Thursday, January 31, 2013

For the Love of Reality: Harlequin Heartwarming by Karen Rock

Art often imitates life and Harlequin Heartwarming novels aim to do just that. I appreciate – and am eternally grateful for- fantasy romances where I am kidnapped by a ripped pirate with a heart of gold, handsome millionaires who whisk me away to tropical destinations on private jets and brooding dukes who risk their social standing and inheritance to make me their duchess. And don’t forget the jewels! I’ve spent many an afternoon curled up on a lawn chair, couch or in bed (gasp!) with these amazing men, transported to the incredible worlds their talented writers envision.

Yet Heartwarming romances diverge from the fantasy and are grounded in the ups and downs of falling in love in real life. It’s messy, contradictory, redemptive and ultimately uplifting. These ‘real-mances’ affirm that love flourishes despite life’s challenges. Romances bloom just as beautifully in everyday life. What better way to bond than when working together to succeed despite the odds?

Our readers will recognize themselves in our heroes and heroines. Some might say, “Yes- I’m that single mom working two jobs and fitting in meetings with guidance counselors for my lovable but sometimes problem child. But I’m also a woman worthy and capable of finding true love. And while my future partner may have an imperfect life too…he’ll be perfect for me.” Ultimately, that is a love story we can all relate to and it’s the kind of romance I want to tell.

Heartwarming romances make us feel less alone. They show us that no matter the soil, love can grow. Most of all, they encourage us not to give up on love. If a brave young woman in a Heartwarming can overcome a difficult childhood or past romantic disappointments and learn to trust again, than so can the reader. It’s inspiring. Art imitating real life- the beautiful, flawed reality that is our everyday lives.

Take the movie The Descendents. Who didn’t fall for George Clooney’s portrayal of a lawyer who must learn to parent his rebellious and destructive daughters when he loses his cheating wife in a boating accident? He considered himself “the back-up parent”, but by the end of the movie, he’s healed his family and himself. He is the ideal Heartwarming hero- a man facing the realities of life, making mistakes along the way, and learning from them. And we love him for those imperfections. Of course his cut jaw and dimple don’t hurt either. (Who am I kidding?!) Either way, he’s not the fantasy; he’s the reality. I wouldn’t have him, or my heroes, any other way.

It’d be great to hear your thoughts about what makes the perfect hero, romance, or any comments you would be kind enough to share. Comment below and you’ll be entered to win my copy of Lynnette Kent’s amazing novel, A Song for Kate, and friendship bracelets- one for you and another for one you hold dear… perfect or not J
The winner will be announced on my facebook page ; Please stop by and check it out or catch up with me at:
(I love to pin- don't you?)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Life may imitate art, but often great art reminds us of life

One of my favorite movies is "You've Got Mail" with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. At one point, Meg Ryan's character asks why is it that instead of something in a book reminding her of life that it's the other way around. So much of what she sees reminds her of a book.

I love that line. Because I often find myself comparing things that happen to a book I've read. Not that that's hard to do since I read about two to three books a week. Sometimes I even wish I could live in a book. Or at least that story world.

Which reminds me of another favorite movie, "Sleepless in Seattle". Rosie O'Donnell's character tells Meg Ryan's character that she doesn't want to be in love. She wants to be in love in a movie.

Wouldn't we all want to fall in love in a movie or romance novel? Things are so heightened and passionate. They're larger than life. And we can plan on our happy ending coming, even if we have to go through the dark moment first.

I think part of the reason the relationships on "The Bachelor" don't last much beyond the show is because the reality can't compete with the over the top dates, bigger than life vacations and fantasy suites. There's a big difference between fighting over the bills and travelling to Costa Rica. But we the viewers continue to tune in to the show because we want to believe the fantasy. We want to believe that a man can find true love on television. The show hasn't been on seventeen seasons for no reason.

So do we hold on to the fantasy of art or the reality of life? Can't we have both? Sometimes we need one more than the other. I know that when life gets too stressful, I tend to read more romance novels. When life becomes predictable, I read mysteries. I let my life influence my art.

And isn't that what a great life should do?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Start of the Heroine's Journey by Carolyn McSparren

I would assume all of you aspiring romance writers have read Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. It’s the hero’s story and works for everything from Star Wars to Quest for Fire. It’s hard-wired into us. Many of us
have been so imbued with the steps in the hero’s journey that we try to force our stories into that framework for both male and female protagonists.

But the heroine’s journey is very different and comes from a different mythic tradition. Instead of the wise old men of the tribe sending the untried males out to bring back the treasure to the tribe, we have the
wise old women trying to convince the young virgins that they can have good lives even after they marry.
Think Cinderella—one of the oldest female-centered myths we have. There are Cinderella stories from ancient China, from even more ancient Egypt, and from just about every culture in the world. Since I
have had it up to here dealing with my own situation, I’m going to be telling you about the heroine’s journey in the next few weeks.  The hero starts from a different place. He can be big and gorgeous or a wimpy kid, but at the beginning of his journey he is an unheroic jerk. He has to learn to be a hero to bring his assets back to his tribe.
The heroine, however, starts off and continues to be worthy—only nobody realizes it.

Cinderella was a dutiful stepdaughter. Would your teenaged daughter clean the ashes out of the fireplace every morning and give in gracefully to not attending the ball to which the entire family was invited? Mine would have pitched the grandmother of all fits. In one of the earliest C stories called Donkey Skin, the heroine runs away from home disguised in a donkey skin. Her father wants to marry her because she reminds him of his dead wife. Eeew. She works in a foreign scullery until the prince recognizes her stirling qualities. In most of these stories, daddy is neither a friend nor an ally. Either he’s into incest, or he uses her as a bargaining chip in a treaty with somebody dreadful, or he demotes her to scrubbing the floor when he remarries. The old women who told these stories to the young virgins around the fire at night imbued their stories with morals.  One of these was, don’t count on the men in your life who are supposed to love and protect you. They don’t and they won’t. You have to rely on yourself, toots. You can have a wonderful life with Prince Charming, but only if you keep your virtue and your head.
Note, plenty of modern women characters like Kinsey Milhone are not heroines. They’re heroes with some heroine thrown in for good measure. If you’re interested in the heroine tradition, read From the Beast to
the Blonde. More on her journey in the next few weeks.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Blank-Page Blues

Nothing triggers my fight or flight response quite like staring at a blank page. (Not even those creepy taupe-colored spiders.) For years now, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with writing. When I’m struggling with writer’s block, nothing could be more frustrating. But when I’ve persevered and I’m happy with something I’ve written, I’m beyond ecstatic.
Even though I’m an editorial assistant at Harlequin, my job does involve some writing. I write the occasional blog post, and I do a fair amount of work with back cover copy. Although much of our cover copy is written by freelancers and then looked over by editors, it is sometimes written in-house, from scratch, by someone like me.
Writing and editing are really two sides of the same coin, but even though they require similar skills, it can be difficult for someone who’s used to flexing their editing muscles to sit down and write. In fact, I find it almost impossible to be creative when I’m wearing my editor’s hat. If I think too much about the finished product my ideas fall apart before they’ve had a chance to form.
But fighting that fight—struggling and succeeding at sharing your story with the world—is important, and my own minor skirmishes have helped me to become a better editor. A co-worker once gave me some valuable editing advice while I was struggling to write some copy. She didn’t think that a paragraph I’d written was working, so she gave me a few suggestions for how I could fix it. When I thanked her, she told me that she always took the time to offer alternatives, so instead of telling an author to change something, she’d make the suggestion and show them a few ways it could be done. I remember being so grateful for her point of view and for her suggestions that I’ve tried to follow her advice ever since.  
These days, I’m usually writing cover copy, which involves capturing a story’s plot, characters and tone without giving too much away. It can be tricky, but most cover copy is only a few hundred words, so I have trouble imagining what it’s like to write a full-length novel. I’d love to hear about your strategies for writing. What do you do when you’ve got a deadline and you’d rather do anything—cleaning, cooking, one thousand consecutive games of minesweeper—but write? I’d also love to hear how you turn off the internal editor to let your creativity loose!

(p.s. Roz, it seems as if you and I are on the same wavelength. I really enjoyed reading your post!)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Writer's Block-why you experience it. Possible Avenues To Get Unstuck Roz Denny Fox

Writer’s Block is real, and the most common cause is fear and self-doubt.
Five of the most common fears:
1.       1.     Fear of Failure
2.      2.  Fear of rejection
3.      3.  Fear of success
4.       4.  Fear of not pleasing everyone
5.        5.  Fear of running dry
Stress can also interfere with the creative process.  A major life crisis can sap the flow of thoughts and words.  As can something as simple as concern that you aren’t as good a writer as­­_______(fill in the blank.) 
Some general things to do that may help: Exercise—it makes the blood flow to the brain.  Avoid sugar—it gives you a false high.  Reaffirm your love of writing.  Change creative gears—draw, paint, take pictures.  These relax the subconscious.
If being stuck is all it is and not full writer’s block.  Put yourself in the heroine’s shoes and figure out what you’d do next.  Try to name 3 things that will advance your story. Give new information.  Skip to a future scene.  Consider a new conflict.  Introduce a new character.  Kick up the emotional awareness.  Change direction of story line.  Rewrite the scene from another character’s point of view.  Move to a different setting.  Pick up or slow the pace.  Don’t be afraid to delete the scene and start anew.
Understand that getting stuck is normal.  Don’t stress.  Stop for a brief time and take a walk, or do something you’ve put off doing.  These often prime the creative pump.
Remember some pointed quotes and avoid the traps:
Budda—“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”
The Bible—“As man thinketh, so is he.”
Emerson—“There is no thought in any mind but it quickly tends to convert itself to power.”
Henry Ford—“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Samuel Beckett—“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter—try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”
Last advice: Don’t panic.  Know that writer’s block is usually temporary.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I Don't Need No Stinking Myth by Pamela Tracy

So, here at the Heartwarming authors' site, we've been talking myths.

I have one.

It's the myth that publishing gets easier.

No, it doesn't.  At least it didn't for me, and my publishing career has been fairly constant.

Right now I'm looking at my goal list for 2010.

I titled it  TEN in '10.

My goals then are pretty much what they are today - nothing's gotten easier, but a few things have changed.

1.  Write three, three chapter proposals (this is a goal every single year!)
2. Write shorter chapters (this is new because if I write longer chapters and the book gets rejected then it's harder to get three, three chapter proposals done!)
3.  Improve how I put together a synopsis (I'm a pantser, no my synopsis is all over the place.)
4. Start a 'big' book.  (Now that I think about it, maybe I wanted to use heavy paper)
5. Go back to writing 3 pages a day (really, that's my goal, and by doing that I can write 3 books a year).
6. Learn to grab moments writing on my iPad instead in front of the computer. (At one time, I used my Dana a lot more)
7. Enter contests.
8. Submit a Bible study proposal (Did this and found out that only famous people get to do this now <sigh>.  I don't have the right platform)
9. Write the first few pages of a new devotional.
10.  Thank God for the ability to not just write, but to think about writing, too.

By the way, the above are all short-term goals.  I mean to do them this year.

My long-term goals

FIVE to keep ALIVE (until they happen!)
1.  Sell a big book (need a strong editor for all that heavy paper)
2.  Win a RITA (come on, we all have that goal!)
3.  Earn a five figure advance (sigh, I really really really really want this one)
4. Make the New York Times Bestseller List (And not by cutting and pasting my name over Nora Roberts)
5. Speaker at an RWA or ACFW National Conference (This one just might happen someday)

So, now you know... the myth is that it gets easier.
Nope, but since you have your feet on the pathway, go ahead and stomp ahead.  Don't mind the twist and turns, there's always a good friend like Roz or Cathy McDavid to nudge you in the right direct.  Then, too,  their are wonderful editors like Adrienne and Victoria to smooth out the way.

Have fun and go write three pages!  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Living the Romance Writer's Romantic Life? Who, Me?

Friends of mine (and some family members) have this idea of what a romance writer's life is like. We write romance, so of course our lives are full of flowers, fantasy dates and passionate sex. Right?


My third wedding anniversary was last month. My husband and I spent the entire night alone... working on our income tax files. Yeah, that's hot.

I think part of the romance writer myth is that every day is about the sexy side of love. That white hot lust that makes us reach for each other.

But the reality is that, at least in my life, every day is about the practical side of love. Being a partner in this life my husband and I have created together. I take care of him by making sure we have healthy meals, clean dishes, and paid bills. He cares for me by making sure the laundry is done so that I'll have clean uniforms for work and making a comfortable home that is beautiful. And he also ensures that our taxes get paid (thanks, baby). We care for each other by ensuring that we can each run after our dreams but have a safe place to come back to when things don't go like we thought. Or celebrate together when they do.

So maybe doing taxes on our anniversary is romantic. Because we're partners in this life, and that means doing the mundane things a lot of times. But at least we're doing them together.

And to me, that's true love.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

All This Irony is Getting to Me By Carolyn McSparren

 Yesterday it was fifty degrees and glorious, so I loaded George up,
 went to the dressage barn, and groomed Sailor, my half Clydesdale.
 Didn’t have time to ride him with George waiting for me.
 But it’s almost as though we had to pay for it.  By the time I got
 George home, he was a total space cadet and couldn’t get out of the
 car. I had visions of another stroke. Instead, and perhaps better, by
 the time I got him into the emergency room he had nearly 103 degrees
 fever and pneumonia. So we’re back in the hospital.

If I tried to get some of the ironies of mine and other people’s lives past an editor, I’d never make it. As Dave Berry says, “I can’t make this stuff up.”
I tell myself we are a month away from jonquils. I have to get my life in order before the first little yellow head nods at me in disgust.

On an only slightly different subject--

I take several horse and driving magazines. That’s the equivalent of overdosing on House Beautiful and Architectural Digest and developing  an on-going case of house envy. Whenever I need a stable for a story,
 I have a plethora to choose from. My own is neither neat nor fancy enough. One of my aunt’s favorite sayings was, “If you can’t be a shining light, be a horrible example.”  At the moment, that fits med.

A great many of the rich and famous house their horses in palaces that make me so jealous I could even consider restoring the tumbrils. The alternative is squads of grooms who sweep aisles and pick stalls and
 scrub buckets and polish tack and harness from dawn ‘til dusk. I’d be  happy with one jack or jill or all trades.

My absolutely favorite stable, however, is at Saumur, France, was built for Louis XV and finished in 1788—just in time for the tumbrils.  They may have updated it in some ways by now, but the last time I was
 there, the stalls had a conveyor belt running continuously at the  back. The road apples are dropped on it and disappear into a manure pile tucked away where no one can either see or smell it.

Even in polite company, horse people talk a lot about manure. Like death and taxes, it is inevitable. Why can dogs and cats be  housebroken and horses can’t? To some extent, of course, they can be.
 Given the option, horses will pick a small area of pasture or one corner of their stalls and make their deposits there. The person who  invents a workable litter box for equines will be lauded in the horse
 hall of fame.

In the meantime, I’m it, and I’m not much good at horsekeeping. That’s why mine are out in pasture most of the time where they belong. Even  if that means I have to go traipsing out during snow and ice storms to
 see that they have feed, hay, water, and blankets. Non-horse people think I’m crazy. The upside is that no matter how miserable I am, I  can lighten my mood by hugging a horse. Lately I’ve needed a lot of  hugs.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Greetings from Laura Barth

Hi, Heartwarming authors and readers!

As the Associate Editor for Heartwarming, I’ve been lucky to work with many of you and am looking forward to growing our author base even further. The enthusiasm and commitment you’ve shown is inspiring and I’m very impressed by the quality of posts and comments on this blog. I have to admit I’m a little nervous to follow so many great bloggers.

Coming up with a topic was especially challenging—I’ve been a bit distracted by vacation planning with my sister who lives on the other side of the country. Like most sisters, we have a lot of similarities, but we don’t see eye to eye on everything. (She’s the all-inclusive resort girl and I’m the hut on a beach girl.) And it’s pretty tough to make decisions with someone who’s in a different time zone.

I don’t know how we’d manage at all without email and texting. But, while online communication is helpful, I’ve also found it overwhelming. I like to research before making decisions, and every hotel has thousands of reviews ranging from HATED IT! To HEAVEN ON EARTH! I can get caught up reading, and before I know it two hours have gone by.

All this got me thinking about social media and connecting with people in ways we were never able to before. When I work at home, I stay away from social media and only check my email a few times a day. While I value the focused work time, I find it a bit lonely. The truth is that I need the social connections and structure that going to the office provides. Just greeting my coworkers in the hallway or chatting while waiting for coffee to brew gives my day more interest and meaning. And talking to my authors on the phone is like chatting with friends. These are the connections that make my work joyful.

I always imagined writing to be a very solitary profession. Today, though, writers are able to share their days, ideas and stories in a way they were never able to before. Is this helpful, or just an irresistible distraction? How does being able to connect with others online during the day affect or inform your work? Do you get inspiration from Pinterest? Is the lure of Twitter just another way to procrastinate or does it give you that vital social connection you crave when working alone? How do you balance getting your work done with being online?

I find now that more of my work is on-screen it’s getting harder to avoid checking email. Is it only a matter of time before I’m swept up by the Twitterverse?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Take on the Writers Life

Writing, like any profession is hard work. Like anything worth striving for, writers put their heart and soul, time and energy, into making each project their very best. I can’t tell you how many times people I meet, when they learn I’m an author, tell me that they want to write their special story and get published. As with every writer, they have all these ideas they want to share. The first thing I tell them is, sit down and write. Even if you have no idea what is involved in putting a book together, the first step is getting words down on paper. Later, after time has passed and I see that friend who wants to write I ask, have you started writing? Making notes? Jotting down ideas? Most of the time the answer I receive is, well, I don’t have time... If you don’t make the time, you can’t expect to be an author.

As a professional who loves what I do, I’ve learned that I have to sit down each day for a certain amount of hours if I want to be successful. This is my job. I have deadlines, word counts I need to reach and certain commitments I make to a publisher. This requires a lot of discipline. I have a day planner by my computer so I can keep up with the demands of the week or month. Don’t get me wrong, I get great enjoyment from what I do, but I’m not naive enough to think that I can sit down and in a few hours throw something together and expect it to be any good. Writers spend hours carefully choosing our words, and on top of that, spend addition hours honing our craft. I still read craft books, still go to writing workshops. To be my best, I put forth the effort to keep my mind coming up with fresh ideas and then applying those ideas to create a book. 

Writing has to be a passion. It requires a huge commitment. As Roz wrote in her blog, waiting is also part of the writers experience. Trust me, this isn’t for the faint of heart, but we do it because we are compelled to write. We have to do this. To those who don’t write, this concept may seem a little nutty, but hey, it is our truth! 

No matter what genre we write for, there is an expectation from the reader. Again, this is where I have to make sure I work extra hard at delivering. That means a first, second, third, and probably more, draft of my story. And still I’m not finished. Heartwarming readers will pick up our books and expect a story that touches their hearts and emotions. Which means I have to nail that. So I plot and I plan, I create characters that I love first and hope the readers will also come to love later. 

Did I mention that I LOVE what I do? Every day I am thankful that I get to sit down at my computer and live in a world that I’ve created and hang around with characters I’ve come to think of as friends. Anyone who wants to join the ranks of the author can do so, just be prepared to put in the time. Once you do, you’ll see that a writer’s life isn’t glamorous, but it is very satisfying.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Respect for the Reader

If anything keeps me working to do my best, it's the knowledge that a woman out there paid five or six dollars to buy my book.  Today, that could be a considerable percentage of her disposable income.  She's counting on me to provide her with several hours of fantasy, of a world where the heroine gets a wonderful man who loves her for who she is and helps her to live her dreams.

This woman is smart, so I try hard to be accurate in my details because she'll know if I'm wrong.  If  I shortchange the romance, skip feelings that are too hard to describe, leave out a detail I can't verify, or run toward the ending without a satisfying unwinding of plot elements because I'm physically and emotionally exhausted, she'll know.  She might even call me on it.

I believe if you try faithfully to give your reader what she wants in the most honest way possible, you develop a relationship that transcends the georgraphical distance between you, the fact that you may never see each other, and that most of your contact is enjoyed only between the covers of a book - or, now, in a little corner of cyberspace.

Sometimes, you do get lucky enough to meet at autograph parties or at conferences.  A woman once came to an autograph party here in Astoria specifically to tell me that after her husband died, she moved here because I'd written about it.  She liked the notion of living on a beautiful hillside that rolls down to the river, and that it sounded friendly and she needed that in her life.  (No pressure there!)

Despite all the agonies that accompany writing, that kind of a moment makes it all worth while.  As we discussed in Roz's post, most of us will never be wealthy.  But we can take our coin in the friendships we make along the way with the women who read our books and share our love of romance.

Friday, January 18, 2013

More Myths:Writing a Romance is Easy. Glamour, Fame and Fortune Naturally Follow by Roz Denny Fox

Sell a book and you’ll be rolling in dough.  I’ll say it straight out—what a hoot.  Fame and fortune probably go to 1 or 2 percent of all romance writers.  And I’m willing to bet those perks didn’t come quickly, because writing a book that sells takes time.  It’s a craft you have to learn. And it takes dedication to stick it out and write through self-doubt and rejection.  Writing to sell requires giving up precious free time with family.  It sometimes means juggling demands of a paying job with the pull of fictional characters waiting impatiently on your home computer.  If the vision of easy money is what’s enticing you to give romance writing a try, chances are you’ll opt out about the time your spaghetti boils over on the stove and the dog barfs on the kitchen floor as you follow your fictional characters into a better world.  Writing is usually a second job.  It’s hard work.  You begin with a desire to publish—to see your name on a book jacket.  To complete a manuscript takes drive, discipline and dedication.  You have all that, you say?  Good.  You produce a book.  Yay!  You send it out.  You wait.  A week.  Two weeks.  A month.  Maybe six.  Then comes a form letter saying your characters are cardboard.  Your story lacks depth.  There’s little conflict between your hero and heroine, and by the way, good luck placing this elsewhere.  The notion of easy money fades a bit.  But, you’re stubborn, and besides you like writing and darn it, you have talent.  So you dig in.  You invest money in writing classes, in workshops and conferences.  You find your voice, your style.  You learn how to mix dialogue and narrative.  You return to your computer, bleary-eyed, but armed with information.  Now you’re on the road to fame, fortune and glamour.  Write a second book.  Send it out.  Again you wait.  Ah ha, this time the letter says your characters are warm, your dialogue is fresh, your plot unique, but…two problems.  You aren’t agented, and if you were you’d know this book isn’t the type we publish.  By this time if you don’t give up, you’ve learned that writing a romance isn’t so easy.  And now you add another “D” word to your repertoire—disappointment.  You blunt the old visions, and add determination.  You say, I wrote a book.  In fact, I wrote two books.  I am a writer.  I have stories inside burning to be told.  Writing is in my blood.  It’s who I am.  Oh, and isn’t it fortunate I don’t really need money from this endeavor to put food on my table or a roof over my family’s head?  I know glamour, fame and fortune sits just around the corner.  But maybe I should have said I also still believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.  Writing isn’t easy.  The rewards are most often personal satisfaction when even one reader says they like what you’ve done.      

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Unlocking the Harlequin "Formula" by Karen Rock

Flashback to late October, 2012.  A former student stops by to visit his middle school English teacher (moi). He wants to thank me for sharing my love of creative writing with him. Says I’ve been an inspiration. He’s getting ready to write his first novel in a high school creative writing class for NANO month and is thrilled to share the details of what sounds like a terrific suspense thriller. All is going well until he says, “And my English teacher said she did some research and discovered that if she follows this formula, she can easily write a romance in a month and might even (after a hearty chuckle- hers) submit it."  Eazy Peazy. Right?

Let’s just say I didn’t quite grasp the humor in that anecdote. It might have gone over my head. I had been teaching and writing on little sleep for the past two months- laboring over my Harlequin Heartwarming- THE FOREVER WISH while revising my co-authored YA for Spencer Hill Press - CAMP BOYFRIEND. It’s even possible I was wearing different colored shoes that day. I’m certain my socks didn’t match. They rarely do. But even so… that an educated person… a teacher of creative writing… would assume that Romance was formulaic; that it was easy?! Yikes. I asked him what formula she planned to use and, according to her, it was: “A girl moves back to her home town, falls for a guy that treats her badly and eventually discovers he loves her too. THE END.” See. Eazy Peazy. I nearly threw my mismatched shoe out the window. Argh!

As an author of both YA and Adult Contemporary Romance, along with screenplays, monologues, and comedy skits, I can attest that every form of writing comes with its own set of challenges and joys. And none of them follow a formula. (The Hangover Two might have been pushing it- but still…) Writing a deeply romantic story with relatable characters whose journey to love is a path readers want to follow, takes more blood, sweat, and tears, than hearts and flowers.  (Though they are always appreciated, so fans keep them coming!)

My colleagues’ upcoming Heartwarming stories are incredibly diverse. We have stories ranging from an ex-Bachelor style contestant who gets a second chance at love, to returning veterans rediscovering themselves and romance through working with draft horses, a social worker whose crusade to save her ailing town earns her the key to a stoic man’s heart, a brave young woman who overcomes childhood trauma to aid the owner of her family’s former wildlife park only to fall wildly in love herself, and cancer patients whose newfound relationships give them needed hope. In fact- in all of these stories- love trumps all. If there was a ‘formula’, that’s as close as I’d venture.

Writing love stories that readers will root for and stay up all night to read, burn the cookies, the heck with the laundry, ‘kids just eat the leftovers ‘cause I’ve got to finish this book'….kinds of romances… not so EAZY PEAZY. It’s the equivalent of telling a comedian/actor, “Go get ‘em champ. All you have to do is make ‘em laugh.” HA! (Okay. I might have said that once or twice. But it was a joke. Seriously.)

I couldn’t be prouder or more fulfilled to write Romance. It is THE hardest genre I’ve worked in (YA and comedy being tied for second- and a close second). While LOVE is the destination, the fantastically different travelers and their journeys allow my creative spirit to fly where it will. In an earlier blog post, bestselling Harlequin author, Roz Denny Fox, wished for a warehouse in the sky for her many ideas. It’s a dream all Romance authors share as, despite the myth, there is no formula to fit them all. And thank heavens for that!

For all those who believe in a dreamful of romantic possibilities, today’s comment post giveaway is my copy of Anna DeStefano’s amazing Heartwarming A SWEETBROOK FAMILY and two friendship bracelets- one for you and a friend you hold dear. Please post a comment below to share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you J The winner will be announced on my author Facebook page tomorrow!

Carolyn McSparren Blogs

Carolyn McSparren here, and if I can manage to get this posted, it will be a miracle. I live in
the country, and the only Internet service I can get is
Very nice people, but not as big as AT&T. Every time we have a storm,
I get kicked off. I also get kicked off at some other times that I
can’t figure out at all.  Now, Google is telling me they can’t hook me
up with this blog, and I am not sufficiently Internet savvy to gainsay
them. Once we get the bugs worked out, however, I am up for Sunday,
the same day I do my blog.
I write romance and romantic suspense for Harlequin Superromance, and
have just finished my third cozy mystery for Belle Books. I live in
the country outside of Memphis, Tennessee, and at present have four
big horses, three indoor cats, and a  number of barn cats.
When my editor at Harlequin suggested I write for Heartwarming, she
said, “I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to write any erotic sex scenes
or overt violence.”
I write cozyish violence anyway. I bump off characters nobody likes,
and never do violence to children or animals. I won’t go to see War
Horse, and I hated Turner and Hooch. Sobbing uncontrollably in public
embarrasses me.
My friend Pat Potter writes wonderful sex/love scenes. Me—not so much.
Heaven knows I believe in long life love and great sex—George and I
just celebrated our forty-fifth anniversary—but finding creative ways
to handle sex scenes is difficult for me. What matters to me, and I
hope to you, is that two damaged people find one another, and through
their love, change  so that they deserve to love for a lifetime.
My first book for Heartwarming is about a group of wounded veterans
trying to find new careers by learning to drive draft horses. They
don’t simply find careers. They find new lives and new love. I hope
you like it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I am the slush pile

Morning, everyone!

As many of you probably know, I’m the editorial assistant for Heartwarming. I'm looking forward to working with all of you. If we haven't been in touch yet, I'm sure you'll hear from me soon! And whether or not you're a contracted author, you're always welcome to drop me a line with quick (or not-so-quick) Heartwarming questions.

I correspond with our authors almost every day, but another big part of my job is coordinating the unsolicited submissions—also known as the slush pile. When an author sends her manuscript to Heartwarming, I’m usually the first to see it, and it's my job to record the submission and to ensure it makes its way to the right reader. It's pretty thrilling to have so many stories cross my desk, but since I started at Harlequin in August, I've felt a bit like a character from Freaky Friday: as a working poet, I'm used to being in the writer's role. I am the slush pile.

I've sent my fair share of manuscripts to literary journals and publishers, so I'm familiar with that particular mix of satisfaction, anticipation and anxiety that bubbles up whenever you send a piece of writing—of yourself, really—out into the world (every time I slip a manuscript into the mailbox, I swear my stomach drops to the bottom along with the manila envelope). But having been on both sides of the slush pile now, I'm hoping I can give some advice that will make the process feel less agonizing and more exciting.
First of all, I want to stress that we REALLY want to read your story. Yes, yours. But before we dive into the first few chapters, we like to find out a little more about you and your work. Besides listing your professional writing experience, it's helpful if your cover letter has details like word count and whether the manuscript is complete. And we're always interested in why you chose to submit to Heartwarming.

We've all heard rumors about hard-nosed editors who dismiss submissions at the first sign of a typo-don't worry, we're not them. That said, some errors—like misspelling an editor's name—can come across as unprofessional. And it can be distracting when manuscripts are full of grammar issues like wonky verb tenses or punctuation. We don't expect perfection, but the more attention you pay to polishing your manuscript, the more we can dedicate to what really matters—the story.

I feel totally privileged to have a job that allows me to come into contact with talented, creative people and the wonderful worlds they create on a daily basis. Whether you’ve submitted dozens of manuscripts or it’s your first time figuring out where to send that warm, printer-fresh hunk of ink and paper, you can be sure that there’s someone out there who just can’t wait to read it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Excited to be a Heartwarming Author!

Hello! My name is Tara Randel and I’m excited about my first release with Harlequin Heartwarming. I’m thrilled to work with Harlequin. What reader hasn’t, at least once in her life, picked up a book from any Harlequin line and not spent a few hours immersed in romance? I know I have. So to become a Heartwarming author is such a joy.

When I found out Harlequin was starting this new line, I checked into it and knew this was a place for me. The books I have previously published are similar to the Heartwarming line. Love. Family. Small town values. Books your daughters and granddaughters can share. I love the values the line represents. Before I could call my agent, she had me on the phone, convinced this was a perfect opportunity. After submitting the proposal, we heard back that yes, Harlequin wanted the book. 

My book is set in a small town, allowing me to create just the type of world I’d like to live in. Telling Lilli and Max’s story was a labor of love and I‘m overjoyed that others will share their journey with me. I hope that when you pick up my Heartwarming book, you will fall in love with the characters I have lived with for many months as I wrote the book. I have many more stories to tell and the Heartwarming line is the perfect place to tell them. I hope you agree!