Targeting Harlequin Blaze

About a year ago, I decided to try to write a Blaze. I'd tried to write a Superromance the year before that - and "tried" is the word, because I knew that line wasn't a good fit for my voice, but I wanted to see if I could mold myself into their guidelines. Didn't work. Blaze was a much more natural choice for me, because I like hot, edgy, funny books. And while the shorter length of 55,000-60,000 words initially seemed daunting, I've learned to say more in fewer words.

So I sat down to write Virgin Territory after Thanksgiving last year, armed with a basic premise, a setting and a hero (my guys ALWAYS come first...not too surprising, really. ;)) I didn't even know my heroine's name yet. At that point, I started to write. No outlines, no synopsis, barely any thought about my heroine and just a smattering more about my hero. Doesn't sound like the best way to write a book, does it? Even though I'm a pantser, over the past year, I've learned that filling out character charts and doing a list of 10 key scenes that will occur in the novel (using a basic chart from Victoria Schmidt's guide, Book In A Month) gives me a bit of focus. I may be a pantser, but I'd rather not rewrite a piece a half dozen times if I can help it.

But last May, before I'd discovered critique partners or realized that I should have done more homework before I sat down to write my Blaze, I started looking into Brenda Novak's Auction for Diabetes Research. She's a highly successful romantic suspense author and the proceeds all go to Juvenile Diabetes research, so bidding on items helps a terrific cause, too. I decided to bid on a Proposal Read (first three chapters and synopsis) and Telephone Consultation with Brenda Chin, Senior Editor of Blaze.

I won.

Over the summer, I started working with two great critique partners and I polished Virgin Territory. Things still felt "off" to me, but I ignored my gut and submitted to Brenda. I wasn't really nervous until the day we were supposed to chat, but shortly after we began talking, my nerves disappeared. She's a really friendly, funny lady and put me right at ease. After giving me a few compliments on my amusing dialogue and how much she'd enjoyed my premise, she jumped right into helping me make my story better. Right away, her suggestions started sparking new ideas and I got off the phone excited to write, rather than disappointed she hadn't asked for the full.

Brenda suggested really getting to know the line. That's pretty rudimentary advice, but I'd read a handful of Blazes over the past year and thought I had it down. I didn't. Getting a handle on the requirements of a line can seem tricky, but I've heard that the books themselves can be used as your "master classes." That's very true.

I have a handful of Auto-Buy Blaze authors that I read faithfully. Well, that's not enough. Reading all over a line can be more beneficial to someone trying to break in than to just cherry pick certain authors. Being more open to different authors lets you see just what kinds of storylines are out there - and which ones aren't.

Brenda also stressed tightening my focus. Blaze readers want to really identify with the heroine. I'd had some concerns because my heroine is struggling in a dead-end job and at the beginning of the novel, hasn't "succeeded" in any aspect of her life. But Brenda assured me that plenty of women would empathize with Kiki's journey to self-empowerment, which was a big relief. In a world of seemingly perfect heroines who "have it all going on," Kiki is a bit different. But by the end of Virgin Territory, Kiki not only finds true love, but a career that speaks to her. Luckily for her, they arrive thanks to one person, her hero Vincent.

Brenda emphasized that Blazes are about the hero and heroine, with a lot of deep POV and not necessarily as many external events to take the focus off the developing relationship. Yes, there's lots of steamy sex in these books, but they really are about falling in love, and taking readers on a journey with these two characters until they attain their HEA.

All in all, winning that auction was truly the best money I ever spent. Brenda helped me discover what was most important about my characters and their story, and I'm rewriting the book now as my project for NaNoWriMo. I can't wait to submit my partial to Brenda, then to get to work revising my second Blaze, which, hopefully, will require less of a learning curve than revising Virgin Territory. We'll see.

For those interested in targeting ANY Harlequin line, I really recommend checking out the message boards at, and also, listening to the editorial podcasts found on that site. During these short podcasts, the editors of each line discuss what they want to see in manuscripts submitted to them. Doesn't get better than that! I've listened to the Blaze one twice already, and I'm sure I'll listen to it again.

Bottom line, I really want to be a Blaze author. And one of these days, I will be.


Christina Phillips said...

Cari, this is a great post. Thank you so much for passing on all this info you received from Brenda Chin. I've got my fingers crossed she loves Virgin Territory!!

TaraLeigh said...

Hey GF.
*struggling up from word count drowning* And lookie lookie, you did make this post today!

I'm so glad you got that one on one with Brenda. It was a great opportunity that I benefited from as well. *muah* We are going to get VT out to her by next year (EARLY) dammit! LOL

Juliana Stone said...

Cari...sounds like money well spent for sure! glad to hear Brenda is such a great lady! Do you get to submit your partial directly? I hope so....and good luck with it....(I love the name Kiki btw!)

Amy Ruttan said...

Awesome post! And awesome determination! You can do it!! :)

Helen Hardt said...

Yes, you will be!

Wonderful post, as usual. I know Brenda will love the revised Kiki and Vincent!


JulieLeto said...

Hi, Cari. Yeah, Brenda is awesome. Just wanted to give you a hearty best of luck on your book!!!

SoulGirl said...

What a fantastic insight to the way it all works, thank you so much for passing all that information on and sharing your experience.

I'm still pretty new to all this but am learning more and more from great authors.

I wish you all the luck with Vincent and Kiki, your hard work and determination will pay off. I just know it :)

Kaye Manro said...

Cari, I know it's been a while since you posted this but wow, is it a great post. Here's to you and a new Blaze contract soon.

I'm waiting for my Nocturne too. I do understand the pull in the direction of eHQN.