Friday, December 18, 2009

Guest Author -- Annie West

Australian author Annie West decided to write romance after reading it for so many years during job changes and travel. Described as "a Sexy author" (see below *g*), Annie has a new release out -- Blackmailed Bride, Inexperienced Wife. Please help us welcome her to The Romance Dish as she asks . . .

Who Do You Like To Read About?

I’m so thrilled to be here at The Romance Dish. Thanks girls, for inviting me! It’s especially great to be here in the lead up to Christmas. Despite the rush and bustle, I love this time as my mind is already thinking ahead to those lovely days when I get to relax (with all that leftover food so I don’t have to cook) and read and chat and read some more!

There are stories I love, others I enjoy and some I don’t take to at all. Before I began writing fiction I’d probably just have said some books were more gripping or more believable or more entertaining. But I’ve discovered a lot of this is about the characters. Unless they are people I’m willing (or even want) to identify with, the best plot in the world won’t carry a me along.

As a romance reader I have strong preferences on who I want to read about. No, I’m not talking about a wishlist for the perfect guy (or gal for that matter). You know the sort of thing. Must be over 6 ‘, nice eyes/smile/shoulders/pecs (all right – great bod!), good sense of humor, non-smoker, likes kids and dogs, doesn’t live with his mother, can fix cars/shelves/plumbing, knows how to use a knife and fork, kind, courteous, strong, sensitive, financially independent…

I’ve read characters who should have been perfect romance heroes but they lacked something. And heroines I just couldn’t warm too. Not just because their hair wasn’t the right colour or they didn’t put the lid back on the toothpaste.

As a general rule I want someone I can like (even if they don’t always behave terrifically well) and who behaves consistently or believably in their circumstances. Someone who isn’t totally absorbed in themselves and their own problems, but who has the capacity to care for others.

I’m not a fan of a character who has everything, wants for nothing and gets her own way all the time. I’ll happily read about a woman who’s rich and beautiful but throw up a roadblock so the going isn’t too easy for her, please. Give me a heroine who is doing it tough and I’ll probably be sympathetic. Particularly if she shows herself to be strong and determined and not give up despite the pressures weighing her down. I want her to prove herself against the odds and behave the way I’d like to think I would in similar circumstances! Even if I’d probably be a wimp in reality and run a mile.

I think it was Emma Darcy who suggested writers start a romance story by putting a heroine up a tree then throwing rocks at her. Give her a problem then make it worse. That way the reader is likely to (a) wonder how she got up the tree in the first place and (b) be eager to see her get down safely. I love a heroine who has a lot at stake.

When I started ‘Blackmailed Bride, Inexperienced Wife’ I got an image in my head of a woman going to her wedding, sick with nerves. She has an inbuilt distrust of marriage but the repercussions if she doesn’t marry are too awful to contemplate. She has to go through with it so she turns up, reconciled to the fact that she must wed a man she doesn’t love. At that stage I knew nothing else about the story.

Then my writer’s mind decided that, sadly for Alissa (she had a name now) the man she’d agreed to marry, a man she knew and trusted, isn’t there. He’s jilted her. Trouble is she still needs to marry. Instead there’s another man waiting for her - one she didn’t expect. I love to make life difficult for characters, I admit it. So naturally the man waiting for Alissa was the one man in the world she absolutely, categorically never wanted to see, let alone marry. Poor woman. She was definitely up a tree with a whole barrage of stones being thrown in her direction.

By the time I knew this much of the story I had to start writing because I wanted to find out what happened!

As for Dario, my hero, his icy control hides a blood hot passion that rises when he thinks about how he’s been forced into marrying the woman who epitomises everything he dislikes. He’s been pushed into a corner and he doesn’t like it. As a result he does things he later regrets. He’d never have done them if he knew all the circumstances. But I, for one, forgive him because it’s through those mistakes and the actions he takes to make amends, that we see his true decency. When he first appears it seems he has everything and the world bows to his will. It’s only as Alissa gets to know him through their marriage of inconvenience, that she realises he too has spent his life fighting against the odds, weighed down by obstacles that would have destroyed a lesser man. Best of all, to my mind, is the fact that despite his ruthlessness and his drive to succeed, he’s a man who tries always to do the right thing, even if he does out of the public eye. He genuinely cares for others. Most of all, he eventually discovers he cares for Alissa. Yes, please, that’s what I want in a hero!

I LIKED both these characters and though they sometimes acted impulsively, they were true to themselves. They strived to do the right thing as well as survive in awful circumstances. They both had a rough time but they rise above that. Perhaps most of all, they both show a capacity for love which made me want them to find happiness.

Writing this blog it sounds a little as if I sat down with a checklist and tried to tick every box with my characters before I started. I wish! Writing the book might have been simpler. In fact it’s only now as I sit back and review the story that I see what it was I liked about Dario and Alissa so much and why the story grabbed me instantaneously then wouldn’t let me go till I’d written it.

What do you like best in a romance hero or heroine? Do you have favorite characters that shine above all the rest? Could you love a heroine or a hero who didn’t have to struggle against the odds?

To enter into the Christmas spirit, I’d love to give away a copy of my current Harlequin Presents Extra release: BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE to a person chosen at random from those leaving a comment. To find out more about the story, visit Harlequin Amazon or my website to read an excerpt. If the winner has already read Dario and Alissa’s story then of course they can choose one of my other titles.

Aussie author Annie West is a bestselling author for Harlequin Presents/Modern/Sexy (depending on which country you’re in). She gets a kick out of going to Australian writer and reader conferences where she gets described as ‘a Sexy author’! She’s won and been shortlisted for several reader awards and is just finishing what she hopes will be her 12th book for Harlequin. Annie loves her work, spending days fantasising about gorgeous men and their love lives. It’s a hard job but she has no regrets. Annie lives with her family on the east coast of Australia between the Hunter Valley’s world class wine country and some of the state’s best beaches.


  1. Hi Annie
    It must be nice to be described as a "sexy author"!
    Good luck with your US launch of BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE. For me it was one of those books where you know the hero and heroine must get together for a happy-ever-after ending (hey, it's a category romance!) but you really make it seem like these two might find each other physically attractive but could never fall in love. That makes BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE a real page turner!
    I've just re-read AIN'T SHE SWEET by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. SEP makes a potentially unsympathetic character into one you really root for. Sugar Beth is one of my favorite contemporary romance heroines.

  2. Hi Kandy, yes there are perks to writing for Harlequin Presents and being called a "Sexy author" here in Australia is one of them! It's still a challenge to say it with a straight face though.

    Yes, I was thinking of Susan Elizabeth Phillips too and "Ain't She Sweet". She did a great job of making us care for a character who could have been unlikeable. But seeing what had driven her to be the way she had, and then showing how much had changed for her, was so strong.

    Thanks for the good wishes for "Blackmailed Bride, Inexperienced Wife". As you say, on the face of it Dario and Alissa are so unlikely a couple but beneath the surface they had so much in common. I must say it was rather fun to write a pair who were basically on opposite sides of the ring to start with and see how they dealt with the consequences of their actions.

  3. Ha ha! One of my favorite people talking to some more of my favorite people. What a delightful dish! Annie, I absolutely adored BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE, as you know. I cried, you rotten thing. It's not nice to make your friends cry!!!! It's such a compelling story, right from when poor Alissa turns up to find out her nice 'safe' choice has stood her up to the wonderfully sigh-worthy ending where tough guy Dario reveals his vulnerability is the woman he loves. Awwwwww!

    Actually if the character is interesting, I don't necessarily have to like them right from the start. I do, however, expect some sort of character arc in the story. Someone who's awful at the start better not still be awful and have learnt nothing by the end or I'll be grumbling!

  4. Oh, Anna, I have to admit to being sneakingly proud of the fact you shed a tear or two over Dario and Alissa's story. It's not often I make you cry with my books. In fact this could be a first. I had some awwwww moments as I wrote it but you never know as you write whether other people will feel the same sympathy with your characters as you do. Isn't it nice when that happens?

    Interesting point about character growth. I suppose I want a character to interest me from the start. Boring is so much worse than bad, especially when you can discover bad hides all sorts of other qualities but boring just stays, well...boring!

    I think I'd like to see a glimmer of something in a character early on that hints I might be willing to care for them later on. Actually some of my fave reading as a teenager was gothic romances. You know the ones where the heroine is attracted to two men. Either could be the hero or the villain. Such fun discovering which is which!

  5. Hi Annie

    It must be wonderful being called a sexy author love it.

    I have read this book and I love Dario and Alissa two of my favourite people and I too forgave Dario.

    I love it when a hero and heroine have to work hard at getting to the HEA I love a story with angst and humour as well.

    Anyone who hasn't read this book yet go get it you will love it.

    Have Fun

  6. Hi Helen. It's lovely of you to stop by and comment. Thanks for the wrap for 'Blackmailed Bride, Innocent Wife'. This is certainly a book where heroine and hero had to work for their HEA. On the other hand, we wouldn't want to make things too easy for characters, would we? Some of my fave stories have characters doing it tough. That way it's so satisfying when they find happiness.

  7. Hey, Sexy lady! Great to see you here with the Dishies.

    I agree--perfect characters are dull as dishwater. I want to see people triumph against all odds. When I was a teen, I read the Sweet Valley High series about a pair of gorgeous identical twins. Elizabeth was painted as the sweet, perfect one who got everything she wanted without even trying. Yawn! Jessica had glaring personality flaws. She, too, eventually won her heart's desire most of the time, but she had to jump through hoops in her own outrageous manner. I always enjoyed her story arcs more than Elizabeth's.

    x Vanessa

  8. Hi Vanessa,

    It sounds like you're a girl after my own heart. Troubled souls are so much more fascinating. I can see I've missed out on something not reading Sweet Valley High. I keep hearing about it but suspect it may be a little late for me to dip into it now.

    Isn't it funny how we'd love an easy ride in real life but in fictionthe bumpy ride seems to work better. Maybe because it's not happening to us?

  9. Good Morning Ladies!!! Welcome to The Romance Dish Annie!!! We are so thrilled that you are with us today.

    I too love to read about characters who are against all odds and get their HEA. I love to cheer them on as I read about their journey. I also like characters that have quirkiness to them. It makes them more believable.

    I have to say that I love the name Alissa. My first every best friend was an Alyssa.

  10. Hi Buffie, thanks for the warm welcome.

    What a coincidence about your friend being Alyssa. I think it's a lovely name. One of the joys of writing is getting to use lots of names you enjoy, and even sometimes name you think suitable for a villain.

    I love quirky characters too. Characters who have traits that seem real. Jennifer Crusie does terrific characters along those lines, and really, I suppose, so do a lot of my fave writers. It makes reading their books a real treat.

  11. Hi, Annie! Thanks for posting today! I like stories about characters that have some odds stacked against them, but I get frustrated if there is too much angst and strife in a story. Those are the kind of stories I want to yell, "Just get to the HEA already!" My DH had to come through some odds in his life, so I think it is realistic to write about such things.
    Comment about your names for villains: Isn't it funny how some names are just villainous names? I do know, as a teacher, there are some names I did not want to name my baby because those names reminded me of troublesome students or their parents. LOL
    I'm looking forward to reading BBIW.

  12. Hi Annie!

    What a great post!!

    I have to admit, I fall for the 'tortured man' thing big time. Love to follow his journey to realizing, he is human after all, he does have a heart.
    I will also admit, It is the hero that pulls me more than the heroine.
    You would think as a female I would commiserate more with the heroine, but no...hero all the way.

    I like that more and more romances are written with the male POV, or at least an even split!

    It is a delicate balance, can't make the heroine too strong and overbearing, yet she shouldn't be weak and sniveling either.

    And the hero should not be such a nasty schmuck that he is irredeemable. Or so cold and implacable to be off putting.

    So I guess I like romances that straddle the line expertly!

    And yours sounds wonderful!!

  13. my favorite heros and heroines have to overcome some kind of adversity in order to be together, whether it be emotional scars from the past, dangerous elements in the present or what have you.

    meaghan_koci (at) yahoo (dot) com

  14. Hi Annie! We're so happy to have you with us today. Sorry I wasn't here earlier but I wanted to get my errands completed before the weather here got too bad. We have sleet, high winds and hit our high temp for the day (36°F) at about 8:30 this morning. Brrrrr.

    I really enjoyed BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE. It's been some time since I've read a Harlequin Presents and I had forgotten what a delicious treat they are.

    I like stories where the hero and heroine have to work for their hea. I do enjoy sweet, uncomplicated stories from time to time but I'd be bored silly with a steady diet of that type of book.

  15. Hi, Annie! I wish you great success with the new release.

    My favorite characters are those who change and grow during the story. Whether it's a redeemed villain or a young heroine who needs to grow up a bit, I want to believe that the protagonists are not just happy but better and stronger when I close the book.

  16. Hi Annie,
    I know exactly how you feel i find hero/heroine's who have everything and wants for nothing boring as well. Your book sounds very interesting to read and i would to read it. ^^

    One of the things i like best about a hero or heroine is when they're not perfect. I really don't like the drop dead gorgeous perfect all around hero or heroine. Give me some flaws. A limp, lisp, and unusually big nose. lol I find myself always more absorbed into a story when there is a struggle or something that must be overcome. That things arn't perfect. Basically I don't like the Giselle/Edward, but the Giselle/Robert (from Enchanted).

    Just off the top of my head some of my all time favorite characters are Bit Carroway from "England's Perfect Hero" by Suzanne Enoch, Nick and Sara from the "Seduction of Sara" by Karen Hawkins, Bella and Beast from Disney Beauty, and the Beast and Kent and Coriel from "Summers at Castle Auburn" by Sharon Shinn. I'm sure there are much more though. ^^

    I have to admit i don't really love a hero or herione that doesn't struggle. I just read "The Winter Queen" by Amanda McCabe and i feel no love for Anton or Rosemond. Everything was given to them. They were too perfect and had to perfect of a romance. It was basically boring. When things are too perfect i start to cheer for the villains. lol


  17. Ooh, Annie, loved those gothic romances. The first one I ever read was in primary school and it was called Master of Pendorric. I remember having no idea that the sexy but evil husband was really the good guy and the sympathetic shoulder to cry on guy for the heroine was the baddie. I then read hundreds of gothics and discovered that was actually what happened in most of them. Innocence has its advantages, doesn't it? Mind you, working out whodunnit in the first chapter didn't stop me devouring those things, largely for the sexy but evil husband who usually turned out not to be evil at all. I went back to those beloved stories when I wrote COS - especially in the Cornish setting and the wonderful house that the hero lives in. Had such fun writing Penrhyn!

  18. Annie, just popping in to say hello. Great post and you know how I feel about all of your books......very sexy!

    Happy Holidays everyone!

  19. Hi Deb,

    Yes, I know what you mean about sometimes the angst being laid on too thickly. That's one of the reasons I'm not a fan of Thomas Hardy - now THERE is a writer who loved to make things unbelievably bad for his characters!

    Names are fascinating, aren't they? I've sometimes given unpleasant characters very nice sounding names because I like the contrast between the name and the actions. On the other hands it's been fun using a name that has bad associations for me - a good way to get exorcise some old pain perhaps! Several of my friends are teachers and I've heard them discuss the names they'd never use for their children. Amazing how often the same names came up!

    I hope you enjoy 'Blackmailed Bride, Inexperienced Wife'.

  20. Hi Drew,

    It is a balancing act, isn't it? Sometimes it feels like characters are treading a thin line. I've written some stories where there's less background turmoil and all the trouble is up front. On the other hand, it's great sometimes to read and to write a hero or heroine with 'interesting' pasts as well.

    The split between male and female POV is really interesting. I find that varies in my books with some being about 50-50 and others just naturally turning out with slightly more of one character or the other. I wonder why. I remember reading older romances when I was young and there was no male POV. The heroes always seemed so distant and moody and unknowable. Some of them were such strong books but I'm hooked on stories that show both characters.

  21. Meaghan, it's great when characters work together, isn't it? I recently read some terrific romantic suspense by Fiona Brand where the heroine in particular had issues to face and both h&h were thrown into dangerous situations where they had to work together to survive and solve the problems. That working together made the books (and the characters) so strong.

  22. Hi PJ, thanks for the warm welcome. Brr, it sounds chilly at your place. You should pop over to visit. Sunny skies here and warm enough to swim. It's particularly nice as we've just had rain the last couple of days to break the heat (it's been over 100F). Hope you got all your errands done.

    You've read BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE? I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I think of a good romance as a delicious treat too!

  23. Janga, thanks for the good wishes. I hope readers love the book!

    You've raised one of the things I enjoy too - seeing the characters change and grow. It's not so satisfying if they don't - a little too much as if they've been type-cast and can't develop. Seeing a villain change along the way can be really satisfying, as you say.

  24. Hi Melissa,

    I think if the heroine is perfect it's enormously hard to identify with her. I wrote a heroine not so long ago who appeared on the surface to have it all. She was attractive, educated, she wore diamonds and designer clothes and she was used to mixing with the social elite. The hero believes she's had an entitled life. Poor Callie had in some ways, but in others her life had been disastrous. I really enjoyed getting into her character and showing that her poise was a shield she used to protect herself from an ugly world. She viewed her attractiveness as being all about clever dressing and posture and attitude rather than real beauty. That made her so much more likeable to me. Especially when she has to fight the odds to find her HEA! If she had no problems I don't think I'd have warmed to her.

    Stories with Beauty and the Beast themes are so fascinating, aren't they? They're a great way to show the difference between the inner person and the outside view of them.

  25. Hi Anna, I know you love those gothics. It's there in all your books! And as for Penrhyn in CAPTIVE OF SIN - I recognised it as soon as I read it. I read Victoria Holt too as a teenager. I started with 'Mistress of Mellyn' in that lovely Elizabethan house on the cliff. Some really captured the imagination, like 'King of the Castle', which I'm sure owed a lot to Jane Eyre with the story of the mad wife, and 'Legend of the Seventh Moon' in a little principality in Germany. It seemed deliciously exciting finding out how 'dangerous' the hero really was. Gee, I haven't read those books in years and years. I wonder how they'd stand up now?

  26. Hi Marilyn, Merry Christmas to you too. It's getting close now, isn't it? I'm glad you enjoy my stories, and that my 'sexy' tag isn't misleading!

  27. Hi, Annie! You know that I love the way you write your heroes! As I told you once before, when you described the voice of Khalid from THE DESERT KING'S PREGNANT BRIDE, I could almost hear him speak! Men with sexy voices who look directly into a woman's eyes and speak to her with respect and adoration...oh my! A heroine who holds her own and makes tough choices even when it breaks her heart is very compelling. Men and women with perfect features are only mannequins unless there is a lively heart, mind and spirit to go along with the looks. To me the most attractive people are those who at first appear imperfect, but then their personality and warmth smooth out the flaws. Before long, you can't look away from them!

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  28. Hi Virginia, it's lovely to see you. I remember your comment on Khalid's voice. He had that effect on me too! It made writing him interesting. Did I mention Dario has an accent and a great voice? (G)

    I do like your description of a heroine who holds her own and makes tough choices.

  29. Hi, Annie! I'm so glad you could join us today! I would have been here earlier, but have been at my kids' school all day helping out with two Christmas parties and now I'm beat. School's out for Christmas break and I look forward to sleeping in!!

    On to your question... Honestly, I like a healthy mix of heroes. As PJ mentioned, if I had a steady mix of the same kind, I'd be bored to tears. Though, I have a soft spot for the "reverse Cinderella" hero -- the one who is beneath the heroine and feels like he's not worthy of her. Love it!

    I also read and enjoyed BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE. :)

  30. Hi Andrea, it sounds like you're having a busy time. But I always like the end of year school events. The children are so excited by it all.

    So glad to hear you read and liked BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE. That's lovely news.

    Ooh, 'reverse Cinderella' heroes. You don't see those as often but they can be fascinating. Personally I love a hero who is torn between love and duty. That tug of war works for me.

  31. Hi, Annie! I'm a big fan of books where the hero and heroine have to strive to reach their HEA--love cheering them on!

  32. Hi Annie,
    I definitely have to like the hero and heroine of the story. There is a balance that I like where they are good people who care about others but not perfect people who never do anything wrong. I like them to struggle a bit and suffer a little before they reach their HEA.

  33. Hi, Annie, you sexy author you! You don't need to worry about writing characters that make people yawn. I always allot myself plenty of interrupt-free time when I open one of your books because I know I'm in for a treat I want to savour.

    And yes, I'm holding my hand up for flawed characters. I adored SEP's Sugar Beth. One of my absolute favourite characters is Bella Wilfour from Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. She calls herself a mercenary wretch, knows it's quite shocking, and then has to choose between money or love. Her character arc is so satisfying :-)

  34. Hi Gannon. Thanks for popping by to comment. Sorry about the delay - I've had some computer glitches.

  35. Hi Maureen. Yes, I have to connect to the h&h early in a book, I've found. Likeable but not perfect just about sums it up.

  36. Hi Michelle, what a lovely thing to say about reading my books! Thank you so much!

    Fancy mentioning 'Bleak House'. I haven't read it in years but it's still one of my faves. Bella is a terrific character.

  37. Thanks, everyone, for the warm welcome here at the Romance Dish. It's been lovely visiting.

    I promised to give away a copy of my latest and I've now drawn a winner. CONGRATULATIONS, MELISSA! If you email me at with your postal address, I'll pop the book in the mail to you.

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

  38. Thanks so much Annie!! *\^o^/* I can't wait to read your book. I've sent you an email with my address btw. ^^