TO TRAVEL TO NEW YORK CITY for a writer’s conference is awesome.
That it was a conference of more than two thousand romance writers and industry professionals made it a further shade of awesome.
That I attended the Romance Writers of America national convention in July 2015 as a multi-published author with Harlequin, the biggest publisher of romance in the world, shot the awesomeness right off the top of the scale.
The conference was held at the Marriott Marquise hotel—right on Times Square. RWA delegates prefer to stay in the same hotel as the conference is held.
I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful roommate, blogger Kim Lowe from the popular book blog, SOS Aloha. We barely knew each other but ended the conference firm friends. I also caught I up with writer friends from all over the world.
The convention comprises a myriad talks and workshops aimed at the beginner romance writer to best-selling authors wanting to keep on top of their professional game. The conference is also a good opportunity for authors to meet with their editors and literary agents—many of whom are in New York.
Unpublished writers get a chance to pitch their stories in one-to-one sessions with editors and agents—which can be nerve-wracking but ultimately rewarding. You see people practising their “pitches” all over the hotel.
One of the highlights of the conference is the massive book-signing that is open for free to the romance reading public. Publishers donate books for sale and the proceeds are donated to charities promoting literacy in the host state. This year the signing raised more than $US48,000 for literacy. A fabulous result—after all, it’s in our interest as authors to have a literate population!
Hundreds of authors, ranging from best-selling mega-stars to newbies with their first book, are assigned space on tables set up in rows in a vast room and sat in alphabetical order. Keen romance fans by the thousand start lining up early in the day for a chance to meet their favorite authors and buy a signed book. The noise level is extraordinary!
Other book-signings are held throughout the conference by the major publishers—the difference being that the books at these signings are free. The signings are open only for fee-paying delegates to the conference and are very well attended. We’re all readers before we’re writers. And free books. Needless to say a stash of new books made its way home with me.
A standout of the conference is the parties the big publishers host for their authors, usually on the Friday night. The granddaddy of the parties is the one put on by Harlequin. And what a party! Writers joke they want to get published by Harlequin just to get invited.
Friday night can be a tad dismal for unpublished authors at the conference unless you take matters into your own hands. At one RWA conference years ago a group of us who knew each other online and were meeting face-to-face held our own “pity party”. We enjoyed ourselves immensely—and in later years were able to catch up with each other at our various publishers’ parties. Because we all got published—in part because of what we’d learned from attending these conferences.
Much coveted were this year’s invitations to Harlequin’s Black and White Ball held at The Starlight Roof at the famous Waldorf Astoria hotel on Park Avenue.
Many of us writers spend most of our time wearing yoga pants and sitting at our computers. This was glamour indeed—one author told me going to the party was not only the highlight of the conference, but also one of the highlights of her life. Guests took the theme to heart by wearing gorgeous outfits in black and white.
They say a writer’s conference comprises a group of introverts desperately pretending to be extroverts. They did a very good job of it at the Harlequin party.
Formalities were kept to a minimum and then the dance floor was thrown open. Harlequin imports the same DJ from San Francisco every year and he knows exactly the music a bunch of writers and publishing staff of a range of ages wants. Everyone danced, danced, danced without inhibition. I got a blister on my toe, which needn’t have happened as Harlequin provides a pair of thick socks to each guest so they can slip off their shoes to dance.
Famous authors and high-ranking editors and publishers joined in dancing alongside first-timers. (Yes, Nora Roberts was dancing right next to me!) One author told me the dancing reminded her of long-ago sorority parties. Most of the authors are women and there was a wonderful spirit of camaraderie. In such glamorous surroundings, with an open bar and endless chocolate desserts on offer, it really was the perfect party.
I started off the conference feeling a bit grumpy, overly jet-lagged and wondering if I should have come. Was it worth it for a trip of just six days? My flight from Sydney, Australia was delayed by six hours and missed the connection in Los Angeles to New York. Instead of arriving at 5pm, I arrived at 1am the next morning. Then I lost my iPhone (thankfully someone handed it in.) To top it off, I realised I had packed two left shoes of two pairs of completely different black sandals!
Those early qualms soon dissolved in the sheer awesomeness of attending a conference of this size and professionalism. I even managed to see a little of New York on the Sunday after the conference ended (I’ve been there before and done the sights). And to my utter joy, discovered the shops were open until 9pm that Sunday because of the sales. The New York sales where everything was massively reduced. (Some new shoes with both a right and a left were purchased!)
Next year’s conference is in San Diego, California, a place I’ve long wanted to visit. Will I go? I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the kind of bargain airfare that got me to New York comes up later in the year.
Because back in my yoga pants, writing, writing, writing to finish a novel to meet a deadline, I’m fired with inspiration and the satisfaction that I’m doing absolutely what I want to do. The conference works to make me feel connected to the bigger publishing world beyond my desk and screen.
Kandy’s latest release from Harlequin Romance is Hired by the Brooding Billionaire released on August 1, 2015.
“Beauty and the reclusive billionaire…
When billionaire Declan Grant decides his estate’s enormous garden needs taming, he hires idealistic horticulturalist Shelley Fairhill to take on the challenge. Since losing his wife, Declan has adjusted to a life of self-imposed isolation—he wants Shelley to tackle the weeds, then leave.
But as Shelley gradually restores order and unexpected beauty to his garden, her caring nature also begins to thaw the ice encasing Declan’s heart. Can he let Shelley’s light in and finally let his second chance at love blossom?”
There are few places more romantic than the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali. No wonder it was where I chose to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary last year. Just me and my husband in our own private villa at a gorgeous hotel in Seminyak, on the west coast. A week of utter bliss!
It was one of those vacations that I couldn’t fault. The weather was perfect, the resort* divine and the Balinese people as charming and hospitable as we remembered from our first visit to the tropical island fourteen years previously.
No wonder I chose Bali as the setting for my fourth book for Harlequin Romance, From Paradise to…Pregnant!— released in print and e-book on June 02 in North America, the UK and Australia and New Zealand. How could I resist such a perfect place for a romance?
My heroine Zoe and hero Mitch knew each other at high school—he the jock, she the nerd—but their friendship didn’t end well. When an earth tremor hits Bali, they meet again as they’re both staying at the same hotel. (Yes, I was inspired by the area where we stayed. No, we didn’t experience an earth tremor when we were in Bali!)
As they comfort each other after the shock of the earthquake, a private villa with its own pool became the perfect place for Zoe and Mitch to make amends for the past and become aware of their intense attraction to each other.
We loved the food in Bali, so of course I had to have the newly reunited couple share a meal. I wish I could recreate some of the delicious dishes we had there. I’ve looked up recipes online but they don’t taste the same. Next time I go to Bali, I’ll do a cooking course!
Of course, as is the way of romance novels, a lot happens between Zoe and Mitch’s reunion and the end of the book where they have a happy-ever-after ending. They leave Bali behind them as they travel home to different ends of the world — but the memories stay with them.
The memories have stayed with me too — I can’t wait to go back to Bali.
From Paradise to…Pregnant! has two covers, one for the North American market with the same image used for the Australian cover, and one for the UK. I think both reflect the feel of falling in love in a tropical paradise. The first one could be in that very pool in the villa in Bali and the second one on the beach.
From Paradise to…Pregnant! is available where Harlequin books are sold and at onlinebook retailers.
*We stayed at The Elysian in Seminyak and can highly recommend it.
ONE THING I REALLY LOVE ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR is creating settings for my books. The most fun are settings that spring from my imagination but are heavily influenced by real life places I have visited.
For my fictional small coastal town of Dolphin Bay, the setting of my February 2014release, The Summer They Never Forgot, I was influenced by the beautiful south coast of New South Wales, Australia, about four hours south of Sydney.
I have spent many happy vacations there and plundered memories of quaint towns, pristine beaches and unspoiled bushland to create Dolphin Bay. It was here I first saw the enchanting sight of dolphins frolicking in the surf. My Top Pick review at RT Book Reviews says the setting “is described so beautifully, readers will almost feel the sand between their toes”.
The people of my fictional Dolphin Bay celebrate the dolphins that come to frolic in their waters in images and representations of dolphins all over town, from dolphin decals to dolphin trash cans.
Here, I was influenced by the delightful small, beachside town of Penguin in the southern Australian island state of Tasmania. There are penguins everywhere in Penguin! I personally love dolphins so did for Dolphin Bay what the good folk of Penguin do for their town.
When eighteen months ago I stayed at the wonderful Blue Dolphin Inn in Cambria, California, and saw how cleverly they used dolphins in their décor, I knew I was on the right track.
Of course in The Summer They Never Forgot the dolphins aren’t what have stayed in my heroine Sandy Adam’s memories of Dolphin Bay—her thoughts center around handsome surfer Ben Morgan the first love she’d never been able to forget. When Sandy and Ben are reunited after twelve years will they get a second chance at a forever love?
The Summer They Never Forgot, was released inFebruary 2014 in the US, the UK and Australia.
Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction.
Visit Kandy at her website
Thanks to Tania Mayrhofer for the surf photos.
(This blog was first published in an edited form at Tote Bags ‘n’ Blogs in January 2014)
THE RELENTLESS CHORUS of cicadas has been the soundtrack to summer in my part of Down Under: so blaringly loud at times we’ve had to shout at each other to be heard over it.
Apparently, breeding conditions were perfect back in 2007 and we’ve been graced with record numbers of cicadas this year. An early, hot summer has also helped.
To me, it’s a happy sound, reminiscent of the long, hot summer days of childhood. One distinct memory of my Sydney suburban childhood is of walking to church for Christmas midnight mass with the cicadas singing as loudly at night as they did during the day. In our fanciful minds, we thought they were rejoicing along with us.
My brothers used to climb trees to catch cicadas and keep them in boxes—with strict parental instructions to release them back to the trees at the end of the day (which they did).
The different varieties were prized and even traded: green grocer, cherry nose, floury baker, black prince, yellow Monday, double drummer. The collecting of cicadas seemed more a boy thing than a girl thing, though we were all both fascinated and squeamish when those poor captive creatures proceeded to do what all the frantic singing was about and mated.
According to the wonderfully titled article in The Sydney Morning Herald, Suicide song: cicada sex racket risks death for chance at love: “Cicadas are the suicidal lovers of the insect world, risking death for several weeks of singing and sex.”
Only male cicadas sing and they do so to attract a mate—the louder and more vigorously he sings, the more he advertises himself as a worthy, virile mate for a female. The downside of this blatant self-promotion is he also attracts predators such as birds and wasps that like to snack on cicadas.
This season, apparently, there are so many cicadas around that their predators are sick of them. The birds are weary of cicada on the menu—leaving those males free to sing and attract females and start the cycle all over again. (Seems to me, the birds then head for my fruit trees for dessert.)
After she’s chosen a mate, the female cicada lays her eggs in the bark of a tree. When the nymphs hatch they drop to the ground where they burrow deep and stay there for a number of years. They emerge and shed their skins, leaving a dry, brown endoskeleton.
Another enduring childhood memory is of watching in awe as a cicada emerged from its humble brown skin as a magnificent greengrocer, its gauzy, emerald-veined wings crumpled at first and then drying in the sun before it flew away.
This year I’ve enjoyed the letters pages of our daily newspapers as excited readers report sightings of their various favorites. I suspect they, too, were enjoying the same nostalgic blast from childhoods when the long Aussie summer school holidays were spent roaming suburban streets and bush-land without parental supervision. The soundtrack to this freedom? The relentless sound of cicadas.
There’s one thing that puzzles me about that sound. I’m no entomologist, and wonder at the way these insects communicate. One moment the volume of their song is full blast then, at the seeming snap of some cicalian finger, they’re silent. All at once. Thousands of them. How does that happen?
I’ll be sad when the season ends and the sound of cicadas fades into the memory of another summer. I just hope enough of them have successfully mated, so I have another bumper cicada summer to look forward to in seven or so years time.
Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction.
Visit Kandy at her website
My first book with Harlequin is published today—The Summer They Never Forgot is available in print and e-book from wherever Harlequin series books are sold. It’s a deeply emotional, heart-warming story of rekindled love.
Sometime last century I submitted my first romance to Harlequin Mills & Boon in London. Needless to say it was promptly rejected but later efforts had encouraging replies. I got sidetracked into other writing ventures but never gave up the dream to be published by Harlequin. So I was thrilled when the manuscript for The Summer They Never Forgot was accepted. And can I say that working with the editors at the London office is an absolute pleasure! Well worth the long wait…
Waiting to see what cover the publisher gives your book can be a tense moment for an author. How did the cover designer interpret my characters? Did they get my setting right? How does the title look on the page?
I’m pleased to report the Harlequin designers got everything right! The water setting, the dock where some pivotal scenes are played out, the carefree summer atmosphere. Most important, the heroine and hero, Sandy and Ben, fit my mental image of them. “He’s hot!” was my daughter’s reaction to Ben—you can’t get much better than that.
Oh, and I’m a big sucker for pink on covers and I love the pink on the Harlequin Romance covers.
As this is my first book for Harlequin, I didn’t realize there would be several other covers for the book.
And I like them too!
Then there are paperback covers for two-in-one editions.
I believe if foreign editions are sold, they might have different covers again. I look forward to that!
Here’s the cover blurb for The Summer They Never Forgot:
“It started with a summer kiss…
Sandy Adams is on her way to an interview, but when she sees a signpost for Dolphin Bay she decides to take a detour down memory lane….
Ben Morgan has had his share of heartache. But when a ghost from his youth catches his eye memories of their last summer together come flooding back.
Everything has changed in the past twelve years, and still they’re right back where they started, facing a second chance they deserve…together.”
Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction.
Watch out for her The Summer They Never Forgot, her first release from Harlequin Romance in February 2014 in North America, the UK and Australia.
Visit Kandy at her website
I’ve been baking cakes since I was ten years old and, as you can imagine, have amassed quite a collection of recipes.
I made this Lemon Sour Cream Cake for the first time just last year—but it has already become one of my very favorites. (And my family and friends like it, too!)
It’s a fabulous cake with a wonderful texture and flavor. I just love pine nuts, but before baking this cake I’d only ever used them in savory dishes.
I serve the cake with vanilla-bean yogurt and blueberries—though it tastes great just on its own.
This is quite a big cake and I usually freeze half of it for later. It freezes beautifully, with or without the honey drizzled on top.
The recipe is from a marvelous Australian cookbook: Bake: Celebrating the time-Honoured Tradition of Home Baking by The Australian Women’s Weekly, published by ACP Books.
I spoke to the publisher, Pamela Clark, who is one of the doyennes of cooking in Australia, about this cake. She advised me to follow the recipe exactly, use the correct size cake pan, not to be tempted to use a higher oven temperature, and to leave the cake in the oven for the full hour.
Her advice was spot on because the cake has turned out perfectly every time I’ve baked it!
Here’s the recipe.
LEMON SOUR CREAM CAKE
Preparation time 15 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour (plus cooling time)
250g butter, softened
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
2 cups (440g) caster sugar
¾ cup (180g) sour cream
2 cups (300g) plain flour
¼ cup (35g) self-raising flour
½ cup (80g) pine nuts
1 tablespoon demerara sugar
¼ cup (90g) honey
1 Preheat oven to 170˚/150˚ fan-forced. Grease deep 23-cm square cake pan; line base and sides with baking paper, extending paper 5cm over sides.
2 Beat butter, rind and caster sugar in medium bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in sour cream and sifted flours, in two batches. Spread mixture into pan; bake 15 minutes.
3 Meanwhile, combine pine nuts and demerara sugar in small bowl.
4 Carefully remove cake from oven; working quickly, sprinkle evenly with nut mixture, pressing gently into cake. Return cake to oven; bake further 45 minutes. Stand cake in pan 5 minutes; turn, top-side up, onto wire rack.
5 Heat honey in small saucepan; drizzle hot honey evenly over hot cake. Cool.
NOTE Australian standard measuring cups are used in this recipe. An Australian standard measuring cup is 250ml, an American one is 240ml so there isn’t much difference in a recipe like this.
One Australian metric tablespoon holds 20mls; a tablespoon in the US, the UK and New Zealand holds 15mls.
100 grams is approximately 4 oz
170 degrees C oven heat is approximately 340 degrees F
• You can use light brown sugar instead of demerara sugar • Caster sugar is also known as superfine sugar • Regular rather than light sour cream works best • Plain flour is also known as all-purpose flour • Self-raising flour can be made by mixing 1 cup of plain/all-purpose flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder • Baking paper is also known as parchment paper • A metric sized 23-cm square cake pan is equivalent to a 9-inch square pan.
For an excellent resource in converting baking measures and ingredients from other countries, visit Joy of Baking.
MY NEW RELEASE ON SALE!
Reinventing Rose is an e-book special at Amazon for the bargain price of just $US0.99 until May 31.
Kandy Shepherd writes fun, feel-good fiction. Her new release is the contemporary women’s fiction (aka chicklit!) Reinventing Rose, where the characters don’t get much of a chance to eat cake let alone bake it…