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.


26K in 8 Days?!?

It seems impossible, I know, but it can be done. Will it be done by me is the question. ;) I'm not giving up on NaNo yet, but I'm trying to write well enough that I won't get stuck revising this version of VT another few times. I'm so ready to move onto a new project, so this draft's gotta be good. Or a reasonable facsimile of good.

I'll be posting about my chat with Brenda Chin on Monday, 11/24. Until then, I'm giving the NaNo my all. Wish me luck!

And one last thing...a big "thank you" to my good friend Helen Hardt (who has already finished her NaNo project...woohoo, Helen!) who picked my blog as one of her choices for the I Love Your Blog award! Sometime soon I'll pick seven of my favorite blogs to pass the award on to - maybe after I recover from my NaNo hangover. ;)


Plugging Along...

As you can see on my word count meter on the sidebar, I'm currently sitting at just under 21,000 words. I'm a wee bit behind. And yes, I am the queen of understatements. ;) But I'm not worried. Much. I know I can crank out a lot of words pretty fast, but apparently November 30th still seems far enough away for me to not be concerned. Not that I want to be concerned, anyway, because NaNo is supposed to be all about freeing your creative side and banishing your inner editor to the broom closet, where she belongs. This is supposed to be FUN. So stressing about it is totally counterproductive.

Heck, I'm just happy to be maintaining enthusiasm for my third from the ground up rewrite of Virgin Territory in the last year. Won't even mention the revision drafts in there, either. But this experience has taught me an important lesson. A couple of them, actually. If you're targeting a line, make sure you have a solid grasp of what that line's requirements are before you sit down to write. Chances are good the editors of that particular line won't change their guidelines to fit you, so that means if you haven't done your homework, something will have to change - and that something is your story. ;) Another important lesson is to be careful what characters you let out of your imagination, because some of them won't let you move on to the next story when you get tired of trying to tell THEIR story the way it should be told.

Later this week I intend to post about my recent conversation with Brenda Chin, Senior Editor of Harlequin's Blaze line. She's a terrific editor and we had a great conversation, which I want to talk about a little here. Becoming a Blaze author is my quest in life at the moment, so I definitely took Brenda's suggestions seriously.

And to everyone NaNo-ing like me - or just trying to meet personal deadlines - keep plugging along. Every word you write gets you closer to the two best words ever: THE END. :)


NaNo Madness...

I posted a blogging schedule a couple weeks back, but I won't be following it until Dec. When I came up with my handy-dandy plan, I sorta kinda forgot NaNo was on the horizon. Since it's my first year, I intend to do it right.

My project? The oft-lamented, much maligned and (occasionally) dearly loved Blaze-in-training, Virgin Territory. This is my 3rd "official" draft of the story since Thanksgiving of last year (though I've completed another Blaze-targeted ms since then) but after my recent chat with Brenda Chin, I decided it needed a complete overhaul. Again. From scratch. Among my challenges? Learning to write short sentences. My wonderful CPs could attest to my difficulty in accomplishing this task, I'm sure. ;)

But I think I'm making progress. Of course, I thought that the other 2 times I plodded through VT, too. LOL

Anyway, current word count is 5, 183. I've added a word count meter to the sidebar, which I'm pretty obsessive about filling in. Sometimes it seems like the only reason I'm writing is to make my little red bar move. But hey, whatever gets the words on the page. That, after all, is the whole point to NaNo.

And when in doubt, BICHOK.

The question for Tuesday, Nov. 4th: will Cari, the girl obsessed with presidential politics, manage to write her 1,667 words with such distractions afoot?

Hope you other NaNo'ers out there are enjoying the ride, too. :)