Tag Archives: characters

Why do all the romance heroes have six packs? – Guest post by Roni Loren

First, I’d like to thank Kat for inviting me over here to her blog. You gotta love someone who says–I’d like you to guest post and can you make it about sex? LOL

Why, yes, yes I can actually. : )

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across this article via Twitter (where all interesting things come from) on Slate called P0rn Women Want: Why Does it Make Men So Uncomfortable?  The post was basically about this guy:

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James Deen. (Pauses to snicker about the ridiculous stage names.) But anyway, apparently this guy is causing a stir because he is appealing to women-which is obviously not the market p0rn targets. Here’s what they say of Deen:

Deen has carved out a niche in the industry by looking like the one guy who doesn’t belong there. Scroll through L.A.’s top p0rn agency sites and you’ll find… just a few dozen men available…. These guys all have a familiar look—neck chains, frosted tips, unreasonable biceps, tribal tattoos. Deen looks like he was plucked from a particularly intellectual frat house.

Which of course made me think–yes, this is why most women roll their eyes at p0rn. Beyond the complete lack of story line and emotional connection, the dudes are ugly and the girls are fake-looking. If the male actors looked like Alexander Skarsgard or Bradley Cooper, I’m thinking we ladies might change our mind and take a peek.

Come on, you know you’d look.
But the reason, the article hypothesizes, that guys who are “prettier” don’t get hired in p0rn is because it makes the guys watching it uncomfortable. Because *gasp* they don’t want to have any sexytime feelings about the guys. The post says:

The straight male performer must be attractive enough to serve as a prop, but not so attractive that he becomes the object of desire.

Hmm. Okay, maybe I could see that if a guy is particularly homophobic or un-evolved. But it seemed a little far-fetched. So, of course, I asked my husband (who is mostly evolved and finds p0rn more comedic than sexy) his opinion. After a derisive snort, he said, “It’s not about guys worrying about gay feelings. The reason is the same reason your romance novels have Mr. Perfect as the hero and Ms. Average Every Day Girl as the heroine.”

And you know what? He had a good point.

In fantasy, whether it be via books or something visual, we naturally put ourselves in the heroine’s (or hero’s if you’re a guy) shoes. If the heroine is written as some gorgeous model type who never gains a pound, never has an insecurity, and who wakes up with perfect hair–none of us are going to be able to relate. So most often, romance writers create heroines we “get”. And though she may actually BE beautiful, she doesn’t know it. We only see her beauty through the hero’s eyes when we’re in his POV. (Because isn’t that really our fantasy? That the guy we love sees us as the most beautiful girl even if we aren’t to the rest of the world.)

But on the flipside, in our fantasy, in addition to having the guy be smart and kind-hearted and loving, we do want him to look like Bradley Cooper or Alexander Skarsgard. Men haven’t cornered the market on being visual, you know. It’s not to say we hold up our mates to those six-pack ab, slay the dragon, alpha standards, but everything is exaggerated in fantasy.

Which is the same reason why the guys look like they do in p0rn and the girls are the exaggerated female “ideal” (giant boobs, skinny, long hair, always ready and willing, etc.) The guys don’t want to think–damn, in order to land that kind of girl I’d have to look like Brad Pitt. They want to think, hey, I’m better looking than that frosted-tipped, tribal tattooed guy. I could totally bed this girl.

*snort*

So even though men and women are built very differently, it seems we have some things in common when it comes to this. We’re all a little insecure and we all can go a little overboard in fantasy land. It does kind of make me want to write a less than perfect-looking hero though, just to make a point.

But in the meantime, you can admire the perfect abs of my hero Reid on the cover of CRASH INTO YOU. 😉  *pets*

Any thoughts on all of this? Anyone think it really is guys being afraid the pretty boys will make them think impure thoughts? And how do you like your heroes in your books? Does your mate ever give you flack for reading romance novels with half-naked men on the front?


Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has.
Her debut romance CRASH INTO YOU releases January 3, 2012 from Berkley Heat/Penguin. If you want to read more posts like this one or follow her journey to debut authorhood, you can visit her writing blog FictionGroupie or her author blog. She also tweets way too much for her own good.

Giveaway!

One lucky commenter will win a copy of Roni’s debut, Crash Into You. I’ll randomly select the winner on Tuesday December 27th. Good luck!
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How a small community can smother your characters

As a contemporary romance writer, I know that series set in small towns and tight-knit communities are insanely popular.

But there’s also a danger that, as a series grows, those communities can begin to smother the vibrancy of later novels and their characters.

This isn’t just a danger with small-town contemporary romance. It can happen in any series that focuses on a particular community, whether that’s the ton in Regency romance or a fantastical world completely of the author’s creation.

Here are the ways communities can alienate me, the reader, and my thoughts on how to avoid it.

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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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Ten tips on writing characters with accents, by Rose Lerner

Rose LernerAnyone who’s read one of Rose Lerner’s novels (In for a Penny and A Lily Among Thorns) will know that her characters come from a wide range of backgrounds. Rose is a master at writing accents so a reader can hear her characters’ distinctive voices.

She’s very generously written this post on how she writes characters with different accents, and she’s giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to one lucky commenter!

Hi everyone! Kat already wrote a great post about how I used accents in In for a Penny and a really awesome post on writing accents generally…I’ll try not to repeat myself, or her!

British people pay a lot of attention to accents. People from different regions and different social classes have marked differences in speech, and everyone is very conscious of that fact. Of course this is true in the States as well, but I really don’t think the degree is comparable.

I can think of several British memoirs off the top of my head that extensively discuss accents, either by referencing others’ accents by specific type or talking about the memoirist’s own accent (poor Roger Moore practically had a complex about not sounding posh enough!), and anyone remember that Monty Python sketch where no one can understand the rural accents and slang at the airfield?

So if, like me, you tend to write romances that have major characters from a variety of places and social classes, paying attention to accents is important. Here are a few guidelines and tips for how I do it:

1. I never write an accent phonetically.

Writing a particular word phonetically because its pronunciation is so different or it’s unique to a particular accent, okay. Writing all a character’s dialogue that way, no. Apart from being sometimes confusing for the reader, I’m going to come right out and say that I think this is rude.

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5 reasons I wish I were a romance heroine

Many of us romance readers wish we had the same things the heroines we read about get: a beautiful man who adores us, a close community of friends, fantastic sex, and a guaranteed happy ending.

But a tweet from Lauren Plude, editorial assistant at Grand Central Publishing, got me thinking. Lauren wrote: “One of the many reasons I sometimes wish I was a romance heroine–they never seem to have to wait for AM laundry delivery.”

Since I read that while working on a really annoying project, I started thinking about all the little blessings romance heroines have in their lives.

Forget the hot heroes; these are the real reasons I wish I were a romance heroine:

1. They never have to scrub toilets, grout or bathroom caulking.

2. Their hero is always willing to pitch in with dishwashing—often insisting on it without even being asked (unthinkable!).

3. If I were a Harlequin Presents heroine, I could own an art gallery in Sydney without actually having to work hard at managing it while I run around with my billionaire lover.

4. I’d have friends with exactly the skills and experience I’d need to rely on for every problem in my life.

5. Perhaps most importantly, though, nine hours at the office could be glossed over in a paragraph.

What are the little blessings that make you envy romance heroines?

This is cross-posted at The Season

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Interview with Kaki Warner – and giveaway!

Kaki WarnerKaki Warner may have debuted last year, but she swiftly became one of my all-time favorite novelists. Her RITA-award-winning historical Western novels are chock-full of quips, spine-tingling tension, and fascinating detail.

I’m so happy to have her here today as part of my Hearts and Minds giveaway, where you can win books that appeal to your heart and mind. Giveaway details are at the end of the post, after the interview.

Welcome, Kaki!

Hi, Kat.  Thanks for inviting me to cross the pond today.  I hope you had fun back on my side when you were at RWA Nationals.  Wish I could have been there, too.

Now on to the questions—and what fun ones they are!

1. Thanks! First off, how on earth do you get such gorgeous covers? Please tell me they’re paintings of actual places so I can put them on my travel list.

Heartbreak Creek coverI have been lucky with my covers.  But HEARTBREAK CREEK is the last one in this style.  With the next book in this series (COLORADO DAWN), we’re going with people.  Fully clothed, of course, and in a pose that might remind you a bit of Rhett and Scarlet on a GWTW poster.  (If only).

And starting in Oct/Nov/Dec, the Blood Rose Trilogy will be re-released in mass market with a brother on each cover.  And no, they don’t look much like how I envisioned them.

In fact, poor Brady was minus the mustache he was so proud of, so my husband photo-shopped one on for me.  Problem is, when I sent cover copies to various websites, I sent the wrong one.  (Fun trying to explain that to my editor.  But she was very gracious about it, thank goodness).

They’re nice covers, too, but the one of Hank (OPEN COUNTRY)… whew.  He’s exactly right.

2. The time and place you write about—the American West after the Civil War—is one that seemed to be skirted over in my high school history classes, and you make me so curious about it. What’s the strangest fact you’ve learned about American history from your research?

The period after the Civil War was a time of shocking and rapid change.  After so many years of destruction, the country seemed to explode with new ideas, innovations, and an urgent desire to escape the war-ravaged east and head west.

For five years ranches had gone untended, and when men returned home, they found unbranded cattle running wild all over the southwest.  Enterprising fellows gathered them up by the tens of thousands to stock newly formed ranches totaling hundreds of thousands of acres each.

Railroad expansion, the discovery of gold and silver, the curtailment of the Indian tribes, and the promise of free land, all drew people west by the droves.   But probably the most enduring legacy of those short years between the war and completion of the transcontinental railroad was the birth of the myth of the American cowboy.  And it’s still alive today.

3. Your first series, the Blood Rose trilogy, centers around three brothers struggling with their ranch in New Mexico Territory. Your latest focuses on women who are starting new lives in a Colorado mining town, and your humor shines through more. After having the Wilkins family in your head for decades, how difficult was it to come up with a new community of characters, a different setting, and a lighter tone?

Pieces of Sky coverIt was easy.  Just cut back on the cussing and kill fewer people.

Actually the Wilkins brothers were pretty intense.  There was a lot of family history to deal with, which made those books a little darker.  With the brides trilogy I just tried to come up with some ladies I’d like to hang out with.

I think when you get a bunch of girlfriends together, there may be a few tears, but there’s also a lot of laughter.  That’s what I wanted to capture.  Even during the hard moments, these ladies find a way to lighten the mood with laughter.

4. Your characters are always so intricately drawn and realistic that I can still hear their conversations in my head months after I’ve read one of your novels. Now, that might say just as much about my mental state as it does about your skill as an author, but pushing that aside for a moment: how developed are your characters when you start writing a new story, and how much better do you get to know them as you write?

Open Country coverThey’re not all that well-developed at the onset.  I know how each character wants the world to see him or her, but it takes a while even for me to get beneath the layers to the person underneath.

I joke about it, but I’m still learning about them when I get to the end of the book.  For instance, I didn’t know Declan was afraid of heights until page 300.  It made sense, but also made for some interesting re-writes.

But by the time I finish a book, I know the characters as well as I know anybody.  And not to worry—I still hear them in my head, too.  And probably always will.  It keeps them alive in my imagination.

5. I love the way you write male characters. They’re exactly how I imagine frontiersmen would’ve been: tough, quietly funny and mystified by women. Unlike some romance heroes, they don’t seem like a woman’s idealized version of men. Do you find men easy to write? Or do you have some special insight into their brains?

Chasing the Sun coverI think most men are pretty basic.  That’s not to say they’re simple or lack depth.  But most of the time they’re fairly up front with what going on with them, and aren’t compelled to drag everything out and think it to death.

There’s that old joke:  Ask a man how he feels and he’ll say, “Well, I’m not hungry, or thirsty, or sleepy, or cold, or hot, or horny…so I guess I’m OK.”  So when I’m writing male characters, I try to keep it simple.  In dialogue they use fewer words—especially modifiers, or words that describe emotion.  They speak in shorter sentences and give briefer answers.

They often don’t speak at all, or rely on looks and/or monosyllabic or non-verbal responses.  I think they do this because they’re not really interested in the conversation, and are just trying to say as little as possible to stay out of trouble.  But that might just be at my house.

6. Every mother says she doesn’t have a favorite child, but all children know it’s a lie. I suspect every author has a favorite character, even if they won’t admit it. Go on—who’s your favorite character of the Runaway Brides series?

It changes with every book.  In HEARTBREAK CREEK, I really liked Declan—I liked his honesty, sense of honor, his bewilderment, and the fact that he always tried to do the right thing.

Then I wrote COLORADO DAWN, and suddenly Ash (Angus Wallace) captured my imagination.  Probably because he’s Scottish—my grandfather was Scottish—or because he’s a little lost and at a confused point in his life, and that’s hard for anybody—especially an ex-military officer.  But mostly I loved his sense of humor.  Humor is a big deal with me.  A failing, almost.  I’m a lot of fun at funerals.

As for the ladies of the brides trilogy—they’re like my friends—and I really do love them equally, but for entirely different reasons.  They’re all smart, loving, gentle-hearted warriors.  What’s not to love?

Giveaway!

Kaki’s not just smart and funny – she’s also generous. She’s giving away three copies of her latest release, Heartbreak Creek.

That means three winners!

And, since this giveaway is to celebrate my husband finishing his PhD, I’m also giving away one of the books that he wrote about in this thesis – one of our winners will receive Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude, a memoir exploring Auster’s relationships with his father and son (I figured this one is only fitting to give away with Kaki’s novels, since they’re full of strong, silent, difficult-to-get-to-know men).

Just leave a comment below to be entered. I’ll choose the winners on Monday, August 15, when my next guest – Beverley Kendall – will be joining me!

Don’t miss any of my Hearts and Minds interviews; make sure you subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter, or like me on Facebook.

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