Long before I saw my name on the spine of a book, I liked to say that my puppies were my co-authors. No, they didn’t add much to the story line, but they were always there to snuggle when a rejection note came in and later helped keep me company on late nights writing for deadline. A few weeks ago, I had to say goodbye to one of my dear friends, and I wanted to give a farewell to one of the goodest boys ever.
Domino was a pound puppy. When we brought him home, the shelter told us he was a six month old Lab and Dalmatian mix, and they thought he would be around 50 pounds. I still remember the vet’s face as she asked if it was okay if he was bigger. I said yes, but what are we talking?
He was a three month old Great Dane mix. We had many conversations over the years about the fact that just because he could put his head on the table, didn’t mean he got too. A lesson made more difficult when my girls came along. As toddlers they believed it was their mission in life to ensure he ate at least a part of their dinner every night. A mission he fully supported.
Domino was my gentle giant. He never met anyone who wasn’t a friend. In his younger years, he accompanied us on walks all over town, gladly taking any of the pets on the head offered. He barked whenever the doorbell rang and then promptly ran up the stairs to avoid whatever mischief might have been behind the door (brave was not an accurate adjective).
Agnes Sligh Turnbull is quoted as saying, Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really. And I couldn’t agree more.
He was not great at editing, in fact he couldn’t tell a run on sentence from an expertly crafted one. But he was always at my feet while I typed away. Or laying his head on my lab to beg for a treat – which worked almost always (writers do love to procrastinate).
We still have out Abby girl, and a rescue near us has a lovable big guy that we are going to visit. But Domino will always hold a very special place in my heart, as all my lost fur buddies do.
So here’s to Domino…may the fields be green and the tennis balls plentiful until we meet again.
I was going to write something else today (ha ha, sewing related…), but events on UK media (social and otherwise) this weekend have made me so cross that I’m going to write a rant. (A measured one, but still a rant.) Even a cuddle with my lovely pooches (above) couldn’t restore my equilibrium.
“The worst kind of wimmins fiction” – that’s what I (and my fellow M&B authors) write, according to Jeanette Winterson, who burned her own books this weekend to show her displeasure at being compared to it.
Now. Firstly, she would’ve been consulted by her publisher and signed off the blurb and cover. Surely that was the time to say ‘no, I’m not happy’, not when they were printed? (This is what makes me think it was a badly thought-out publicity stunt, rather than the tantrum she later claimed it was. That, and the fact she sent a photograph to the media. If you have a tantrum about something, do you really send evidence to a newspaper?)
Secondly, there’s the burning of books. That always makes me think of Bebelplatz and also Fahrenheit 451. It’s really not OK.
Thirdly, there’s that dismissive swipe at a whole genre (one mainly written by women) AND by extension to its readers. And that is what really, really made my blood boil. Nobody has the right to sneer at other people’s choice of reading.
And just what is so wrong with romantic fiction with a happy ending?
I’ve had letters from readers who’ve told me that whenever they’ve had a really bad day, they reach for one of my books because they know it’s going to make them feel that the world is a better place. I’m very proud to have helped someone through a rough time. And, as a reader, I’ve done the same. When my dad had dementia (and visits were very, very hard emotionally) the thing that got me through it were books. Whenever life has been tough, I’ve lost myself in a book (often romance, precisely because of the happy ending) for long enough to let me cope again.
Making the world feel a better place: I happen to think that’s something to be celebrated, not sneered at.
So I want to do a shout-out to my M&B author friends. We include issues that women deal with on a daily basis – from divorce to infertility to miscarriage to bereavement to abuse, to being part of the sandwich generation caring for teenagers and elderly parents, and more. Our characters show that it’s possible to move on from the tough stuff to a happier place. That you can learn to trust again, to try again, to overcome the past and become who you want to be. That love will get you through. And if that message helps just ONE person… then it’s done something worthwhile.
I’m proud to write books like this, and to write them with other authors who do the same thing. And it’s inclusive. It doesn’t matter how old we are, what our skin colour is, what our nationality is, whether we’re gay or straight or somewhere else on that continuum. We’re all about love.
And that definitely deserves to be celebrated.
Kate’s latest duet – about two doctor brothers and a kidney transplant – is available in August, and can be preordered now.
(Today we welcome guest USA Today bestselling author Naima Simone, talking about where she gets the inspiration for her heroes)
Very recently, my mother-in-love (not mother-in-law, ‘cause I luvs me some her!) asked me a question: Do you read anything besides romance? And let me put this out there, she wasn’t asking it to be ugly. Because my mom-in-love has read every single one of my books, owns almost all the print copies and they occupy a special place on her bookshelf. She was genuinely curious. I answered her honestly. I do read some mystery thrillers—Lisa Gardner is the ish!—but for the most part, I’m a romance reader. There’s so much variety in romance that I can find it all there. Comedy. Suspense. Sci-fi. Historical. Horror. Contemporary. Paranormal. And of course. Love.
I freely admit it. I’m in love with love.
From the time my mother read me my first fairy tale, I’ve been completely enamored with love and everything it entails. The falling into it. The pitfalls of it. The dysfunction of it. The joys and pain of it. The edification and complications of it. The heroines and heroes.
Especially those heroes.
Because the heroes are my romance origin story.
Now, I have a confession. My first books and stories? Horrible. Like, hide in a chest, lock it, bury it and order three viciously horned dragons and a puzzle-wielding Sphinx to guard it, horrible. Yeah. That bad. LOL! But the heroes in them shaped the ones I write now. Who were these heroes? So glad you asked.
The first romance I wrote starred Ralph Tresvant, lead singer of the boy band New Edition. Soft voice, romantic and obviously sensitive. I mean, he serenaded women, sooo… And though I nearly killed him off in my book (hey, didn’t I warn you it was terrible?!), my kiss did bring him out of that coma, so it all worked out in the end!
The next short story featured Oliver from Oliver Twist. He was so cute with his tortured past. Kid has abandonment issues written all over him. And yes, yes, I know, he has a happy ending, but seriously. You know he has serious emotional baggage. And I live for the tortured hero he’s destined to become!
I followed him up with Duke from G.I. Joe. Alpha, strong, honorable, man in control Duke. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely loved the action and excitement and the whole good vs. evil of the cartoon. But I also obsessively watched for Duke and Scarlett. To see when, and if, they would ever get together. And since they didn’t to my satisfaction, I wrote their story. Over and over again.
Then there was Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block. Oh Donnie. *sigh* Bad boy. Rebel. A little wild. And from the way he could dance, you know he could…move. Whether he was a member of a boy band or a famous producer, or later, a millionaire, he provided the hero for several of my books and short stories. Including the one the first book I sold.
Though my writing has evolved—thank goodness!—the leading men in my books are all an amalgamation of my first heroes, my origin heroes. The core of honor, strength and alpha maleness of Duke. The sensitivity of Ralph. The tortured pain and hurt of Oliver. The bad boy wildness of Donnie. Their backgrounds, appearances and stories may change, but the heart of them remain the same.
Published since 2009, USA Today Bestselling author Naima Simone loves writing sizzling romances with heart, a touch of humor and snark. Her books have been featured in The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly, and described as balancing “crackling, electric love scenes with exquisitely rendered characters caught in emotional turmoil.”
She is wife to Superman, or his non-Kryptonian, less bullet proof equivalent, and mother to the most awesome kids ever. They all live in perfect, sometimes domestically-challenged bliss in the southern United States.
Some years back, I tried to talk my editor into letting me write a plague book. Archaeologists working in London in an area that would be dug up for a tube line (all right, the London Cross-Rail) and finding a burial pit, and the plague… My editor did the usual ‘hahaha – no. I know what you’d do with it and it is NOT a romance’, so I had to rethink. Hence Plague Squirrels – aka my working title for ‘It Started with No Strings’.
That particular year, I won the RoNA Rose at the RNA Awards (for Bound by a Baby).
It was a strange, exciting year.
This year has also been a strange, exciting year. Strange because – well, the pandemic we’re living through is quite close to what I’d envisioned with my original plague book. Exciting, because this happened at the RNA awards last month. (Although it’s not a medical, I reckon Meds reader would enjoy my scientist heroine. And you get to learn lots of exciting facts about butterflies. And glass. And there’s a matchmaker from beyond the grave. Hence the title of ‘A Will, a Wish, and a Wedding’.)
When you’re a prizewinning author, your editors are all happy with you and they say yes to your ideas, right? So, all happy and bouncy, I pitched the idea of Bridgerton meets House. A Regency doctor hero whose older brother dies so he has to become the duke. The heroine is a bluestocking and can help him in his work. All the medical advancements of the age. Lovely super-duper ground-breaking medical romance – right?
Editor: ‘hahaha – no.’
So it’s back to the drawing board. I haven’t quite sorted out the new outline yet. But I’ve been doing a lot of plot-stitching, and this kit happened to be the spit of my elder spaniel. (22,000 stitches or so. 16 shades of brown. Well, with a bit of white.) Once the framer’s open again, I’ll take it in to be sorted out. Or I might wait and do a second picture, with the pattern based on a picture, because my younger spaniel insists on equal treatment! (He turned one last week. I made him a special doggy birthday cake. As you can see… it went down well! Battersea Dogs’ Home recipe, with mashed potato icing…)
It’s been a strange year. But I’m grateful for my family who live with me, the dogs, the friends who kept me sane, and for the readers who’ve read my stories and kept me working.
How’s this year been for you?
Kate’s latest book is Surprise Heir for the Princess – it isn’t a Med and she didn’t manage to sneak a dog into it, but if you love the film Roman Holiday, have ever wondered how you can get privacy in an age where everyone has the phone and the internet in their pocket, and you love sandy beaches or bluebell woods or starry skies, then you might enjoy it 😉
It was such a pleasure to see how many people participated in the Medicals Romance Includes You pitch session, and the variety of plots was impressive! As an author who joined the medicals family through So You Think You Can Write, I know how nerve-wracking pitching must have been. Congratulations to everyone who put themselves out there, and even if you didn’t get that ‘thumbs up’ from one of the editors, please don’t give up.
We all have stories to tell, and you can be sure there are people in the world who want to hear them.
I want to hear them.
Just prior to the pitch session, a lady contacted me through my website and asked for my opinion on her pitch. I was extremely flattered, because this profession can be an extremely isolated one, where I write and write and never know if what I’m putting out is really liked. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really think about it much anymore (and I rarely, if ever, read reviews) but it is nice to hear from the occasional reader.
Giving her a few pointers took just a few minutes of my time, and I wished her all the best, hoping she’d attract the editors’ attention, because I’d like to see how she handled her plot.
So, that’s my next point to all those hopeful authors out there.
Don’t let anyone’s opinion make you think you’re laboring in vain, even if it feels that way.
If this is something you really want to do, keep trying. Bad writing, if done frequently, can lead to good writing, as you keep learning and find your voice.
On a slightly less upbeat note, I saw a few pitches that had me thinking that perhaps that particular person hadn’t read any Harlequin/Mills & Boon medicals. There were plots points and situations I’d think many more times than twice about pitching to my editor. High drama is wonderful, but there are ways to take that to extremes and risk turning off the readers.
So, if you’re determined to break into the Medicals line, read the books. That’s really the only way to figure out what the editors are looking for. While preferred plots, characters, etc. change, the tone of the line remains fairly constant.
There were also a few pitches with typos, and missing punctuation. Now, let’s all be honest, typos happen to EVERYBODY. Yet, if ever there was a time to get obsessive about what you’ve written, it’s when trying to attract an editor or agent’s attention. Typos will get you attention—of the wrong sort!
But the bottom line really is, congratulations to everyone who pitched, because it takes guts to do! To those who got the nod, all I can say is, “Get writing! We’re all waiting…”
Dr. Jess Young plans to use her time on the small Scottish island of Thorney to figure out how she can rebuild her shattered life, after a recent blow that has stolen the future she dreamed of. Only Dr. Adam Campbell is a complication she didn’t expect! Handsome but hurting too, Jess sees a kindred spirit in Adam. Will he heal her already fragile heart…
I often get asked how I come up with ideas for my stories, so I thought I’d go through the thought processes of how I created my January release, Risking Her Heart on the Trauma Doc.
I love to write stories that take place on an island (because I live on an island and I like the community feel you get, where everyone knows one another.) Next to Hayling is an island called Thorney, but most of it is taken up by an army base. You’re allowed to walk the coastal walk, but that’s about it. Well, I liked the name, Thorney and decided that Thorney would be the great name for an island up in Scotland where I wanted to have a setting.
So, initially, that was all I had – a place, so then I had to think about what kind of medical establishments would be on this island. Would the island be big enough to sustain an entire hospital and the people to staff it? Or would there only be a GP surgery? With people going to the mainland for surgeries/emergencies, etc?
I preferred the intimacy of a small GP practice, with doctors that took on many different responsibilities and I knew there would have to be a resident doctor to be either my hero or heroine, with a new doctor arriving to play the other part.
Originally, I had my heroine, Dr Jess Young having arrived on the island to take over the hero’s job. She had already established herself there and was great friends with the hero’s family. His parents loved her and she had fallen in love with the stories they constantly told about him, the way he looked in photos and basically had developed a crush on a man she had never actually met (the reason for this crush on a man out of reach will be revealed later) The hero would then return from Afghanistan with PTSD and wouldn’t function well, however, my editor suggested that the hero could still have PTSD, but that he needed to very much be a fully functioning member of the medical team and that my heroine be the one arriving as a newbie and that we be there to watch her fall in love as they worked together.
So I went with that. But then I had to research PTSD and all the ways it could affect someone and how those issues might play into my story. Would there be night terrors, would he be affected by sights, or sounds? I decided that sound and night terrors would play into the story better, as I wanted my hero and heroine to be living in the same block of flats and that proximity would help for more scenes that would establish their burgeoning relationship.
So I knew what problems my hero had, but what about my heroine?
I wanted Jess to be as equally damaged as the hero, but how and why? Where Adam’s problems were mostly mental, I wanted hers to be physical and so I gave her a life-limiting disease. One that had killed her father, leaving her with slight Daddy issues and going after men that were never available to her emotionally.
Well, the Daddy issues were deleted! Mills and Boon like there to be strong heroines and Jess needed to be strong, to cope with her condition and also, to help Adam with his. I knew then, that Jess would be this incredibly caring individual, who put other people first, before herself and that this need to care, to deflect her concern onto other people, rather than herself, would be the key issue towards her and Adam falling in love and being vulnerable with each other.
Once I had all of that information, I began to write. A revised synopsis to send to my editor, and then a detailed chapter plan, exploring what would happen in each scene, before I wrote it. The chapter plan was six pages of single spaced work and as I wrote the book, became six pages of incredibly messy work, as I scribbled all over it and changed things as I went, as new things always occur to me, as I write.
I had this grand idea for a Black Moment at the end of the book, that took place in the pouring rain. You know that screen shot from The Notebook of the hero and heroine kissing in the rain, absolutely drenched? I wanted something like that, my characters arguing with each other, but only because they’re so frustrated and then they end up kissing and realising they can’t bare to be apart, but that idea was nixed by my editor (who suggested a different moment and I sadly placed my rain-drenched characters into a separate folder to be used in another story, at some point.)
So, there you have it. The thought process to starting a book.
It’s not actually as simple as it reads. It comes across that these Aha! moments come to you quickly and easily, but I promise you there were many days of head-scratching, hair pulling and biting of nails as I worked out various bits and pieces. There may even be lots of scrawled up bits of paper lying in rubbish tips with my notes still on them. Or maybe seagulls have used them to help line their nests? Who knows?
If you’ve got any writing questions, then please don’t hesitate to ask them below. I’m always happy to answer them.
At this time of year, certainly in the northern hemisphere, it’s dull and cold and a bit miserable. Add lockdown to that, and family members (and those of people v close to me) not coming out the other side of Covid… and I think we need to seize the bright moments and hold on to them.
For me, apart from my family (and how grateful I am that I can FaceTime my daughter 200 miles away in Manchester and brainstorm essay stuff with her), that’s flowers and dogs. Here are the daffodils on my kitchen windowsill from this morning. And my beloved spaniels Archie and Dexter, whose waggy-tailed welcome in the morning is the perfect start to the day.
And today is particularly bright. Not just because I’m picking up my birthday pressie from DH this afternoon, 10 days early (let’s just say it’s cross-stitch related), but because the shortlist for the RNA Awards 2021 is out – and I’m on it with my 90th book, ‘A Will, A Wish and a Wedding’!
I’m delighted to say that our Scarlet is also there with me, with ‘Cinderella and the Surgeon’ (Yay! – congrats to one of my besties) – and congratulations to everyone on the lists. Romance definitely makes the world go round.
Usually, the ceremony means we meet up for lunch with the editors, and we sit having a catch-up with tea (oh, all right, pink bubbles) before the awards do itself, this year it’s all virtual. We’ll be toasting each other with bubbles on the night. And there are plans for an author meet-up post-lockdown so we can celebrate it properly. Even if it’s next year, we’re doing it because it’s important to celebrate the joy. Life is for living, and – as the title of our blog says – love is the best medicine.
What are the bright moments you like to hold on to?
I’m honored to have this very first blog spot of 2021 to talk about a subject dear to my heart. After the year just gone, (It That Shall Not Be Named, Which Will Live On In Infamy) I’m hoping for a fresh start, and progress toward a better world for us all, including within publishing. I’m hoping readers and writers alike will find this blog interesting, and informative, and something to consider as we move into this bright, (hopefully) shiny New Year.
Over the last decade or so, there’s been a sea-change coming in the publishing sphere, and not everyone has been comfortable with it, or able to understand why it was even necessary. I personally think it started with the advent of small presses and self-publishing. During that time, a number of authors began to get noticed in a way they hadn’t been able to before. Many had abandoned the hope of getting traditionally published because they’d tried, repeatedly, and been rejected, repeatedly.
In some cases, those rebuffs came not because they were poor, sub-standard writers, but because their characters didn’t conform to what was then deemed acceptable, or marketable.
Those authors were writing about characters the gatekeepers in traditional publishing had little to no interest in. Worse, they were putting those characters in situations deemed the milieu of white, Cis-het people, yet often they were neither of these things. Those authors were writing characters who were LGBTQ+, black, Asian, and every other race, creed, color, and nationality. They were writing all types of stories imaginable. Those tales were often raw, and real, and questioning of a society that seemed inclined toward ignoring the realities of lives outside the “norm.”
“Norm,” of course, being relative and subjective; a truth that is oft glossed over, and minimized when it is convenient.
Since then, I’m happy to say, things have improved in the way of diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there’s still a struggle ahead. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t have to be a concerted effort to attract diverse stories and authors, but we would all be judged, equally, on the quality of our work. And all good stories, no matter where they’re set, or who the characters are, would have an equal chance of publication.
We’re not there yet, but it’s heartening to see the initiatives and training being offered in the hopes of getting us, as an industry, to that point. It takes effort, and courage, to affect change. Clarity about, and understanding of situations and people that perhaps are alien to us has to be sought, and taken on board. Recognition of the barriers people have faced, and often still face, is imperative, as is the determination to break them down.
At Harlequin/Mills & Boon’s new Write for Harlequin website, they’ve added an entire section geared toward Diverse Voices, and I’m hoping it attracts the attention of authors from around the world. Category romance may sometimes seem to be the unwanted stepchild of the publishing world, but it’s wildly popular, and always in need of fresh, new voices.
On the website can be found lists of initiatives and outreach programs, including mentorships and scholarships, geared toward diverse writers. By reaching out to underrepresented groups, Harlequin has shown they’ve seen, and understood, the impediments many authors have historically faced, and are making the necessary changes to address the imbalance.
With the success of those initiatives, I hope to have a much widened pool of amazing authors to read. New voices, showing us life as we’ve never seen it before.
I want to be swept away to places I’ve never experienced, see them from an insider’s perspective, and learn more about this wondrous, amazing world we inhabit.
Meet new characters, with a range of issues brought about by family traditions, misunderstandings, driving desires, and many other delicious problems, but with twists only that author, with their particular knowledge and world-view, could write.
I want my mind blown, and expanded, by those new stories.
That’s why I read: to be transported, educated, and entertained by stories outside of my own personal knowledge. To lose myself in new places, and characters, and cultures.
To learn tolerance and understanding through being exposed to life as others live it, not just be mired in my own small world.
To me, that’s the magic of books, and I want to be enchanted by all this world has to offer.
Please visit the Write For Harlequin website, and encourage others who want to be published to do so, no matter where they come from, what they look like, or the personal barriers they face.
After all, while I, and other like-minded readers, still actively long for diversity, ‘inclusion’ means everyone.
There is more than enough success to go around, when we clear the way for all authors.
I think most authors get asked this question a LOT! I low-key hate it. Not because I mind answering, but because I don’t really have a good answer – at least not one that will work for everyone. And often I come up blank when it pops out of someone’s lips.
It came up over a zoom call a few weeks ago, and I went blank. Again! I spouted off nonsense about making lists (which I do) and just pushing through (also true). But it was not what anyone was actually looking for.
I recently spent a significant time quarantined due to a covid diagnosis, and it gave me plenty of time to myself – ugg. But I spent some time working through this question (there is only so much television you can watch when confined to one room for ten days.) And one truth kept popping in.
My writing group!
Several years ago, I saw an ad on Facebook stating that someone was starting a writing group at my local library. I decided to check it out. There was the leader, Kit, her husband and one other writer. We did some writing sprints and talked. It was one of the best nights!
Over the years others have joined us. We do not have any genre or age requirements. We have poets, romance writers, a children’s book writer, a fantasy writer and some that are just playing with any genre that fits them this week.
When Kit and her husband got transferred two years into the startup, she asked me to take over the job of leading. This mostly means that the library has me listed on the paperwork in case we tear the place down.
Writing is a solitary activity but when you are with a group of other creatives it really can get the juices flowing. I wrote one novel based on a prompt we had. Celebrating when we finish a story or get a poem or book published is so much fun. But mostly it has made me accountable to a group of people that I respect and love spending time with. Their cheers when things go well and encouragement when they don’t have gotten me over so many hills.
During 2020, we have met over Zoom. It’s not the same, but it has kept the connection going and I always look forward to Thursday nights. Though I cannot wait to be back in person (one day)!
So that will be my answer from now on. If you can find a writers group to join do so. If not, make one. Kit put a note on the library calendar and for several weeks only she and her husband showed up. Then there was three and then four, then more. It has been one of the best experiences of my writing career.
So from our latest zoom meeting here is my lovely group!
This year has been hard in so many ways. But several months ago I decided I needed to draw my happiness from what I have rather than dwell on things I’m missing out on. So, I took on more writing projects than I normally would have (I’m actually working on revisions that are due on Monday morning). I’m also adding a twist to hobbies I already have.
I’m still gardening, but I tried growing something different this year. Brussels Sprouts. Yes…really. Because, well, I love them. And they’re super cool to watch grow. I wasn’t sure how well they would do, but they’ve actually surprised me. I grew six plants and despite the recent freezes, they haven’t died off, and there are more sprouts still to harvest. Yum!
I’m also a quilter and have always done my quilting by hand. But several months ago, I blogged about my foray into the world of machine quilting (free motion quilting). I’ve loved it. So much so that I bought a new sewing machine to use just for this purpose. I also bought a quilting frame to put it on. So now, rather than pushing my fabric around under my machine, I pull my machine over my fabric. It is a wonderful improvement, and I’m having fun just playing.
I’m also trying to be a better chicken mom. Well, my chickens already have a pretty nice life, but I felt like they needed a new coop in which to shelter over the winter. It’s not quite done, but it’s shaping up, and I think my little egg-layers are going to love it!
What about you? Any new or revisited hobbies or projects you’ve been working on this year? I would love to hear about them!