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Conference Report

It was a weird sort of a weekend for me. I attended the conference, but I have to admit I had trouble focusing on what the speakers were saying because of the personal stuff going on in our lives. I did, however, have a couple of real lightbulb moments – thank you Fiona Brand and Mary Theresa Hussey – and I think that once I return from holiday, it will be with renewed energy and inspiration for my writing.

I attended an early morning talk with agent Melissa Jeglinski from the Knight Agency. They read the first pages of manuscripts and she stopped them when she reached the point where she’d make a decision. The following is a summary of her dos and don’ts. For you experienced writers out there this is probably commonsense to you, but a reminder never hurts!

1. Don’t start your manuscript with a one-sided conversation. i.e. phone call. You’re wasting an opportunity to use characterization through dialogue.

2. It’s good to make the reader want more. i.e. intrigue them but don’t throw everything and the kitchen sink into that first page.

3. Add characterization rather than too much backstory. i.e. have your characters make an appearance early rather than giving lots of narrative first up.

4. Sentence length – don’t make those opening sentences too long and convoluted. You want the reader/agent/editor to understand the sentence. If they have to read it twice you have a problem.

5. You need a coherent flow of dialogue and narration. Don’t have all dialogue and no narration at the start of your story. Make the dialogue meaningful.

6. Don’t feel the need to give a detailed description of clothes etc in that first page. One or two details are fine but don’t describe everything in minute detail.

In a talk about Harlequin and the various lines editor Mary Theresa Hussey gave us a list of points that the editors use when they’re reading a submission.

1. Are the opening and closing lines strong? i.e. it’s that hook thing. Use strong hooks!

2. Do the characters make decisions? i.e. are they active rather than sitting back and letting things happen.

3. Do the conflicts come across as strong and interesting?

4. Are the characters compelling?

5. Does the story start in the right place? i.e don’t be tempted to slide in all that back story!

6. Do you want to read on?

If they can answer yes to all these questions, your manuscript is in good shape.

Mary Thesesa also mentioned that the Harlequin Intrigue line and the Harlequin Presents line are definitely looking for new authors, so if you’re interested in either of these lines get writing!

And two final things: If you’re interested in the new Harlequin YA line check out the prequel for Rachel Vincent’s debut story. You can download your free copy here.

Harlequin do regular podcasts that can be downloaded at this link or at iTunes. There are some additional ones coming any day now so keep checking back. The existing podcasts include editor inside information and interviews with authors.

Country Boy or City Sophistication?

So this track was playing on my iPod while Scotty and I wandered at our old-dog pace around the reserve this morning. It made me start thinking. Possibly a bad thing, but follow along…

I’m a country girl at heart, and my husband also grew up on a farm. The farming background gives us a lot in common. But I’ve also lived in towns and cities and met city boys. Their idea of dates are different for a start. A country man might take you to a rodeo, to an agricultural show or stock sales. Dinner out might be at the local pub and jeans are fine. In the city, dates are to nightclubs, nice restaurants or maybe a walk in a park. There are art galleries and museums and sexy dresses. Spiky heels that áre in no danger of sinking halfway to China when you walk beside your man. Try that in the country and see what happens!

In most of my writing, and especially in my Middlemarch series, the heroes are all country boys. Strong, capable farmers who don’t need to work out in a gym. An exception to this rule would be PLAYING TO WIN where my hero is a professional rugby player and businessman. He does a lot of promotion and charity work and is at home wearing a suit. While my Middlemarch men could do the suit thing, they’re more at home in the wide open spaces.

I like to read about both types of heroes, but I have a real soft spot for a cowboy, country male type. I like them because they’re independent, capable, usually emotionally strong and can turn their hand to anything. They’re not generally full of themselves. Maybe they’re not quite as good at romance, but we know the right woman can smooth the rough edges.

What do you think about real life – country man or a city man and why? And in fiction – which do you choose? Is your answer different and why?

This year Harlequin is celebrating sixty years of romance. They’re giving away free downloads of sixteen titles that represent most of their lines. If you haven’t checked out their free offer yet, run straight over and download the titles that grab your interest. I’ve already downloaded my share.
Here’s the link.