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Blogging today with Dena Garson – First Dates

Come on over and visit!

First Dates.

To Tattoo, or not to…?

Lately I’ve been thinking about getting some ink. Nothing major, just a small gesture toward creative freedom and expression. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and never had the nerve to. Mostly because it hurts.

The other thing that held me back for a long time was my upbringing. Both my parents are anti-tattoo. Not for cultural or political reasons, but because a tattoo is permanent. As my mother pointed out, “what if you change your mind?” Plus, she’s terrified that I’ll fall victim to bacterial infection.

However, the loudest anti-tattoo factions seemed to be motivated by prejudice. In the course of my research – because, let’s face it, there’s no way I’d make a decision so permanent without extensive research into the history, process and benefits of tattooing, not to mention the best places to go – I’ve found a lot of negative press. The sad part is people who go to tattoo forums specifically to rant against tattoos. Two of the comments that came up most often were “tattoos are dirty” and “people with tattoos are criminals.”

I don’t understand why a practice that has existed for millennia, often conferred as an honor upon the best and brightest, is now regarded by many to be abhorrent.

Can anybody shed any light on this for me? Why do so many people hate tattoos and look down upon those who have them?

Louisa Masters goes on tour!

Click over to Louisa Masters’ website to see her tour dates and stops. Inter-Office Relations is due for release on December 9th, and Louisa’s going visiting to celebrate!

Recipe Day! Raspberry Coconut Pound Cake

This cake is awesome for many reasons. The first is that it tastes great! It’s pretty, because the icing is pink. And, being pound cake, it takes days to go stale. It also has the added bonus of being versatile. If, like me, you foolishly drop it onto the counter while it’s still warm and it breaks into pieces, you can finish breaking it up and layer it into a big bowl with the icing between layers, kind of like a trifle. Um. That only happened once, I swear!

Raspberry and coconut cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/360F/Gas 4.
  2. Grease and line a 30cm/12in flat shallow cake tin with baking parchment.
  3. For the cake, beat the flour, baking powder, butter, sugar, eggs, coconut and lime juice together in a bowl (or use an electric mixer).
  4. Carefully fold in the raspberries.
  5. Pour the cake batter into the cake tin, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until risen and golden-brown. Test the cake with a metal skewer – if the skewer comes out clean, the cake is cooked through.
  6. Remove the cake from the oven allow the cake to cool. To serve, cut the cake into squares.

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 125g/5oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 60g/2oz butter
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • a good pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coconut essence
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1/4 cup desiccated or shredded coconut
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry jam

Beat the cream cheese and butter in a mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add the icing sugar, one cup at a time, alternating with the cream. Beat in the salt, coconut and vanilla essences. Continue beating until mixture is smooth and spreadable. (Add more icing sugar if necessary to thicken, or more cream to thin.) Stir in the coconut and jam – then spread the icing on a cooled cake.

Yum!

A $50 makeover…

Yesterday I looked around my lovely apartment and decided it was time for a change. I’ve lived here for two years, and much as I love it, I was getting tired of seeing the same things all the time.

I owe the bank a LOT of money, and the property market isn’t the best for selling right now, so I quickly discarded any plan to move. Maybe I could rent it out, and live overseas for a while. I have friends who spent six months or a year in London and New York. I like London and New York. That would be a change, right?

Except…I owe the bank a LOT of money. And I have a good day job at the moment, which I’d be stupid to give up. So, with a sigh I reigned in my adventurousness. And checked my bank balance.

Ouch.

I wandered aimlessly around my apartment for a while, ignoring all the things I should have been doing instead. New furniture? Not within the budget. That ruled out new curtains. I really want a big shiny mirror for the wall behind to the dining table, but the one I have my eye on is nearly five hundred dollars. Way out of my no-more-than-$70 budget. I could put the money toward the mirror, but then I’d have no immediate gratification.

Hmm, that wall could really use…something. An idea struck me, and I took myself off to the hardware store.

I wandered the paint aisles for ages, looking at paint cards and narrowing down colors. The wall doesn’t get a lot of light, and room is quite small, so a dark color was out. In the end, I chose green. The exact color is Taubman’s Sparkling Mint, if anyone wants to look it up.
While I was wandering the aisles, I had another idea. The wall above the chest of drawers in my room was still bare. Why not MYO something to hang there? So I also bought a sample pot of a lovely bright blue paint and some oddly shaped small blank canvases. And dropcloths to protect my floor, a brush, roller and tray, and tape.

Last night I taped up my ceiling, the baseboard and the walls adjoining the target wall. I covered my floor, changed into grotty old clothes, and put on an audio book.

I’m a pretty good painter, if I do say so myself! My wall is now bee-you-tee-full and has completely changed the look of the room. I’ve picked out beads and other stuff to adorn my new artwork, and next I’m going to get that done.

Go me! A makeover for my apartment, for $47.75!

Now, I have to catch up on all the things I didn’t do while I was painting…

Miss Fix-It excerpt

Chapter One

People think I’m a bimbo just because I have a pink hammer.
Okay, admittedly I can be a bit bimbo-esque. An un-natural blonde who loves pretty clothes, cosmetics and high heels, I paint miniature works of art on my nails, mix my alcohol with fruit juice and my favorite color is—you guessed it—pink. But beneath my flawlessly cared-for exterior beats the heart of a certified geek—Masters in Economics included. If only that made people take the pink hammer seriously, I’d advertise it on the side of my RAV4. Unfortunately, people rarely see my serious side.
My name is Veronica Castelletti, and I’m a handyperson. This unlikely profession for a self-confessed girly-girl came about as a result of sibling rivalry and a roomful of self-assembly furniture. After crushing my brother’s pride to dust, I realized how much fun I’d had—something that had been lacking in my high-powered, sophisticated job as an economist. So I chucked it in, and five years later am earning just as much fixing cabinets and redesigning kitchens as when I wore power suits and wielded a calculator. And nowadays, people don’t fall asleep when I talk about work.
So I wear overalls and boots to work, have a tool belt, and drive a 4WD. But just because everything has to be durable doesn’t mean I can’t be me. My mother agrees completely—she’s the one who commissioned my custom-made pink tools. And my work clothes all have some custom tailoring, partly to improve the fit (one-size-fits-all—what a joke) but also to individualize and add class. I’m a whizz with a sewing machine, so it’s easy to swap out those ugly snaps for funky buttons, add a cool belt and replace the sleeves. But anyway, as usual I’ve digressed.
Back to the point—people rarely take me seriously. Let’s use the Lech as an example—that’s not really his name, by the way, but if people were named for personality traits…anyway, I took a job for a nice-sounding lady who wanted to have her front gate re-hung.
I’d been working for about twenty minutes when she came out and told me she was going to see her mother. She gave me a check to cover the job, asked me to close the gate when I was done, and not to make too much noise, as her husband was making some “important business calls.”
Hah!
She was gone less than a minute when the front door opened and hubby came wandering down the driveway. He was unimpressive—mid height, mid build, with a bit of a doughnut building around his middle.
“You’re the handyman?” he asked.
Considering what I was in the middle of doing, it was a pretty stupid question, but hey—the customer is always right.
“Yep. Veronica Castelletti.” I hefted the side of the gate I’d been working on back up onto its hinges.
“Do you need a hand with that?” He came up behind me as I took a step back to check the clearance, and I bumped into him.
“No, I’m…” I broke off on a gasp.
The scumbag squeezed my ass!
I’m not talking about a casual brush or even a slightly more prolonged grope. He actually put his hand on my left cheek and squeezed!
It happens to me a lot in my profession, but it never fails to piss me off—especially when the offender is married. Still, I consider myself a classy woman, so I moved out of his reach and swung the gate. Hard.
He cursed and jumped out of the way, except he wasn’t really very coordinated, and nearly ended up sprawled on the driveway. It was a joy to see.
“You little bit—”
I smiled innocently, tilting my head. “I’m sorry, did that nearly hit you? I was checking to see if there was clearance room.”
Despite my hope that he would leave after that, I was out of luck. He just gave me a very fake smile and assured me he was okay. Darn.
The other side of the gate came off its hinges easily, and I leaned it against the fence, turned around and nearly had a heart attack when I found him right there in front of me. Obviously, he slithered like a snake—I hadn’t heard him at all.
I was still recovering from my surprise when the lecherous bastard’s hand zeroed in on my breast.
I shrieked and leapt back, drawing myself up to my full five feet ten inches. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
I was prepared to spit on his bald spot, but my reaction—and possibly the screwdriver in my hand—convinced him to back off. He sputtered and retreated to the other side of the driveway.
“I was only trying to help!”
Uh-huh.
I started removing the old hinges from the gate.
“This is such a cute hobby for a woman.”
Gritting my teeth, I stabbed the screwdriver at the next screw, picturing his eyeballs.
“Even if you are stealing jobs from hardworking men just so you can get your kicks.”
In my mind, the screwdriver was now stabbing at other balls.
“How long should I expect the gate to last before I call a real repairman?”
Oh, now that was just mean.
“How long did it last until now?” My answer came from between clenched teeth, and for a long moment he was silent. The screws all came out of the hinge, but it was seriously warped and still jammed in the gate post, so I grabbed my hammer to loosen things up.
“Is that a pink hammer?”
He was coming closer, but I ignored him.
“Does that hammer even work?”
I pounded at the hinge and wished it were his head.
“What kind of professional uses a pink hammer?”
The hinge finally flew out of the post, and I bent to pick it up—only to feel a pudgy hand grab my ass.
I came up swinging. I wasn’t actually going to hit him—that would be wrong. It was just the only thing that came to mind to make him back off. And watching him gibber in terror as I threatened him with a pink hammer was really satisfying—that whole, I-am-male-thus-superior attitude always makes my blood boil, especially since he was so obviously incapable of doing his own handiwork.
“Police! Drop your weapon!”
Huh? I looked over my shoulder to see a cop coming toward us, the car behind him parked haphazardly at the curb. He was pointing his gun in my direction, and I looked around to see who he was talking to.
“Put down the weapon, lady!”
Lady? He was talking to me?
The lecherous bastard had already escaped out of my reach, so I dropped my hammer and turned to face the cop.
“Hands over your head!”
Was he for real? Still, my hands went up. He reached me and patted me down, which was actually kind of interesting, seeing that he was really hot and had this earnest expression. No trying to cop a feel, though.
“Officer, I’m so glad you’re here!” Lech’s smarmy voice drew my attention. He was actually wringing his hands, and had pasted a shocked and horrified look on his face.
“Sir, are you okay?” The officer asked him, pulling my hands behind my back and…were those handcuffs?
He handcuffed me.
“Hey, what—”
“She attacked me!” Lech cried, drowning me out. He went on, blathering some crap that the cop ate up, while I moved my wrists in the handcuffs and stared at them both in amazement. I’m not opposed to handcuffs, per se, they can actually be fun when used between consenting adults.
I didn’t think that was what the cop had in mind.

***
Twenty minutes later officer hot-and-earnest led me into a little box of a room at the police station, took off the handcuffs, and told me to stay put. I’d never been to the police station before. In any other circumstances, it would have been pretty cool, but not while I was sitting there, without even a one-way window to occupy me while I waited to be questioned. Me, questioned by the police! My stomach flipped at the thought, and I took a deep, cleansing breath. It didn’t work, but that may have been because the air in the room was a bit stale.
They probably saved the good rooms for the real criminals.
That’s kind of offensive, really. Not that I want to be a criminal or anything, but since I was there, as a taxpayer I’d have liked to get the full arrest-and-interrogation package, including one-way glass and fingerprinting. The only things I did get were the handcuffs and the backseat of the police car.
My nerves had dissipated and I had worked up a full head of steam over my less-than-adequate accommodations when the door to my box opened and a plainclothes cop walked in. It was not, to my disappointment, officer hot-and-earnest. This guy was about ten years older and looked a thousand more times experienced. The what-a-waste-of-my-time look he gave me as he shut the door was meant to intimidate. From his frown, he wasn’t impressed that I gave him the same look back.
My best friend Anita is a first grade teacher and she told me once that the best way to get kids to confess to any wrong doings is to sit down with them in a quiet room and say nothing. Apparently it’s an old police interrogation trick—and thus perfect for use by the educators of our children. It’s also what this cop was doing now—sitting across the table, saying nothing. That irritated me—who likes being treated like a first-grader?
I knew that the smart thing for me to do would be either a) politely explain the situation or b) do exactly the same thing he was, but it had been a long day, and let’s face it, I am a taxpayer, so I went for c)—the offensive.
“I’ll have you know that I’m very upset about the treatment I’ve received since I arrived here.”
He blinked. “I was told that when you arrived you were shown directly into this room.” His response was calm, his tone bland.
I wondered how long it would take me to break him. “Exactly! The minute I got here I was put in this little dog box! I wasn’t fingerprinted, they didn’t give me my one phone call, and this room doesn’t have one-way glass!” I gave him the evil eye, the one my grandmother swears by. From the pained look on the cop’s face, I’d just given him indigestion.
He took a deep breath. “If you’d been arrested, we would certainly have fingerprinted you and given you your phone call. But you haven’t been arrested; you’ve been brought in for questioning regarding a suspicious incident.”
I crossed my arms and humphed.
“What about this crappy little room?” I demanded.
He gave me what I assumed was supposed to be a smile but was actually a twisted grimace. I could practically smell my victory.
“This was the only room available when you were brought in. I apologize if it doesn’t meet your standards.”
An apology just wasn’t good enough. I wanted blood. I drew myself up in my seat and prepared to deliver the finishing blow.
“I,” I began loftily, “am a taxpayer and a law-abiding citizen. If I visit a police station, I expect to be given a better room than that given to an actual criminal, even if that means that said criminal needs to be moved.”
While I was speaking, a red flush began to rise from his collar, and by the time I was finished his face was nearly purple, jaw clenched. Without a word, he stood and left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Gotcha.

Buy it now at
Solstice Publishing
Amazon
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Fictionwise
BooksOnBoard
Coffeetime Romance
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Busy Girl!

Well, I still haven’t posted those photos…shame on me! But I have been a busy girl.

I’ve finished what was my WIP, Catch a Shooting Star, or what I’m now calling CaSS. CaSS is currently doing the rounds of publishers and agents, and hopefully will be available for sale in the future. It’s about social misfit Jessamy James, who pays the bills with a cleaning job so she can do what she really loves: tell stories to children. She meets NFL superstar Nathan Powell when she cleans his house. He’s intrigued by her reclusive attitude, and she’s drawn to his open personality and lack of defensive walls. It doesn’t take long for attraction to set in, and for a relationship to blossom.
When Nathan is accused of dealing drugs, Jess is caught up in the media storm and finds her own vocation slipping through her fingers. They struggle together to clear his name and rescue both their careers.

One Night in a Bar by Louisa Masters is also doing the rounds. Karen comes home unexpectedly to find her boyfriend cheating on her with her (male) boss, and another man. Can she really be blamed for pulling out the mace when they invite her to join in?
She mourns the loss of her job at a bar, gets a little tipsy…and somehow, she ends up having sex in an alley with tall, dark, and sexy Daniel. Something she’s never done before. Good thing they’ll never see each other again, right?
Wrong…
One month into a new job, she lands a fabulous new client, world-renowned sculptor Crogan. Except, Daniel Crogan turns out to be her one-hour stand. And professionalism is the last thing on his mind.

I’m now gearing up to start on my next project. Being a pantser and not a plotter, I can’t give you a full blurb just yet, but it kicks off with a runaway bride, an impromptu trip to London, and a sexy stranger. Hmm, what is it about me and strangers?

Louisa is also working on a new project (heh, multiple personalities). It’s a bit out of her usual box, a space opera with a professional companion heroine. More details when I have them.

AND, finally Miss Fix-It will be available for sale in paperback in Australia. That pesky distribution problem has been cleared up, and two of my favourite bookstores have placed orders. So if you want a copy, you can call Rendezvous the Romance Bookstore in Melbourne, or Rosemary’s Romance Books in Brisbane. Both stores ship within Australia, New Zealand and Asia. You should also be able to special order it at Dymocks. I don’t know what the bananas is going on with Borders, so maybe pass on them.

Okay, back to work for me–these books don’t write themselves! Wouldn’t that be nice?

Fairytales vs Romance

For years and years, when asked what my favorite fairytale is, I’ve always answered ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Why? I didn’t have a clue.

The other day I watched the Disney movie, Enchanted, for the first time. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a fabulous amalgamation of the classic Disney movies, the ultimate fairytale with a modern twist. I loved it right off. The fact that Patrick Dempsey is in it didn’t hurt, of course.

The point is, after seeing the movie, it struck me why B&B has always been my favorite. The hero and heroine actually get to know each other.

Think about it. Cinderella and her prince fall in love during a dance. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty both meet their princes when they wake from comas. Ariel can’t talk with her prince, and so he ends up almost marrying someone else (depending on the version. I dislike the one where he actually does marry someone else and Ariel dies).

But only in Beauty and the Beast do our hero and heroine actually talk to each other before the happy ever after. They talk, they play, eat and read and get to know who they really are, both together and apart (okay, so I’m investing this story with depth that may not actually be there, but you know what I mean). This is a story that appeals to a modern audience. Once upon a time, ending up with a Prince, no matter who he was, may have been enough to ensure happy ever after, but personally I want to know who I’m waking up with the day after the wedding.

So, I put on my B&B dvd to watch the magic again…and noticed exactly how clever the people at Disney are. That wonderful scene, the one where Belle and The Beast are dancing in the ballroom? That scene that always made me sigh and wish that the days of ballrooms and gowns and dancing would return? That ultimately romantic, wonderful moment in time? Well, it’s been replicated, in non-animated human format, at the end of Enchanted. And it’s just as eminently romantic and sigh-worthy.

If you haven’t seen Beauty and the Beast, or Enchanted, I strongly recommend that you run out and buy copies. Don’t bother with renting, it will cost you more in the long run!

So, if I had to choose the fairytale or romance, I want romance. I want the moments that make your chest ache. The happy ever after is something my man and I can work on together.

My interview with RWA Online

Note: This article used with permission by RWA Online, Chapter #136 from their January/February 2011 issue of LoveBytes.

Interview with Olivia Ventura
By Karen Jones

Olivia, would you tell us a little about Miss Fix-It?

Veronica (always Vee, never Ronnie) is an outgoing, girly, funky and fashionable woman. She has regular manicures, fabulous clothes, a shoe fetish, and a love affair with the color pink. And she’s a handyman—woman—person—I always get stuck with this word!

She’s on a job when her client’s husband gets frisky, and because Vee is soooo not into adultery, she threatens him with her (pink) hammer to make him back off. Next thing you know, she’s at the local police station, being questioned about the ‘attempted assault’.

Her questioner, sexy detective Cole Samuels, isn’t sure what to make of her, especially when she demands her right to a room with one-way glass. There are sparks between them from the beginning, just not necessarily romantic ones! Still, things heat up pretty quickly, and they’re well and truly into each other when the threatening notes start coming…

How did you come up with the idea for Miss Fix-It?

I had to have a tradesman come and repair something, I don’t even remember what, and his attitude drove me crazy. He all but patted me on the head when I told him what the problem was, then spent twenty minutes establishing what I’d just told him. Just because I don’t have the specific skills required to make the repair does not mean I’m too dumb to see what needs to be done! I was convinced that a woman wouldn’t have been so pigheaded (sexist of me, I know).

Why did you make Vee so girly?

I was keen to emphasize that being a tradesman (person) didn’t mean that Vee had to be butch. Just because she likes working with her hands doesn’t mean they can’t be nicely manicured hands! Plus, that’s just the person that she is—I couldn’t just change her.

What was it about your book that made your editor want to buy it?

It’s fun. While there’s a touch of suspense to the overall story, and some emotional hang-ups between Vee and Cole, overall Miss Fix-It is a fun book, and eminently smile-worthy.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing Miss Fix-It?

Trying to keep Vee from becoming a bitch. She didn’t mean to be one, but she has little patience and tends to speak her mind, so it came across that way sometimes. I had to keep stopping and thinking, how would I feel if someone said that to me…?

How much research did you conduct for Miss Fix-It and what was the most interesting thing you did while conducting your research?

I didn’t need to do a lot of research, but I did spend some time with tools! The guy at the local hardware patiently walked me through what all the tools do. I also got a manicure and then went to IKEA and bought a bookcase, which I assembled all by myself. I was very impressed when my nails still looked good afterward!

My favorite part was investigating different styles for Vee’s engagement ring. Oh, the sparklies!

Why did you decide to write contemporaries?

It wasn’t really a decision, it was just the way the stories came. I’ve currently got a short erotic romance doing the rounds, and another in the works, and my full-length WIP is also a contemporary.

What is your process for writing a book? For example, are you a plotter or a pantzer?

Miss Fix-It started with a concept: female tradesman. The character of Veronica came next, kind of full-grown and ready to go. The rest flowed from there—I’m definitely not a plotter, I just have a vague idea of the ultimate destination, and maybe a few of the stops along the way. I wrote Miss Fix-It sequentially, but it doesn’t always seem to go that way for me.

Do you use any techniques, tools, or aids to help you write?

Google. If it can’t solve my problem/question, it points me in the right direction. And I keep reminding myself of what Nora Roberts said: you can’t fix a blank page.

How do you make time to write?

I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I get lucky, and poof! there’s a magical block of four hours free. Mostly, I cram it in between other things. Even a couple hundred words here and there is better than nothing.

When you are writing, who is in control? You or your characters?

It depends on the mood we’re all in!

Who has had the most influence on your writing?

This is impossible to answer…next question, please!

Have you had any “ah ha” moments as a writer?

All the time. Mind you, I have them all the time anyway. Generally at three in the morning.

What advice do you have for other writers?

Just keep writing. I used to hear that and think it was useless advice, but it’s not. Actually finishing a book is a massive achievement, and if writing makes you happy, don’t let anything put you off.

Why did you decide to become an author?

I always wanted to be one. I have so much fun with stories—when I was little, I sometimes let them spill into my life. It took a while for me to understand that society frowns on making stuff up. Do you know, it’s even called lying?

Why did you decide to become a romance author?

That’s just what I write. I love a HEA, and I love seeing the push-pull between two people when they’re starting something up.

Would you tell us your story of getting “the call?”

Ah, that magical email…the one I had to read six times, and still thought might be a hoax. Once I’d convinced myself it was FOR REAL, I called Mum and let her freak out for both of us. Sometimes I wonder if I’m dreaming still.

What was the most exciting thing that happened to you after you signed your contract – besides receiving your first check as a published author?

Having people tell me they’d bought my book. The first time, I almost said ‘huh?’

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?

Well, aside from drudging away at the day job (which I don’t think I’ll ever get away from), I’d probably be reading.

How does your family feel about your career as a romance author?

My dad asks me why I don’t write a thriller like David Baldacci. He’s incredibly proud of me, but can’t quite get past the romance thing.

What are you doing to promote your book?

Talking to people. Facebook, Twitter (which I’d never used before) and anything else I can get my hands on. I’m sending copies of Miss Fix-It to all the review sites I can find, although people have told me that doesn’t necessarily affect sales. I’m also open to suggestions…

What books can we expect to see in the near future?

I have a short erotic romance called Conference Room B that’s currently being shopped to publishers. It’s about a woman who quits her job and then celebrates by inviting her workplace crush to have sex with her in the conference room…only she doesn’t end up leaving after all, and has to face her feelings for him. I’m hoping to have a response on this in Feb, so cross your fingers for me!

2011: Let’s start again

So, the year kicked off really well with a kick-ass party and a great lazy week. Then…46 sleepless hours (not something I do–ever) followed by a week of disgusting cramps and vomit. Not how I want to remember the first month of the new year.

My decision? Start again. As far as I’m concerned, the last two weeks belong to 2010. The new year starts now.

I’ll let you know how that goes…maybe I’ll have to restart again later on. That’s the best thing about tomorrow; you can always begin again.

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