Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cozy up with a good Christmas read.

Now that Thanksgiving is behind me my plan was to get started with my Christmas shopping. Yes, I’m one of those people who has yet to buy the first Christmas gift. There was no way I was facing the Black Friday crowds, but I did have every intention of going Christmas shopping on Saturday. Notice I said, did have. Saturday came and went and I amused myself by organizing my house which has been woefully neglected for the past eight months as I wrote my last novel. On Saturday night, I promised myself I would map out a game plan and start my Christmas shopping on Sunday after church, but who the heck wants to shop in the rain. With the temperature outside dropping, and the rain coming down, I decided someone out there was trying to tell me to stay home and read a good book. It’s easy for a writer to come to this conclusion! I put on my warmest sweats, lit a fire and pulled out Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn. If you haven’t checked out her Outlander series I highly recommend it.

When I finally forced myself to get up out of my cozy comfy chair, I realized I needed to think of a blog topic. I was struggling to come up with something. Chalk it up to too much stuffing and whiskey bread pudding. My poor brain is floating in sugary calories and carbs. One of my writer friends suggested I do a blog on cozy Christmas reads. How come I didn’t think of that? I just finished Mrs. Gabaldon’s book, and the weather is still abysmal. I need more great reading material, and what better to snuggle up with than some great books about Christmas.

I’m guessing there are some others of you out there who might be procrastinating doing something or just want a good book to take a long, hot bath with. Well, look no more ladies and gentleman, after some careful detective work, I’ve come up with a list of five Cozy Christmas reads guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a flutter in your heart.

Number One – The Wolf Next Door by Lydia Dare
They can't even be in the same room together...
Ever since their failed elopement years ago, Prisca Hawthorne has taunted, insulted, and in every way tried to push him away. If only her heart didn't break every time Lord William Westfield left her...
But staying apart is even worse...
Lord William throws himself into drinking, gambling, and debauchery and pretends not to care about Prisca at all. But when he returns to find a rival werewolf vying for her hand, he'll stop at nothing to claim the woman who should have been his all along.
Can Prisca forgive the unforgivable, or are the moon-crossed lovers going to be forced into a battle of wills that could be fatal?
Number Two – A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas
The Wallflowers are four young ladies in London who banded together in their wild and wickedly wonderful searches for true love. Now happily married, they join together once again to help one of the world’s most notorious rogues realize that happiness might be right under the mistletoe.…

Number Three – Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas
One rain-slicked night, six-year-old Holly lost the only parent she knew, her beloved mother Victoria. And since that night, she has never again spoken a word.
The last thing Mark Nolan needs is a six-year-old girl in his life. But he soon realizes that he will do everything he can to make her life whole again. His sister’s will gives him the instructions: There’s no other choice but you. Just start by loving her. The rest will follow.
Maggie Collins doesn’t dare believe in love again, after losing her husband of one year. But she does believe in the magic of imagination. As the owner of a toy shop, she lives what she loves. And when she meets Holly Nolan, she sees a little girl in desperate need of a little magic.
Three lonely people. Three lives at the crossroads. Three people who are about to discover that Christmas is the time of year when anything is possible, and when wishes have a way of finding the path home…

 Number Four – The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas by Lauren Willig
Arabella Dempsey's dear friend Jane Austen warned her against teaching. But Miss Climpson's Select Seminary for Young Ladies seems the perfect place for Arabella to claim her independence while keeping an eye on her younger sisters nearby. Just before Christmas, she accepts a position at the quiet girls' school in Bath, expecting to face nothing more exciting than conducting the annual Christmas recital. She hardly imagines coming face to face with French aristocrats and international spies...

Number Five – Christmas Warms the Heart (The Wetherby Brides) by Jerrica Knight-Catania
Catherine Wetherby Hart, Duchess of Weston, is convinced Christmas will be ruined if the famous Hart Christmas Ball isn't perfect. But two special guests might just make it the best Christmas ever in this Hart-warming short story.

And because I can’t very well talk about cozy Christmas reads without mentioning the Christmas Anthology I’m in I have to add a number six!

A Summons From Yorkshire (Regency Christmas Summons Collection One) by Julie Johnstone, Ava Stone and Aileen Fish.
And just to wet your whistle here is the blurb for my story.

The day Andrew Whitton, Earl of Hardwick chooses his fortune over the woman he loves, Drew discovers that money makes for a cold bed partner. Now, no matter how far he runs, the memory of his betrayal haunts him, and there’s not enough liquor to dull the past or diminish his disgust. * Charlotte Milne trusted in happily ever after until her knight turned out to be wearing rusty armor. Drew, the scoundrel, seduced her, though she very much enjoyed the seduction by the man she’s loved since childhood. Left scandalously ruined, Char flees her home intent upon forgetting Drew and proving her worth. * Separated by disloyalty and pain, each struggle to bury the memories of the other until a mandatory summons from the Duke of Danby sets them on a path of collision to Danby Castle. With the tides of irrevocable change rising, Drew must find a way to show Char that even the most selfish of rakes can be redeemed by love before the woman of his heart becomes the wife of another.

We’ve come to the end of my list, my friends. Now, I have a question for you. Do you have a favorite book that you think is a perfect “cozy” read?

***Everyone who leaves a comment today with an email address will be entered into the Regency Christmas Summons Prize Extravaganza. We're giving away a Kindle and many more prizes.

Have fun reading!
Julie Johnstone
Romance where the Aristocracy Dances on the Edge of Danger and Desire
A Regency Christmas Summons ~November 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

DOH ! (I pulled a Homer Simpson!) Things That Make You Smile

I just got home and checked out our blog to see who might have posted and what they had to say. DOH !!! The blogpost I was looking for was mine! I offer my heartfelt apologies and I'd give each and every one of you a jelly donut (MMMM Donuts!) if I could.

I worked the Black Friday sale - 11 pm until 8 am and my mind has been mush ever since. Sorry, but this body is NOT meant to go over 24 hours without sleep. It gives me a serious case of Snow White syndrome. I start out Grumpy move on to Sleepy and eventually become Dopey. Hence my forgetfulness.

I had one of those odd little moments this morning on my way to work. I drive by this particular pasture every day. There are three horses and a pony grazing there every day. They've been there for years. And today they made me smile - a full blown, hey I'm smiling on the way to work (trust me that never happens) smile. It was raining a nice steady rain and I glanced toward the pasture and saw - three horses and a pony wearing RAINCOATS! We're talking each in a different color with a hood over their heads and holes for their ears belted and buttoned up raincoats. I don't really know why it made me smile. They did look rather silly in their brightly colored macks. Perhaps it was because they seemed so comfortable in them. Or maybe it was the idea someone loved these guys enough to go out in the rain and kit them out in raincoats. Whatever it was, it made me smile.

It struck me that writing is sometimes like this. You cruise along writing, grinding out those words and every now and then you take the time to look up, read what you wrote and it makes you smile. Perhaps your characters finally look comfortable in your novel. Perhaps your words fell into place and something about them makes you smile. Perhaps just once every writing day we need to stop and look for the horses in raincoats in our work. Being a "suffering artist" doesn't mean you don't get to smile. It just means you have to look for a reason to smile.

What makes you smile in life? What makes you smile in writing? And do you ever give your characters those moments to smile?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Family Secrets

We all have family secrets.

For example:
  • You know for a fact that your Aunt was married twice, not once. Even though she tells everyone the opposite.  
  • Cousin George really does have a sixth toe.
  • Grandpa keeps a flask of whiskey in the cushion of his chair and drinks it when he watches the game.
  • Your mother's secret recipe involves only a simple boxed cake mix and cream cheese.
  • Your uncle did not go out of town for a week, he was in jail for public intoxication and no one would post the bond.
  • Grandma farts loudly in public and blames whoever is standing next to her. This is why your nickname is "Pooter"
  • Your cousin is actually your brother....*gasp*
These family secrets can range from the funny to the horrific. They can be immoral, unethical, or just embarrassing. The interesting thing is our families will keep these secrets in any way possible. They'll never speak of it, or they'll lie, deny, and even cover it up. It is what makes the family functions full of drama.

Our characters in our stories and their families all have secrets. Even if you don't know them. They are what motivate our Heroes and Heroines. They help in the conflict and create the tension that leads to interesting things.

What kind of secrets personally and family wise do your characters have? Do you ever reveal them or just keep them internal? Are some funny ones or scary?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Blessings in Abundance

Too numerous to list but earlier this morning, as I sat in my quiet kitchen with coffee in hand, John 3:16 came to mind.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What I am Thankful For

In two days Thanksgiving will be here. This year will be different from my past 59 Thanksgivings. On September 6th my wife of 39 years underwent total right hip replacement surgery. Her operation was successful and on September 9th she went into a nursing and rehab center in order to help her walk. Six weeks later in mid-October her rehab therapy ended due to the fact that she could not walk or do any personal hygiene. It has now been 2 1/2 months and no substantial improvement. Why you ask. My wife, Christine has suffered for 64 years with a condition called cerebral palsy (C.P.). This condition slowly robs a person of the use of their muscles. On Thursday I will bring two plates of Thanksgiving dinner to the nursing home and have my Thanksgiving with my wife.

Now you are thinking, poor Fred how sad. Don't be sad for me, be joyful. I still have my wife and I can share my world with her and her's with me. For so many people this year they won't be able to share Thanksgiving. They are no longer with us.

This Thanksgiving is a time for joyous celebration to me. I will have my first commercial publication of a work of my immagination, MIRRORED. Most of all. I have my writing sisters-you. All of you have been kind, welcoming, nurturing of my writing, and my life long friends.

Now will someone please pass the stuffing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to Write Conflict: Using the Holidays for Inspiration

Great scenes grow from conflict. My home during the holidays could serve as the inspiration for a NYT bestseller:
  • My mother is a rabid Alabama fan. My brother-in-law is a fervent Auburn fan. (This is why we keep a fire extinguisher in each room). That scene writes itself. 
  • Everyone (except me) fights for control of the kitchen (the arguments that have erupted at the stove over the proper temperature to cook green beans have inspired Greek epic poems). This year is the battle for dressing supremacy. My mother-in-law and grandmother are fighting for hegemony when it comes to this Thanksgiving staple. Vegas odds favor my grandmother. She fights dirty.
  • The "You Don't Have to Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here"battle rages for hours. I swear, there is tick DNA running in my family's blood because these people can't be burned out of my den. My Saturday School training won't permit me to flat-out ask them to leave, so creativity is my only option. I've tried everything - Christmas music on the stereo, horror movies on the television (yes, I've really done this), husband sleeping on the couch, etc. Nothing works. Nothing. 

If Thanksgiving Day isn't rich enough to provide me with inspiration to write conflict, there is always Black Friday. Between shopping carnage and trimming the tree (each year my husband and I debate whether Yukon Cornelius or an angel should top the tree - I don't know how that bearded lumberjack keeps winning), my insurance company may up my premiums. Then, there is the Iron Bowl. I don't think I need to comment on that. 

I can’t be alone. Where in your day-to-day life have you seen conflict that can help improve your scenes?

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Insidious Nature of Banana Peppers

The proof is in the colander.

While I spent ten days on Little Lagoon not gardening, my pocket vegetable garden in the foothills produced a dozen banana peppers, one bell pepper, two pecked-out tomatoes and another with a giant green worm hole.

My husband expressed exactly what I was thinking. “That’s it. I’ve had it with tomatoes. Next year, we’re just going to grow peppers. ”

Our frustration stems from high expectations. Genetically, we are both prime tomato-growing specimens. My husband had an uncle who was a commercial tomato grower. And back in the 70s, the government paid my grandfather to stop growing tomatoes through one of those farm price support programs. With all that tomato juice in our bloodlines, we should be naturals when it comes to tomato cultivation.

You see, of course, where this kind of thinking leads.

Straight to places you’ve already been. Safe. Familiar. Dull.

And nowhere near the competitive world of publishing.

If I were to approach writing with the same attitude as tomato growing, I’d begin by saying that I’m a Southerner. Everyone knows Southerners are born storytellers. Getting my tales published should be as easy for me as a cliché.

And yet my name has not yet appeared on the spine of a book. I’ve come across all kinds of bad birds and worms in my quest for publication.

But there’s an allure to striving for a long-held dream.

I should swear off fiction and go back to churning out news releases and brochures and key talking points.

I know I’ll keep attempting to tell a marketable story.

We’ll probably plant tomatoes next year, too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaNoWriMo and Starting Over

Today is about the middle NaNoWriMo--or National Novel Writing Month.

It's been a long few months for me of not writing. Over the summer, I got an agent (yay!), revised my manuscript (yay!), and went on submission (yay?). I also started three different books-- two contemporary romances and a darker YA "issues" romance. They didn't get past about 15,000 awful, horrible, no-good words.

I'm not sure that I'll ever get back to them, and that's strange, because I have this thing about finishing things that I start. The very first novel I tried to write (a terrible category romance that is best forgotten) was only finished because I was determined to finish a book. Half-way through, I knew it was rotten, trite, and downright stupid, but I finished it anyway, just to see if I could.

Over the summer and through the early fall I banged my head against these three beginnings. I pushed forward with the YA, even thought I knew the dialog was flat and the plot was verging on cliche. Nothing was working.

And then came NaNoWriMo.

Writing a book in a month isn't that new for me. I wrote that first terrible novel in about a month. I wrote most of the one that's (still) on submission right now in about a month. I have this thing where I kind of like writing in long, almost-manic spurts. I can stay in the book that way.

NaNoWriMo says that you should start something new, so I did. I shelved those terrible manuscripts that may never get farther than they are now and started on a new idea that popped into my head a few weeks ago, right when I was in the middle of orchestrating the Southern Magic Luncheon--not exactly the best time to start into a new project.

When November 1 hit, I started writing (luncheon or not). Sixteen days later I lave 43,000 words--the skeleton of a novel that I'm slowly, but surely falling in love with. By the end of the month, I'll have a very rough first draft that I can revise through December and Janurary and get to my agent by early spring at the latest.

I'm revising my ideas about finishing what I start. I may go back to those other manuscripts. I may not. Probably not, and I'm starting to feel okay about that. And I don't plan on waiting until next November to let myself give up on the next batch that doesn't work.

So that's how NaNoWriMo's going for me. How's it going for you?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Which ManCandy Would You Choose As Your Personal Genie?

I recently blogged at Harlequin's Paranormal Romance Blog about how actor Antonio Banderas inspired my dark and mysterious djinn assassin Rukh wih his sexy exotic accent for The Djinn's Dilemma.

Here, take a look at the tribute video I found on YouTube and you'll see why :) It's okay, I can wait!

Several people agreed with me, but many others brought up other candidates I hadn't even considered...a sad lapse that's been remedied :D So here, I'm presenting a few other candidates to star as your personal genie.

(David Boreanaz...hey if could play Angel, he can play djinn :)

(Antonio Sabato Jr. Yum!)

(Hmm, he'd be a feisty djinn!)


(Oded, hot, hot!)

And another personal favorite ~ Bollywood Actor Hrithik Roshan

So who would choose to cast as your personal genie? Or is there someone I have missed? Write them in, I'm always looking for more hunky fodder for my daydreams *grin*

Mina Khan is a Texas-based writer and food enthusiast. She daydreams of hunky paranormal heroes, magic, mayhem and mischief and writes them down as stories. To find out more about her debut novella THE DJINN'S DILEMMA released by Harlequin check out her book page.

You can find Mina at :

twitter: @SpiceBites

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Talk This Way, Walk This Way

Last night, while watching the new Nikita series, I realized something about myself. I love it when a man talks soft with confidence. This new Michael has that gruffness that sends delicious chills down my spine. I wonder if they asked him to talk in whispers, the same as the other Michael in the previous Le Femme Nikita series had.

In my book, Circle of Desire, Collin talks the same way. He might threaten to cut a person’s throat in that soft, quiet tone that he uses to seduce Olivia. It’s scary sexy.
The volume and timbre of a character’s voice can be as much as a part of the story as what he says. A bully shouts and shakes the walls. A whiner shrieks, making a person’s ears bleed. A seductive voice drips honey and soothes the savage beast. Sure some of those were clichés but you get the idea.

My next book, Circle of Danger, will have a hero whose voice box has been damaged. So his voice is rough, like a six-pack-a-day smoker’s. You can easily imagine when he’s tender, his voice will deepen and make your toes curl. Yes. More clichés. But this is blog post and I’m being lazy.
When it comes to how the characters walk, please avoid saying he moves like a powerful panther, cat, tiger, etc. Overdone. Okay to be lazy (see previous paragraph) here, but not in your books. I’ve never seen a man in real life who walked that way. It would probably freak me out. Think about it. Think hard. He would have to be on all fours. Oh, of course, a werewolf or werepanther might could get away with it as long as they were in animal form.

ANWAY, I describe their walk in the same way I do in real life. Long legged stride with a slight shift of their hips. Yes. Men do move that part of their bodies. Otherwise, they’ll look like they have a problem with constipation.  

I tell you, if you want to describe a real man’s walk, use John Wayne’s. Below is the last scene in McLintock. The movie isn’t PC any longer, but it’s still funny and shows the famous walk. Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne make great Alpha characters. I guess that’s why they made so many wonderful movies together.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


I recently blogged at about what makes a demon hunter sexy. Here is my take on the subject:


Start with a strapping, six foot plus alpha male warrior.

Inject him with logic and a literal viewpoint of the universe. Replace sense of humor with an unwavering purpose and devotion to duty.

Load him up with muscles and super strength. Give him a pair of bedroom eyes, a smoke and whisky voice that would tempt a saint, and a body so perfect it would make a male underwear model shriek with envy.

Throw in the face of an archangel.

Endow him with superior strength, a bag of tricks (like invisibility and a built in translator), and several thousand years’ experience in warfare and the hunt.

Give him a magical weapon to use on demons and a different sort of ‘magical weapon’ to use in the bedroom.
Plant him in the Deep South and proceed to bewilder and confuse the heck out of him by having him fall in love for the first time in his eons’ long existence.

Throw in chaos, danger, lots of lust, and add a bunch of zany.

Sit back and watch the fun.


Here are some of the responses made by readers about what qualities make a demon hunter (or any alpha male) sexy. The numbers indicate how many responded with a particular trait.

He knows how to use his . . . er . . . magical weapon (2)

Magical abilities (1)

Domestic abilities, most important being the ability to cook (7)

Tough guy in a fight, but gentle with his woman (17)

Glowing eyes (1)

Lithe (1)

Take charge attitude (2)

Drop dead gorgeous (4)

Hot, muscular body and kissable mouth (9)

Sexy eyes (3)

Loyal and honorable (2)

Sense of humor (5)

Mind reading ability (1)

Dark and tormented (1)

Mysterious, but an open book behind closed doors (2)

Great massage and foot rubber extraordinaire (1)

Snappy dresser (1)

Intelligence (1)

Confident, but with an Achilles heel


Tattoos and a big package. (Although not, I presume, ON his package—Yeow!) (2)

Nice manners (1)

Wears glasses, i.e. like Superman and Clark Kent (2)

Charm (1)

Bad boy who struggles to do the right thing (2)

Sexy accent (3)

Protective (3)

What qualities do YOU think make an alpha male sexy?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Love, Preternatural Style

We’re all adults here, right? Chronologically, if not emotionally. (Okay, speaking for myself.)

So, let’s talk about sex—writing it. Other writers I’ve met seem to fall into one of two groups. The first type enjoys writing love scenes; they find it toe-curlingly pleasurable. The second plows through it like a trip to the dentist—a necessary, albeit painful, evil.

Color me part of Group No. 2, which is probably why I prefer writing urban fantasy to romance. I love the fun bits—the sexual tension, the playful banter—and don’t have to worry too much about stuff I’d just as soon my characters didn’t share.

Trouble is, as I write the third book in my series, I realize it's high time my heroine gave it up. (Oh, she’s given it up before—before the series started—but that only required oblique references.) Now, for several evenings, I’ve abandoned my goal of writing 1k words a day to stare at a screen, trying to figure out how my heroine and a suitor who shall remain nameless for spoilery reasons are going to “just do it.”

Yeah, yeah, I know. Tab A into Slot B. Blah blah blah. But my heroine’s a wizard, as well as an empath. She can zap him with charges of electricity, work a charm on him to make him think he’s Superman (or a tongue-flicking Spider Man…hmmm…), and then will know exactly how he feels about it. Although Lover Boy has a special skill set of his own to bring into the mix.

Did I mention very, very few of the characters in my books are plain-vanilla human?

So, for paranormal love scenes, the sky (or hell, or the alternative version of Cleveland) is the limit. To ignore their special characters/abilities would be an easy cop-out. Let those abilities take on too big a role, and the love scene becomes something else, something that loses the importance of the transition in my couple’s relationship.

To do a quick “ceiling-fan” cut and run is a cop-out, but writing too explicit and I’ve just taken my PG13 series into a different genre. As I told my crit partner, "I can write smut and I can write church bulletin. I'm having trouble with the happy medium."

Decisions, decisions. I think I’ll leave a few pages blank and move on to the scene where the reanimated, axe-wielding zombie serial killer chases my heroine into the arms of an elf. Yeah, that’ll work.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Another Cool Writing Tool (Which Is Also a Big Time Suck)

I truly believe I was an architect in another life. Houses--and house plans--have always fascinated me. When I write, I know exactly what the homes of my characters look like. Sometimes I can find pictures of them. And sometimes I will even do sketches of the floor plans.

Last week, while fantasizing about a vacation home, I came across a Web site where you can design your own log home. It's incredibly easy to use--you can start with one of their plans or create one of your own from scratch. Then you can furnish it, add floors, plant some landscaping, and populate it with people and dogs. You can even link Internet photos to it. Found a table you love at Pottery Barn? Add a link!

At first, I played with an imaginary getaway house for me and my husband. Then it hit me: I could create a real floor plan for my hero's home. And it really got me thinking about things like "Would Matt have a king size bed or a queen size? What color would his couch and hand-me-down chair be?" I hung his hammock on the front porch right beside the old metal glider where the heroine is sitting when she confesses a secret to him.

Hours later, I was satisfied that my hero had the perfect home--and it was exactly like I had imagined it. Now to create my heroine's home...