Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Surfing the romantic wave of global capitalism

Cruising some of my favourite blogs this evening, I came across this link:

which will take you to the Harlequin Presents blog and news of a competition for a sizzling first chapter and synopsis for a Harlequin Presents novel. That's a Mills & Boon to those of us outside the US and Canada.

So here I am, now about 15,000 words into The Apprentice, plenty of ideas a-burgeoning, lots of lovely possibilities unfurling, the momentum achieved to know roughly where I'm going in a long-haul journey which will take another 6-8 months. Should I take a swift break to craft up a quick 4,000 words + synopsis for a book which I might then have to write? Except that of course, there will be thousands of contestants in this race, quite literally, and I'm very unlikely to get any nearer a firm book contract.

The thing is, I've always wanted to write for Mills & Boon. Now there's a confession! But first completed novel was a Mills & Boon. As with most of my writing, I started writing it in extremis, in this case, financial extremis, during my second year of university. And I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. So began the tale of Ellis and (oh God, I've forgotten her name, let's call her) Elinor. They were musicians brought together in a string quartet much against their will and there were endless opportunities for angry scenes followed by sizzling kisses and my very first sex scene. Ellis and Elinor long ago headed to the great recycling bin in the sky - the mss was written on the dot-matrix v. portable Brother typewriter that my mother bought for my 18th birthday, then photocopied and punted off to Paradise House in Richmond (M&B HQ for the uninitiated). I did eventually receive a really nice rejection letter - not a form FOff you daft bint, but a rejection letter that suggested that someone had actually read my sweaty 52,000 words and thought about them. They pointed out that the setting was not really glamorous enough for the M&B market (yup, I can see that classical music isn't really an alpha male setting....) and apart from that, perhaps Ellis and Elinor were just a touch... well... immature??? I have a feeling this is because Elinor (or whatever the hell her name was) was a bit free and easy about slapping poor Ellis during their various misunderstandings which were many and varied.

Since then, I have learnt a fair deal about writing including how to create conflict between my characters without letting them indulge in assault and battery. But I still want to write a proper, no holds barred M&B with a title that tells you all, e.g. The Secret Millionaire's Greek Baby. Or Virgin in Distress. Or The Italian Tycoon's Reluctant Bride. You think I'm kidding. Well, I'm not. Technically, I believe it was The Greek Millionaire's Secret Baby, but basically, you need a set of dice with the words Millionaire/Billionaire/Tycoon/Prince/Sheikh, then Secret/Misunderstood/Reluctant/Baffled and Virgin/Bride/Mistress/Secretary/Baby with finally, Spanish/Italian/Greek/Arab engraved on them and you too can play the Name That Romance competition. Actually, maybe not Baffled. Maybe Captive or Innocent instead of Baffled.

So here's my title, The Reluctant Greek Tycoon's Millionaire Mistress. Nah - I've used Reluctant in a previous title, I can't have that again. So how about The Italian's Innocent Captive. There we are, perfect. Why's she captive, why's she innocent, what does he think she's done? Excellent kick-off questions which can surely take me through 5,000 words and a cooking synopsis...

On the other hand, my current heroine is about to watch her worst enemy break the legs of her uncle's extremely valuable horse at the San Bartolomeo palio....Before the animal rights activists get up in arms, only imaginary horses will be harmed in the making of this novel.

The thing is, one of my goddesses in the writing world, Jennifer Crusie, kicked off her extremely healthy and amusing career by writing what are known as Series Romance for Harlequin. If you can break in and get regular contracts, they are a very nice steady earner. And if you build up a following, you can break out and get into the really lucrative single title market. A great launchpad for a career in one of, if not the most, steady niches in the crazy world of publishing.

So what do you think? Innocent Captive or horse-harming daredevils?

On Teach Me Tonight (, an erudite hangout for those interested in the psychology and philosophy and literary roots behind the explosion of romance in the publishing world, Laura Vivanco writes about the competition and the idea that the success of M&Bs or Harlequins are inextricably linked with the expansion of capitalism around the world. It's a really interesting piece with links worth pursuing. But it raises for me that good old question - what am I writing for? I have to write, this is something I've long ago accepted, and my feeling is that if I am going to spend so many hours bashing away at a hot laptop (normally 2-3 each night in case you are curious) when I could be doing other things, it would be nice to be rewarded. I've always wanted to be able to earn my living exclusively from writing. It doesn't mean that I would give up teaching, but I would like the option. So, as a writer do you chase the money or write the book of your heart, in the hope that some sweet editor somewhere will read it and believe that it could be a book to soothe many other people's hearts also?

I have friends who are full-time writers/actors/artists and they don't all necessarily like the way things have panned out. Getting the contract, building the following, but most definitely, meeting the deadlines, can be far more stressful than trying to fit the writing in the gaps left by work, kids and life in general. So should I go for the mainstream romance route or pursue my more complex, opaque and ambiguous current WIP?

Whatever the answer, it's time to go and do some writing.

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