AAW-Wenchly Secrets for Holiday De-Stressing!

Christmas treeAndrea here, This month our AAW question has to do with stress and the holidays—something I think we all can relate to! So the Wenches are sharing their secrets for dealing with this universal question: With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, things can sometimes get overwhelming, What do you do to de-stress? Any special ritual or routine that recharges and relaxes? Read on for the answers!

HakeaLaurina1Anne: The holidays here come in summer, so it's important to keep cool as well as stay cool. We don't have Thanksgiving in Australia, only Christmas and New Year, but December is the end of the school and university academic year and the beginning of most people's annual holidays, so there are lots of "end-of-year" events and celebrations. Four weeks annual leave is standard here and many people head for the beach. So between finishing up school, the frenzy of Christmas shopping, closely followed by the new year sales, and trying to balance family commitments with packing for the holidays, it can get a bit hectic. I make sure I schedule time for me. I like to retreat to the garden with a long cool drink and a book, and just sit and read and listen to the birds.  I'd rather say no to a few things and have some quiet time in between. Makes for a happier me, which in turns makes me a more pleasant guest or hostess.


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The Language of Romance

Award Ceremony 2018Nicola here. Today I’m talking about the sort of words that people use to describe romance and romantic fiction. In four days, I step down as Chair of the UK Romantic Novelists Association. It’s been an interesting couple of years, sometimes challenging, always busy, but incredibly rewarding to be a part of an organisation that is so involved with the business of romantic fiction. I love the RNA and I love the fact that organisations like it exist to support, celebrate and promote the romance genre. Together with readers, bloggers, writers and all fans of the genre we make up a very loyal band. We’re lucky; we have discovered the joy that reading romantic fiction can bring.

One of the issues of which I have become hyper-aware over the last couple of years is that of the Ming_Dynasty_Wardrobe
language that is used by critics to describe romantic fiction. I’ve always been aware of romantic fiction’s literary reputation – at the very start of my writing career a friend told me how she covered my books in brown paper bags because they were a guilty pleasure. (At least she was eco-friendly about it!)   This is hardly a new phenomenon. My grandmother used to hide her genre fiction at the back of her wardrobe. The RNA itself was formed 60 years ago next year to try to tackle the prejudice that there was in the press towards romantic fiction.

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Nal2Hi, here's Jo, writing from England an the day before American Thanksgiving, so I have to address it, don't I? (I've used a pic of me and Andrea, because I'm definitely thankful for the Wenches, and also for my recent cataract operations which mean I don't need those glasses anymore. Yay! If there are typos here it's because my eyes are still getting used to the new order and I have some double vision on the screen. Getting better every day, though.) 

Oh, another Wenchly thing. If you're on Facebook, check out our page and our new logo. We'd like to know what you think. 

We don't have a Thanksgiving day here. I lived for decades in Canada, which celebrates Thanksgiving, but in October and not with quite such fervour as in the States.

What is Thanksgiving?That might seem like a dumb question — Pilgrims, first settlements, turkey etc. But I was listening to a radio programme where they said the origins are debatable, and when I checked, it's true(You canread about the issue here.)

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Mischief and Mistletoe — the genesis

Anne here, doing a kind of Ask A Wench — talking about how our Wenchly anthology, MISCHIEF AND MISTLETOE  (released on 25th September) came about. We think it's the first time a group of authors who blog together have brought out an anthology together. To illustrate the process, I'm using snippets of the email discussion the Wenches had in working out the concept. They're all in blue, so you'll have to guess who said what.

The idea originally came up in a discussion in Mary Jo's room at the RWA National conference in Washington DC in 2009, where Mary Jo, Jo, Pat, Nicola, and I had all met for the first time as wenches. We talked about doing an anthology together, agreed it was a great idea and then… got swept up in various activities and forgot about it.

In August, 2010 Pat raised the idea again on the wenchly loop. Her email started: I'm procrastinating major big time, as may be obvious. <G>
She suggested we could each write a story of around ten to twelve thousand words, either with an overall story arc, or based around a loose theme.
"We just need a tie-in factor."

Anne: I have to say, we all seized on the idea with enthusiasm and the suggestions flew thick and fast. The discussion went something like this:

*We could set all the stories under a full moon or at the time of a full moon.

*Love the anthology idea, and the idea of a loose theme, by moonlight or otherwise.

*I quite like the idea that the moon is involved — maybe "They met  by moonlight" or  "Wenches by Moonlight" or something like that. One moonlight scene in each story and that's the connection.

Moonatsea*With any concept we'd have to make sure we had a variety of themes and no outright repetition of them. But beyond that, lots of scope for variety.

*This is why I like doing short projects.  Feeds the muse, who likes variety.

Anne again: Most of us loved the full moon idea but then we discovered it had already been done, so that was that. But we thought Winter might be a good time of year to set the stories in. We thought we should have wenches in the title, as it was a celebration of the Word Wench group, and then for a while we debated the idea of wicked wenches.

*I keep thinking Wicked Wenches.
Then the link could be wickedness. I think it would have to be a  fairly serious badness, but it could be theft, a really bad lie, sex, treason, all kinds of things. Or even, probably only by one Wench, an  unjust reputation for wickedness. Or does anyone fancy the 7 deadly  sins? *G*

*The Wicked Wenches has possibility! Since there are 8 of us, 7 sins probably aren't enough. And I'm not sure I want to argue over who gets Gluttony. 🙂

*Deliberately wicked – because she has no choice.
I like. Oh there are so many wicked little things a heroine could do that can be justified in a romance plot…

*What are the side effects if we brainstorm this during a retrograde?  <g>

*Actually, considering that the idea was first bruited about more than a year ago at the DC RWA conference, returning to it on a retrograde makes sense. 

*I'm not sure about having "wicked" in the title. It suggests more erotic stories, and I don't think that's what we're going for here.

Anne here: We all agreed that we wouldn't have "wicked" in the title, because it would make people expect more erotic stories, but we still liked the idea of some kind of wickedness in the story. But how wicked is wicked? And could we still make our heroines likable?

*I don't know that I would want to put a level of badness, since it could be relative. A proper young lady who slips outside to kiss under the full moon might be called a wicked wench by her parents. Just depends on the level of conflict we want.

*True, but I always feel cheated if a story in an anthology seems to wimp out on an edgy concept. I don't think it means the wickedness has to be awful, but it has to  have that edge to it.
But you're right that it's relative. The proper young lady being caught with her clothing considerably disheveled, with a man with a very wicked reputation could do it. Whereas if the Wench were a whore, it wouldn't be seen as wicked at all!

BlueMoon*I "vote" for Wicked Wenches, with maybe a moonlight theme, if others like it. (In other words, I'm easy, and quite happy to go with the flow.)  

*My vote would also be for WICKED WENCHES, and if people want to add moonlight, all the better. <G>

*Yup, I'm happy with this. I suspect the "wicked" will push me out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing.

*Good point about comfort zone. It's always good for us to go out on the edge, wherever that edge is for us personally.

*I'd say as soon as anyone has a wicked concept they want to use they should toss it out so that others can try not to use the same thing.

*Okay, if we want to do Wicked Wenches, then we want to make it deliberately edgy? Not sweet misses kissing in the moonlight but a miss who has deliberately done something she knows is wrong.

Anne again: I'll spare you the rest of the discussion — we made long lists of different kinds of wickedness, and as for titles — well, we have dozens.
But the stories were, in the end, linked in the following ways:— a dash of wickedness during the winter season, which for some of us also meant the holiday season. Hence the title, Mischief and Mistletoe. Most of the stories also involved an inn, named after a wench of some sort. Mine was the Wench and Haggis Inn, so you can guess where my story is set.

Mine's called The Mistletoe Bride and here's the set-up. Ronan McAllister must marry an Englishwoman to receive his inheritance but having one distastrous marriage behind him, he's reluctant to marry again. His lawyer offers to find him a dying woman to marry and reluctantly Ronan agrees.(You can read the scene here)

Of course the scheme goes wrong, there is a mix-up at the inn, and Marguerite Blackett-Smith finds herself with a wicked choice. Here's a tiny snippet of the story.

     The thought of having to leave this cozy, friendly house and take up residence with an uncle who was the most notorious skinflint in the county made her stomach sink with dread. But there was no help to it — they thought she was Peggy Smith and—
And Peggy Smith was dead.
Peggy Smith, who'd promised to marry a man for money and then disappear from his life, no questions asked.    
What if . . ?

I have to say, I really enjoyed writing this story. It did stretch me out of my comfort zone a little, writing a heroine who deliberately does something wicked, but I liked Marguerite and I really enjoyed watching Ronan open up to her in the end.(You knew it was going to end happily, right?)

I also really enjoyed reading the other wenches stories — it's a wonderful demonstration of our different voices and I have to say, I'm very proud to be part of this collection.

So, I'm giving away a copy of Mischief and Mistletoe, and I want to ask you, how wicked is wicked when we're talking romance heroines? Are heroines harder to redeem than heroes? Have you ever read a book where the heroine was, in your view, unredeemable? Did any author make you change your mind? Or if you don't want to wrap your head around wickedness, what's one of your favorite holiday stories? 

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Cheese DinnerCara/Andrea here, wishing all our Wenchly friends a happy holiday season. As is our tradition here, we’re all doing daily posting to celebrate the 12 Days of Chistmas and some of our favorite things about the season. Well, I don’t know about you, but festive food is always one of my favorite treats (did someone say chocolate?) especially when celebrated with family and friends.

Meghan-cooking I spent Christmas with my older brother and his family—who all love to cook. (Here’s my adorable niece—with SIL in the background enjoying the kitchen chaos—who helped her Dad prepare the amazing wild mushroom Risottorisotto.)  Friends brought an array of scrumptious dishes, included a fabulous assortment of cheeses, smoked salmon. Add bright salads, vegetarian specialties, lots of wine, flickering candles, vintage glasses and silver . . . the groaning board was overflowing with good cheer.

I brought a dessert, and as I always enjoy perusing recipes, I decided to try something new I had recently discovered—a Chocolate Guinness cake (which I thought was a fun C-g-cakehomage to my SIL, who did her PhD dissertation on James Joyce.) It was a big hit (and I have to say, it really was fabulous, and quite easy to make) So, it’s my favorite recipe of the 2011 Holidays, and I’d like to share it. (Sorry, it disappeared so fast I didn’t have a chance to photograph it! But here's a shot from Nigela Lawson's food site.)

Nigella Lawson's Absolutely Fabulous Chocolate Guinness Cake

1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Ingredients for the topping:

8 oz Philadelphia cream cheese

1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the over to 350 F, and butter and line a 9 inch springform pan.

Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter — in spoons or slices — and heat until the butter's melted, at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and baking soda.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

When the cake's cold, sit it on a flat platter or cake stand and get on with the frosting. Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sift over the confectioner's sugar and then beat them both together. Or do this in a processor, putting the unsifted confectioners' sugar in first and blitz to remove lumps before adding the cheese.

Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

Enjoy! Best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy New Year!