Sisters are doing it for themselves

I don’t have any sisters. I have a “little” (i.e. younger, but now well over six feet of muscles that belong on a romance cover) brother. You might remember him from my post The problem with having an alpha male brother.

Sister gets little brother in a headlock
© Christopher Low/istockphoto

My brother and I never got along when we were kids, though I can’t imagine why. I mean, I put so much effort into parenting him because my parents clearly weren’t doing a good enough job of it. As his big sister, I made sure he knew exactly what he was doing wrong at all times. He didn’t know as much as I did, and I pointed out all the things he was ignorant about so he’d learn.

Yes, I was the kid who spent weekends playing “school” and planned lessons for the neighbor kids to sit through. I also borrowed my brother’s motorized mini police car and drove up and down my street handing out tickets to kids who rode their bikes too fast.

In other words, I was a friendless loser for much of my childhood. And my little brother has always been the exact opposite.

Having another girl in the house would’ve been torture. I had to be the best at something, and if I couldn’t be the best at making friends then at least I could be the best girl in the house. No one else could be a girl the way I could—that meant shopping with Mom and my grandma, going on dates with Dad, and just generally smelling good and avoiding roughhousing.

If I’d had a sister? I’d have had to discover something else to be best at.

Girl pretends to push brother off a cliff
© M. Eric Honeycutt/istockphoto

By having a second child, my parents forced me to suffer decades of sibling rivalry—but I never regretted that it was a boy child (I just, y’know, regretted his entire existence sometimes. Hey, I’m not proud of myself for it).

Growing up with my biggest rival living in my own home and sharing my parents’ love has given me a deep affection for fictional heroines who have to endure bratty siblings—even if those siblings are grown up.
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Sarah Mayberry interview – and giveaway!

Sarah MayberryLast year, after reading loads of buzz online about a couple of Harlequin Superromance authors, I bit into my book-buying budget and ordered about a dozen Superromance novels.

Why was this expensive? Because they wouldn’t ship to me in London, so I had to have them sent to my parents’ house and then reimburse my mom for shipping a big heavy box to London.

Worth it?

Oh God yes!

In that box, I discovered two new favorite authors: Sarah Mayberry and Karina Bliss. Sarah Mayberry has a new release out this month—All They Need—and she’s giving away two copies here. Huzzah!

Thanks for being here, Sarah!

Thanks for inviting me. I always love talking about writing and reading – two of my most favourite things in all the world.

1. In addition to writing romance, you also write for TV, including the insanely popular Australian soap Neighbours. What skills have you developed through writing scripts that carry over into writing novels? And what’s the craziest storyline you’ve ever developed for Neighbours?

One Good ReasonI actually credit Neighbours with helping me develop me the story chops that led to me getting published. Before I’d worked on the story table, I had made something like 8 different attempts at writing a romance novel, all of which had been rejected.

Then I worked at Neighbours and helped plot a long term, slow burn romance between two of the characters and I suddenly understood what I’d been doing wrong.

Working on Neighbours also taught me to love planning and plotting my books in advance. A lot of romance writers are “pantsers” – ie they write by the seat of their pants and what happens next is as much of a surprise to them as it is to the reader. But Neighbours taught me to love thinking about the story and teasing out the nuances of the story before sitting down to actually write it.

It also taught me to love thinking about character. I always try to build layered, multi-dimensional characters who feel real and who you can believe existed before they walked onto the set (or onto the page) and who will continue to exist after the show ends (or the last page is read).  That’s something we spent a lot of time on on the show – talking through who people were and what they wanted and what their strengths and weaknesses were before throwing them into the mix.

As for the craziest storyline… I wasn’t actually working in-house at the time, but I can remember there was a storyline where Paul Robinson, the show’s current big baddy, and his daughter, Elle, arranged to have one of the other character’s delivery van blown up. I’m actually not sure if that story ever made it to air – my memory has become a little hazy over the years. As storylines go, it was a little out there for a show set on suburban cul-de-sac. But I guess far weirder things have happened on Desperate Housewives!

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Five things romance writers should know about vaginas

If there’s one thing you’d think romance writers – who tend to be women writing for women – know about, it’s the workings of their own bodies.

After all, some of us write fairly explicit sex scenes, right?

Read My LipsThis week, though, I was surprised to discover how ignorant I was as I read the delightfully informative Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva by Debby Herbenick, PhD, and Vanessa Schick, PhD.

This book, which will be released on November 14, should be required reading for everyone – women and men. It expels myths, builds confidence, and contains vital health information that would surprise many women.

And there are craft projects! I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, so let’s just say I know what I’ll be dressing as next Halloween.

Luckily, Debby and Vanessa are giving away a copy of Read My Lips right here! (Details at the end of the post.)

For those of you who don’t write romance, please don’t feel you need to click away. Vulva knowledge is good for everyone – whether you carry one around all day or love someone who does.

First, a brief word on terminology. Vulva is used here to describe the genital region that can be seen from the outside (clitoris, lips, vaginal opening, etc). Vagina means the passage between the outside world and the uterus. But I won’t be anal about people using “vagina” to refer to the whole shebang.

Ready to learn about the mighty vulva?

1. All vulvas are different.

This might sound obvious, and maybe it is to people who have seen lots of naked women.

Then again, depending on where you encountered those women you might be forgiven for thinking most vulvas look the same. Apparently, most of the women pictured naked in magazines and online have a certain look: hairless or nearly hairless, with small inner labia that are fairly uniform in color.

But women are much more diverse. The authors say:

Painted lady statueThe inner labia (labia minora) are perhaps the most diverse part of women’s genitals. The color of women’s inner labia may vary greatly from one woman to the next. They may be a shade of pink, red, brown, gray, black, or slightly purple (particularly as women become sexually aroused and blood flow increases to the genitals, as the inner labia are filled with blood vessels; inner labia also sometimes darken in color while a woman is pregnant). The outer ridges of the inner labia are often darker than the rest of the labia. Similarly, in one study, forty-one of fifty women (92 percent) had genitals that were darker than the skin around their genitals.

Now, a lot of romance novelists skim over this kind of detail when describing sex scenes, but some don’t. And if you write explicit scenes, then you might like to add a little more genital diversity. Not only will it make your heroine more interesting, it’ll make her more real.

Most importantly, though, it could encourage your readers that their bits are normal, healthy and sexually desirable.

Wikipedia has a set of drawings showing vulvar diversity.

2. The hymen is at the vagina’s entrance.

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Kristan Higgins interview – and giveaway!

Kristan HigginsWhile I was preparing for this interview, I cruised on over to Kristan’s website and stalked her did some research into her life. I clicked on the link to her blog and ended up spending TWO HOURS reading her posts.

I’ve never spent that long on anyone’s blog before – not even mine.

Kristan’s novels have the same effect on me. They suck me in and don’t let go until I’ve sobbed my way through the happily-ever-after. If you like romance featuring strong, quirky families, lots of dogs and even more smooching, Kristan Higgins is your gal.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Kristan, and for giving away a copy of your latest release, UNTIL THERE WAS YOU!

Absolutely my pleasure, Kat!

1. One of countless things I love about your books is the strong sense of community you build. It makes me think that living in a small town must kick city-life’s ass. Is there anything bad about life in a small town (I ask this as someone who’s moving from London to the vast emptiness of the northern Netherlands, so please say no)? How do your communities challenge your characters and help them grow?

All I Ever WantedAnything bad about a small town? Er, um, of course not! Small town life is perfect! Especially if you love people knowing you perhaps a bit better than  you’d like, eating at the same restaurant over and over and over, being viewed as exactly the same person you were when you were thirteen and threw up in math class, no, there’s not one drawback!

I think life in a small town challenges my characters to be more than they were back when they were puking in Mr. Eddy’s class. But there’s an intimacy and caring that’s very evident in a small town; a person gets hurt, and there’s a spaghetti supper to raise money for medical costs.

I do think that’s true in big cities, too; cities are nothing more than a bunch of different neighborhoods, but there’s something about a small town that invites personal interaction.

2. Most of your novels are written in the first person from the heroine’s point of view, but UNTIL THERE WAS YOU is told in third person and lets us see things from the hero’s perspective too. What made you decide to switch things up for this one?

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Interview with Joanna Bourne – and giveaway!

After I graduated from college I stopped reading romance for seven years. Those first three years, I lived in Prague, where English books were extortionate and none of the handful of bookstores sold romance. Then I moved to London and did an MA, which required hours and hours of reading legal and academic articles.

I finally picked up a romance novel again in 2009, and was hooked all over again. But I had ideas of what the genre was like—as if it wouldn’t have evolved—until I read about an author who’d released a novel the year before to huge acclaim.

Joanna BourneJoanna Bourne’s second debut (because it came out 25 years after her actual debut), The Spymaster’s Lady, changed everything I thought I knew about romance. With its clever, resourceful heroine and lyrical language, the novel helped me realize that romance can be literary and smart as well as entertaining.

I’m so thrilled to have Jo as my guest today. She’s giving away the hotly anticipated  BLACK HAWK (which comes out tomorrow, people!) to one person who leaves a comment, but first: Welcome, Jo!

1. Your debut novel, Her Ladyship’s Companion, was published by Avon in 1983 (you write beautifully about your first sale on Dear Author) and then you embarked on a career globe-hopping with the federal government. What made you decide to start writing romance again after a 25-year hiatus writing for the government?

Spymaster's LadyFairly straightforward answer to that one.  I stopped working overseas and returned to the United States.  It was work I loved, but it was time to move on.  Letting go of an 80-hour-a-week job does leave you with a little more leisure time.

Now I can use all those exotic impressions from all those foreign places in my writing.

2. Readers have been antsy for years waiting for Adrian’s story. Your last novel, The Forbidden Rose, is set when Adrian is twelve, and on the All About Romance website you say, “Think of the worst twelve-year-old you’ve ever known, and then hand him a knife. That’s Adrian.” How would you describe Adrian as a romantic hero?

Forbidden RoseY’know, it’s really hard for writer to analyze her own characters.  At least, it seems hard for me.

Folks tell me Adrian is a ‘bad boy’ hero.  A sort of James Dean.  Adrian is the lad from the wrong side of the tracks.  Dangerous, because he doesn’t play by the rules.  Unpredictable.  A little ruthless.  Definitely not safe to love.

I try to take that aspect of the young Adrian and run with it.  What would a ‘bad boy’ — a very, very intelligent bad boy — make of himself?  Black Hawk, the book that’s going on the shelves November first, is partly a Pygmalion story telling what Adrian created out of the raw clay of a street rat and thief.

I hope folks enjoy reading about the teenaged Adrian as much as I enjoyed writing him.  I hope folks like seeing him change.

In maturity, Adrian is still dangerous, still ruthless, still unpredictable.  Just — he’s not at all a ‘boy’ of any kind.

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