We've all heard this piece of wisdom: "Food is the way to a man's heart." But Audrey Shulman took that advice to heart and set out on a year-long quest to find the man of her dreams by bringing home-made cakes to bars. Her book, Sitting in Bars with Cake, details her bar-and-cake crawl of love. In this guest post, Shulman tells us about her journey and the end result of all that cake.
Two years ago, I was 26, and I had been single for about 26 years. I had tried online dating, blind dating, and yes, I'll admit it, hosting large scale southern potlucks in hopes of enticing well-mannered male dinner guests who would offer to bring a side dish and stay after to help clean up.
Despite my best efforts, none of these dating strategies worked, so I decided to bake cakes and take them to bars until I found a boyfriend.
What's wrong with you? You might be asking. You must be, like, seriously deranged.
I just really thought it could work.
I had stumbled upon the idea after bringing homemade cake to a bar for my best friend's birthday resulted in some unexpected success. I had been serving pieces to all of our friends, when I looked up to see a group of guys ogling the cake from across the courtyard; offering them each a piece gave way to loud, hyperbolic feedback. "You MADE this?" they asked, inhaling the cake. "Are you an ANGEL?"
It seemed that cake was not only a boy magnet, but also the icebreaker of the century. I never would have had the gumption to go up to a guy in a bar, but with a cake in my hands, I could talk to anyone. So I decided to try it. For an entire year. Sure, I would have to start baking a lot, and I guess I would probably have to learn to drink, but sitting in bars with cake sounded like a fun experiment.
When I started this project, I had about as much male experience as a fairly progressive nun. Now I was meeting actors and surfers and cardiologists at 2:00 in the morning, forging BFF friendships because I was giving them cake for free. I was chatting up toy designers and comics and rocket scientists, dating Hollywood assistants and writers and a guy who claimed he stole other people's information for work but in a legal way. The guys I was meeting were from Los Angeles and Texas and England and India, occasionally married, engaged or very recently dumped. I was learning valuable lessons from our interactions, such as: You can bond with frat boys over more than beer pong and Cancun. Male follow-up skills are slower than dial-up. Sometimes your best self is just your real one.
The mission to find a boyfriend slowly turned into more of a mission to find myself. By committing to this sugar-fueled dating strategy, I was getting more confident as a baker and more confident as a single person in the murky relationship waters of LA. By opening myself up in ways I never had before, I was winning, regardless—boyfriend or no boyfriend.
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Former comedian Eric Jerome Dickey has made a name for himself as the New York Times best-selling author of steamy romances, and his latest novel, One Night, is out now. Of course, you may have noticed that Dickey is male, which is quite the anomaly in a genre dominated by female authors. In this guest post, Dickey tells us how he got started in romance writing.
“Your book sucks.”
I was at a convention in St. Louis, with an anticipated crowd of tens of thousands. I was seated at table alone, a few of my books in front of me, watching hundreds of people pass by, when a 30-something lady stopped and stood over me, scowling like I had slapped her momma with a cold pork chop on Vegetarian Day.
I paused, took a breath, and asked myself WWJPD?
What would James Patterson do?
She stepped closer, one hand on her hip, in my space like she owned St. Louis, and repeated, “Your book sucks.”
“Did you read it?”
“I don’t have to,” she snapped.
“You didn’t read Sister, Sister, so how do you know anything about it?”
She motioned toward the carefree professional women on the cover, tsked and looked me up and down. “You’re a man writing about women. I don’t have to read it to know it sucks. Men know nothing about women.”
Then she walked off, her hips showing me how happy she was to have delivered her message.
So it goes. So it went for a long while. I received hate mail based entirely on the fact that I was a guy who had written female characters.
I read all genres, from Stephen King to Angelou, from Mosley to Judy Blume. I assumed the rest of the reading world was like me, that they read across the board, more amazed by stories than by the gender of the writer. A good story makes you forget about the writer and cling to the characters.
More than one book club told me I should be happy they selected my novel because they usually only selected novels by female writers. That’s what it was like for me at the start.
So how did I end up being the man writing female characters? Glad you asked. I was in a writing class at Cal Poly Pomona, only two guys and about 15 women. Our assignment was to write 500 words from the opposite gender’s POV. The idea terrified me. But over two days, I wrote what eventually turned into Sister, Sister—close to 10,000 words. The lead character was a woman, nothing to indicate race, vague on description; the women in the classroom were ecstatic. They were so sure that another woman had written my piece that when I raised my hand to claim the story, they shrugged it off as a joke.
Back in the 90s I was on the incoming wave of male writers who weren’t writing political thrillers or angry fiction—but that was the genre suggested to me in the 300 rejection letters I received. Men wrote certain things and women wrote certain things; that was just how it went.
That first book tour, I left St. Louis having sold only three novels in eight hours. I’ve now written more than 100 characters, won many awards and had a novel banned. But sometimes I think about that insulted-and-enraged-for-no-reason-lady I met in St. Louis.
I chuckle and hope she’s well, healthy and blessed.
I am. That has never changed.
I have to admit, as my latest offering, One Night, prepares to hit the stands, my grin is a bit broader these days. Even on dark days, I feel the sun on my face.
I hope that woman has found what brings her joy.
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In case you were unaware, the best-selling author Christina Lauren is actually two authors: best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. In this guest post, they talk about what it's like to write as a team, their unconventional creative process and their latest collaboration.
Most writers work alone, so as co-authors, we’ve found that people are curious about how we work as a team. It’s a horrifying prospect to some writers, the idea of letting someone else into the creative process, but we honestly—HONESTLY—don’t see how co-authorless writers do it. We’re guessing alcohol.
Exactly 722 miles separate our doorsteps, but—thankfully—it’s an odd month when we don’t see each other. We outline in person . . . and—thankfully, again—there always seems to be another project to outline. (See also: We are lucky!)
For us, outlining is really just talking about the book. Sometimes it happens in restaurants (oops to anyone sitting within earshot), the car or even while waiting in line at Disneyland. We ask: Who are these characters? Why do they fall in love? What gets in the way? What makes them different? Our outlines are usually pretty simple—a sentence, maybe a very short paragraph reminding us what happens—and we go from there. We try not to go into too much detail at this stage because if we’ve learned one thing after writing fifteen books together, it’s that things change the moment we put words on a page.
We draft alone—our processes are so different we’d drive the other insane—but in shared documents so we always know what comes before and after what we’re writing. Sometimes we divide by POV, sometimes it’s based on who wants to tackle which parts, and sometimes it’s based on our strengths. We draft fast and then revise, revise, revise.
And then we revise some more.
It’s easy for readers and aspiring writers to feel discouraged when they look at their draft and then at glossy finished books on the bookstore shelf. Some writers draft clean; we don’t, and our books come alive in revision. Sweet Filthy Boy started out in alternating POV’s, but had to be cut to one when we realized a character was keeping a secret. Beautiful Secret was finished in July, but went through edits up until January because we hadn’t quite gotten the nuances of the characters right yet. We rewrote about 85 percent of Dark Wild Night because while the story itself was fine . . . it didn’t fit the characters at all.
And that’s okay; sometimes writers need to do the wrong thing before they see the right direction. Writing can be isolating, and any creative work is so subjective. We all wonder if anyone else will ever relate to this thing we’re creating. It’s why we’re grateful to have each other, as well as the editor and agent we have! And priority number one? Get better with every book.
Thanks, you two!
(Author photo by Alyssa Michelle)
New York Times best-selling author Kylie Scott has made a name for herself writing about the scintillating love lives of the (sadly fictional) rock band, Stage Dive. Deep, out now, is the final book in the series. In this guest post, Scott tells us about what drew her to rockers, her decision to feature a pregnant heroine and her thoughts on closing out the series.
Rock stars are funny things. Ever since prime-time TV deemed Elvis’ hip-shaking antics too raunchy to show on air, we’ve been fascinated with their lives, both on stage and off. Rock stars push boundaries and live life on the edge. They stand up beneath the spotlight in front of thousands and both enthrall and entertain. And right from the get go, more than any other topic, they were singing about sex, love and relationships. Take Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” or Little Richard’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” Sex, sex and more sex. How about Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” or The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”? All of the longing and heartbreak you could ask for and then some.
For me, writing the Stage Dive series meant finally putting all the hours I spent in my youth sitting in front of music video shows, or with my ear glued to the radio hoping to catch a certain song, to good use. In the first book, Lick, there was lead guitar/song writer David. He was the tortured artist, emo-type dude. Next came manic, life-of-the-party drummer Mal, because filters . . . why would you even? Then came lead singer Jimmy, the messed-up, moody-ass show pony with addiction issues (He’s my favorite. I can’t help it. I love an asshole.) And finally, bass player Ben: big, bearded and simple in his ways. The man just wants to make music. So of course I screwed with him big time and had him accidentally knock up his best friend’s kid-sister. Angsty complications—I love them.
But why a pregnant heroine? Good question. You see, as we all know, in real life, sex has consequences. Sometimes those consequences are as simple as losing a bra down the back of the headboard or doing the walk of shame. Other times, they’re unexpected pregnancies that throw your whole life for a loop.
Now, despite the rather loud voices in my head, I know Deep is just a book. As much as I’d love to have a beer with Lena, it ain’t gonna happen. But romance novels are an opportunity for us to explore all those nitty-gritty relationship and female-orientated issues. Hold your horses! I’m not saying men can’t or don’t write romance, or that pregnancy doesn’t affect the other partner. What I am saying is, that in this book, written from the heroine’s perspective, we have a chance to dig deep into the mind of a young woman in this situation. It means we can bring unrequited love (*swoon*) out to play whilst also taking a peek at the biological, emotional and mental changes a woman undergoes when she’s knocked-up—both the funny and the frightening. Another reason I gave Liz a bun in the oven? I hadn’t written about a pregnant heroine before, and I like to mix things up, set myself a challenge. Also, pregnant women can, and do, have sex. We don’t suddenly lose all personality and become solely a breeding machine when sperm meets egg.
I’m going to miss the Stage Dive crew. They taught me a lot over the course of four books and I’m grateful for the experience. Will I ever write another story about them? Honestly, I don’t know. Right now, it’s time for something new. In the future though? There is that god-awful Martha woman still hanging around making side-eyes at Sam . . .
There's a hot new genre that's been floating around the publishing world for a few years called New Adult Romance. If that's leaving you scratching your head, no worries! Best-selling author K.A. Tucker, whose New Adult romance Becoming Rain is now in stores, is here to explain what New Adult really means.
When I'm asked what genres I write in and answer "New Adult Contemporary Romance" and "New Adult Romantic Suspense," the follow-up question tends to be: "What does ‘New Adult’ mean?” It's a question with an answer that varies depending on whom you ask. But over the past few years, a number of defining characteristics have emerged.
Most New Adult authors will agree that their characters should fit into an age window of 18 to 26 years old. Anything younger is typically termed Young Adult; anything older is simply Adult.
These characters are not simply a specific age, however; they’re also emerging into the world as adults and are no longer under parental supervision. They're making decisions about their futures and, many times, those decisions are inspired by a sense of newfound freedom. They're driven by emotion and learning through mistakes. This is a very real stage of growth that most people go through, and New Adult is meant to capture the triumphs and struggles that accompany it.
How these triumphs and struggles play out varies drastically for the individual, however. Many young people go to college, but many don't. Some still have the financial support of their parents to keep them afloat; others are maintaining full-time jobs just to keep a roof over their heads. Some are already looking for that significant person to spend the rest of their lives with, while others can't see themselves settling down for another decade. Most really don't have a clue what they want to do with the rest of their lives now that they're in the driver's seat.
All of these motivators, combined with evolving personalities, make this stage incredibly rich for story-telling.
In fiction, an author's own experiences, belief systems and comfort levels influence how their characters will handle the obstacles they face. I like to create characters that make bad decisions. I put them in uncomfortable situations and weave in unusual challenges to see how it will all play out for them. This makes for somewhat unconventional New Adult plot lines (in Becoming Rain, the two main protagonists are an undercover police officer and a guy entering a car theft ring), but I don’t let that deter me. The only question I ask myself is, "If it were me, how would I have handled this in my early 20s—and how would I handle it now?" If the answers are drastically different, that's when I know I'm onto something.
Best-selling author Robyn Carr is celebrating the release of One Wish, the latest novel in her Thunder Point series. In this blog post, Carr writes about what women's fiction and romance mean to her. If you thought romance novels were just about the steamy scenes, Carr is here to set you straight!
When my son was in Iraq, we Skyped almost every day. We had more long and meaningful discussions while he was in a war zone than we had when he lived under my roof. And there were times it could get a little awkward, like when I was on a writing roll, in the story zone, and his first question is, “Do you know David Baldacci?”
“Not personally,” I said. “Why?”
“Someone gave me one of his books and told me to read it; I might like it.”
“I don’t have one,” he said.
“Stand by,” I said.
So I emailed him a book. It was with great satisfaction that I heard him say, “Hey. This is good.”
The more interesting thing happened later. First, he found that many of his female co-workers had known about me for a long time and were fans. That really jazzed him up; finally made his mother somebody. He did some mild raving about the book, and I offered him the next one in the series.
“No offense, Mom, but it’s a chick book.”
Yes, it’s a chick book, something I’m rather proud of. But what I do is write romance and women’s fiction, which is about women, for women and written largely by women. My books, the chick books of this century, celebrate women. And because of the digital age, the response is immediate! Any writer of fiction for women who doesn’t know what their readers most enjoy, what brings the greatest reader satisfaction, is asleep at the switch. They tell us every day: Dear Ms. Carr, I know just how Mel felt because I lost my husband at a very young age. Dear Ms. Carr, I escaped from an abusive relationship and you really nailed it—thank you. Dear Ms. Carr, My son was bullied in high school and I’m so glad to see one of my favorite romance writers address that subject.
I have a lot of male readers, too—I hear from them regularly. One of them surprised and thrilled me. I lost my leg in Afghanistan and it was after reading your book about a soldier in an almost identical situation, I’ve decided I really need counseling. I don’t know how my wife has lived with me this long!
I realize that what I really do when I write romance is less about love and sex and more about hope.
I write about the things that are part of a woman’s world: the family drama, community cohesiveness, neighbors helping neighbors. My readers visit my books daily for the chance to relate to the characters who share their burdens and joys, to use strong characters as role models, to be entertained while they struggle to find their own happy endings. Sometimes, they come to me at their most vulnerable and entrust me to take them on a meaningful journey. By the time I’m on the home stretch of a new book, I realize that what I really do when I write romance is less about love and sex and more about hope.
My son has been home from Iraq for quite a while now, safe and sound, and I’m meeting the most interesting people in Thunder Point. In One Wish, I met a former figure skating champion who craves a quieter life and Mr. Hottie High School teacher, Troy Headly, who is on hand to prove to her that it doesn’t have to be all that quiet. And in A New Hope, which will be out in June, Ginger Dysart chooses Thunder Point as the town in which she’ll reclaim her life. Who would have guessed she’d find it in the arms of a handsome Basque farmer? And there’s more—join me for Wildest Dreams at the end of summer when a world famous triathlete mixes it up with a local nurse, and together, they dare to dream the wildest dreams.
Join me in Thunder Point—the place where wishes are made, hopes are finally realized and dreams come true.
We're excited to announce that BookPage will be launching Smitten, a monthly romance newsletter, next week. Smitten will feature exclusive guest author blog posts and Q&As with some of your favorite authors along with our monthly Romance Top Pick, a digital-first feature and reviews of some of the month’s biggest romance novels. Sign up for Smitten here.
Andrea Laurence's latest series, Brides and Belles, focuses on the women behind the romance: wedding planners. And we'll admit that we're doubly intrigued by this series because it takes place in Nashville, home of BookPage! In this guest blog post, Laurence writes about her inspiration behind the series and the favorite wedding details.
This January, I was very excited to kick off my new Brides and Belles miniseries with Harlequin Desire. It’s the first of four books that follow the love lives of a group of Nashville wedding specialists. I came up with the idea several years ago when I was going through a period when all my friends were getting married. Every wedding was different; every one was special in its own way. It’s also very stressful. While I love the concept of weddings—picking out cake flavors and dresses—the reality is hard work.
It made me wonder about the people who manage weddings for a living. I couldn’t imagine the stress of creating someone’s perfect day each and every week. There’s always drama: The bride can be a handful, and so many little pieces have to fall in place perfectly to pull it off. Hats off to the folks who make these days happen! It got me thinking that it probably takes a toll on their personal lives.
Oh, the irony of being in the wedding industry and incapable of finding someone to marry! That’s where the story began for me. I picked four different women who join together as friends to become business partners. They each have their own specialty—planning, catering, photography and decor. They also each have their own relationship drama.
I started with Bree, the photographer, and asked myself what the single most uncomfortable thing would be for her to do. The answer was to take engagement photos of her ex and his new fiancée. Ouch, right? And so Snowed In with Her Ex was born. In the second book, Amelia, the caterer, is the one who has always wanted the big, fancy wedding. What was the worst thing she could do? Elope in Vegas with her best friend! That’s where my February release, Thirty Days to Win His Wife, starts.
I’m currently finishing up the last two books in the series, and I have to say that writing about weddings and the people who plan them is so much fun. I really do enjoy all the wedding details. It’s hard for me to narrow down my favorite part, but I would have to say it’s seeing which dress each bride chose and what her wedding cake looked like. I think those details tell a lot about the bride and the couple as a whole.
What’s your favorite part of a wedding?
Thanks Andrea! You can visit Andrea's website and find more titles by Andrea Laurence here: BAM | B&N | Indiebound | Amazon
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Best-selling author Jayne Ann Krentz's latest romantic-suspense novel is Trust No One. But you may know the author by one of the two other names she writes under, Jayne Castle or Amanda Quick. So why did she decide to write under three different names? Allow her to explain the allure of the pen name.
Yes, it’s weird but true—I write under three names. Why? It’s complicated.
I swear I did not set out to create three writing careers. I do not recommend this publishing path to aspiring writers. I mean, what kind of strategy is that? The drawback to having three names is obvious at every signing event that I do—about half the people who come through the line will say: “I didn’t know you were Jayne Ann Krentz,” or “I didn’t know you wrote as Amanda Quick” or “I didn’t realize you were Jayne Castle.”
The fact that I write under three names is in every bio on every one of my books. Hey, it’s not like I’m trying to keep it a secret. But evidently very few people actually read those author bios!
So, for what it’s worth, my advice to budding authors is choose one name and stick with it, because if you don’t you will spend the rest of your career trying to explain yourself to readers.
That said, the reason my path took three different names is not because I write three very different kinds of stories. I have always written romantic-suspense under each name. It is my core story—the book of my heart, as writers say—and I expect to spend the rest of my career exploring that story. Romance and danger is a perfect combo for me. It’s what I love to read and it’s what I love to write.
But I do like to shift fictional landscapes, so I decided to use a different pen name for each world. Turns out readers have strong preferences when it comes to settings. A lot of people won’t read my paranormal landscapes, even if they love me in my other worlds. Others only want my historical or contemporary backdrops.
So, the only big advantage of my three-name career? When readers pick up one of my books, they know exactly which fictional landscape they will enter.
In Trust No One, you will enter my Jayne Ann Krentz contemporary world. The setting is Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. The heroine, Grace Elland, has a past that she had hoped would stay buried. Let’s just say that going home can be murder. . .
Thanks Jayne/Amanda/Jayne! You can find Trust No One online here: BAM | B & N | Indiebound | Amazon
(Author photo by Mark Von Borstel)
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Romance author Terry Spear continues her Heart of the Wolf series with a holiday twist in A Highland Wolf Christmas. In this guest post, Terry Spear talks about holiday traditions—both for her family and for her wolfpack!
In my newest paranormal romance, A Highland Wolf Christmas, the wolves find their Christmas traditions changing with the changing dynamics of the pack, just as they are in my family. We always open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve and have a nice dinner of some sort—usually a roast. When the kids were little, we either spent Christmas at home or visited one set of grandparents. Now my kids live far away from me, and while they're both married, one of them still comes home to visit both her in-laws and me during the holidays. My son, however, is in the Air Force and has had to fly missions the last two Christmases, so we celebrated Christmas early at Thanksgiving last year. This year, my son and his wife are coming to visit, and we'll celebrate Christmas early again.
So you see, family is still very important, but because of jobs and where everyone lives, traditions are always changing. But the one thing I still am able to do with my daughter and son-in-law is have a turkey and all the fixings, open Christmas presents on Christmas Day, play games and watch Christmas movies. Then they’re off to visit the son-in-law’s family for even more Christmas presents and food.
We had a really small family growing up—no cousins, no family to speak of—just Mom, Dad, my sister and me. So we never went anywhere for Christmas; we just stayed home and celebrated with the family. One year, to change things up, we opened all of our Christmas presents Christmas Eve. The next day, getting up to stare at the bare floor around the tree, was a total anticlimax. From then on, we always opened one present on Christmas Eve and saved all the rest for Christmas Day.
Just like with the wolf pack in the Highlands, traditions have evolved as well. Americans have brought some new traditions to the Highland wolf pack, and the Highland wolves have shared some of their interesting customs. The one I loved most was the burning of the Christmas lists in the fire, the smoke going up the chimney and carrying the list to Lapland and Santa. Because of the botanist in the family, the wolves also started a new tradition of putting up a real Christmas tree. And they've started a Christmas bazaar, which has brought the pack together in a fun way. Learning new traditions and keeping the old can be enjoyable and add a spark to holiday celebrations. The key is to share the enjoyment with friends and family!