Romance University is ablaze with romance authors today, as several authors from Harlequin Publishing’s Blaze line let us pick their brains in a Q&A panel discussion. Not familiar with Blaze yet? You’re in for a sizzling treat!
Brenda Chin, Blaze Senior Editor, says, “Blaze is Harlequin’s sexiest series – period. The books in this line are super-sensual, highly romantic, and innovative, offering stories that are sexy in both premise and execution. The editors expect authors to push the boundaries in terms of characterization, plot, style and explicitness. Finally, Blaze books are very contemporary—in tone and in language. They capture what it’s like to be young and single today.”
Today’s author panel features CANDACE HAVENS (CH), KATHLEEN O’REILLY (KO), JOANNE ROCK (JR), CARA SUMMERS (CS) and TAWNY WEBER (TW).
RU: How has Blaze changed (or NOT changed) over the past few years?
KO: I think in the early days of Blaze, the editors wanted a very sexy hook into the story, love potions abounded, and lists of fantasies were invariably written down and found by the hero. Now, it seems like the editors and readers have said they don’t care as much about the sexy hook, they are mainly interested in a sexy contemporary romance.
How has Blaze NOT changed? In my opinion, Blaze has always been about a very contemporary heroine. She can rich, poor, pretty, plain, a workaholic, looking for a job, but she knows what she wants in the bedroom, and isn’t afraid to wrangle the hero to get it. As for the hero, he can be working class, or a billionaire, he just needs to be heroic and worthy of the heroine—and hot. Note that he doesn’t have to be 6 foot 7 with washboard abs that can not only do laundry, but also deflect bullets. However both the heroine and the reader need to see the hero as sexy. I will say that I love writing ordinary men who are sexy and capable and heroic—and hot. 🙂
CH: I had a chance to talk to Brenda Chin and Kathryn Lye about what they are looking for in Blaze these days. I feel like that answers how the books have changed. Brenda told me they want bigger stories than the average series romance, complex characters and a strong sexy or romantic-turned-sexy hook, and a believable conflict. The sex also has to have emotional context. The characters have to feel something for one another. I know for me, I’m doing action-adventure-mystery with a strong romance in my Blazes. As Brenda says, the stories are bigger.
JR: Blaze is still red hot, but the authors have upped the effort in the last two years to ensure the line consistently delivers emotional romance underneath the sizzle! We want the emotional payoff to be rewarding in Blaze and we want our characters connect well beyond the physical. The romance has always been there, but I’d say that—as a group—we’ve really turned extra attention on that aspect recently.
TW: I’ve only been writing for Blaze since my first release in 2007, so I haven’t seen a lot of changes. Word count has gotten tighter and for awhile Blaze was open to more paranormal and historical elements, which it isn’t any longer. But otherwise, I think it’s still the same hot, sexy line it’s always been.
CS: For me the Blaze line has become more story oriented over the past few years. I’ve been able to write so many kinds of books–gothic romances, romantic comedy, suspense/adventure. The variety of stories I can write is what keeps writing for the line so much fun.
KO: The first rule is that you have to write a book and actually you know, submit it. That trips up a bunch of people. If you love reading romance, especially category (I grew up reading a gazillion Harlequins), then it helps a lot. If you don’t like reading romance, don’t try and write it. You’d be surprised how much it shows on the page. That said, I think if you do love romance and want to write romance, keep trying. Write a manuscript, submit it, and then while you’re waiting, start on the next one. If you get rejected, start on another book and keep submitting. As in all things, practice hones the craft.
CH: What advice would I give writers submitting to Blaze? Read, read, read the current Blazes. We all write so differently and the stories are so varied. You really need to read them to get a good feel of what you can do within the context of Blaze.
JR: The best advice to break into any line is to become an avid reader of the series you’re targeting. In particular, read the newest authors and the most recent releases. Those books help point the direction in which the line is headed and reflect the most recent preferences of our editors. Beyond that advice, I would suggest writing a strong, savvy heroine and a hot, believable hero. Put them in a sexy situation and then let the conflicts come to the fore. You’ll have a Blaze story in no time!
TW: I think the most important thing necessary in writing for Blaze (or, really, in writing for anything) is a strong voice. I think that’s the best piece of advice I could offer—to know your voice and to play to its strengths. Other than that, I suggest reading the line and getting a feel for the types of stories that readers are looking for and how the sexy hooks are played in each book to see how the writer’s make it work.
CS: I think you have to have a strong heroine that the reader can instantly like and connect with. If the reader has empathy and a connection with the heroine, she’ll go along for the ride wherever it takes them. Of course, you then have to have a great hero.
RU: What kind of feedback do you get from your readers about your Blaze stories?
KO: Most of the people who write me are people who love romance and love great stories. I have a lot of really, really nice, supportive readers.
CH: I come from the world of single title paranormal romance. My readers are surprised by how much they love the Blaze stories. They aren’t like what they thought series romance was.
JR: Readers fall in love with the heroes! They love the escapism of Blaze and the experience of being swept into the story world. Mostly, they enjoy falling for the hero along with the heroine.
TW: Mostly I just hear if they liked a story. Thankfully not too many have written to tell me they didn’t but I did get a note once complaining that there was too much sex in one of my books. I have heard from people who were excited to see certain aspects of stories –one who was really happy with the science aspects of RIDING THE WAVES as she worked in that field and thought it really well written. That’s always fabulous to hear- to find out that the research paid off and I can get those types of elements right.
CS: My readers like my stories and my characters. Some recently said they liked the quality of my writing too. (Nice to hear since I teach writing).
RU: Did all of you start as category writers or did you come to realize your writing suited the Blaze line? Or did you specifically target your story(ies) for Blaze?
KO: When I first started writing romance, I actually was writing historical romance, but a friend of mine was writing for Temptation, and she told me about Harlequin Duets, and suggested I try. So I submitted to Duets, and I sold. After the Duets line was killed, I started writing for Temptation, until the Temptation line was killed…. I try not to take these things personally. However, the Blaze line is doing great, and this year celebrated their ten anniversary. Here’s to another ten!
CH: I started in single title. I’d always wanted to write something like THE WOMEN’S MURDER CLUB but with romance and spies. Kathryn told me she would be interested in something like that. And that’s how it started for me about two years ago. Now I’m three books in, with a fourth coming out in November and I love it.
JR: I have been writing series in some form or another from the very start. Although my first release was a Temptation, I wrote a manuscript for Blaze before the line even hit the shelves. That story went on to be Blaze #26, SILK, LACE & VIDEOTAPE, and I had the pleasure of being part of the line’s debut year.
TW: When I started out with the dream to write for publishing, I noticed a common thread of advice: Write what you love to read. I’ve always loved to read category and my favorite line was Temptation. That worked pretty well for me, since my voice tends toward the snarky side of humor. So my goal was to write for the Temptation line, but the line closed (sob) so I switched focus to Blaze. At first I was a little worried…I mean, Blazes are HOT! But the line’s senior editor, Brenda Chin, encouraged me to try so I did. My first sale was to this line and the story, Double Dare, was written with Blaze in mind. And really, given my voice and writing preferences, I don’t know what other line I’d fit as well 🙂
CS: I started out as a category writer. My first two books were long contemporary series, but I switched to short category after they were rejected. I decided to target Desire or Temptation and eventually sold to Temptation. I made the move to Blaze because I thought it would be a fun line to write for, and I was
RU: What are the pros and cons of writing for a tightly defined line such as Blaze?
KO: I actually think Blaze is one of the loosest (pardon the pun) lines around. All the editors ask for is a contemporary romance with a modern feel. We don’t have to have babies, or billionaires, or ranches, or sheiks, or sheik babies. We just have to have a hero and heroine and the romance—and the sex. We can have billionaires and ranches if we want, but we don’t have to.
CH: I don’t find it tightly defined. I’m free to pretty much write the stories I want to write. As long as they are imaginative and have a strong, sexy romance — it’s all good. Be a great story teller, that’s what they really want.
JR: Well I’m not sure I’d view Blaze as tightly defined. It’s committed to the core reader promise of delivering a red-hot read, but beyond that, we can take a lot of risks in Blaze. I’ve written a Viking-era historical, a medieval time-travel, a ghost story, and stories set in Mexico and Puerto Rico. I’ve written romantic suspenses and lighter, more humorous stories, all under that satiny red Blaze banner. So one of the pros in writing for Blaze is that we are allowed so much leeway. The editors are always eager to hear our ideas for miniseries and anthologies, welcoming input on the series. I think that’s a huge benefit. As for drawbacks, I’m not sure there are any for me since I sought out the line and wanted to write for them. It’s a great fit for me, personally. But I think you need to choose the line you want to write for carefully so that you enjoy the kinds of story you’re telling.
TW: I love the parameters of Blaze because it’s all about the sexy hook. That definition is a really solid launch pad for the stories—ensuring they are sexy and hot, but also that the sexual hook is central to the characters conflict. I think that’s a definite pro to writing for the line. I mean, doesn’t the best sex add all kinds of conflict? At least in stories? I think that only becomes a con if you don’t write sexy, don’t write contemporary or don’t write the type of characters that fit the Blaze line; which would be strong, sexually empowered heroines and heroes who are confident enough and sexy enough to handle that kind of woman.
CS: To me it’s all pros. Writing for a short, tightly defined line makes you really hone your writing skills. I’m always challenged by having to accomplish so much in such a short amount of space.
RU: Are there any new trends you’ve noticed – changes in what your readers are looking for or that your editors want?
KO: This is only Kathleen gazing into the crystal ball—I think readers are wanting less anti-heroes than before. They want someone who is strong and courageous and walks the heroic line. Same goes for heroines. This doesn’t mean perfect, I don’t think we’re going back to the 80s where the heroine is beautiful, doesn’t cuss, can handle a bow and knife. and twist the entire community around her little finger. But I do think readers will be wanting someone that they can admire (and not just physically). Again, no editor has ever told me that, no reader has ever told me that, but I can see how my reading habits have changed and I’m usually a very standard-definition romance reader. Oh, and also the family, community thing. I think we’ll see even more of that than before — and this actually was told to me by someone who follows the genre and is usually right. I think they’re right. In the past few years, there’s been a lot of the community/family books, but I think we’ll see that seep a lot more into the regular romance genre as well.
CH: I mention this above.
JR: I’ve noticed that Blaze readers love military men! The feedback I’ve received on my Uniformly Hot! stories has been really positive and encouraging, so much so that I’m writing another one in 2012. The Encounters stories seem to be popular too, and I think the Encounters concept is a great example of how forward-thinking our editors are. No other line releases these connected novellas penned by one author, yet they’ve been really well-received by our readers.
TW: Military heroes are hot! And fantasies are always a good thing. Other than that, I think it’s just about writing the best story you can, making sure your voice is strong and that you have a solid handle on the sexy hook that makes the story a Blaze.
CS: I notice that I’m writing more connected stories with sets of characters that the reader can follow through three or more books. My readers seem to like following these characters.
Are you a Blaze reader? What do you like best about this line?
Join us Monday, May 9 when JORDAN McCOLLUM will talk about effective websites. She will choose three websites to critique from our commenters. Check back on Thursday, May 12 to read Jordan’s critiques. On Wednesday, May 11, Douglas Mendini of Kensington Publishing responds to our questions about marketing. Hope to see you there!
Tawny Weber is usually found dreaming up stories in her California home, surrounded by dogs, cats and kids. When she’s not writing hot, spicy stories for Harlequin Blaze, she’s shopping for the perfect pair of boots or drooling over Johnny Depp pictures (when her husband isn’t looking, of course). In May 2011, her eleventh Blaze, JUST FOR THE NIGHT hits the bookshelves. Come by and visit her on the web at www.tawnyweber.com
Candace “Candy” Havens is a bestselling and award-winning author. She is a two-time RITA® Award winner, Write Touch Reader and Holt Medallion finalist. She is also the winner of the Barbara Wilson Award. Candy is a nationally syndicated entertainment columnist for FYI Television. A veteran journalist, she has interviewed just about everyone in Hollywood, from George Clooney and Orlando Bloom to Nicole Kidman and Kate Beckinsale. Her latest Blaze, TRUTH OR DARE, comes out this month. Visit her website at www.candacehavens.com
Three-time RITA® nominee Joanne Rock turned a passion for writing into a career when imaginary characters kept her awake at night, demanding she tell their stories. The author of over fifty romances in a variety of subgenres, she enjoys writing medieval historicals and sexy contemporaries along with the occasional romantic suspense. Her work has been reprinted in twenty-five countries and translated into nineteen languages. Her latest Blaze, HIGHLY CHARGED! came out in April 2011. Visit her website at www.joannerock.com
Kathleen O’Reilly wrote her first romance at the age of 11, which to her undying embarrassment, was read aloud to her class. After taking over 20 years to recover from the profound distress, she is now proud to announce her new career—romance author. Kathleen lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and their two children, who outwit her daily. Her new Blaze, JUST SURRENDER… is a May 2011 release. Visit her website at www.kathleenoreilly.com.
Cara Summers sold her first Temptation to Harlequin in 1994, and that book, C.J.’s Defense, also sits on her desk — right next to the dictionary. When she isn’t working on her next Temptation or Blaze, Cara teaches writing to college freshmen at Syracuse University and roller blades (weather permitting). Her Blaze TAKE MY BREATH AWAY was a February 2011 release. Visit her website at www.carasummers.com
Be sure to check out the Blaze authors blog here: http://blazeauthors.com/blog/
Visit eHarlequin here: http://www.eharlequin.com/
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- Weekly Lecture Schedule for August 23-27, 2010: Edie Ramer, Laurie London, Tawny Weber & Laurie Schnebly Campbell