Thursday, October 09, 2008

Heroic Names

I sometimes wonder if other authors agonize over naming characters as much as I do. I suspect so. I know I sometimes have to try out two or three different names for a character until I find the one that fits just right.

I struggled most with finding the right names for my heroes. I want something strong, not too long or unwiledy or difficult to pronounce. But I also like the name to be memorable.

This month's collection of Harlequin American Romances has some great heroic named. The hero in Margot Early's Holding the Baby is named Mark Logan -- a nice, solid name. In Finally a Baby, Lisa Child's Eric South is another strong, male name. Holly Jacobs gives us Henry Remington in her new release, Once Upon a Thanksgiving. I love the name Henry -- slightly old-fashioned but strong and well, manyly. And finally we have Cathy Gillen Thacker's The Inherited Twins. Hero Heath McPherson has a name that screamed romance. Though he's an all-American guy, he could have stepped out of a Scottish Moor. Clearly, these American authors know how to pick good heroic names.

When I wrote my most recent American, The Right Mr. Wrong, I gave into my penchant for unusual names with my hero, Hagan Ansdar. Hagan is from Norway, so I wanted a Norwegian name.

Of course, the most unusual name in my Crested Butte books belongs to Zephyr, the local rock star, snow boarder and general comic relief. He burst into my imagination name and all -- Zephyr, no last name, no explanation -- and no other name wuold fit him as well.

My next Harlequin American will be out in May 2009. Another Crested Butte story, this one features Zephyr's best friend, Bryan as The Man Most Likely. The name Bryan meets all my qualifications -- strong, short and it fits my charcter.

What do you readers thing? Do you like more ordinary names, or exotic ones for your heroes? Do you have any pet peeves or names you don't like? Let us know!

Happy 25th Anniversary The Covers—Behind the Scenes with Harlequin editor Kathleen Scheibling

Hi everyone, Kathleen here, Senior Editor of American Romance. I was delighted to be asked to contribute an entry to the HAR author’s blog to help commemorate our 25th anniversary and thought I’d write a bit about how the covers of our series books are created.

The process starts with the authors, who fill out an Art Fact Sheet (AFS) for each of their books. The AFS will include physical descriptions of the characters, scene suggestions for the covers, and a short synopsis of the book. This synopsis is very helpful for the Art Director (Tony) who really wants just a general overview of the story. Once a month the editors, AD and our marketing Product Manager meet to brainstorm what would best sell the book. This is the chance for the editors to fill in the blanks for Tony—what’s the tone of the book? What did the author’s previous book look like? Is it part of a miniseries and do we want to keep the same look for all the books?

During these meetings, it’s also standard practice to beg Tony to take us on photo shoots so we can meet hot, hunky men. We all have our favorite models—Johanna was recently enamored of a new guy we’re using who kind of looks like Matt Damon. I enjoy drooling over a dark-haired man who resembles JFK Jr. I think he’s on Marin Thomas’s November cover. And guess what—that man actually played JFK Jr. in a made-for-TV movie! Anyway, I think Tony assumes we’ll embarrass him by jumping all over these guys. We keep telling him we will behave ourselves. Really, Tony. Promise!

After our art meeting, Tony books a photo shoot. I did go on one of these shoots a couple of years ago, and was really interesting. The whole thing is quite a production, I can tell you. There’s a makeup and wardrobe person, the photographer and an assistant who helps with the cameras, backdrops, lighting, etc. Things must have been very different before digital technology but now you can look at everything you shoot right away and make adjustments. You can literally take hundreds of shots to get the right one. We were looking at them on a large computer screen as the photographer clicked away. Fascinating. And then you have to imagine what the cover would look like with the branding, title and author name on the picture.

Tony works with the photographer to choose the best shots, and then he makes whatever adjustments need to be made to the photo. (Don’t ask me about that because I have no idea how it works. Voodoo, I assume. I’m still getting to know my own digital camera.) He mocks up the cover and it heads off to Production, where it is placed into a grid—the standard branding on every cover that makes the books easily distinguished as a part of a series. From there, the cover goes through a series of approvals—proofreading (not just for the back cover copy but to make sure there are many pairs of eyes on the correct spelling of the author’s name and the book’s title), marketing, back to me, back to proofreading, back to Production, back to Tony. Whew!

And then we do it all again next month…

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Happy 25th Anniversary--Author Interview with Linda Warren

My turn in the hot seat. Here goes:

1) How long have you been published?
About ten years.

2) What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
Never give up! Join RWA and a chapter near you. Attend the workshops and learn all you can about the genre you want to write.

3) What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
To me it’s developing my characters. Once I know them then I can write their story. I jot down all kinds of facts about them in a notebook; description, likes and dislikes, their goals and motivation, what kind of childhood they had, siblings, parents, education and so on until I know who my character is and what he or she wants. From there I build the conflict between my two main characters.

4) You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
I wish I had known about RWA sooner. When I sold my first book, my editor asked if I was a member and I was like in a panic. I’d heard of RWA and thought it was for only published authors. I was afraid Harlequin wouldn’t buy my book if I said no. Yeah, I was that na├»ve. And, yes, I had a lot to learn. I’m still learning.

5) What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?
Raw liver mixed with bananas in a blender. Yuck! I still get sick when I think of it. Now you’re probably wondering why I would even eat such a thing. I have a very good reason. At eighteen I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I went through every medication available and nothing helped the pain. Then a friend of my mothers told her about a lady she knew who ate raw liver and bananas daily and her pain went away. On the third day I was throwing it up so that plan went south and I went back to traditional medicine.

6) What comes first: the plot or the characters?
A scene usually. My March American, The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas, I created from a scene my husband and I saw as we traveled home one evening. A highway patrolman had a blonde in a red convertible sports car pulled over on the side of the road. His arm rested on the top of the windshield as he leaned in talking to her with a smile as big as Texas. I told my husband she wouldn’t be getting a ticket. The scene captured my imagination and I started creating characters. The blonde was a wealthy socialite and the patrolman became a sheriff. The whole story came together after that.

7) When you looked in the mirror this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
Oh God! I need makeup.

8) Describe your writing space.
My office looks as if Hurricane Ike passed through it and no one is bothering to clean it up. I have two computers, three printers and several filing cabinets jammed into a small space. My desk is cluttered with TBR books and folders of books I’m writing. Emails and research papers are everywhere. There’s a stack of bills that need to be paid. Bookshelves cover two walls and they are full. I need to give some away, but it’s like giving away an old friend. The best feature of my messy office is the view. When I’m stuck I can look out the French doors to the lake and see the geese and ducks splashing around or a fisherman trying to catch a fish. It’s very peaceful and has sparked my creative muse a time or two.

9) What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
When I was in school, I loved Louisa May Alcott’s books, Little Women, The Inheritance, etc. Then I started reading Harlequin romances and was hooked on the happy endings. I wanted to write a book like that. A book that gave women hope that there is such a thing as true love and happiness.

10) What are you reading now?
Brenda Novak’s new trilogy and Debbie Macomber’s Twenty Wishes. They were a gift from a very special editor and I’m enjoying them immensely.

11) Do you re-read your books once they're in print?
When I was first published, I did. Now I don’t have time.

12) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
My September release, Texas Heir, was my 21st book. My favorite is The Christmas Cradle.

13) Tell us about your family and where you live.
I live in College Station, Texas with my husband, Billy. We live about ten miles from Smetana, Texas where I was born. Most of my family still lives there so it’s always fun to go home to the old farm and ranch where I was raised. I met my husband while I was in high school at a friend’s wedding. I thought he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen. He was on leave from the National Guard (love a man in uniform) and he and his buddies crashed the wedding. My girlfriends and I met them while they were gathered around the beer keg. Let’s say they were having a good time. My husband had a woman’s red high heel tucked into his jacket pocket. (The wedding was in December and the bridesmaid’s dresses were red.) He denies the shoe thing to this day.

14) Are you working on anything at the present you'd like to share?
As I said in March 2009 I have one of The Men Made In America books for American Romance, The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas. In July I start a trilogy for Super Romance, Texas Belles. The second book of the trilogy will be out in October and the third in early 2009.

15) Who's you're personal hero--past or present?
Oh, definitely the guy who had the red high heel in his pocket.

Texas Heir—September 2008

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


It's officially Autumn, my favorite time of year. And not just because my birthday falls in Fall. :) Don't agree? Let me enumerate the other wonderful things Autumn brings besides my bd.

Ninety-plus degree heat won't plague me for another seven months or so. Two of my friends (husband and wife) celebrate their birthdays with a huge Fall potluck party, including bonfire and wagon rides for the kids. I set out my Halloween stuff (my second-favorite holiday!!) and have already eaten several bags of candy--just to make sure the stores were selling good quality stuff this year. Recently I heard there's no cocoa butter in certain kinds of chocolate, and those candy bars had to take the "chocolate" claim off their labels. I'm happy to report everything I tried tasted scrumptious! Homecoming football and parades and dances, oh my! Soon the leaves here will be turning into beautiful reds, yellows and oranges. We usually go away for a relaxing weekend with three families of friends. And the best sports time of the year, baseball's World Series, entertains me all month with playoffs before the big event. (Alas, my beloved Cardinals are absent this year.)

So, are you a believer? Have I left out any of the truly glorious aspects of the season?
Megan Kelly

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mystery Blog

What should I blog about? That’s a good question.

Winter/fall has returned to the Pacific Northwest with a vengeance. It’s raining, it’s blowing and in the mountains it’s snowing – oops, that sounds like a Christmas song. If I don’t miss my guess this stuff is going to be around until May. Can you say gloomy?

And speaking of gloomy - we can always discuss the economy. Way back when I got my BA and MA degrees in Political Science I had to take classes in Economics. Yep, you guess it – the minute I walked out the door I ditched all that extraneous information. So a couple of months ago I decided to do a self-tutorial on this seemingly incomprehensible subject. Consequently I’m now semi-conversant on such topics such as the CRA, GSE’s, sub primes, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Libro Financial Group and the Fed – now that is truly depressing. So let’s talk books.

I recently read a historical paranormal that I can highly recommend. It’s called the Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. This book intricately weaves two parallel story lines – one Grail, two women, two secrets. Both stories are set in the Pyrenees, one in the 12th century and the other is contemporary. Alais lived and loved during the French Inquisition. Alice is a modern day, reluctant heroine. But they are both destined to protect the Grail.

This book has everything – romance, love, conspiracy, violence, treachery, friendship, reincarnation, eternal life, heroics and best of all, a twisty ending. So if you have time on a rainy Sunday, head to the library to find this book. But beware - you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

Ann DeFee

The Man She Married, HAR, February 2009

Top Gun Dad, HAR, TBA

Happy 25th...Great Beginnings

Harlequin American Romance is a great place to call home. For many authors, including me, it was where we made our first sale.

Author Vella Munn remembers: I wrote nine books for American starting with Summer Season (42) in Feb of 84 and ending with Silver Waves (444) in June of 1992. Summer Season was special because it was my first fiction sale. I remember that day well. We were adding onto our house and I'd gone to town to pick up some supplies. When I returned, my husband said I'd gotten a call from some editor in New York. Oh how I tried to be cool and collected! Oh how I failed. I can't think of a favorite book because all were special in their own way and represented what was and is still important to me, the environment.

You'll hear more from book #3 writer, Barbara Bretton, who has become our line's unofficial historian, Oct. 12 and Oct. 20. She'll talk about her first sale, which was Love Changes, HAR #3.

I made my first sale in 1999, to Melissa Jeglinski, who has moved this past month to a career as a literary agent with The Knight Agency. I can remember the moment well. I pitched the book to her at the RWA conference in Chicago. She'd just been made the line editor, and all day she'd been listening to people pitch her books all day for her previous line. Before I even started, she asked, "What line?" and I said, "American." I gave her my pitch, and she said send it. About this time, all the RWA people started fluttering around crazily. I don't own a watch, and it seems that once I checked in (early, like RWA says to do), some overly worked volunteer prodded me into a line and then, like cattle, into the room. Seems I was 10 minutes early, and had bumped someone out of her spot. All was well as RWA realized I wasn't sneaking in, and then they put the woman in my time slot. Anyway, I had a 212 number on my caller ID less than 4 weeks after the conference and by Monday, a phone call at work that I had sold my first book. MJ told me "I met so many people that weekend, who were you?" and I said, "The one in the wrong time slot." Her reply, an enthusiastic "I remember you!" I've sold 22 books to Harlequin since 1999, and seen one of my chaptermates, Megan Kelly, sell two of hers.

American remains a great line, worthy of its 25 year history. This month Anne Stuart and Barbara Bretton and others will talk about their memories, and hopefully, some of the authors here will add some of their first sale stories in the comments below. Anne Stuart will be on Oct. 31.

PS--for a complete list of all series books, from #1 Tomorrow's Promise by Sandra Brown to curent day, go to

It's quite interesting!!!

Michele Dunaway
Twins for the Teacher, Harlequin American, March 2009

Sunday, October 05, 2008

My new volunteer venture

I just signed up to volunteer as an after-school tutor for a foster boy or girl. After a recent insightful orientation, I’m ready to go! They tell me I’ll hear from the volunteer coordinator in a week or so. Then I’ll find out where I’ll be and a bit about my student. I’m excited! Also, truth be told, a bit nervous. (Thank goodness for the Tutor Training Manual, which I’ll soon read cover to cover.)

I’ve always wanted to work with foster kids. No, that’s not quite right. I always wanted to take in a foster child and raise him/her alongside our three daughters. My husband didn’t want this. He said three is enough. He was right—we had our hands full! (Three girls, all having their period at the same time, bickering at dinner, arguing over TV shows and everything else under the sun. ☺)

Through the years my yearning for a foster child stayed with me. When a friend went to work for Treehouse, an organization serving kids in foster care, he invited me there for a tour. I fell in love with the organization and its goals (see For me, tutoring is a good way to fill my need to do something without taking on the full-time responsibility of raising another child.

Once I’m off and running, I’ll let you know how things go.

What about you? Do you volunteer, and where? I’d love to know.

Until next time and eagerly anticipating my new volunteer venture,
Ann Roth