Guestpost, Mills & Boon, Reading, Romance, Writing

Guestpost – Kelly Hunter; What’s In a Setting?

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After a decade spent writing category romance for the international marketplace, I’ve come to the conclusion that where I set a story has a rather large impact on how well that story sells. Choose a recognizable and appealing location, play to its strengths, linger longer on its unique beauty … and sale!

I should have just asked the real-estate guy.

But there are caveats when it comes to sales, be it within real estate or romance novels. Who you’re trying to sell to matters rather a lot. Are they familiar with your setting? Do they want the location you’re peddling?

Sometimes not.

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Being an Australian author writing predominantly for UK and US markets, I regularly come unstuck in that the places I find fascinating and want to write about aren’t necessarily recognisable locations with widespread appeal. Can’t please everyone, I thought early on in my career—although as a romance author writing for a publisher with unparalleled worldwide distribution, it probably wouldn’t hurt to try.

Write to the market, yes. Test the market? That too, which is another way of saying “I don’t always want to write stories set in bestselling locations, so occasionally I’m going to write about some other place that interests me.” Occasionally, I’d wear the consequences of such tests—meaning poor sales and delayed entry into some of my bigger markets. I used to budget for it in that for every risky setting used, I’d write two other safe-set stories to go with it.

These days I set my stories far and wide, without any of the budgeting I once did. My reasons?

Stubbornness, obviously, along with enough financial security to allow a little leeway when it comes to sales. Markets changing, opening up, shrinking, and no crystal ball for any of it. Books go round a second, third and fourth time and meet a different market every time. It’s fascinating stuff. Above all, I want diversity in my romance reading mix, alongside familiar stories I know I’ll love. I’ll try anything once (twice, three times). And sometimes I’ll find a new favourite.

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I’ve a series on sale in Australia at the moment, called the Bennetts. They were the ones who got me thinking about settings and market preferences and stories coming around again.

So what’s the series about?

One independent young woman, four overprotective older brothers, and settings ranging from London to Hong Kong, outback Australia, the Greek Islands and Singapore. The Bennetts are Australian by birth but the extended family they acquire is an international one.

Series order is:

  1. Wife for a Week
  2. Priceless
  3. Taken by the Bad Boy
  4. Untameable Rogue
  5. Red Hot Renegade

The first book in the series, Wife For A Week, is FREE on iBooks Aus and Amazon Aus.

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Kelly’s career in science took her from outback Australia to the jungles of South East Asia before she turned to writing romance.

Thirty books in, and she’s received both industry and reader recognition for my stories. She likes the tight focus of short contemporary romance and it suits her attention span to write them. A lot of people ask if she’s ever going to write longer books. Maybe that’s next…

Find out more about Kelly hunter and her books on her website; and follow her blog and find her on Facebook and Twitter for regular, nature-filled, updates!

 

Guestpost, Mills & Boon, Romance, Writing

Guestpost – Nikki Logan’s Love Affair with Deserts

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In 2014, I was lucky enough to take two big overseas trips from Australia—first to the United Arab Emirates and later also to Canada. K’ching! But when you’re a writer every trip, everywhere, is a research opportunity (and deductible) which makes the expense more palatable.

My UAE stop-over was a functional one, at first, mid-route to Wales. Of all the states on the Arabian peninsula, the collected Emirates are the least conservative (which is not to say they’re not still quite conservative by our standards) and perhaps the most accessible to and tolerant of Westerners. I flew into Dubai but I just had no interest in the glass and chrome spectacle of the world’s most consumptive city; I was more keen to hit some of the natural spots. In the UAE, nature pretty much comes in three flavours – marine, mountain and desert.

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I picked desert.

In July.

What a noob!

Some simplistic context…. Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen make up the bulk of the Arabian peninsula (sand making up the bulk of them), and, years ago, a number of smaller Emirates grouped together politically to form the United Arab Emirates along the southern shores of the Persian Gulf. The whole peninsula was once the floor of a vast ocean, and all that golden desert sand is actually ancient sea sand that has been shifting about on the surface ever since. As our present mini ice-age locked up all the water, the land there lost much of its original green oasis and wildlife and—over millennia—it has baked and blown to its present dry state.

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The temperature gauge on the expensive limo that whisked me out of the city and out into the desert toward Oman read 58 Celsius. Celsius! Off the asphalt it was a little cooler (50C) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the 6-star resort I stayed at was virtually a ghost town. On the up side, the scorching heat meant I had the resort’s amazing facilities— and the entire desert— practically to myself. But I understood a little better how I had managed to get such an accessible price on such an exclusive resort.

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For the record, desert—most particularly the sort comprising 99% of the UAE—is completely awesome. It is nothing like you imagine. I expected to find it interesting from a wildlife and conservation standpoint, but I had no idea it would seep into my heart like its sands seeped into my luggage. Its colour, the geometry, the light… *sigh*

I sat on the edge of a massive, fenced wildlife reserve in my private Bedouin tent with my private plunge pool, where the wildlife came virtually to my door feeling like it was all for me, and I had the most magical, restorative and inspiring few days of my life.

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I immediately knew that I’d be setting a book there. If not more than one. Out of respect for the culture and the beautiful people I met, I created my own fictional Emirate and history, but the rest of the wildlife experiences I included in my December release ‘Bodyguard…to Bridegroomwere real. I knew it was the sort of place where a woman could go to find herself and maybe find love while she was out there. Because I both found myself and found a new love (for the desert!) while I was there.

I blogged extensively about my experiences at the luxury resort here if you would like to learn more about it, the deserts and wildlife of the UAE  (scroll down to the deserty stuff).

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Nikki Logan lives amongst a string of wetlands in Western Australia with her long-suffering partner and a menagerie of furred, feathered and scaly mates.  Her romance with nature goes way back, and she considers her life charmed, given that she works with wildlife by day and writes fiction by night–the perfect way to combine her two loves.

Nikki believes that the passion and risk of falling in love are perfectly mirrored in the danger and beauty of wild places. Every romance she writes contains an element of nature, and if readers catch a waft of rich earth or the spray of wild ocean between the pages she knows her job is done.

Find out more about Nikki and her books on her website; and follow her on Facebook and Twitter for regular, nature-filled, updates!

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Mills & Boon, Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading

Respond to Reading: Christmas Ever After

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I often cry over books, but most of the time it’s welling up or tears blurring my vision.  I sobbed over Sarah Morgan‘s Christmas Ever After.

I’ve had such an intense and personal response to this book that this post is somehow part-review, part-musings and possibly a little intense itself.  You have been warned.

The book is the final volume in Morgan’s Puffin Island series, a trilogy (with a Mills & Boon Modern prequel) set on a little island in Maine, following three friends:  Emily, Brittany and Skylar.  I’ve loved each of them, but there was something about Sky and Alec, the hero and heroine of this final volume, that caught my imagination from the start.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that they kept on sniping at each other – I adore a hate-to-love romance – or because they’re fiercely loyal in their own way, but either way I was super excited about this book.

Conflict is always difficult to get right, and Sarah Morgan is a master of the art – as I’ve argued in the past – so I suppose it came as no surprise that Skylar and Alec’s internal conflict were deeply textured and developed.  But it was Skylar in particular who stood out for me.

I’ve written in the past about anxiety and panic attacks and I’m a firm believer in a romance novel’s ability to deal with darker emotional issues.  The reasons for Skylar’s anxiety and constant apologies couldn’t be further from mine – my family have always been incredibly supportive – but Morgan’s portrayal of this was perfect.

In some ways, it was shocking to see how ingrained it had become for Skylar to apologise or begin to panic as soon as she did something that her family or ex would have disapproved of or disliked.  The automatic catastrophising, continually jumping to the worst possible scenario and apologising in an attempt to get ahead of it.  And when she meets Alec’s family, he does the same thing, immediately fearing the worst possible outcome.

Catastrophising is pretty hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it; it’s as if you’ve been split in half and one of you is sat there panicking over and over again, whilst the other part of you drifts apart, completely aware that this is an overreaction, and that there’s nothing you can do about it.

I train myself to go to the middle ground.  Whenever I feel myself catastrophising I force myself to think about the best possible outcome and they try and find some kind of middle ground.  The problem with the extremes, is that they’re almost always something out of your control, and it’s only by stopping and thinking about the middle ground that you can truly start making your actions autonomous.

And the end of the novel does this perfectly.  I found reading this surreal and emotional and intense because it was like reading my own journey mirrored on the page, and reading how everyone around Skylar felt about her anxieties was pretty moving.

Hence the sobbing.

But the book’s not dark and depressing, rather an uplifting experience, full of humour and friendship and sex scenes that made me smile and blush in equal measure.  I loved this, and it’s my favourite Sarah Morgan book.

Erotica, Mills & Boon, Reading, Respond to Reading

Respond to Reading: The Queen

The Queen

The first erotic novel that ever made me need to read the next book, was Tiffany Reisz‘s The Siren – before that I read, enjoyed and moved on.  But Nora changed all that.

For it is the main character – Nora (or Elle, depending on the stage in her life) – who captured my heart and imagination.

That’s not to say that I don’t adore the cast of supporting characters, and when each made their appearance in this final installment, I gave a little “hurrah”.  (NB.  I’d have liked a little more Wes, but that’s because I can always do with a little more Wes.)

But Nora’s at the heart of these eight books.  She’s feisty and strong and feels so damn much.  And I think that’s what I loved about her best.  When I read the first couple of books, I tweeted adoration to Reisz who replied “I try to make their sexuality the LEAST interesting thing about them. My secret to good erotica characters.”

Of course, the sex scenes are still flawless – the kind of scenes that the majority of Soren’s Catholic congregation would be shocked at, but they’re clever as well as sensual, and seem to be far more than literary porn (though why that would be bad is beyond me).

I suppose, in some convoluted way, I felt a kind of kinship with Nora; I discovered the series when I was going through a transformation of my own – finding myself instead of being what others saw.  And in some ways, it seems right that this final book in the series is released now, at a stage where I feel so much stronger in who I am, and how to be myself with someone else.

Perhaps that seems a little self-important, but I’ve always stood by what I used to say to my students, back when I still taught:  a good book will reveal more to you about yourself, than you ever would have expected.

And this is indeed a good book.

I found myself rather sad at its end.  The characters have been through so much, and peering in on their lives has been an immeasurable pleasure.

Reisz is an outstanding author, whose writing bites as well as it caresses, and I can’t wait to see what she produces next.

#StrongRomanceHeroines, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, Mills & Boon, Reading

Establishing a Romance Canon

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Those uninitiated in romance often ask where to start.  Which books to read?  What’s in the canon?

Me?  I send them over to Wendy the Super Librarian’s list.  Mainly because it’s so damn on the nose.

But also, you can split a romance canon into three main categories:  the grandmothers of romance; the mothers; and the current kick-arse daughters.

When we’re talking grandmothers, we’re talking Austen and the Brontes.  And when we’re talking daughters, I’d nominate Nora Roberts (for obvious reasons) and Francine Rivers.  (And those are just the authors who immediately come to mind)

But it’s the mothers of romance that first inspired me; midway between Classics and current novels, they were the books I first read and that hooked me on romance as a genre.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it certainly includes books that impacted my understanding of the romance genre:

The Regency Romance

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Georgette HeyerVenetia

Georgette Heyer is the undisputed master of the historical romance.  For me, Venetia is her best offering, with a heroine who is “on the shelf” and has enough experience of life to know her own mind and be able to match the wits of the dashing Dameral.  Venetia’s clever and funny, and is the perfect example of how #StrongRomanceHeroines don’t have to be career women.

The Romance Suspense

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Mary StewartThis Rough Magic

Perhaps better known for her “Merlin” series, Mary Stewart’s genre-bending suspense novels merged romance and intrigue in a way that many argue spawned the romance suspense sub-genre.  This Rough Magic intertwines a thrilling narrative with references to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and a particularly sizzling kiss in the sea that scandalised my fourteen year old self.

The Life-Spanning Novel

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Zora Neale HurstonTheir Eyes Were Watching God

At the heart of the African-American canon, I’d argue that Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel is also key to any discussion of romance novels.  Janie, the heroine whose life we follow over decades, marries three times and each marriage is a masterpiece in showing the different sides of love, desire and relationships.

The Family Series

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L. M. MontgomeryRilla of Ingleside

Sagas and series that follow a series over time are a particular love of mine – from historicals to Mills & Boon miniseries – and Montgomery’s “Anne” series encapsulates this perfectly.  My favourite, however, focuses on Anne and Gilbert’s youngest daughter, Rilla, during the First World War.  This novel makes me bawl every time I read it, and its development of characters whom we’ve come to love in other books, is a real testament to Montogomery’s writing.

The Timeslip Novel

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Elizabeth GoudgeThe Middle Window

Elizabeth Goudge is a particular favourite author of mine, having used her books as an escape the year I started secondary school.  The Middle Window combines the timeslip element with romance.  Plus, the narrative in the past is set in Scotland around the Jacobite rebellion – which is fab for anyone who’s in love with Outlander.

The Ultra Alpha Hero

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Anne MatherLeopard in the Snow

One of the most prolific Mills & Boon authors, Anne Mather was chosen (along with Violet Winspear and Anne Hampson) to be a launch author for the then scandalously sexy Harlequin Presents line.  As books go, early Harlequin Presents have heroes who are a little too alpha (for too alpha read moody and a bit of an arse) for my liking, but Mather, Winspear and Hampson’s impact on the genre is undeniable.  Leopard in the Snow‘s also remembered for having been made into a film in 1978.

The YA Romance

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Dodie SmithI Capture the Castle

The quintessential coming-of-age story, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle follows 17 year old Cassandra as she struggles to cope with her bohemian family, bewails the fact that they’ve no money, and falls in love for the first time.  This book still makes my heart ache the way it did when I was an angsty teenager, dealing with unrequited passions.  Perfection.

The Paranormal Romance

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Rita Clay EstradaThe Ivory Key

One of the very first paranormal romances ever published, The Ivory Key features what seems to be the first supernatural creature as a romantic partner.  Who knew that vampires, demons, werewolves and merpeople were to come?!

The Star-Crossed Lovers

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Radclyffe HallThe Well of Loneliness

Stephen Gordon was brought up hunting, fencing and wearing trousers, and when she comes of age, she falls in love with a woman.  Infamous for being banned in the UK in 1928, it is the last word in divided love and SPOILER the alternative to the HEA.

What romance novels / novels with romantic elements have impacted the way that you look at and approach the romance genre?

Mills & Boon, Reading

My Name is Ali Williams, and I’m Addicted to SuperRomance

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SuperRomance.

On the Harlequin website, the writing guidelines for SuperRomance say:

“Harlequin Superromance stories are big romance novels filled with intense relationships, real life drama and the kinds of unexpected events that change women’s lives forever!”

They’re longer than you’re average category romance – clocking in at around 80 thousand words – which means that there’s space to develop the communities where the books are set, as well as even allowing for secondary romances!

I’ve been reading SuperRomance novels for years and it’s the complex characters that define the line that I love best.

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There’s Janice Kay Johnson’s Snowbound, which has one of the most textured and well-rounded depictions of PTSD found in any genre.

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Then there’s my favourite librarian novel – Karina Bliss’s What the Librarian Did – where the heroine falls for an incredibly sexy rock star…

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Because of their length, SuperRomances often incorporate suspense and mystery narratives and plotlines, with Molly O’Keefe’s Undercover Protector being a prime example!

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Of course, they’re also renowned for putting a twist on a popular trope; Abby Gaines’ Married by Mistake taking the marriage of convenience and changing it up.

I’ve been revisiting the line recently, literally devouring all the books I can get my hands on.

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I’m currently reading CindyHomberger’s Those Cassabaw Days, starring an ex-soldier and a heroine who’s returning to the town of her childhood.  It’s got big characters and heart and it makes me smile when I read it.

I love the fact that SuperRomances have high stakes; it makes reading them all the more emotionally intense, and it appears that this line is filling the hole that the ModernTempted line left!

What are your favourite SuperRomance authors and books?  I’m open for recs!