Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Traveling Tips - Packing Smart by Denise Devine

A few years ago, I visited a friend who was packing to go to Hawaii. Like most women, she couldn’t decide what to take so she packed two large suitcases full of clothes and shoes. When I arrived, she was trying to close the second one. It was so full she had to stand on it to get it zipped.

Sounds like a cute scene in a movie, but in reality, it’s a prescription for disaster. I worked for the TSA for 9 years in the Training Department. I also worked PT as a baggage screener (for the first 2 ½ years). I saw a lot of strange things go through x-ray (like the trunk filled with S&M items—never mind—that’s an article for another time!). I had some scary experiences as well, but I learned some useful packing tips.

Back to the full suitcases. Let’s say one alarmed going through the x-ray machine at the airport. That bag would get pulled off the line and searched. Most experienced screeners can tell exactly where an object (that sets off the alarm) is located so they don’t have to tear the bag apart to get to it. However, if the bag is over-filled, some of the contents might spill out.

Do you want your undies landing on the floor of the TSA’s bag-check room?

No. I didn’t think so. (I’ve seen this many times!) So, here are a few simple things you can do to avoid getting your bag searched.


Don’t bring food in your suitcase. Buy it once you get to your destination. Crackers and bread will probably make it through, but boxes of chocolate bars, peanut butter, syrup, dressing, jam, catsup and mustard, steak sauce, etc. are thick and will alarm. The same thing goes for bottles of conditioner, body lotion, etc. Buy them at the drugstore when you get to your destination and throw them away before you leave. Or use travel sizes.

Bulk Mass

Anything larger than a 12 ounce Coke can might alarm. Avoid bringing large bottles of cosmetics, cans or bottles of pop, wine or liquor. Two smaller containers side-by-side that amount to 12 ounces or so can create the same effect, so avoid storing smaller jars together. Again, travel sizes are best.


Anything the x-ray can’t penetrate is a shield and will have to be examined. Magazines, brochures or
conference schedules with shiny paper can alarm so put them in the large outside pocket of your suitcase. That way, if they do alarm, the screener doesn’t have to go into the suitcase to check them. Better yet, put them in your carry-on bag. Also, don’t stack books in your suitcase. I always place my books end-to-end around the inside wall of my suitcase or line the bottom in a single layer. I’ve never had them alarm. Never put a laptop in your suitcase. It will alarm and could get dropped during the testing process.

Common Sense Advice

Don’t overfill your suitcase. If the zipper breaks during a bag search, the TSA will secure the bag with shrink-wrap, but you could lose items. Make sure everything is zipped shut and secured with twist-ties. Don’t use zip-ties. Once they’re cut, they’re gone. Don’t pack your stuff in an expensive designer bag like Louis Vuitton, even if it’s a knock-off. People steal fancy bags right off the carrousel at the airport.

Always put a personal luggage tag on every piece you take (even your carry-on). I’ve seen instances where the airline’s destination tag got ripped off a bag as it passed through the slats of the rubber curtain on its way down to the baggage area. Any bag without a destination tag goes straight to the “Lost Baggage” area and it will sit there until you claim it.

Put all your liquid cosmetics in Ziplock bags as the caps can unscrew and empty out in the suitcase. Same for all your unmentionables. Ziplock bags will separate, seal and keep them from being handled if your suitcase is searched.

Don’t put ANYTHING of value (or of value to you) in your suitcase. Put it in your carry-on baggage and drag it on the plane with you. TSA screeners work under multiple security cameras, but often baggage handlers do not and they steal things.

Going through the checkpoint, stay aware of your belongings. People leave many items behind (phones, cameras, laptops, ID, envelopes of money) that are never recovered because another passenger coming through behind the owner steals them right off the belt. Yes, it happens and it’s all caught on tape on the security cameras, but by the time the tape is reviewed, the thief is long gone.

I hope these tips are helpful to you. Have fun in your travels this summer!

If you’re a romance writer, see you in New York City at the end of July!

~     ~     ~

Coming in August!
Denise Devine is a USA TODAY bestselling author of romantic comedy and she also loves to write inspirational fiction. She wrote her first book, a mystery, at thirteen and has been writing ever since. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers. She writes about true love, happy endings and stories that touch your heart.


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Monday, June 29, 2015

For the Love of Friendship by Karen Rock

As a romance writer, and reader, nothing is more fulfilling than seeing a couple I’ve rooted for throughout a story finally achieve their happily-ever-after. Yet, after recently watching one of my favorite movies, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, I thought about another kind of relationship that is equally important and lasts a lifetime: friendship. As Anne of Green Gables would say, a kindred spirit. Looking back, the books, movies and shows I’ve loved the most had close female friendships that added depth and richness to the story. It’s moving to see these fictional friends support, rejoice, fume, cry and laugh with one another through anything and everything. If a love story also mentions friendship in the blurb, I’m in! In light of that, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite fictional friendship pairs:

1.      Idgie and Ruth, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, by Fanny Flagg. What a gorgeous friendship! They bonded over the tragic loss of Idgie’s brother/Ruth’s boyfriend, came to each other’s rescue during times of domestic violence and threatened arrests. Idgie helped Ruth learn to assert herself and Ruth helped tame some of Idgie’s rougher edges. Still, they both accepted and loved each other, just as they were… making a profound difference in each other’s lives.

·       Favorite Friendship Moment: When Idgie and Ruth get into a food fight in their diner’s kitchen and Ruth smears chocolate frosting on their friend, the sheriff, when he tries to calm things down. Also, I sobbed when Idgie tells Ruth a final, tall tale.

2.      Anne and Dianna, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Such a sweet and loving friendship that had its share of ups a downs. Best of all, the readers got to see this friendship mature and grow along with the characters.

·       Favorite Friendship Moment: So many!! I love when Anne asks Dianne over for tea and Dianne is served current wine instead of raspberry cordial and gets drunk, or the time when Anne saves Dianne’s sister’s life from the croup or… ah! So many!

3.     3. Abileen and Minny, THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett. I adore the friendship between these two maids from Jackson, Mississippi who faced the most difficult times together in the pre-civil rights era. Despite all of their hardships, they always had at least one person they could depend on: each other. Things got incredibly ugly for them, but their friendship always remained a constant.

·         Favorite Friendship Moment: When Abileen recruits Minny to join her in the book project as well as Abileen’s support of Minny and encouragement to break free of her abusive husband.

4.      CC and Hillary, BEACHES, by Iris Rainer Dart. What can I say without ugly crying?! This friendship was so profound, complex and moving it’s my all-time favorite. Both have something they envy in the other. Hillary is reserved, privileged and classy whereas CC is outgoing, bursting with personality, but rough around the edges. They bring out the worst and best in each other and love each other like sisters.

·        Favorite Friendship Moment: When Hillary asks CC to be her daughter’s guardian and also when CC gives Hillary heck for giving up as her illness worsens. Tenderness and tough love- what we all need in a true friend.

5.      Celie and Nettie, THE COLOR PURPLE, by Alice Walker. No one can be a better, more loving, loyal and lifelong friend than a sister. Celie and Nettie, born into a horrible childhood, had only each other to turn to. When Celie was forced to marry an abusive man, Nettie came along and did her best to protect her sister, even teaching her how to read and write. When Nettie was made to leave, she never gave up writing to her sister whose husband hid all of the letters. Consequently, Celie didn’t know that fate intervened and allowed Nettie to raise the children a young Celie thought she'd lost when she gave them up for adoption.

·       Favorite Friendship Moment: What can compare to the emotion of their sister reunion in the wildflower field?! When Nettie returns from her missionary work in Africa to reunite Celie with her children, the moment is one of the most beautiful, iconic moments of sisterhood in fiction’s history.
“Nothing but death can keep me from her!” Nettie shouted as Celie’s husband forced her off their property. I could have yelled along with her as I imagined my own protectiveness, loyalty and love for my friends. Watching FRIED GREEN TOMATOES recently was a great reminder for me to include incredible friendships in my stories.  What are your favorite fictional female friendships in books, movies or television shows? Or, how has a close friend made a difference in your life?
I'm excited to hear your thoughts, SRR friends.  Thanks so much for stopping by our blog J

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Detour! - by Magdalena Scott

Just in case you didn’t know, 2015 hasn’t gone according to what we can humorously describe as “my plan.” Haha.

I had a road map for the year. I thought I’d be like the fabulous women I know who seem to have everything under control. I’m in awe of those who, for instance, have five year plans.

Five. Year. Plans.

I’m more likely to succeed with a five minute plan. An entire day? Not so much.

But--waaaaah—I don’t wanna be flexible. I want to make a plan, stick to it, and then hear angels sing as the clouds part and a big golden ray of sunlight bounces off my silver hair. Is that too much to ask?

Oh, I’ve tried. I really, truly have tried—on many occasions in the past, and especially this year. I thought 2015 would be different. I’ve diligently recorded important dates and to-do’s in my nifty thrifty calendar book. And I made a Giant Spreadsheet of Awesomeness which detailed what writing project I would accomplish by 5 PM on Friday of each week.

It’s a good thing I reuse and recycle paper. I have an idea the Giant Spreadsheet of Awesomeness will serve me better once I cut it up and use the back as grocery lists.

Here’s the weird thing. My most productive days are the ones I don’t plan. Like one day this week when I got up early and decided to work for a few minutes before heading out for a walk. Turns out it was raining (hello! plan change) so I drank coffee and worked…and I had accomplished everything for the day by 2:00 that afternoon.

I also had my travel for the year planned. One trip. ONE. Romance Writers of America Conference in New York City. The conference is always fabulous, and I’ve never been to NYC, so win/win, right? I signed up.

Surprise! I got invited to a wedding in San Francisco a few days after I return from NYC in late July. But hey—I’ve never been to S.F., so this is a great opportunity.

Surprise! A girlfriend wanted to join a tour to Ireland in the fall, and needed a roommate. Wow. I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, and who knows when another chance will come along? I’m trying to figure out how in the world to pack for 11 days with one suitcase and a non-wheeled carry-on.

Adapting, being flexible, learning to “go with the flow”—you’d think I would have finished with these lessons, but evidently not. Or maybe 2015 is my masters’ level course,

Help! I'm looking for packing tips!



Magdalena Scott writes small town sweet romance novels. Learn about her books, read her blog, subscribe to her newsletter, and connect on social media by visiting her website: magdalenascott.com

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

When Research is Fun by Susan R. Hughes

Last weekend, I took my family on a short trip to Toronto, and while we were there, we visited the new Ripley’s Aquarium. (It takes just over four hours to drive to Toronto from Ottawa, where I live.) I wanted to see the aquarium for two reasons: I knew my kids would love it, and I wanted to use an aquarium setting for a scene in my upcoming Christmas novella, The Christmas Charm.

The aquarium was crowded, but all the bodies around us didn’t interfere with our enjoyment of the exhibits. We saw an impressive variety of marine life and spent hours exploring. 

A highlight was the “Dangerous Lagoon,” which had a moving walkway taking visitors through an underwater tunnel that surrounds you with ocean fish, stingrays and small sharks.

Dangerous Lagoon
 In other areas, visitors were allowed to touch horseshoe crabs and small stingrays, which willingly glided to the surface of the water to be petted. The kids were most mesmerized by the jellyfish that glowed with neon colours. 
Horseshoe crab

My favourite was the fleshy sea pens, which really look like pink quill pens waving at the bottom of the tank. 
Fleshy sea pens

 The kids had a wonderful day, and I took dozens of photographs that I’ll need to help me work the amazing things I saw into a short scene in my story. For all of us, it was worth the trip.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Top Ten Wedding Songs by Ginny Baird

June is such a great month for weddings. Think summer brides with handsome grooms, and beautiful outdoor ceremonies and receptions. I especially love the tradition of the first dance the happy couple shares together as husband and wife.

During a recent author interview, I was asked to provide my “Top Ten Wedding Songs” and I had a blast coming up with my list. I visited wedding planning websites and hunted online, finding audio samples of tunes along the way. Finally, I settled on my favorites. While I didn’t have dancing at my wedding (hubby and I eloped!), if I was asked to select a romantic song for a very special dance today, I would definitely pick one of these.

Do you see any of your favorites? If you have another choice that’s not here, please feel free to add it below. In celebration of summer love, I’ll award a free e-book copy of A Summer Grooms Selection (Books 1 – 3) to one person who comments by Sunday at midnight.


1) L­-O-­V­-E by Nat King Cole

2) What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong

3) Our Love is Here to Stay by Billie Holiday

4) Fly Me to the Moon by Frank Sinatra

5) Let’s Stay Together by Al Green

6) Save the Last Dance for Me by Michael Buble

7) Have I Told You Lately by Van Morrison

8) I’ll Be by Edwin McCain

9) I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith

10) (Everything I Do) I Do It For You by Bryan Adams
* ~ * ~ *

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Ginny Baird writes contemporary romance novels and novellas. Her newest sweet romance release is My Best Friend’s Bride, now available at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and B&N. Want to keep up with news from Sweet Romance Reads authors? Sign up for the SRR newsletter today. Like chatting about Sweet Romance? Join the authors of Sweet Romance Reads in our cyber Café!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Been There, Done That... Some Joys of Growing Older by Christine Bush

There are lots of pains and trials with aging,  there is no doubt about that.  But as each day goes by, I am finding more and more magical things that make me grateful as I get older.  It’s so much a matter of attitude.

It’s easier to “Slow down and smell the roses,”  because I just can’t go as fast anymore.  I’m also discovering that multi tasking  (a talent which I actually used to be proud of) is a waste of time in the long run, in that it means that I was never fully engaged in any one thing as my brain spun to “keep all the plates in the air spinning.” Today, when I focus on one thing or person at a time, it’s deeper, richer, and makes each moment memorable.

People mean even more to me.  I’m a “people person”, so people ALWAYS mattered a lot.  But now, they matter an ENORMOUS amount. I think it’s because with the passing of life, I’ve had the pain of grief in losing many people who meant a lot. I see how fragile life is.  I’m absolutely aware of the value of those I love every single day.  I cherish and enjoy them even more, without judgment, giving advice, or wanting to change them. I am loving  people just as they are these days.

Priorities have changed.   Love and family and friends come first.  I still love to write. I still love to teach.  I still have hobbies and interests and a “to do list”.  But I know what comes first, and that feels good.

I have a bevy of grandkids today, and I find total joy in watching them learn and grow and laugh and explore.  I like the feeling of delight many years of life wisdom bring. 

Sometimes I marvel at how much I used to worry, to wonder how my life would turn out. I was full of self criticism and self consciousness.  I hesitated and procrastinated so many times in life, wanting to wait until I was “better” or “improved” to face a challenge.  I would procrastinate until I was “more skilled, or thinner, or richer, or had more time”. Getting older has taught me a lot about this.

No sense wasting time waiting for perfection. Today is the day I have, so I better accept myself as I am, and live life to the best of my ability. Now.

This one change has opened so many opportunities. I have taken flying lessons, taken part in a fashion show (if you know me, you know how off the charts this is), gotten bilateral knee replacements, and embarked on a whole new life.

I’ve learned that we’re never too old to experience life in a rich and amazing and different way.  Including love.  I’m including a link to a short fictional story about finding love in the second half of life. I hope you enjoy it!

What have you learned as the years go by?  I’d love to hear!

 Christine Bush is the award winning author of many books and novellas of sweet romance and light mystery. She also writes Middle Grade Fiction. When she isn’t writing, she can be found working with clients as a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice, or teaching Psychology at a local college.  She lives with her family and two crazy cats in northeastern Pennsylvania, and loves to hear from readers and aspiring writers.

Enjoy “Cowboy Boots”, a short romance story about finding love in the second half of life.

Christine's latest book is “Cindy’s Prince”.

Fine out more about Christine's books Here

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Behind the Scenes

Whenever I run an event at a conference or luncheon, I’m always asked about the behind the scenes planning. After conversing with several readers, I decided this would be an awesome topic for Sweet Romance Reads. :)

First, I should explain that there are two different processes based on if you are attending an established conference, or if an author is running a private event. Let’s look at the conference events first.

I decided to review an actual recent event, so that I could be specific. Here is the process for Scrapbooking Mania 2016 at Romantic Times convention:
Assemble Scrapbooks
  1. Develop a project plan. This includes, but is not limited to brainstorming and developing event, organizing participating authors, budget plan for supplies, etc…
  2. Apply for the event. This requires a written proposal or submission via a form on a website or email. I was lucky to have previous experience with grant writing for special needs children, so I was able to apply these skills.
  3. Wait to hear if the event is approved. There are usually dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants for Romantic Times convention.
  4. It’s approved! Yay! Now, we need to send correspondence to all authors to organize supplies, shipping, event details, time and date of event, etc…
  5. Order supplies.
  6. Assemble and ready supplies.
  7. Ship supplies to event, or plan a 13 hour drive across country. Yes, I drove from Georgia to Texas this year. :)
  8. Send reminder emails to authors about the event.
  9. Communicate with hotel, or on-site event volunteer, to make sure all necessary set-up is planned appropriately.
  10. Have all authors show up early to help with set-up for the event.
  11. Enjoy the event!!

Of course, each event can be run slightly different, but this shows the basic process. 

Have you attended Romantic Times? If not, have you attended any reader event? If so, did you enjoy it?

Next month, I'll post about Love Our Readers Luncheon planning. In the mean time, I thought I'd share a different type of product that required some planning, a boxed set. I'm excited to announce that our own Melinda Curtis joined me for this fantastic group of novellas. 

For my Sweetwater County fans, I've included a novella for a spin-off series, Riverbend! I'm excited about this new adventure. :) And Then He Kissed Her will release on July 14th. Check it out now at any major online retailer, or click here.

Ciara Knight writes ‘a little bit of edge and a lot of heart’ with her bestselling young adult speculative fiction and romance stories. Her books have secured four stars from RT book reviews, awarded Night Owl Top Picks, five stars from InD’Tale Magazine and Paranormal Romance Guild, topped the Amazon charts, featured on USA Today Blog, and named book of the month by Long and Short Reviews.
At the moment, Ciara lives in suburbia with her husband, three boys, two cats and a dog, but she believes it’s a farce. In reality, her home is a castle in disguise and she's living happily ever after with her husband Nathan Fillion.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Happy Monday! Julie Jarnagin here.

As I'm working on my seventh sweet romance, I realized that family has played a huge part in every book I've written. Whether it's a series with three brothers or a rugged cowboy who's helping his dad through a hard time, no character would be the same if I had changed his or her family dynamics.

There's nothing that can tell us more about a person (real or fictional) than a look at their lives with their families. It's one of my favorite ways to add a deeper layer to a character's story.

And it's a fun way to introduce a quirky character because who doesn't have that family member?

Like they say--if you don't have that person in your family, you are that person. :) 

It's no mystery why stories about families come naturally to me. My family is near and dear to my heart. Here's a photo of my husband with our two boys. 

I'm also extremely close with my mom. We're currently building a new home, and our current home sold faster than we expected. So my family of four and our two big dogs moved in with my mom and her two little dogs. Also, my two nephews have been visiting for ten days this summer. Talk about family dynamics! But it has been fun and crazy, and we're so thankful that my mom is putting up with us taking over her house.

Families can be complicated and even a little crazy, but in the end, it's the love of our families that makes us who we are. 

Tell me a little about your family. Are you the oldest, middle, youngest, or an only child?

Julie Jarnagin is a multi-published author of inspirational romance. She grew up in a small Oklahoma town where her family farmed and ranched. These days she lives in a not-so-big city with her amazing husband and two young sons who tolerate all her nerdy quirks. Julie earned a B.A. in Journalism / Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Love Nests by Milou Koenings

There's a love nest on the windowsill of our bedroom.  

doves nesting
Photo Robyn Cox, cc-by-sa-2.0
It's a pigeon nest, with eggs waiting to hatch.  I wake in the morning to the cooing of doves.

Just yesterday, my daughter and her fiancé took me to see the one-bedroom apartment they've found.   

Their faces glowed as they described it to me - the high ceilings, the brand new kitchen counters, the pretty bathroom. The fact that it's so close to the bus and the train and both their colleges and yet still on a quiet street, in the neighborhood everyone wants to live in, and with its own garden! They couldn't believe their good fortune. 

And all those things were true. It's an adorable apartment and the rent is a good deal.  As they showed me the built-in closet, the new sink - and even a washing machine! - their eyes were filled with dreams of the life they will be sharing soon within those four walls. 

They weren't thinking about it being so small that only one of them can stand in that newly renovated "kitchen" at a time.  

That if two people sit at the table at once, they'll block the entrance to the bathroom.  

That the wonderful high ceiling is so high that they'll need a ladder to open the only window in the bedroom. 

That the garden is, let's be honest, a patch of dirt that will turn to mud in the winter. 

That they'll soon be practicing an extreme version of that new trend, "tiny living."  (And that, apparently, I'm going to be parking on the street for the next few years, my garage overtaken by wedding gifts they will have no room for!)

I left as enchanted as they are - not with the apartment, which is perfectly fine - but with them and with memories of my own first, adored, love nest, with its "balcony" (a wooden fire escape - in Chicago? Seriously?), kitchen cabinets that never closed, and bathroom ceiling that came crashing down. None of those faults ever mattered.

I remembered all our homes after that - despite all their faults, too, beloved.  We've moved around and circumstances have changed over the years. Still, each new home holds such promise of new chapters, new discoveries and lessons to learn.  It's like starting as newlyweds all over again, only better.

This is usually the point where our romance novels stop.  We close the book, having reached The End, just as the story is really beginning.  But having found a person you love and want to spend your life with, there's little more magical and exciting than putting together the home in which you begin your life, or a new chapter of your life, together.

The pigeons on my bedroom windowsill aren't on their first go-around.  They come every year. I've given up on ever opening that particular window. Why would I want to bother them? But each spring, it's like the first time. A new nest. A new set of hatchlings. A new future.

To all those June and other summer brides out there, here's to filling your new nests with lots of love and joy to last you many years!  

To those of us ensconced in our old nests, may they become ever more comfortable, and yet still fresh and new as time goes on.

Reclaiming Home
Milou Koenings writes romance because, like chocolate, stories with a happy ending bring more joy into the world and so make it a better place.  
Her sweet romance, Reclaiming Home, A Green Pines Romance, is available at Amazon

You can find her on her website, www.miloukoenings.com, on Facebook, or Twitter.

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