Travel with Mona on a Cruise Conference

For years I enjoyed cruising around the world—in the Caribbean, Cross-Atlantic via the North Pole and Greenland, in the Mediterranean Sea, the Far East, around South America, all the way to India and Singapore through the Suez Canal, in addition to several river cruises.

Let me tell you about a different kind of cruises that combined fun and business for writers. I’m talking about the cruise conferences organized by FRW [Florida Romance Writers] the South Florida chapter of Romance Writers of America [RWA]. (Unfortunately I think both groups don’t exist anymore.)

The FRW members gathered for their monthly meeting at a fixed location where a qualified guest presented a talk, but once a year, FRW opened its doors wide for the annual conference where editors and agents were invited to come and chat with the authors. For years this annual conference was set in a big hotel in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Later it was moved to a cruise ship. I attended two of these memorable cruise conferences.

In the following pictures, you may recognize familiar faces–authors who are now multi-published and quite famous.

The obligatory drill

Together with the other passengers we attended the safety drill before departure. As soon as the ship sailed out of port, we gathered in one of the ship’s big lounges for an introductory meeting.

~*~ THE EDITORS=THE GODS ~*~ at the time !!!
Introductory meeting in the lounge with the three founding mothers of the FRW chapter. Joan Johnston, Sally Fairchild and Heather Graham.

Dinner took place in the main restaurant, with an editor or an agent sitting at each table to allow the writers easy access to the agent or the editor they want to approach about their latest book. Remember, this was before self-publishing became so popular.

So business was in the afternoon, fun in the morning, and more fun at dinner.

Shopping for a t-shirt and a mug.

At the Three Amigos: This restaurant/pub became a traditional stop for the FRW writers who needed a beer, a tequila and some fun.

At Three Amigos!

After a good lunch it was time to work. Seriously! We were at a business conference! Heather Graham separated us in 5 groups. Each group received a few words and had to come up with a blurb for an interesting story. My group included Senior Editor Eric Raab from Tor, and our words were: actress, roto-rooter, ugly, basement… We brainstormed our blurbs and then read out loud with everyone. Quite hilarious.

This workshop was followed by an open discussion with Agents Lucy Childs and Lucienne Diver: How can an agent help writers achieve their goals? In the past, to be published writers needed an agent.

For the next two hours we enjoyed a special treat called the Floridian Idol. Heather Graham and Traci Hall read the first two pages submitted anonymously by more than thirty writers. Each submission received a thorough critique by the agents and editors.

On the last night, we gathered at dinner for our formal night.

Yes my husband came along and volunteered to be FRW’s official photographer!

He met most of the writers and enjoyed the conference too!

But all good things came to an end–business and fun–when our ship returned to port.

Time to say goodbye. Here with Heather Graham, a fabulous author who has been an inspiration to all of us at FRW.

On Special Sale for the Holiday Season:

CHRISTMAS HER AND THERE

Christmas is the most beautiful time of the year, a time for family gathering, for sharing love and exchanging gifts, for spoiling the children…
And yet some people may run away from celebrations that brought them betrayal, grief, or frustration. In this box of three sweet novels and a sexy novella, our heroes/heroines are trying to avoid Christmas and their painful memories. But…

LOVE YOU DOC series

Dr. Robert Olson, a well-known cardiac surgeon and heart transplant specialist, and his wife Janice, an ER nurse lived in Florida and deeply cared for their close-knit family. At home, all they talked about was hospital, patients, surgery, recovery, etcetera…
Sure enough, their four kids studied medicine. The oldest brother, Nathan, became an orthopedic surgeon and worked in Boston. His brother Aidan finished a residency in neurosurgery and accepted a position in Cincinnati. Their sister, Sophia, was an ER doc, and the youngest sibling, Liam, was still in med school when their dad died. Sure enough, these successful doctors faced their share of problems before finding their HEA. The following books related their stories: A Complete Family, Love On The Slopes, Love In The ER, Secret Kisses.

MODERN PRINCES Series

While cruising the British Isles, I visited Guernsey, in the English Channel, 30 miles west of Normandy. We were welcomed in St. Peters Port with a gorgeous sunny weather and a 70 o F temperature for our visit of the island, an idyllic paradise with cobbled streets and picturesque seafront marina.
Guernsey is not part of the United Kingdom but it is part of the British Islands. Residents speak English and French, and their money is similar to the English pound. The top speed limit in Guernsey is 35 miles/hour. If you drive along the coastline of Guernsey you will hit military fortifications almost every 2 minutes or so. These were built during the Napoleonic wars to protect Guernsey from France.
St. Peter Port is the main town on the island of Guernsey. It’s full of hills, colors, and super cute shops! French author Victor Hugo lived in exile in St. Peter Port for 15 years at Hautevile House where he wrote both Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
This quaint island with special privileges and autonomy became Rensy Island, the setting of my new series, MODERN PRINCES.
Modern Princes Series:
A Bride For Prince Paul: She can’t abandon her patients for his crown!
A Bodyguard For The Princess: A murder at Harvard in Princess Chloe’s student building.
Jingle With My Princess: The doc and the princess… He saves lives but Princess Charlene may save his heart.
Prince Philip’s Cinderella: A charming jogger saves her from danger. But he’s a prince… and she comes from nothing.
A Dance for Prince Eric: A ballerina with a promising career on the run for her brother’s sake. A charismatic prince who saved them both.

Cruise with Mona…And Babies

My name is Julia. I was seven months old when my grandparents took us on a cruise. My cousin Olivia and I were the only two babies on the ship.

Cruise muster drills are mandatory safety briefings that all passengers must attend before the ship is allowed to sail. Before sailing, Daddy outfitted me with a life jacket to make sure I would be safe in case of emergency.

On the very first night, Olivia ruined her parents’ dinner by whining, crying, and displaying a high fever—a possible risk when traveling with small children. She paid a visit to the local clinic and was treated with antibiotics.

Here is Olivia crawling through the connecting balconies to come and visit me.

Thankfully, she recovered in no time, enjoyed the rest of the cruise and even managed to celebrate her first birthday on the ship.

Nothing beats a day spent at the beach, on a gorgeous Caribbean Island.

This was our parents’ first cruise too and they were determined to enjoy it. They took several tours, discovering the water fall, snorkeling and scuba diving.

Luckily we had adoring grandparents. While our parents went ashore, Nonno and Nonna spent the day with us, ambled around the ship, each pushing a stroller, or sat at a table around the pool each feeding a baby, or lounged on a deck with a sweetheart in their arms, sucking on a bottle. The passengers would stop by, cooing over us.

We explored the ship with Nonno and Nonna and admired the masterpieces sculpted by the cooks and their helpers.

Around four o’clock, the parents collected their little bundles and got ready for dinner. Before the cruise, Nonna had sent us appropriate sailing outfits and adorable dresses.

Our Mommies took us to the casino where we tried our hands at blackjack and crab, and won big time– I mean won big applause.

On formal night, we put on the pretty dresses Nonna had offered us. We were as pretty as can be.

In the dining room the family was assigned a table for eight in a corner at the end of the huge dining room, as far as possible from the other tables. Two high chairs waited for us with colorful balloons flying above. Several waiters hovered around our table, ready to pick up the forks or spoons, napkins or plastic glasses falling down. Forget about the crumbles carpeting the floor around our high chairs.

Do you know many kids who have the chance to celebrate their first birthday on a cruise? The night we celebrated Olivia’s birthday, the whole crew of waiters and all the passengers sang Happy Birthday, dear Olivia.

Unfortunately everything must come to an end. Our first cruise was so much fun and way too short. Of course, we don’t remember anything but our grandparents swear it was the best cruise of their lives.

WE’RE ALL TOGETHER, (Love Plans Series, book 15)

#Preorder Release Day November 7 —– A generous computer expert, Greg Haynes navigates life without worries or responsibilities. After experiencing pain and betrayal, Heidi Benton focuses on her law studies with one purpose in life, to graduate and get her revenge. The threat of a hurricane hitting the island forces everyone to evacuate and turns Greg and Heidi’s lives upside down, displacing their priorities for the sake of two orphaned children.

Changing Direction

During difficult times, we remain frozen in one place and moving seems almost impossible. We focus on what we can’t do rather than do something different, and yet changing directions may bring up new opportunities and open new doors.

A needed change, a ‘turning point’ in a novel, a ‘momentum shift’ in tennis games, a career shift or life change in real life. No one can predict if they will be good or bad, but rather than being stuck in a hole that can get deeper over time, why not try something else that can make us move forward?

I made several career shifts in my life. After graduating with a pharmacy degree, I trained in a local pharmacy and was bored out of my mind, filling prescriptions all day long. My first shift came as I enrolled in a master degree program in analytical chemistry, graduated and worked, and enjoyed life in the lab until the task took its toll on my back.

One day, I woke up with an excruciating pain in my back and left leg. Unable to walk, I crawled into my car and rushed to the emergency room of the nearest hospital. The x-rays and CT-scan showed a slipped disc in my vertebral column. Painkillers did not help. After a three-month bed rest, I had to wear a special brace around my lower back. The company granted me a six-month sick leave. “No more standing on your feet in a lab. Change career,” my doctor ordered.

As soon as I could walk without pain, I applied for the PhD program in Analytical Chemistry and threw myself wholeheartedly in the student life again. Dressed in blue jeans and t-shirt, I multitasked, driving the children to after-school activities and waiting for them with a book in my hand. Four arduous years, numerous exams, and several published papers finally led to graduation.

While still on campus, I received a phone call from a recruiter who wanted to interview graduating PhD students for a managerial position in the analytical laboratory of an environmental company. I was hired by the CEO to start a lab, buy the needed instruments, and hire the right staff.

From day one, I decided to never let anyone derail me from my goal: to make this laboratory productive and successful. While supervising the lab operations, I wrote many proposals and won several contracts. I convinced the CEO to build six new labs and interviewed many chemists and technicians, and carefully explained the pressure of laboratory life. To their credit, my chemists rarely complained about the long hours spent to analyze samples of hazardous water and soil waste materials. They did an excellent job, and the good reputation of our lab soon spread around. We received contracts from different government agencies, and applied for several state certifications.

International contracts took me to Minsk, Belarus; Kiev and Uman in Ukraine; to Almati and Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan; to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sergei Possad in Russia. Each new project presented more challenges due to clash of cultures, different languages, and work habits.

Soon I realized that I was at the end of my rope. Working an average of ten hours a day for so many years, I reached as high as I could go in my career in analytical chemistry. It was time to take an early retirement and fulfill another dream: I wanted to write and publish romance novels.

I gathered the staff for a last meeting and informed them of my decision. During the farewell speech, I could not hold my tears and many of my chemists cried too. They had become my second family.

Turning the page, I concentrated on my new goal. To write novels and compete in the publishing industry, I bought grammar and writing books, and once again I started at the bottom of the ladder. I sent an email to Debbie Macomber, my favorite romance author, who advised me to join the Romance Writers of America (RWA). At the monthly meetings of the RWA local chapter, I met published authors and beginners. We formed critique groups and helped each other, until I gathered the courage to submit excerpts of my writing to various publishers. After receiving my share of rejection letters for five years, one finally offered me a contract.

Through my first novel To Love a Hero released in 2008, I practically relived my fantastic trips to Belarus. Many of the adventures I experienced in Minsk are related in my book. Several more books followed, set in the fascinating places I visited during my business or vacation travels. In 2011, I tried my hand at self-publishing and was stunned by the amazing number of ebooks I sold on Amazon, and the enthusiastic reviews of my fans. But my biggest reward came from bedridden readers who said my novels brought joy to their lives and took them on an armchair trip around the world.

After publishing numerous books and contributing to several anthologies, I earned the top honor for a published author: the enviable status of “USA Today Bestselling Author,” and “New York Times Bestselling Author.”

My legacy to my children and grandchildren is the following: Set your goals high and work hard to follow your dream. Don’t be afraid to change direction. You can make a difference.

We’re All HeroesReleased Today

They’re all heroes who pay a big price for freedom—The Ukrainian mom who spies for her country; her three small kids who struggle to survive; the wounded major who gets them out of a war-zone; Lauren, the flight attendant who brings them to the U.S.A. ; her parents who receive them in their home; and her ex-fiancé, Dr. Jake, who operates on the injured. And let’s not forget the two German shepherd puppies that dive in a pool to save a two-year old. Will the many crises they face head-on strengthen or destroy Lauren and Jake’s relationship?

We’re All Heroes is book 12 of the Love Plans Series.

Messy PlansNew Release

Dr. Matt Lopez is perfectly happy with his medical career until the new nurse practitioner turns his life upside down with her lovely smile and crazy ideas. When Cathy takes Tommy, a young patient under her wing, gets involved in his home situation, and discovers the truth, trouble follows. Life will never be the same for Cathy, her boss, or Tommy as they try to repair the mistakes of their pasts. Can Matt and Cathy reconcile their personal feelings and work obligations?

Messy Plans is book 11 of the Love Plans Series.

Tropetastic: A Romance between a Reader and a Writer? by Rachelle Ayala #mgtab @AyalaRachelle @mimisgang1

A New Trope: Reader-Writer Romance

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a romantic relationship with your favorite writer? Would you start your flirtation by joining their review team? Or perhaps be the first to read everything they wrote? What if you find yourself falling in love with a writer as you read and discover every one of his or her books? Would you finagle a chance to meet your idol? Or dutifully attend their events and talks? Maybe you’re one of the select readers who get first dibs on your favorite writer’s chapters or are either the leader for his or her fan club or you’re dying to have that writer write a story about you.

Look no further than my next romance in the unlikely trope of a romance between a reader and her favorite writer. For years, Phylis Carpenter was a rave reviewer and avid fan of her favorite romance author, Maxine Foster. She was first on the beta team and she became her author’s trust confidante. She helped with brainstorming, gave early feedback, and was a supportive soul for the writer of the romances that touched her heart. She especially loved Maxine’s tough but tender heroes–those grizzly and gruff alpha males who were made of iron and hid their hearts behind mirrored sunglasses, muscles, and grit. She yearned to meet one of those heroes in real life, so she saved and scrimped her pennies to attend a Maxine Foster reader’s convention at the Unexpected Paradise Resort set in the Caribbean island of Ile d’Amour.

Unbeknownst to Phylis, the real writer behind the Maxine Foster books is not a woman–the publicist whose photos appear on social media–but an intensely private man named Max Donovan and he is exactly the type of man he writes about under his female penname.

Of course, this is an unknown trope, the Reader-Writer Romance, so I asked my Writer’s Room* for their opinions. Here are their responses.

Request for Opinion

Hey writers room friends, please help figure out why readers might like a romance between a romance writer and a reader. Here is the blurb for the romance called Where Love Unfolds. Give me your opinions about why avid readers might like or dislike this story. An avid romance fan discovers her favorite author isn’t the woman she imagined, but a mysterious man with secrets to protect. Phylis Carpenter, a die-hard romance reader, arrives at the Unexpected Paradise resort, eager to meet her cherished author and online confidante, Maxine Foster. Dreaming of sunny days and deep discussions about passionate heroes and enticing plot twists, she’s in for a shock. Max Donovan, the man behind Maxine Foster’s tales, isn’t just any man—he’s the embodiment of the alpha heroes he pens. Preferring to remain in the shadows, he disguises his identity, letting his ex-lover, Joanna Jenkins, bask in the limelight of his success. Sparks fly and chemistry ignites when Max and Phylis are inexplicably drawn by their shared love of story and intrigue. Max reminds Phylis of every romance hero she loves, and Phylis’s enthusiasm and infectious charm is irresistible for both the author and the man. From thrilling scavenger hunts to unraveling a ghost’s ill-fated love story, their bond grows stronger over shared tales, furtive kisses, and stolen moments. But as Phylis draws Max towards the allure of romance, his hidden identity becomes a looming threat to their unfolding love. Joanna, desperate to hold on to her position as the face of Maxine Foster, schemes to keep them apart. The island, with its enchanting locales and spirited inhabitants, tries to play matchmaker, but the impending masquerade ball threatens to shatter the illusion. As Phylis inches closer to unmasking Max’s true self, she grapples with a heart-wrenching question: Is Max the genuine article or just another fictional hero? Dive into this sweet contemporary romance, where love stories aren’t just written but lived.

Writer Room Responses

Chad: Well, I’ve seen my share of romance stories over the years. The first thing that strikes me is the trope inversion—usually, it’s the woman hiding behind a man’s pen name in genre literature. Here, it’s more about identity disguise, which allows for a significant plot twist. Readers who are fond of seeing genre expectations subverted will appreciate that.

Gloria: Oh, I love the idea! It feels so modern and relatable. Think about it, in the age of social media, we often fall in love with personas, not knowing the real person behind them. This story speaks to that, making it exciting for the younger crowd who navigates these complexities daily.

Jack: From an action standpoint, you’ve got thrilling scavenger hunts and unraveling a ghost story—those are high-stakes scenes right there! It adds an adventure element to a romance story that’s already intense emotionally. It’s like fuel to the fire.

Brian: The setting sounds so compelling. “Unexpected Paradise Resort”—the name itself holds a promise of adventure and surprises. A well-built locale can serve as a catalyst for character interactions and plot twists. From your blurb, it seems the island even plays matchmaker, so it’s more of an active participant than a backdrop.

Samantha: I love how you’re focusing on dialogue in the blurb already—deep discussions about passionate heroes and plot twists. Readers who adore authentic conversations will find it charming that the characters bond over the kinds of stories they love. It makes the romance feel well-earned.

Jameson: Structurally, this has the makings of a well-crafted narrative. You have a clear arc for the protagonists, a complicating factor in the form of Joanna, and a climactic event—the masquerade ball—towards which the story seems to be progressing. It’s a tight narrative loop.

Lila: Ah, the essence of romance here is the mutual love of stories, which allows for deeper emotional connection. Romance readers often feel this with their favorite authors but never get to explore that connection. This story offers a fantasy where that bond crosses over into real-life love, bridging the gap between fiction and reality.

Greg: While it’s not exactly a horror story, the ghost’s ill-fated love story can add an eerie, emotional layer. It’s not just surface-level romance; it goes deep into themes of loss and unrequited love.

Rita: With a setting like an island resort and a masquerade ball, you’ve got the perfect setup for some comedic moments! Imagine the silly misunderstandings or awkward situations Phylis might find herself in before she realizes who Max really is.

Chad: To sum up, it appears we’ve got an appealing blend of humor, adventure, emotional depth, and modern-day relevance here. There’s something for almost every reader to latch onto. Would love to read it myself!

*ChatGPT Custom Instructions

Pitch

Are you intrigued? If so, please pick up a copy (on pre-order) of Max and Phylis’s Reader-Writer Romance for 99c. Yes, it’s a new trope so I’m not charging and arm and a leg for over 70000 words for Where Love Unfolds: Hidden Identity in Paradise: A Masquerade of Whispered Love, Island Tales, and Hearts Unveiled by Rachelle Ayala [It’s my 85th fictional work and 95th book]