TORONTO on the CHEAP: Distillery District Light Festival

I’m always on the lookout for things to do in Toronto that don’t cost a fortune. One such delight is the Toronto Light Festival currently on display at the Distillery District. It’s free.

Toronto Light Fest   http://www.torontolightfest.com/

When I visit the Distillery District, at least once a year for the Christmas Market, I indulge in a Spicy Mayan hot chocolate at Soma, without fail. I arrive before dusk to watch as the lights come on because that’s my favorite time of day in the wintertime.

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If I happen to wander a laneway when no one else is there, I can imagine myself in Charles Dickens’s London. It’s a magical transportation to another time.

The light festival was delightful—a great way to entice Torontonians to come out on a February evening, and to bring traffic to an area that would otherwise not see much of it in the middle of winter. The light displays showcase the work of both local and international artists.

I’ve always been drawn to whimsy. The festival didn’t disappoint in that area.

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I do wish it had been larger. There were areas of the district that begged for more.

Keeping in mind that this is the first year, I applaud this show and hope to see more next year.

The photo below illustrates the best of the distillery district, the old, the new and the very special.

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http://www.thedistillerydistrict.com/

 

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Cover Reveal!

Harlequin has done an amazing job of delivering a wonderful cover for my April release! CODY’S COME HOME is available for pre-order NOW at HarlequinAmazonBarnes and Noble, and Kobo.

Former lovers…danger…suspense…redemption…and the cutest little three-year-old who will vie with Cody to steal your heart!

CODY'S COVER copy smaller

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Harlequin’s current sale!

In celebration of Harlequin’s tenth anniversary of selling ebooks, they are having a fabulous sale!

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Ten thousand(!!!) of their ebook series titles are on sale for $1.99 each until November 17th. I’m happy to announce that eleven of my books, all but my most recent Superromance, are included in the sale!

http://bookpages.harlequin.com/search/

The discounted eBooks will be available from November 10th – November 17th at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Nook, Google and Kobo (US only).

If you collect Harlequin My Rewards, you will earn 1,000 points with each purchase of any promoted $1.99 Harlequin series title.

Enjoy!

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My first newsletter!

Okay, so I’ve had this ‘thing’ hanging over my head since before Christmas and it’s been REALLY bothering me. Throughout the winter, I’ve met all my other writing deadlines and commitments, as I always do, but not this one—I was supposed to send out my first-ever newsletter with a short story included in December. The autumn months were insanely(!) busy. I handed in this September’s Superromance on December 15th and then crashed. I was exhausted. I tried to write the short story for the newsletter, but it was terrible! It’s been this giant undone burden since then. I can’t seem to move forward on it, even though I’ve tried, so I’ve had a brainwave. This is what I’m going to do…I know newsletters are supposed to be about promotion, but I need to change the way I’m both looking at this problem and trying to fix it. I need to drop the whole ‘burden’ idea and have fun with it. I need to stop the whole, “I need to promote” business and just enjoy writing this story and connecting with others. On Sunday, I’m going to send out my first newsletter (if I don’t screw up the technology LOL) with the first chapter of the story. At the end of the chapter, I’m going to provide a multiple choice question to see where the READER wants the story to go next. With this feedback, I’ll write the second chapter that will end with another multiple choice question, send it out, use the feedback to write chapter three, and so on until the story is finished! It should be…gulp…interesting. Scary, I think, but I’m also hoping a lot of fun. I need a serious kick in my metaphorical creative butt on this! This idea is the first time I’ve been excited about writing this story! If you want to join me in this adventure, click on the Newsletter Signup.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Everyone I know loves fresh homemade bread of any type. One of my favourites is Irish Soda Bread.

I’ve developed my own recipe with a couple of odd quirks, including adding Guinness©, which gives the bread a bit more of a cake texture. I can’t seem to leave recipes ‘alone’ but must continually change them to make them my own!

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, I’m sharing my recipe here!

MARY SULLIVAN’S GUINNESS© IRISH SODA BREAD

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 TBS. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup olive or canola oil
1 cup Guinness©

Stir together the two flours, brown sugar, baking soda and salt.

In a small bowl, which together yogurt, oil and Guinness©. Add to dry ingredients all at once; stir with fork until soft dough forms.

On lightly floured surface and with floured hands, press dough into a ball; knead lightly 10 times. The dough will feel sticky, but will bake up just fine.

Place onto a greased baking sheet; gently pat dough into a 7-inch circle. Sprinkle with a little flour. With a sharp knife, score a large X on top of the loaf.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. A tester inserted into the centre should come out clean.

Optional: add flax seeds or finely chopped nuts, if desired. This is excellent served warm with butter and jam or cheese, along with a cup of hot tea!

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Welcome, Vicki Essex!

Vicki, thank you so much for joining me today! I’m an avid fan and can’t wait to read this book.

Vicki is a Harlequin author whose third Superromance, IN HER CORNER, is in bookstores now.

Vicki Essex, In Her Corner, Harlequin Superromance, MMABella Fiore has a lot to prove. For three generations her family has dominated the world of mixed martial arts—a tradition Bella dreams of carrying on. Her family, on the other hand, doesn’t agree. Without their support, she’s relying on the coaching of medal-winning Kyle Peters.

Training with Kyle is not what Bella expects. They’re constantly butting heads. And with the body of a Greek Adonis, Kyle’s mat technique isn’t her only focus. Not that this attraction can go any further. She has a title to win! Yet when Kyle proves Bella can always rely on him, a championship may not be the only thing worth fighting for….

How and when did you start reading romance?
I actually started reading romance because it was my day job. As a proofreader at Harlequin Enterprises, my job is to read romance books and correct them for spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency, and so forth. I’d never actually ready what I consider a romance before that.

How and when did you start writing romance?
I started writing romance about six months into my job at Harlequin. People were always saying it was “easy” and that “They’ll publish anything.” What a rude awakening that was. It took me three years and five romance manuscripts before I finally sold a book.

What has been the smartest decision you’ve made regarding your writing career?
Joining the Romance Writers of America and the Toronto Romance Writers was definitely a good choice. Being surrounded by people in the industry, learning the craft and networking with others was invaluable to my career.

What was the worst mistake you made?
I don’t think I’ve made one worth noting yet—hope it stays that way!

What do you do when you hit a snag or block in the writing? Do you pace? Do you munch furiously on snacks? Do you turn on music at full volume to stimulate your creative muse?
I stop. I go back. I reread what I’ve done and try to pick up the thread from what I might have written. Sometimes I’ll just leave it, take a couple of days off to think and rest. Or if I’m on a deadline, I’ll write ahead—skip whatever was in between and just go to the next important scene. Sometimes I’m just stuck because what I think I need to say is, in reality, boring, unnecessary or redundant.

Who/what inspires you?
My husband has always been my biggest cheerleader, and he’s always been a good sounding board. Everything gives me ideas—sometimes it’s just a short news item, or a part of a story I heard, or a lyric in a song. Sometimes I meet people I think would make great characters.

What’s your favourite food?
I love me a good steak, but I’m also very fond of cookies, chips, roast duck and the Chinese soups my mother makes.

Where is your favourite spot on earth?
It’s wherever my husband and my cat are, which usually means on the couch in front of the TV. But in terms of exotic locales, there was a very nice canopied bed on a white sand beach in Cancun, Mexico where we spent a day lounging and drinking margaritas and pina coladas.

Do you have a life theme and does it run through your books?
None that I’ve perceived. But I do like encouraging readers to seek out romance stories in unexpected places, which is why I have two books set in the world of mixed martial arts.

Vicki Essex is a romance writer in Toronto. Her third book, IN HER CORNER, is available now from Harlequin Superromance.

You can find out more about Vicki and her books at
www.vickiessex.com
facebook.com/vickiessexauthor
Twitter: @VickiEssex

 

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What Am I Grateful for Today?

I am writing this at 5 a.m., not because I have just awakened, but because I’ve been awake for hours. I have recurring sleep issues that I’ve dealt with for years. I’ve tried everything, including a night in a sleep clinic to rule out sleep apnea. I follow all of the specialist’s orders religiously, so my sleep hygiene is excellent.

So, I have another tired day ahead of me. It makes creating difficult, pulling words out when all I want to do is to fall back into bed, which would be a mistake. I wouldn’t sleep at all tonight if I did that.

When I’m this tired, I have to remind myself of how much in my life is good, is so much better than good. I look to the best in my life to counter the fatigue.

First and foremost, I am grateful that I have an absolutely wonderful daughter. She blesses my life with her intelligence, sense of humour and amazing food! In our (very) spare time, we dance together, lindy hop and charleston. Well, she dances and I try to follow 🙂

While I tossed and turned during the night, I was safe, dry, warm. I am grateful for the roof over my head. In a few minutes, I will cook a healthy, filling breakfast. My cupboards are not bare.

When I go grocery shopping after breakfast, I will have the money to refill the fridge. I will have warm clothes to wear.

I take joy from small, simple pleasures. My orchid is blooming. I’ve never owned an orchid before. They are quite stunningly lovely.

The list goes on…I am so fortunate. I have wonderful friends and a supportive and loving family. I am grateful.

What are you grateful for today? I would love to know.

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Winter Adventures

A few years ago, my life fell apart in most ways. I experienced huge, unexpected life changes and felt adrift. I decided the time was right to do things that I had been putting off for years. One of those was to take an Outward Bound course. I chose dogsledding in Algonquin Park in northern Ontario, Canada, in the middle of February. It was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. If you ever have the opportunity to try it, do so!Image

Ten of us slept in this prospector’s tent every night. Another couple of people slept outside in the sleds. It was an amazing adventure. I found healing in the magnificent landscape and peace in the companionship of the dogs. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not an athlete, and the physical aspect was a welcome challenge, but the real wonder of the experience was the dogs. They worked their hearts out for us, gladly, completely.

We would sled for hours at a time and, when we had to stop on the trail, i.e. when we ate our lunchtime sandwiches standing on the sled runners, the dogs yipped and pulled to get going, even after they’d already been running for a couple of hours. They just loved to run, to go. Here’s a photo of Azul and Keebler waiting for us to start moving again after a stop. Note Keebler jumping into the air to try to move the sled while Azul looks like a long-suffering older sibling 🙂

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When we returned to camp, it didn’t matter how tired or hungry we were, our first priority was to get the dogs settled into their straw beds and watered and fed. We drilled through the frozen surface of a lake to get water for the dogs and gathered and chopped dead wood from the forest to heat that water. To encourage the dogs to drink enough to replace the fluids they’d lost while running, our guides threw frozen chicken into the water to flavor it. Then the chicken broth would be given to the dogs.

Some of them were clever. They would tip the bowls over so the broth would run into the snow. Then they would eat the chicken bits left sitting on top. We had to stand watch and scold if they tried to do that. Finally, when they realized we were serious, they would lap up the broth before eating the chicken bits in the bottom of the bowl 🙂 Only after we were sure they’d ingested enough fluids did they receive their solid food.Image

This is gorgeous Algonquin Park in the wintertime.

I used my experience sledding in Algonquin Park in my Superromance, IN FROM THE COLD. The hero in that novel runs a dogsledding business. His dogs mean the world to him. The heroine arrives in town to close down his business. Of course. Sparks ensue 🙂

“In the midst of winter, I discovered there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger—something better, pushing right back.” Albert Camus

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The Next Big Thing

My friend, the wonderful historical author, Ann Lethbridge, http://regencyramble.blogspot.ca, invited me to be part of this chain blog called THE NEXT BIG THING–a series of questions and answers about what’s happening next in my writing life.

What is the title of your latest book?

That would be my February, 2013, release IN FROM THE COLD about city girl Callista MacKintosh who comes to the fictional town of Accord, Colorado to persuade the owner of a gorgeous piece of land to sell to make way for a ski resort. Gabe Jordan has no intention of selling the land he adores and on which he runs his dogsledding business.

Will your book be self-published or traditional?

IN FROM THE COLD is a Harlequin Superromance and should be on bookstore shelves by February 13th, just in time for Valentine’s Day. For the ebook, look for it on February 1st at: ebooks.harlequin.com.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m not a fast writer, and Superromances are now 80-85,000 words long, so four to five months with constant editing along the way, so it doesn’t really look like a first draft by the time I complete it.

What is the one-line synopsis for your book?

How about some of the back cover copy instead? ‘A city girl to her core, Callie doesn’t do rugged. She does do her job, though. Gabe is her boss’s estranged brother. And Gabe is the most fascinating man she’s ever met. Her focus is severely compromised by his strong, sexy ways. More than that, having spent time on this land, she’s no longer convinced a ski resort belongs here. But she thinks she might. Because for the first time, with Gabe, she feels as though she’s come home.’

How did you come by the idea?

I had always wanted to take an Outward Bound course, so when my life changed drastically a few years ago, I knew it was time. I decided to try dogsledding in Algonquin Park–and it blew my mind. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done! Whooshing silently over snow in an amazing setting and the exercise involved were wonderful, but the best part was the dogs. They had heart, endurance and flat-out unlimited love to share with the participants. Our guides treated them like gold and the participants showered them with affection. I remember thinking at the time that one of my future heroes would have to do this. This year, I was finally ready to write this book. Gabe loves his land, but he loves his dogs even more.

What else about the book might pique your reader’s interest?

I go into detail about how he takes care of his dogs–all of the things I found fascinating when I went dogsledding.

Did you know that sled dogs live outdoors all of the time? They never come inside. The dozen or so of us participating in the four-day course slept in a large prospector’s tent. One of our guides brought a dog inside one evening to teach us about sled dogs, but the poor thing was so uncomfortable indoors that the guide cut the lesson short and took her back to her mates.

In the middle of the night, the dogs would suddenly start to bark, perhaps disturbed by a nocturnal creature out and about nearby, and would all start to howl. It was eerie and breathtakingly beautiful and would last for a good five minutes, absolutely wonderful to hear in the still of the night. The best and most baffling part is that they would all stop howling at the same moment, as though there were a conductor in front of them bringing them to an abrupt halt with his baton. One time, one dog went on a touch too long and his howl was followed by a small yip, almost an, “Oops, sorry, I missed the stop signal.”

If you can’t already tell, I loved the dogs 😉

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Sweet Acknowledgment

In March, my sister and I took a road trip to Columbus, Ohio, to attend the Romantic Times conference. I was given their Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best First Series romance for my first Superromance, NO ORDINARY COWBOY.

I was thrilled!

Acknowledgment is crucial for everyone in every field. It is especially important for writers who spend so much time working alone in offices, caves, spare rooms, or niches carved out of dining or living rooms. Writing is a solitary pursuit. It isn’t always easy to determine whether what we are writing will mean anything to the reader, whether s/he will find excitement, peace, wisdom, fun, escape–whatever it is that we are trying to make her feel.

I think that’s why reviews matter so much to us. The good ones are like gold and make a rough day better. Bad reviews? Not so much. My favorite reviews? From readers who were touched personally by something that I wrote. In NO ORDINARY COWBOY, the hero and heroine each had a painful secret that filled them with shame. I won’t disclose those secrets here, but I will say that I received letters from readers who had suffered with the same problems and had been touched deeply and personally by the book. So, so gratifying.

Every remark made to writers touches us deeply.

To you readers who purchase our books, thank you for reading them, for taking the time to recognize our work and for sharing our passion.

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