Guest Post — Gina Conkle

How Do You Feel About Adventures?

Years ago my oldest son asked that question while we ran errands.  He was near the end of kindergarten and summer stretched before us. But, his simple question started a family tradition that we all love — The Adventure List.

Every summer and Christmas break, our family makes a wish list of things we want to do on poster-sized paper.  Sometimes our quests are simple: see the latest superhero movie, day at the fair, or go-karts.

Once in a while, we get brave and go big.

Our latest plan?  Tallinn, Estonia for Christmas!

Maybe you’re scratching your head…Estonia-where?  Then you consult a map and see how close Estonia is to the Arctic-freakin’-Circle!

But here’s a few gems to consider:

iStock_000011311558Small-Tallinn Old Market Square decorated for Christmas*Tallinn, Estonia’s home to one of Europe’s best preserved medieval old towns.  Why not celebrate the holiday at the Christmas Market on Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) decorated for the season in Middle Ages style?

Tallin_Tavern*Need to keep warm? Try Black Pepper Schnapps in one of Europe’s oldest still-in-business taverns.  That ceiling? It’s over 700 years old.

*Like variety? Explore a multi-cultural mix of architecture: German built castles, Russian Onion Dome churches, and Baroque Kadriog Palace (when Peter the Great ran Estonia) all in the same city.  But, if that’s not old enough for you…

Old town of Tallinn Estonia*Talinn’s Old Town is 62 square miles of antiquity ready to be explored.  A UNESCO site, the Old Town boasts archaic shops with people still living in medieval buildings.  And the pharmacy? Opened in 1422 and famed for everything from marzipan to “powdered unicorn horn” (for male potency)! Even Russian Tsars ordered medicine from that very shop.

iStock_000004151112Small-Pepper Pot turrets, Tallinn*Do you like wi-fi and a cappuccino with your history? Tallin’s counted among the top ten digital cities in the world. You can experience the past with present comforts. While sipping your hot beverage, meander past pepper pot turrets, architecture that was all the rage in castle building from the 13th century through the Renaissance.


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral*But if that’s not old enough for you, learn about war-like Oeselians (Estonian Vikings) whose relics are thankfully found only in museums.  Ptolemy wrote about them in Geography III (2nd century BC), and famed Viking skald Snorri Sturluson recorded their antics in Norse Sagas.

Now, we’re getting to time periods I love.

Archaeologists recently uncovered a rich Viking grave site (a two ship burial) on the Estonian island of Saaremaa, and I plan to visit those Norse artifacts in toasty, warm Tallinn museums.

Not a bad list of offerings for a place once described by a Muslim cartographer as “a small town.”

Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes, but sometimes going off the beaten path yields the best treasures.

What’s on your Adventure List?


19129_255294294601511_2017641803_n_(397x349)Gina’s a lover of history, books and romance, which makes the perfect recipe for historical romance writer.  Her passion for castles and old places (the older and moldier the better!) means interesting family vacations.  Good thing her husband and two sons share similar passions, except for romance…that’s where she gets the eye roll.  When not visiting fascinating places, she can be found in southern California delving into the latest adventures of organic gardening and serving as chief taxi driver.

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Norse_Jewel-800pxDon’t miss Gina’s Latest release, Norse Jewel

A stolen woman of rare qualities…
Helena, a captive woman, wants her freedom. The Frankish maid wasn’t born a slave but marauding Danes have taken her and she’s desperate to escape their camp.  Her savior comes as a fierce Norse chieftain, Hakan, who takes her far north.

A hard Norseman who’s lived by the sword…
Hakan wants to lay down his sword and live a peaceful farmer’s life. Betrayal left him cold to other women, yet his heart thaws to clever Helena. She lures him with kindness, weaving happiness that’s short lived. Deceit and old loyalties vex the warrior, calling upon his sword arm.

A clash of cultures amidst a kingdom in transition…
War erupts…a kingdom’s in the balance. Can Hakan defend his homeland and save the woman he loves?


About Beth Rhodes

Beth jumps into life with both feet...or head first. Impulsive and spontaneous to a T, she joined Passionate Critters and never looked back. She loves writing and reading, which made this wonderful group of woman a perfect match for her.

Places Worth Writing About…

I think having visited a place can add a sense of authenticity to descriptions in a story, giving settings a vibrancy and vividness that otherwise might be lacking.

I used to love travelling and for many years we (me and my other half) would travel whenever we could, often working to save enough money and then heading off for a few months. We visited, Africa, South East Asia, India…

These days we’ve settled down on a farm in the mountains of Spain, together with a whole load of animals, which means it’s no longer possible for us to travel (at least not together—which takes the fun out of it) but I still make use of the places we visited in my stories.

We’re both sun-lovers and we usually headed for hot and exotic locations. But before moving to Spain, we lived in Scotland for four years. We did plenty of travelling around the country, and I came to love the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

For me, one of the most enjoyable ways to appreciate the countryside is to walk. I did a four-day walk, part of the West Highland Way, from Loch Lomond to Glen Nevis, with my sisters. My husband would drive to meet us at the hotel each night so we didn’t have to carry our luggage. He usually had large brandies set up on the bar to warm us up—have I mentioned it rains a lot in Scotland?

  © Copyright Pip Rolls and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Pip Rolls and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

We spent one very wet day hiking over Rannoch Moor, but it was worth it for the breathtaking scenery. So when I was looking for a particular type of location for a story, the moors came to mind.

My latest release, Losing Control, takes place mainly in London. But the hero and heroine do go away for a weekend (the plan being to have a weekend of wild, torrid sex, get the whole sex thing out of their systems, after which they could go back to being friends) and they wanted somewhere remote. So I took them to a romantic Scottish castle situated to the north of Rannoch moor. Needless to say, their plan didn’t quite work out.

Do you like to read or write about places you have been? Or do you prefer a whole new experience? Let me know for a chance to be entered in this month’s draw.

About Nina Croft

Nina Croft grew up in the north of England. After training as an accountant, she spent four years working as a volunteer in Zambia which left her with a love of the sun and a dislike of 9-5 work. She then spent a number of years mixing travel (whenever possible) with work (whenever necessary) but has now settled down to a life of writing and picking almonds on a remote farm in the mountains of southern Spain. Nina writes all types of romance often mixed with elements of the paranormal and science fiction.

The Gypsy in Me

I don’t know if I have a restless soul or if I was a gypsy in a previous life, but I love to travel.  Although the lack of a fat bank account does dampens my spirit a bit. We’ve moved quite a few times over the years and it’s the packing and unpacking that kills me…the new location, not so much.  My husband had a job welding in the construction of water towers and at first he traveled alone for months at a time.  But I was homeschooling my youngest at the time and we had the opportunity to go with my husband to a job in Louisiana.  I was in heaven.  The heat and humidity everyone griped about?  I loved it.  It was all part of the scenery.  Maybe one of the reasons I love to write is setting the scenery, immersing myself in the atmosphere and the story itself.  I was hooked and the kiddo and I went with him on several more job sites including Memphis, Tennessee, and Savannah, Georgia.  We also went to Arkansas and got caught in a massive ice storm and had to live without power, or heat, for a week.  Not something I would recommend as a vacation…but you learn to improvise and treasure the local lineman working with the power company to restore service.

Just one of the things I love about traveling is searching out the local history.  In Louisiana we made day trips to the “cities of the dead”, the famous New Orleans cemeteries.  We even followed a tour around to eavesdrop on the history of some of the tombs.  My sweet guys humored me because I could’ve spent hours walking around and my writer’s mind was definitely in high gear.  And of course we had to walk down Bourbon Street and around the French Quarter.  I still remember the melt-in-your-mouth beignets, covered in sweet powdered sugar, and the bitter, bold chicory coffee at the Café Du Monde.  I loved to strike up conversations with any local that had a Cajun accent.  They were good about sharing how to choose the freshest seafood vendors selling from ice chests along the side of the road and hole-in-the-wall restaurants with authentic Cajun food.  We also took a day to visit a couple of restored plantations and another for an alligator swamp tour for the little man.  The memories are still so vivid in our minds that we often talk about going back for a family vacation.

But I think my favorite job site of all was Savannah, Georgia.  The moss hanging from the trees, plantations from days of old, and the history surrounding us.  And we were there to participate in the famous St. Patrick’s day celebration.  We often walked through the historic district along the riverfront to watch the merchant ships and eat warm pecan pralines straight out of the copper kettles.  Well…almost straight out of the pots…they had to cool a bit first.  😉

I’d do it all over again.  The traveling, the history, the interesting people.  I’d do it for the experience, especially being able to share my love of history and culture with my guys.  My writer’s mind craves it.  One of these days…maybe I’ll take to the road again.

About Chelle Sandell

Contemporary western romance author, Chelle Sandell, was born and raised in southern Oklahoma but has mostly traded her cowboy boots in for flip-flops. That is unless her cowboy feels the occasional need to go boot scootin' across a dance floor. A foodie at heart, leaning toward the sweet treats, you can find her in the kitchen experimenting on her family and friends. She lives out in the country with her very own cowboy, rowdy boys, Hank & Lilly (blue heeler cowdogs), rescue kitties, and a hungry opossum that loves to sneak up at night to eat the cat food on the back porch.

Writing Out of My Comfort Zone

photoHI, all! Jennifer here.

This month on the HSG blog, we’re talking travel and settings.

Settings in my romance books usually revolve around two places I love and know well: the Jersey shore and the Boston area.

I can’t help it. There is a certain amount of comfort level there.  But maybe I’m too comfortable. Maybe I’m even in a bit of a –gasp—rut.

photo (2)Well, my recent trip has totally inspired me to take my next book into a completely different location: MONTANA.

I just love that area. It’s so lovely and totally different from the fast-paced lifestyle of the east coast.

Here are a few tidbits I experienced there:

1) I traveled through two towns (about 20 miles apart) and still couldn’t find an ice cream parlor.  (what the?)

2) It’s common to travel from town to town and have ZERO cell phone service. (scary)

3) There’s no sushi in or around Helena, the capital of Montana (hint, hint)

4) It was kind of hard to eat vegetarian. All I really wanted was a nice big salad. No. But plenty of hamburgers and steak and fried chicken (sigh)

5) There were a lot of biker bars (fun)

6) No chance of frizzy humidity hair head (booh-yah!)

Needless to say, I can really play these experiences up and have some fun with my heroine. It’s about time I take travel experiences and apply them to my writing.


What about you? If you’re a writer, have you been stuck in a setting rut? What setting are you dying to put your characters in?

Have you ever been to Montana?

**DON’T FORGET** The blog swag this month is a FREE digital copy of the winner’s choice from the new Decadent Tease Imprint courtesy of Clarissa Yip! Comment on any post in August to be entered to win.

About Jennifer Shirk

Jennifer Shirk is a USA Today bestselling sweet romance author for Montlake and Entangled Publishing who also happens to be a mom, pharmacist, Red Sox fan, P90x grad, and overall nice person. 🙂

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” -Dr. Seuss

normalwvviewI live in the mountains. Actually, I live in a valley surrounded by mountains and when I was a little girl I imagined that living in a bowl would be exactly the same.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that some of the sights I see every day–endless trees bursting with color, gurgling streams where rocks jut out to create the perfect sleepy fishing hole, fluttering snowflakes that settle inches thick to blanket my part of the world–are things people spend money to vacation to see.

Of course, most of us don’t appreciate what we have and long for that which is far away and exotic. I have found those places in books all my life.

The bustle of a New York city street, munching croissants in a street cafe in Paris, sloshing through the constant rain on a busy London sidewalk. I’ve been all these places and more. An Irish pub, an Italian villa, a Bahamian beach bungalow.

The thing is, it didn’t quench my desire to see these places. It only made me want more. I set the first novel I wrote in a city, a big one, and struggled to write it because I knew nothing about living in a big city. I did throw in a visit to a small town, which I think is one of the highlights of the story. I’ve since realized to write what I know; I can tell you everything about small town life. I suppose there are people out there that long to read about the simplicity and connection that comes with living in a small town.

I have hopes of being able to take some “research” trips one day. Tell me about your favorite books where the setting stood out as much as the characters.

(My first recommendation? Anything by Nora Roberts set in Ireland. Seriously, wow.)

About Lori Sizemore

Lover of nail polish, pens, her Kindle, and fresh coffee. She likes romance filled with messy, real characters and lots of snarky banter. Reading was (and still is!) her BFF; when she discovered writing she fell in love. Come for the snark. Stay for the story.

5 Benefits of Taking a Vacation from Writing


I’m going to be doing some traveling this month to visit family. I’ve been considering whether or not to take another kind of vacation while I’m away–a writing vacation. Here are five good reasons to take a vacation from your manuscript.

  1. Gives you time to have experiences that will inspire your writing. A weekend trip to the lake, a concert in the park, or dinner with interesting people are all the kinds of life experiences that can lead to new story ideas and fresh characters. If we spend all our time in our respective writing caves, we won’t have anything new to draw from.
  2. Helps you see your writing with a fresh set of eyes. Writing needs to breathe before the editing stage; otherwise, it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees. A break between the first draft and the edit can be just what you need to see your manuscript more objectively.
  3. Reminds your friends, family, and loved ones what you look like without a laptop glued to your fingers. Balance is vital, and we need to learn to protect our relationships. Being on The New York Times Best Sellers List won’t mean anything without the people we love there to share it.
  4. Provides time for reading. We all know writers should also be readers, but sometimes it’s difficult to find time to read for enjoyment when you’re writing. Take a writing break and fill your e-reader with all those books you’ve been dying to dive into. Not only will they provide wonderful information about trends in your genre, but a great book will remind you of the power of story and why you love to write.
  5. Gives your mind space for creativity. Just like a page layout needs white space, our minds need room to wander and play. Silence, quiet walks, and prayer or meditation can all improve creativity.

About Julie Jarnagin

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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