Friday, August 7, 2015

Editor's Confession: I love/hate RWA by Senior Editor Victoria Curran

Another year, another RWA. It’s always so much work, but also so much fun and packed with challenges and accomplishments and brilliant women (writers and agents) sharing great ideas. Inevitably I come back refreshed and ready to figure stuff out. Best time to catch me: post-RWA. Until the tsunami of deadlines and workload sucks me back under. I warn you, though, that window of opportunity is very short! I already feel the tide pulling at my calves.
While I was in one of the Marriott’s ballrooms to help mentor HW editors Claire and Dana through their inaugural editor pitches, I realized that our executive editor, who had to pull out of the RWA last minute (she’s fine, no worries!), had overlooked telling the pitch organizers. So I took some of her pitches, and a couple were actually better directed at me than my boss, which was a lovely surprise. It helped me see, though, that we’re in the middle of a trend in storytelling at Heartwarming AND at Superromance. Everybody, unpublished and published, equates our heroines’ journey toward love and family and community with small towns, the return to hometown and ailing parents and/or grandparents…with lots of home renovating and cupcake baking for good measure!
The home renovation/cupcake baking trend is something we’ve been growing aware of over the past few months, but the return to hometown to care for an ailing elder really struck me just before RWA when I was approving two sets of back covers in one sit-down: four Heartwarming books and four Superromances. I think three or four of the eight books had a hero or heroine returning to care for somebody. 
I am of two minds on trends. Clearly, these storylines work for our series or they wouldn’t be trending. But, how do you make the story fresh and unique within the trend? If you can do it, by all means, go for it! Otherwise, maybe readers would like to read more diverse stories with more high-stakes drama than a home renovation? (I’m generalizing here, lots of writers accomplish incredible drama in the domestic setting!) 
I was chatting with one author who made the move from Superromance to Blaze fairly recently and asked her how that went. She said her new editor suggested “more sex, less renovation”. I had to laugh. Of course, at Heartwarming, that would be “more relationship mess/emotion/stakes, less renovation”.
Anyway, what is it that you, as romance readers and authors, like to read? Is the cupcake baker and home renovator truly the story that speaks to you? Or are you more apt to reach for a romance if the hero is an undercover FBI agent and the heroine the smalltown physician? Or maybe she’s a firefighter and he works in animal rescue… The world is our story oyster! What stories make you sit up and go, “Yes, please”?
Victoria  


PS: Congratulations to our four August authors, Melinda Curtis, Roz Denny Fox, Shirley Hailstock and Syndi Powell. You guys each bring something unique to Heartwarming storytelling, and we couldn’t be happier to have you! 


On a personal note, Shirley, it was such a pleasure to get to know you a tiny bit at RWA, when we sat beside each other at the Heartwarming pub crawl. I can’t hear very well, so I was straining, but you are such an articulate, thoughtful person—glad you’re on our team! 


And Roz and Syndi, next year: RWA in San Diego, promise??? 






Finally, Melinda, you are the author I rely on to keep me honest AND keep me hopping. I don’t know what we’d do here without you, Ms. “Don’t tell me I can’t write an amnesiac twin story”! Enjoy your summer while you can, everybody.





52 comments:

  1. Victoria, You MAKE RWA fun! I am so thankful to have your energy at our helm!! And I don't think I've ever told a cupcake renovation story, nor do I read them, so I'm going straight to your FBI agent. I'd also definitely read the firefighter/animal rescue story! I go for books that are going to grab me by the heart, make me feel deeply, and then leave me feeling as though I've seen a miracle.

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    1. Tara, I think you could make a cupcake renovation story very very dramatic! You always create such intense, complex backstories for your hero and heroine, painting a wall would be...a piece of cake for you...sorry, I couldn't resist. (Thank you for your kind comment.)

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  2. Victoria, you are one of my favorite parts of RWA! You are so lovely and I love that you get out there on the dance floor and just have fun :) I think I'll read anything if it's written well and the characters are someone I can care about. I am intrigued by Melinda's amnesiac twins now that you mention it ...

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    1. Aw, thanks, Amy! This year marks my foray into the towering inferno body years, though. I was on the dance floor for two songs near the start of the evening and had to go hide in the washroom to cool myself off. When did I get to this age??? (Assistant Editor Dana Hopkins--Blaze and American--works across the hall from me. She is a baby in years and this morning it turns out that babies don't know the term "banker's hours" because they've never lived through the 10-2 or 3 p.m. bank hours! Made me feel very old.)

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  3. Victoria,
    This is so valuable to all of us, especially those of us who for a gazillion reasons can't make it to RWA. I try to read nearly every Heartwarming novel you print, and I, too, have noticed that there's a lot of baking going on. Personally, I wish more authors would print the recipes. LOL. I believe that we can move toward a bit more action in our stories. In my last book, Katia's Promise, I couldn't figure out WHY I was getting such a vociferous reaction to how much people loved the story. So, I started asking, why was this one so different. I had a tornado in the end of the story that the hero drove through to get to the heroine. That action/ terror and even resulting damage to Austin's prized car museum caused enough "high tension" that the readers remembered the ending like it was branded on their brain. I had a couple people quote lines back to me, that I didn't remember! The readers thought that was very "real life". I like the idea of cops, firemen and fire women. EMP's. I'm writing now about a trauma nurse and ER. There are a lot of ways this can go--whether in a small town or big city. Life is life and it's full of drama every minute. That's what I love about Heartwarming. Our characters tackle life but with positive outlooks, despite their fears and foibles. THAT's why they make happy endings happen. Anyway---just my two cents. Or a penny and a half. Also, I adore all the fun photos everyone posted during the week. Sigh. I was/am so envious. Next year, San Diego!!!!

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    1. Yes, it's interesting. We put an awful lot of emphasis on character journey and motivations, etc., which is still crucial. But sometimes I think we do need a bit more action. One of the writing books I have has a section on "the best friend tea and advice scene" and how it should be cut from all romances. I wish I could remember who wrote that book... Anyway, some authors achieve great secondary stories with the best friend and readers come away believing that character has her own issues and tensions and life outside of the pages she appears on...and that tea scene can serve to raise the stakes for the heroine and leave one of the two women a winner and one a loser. But too often it is simply a rehash of the plot and a "writing on the nose" scene: it is what it is--best friends having tea and being supportive. Readers want more than that with each page. My two cents.

      Yes, San Diego, Catherine! Holding you to that.

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    2. The "ally" is an important character for a story as they can share important insight or make the main character view his or her actions in a new and perhaps more honest view- if they happen to be having a yummy tea, even better- lol. But I agree that the scene- like all of them needs to drive the plot forward and not rehash

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    3. I agree , Karen. I also like those scenes when a secret is revealed or misinformation is set straight. Gees, in my own real life it it hadn't been for the girlfriend scene, I would have remained clueless. Even worse, I would not have discovered that the girlfriend was the enemy.

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  4. It was a great conference and I learned so much, especially at the Harlequin marketing session and the Heartwarming reception turned out great! Personally, I never met a baking/cupcake story I didn't like, LOL, but I'm all for branching out and finding some excitement in our stories. :) Action and suspense is my preferred bend so, I'm thrilled about that shift. Thanks for making RWA a great one this time around. :) See you in San Diego!

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    1. Amen, Anna: that Heartwarming open house was amazing. We did our own marketing for that, but I credit the authors for raising attendance and excitement to the next level. You guys rocked it! So many people, so much noise--I had to shout to be heard!!! Thank you, everyone. You made it special.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on current trends, Victoria. This is valuable information for the unpublished writer. Perhaps an unwelcome visitor could torch the bakery. :)

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    1. OMG, Jill, that's brilliance!!! Torch the bakery!

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    2. LOL...of course, no one would die. :)

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    3. Well...somebody could die...just saying.

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    4. :) That wouldn't be "heartwarming"...unless it was the bad guy.

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    5. Well...what if it was the sister of the hero? What's heartwarming without a little heart-rending first?

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    6. Ah...now who's brilliant? :) I appreciate the mini brainstorm session.

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    7. And in the process, the hero markets the new "Burnt" muffin, which is an instant hit, and the heroine's livelihood is saved.

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  6. Okay, there goes the story of the artisan baker who is a secondary character in Molly's Garden. It's a good thing I haven't had time to write a synopsis. LOL I read a diverse range of books. I like small towns, ranches, some b & b's and old homes that need re-doing, but I also like cops, military men and women, and firefighters. I think it's the diversity that keeps me wanting to read in all of the Harlequin lines. I appreciate how the Harlequin editors buy a wide-range of characters and settings. And I sure hope to see everyone in San Diego.

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    1. Stop it, Roz! There are no rules, just trends. You can still join the trend and give it your own spin. I think (?) my point is that it's harder to stand apart within the trend. But never impossible!

      I, too, love ranches and military. Sigh. Nothing like a military hero or a stoic cowboy...

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  7. I like small town settings because of the camaraderie, but you can get that in big city settings, too, because they're just a collection of small neighborhoods. I live in a small town without being able to travel, so I write small towns because I understand them. But anything can be captivating for me if there are children, pets, and humor in it. I'm visualizing San Diego. Maybe I'll make a 'make it happen' board. Thanks for all you do for us, Victoria.

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    1. Thanks, Muriel. And please don't get me wrong, everybody: I embrace the small town! It's not the setting so much as the set-up that could stand a bit of fresh blood. And yes, San Diego or bust, Muriel.

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  8. I cringed a bit reading this because I do have a WIP that is set in a small town and involves some renovations after a tornado. I didn't know it was a big trend, it was just the way the story went (started it in early 2014). The classic tropes shown in a new way easily grab my attention. Turn my expectations on their head (in a good way) and you'll have me hooked like a big mouth bass.

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    1. Yes: turn a trope on its head. I'm with you. I especially love when traditionally heroine cliches (tripping and falling into the arms of the hero) are switched to the hero. I'd LOVE to see more heroines catch the falling hero! That kind of thing really works for me. Once upon a time, Superromance author Jeannie Watt wrote a cowboy hero who was afraid of snakes but had to man up in front of the heroine to rescue her from a snake in her trailer. Love it.

      No cringing allowed in romance writing, Mz. ZeyZey. Small town, tornado, renovations: bring it!

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    2. Hey Victoria! Thank you for bringing up my favorite hero and scene! Just a small FYI, I believe all sensible cowboys are wary of snakes because good ranch mothers raise them that way. Great thread!

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    3. Whoa, it's cowboy author Jeannie Watt on the Heartwarming thread! Thanks for dropping by, Superromance Mafia Girl. (Long story...) Great to share nachos with you in RWA.

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  9. I'm glad to hear that we can possibly kill someone!! That's what I write best!!! Thanks so much for the information Victoria and I hope to get to RWA someday. I was actually signed up when it was going to be in Nashville...maybe when it comes back to Atlanta.

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    1. LOL, Pat - regarding that's what you do best!

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    2. I am so not going to ask why killing someone is your best thing, Pat! But you have our blessing.

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    3. I've always found it easier to kill my characters than to get them together. But let me clarify that...Writing suspense comes easier for me...makes the romance sweeter if the hero thinks the heroine is going to die. :-)

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  10. I am all about unique :-) If cupcakes, moving home to care for an ailing parent are involved, I'm looking for a fresh twist. Of course I tend to write about pie stealing bears and gals who take over minor league teams - so maybe I'm not the best person to ask. I will say how impressed and proud I am of the wonderful Heartwarming authors and the award-winning books they are creating!

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    1. Me, too, Karen. Very impressed. Keep on writing, guys!

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  11. I think it's the emotional hook that draws me - whether it's small town, remote ranch, big city, or off in space. Which means it's all on those talented editors at Heartwarming to write up some great book blurbs.

    Although I'm still a sucker for traditional hooks - twins, 9 months later, marriage of convenience, and...AMNESIA!!! My 9 months later amnesia book is coming in December. LOL, I still remember the shock on Victoria's face when I pitched the idea to her in the bar in Atlanta. Thanks to Kathryn for believing we could do it.

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    1. Yes, I believe you were plying me with wine when you pitched the amnesia. Looking forward to reading that one. But really? Off in space? Is that what Kathryn and you are going to spring on us next?

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  12. Victoria, this year's RWA was a blast! (I was so terrified at my first one in San Antonio that I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have). Thank you to you and all the editors for making it so fun and successful! Now about these story trends... I will admit to gravitating toward small towns as both a reader and a writer. But as Kathryn alluded to once small towns and their characters can still have big problems. (I can't remember her exact words but the concept really stuck with me). I do love a.good bakery and food story, too, although it's no secret that I love to eat.. . But I appreciate these guidelines and think it's fun to try to shape ideas around these concepts!

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    1. I agree, small town/big city: same problems (mostly). I love when mystery writers focus on one town and have all these murders to solve. If I actually lived in a town like that, I wouldn't. I'd move...

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  13. What an informative post--and lots of good ideas to get the brain spinning! I like both small town and big city books. It's the emotional depth that I like. Am working on a cowboy book. Well, he's a former cowboy who now works as a jet test pilot…hmm, should be lots of fun. It was great seeing you in NY, Victoria! Loved the pub crawl and the Heartwarming reception. On to San Diego!

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    1. Oh yeah! A reformed cowboy working as a jet test pilot...mmmmm... I can see him now. He's Sam Shepard from The Right Stuff! I loved him. Rugged, quiet, stoic, chiselled. My fave kind of hero.

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  14. As a reader I don't mind cupcake baker and home renovator. There's usually a sweet story with just a bit of drama that makes for a good read. However, if it's done again and again it can get tiresome. Fortunately I've enjoyed all of the heartwarming stories I've read that feature home renovators and cupcake makers because the stories have been unique. I've also read about a female sheriff within the genre and that was a fresh, new idea and I enjoyed that book immensely. I think that as long as the book is interesting and different, even if the profession is the same, I'm okay with it. But......I certainly wouldn't want to be worn out by reading, say, five books in a row about a cake baker or renovator. ( :

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  15. Great insight into the line! I had a blast meeting everyone at the reception. My WIP does not contain renovations or baking. LOL, I guess I missed this trend.

    I love small towns with fun casts of characters. I also believe, as someone said above, that you can make a small neighborhood in a big town. Keep bringing the emotion and I'll read a cake baking happening in a renovated B&B while taking care of Grandma :)

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  16. I love that you are looking for stories with action. Give me a good cop/FBI/DEA hero or heroine, set them in a small town with lots of danger, physically and emotionally, and I'm one happy author/reader. Thanks for the post Victoria!

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  17. Thank you for the terrific post, Victoria!

    I like to read stories that I find intellectually and emotionally challenging. Heroes/heroines who hold non-traditional jobs are well-suited to such stories; however, thorough research is important for credibility.

    It was great seeing you in NYC, Victoria, and thank you for the enjoyable dinner.

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  18. Two days after RWA, my son and his buddies took a tubing trip down the river that they estimated to take 6 hours and took over 24. After they were all home and safe, I started thinking about how at RWA, HW wanted less ailing parents and more action, so I started wondering....what if the helicopter pilot for the search and rescue had been a woman searching for a kid whose single dad just happened to be super hot? hmmm....

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    1. LeAnne, I LOVE that idea!!! Can't wait to read it! ;)

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  19. Great post, Victoria! I'm sorry I didn't get to see more of everyone at RWA, but I'm thrilled to hear about the trends here :). I personally love reading stories set in B&Bs and I'm a bit of an HGTV renovation junkie, so I like that too. But I love a thrilling read so I have no problem with danger or mystery at the B&B lol.

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  20. What a wonderful post, Victoria. I'm glad to hear about trends and changes. I remain stuck in small towns and small events and reading about friends and neighbors because it's what I enjoy. It's not that I don't think FBI agents and city settings make good stories--they do--but I'd rather read about bakers and firefighters in small towns or on farms. The thing I'd love to see trend is the emergence of older heroes and heroines.

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  21. I wish we had like buttons for all these great comments!

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  22. Victoria,

    Heartwarming kind of says HEARTLANDS which makes me think of small towns, but I love the FBI. I'd grab that storyline in a heartbeat (a heartwarming heartbeat). I'm currently working on a proposal and I believe it's the characters that people love and want to engage with. The setting, occupations, etc. are all secondary to the relationship development and the falling in love part.

    I'm a DIYer, love HGTV and do a lot of my own repairs at home. In choosing a book, I love to find action. Thanks for the plug above for my book which is a road trip story. No cupcakes. They pass through small towns, but it the characters more than the setting.

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  23. I'm not sure about cupcakes, but the other trends make sense as part of a theme. We want to feel we belong somewhere, and finding a place in a small community, helping loved ones heal, returning a home to its former glory, and finding one's soulmate are all just variations on nesting.

    Home is a safe place to escape from the world. So is a good story.Maybe a good cupcake is, too.

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