Helen Harper

Themed restaurants

I don’t tend to be very good at lunch. Usually, it’s because I’m deep in writing mode and I’ll forget to eat. By the time 3pm hits and I’m really hungry, dinner seems so close that I generally just end up hanging on until then. Yesterday, however, I made an exception because I read about a new-ish restaurant that had opened up nearby called The Yellow Brick Road, with a sister café upstairs specialising in pancakes and with the wonderful title of the Wicked Pancake Parlour. Sadly for me (although obviously not for them), the place was packed and I couldn’t get a table. I’ll time it better next week!

 

I do absolutely love themed restaurants. There must be something about them which speaks to my inner child. They were hugely popular in Japan when I lived there. There was one serving pretty tapas and done up like a crazy cathedral inside (complete with gargoyles), another that was styled as a jail where you ate your meal chained to the table, and my personal favourite – a hodge podge of ideas that included requiring a password to enter, intermittent sounds of a train blasting through the PA system and a toilet with a strange giant plastic smiley face that would play music and move out from the wall towards your knees while you were taking care of business.

 

As a huge fan, the news of a Hello Kitty themed restaurant opening in Hong Kong last week had my toes curling up in delight. I just googled themed restaurants right now and the top result was a news item about a potential Puff the Magic Dragon chain starting up. Shivers of joy! Of course, not every theme works for every person. Dining In The Dark seems to be a concept which many cities around the world now boast of. If you’ve not heard of it, it generally involves pitch black, a mysterious set menu where your tastebuds are meant to do all the work, and blind waiting staff. I’ve been once – I’ll never go back. I’m just too darn claustrophobic and I hated every minute.

 

It seems that Urban Fantasy is ripe for its own themed restaurants. Imagine dark cityscapes across the walls, mini swords as eating utensils, and food items with names like ‘The Vampire’s Last Bite’ or ‘Wolf It Down’. Just think of the fun that could be had with creating cocktails to match. Hmmm…

Photo by brianscantlebury.com

Helen Harper

Kimchi the dog

Like pretty much every fiction author in the known universe, I don’t use real people in my books. That’s why it’s called fiction ;)! I will admit I have been known to take little asides that I’ve heard and use them though. For example, in the book I’m currently working on, one of the first lines is ‘You have to do bad shit to get ahead.’ I got that from a journalist I got chatting to during a night out in KL – he had spent some time with the Russian mafia and had related that particular tidbit as their raison d’etre. I did also once offer a competition to all my newsletter readers for a cameo in one of the Bo Blackman books. Embarrassingly, only one person took me up on it so the less said about that the better!

However, there is one specific character in the Bo Blackman series who is most definitely grounded in reality. And that’s Kimchi the dog. He’s actually an amalgamation of two gorgeous mutts who both belong to a fabulous Kiwi friend of mine. She rescued them both from the streets – first Kimchi then, about a year later, Molly.

It would be fair to say that Kimchi used to hate me. I’d go round to my friend’s house and he’d sit in front of me, regardless of how many other people were present, and simply bark. And bark. And bark. And bark. All at me. He’d never bite – he’s not that kind of dog – but it was clear I was far from his favourite person. It wasn’t until my friend patiently guided me through a treat-giving session that the tide turned. Now he loves me. At least, that’s what I’ve decided anyway. He’s an incredibly good-natured dog who suffers training and cats and all manner of craziness with adorable patience. (And ,if you’re curious, he’s called Kimchi because that’s the name he seemed to respond to most – after considerable attempts at finding one he liked himself!)

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Molly, the younger of the two, is nuts. For a long time, she was pretty chubby because, damn, does that dog like her food. She’d eat just about anything in sight. To be fair to her though, when I saw her last weekend she was looking far less plump so kudos to her! It’s probably all that energy she constantly expends. Molly is the kind of dog who you can put up a barrier in order to keep her in one part of the house and within hours she’s figured out some smart method of bypassing it. While my friend was away on holiday, I was on dog-sitting duty. I’d go round in the morning only to discover that chunks had been ripped out from the beautifully varnished and immaculate parquet flooring. I still have no idea how on earth she managed it. Don’t quote me on this but I’m pretty certain that, to date, two passports and five mobile phones have been destroyed as a result of Molly’s fond attention. There’s a tiny part of me that’s slightly sad she’s now growing out of a lot of that sort of behaviour, and with patient and professional dog training is becoming far better behaved. Because any story with Molly in it is going to be fun. She’s just utterly, utterly gorgeous.

So, for those of you who have read New Order and High Stakes from the Bo Blackman books, Kimchi the dog is really Molly. He has Kimchi’s name but Molly’s character – and every time he appears in a scene, I can do nothing but smile. The pair of them are wonderful and completely inseparable – both in real life and in literature!

Helen Harper

RT Convention 2015

  • May 22, 2015
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Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind myself that I’m not dreaming and life really is this much fun! I was lucky enough to travel to the Romantic Times Convention in Dallas last week and, while I only returned on Tuesday and am still struggling with jetlag, it was a phenomenal experience.

Seven hours to Tokyo, four hours stopover, then thirteen hours to Texas sounds pretty crazy. I knew with crossing the international date line that I’d struggle with jetlag so I gave myself a few days to acclimatise and explore Dallas first. I hadn’t been expecting to land in a ghost town! In KL, Sundays might be quiet but there’s still plenty going on. That wasn’t the case in Dallas – it was DEAD. Considering I was staying downtown, there was next to nothing open and next to no-one on the streets. Part of travelling around the world and getting to see new places is just that – having your expectations entirely confounded. And it wasn’t just that it was quiet. It was also cold. Lucky I thought to bring more than just a pair of flipflops for my feet!

Still, I managed to get in some sightseeing in between my odd sleeping hours. There’s something incredibly macabre about seeing the X on the spot on the road where JFK was shot. And I somehow thought the grassy knoll would be bigger. I managed to buy several large Texan-style hats (because all my friends back here had been asking for them since I booked the tickets!) and eat some seriously yummy barbecue.

When the convention itself began, I spent the first few hours in a daze. It was so large and with so many people! Every author I met handed me over a shiny, beautifully designed business card – along with numerous freebies like pens and badges and sweets. It was rather embarrassing to have nothing to hand back in return – I’m going to have to get my arse into gear and get some proper swag ordered. Everyone was also hugely down to earth. After I’d registered, I sat down on a comfy chair to watch all the people go by – a couple of others sat beside me and after several minutes of conversation they handed me their cards. The woman next to me was none other than Rachel Caine! I was pretty much struck dumb! All the other authors, whether hugely famous or not, were just as lovely and unassuming.

One of the greatest parts of the convention, besides some fabulous panels on marketing and business (expect me to be more pro-active with all that over the coming months now!) was meeting other people who I’d connected with online. Susan Ilene, the author of the Sensor series, and Debra Dunbar, of the Imp series fame, were particular stand outs. Debra even celebrated her birthday while I was there. It was an honour to have a drink (or two!) with her. They were, of course, far more organised than me. For one of the evening events, a Steampunk party, they had beautiful costumes. I had jeans. Er…

Anyway, I’m taking everything I learnt and starting to put it all into practice. And I’m definitely planning to go to the RT Convention in 2016. It’s going to be in Las Vegas and I have definite expectations of what it’s like as a city. I’m already excited to see how those expectations will be squashed. And I’m going to bring costumes, business cards, and generally be much, much more organised 😉

Helen Harper

Boundary Crossed

I’ve just started reading this new book by Melissa Olson and I’m already hooked! Read on for more info from Melissa herself…

Thank you so much to Helen for being part of this multi-webpage blog blast.  If you’ve already heard of me and my books, you can scroll down to go straight to the contest entry at my website. Otherwise, please let me introduce myself.

My name is Melissa F. Olson, and I mostly write urban fantasy novels, which are stories about the intersection of two worlds: the real one that we live in and a world that involves something supernatural: fairies, vampires, werewolves, mutant killer hedgehogs, or all of the above. My new novel Boundary Crossed is about a young woman, Lex, trying to protect her baby niece from bad guys who have discovered that the baby has serious value on the supernatural black market. Lex is determined to keep her safe, but unfortunately she dies at the end of the first chapter.

No, seriously. She dies. But then she gets better, because it turns out that there’s more to Lex than she ever knew. She needs to figure out why she’s still alive and what the bad guys want with her niece, and she’s going to need a lot of help to do it.

The book has been available all month as a Kindle First deal on Amazon, but it comes out in paperback and audiobook for the first time today.

To celebrate this release, I’m giving away signed books, a $20 Amazon gift card, and some killer swag. (That’s a metaphor; the swag will not hurt you.) To enter, just visit my website, and enter up to four times for the four prizes. Thanks for reading!

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Melissa Olson was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and studied film and literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduation, and a brief stint bouncing around the Hollywood studio system, Melissa landed in Madison, WI, where she eventually acquired a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee, a husband, a mortgage, a teaching gig, two kids, and two comically oversized dogs, not at all in that order. She loves Madison, but still dreams of the food in LA. Literally. There are dreams. Learn more about Melissa, her work, and her dog at www.MelissaFOlson.com.

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