Saturday, January 31, 2015

Of Love and Romance: Special Guest Nichole Parks

So, my friend Melissa Tagg hosted Nichole Parks on her blog a few weeks ago and I knew, immediately, that I wanted to feature Nichole in a new series I am launching for Valentine's Day. note: my youtube embedding is not working on the blog today, but Rookie Blue is the most Torontonian thing EVER so make sure you click and check it out.  Points to Nichole for featuring Canadiana from my city!   This is the first in a fun series running over the next month about anything to do with love and romance

 Meet Me There 
Nichole Parks
Short bio: Nichole Parks majors in dark humor and dark chocolate at Taylor University. She makes her headquarters at Zondervan Library where she works remotely as Associate Editor of Splickety Love, blogs at, and perfects her application for The Bachelor.

I’d superglue my seatbelt. First night of The Bachelor, if I was one of twenty-five women slipping out of a limo to meet the man of our dreams, I’d superglue my seatbelt. It’s not the worst idea.
Bach would stride to my limo. I’d grunt all cute like (Can you grunt cutely?). He’d duck inside and reach across to jerk me free. Maybe he’d grunt all gorilla like then and flash me a reassuring smile. Maybe our noses would brush. Maybe just maybe he wouldn’t forget me. Not on account of my cliché green eyes either but as the “Buckled Babe.” While most contestants only clock fifteen seconds of awkward, with my first impression I’d gain more time, more genuine contact, and make him come to me.

Meet cutes—they matter. The part of the story where boy meets girl. From the day you pair up with your honey, the inevitable question how’d you two kids meet? will follow. Meet cutes are the first impressions—if not introductions. They set the stage. They are the “once upon a time” to your story.
            If you are Mom or Granny or not a hopeless romantic, you may believe a meet cute—cute or not—makes no difference. The man—he’s the most important part. Because, who cares about the how as long as you have the who?
            I get that. I do.
            Men are rather important.
            They just aren’t everything. On average, men live shorter lifespans than women. It’s a statistic thing, which is math and sad. This means one day I will be in a nursing home. Alone.
            Dear person reading, when I am in a nursing home alone at the knitting circle, I’d prefer to tell my love story, my meet cute, as it happened. But between you and me, if it’s lame, I’m going to make up a better one. I am going to make up a better one even if my family calls it dementia.
            Now, a friend railed on me about caring more about the how-do-you-do than the happily-ever-after. The Right Guy will make you forget all about that “crap,” she said. This made me feel like a heartless human being and in turn, question my aspirations to be a romance author all together. After all, how cute is a real life meet cute if the story doesn’t matter? Why bother writing romance if it’s all “crap?” 
            Naturally, I turned to my favorite TV couple for answers. (Because Hollywood is known for its oh-so-infinite wisdom.)
Rookie Andy McNally met an undercover Sam Swarek when she accidently arrested him. That was their meet cute. Adorbs. But my favorite scene takes place years later. Sam’s been shot, and Andy rides with him in the ambulance.
            She tells him a story of them being normal. At the end of the scene she says, “Ilove you. You are my story, Sam. You.”    
            Andy never once mentions how they met, which forced me to exert more brain power.
            Here’s what I came up with. Meet cutes matter because for some reasons firsts are unforgettable. Ask anyone of The Bachelor contestants. Remembering twenty-five names in one night is unrealistic. The second they step out of the limo, game on. They’ve got to put their gimmick into play and win the first impression rose.
            However, just because meet cutes are first doesn’t mean they’re best. Like Andy and Sam, the small middle moments will be the meat of a love story.

            How important do you think love story starts are? Do you have a meet cute story to share? I’d love to hear it.
And if you’re pumped to read meet cute stories, join the scene at Katie Ganshert’s real-liferomance page  It’s so fun!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Facebook Page and the Story behind The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder

If you want to learn a little bit more about the inspiration behind The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder, please go over to brilliant author Gabrielle Meyer's blog today and read my guest post 
(you can pre-order Gabrielle's upcoming novella as part of the Most Eligible Bachelor Collection from Barbour )

I also created a Facebook page specific to the Herringford and Watts series, all things Jem and Merinda and Sherlock Holmes and Edwardian Toronto.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Au Revoir: The White Collar Finale with special guest Gina Dalfonzo

Hi everyone!     I am a huge fan of White Collar and a huge fan of Gina ! Gina and I have been friends for years and this past year even went to Chicago together for the Dickens Fellowship Conference where we talked about everything and I basked in her decidedly incredible intellect.   Gina is great.

Gina and I talk almost everyday about everything...including White Collar.    Indeed,  weeks before the finale, we both surmised that Neal was gonna Sydney Carton it ( and he kinda did).

Anyways, I am thrilled to the gills and honoured and tickled pink that editor extraordinaire, Dickensian and all around amazing egg Gina Dalfonzo ( also the reason that the hero in my upcoming book is of Italian heritage) is here to walk us through ( WARNING: WITH ALL THE SPOILERS IN THE WORLD) the end of the best era ever.....

and now...GINA DALFONZO!

Eternally Running: The Problem with the White Collar Series Finale

First of all, let me get the good stuff from the White Collar finale out of the way.

1.     Neal is not dead.
2.     I repeat, NEAL IS NOT DEAD. For those who were seriously concerned that our favorite white-collar criminal was going to pull a Sydney Carton (e.g., Rachel and me), this was an enormous relief. Yes, one could quibble with how VERY convincingly he faked his death, but hey, it’s TV (and Sherlock has given us precedent for the hard-to-believe resurrection). He’s alive and that’s all that matters.
3.     . . . But he still got to perform a Carton-esque act of self-sacrifice, leaving his friends behind in order to protect them.
4.     How cute was baby Neal!? Yes, everyone who’d been watching the series for more than five minutes knew that Peter and Elizabeth were going to (a) have a boy and (b) name him after Neal. But it was still sweet to watch that play out.
5.     There were lots of nice little goodbyes and callbacks. (No Satchmo, though. :-( )

And now for the not-so-good stuff. My point of view isn’t shared by everyone, I know; there’ve already been some lively and fun debates over it. (Fun for me, at least, and I hope fun for everyone else involved as well!) But here goes:

I found the ending, with Neal’s return to a life of crime, deeply unsatisfying. At first I held on to a sliver of hope that he was going to do the security upgrade for the Louvre (How perfect would that job be for Neal? And it would have gone nicely with the Frank Abegnale reference in the episode) but this interview with Jeff Eastin scuttled that notion. After five years of character development and relationship-building, it felt as if the show simply pushed the reset button and put Neal right back where he started.

It’s especially galling because the show has focused so intently on the moral aspect of Neal’s journey: Could he really change? Would he? Is it enough to have a kind heart, as Neal certainly does, if you’re not willing to commit to the side of good?

With this finale, it seemed as if they simply shrugged off these crucial central questions and brushed aside the very premise of the show. In the end, Eastin says, it was all about “the chase” being on again. I know the idea came from the lead actors, but it was Eastin who accepted it and wrote it in. Bad move. His original ending, as explained at that link I gave above, would have left some ambiguity that might have been a little frustrating, but would have suited the ambiguity and complexity of the show’s themes up until now, and at least left the door open for real reform on Neal’s part.

Instead, we got Neal as Peter Pan. Forgive me, Rachel, I know you’re going to l hate that reference, but it fits. As another showrunner (from the great BBC Radio show Cabin Pressure) recently wrote, to end a show well, you have to ensure that the characters grow up. But Neal back on the run is Neal stuck in a permanent adolescence, eternally running from anyone and anything that might threaten to make him grow up . . . even his best friend who believed in his potential for good.

To me, that’s anything but a happy ending.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of and Dickensblog, a devoted Peter Burke fangirl, and deeply grateful to Rachel McMillan for allowing her to express her views here.



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Editing with Rachel: What Hills Would You Die On

I am currently working on the edits for The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder ( I never call my novel by its name, to the point where I was sure that I would forget the title when I was meeting people at ACFW last fall. I only call it Jem and Merinda.  So, you guys, I will probably refer to it as Jem and Merinda now and then ;) ) as well as starting the first novella in the series.   I have a really lovely editor who lives in Oregon where it is warmer than here and they like football ( two of the things of my limited Oregonian knowledge).  

I am quite excited/scared with edits because, even though I knew they were going to happen, they are still the BING BANG moment where you realize your little treasure book is open for scrutiny and change.  It is, for me, one of the moments where I was all: Rachel, this isn’t just a hobby you have fostered for 20 odd years anymore.  In the same way the first time you query an agent or send out a formal proposal is a major crossing step. You cannot go back.  All of these things are monumental.

I am also quite excited/scared because they are when I can prove myself to be an author that people want to work with. I know that my book needs work.  I didn’t send out a perfect manuscript. Indeed, I don’t think one exists.  I sent out a manuscript that was the best I could make it while relying on the potential and marketability I hoped people would see, and relying on the amazing feedback I got from my agent. Now I have the opportunity to prove that as an author, I am one of the best to work with.  I want to take feedback seriously and put it into action. I don’t want to nitpick. Also, relying on the feedback I got from the previous manuscript I sent on submission which didn't find a home ( and is not as fun as Jem and Merinda, so we are all good with this).  I want to be an author people want to work with because I want to have a long and illustrious career in the CBA.

Because I knew these deep thoughts  would happen and because I wanted a book contract and because I felt deeply about my story, I prepared.   In fact, I felt so deeply about certain aspects of the story, when it went out on submission I chose two hills I would die on. Even before I sent the proposal out.

For all authors writing all manner of manuscripts, these conditions might change.  But, I think authors should have them.  Editorial influence is wonderful and editors serve an amazing purpose: to help you finesse your story to be the best possible. Indeed, part of why I choose to continue pursuing traditional publishing is because I want the guidance of an editor who has my interests and my novel’s interests close at heart.   You see, the editor relationship is a symbiotic one…. They want you to succeed because they want to succeed. You want them to succeed because they are responsible for your little cherished book.

I am making some anticipated substantive edits to the manuscript that was submitted and contracted as we speak and yet, I am delighted because we are not approaching One of the Hills I Decided to Die On.

My Hills I Would Die On: 1.)  The main setting of the novel ( my detectives move around ) would be Toronto.   Not any city in America, no matter how that might have changed its chances in the US-centric CBA.

2.)My Ray must be a point of view character in some way shape or form.  (He wasn’t supposed to be but when I started writing, he started talking to me quite intrusively and became a very important part of the tone as well as the unofficial voice for the thousands of immigrants I refer to).

When I met with editors at ACFW and when I anticipated that the conversation might come up with my agent or editors, I made sure that I had a sound and eloquent argument for why I felt so strongly about these two integral points of the series.   I wouldn’t budge on these things to the point where if they became a condition with an editor, I would strongly consider not accepting an offer.

You might be thinking, “well that’s quite smug and self –satisfied, Rachel, what right have you to demand conditions?  You are not even published yet!” You are right, fair blog reader, but I assumed the right when I wrote the work.  They are important to me and I believe authors have the right to the integrity of their art.  Nothing outstanding or nothing that cannot be refined and heightened. My editor can help me work on my two hills to make them the best they can be, but they were hurdles I strongly considered not jumping, if the time came.

People who cherish their book to within an inch of its life so that they are not open to suggested changes are probably going to find it difficult to let their book go out into the traditional publishing world. There will be changes and there will be things that need to evolve so that you can learn and grow as a writer.  The way I see it, I am JUST starting to be a writer because I am just experiencing that which I have always wanted--- the guidance and suggestions of a professional editor.  I wanted to work with an editor as much as I wanted a book contract.  Because I want to see what I can do with another person’s input and invisible thumbprint.

Indeed, I was willing to consider some of the changes suggested by an editor who said interest might be heightened in my work if I were to do things different in certain ones ( ultimately, we were offered a contract before it came to that, but I take all of those notes to heart). I encourage writers who are pursuing the track of traditional publishing to consider what Hills They Would Die On, WHY, and if they are important enough to fight for if need be.  Being reasonable, being educated and being a professional doesn’t negate your need to assert what is unique and integral to your work.

Also, I never had to die on my hills so it turned out relatively easy for me ( AND FOR YOU WHEN YOU GET TO MEET RAY AND TRAVEL BACK TO EDWARDIAN TORONTO!!!)

Next time on Editing with Rachel:  remember all those passes you had (rejection is a bad word)? They had feedback, USE IT!

and the Time After That: writing the book you want to and not the book you think you have to!

FUN new series(s)


Over at Novel Crossing I have started curating Rachel's Raves which will be a monthly event wherein I gush about what I am reading and make you all read it, too!

I am now going to be a contributor to Edgy Inspirational Romance  ( which is fun) and I want to pursue topics on the Reading Experience, so meet me over there 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta

 the Price of Privilege is an exceptional conclusion to historical fiction which is shattering the metrics of CBA romance. An unreliable narrator, a Dickensian propensity for twisting, winding interwoven storylines, a winning and wonderful narration, heartbreak and drama.

Dotta has a winning way of cunningly revisiting the Victorian Gothic and lovers of Bleak House and Jane Eyre (whether coming from a background of faith or not ) will sink into this highly literary endeavour. The sheer verisimilitude, pitch-perfect dialect and tone and well-coloured tapestry of believable, dimensional characters puts Dotta at the top of the historical game. To add, she plays with convention---especially in the CBA sphere. Her heroine is not necessarily the protagonist, not all ends are tied up neatly, there are enough sly euphemisms to sink a ship and the humour is as steep as the pathos. The third installment is told with the same beguiling nod to the past with an upstairs-downstairs feel, portentous chapter endings and a brave conclusion that will shatter readers expectations. Even though Dotta writes in the past, I like to think this is the CBA fiction future. Smart, winning and without restriction, Dotta is a genius and master of plot and character.

Finally, readers will be surprised to realize that the last book is mostly comprised of a cloistered, actionless setting completely reliant on dialogue to inform circumstance and movement. Not unlike a tv bottle episode --- or a cozy mystery a la Agatha Christie, this was a nice, unique touch and suited the high class society in which Julia has become a pawn. Part Forsyte Saga, part mystery, all wonderment, political intrigue and topped with a dollop of romance, the Anglophile will adore this series. This is groundbreaking stuff. She doesn't talk down to the reader, she expects you to rise to her level. You will want to read and re-read and read again to make sure that you catch all the deft threads she has sewn to tie up this ornate and opiate yarn.

Stay tuned for my interview next month with Jessica over at Novel Crossing

Title provided by Tyndale for review 

visit Jessica Dotta on the web

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Christmas Catch-Up Reads Part II: First Frost and The Hardest Peace

The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts 

Stark, real, vivid, painful and heart-breaking. Kara has a way of interweaving poetic lyricism with the harshest of pain and suffering. Never once depending on cliches or sugar-coating her experience, her words are a palette of infinite, wretched grace. This was a hard book to read: one that forces contemplation on how one might deal with this finite weakness and all too true illness. Yet, Kara has a warm, welcoming tone and a sense of humour to counter the din of despair. This is not so much a linear tale as one told in stitches and patches, fragments of story and truth and life lessons cut all too short before transforming into greater seeds of ethereal wisdom. I think all readers who have experienced suffering or disappointment on any level will appreciate the wise and open way in which Kara weaves her indelible tapestry of pain and strife. Putting me in mind of Philip Yancey's Where is God When it Hurts, Kara Tippetts has written a profound treatise on suffering. She sheds the greedy optimism which overtook "self help Christianity" a la Bruce Wilkerson and trades it for the defining and the real. Soundly grounded in theology and told with staggering faith, this book is one I shall not soon forget

(copy received by publisher in exchange for review)

There is something so remarkably indomitable to reading Sarah Addison Allen. It makes me giddy and my fingertips tingle. Here, she continues the lore of the Waverley family introduced in her debut novel Garden Spells. The characters and their temperamental apple tree, their lives and loves and rambling house ( which is as much a character as any flesh and blood) await the First Frost. First Frost, to happen on Hallowe'en, this magical year, is a time of expectancy and hope and glittering witchery. That premonition you feel as summer sinks into fall and the breeze whistles cold and brash foreboding the winter to come is magic in itself. Here, Addison Allen weaves it as the beguiling word-enchantress she is. Ripe with passion, love, forgiveness, redemption and the worn-old sepia photographs of the past, "First Frost" invites you back to a family you love and to a timeless tale of magic and humanity.

You will feel while reading this book and laugh and cry and experience something akin to peeking through a curtain to a group you desperately want be part of .

There is an inkling of outsiderness to experiences the Waverley clan and their circle; but are they not, themselves, outsiders too?

Magical read. She is at the top of her game!

(copy received by publisher in exchange for review)

Monday, January 05, 2015

Christmas reads catch-up Part I: Mist of Midnight, Me Before You, Dress Shop of Dreams, Unexpected Consequences of Love

I read a ton over Christmas Break  and I want to tell you guys about all the books because there were some great ones; but it is gonna take some time.
The last two Christmases, I was busy writing and writing and writing.  Two years of spending a lot of time getting a publishing career started.   Now that that is underway, I am back to my first love: READING ALL THE BOOKS


Lovely gothic setting complete with rumbling castle and military veteran turned brooding hero. It had the essence of Daphne DuMaurier with more than a sprinkle of Jane Eyre. Having long been enamoured with stories of the spices and mystery of the Orient, I appreciated the vivid tapestry of India interwoven with the British Colonial fervour.

As in her Tudor-set novels, Byrd is adept at interweaving taut verisimilitude with a crafty pen, a keen eye for detail and a favourable reading pace. Mist of Midnight starts at a slow trod but picks up to a fast gallop. You will speed, reader, through the final pages. Victorian gothic is a genre long close to my heart and while I did find that the Christian threads leaned toward being a little too overt ( especially in the case of italicized prayers), you can be darned certain I will seek out the next instalments in this promising series.

Feverishly romantic, stylish and sly, Mist of Midnight is an homage to yarns long past: where ladies were highly fashionable, witty and accomplished and the most desirable of men pitted familial honour with military service and just the right dash of mystery. The grandiose estates, the character depth and the secrets that keep our heroine's head turning hither and yon make this perfect catnip for lovers of BBC period pieces and all things Victorianesque.

(review copy provided by author)

This writer has been on my radar for quite some time now because everyone raves about this book. To add, there were months when you couldn't board a Toronto subway car without seeing the book's ads. The writing was great in a Marian Keyes meets Jane Green type of way; but I think that while the pace plotted and she did interesting things with the narrative, I was somewhat let down when it didn't live up to the high expectation I had.  Yes, the end packs an emotional punch; but you get used to the fist-in-the-gut because she plants it over and over again. Colourful kaleidoscope world of a castle-down and unique characters kept me turning pages.

Perfect Christmas confectionary: all bubble gum light with some surprising romantic threads.  I love a dollop of whipped-cream magic in my fiction and when Sarah Addison Allen mentioned this book on her facebook page, I knew I had to pick it up. I read it basically in one sitting while falling head-over-heels for a guy named Walt: who bakes cherry pies and reads with a luscious legato made for late night airways. Cora, Cora's grandmother Etta, a kindly priest name Sebastian, a sweet-hearted detective and his passionate Italian ex-wife, Milly- a saddened widow--- and Dylan a late-night radio producer---are a village of fictional friends.  I loved the Cambridge setting and the rambles up to Oxford where an age-long mystery will be exposed.  Etta has an enchanted dress-shop: each garment has the ability to make a woman see the best in herself.  Each garment has the propensity to make a woman take a step towards changing her life.  To add, Etta can sew a little heart into a garment and turn a tap on to love: receiving, seeking, finding.  With strange, wistful codes, familial revelations and a scoop of magic,  this homage to books, to the past, to romance and to mysterys had the right balance of superb readability and fantastical fiction to make it to the top of my TBR pile.  I subsequently bought van Praag's previous two books 

I underlined some favourite passages:
"Walt has loved her forever, for nearly as long as he's been alive. He was four years old the first tie he saw her. It's his earliest memory. A simple, ordinary day made special and extraordinary by first love and first words."

"But he loves the empty hours best of all, when he can walk along the aisles and bask in the warmth of the books, their glittering gold letters, their stories softly pulsing between pages just waiting to be opened and read and loved."

"When Cora slips into the book, she forgets herself entirely"

"He sits back behind the counter and opens the door to other worlds: bookshelves transmute into swamp trees, floors into muddy marshes, the ceiling into a purple sky cracked with lightning as he floats down the Mississippi with Huck Finn. When he meets Robinson Crusoe, the trees become heavy with coconuts, the floorboards a barren desert of sand dunes whipped by screeching winds..."

Not only does van Praag paint a majestical, mystical story, she knows very well how entice readers with caramel-coated understanding. She beguiles you in because she is you. She knows that you are flipping open the pages of her book with the high hopes and expectations she has when she reads a book and falls into its world.  The author/reader relationship...the sly glances... the knowing wit establishes immediate camaraderie.  Welcome to my tribe, she asserts, I understand you and here is a whipped creamed ornate spectacle of love and books and Jane Eyre, of soft voices and hope and possibility.   

Give me a Cornish coast... please! honestly, while sinking into the multi-coloured lore of Sophie and Josh and the characters who pepper their mishaps and triumphs, I thought of how perfectly rendered this would be on the big screen.  Mansell is a flamboyant romantic: it spills into each of her pages-- her setting, the winding way in which her characters stumble into love --- her descriptive palette.   I enjoyed the eccentricity of the locals against the central love story.  A great, bubbly, thick fire-side read.  Mansell has a knowing wink to her.  I can tell that she loves writing her books as much as her readers enjoy seeking them out. 

(review c/of Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest opinion)

Sunday, January 04, 2015

A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron

In the follow up to The Butterfly and the Violin, Cambron proves she is a mainstay in the CBA

In A Sparrow in Terezin, there were moments of lyrical genius and snatches of a poetic sensibility showing that Cambron has honed her skill in her sophomore novel. As in the first, the underlining themes of art amidst the atrocities of the Second World War and Concentration camps (here, Terezin: the ghetto and labour camp in Prague) is well-met with the characters' crises of faith and trust in their Creator. As in Butterfly and the Violin, I found that the modern frame was disjointed; but Cambron is SO adept at winding a historical plot: coloured with hope and pathos and strewn with snippets of unbelievable smart snatches of history unique to the CBA. Thus, I will always seek her out.

Kaja is well-met by a string of romance in British journalist Liam and while their attraction developed quickly---it did so strongly so I was eager to see how they played against each other in bomb-riddled London and then in the mire of central Holocaust. Cambron also surprised me with the character of Dane -- a nice companion piece to the work done by Kate Breslin in "For Such a Time" ( and I would recommend readers of one read the other for comparative experience). He was nothing if not a snatch of grace in the midst of horror.

William and Sera are tried, in modern times, with a burgeoning marriage and more problems than they can handle, and their frame ties up nicely with hope and solidity.

A great, fast-paced read that I flew through with expert historical cadence and heart-squeezing scenes ......

Visit Kristy on the web

with thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy