next weekend and my current website will be down all of Saturday while Paula does the technical swap 🙂

Theory on Thursday with Jenny Schwartz

The brilliant thing about Jenny Schwartz is not only is she a Carina Press author but she’s also a West Aussie – I can’t think of anyone better to lose my steampunk virginity to (am going to read her book VERY soon)! But first, I’m thrilled to have her as a guest this Theory on Thursday talking STYLE!!

Welcome Jenny…

7 Secrets of Style
Hi, Rachael! Thanks for inviting me to Theory on Thursday. Here’s hoping that what I’ve painfully learned about writing makes sense to others.

Style is how you tell a story.

  1.   There’s no way around it.You have to start with some boring common sense. Learn the rules of grammar and punctuation so you can break them. A self-editing course like Angela James’s “Before You Hit Send” is a good investment.
  2. Understand the medium you’re writing in. Whether you’re writing a tweet, poem, short story or novel will affect your style.
  3.   Respect your readers’ genre expectations. Writing a story for a literary journal is very different to writing for a tabloid newspaper. Things to think about include the level of description, word play, swearing (or not), vocabulary and use of dialect.
  4. Write outside the space you consider yours. If you write historical romance, try your hand at modern poetry. And don’t forget to value your non-fiction writing, like blog posts.
  5.   Writing outside your comfort zones reveals your writing style to you and lets you develop different aspects of it. Write often. I hate the cliché, practice makes perfect, and I hate it because it’s true.
  6. Read widely. In terms of inspiration, reading widely helps with ideas.
    In terms of style, it expands vocabulary and style possibilities. Remember to read writing guides.  Listen to feedback from people you trust: crit partners, editors, whoever.
    Be confident. It shows. Confidence is not stasis. Dare to experiment, to learn and grow.

Anyone want to argue with me about my style secrets? Anyone want to agree? Most important of all, what did I forget to mention?

Jenny’s latest release:

BLURB – Wanted: One Scoundrel
All suffragette Esme Smith wants is a man. A scoundrel to be precise. Someone who can be persuaded to represent her political views at men-only clubs. As the daughter of the richest man in Australia, Esme can afford to make it worth the right man’s while.

Fresh off the boat, American inventor Jed Reeve is intrigued by Esme’s proposal, but even more interested in the beauty herself. Amused that she takes him for a man who lives by his wits, he accepts the job—made easier by the fact that he already shares her ideals. Soon, he finds himself caught up in political intrigue, kidnapping and blackmail, and trying to convince his employer he’s more than just a scoundrel…

To buy links: Carina Press  Amazon

Scared Yet…

I cannot remember the last book I read that had me staying up until the early hours of the morning when I KNEW I had a busy day ahead and kids that’d be up at the crack of dawn.

The last book before Jaye Ford’s SCARED YET, that is. I started this book Saturday morning and finished it in the early hours of the morning today!! Let me just explain, that I’m not the fastest of readers at the moment, because most of my free time is spent writing, so I maybe read one book a week.

 I read Jaye’s debut BEYOND FEAR last year and loved it, so have been looking forward to this book for a while. I was NOT disappointed.

This is the story of a Livia, a capable business woman and mum who’s going through some pretty rough stuff  in her personal life – marriage break-down, father dying. If that’s not horrid enough, she’d beaten up by a thug and then the stalking starts. Threatening, scary notes and worse, bad things happening to people whom she loves. Jaye cleverly sets the scene so that after a couple of days of this happening, Liv has NO IDEA who to turn to.

There’s a hook at the end of each chap that keeps you turning the pages as you wonder if the stalker is Liv’s best friend, her best friend’s husband, her new friend and supposed protector, someone in her office building or her ex. EVERYONE seems capable and suspicious on more than one occasion.

Liv is a gutsy heroine, who’s hard not to barrack for. You want her to win and get her happily ever after – yes, there’s that thread of romance that I like in ALL my books! However, despite knowing she’s gotta survive in the end, it’s touch-and-go till the very end, with one surprise after another.

I truly enjoyed this Thriller by another fabulous Aussie writer and I can’t wait to see what Jaye Ford writes next.

I’m curious – what book have you read lately that was un-put-down-able?!!?

Hollywood Highight

Before I share my exciting news for the week (which most of you have probably already seen on Twitter or Facebook), I want to congratulate KEZ who won the Helen Warner book contest that I ran on my blog this week. Kez, please email your snail mail details to Rachaeljohns077 at gmail dot com and I’ll pop your fabulous prize in the post.

Now… my GOOD (no fabulous) news is that I’ve sold another book to Carina Press. HOLLYWOOD HEARTBREAK (which will probably get a brand new title soon) will be an early 2013 release and I’m ecstatic about it.

I LOVE this book (probably cos it’s now finished, sold and only with edits to go) and I’m so excited that actual people (hopefully YOU) are going to be able to read it. This book also happened to be my entry into the 2010 Mills & Boon New Voices contest, in which my good friend Leah Ashton WON!!! I got some great feedback on this chap (which was then titled ONE ROGUE, ONE DAMSEL) and a special endorsement by Heidi Rice on her blog when she mentioned it as one of her favourite entries. THAT made not winning a lot sweeter, as does the fact I’m now sold this book to Carina Press who have been very good to me and very professional to work with so far.

HOLLYWOOD HEARTBREAKis about Holly McCartney, an Australian culturalanthropologist who steps out of her comfort zone to head to Hollywood when hersister is nominated for a post-humus Academy Award. There was no love lostbetween the sisters and when Holly is terrorized by the paparazzi and hersister’s best friend (an ex paparazzo) rescues her there’s no love lost thereeither. But there is attraction…

My editor, the brilliant Charlotte Herscher said about this book –  love the Hollywood setting, all the glitz and the glam and how Holly is a fish out of water in L.A. In contrast, the romance is down to earth, warm and sexy, and hits just the right note. 

I’m really looking forward to revisiting this story in the edits, getting exact release dates, reading the blurb and of course seeing what the Carina Press team comes up with for a cover.

Thanks for letting me share my good news… anyone else got some they’d like to share.  

Theory on Thursday with Abbi Cantrell

This week I’m very excited to have fellow Sassy Sister and PHS columnist  Abbi Cantrell. She offers a fascinating insight into how to make sure your characters’ motivations are SPOT on… Welcome Abbi! 

The Pyramid of Motivation

First, thanks to Rach for having me here on her Theory on Thursday!
If you’ve written a story or even looked into doing so, one of the major parts of a story you’re trying to grasp is GMC. No, not the car company, but the Goals, Motivations and Conflicts of a story.
The goals are what the hero or heroine want to achieve in the story. But, we must ask, WHY do they want to achieve this goal? What is their MOTIVATION for pursuing it?
Motivation can be hard and you need to dig into your character’s background and soul to find the answer. One of the tools I use is a theory I learned in nursing school.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow 1
Abraham Maslow theorized that what a person needs follows different levels – or hierarchies – and we pursue each level in order.
Level One Basic Needs — Food, water, shelter
Level Two Safety – Knowing there’s no danger in life
Level Three – Love and Acceptance
I think most romances will deal with level three because only with true love can you move to the other two levels.
But how do you determine a character’s motivation? Take the heroine who wants to win the top spot in a competition. Why is winning so important to her?
Because she wants the prestige. Because she wants the acceptance of her family. A writer could immediately move to the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy.
But what if that wasn’t the real reason? Maybe there was something more pressing n her mind. Level One, Basic Needs. What if she needs the prize money? What if she loses then she loses everything she has: her home, her business. And if she loses those, she could potentially lose the next two levels.
If you’re stuck with motivation for your characters, I’d recommend a good look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It will provide you with a wealth of insight into your character.
Abbi 🙂
You can find Abbi on Twitter and on her webpage. She also blogs regularly for the Pink Heart Society and The Seven Sassy Sisters

An Interview and a Giveaway

I’ve been getting around this week.
Now for the Giveaway! One again I was approached by the awesome Simon and Schuster Australia to feature one of their newest releases – I O U by Helen Warner.
This book sounds like a whole load of fun, about two sisters and their mother all with deep secrets that they are determined to keep.

Amy has enjoyed a charmed life, shopping and lunching while the nanny looks after her children. Until her world is thrown into disarray when husband Ben’s business collapses overnight, taking their house and savings with it. Suddenly Amy finds herself the breadwinner. Can she rise to the challenge? Will her marriage survive such an upheaval? Or is it a case of ‘Till Debt Do Us Part’?

Kate has always had to struggle by, juggling her job with two children and a husband, though she wouldn’t have it any other way. But her safe little world is rocked when she meets enigmatic Jack in a chance encounter. Feeling increasingly estranged from husband Miles, Kate wonders if Jack can offer her a fresh start. But there’s something about Jack that Kate doesn’t know…

Jennifer is only just beginning to recover from the death of her own husband. When Jennifer makes contact with old flame Hugh she unlocks a dangerous Pandora’s box. She is desperate to find the answer to a question that has tormented her for decades. But will she be able to cope with the truth?
It sounds like a fun read and I can’t wait to read the copy Simon & Schuster gave me. But the best part is, I have a beautiful hard cover copy for one lucky commenter!
When reading the blurb, I realised that many books I pick up lately are about women and their marital issues – whether I like the book or not, all depends on the way the author deals with this common theme. I’m looking forward to seeing how Helen Warner handles it!

And I’m curious, do you enjoy reading this kind of story about women and their dissatisfied lives??

To go in the running, please leave a comment by Friday midnight (Australian WST). I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, please don’t forget to come back and see if it’s you!

Help me write a tagline! Pretty please?

The past week or so I’ve been working with brilliant and bubbly Desire author Paula Roe (who is also a fabulous website designer) to create my new website. I hope to launch this fabulous new look on April 1st, exactly one year after I got The Call Email from Carina Press.

Everything is going splendidly – I love the look, the colours, the feel – but I can’t for the life of me come up with a catchy TAGLINE for my writing.
I’ve looked at other author’s taglines and so far my favourite has to be fellow Carina Press author Shelli Steven’s brilliant – I’m The Author Your Mother Warned You About!! It’s classic, isn’t it?
I think part of my problem is that although I write contemporary romance and I believe my voice is the same across all my novels, I currently write two different kinds of romance for two publishers. My Carina Press novel is urban and sexy. My Mira Australia novel is rural and not quite as sexy 🙂 I want to convey both these styles in my tagline.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, some with the help of two awesome friends. I’d love your thoughts on which ones are catchy, make you want to read my books and best convey the two styles. Or, if you have a brilliant tagline you’d like to throw into the pot, please do.

Romance – Rural To Urban & Everything In Between

Read Hard, Write Hard, Love Hard!

Rural or Urban, There’s Always Romance

Romance Makes The Read Worthwhile

Romance – Red Dust to Big Smoke

Sex in the City, Love on the Land

Small towns, big cities, larger than life romance!

Contemporary Romance from the City to the Sticks

Rural Romance Meets Urban Passion

Romantic Women’s Fiction

Small-town Sizzle, Big-city Passion

PLEASE cast your vote!

Alice and Bella – 2 more AWW reviews!

As I’ve mentioned before I’m doing the Australian Women Writer’s reading challenge and aiming to read as many books by Australian females as I can. This isn’t a hardship because most of the books on my TBR at the moment fit this category. There are just so many wonderful authors coming out of Romance Writers of Australia, that it’s hard to keep up.

In the last week and a bit, I’ve read Putting Alice Back Togther by Carol Marinelli and Bella’s Run by Margareta Osborn. Two very different books but  I found both very easy to read and they kept me turning the pages well into the night. A testament to this fact is that I’ve read them both is just over a week, when I’ve barely been fitting in ANY reading lately.

Putting Alice Back Together has a premise I haven’t read in a women’s fiction book before – the heroine had a secret baby in her teens and has been hiding this for a decade. She relates to those stories on the TV about teenage girls who pop a baby out on the toilet and didn’t even know they were pregnant! Now, although Carol is a Mills & Boon writer and although I’m a fan of these novels, this isn’t your traditional category secret baby hook. Alice is an emotionally disturbed but lovable heroine – she’s addicted to valium and alcohol and yet is trying to pretend that everything is fine and dandy in her world. One can see how her circumstances have led her to the place she is today and how she has a lot to deal with to move on and have a normal life.

All of the characters (Alice’s friends, family and love interests) are fully fledged people, who are realistic and yet entertaining. This is not a romance but for those of us who love the genre, there’s enough of a romance thread to interest. And although whether Alice gets her man in the end is left up in the air, for those of us who want to believe she does, we can 🙂 The only thing that didn’t really work for me was the flashing back and forth between the present and the past in the beginning but maybe that’s just cos I’m easily confused. And by half way through the book, I was used to this technique and didn’t really mind it.

As far as women’s fiction goes, this is unique and hard to put in a certain box so I won’t even try. Just read it!

Hot on the heels of Alice, I read Bella’s Run, which I can easily classify – it’s a rip-roaring tale of rural romance, although I’ve seen the author call it a saga 🙂 The romance is the main plot, which is too me a positive. And I loved the hero Will from day dot.

The story begins with Bella and her best friend Patty on their ”trip of a life time” working and travelling the Aussie outback. Margareta paints their friendship beautifully and therefore it is gut-wrenching when tragedy tears them apart. All the characters are lively and their dialogue helps classify them as very rural or country – some may feel this is stereotyped but I was enjoying the story so much I didn’t really mind. As well as the characters, Margareta has a way with words that brings the rural mountain setting alive. There’s not a whole load of farming jargon, which I look upon as a positive. Margareta has just enough farming detail to make the book’s ruralness authentic but doesn’t bang the reader over the head with extraneous farming scenes. Bella’s Run made me realise its’the FEEL of a book that makes it rural, not necessarily the content. And I think that FEEL is something all Aussies – whether city or country dwellers – will enjoy in this book 🙂

If I had one critical thing to say about this book it is that I would have liked to see more of what happened in the years the hero and heroine were apart, but then again, Bella’s Run sits at almost 400 pages, so perhaps that’s asking too much!

As you can see, I’ve been very happy with the books I’ve been reading lately. I’m currently reading a Rachel Gibson book, but I’ll be back to my Aussie books soon – looking forward to Jaye Ford’s SCARED YET and Amy Andrews INNOCENT ‘TIL PROVEN OTHERWISE 🙂