We received news this Monday that five of the series romances are being shut down, including Superromance, where I started my writing career. As a result of the shrinking business, many of my longtime colleagues and friends will be laid off.
SeriesLast Pub Month
Harlequin Western June 2018
Harlequin Superromance June 2018
Love Inspired Historical June 2018
Harlequin Nocturne December 2018
Kimani Romance December 2018
There's been lots of chatter and criticism on social media about why these programs failed or are being cut. As I work for Harlequin as a full-time employee and am bound by certain rules, all I can say is that these programs were specifically chosen because they make up a minuscule percentage of series earnings.
I wasn't surprised that Superromance was disappearing--since I published Her Son's Hero in 2011, I saw the series go from full runs of regular and large print in retail, to large print only, to direct to consumers only. It was only a matter of time before they disappeared altogether, and there are lots of reasons for it: increasingly competitive pricing with ebooks, a shrinking mass-market paperback business, shrinking DTC demand, a dwindling hunger for women's fiction in series format, branding issues, decreased marketing budgets...it's a tough game right now in publishing.
Yes, I've lucked into the trifecta of Harlequin dream jobs! Last month, a company-wide call for women to model for a national Harlequin advertising campaign went out and I decided, why not? I went to the call, not expecting to make the short list, and then I did. And then I had THE BEST. DAY. OF. WORK. EVER.
The 12 shortlisted models, all employees at Harlequin, arrived at the photo studio in the west end of Toronto at staggered times throughout the day. My scheduled time was about 10 in the morning. I was asked to wear a button-up shirt, blue jeans and flats. I brought an extra change of clothes in case they wanted something different.
First off, the most important thing: FOOD! A high-energy environment needs fuel to keep everyone in top form. Breakfast, snacks, catered lunch and a fully stocked fridge that even had beer and wine kept models, photographers, art directors, makeup and wardrobe all well fed and hydrated throughout the day.
Shoots were already underway when I arrived, with the first three models working with Tristan dressed as a firefighter, so I explored and goofed around with the props. Because of course I did.
The set was constantly busy with people adjusting lights, fans, clothing, props, and the art directors and photographer shouting suggestions for poses. You'd think this job was easy, but as I soon learned, it takes hundreds of photos to get the exact right one.
Each model spent about 20 to 30 minutes on set. From the sidelines, they looked like they were having so much fun--and who wouldn't in the arms of a hottie like Tristan?
Me and my cohorts had to get ready for the next set. Tristan would be dressed in naval dress uniform. THe makeup artist applied light makeup to keep me "natural looking," and the art director got me to change into my other shirt. Light colors can be easily Photoshopped and filtered so you can turn a piece of clothing any color.
Unfortunately, the shirt was a little too light and ended up washing out my face and, in my opinion, it looked a bit frumpy on me, so wardrobe pulled out a pink sweater. It was a wee bit too small, but all my luscious rolls were going to be hidden by Tristan's manly body, so no worries there.
Now came the hard part (hur hur hur...okay, I promise no more childish innuendos...). The idea was for Tristan to look like he was carrying me off, sweeping me off my feet while I read a Harlequin book (Note: the cover of the book is blank so that any cover can be 'Shopped in later.) I had to perch on some slightly wobbly boxes while Tristan held me up. So he had to look like he was carrying me while not actually breaking his back.
Meanwhile, I had to hold my feet up, toes pointed in a "natural" way, while holding the book with three fingers outward, keeping the cover spread, one arm around Tristan, and then act with my face like I was really into the book I was reading (I have no memory of what title it was. I think it was a Presents.) "Play to the back of the room" was one of the directions given to me. And while I can usually pull a face in any situation, I had a really hard time smiling and half looking at the camera at the same time.
In fact, it was excruciating. My core strength just hasn't been what it was since the baby came, so holding a crunch pose for 20 minutes was really challenging. I tried to switch the position of my legs and did something to my hip that made it click. It was not comfortable. I should also note that I haven't been in close quarters with any man other than my husband since we started dating, so it was a little awkward for me to be held by a good-looking 20-year-old who looked into my eyes and said, "Fall in love with me."
I think I laughed in his face, then immediately apologized. It wasn't personal--I was thinking about the diaper I'd changed earlier in the day. Gazing into his dark eyes, all I could think was, "poop, poop, poop..." It was hard not to laugh.
I asked Tristan what it was like being a model, how he prepped. He said he went to the gym, worked on his arms the day before. But otherwise, he just rolled out of bed and showered. I had to hate and love him just a little more for that.
Tristan had already been shooting since 8:00, and had held five models in his arms in this pose. I was trembling with the effort of staying aloft. He was trembling slightly, too--it was near lunchtime and we were both starving and boiling under the lights. Soft as they look, they're hot.
Finally, our shoot ended. We ate the catered lunch brought in by the studio and I mentioned that I was really disappointed that the cowboy shoot didn't feature a real horse. The creative director, Tony, looked at me oddly and said, "It's a real horse."
"Wait, what? Are you serious?"
"Yeah. We always use real horses."
I had the day off and was free to leave BUT I HAD TO STAY BECAUSE A HORSE WAS COMING.
A huge winter storm had just blown in, and I was in no rush to leave. I stuck around and wrote while the other models shot with Kyle Andrew, a professional actor and model who measures 6' 8" and is the viking in the Make A Date With Harlequin commercial. Yes, you do have to watch that commercial. And no, that is not his real hair.
All the while, I thought maybe the art directors were kidding about the horse. The studio was on the second floor--how would they get a horse into the building and through the door?
"On the freight elevator, of course," was the answer.
I waited by the window.
No way. NO WAY...
I was joined by my colleague Dana Grimaldi, and we delighted in meeting the horse, Cisco. Dana got to sit in model David's lap atop the horse. Cisco was so calm and absolutely professional, even when he had relieve himself (the handlers caught everything quite neatly in a shovel before it hit the ground). Cisco got paid in carrots and yummy treats and cuddles.
My day ended with a huge smile on my face, feeling glamorous and so lucky to be part of this awesome, talented team. The Make A Date With Harlequin campaign is out now! I didn't make the top 4 ads, but just look at my colleagues! So fabulous! Make sure you visit tryharlequin.com today!
Who would helm your (relation)ship? Here's a ranking of captains I'd bang (or not).
Captain Malcolm Reynolds
As seen in: Firefly, Serenity
Boinkability out of 10: 8
On the one hand, Mal is a sturdy, loyal, heart-of-gold guy with tight pants, a wry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye that aims to misbehave. On the other hand. there's a good chance he'll be cancelled before the end of his first season, leaving you whining about his loss fifteen years later.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard
As seen in: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: Nemesis.
Boinkability out of 10: 6.5
I have a soft spot for Jean-Luc. He's a tea-drinking, Shakespeare-quoting, bald headed beau who has helmed the Enterprise for more than 7 seasons and numerous movies. And he doesn't age. Seriously, the guy looks younger now than he did when he started the series in the late eighties. Still, I can't imagine the son of a vintner and former borg hostage/mouthpiece being as wild in the sheets as his generational predecessor, James T. Kirk.
Captain Hook aka Killian Jones
As seen in: Once Upon A Time
Boinkability out of 10: 9.9
I like me some seamen. Which is to say, I appreciate a true seafaring captain who knows how to have a good time, and Killian Jones has had over 300 years of good times, which include mastering the artful application of guyliner while manning the Jolly Roger. Except for a slight drinking problem--which he thankfully never seems to let get out of control--Hook is the bad boy you take to your bunk when you've dry docked your ship for too long.
As seen in: Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel's The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War
Boinkability out of 10: 8
You really can't say no to a perfect man, even if he is the blancmange Aryan boy scout who turns out to be a secret Hydra all along that Steve Rogers is. Still, I can't resist those puppy-dog eyes and carved-from-butter muscles. Didn't think "super soldier" meant smooth and hairless as a dolphin, but there you go.
Captain Jack Sparrow
As seen in: Pirates of the Caribbean franchise
Boinkability out of 10: 7
Despite my love of seamen and the fact that he's played by Johnny Depp, Captain Jack falls much farther down the list from Hook based on the simple fact that hygiene in the 18th century wasn't particularly conducive to passing-ships-in-the-night encounters. Even if he is the most cunning and courageous of pirates, I can't get over the teeth. Or the matted hair. Or the general air of unwashedness around him.
As seen in: Cap'n Crunch cereal
Boinkability out of 10: 0
Nothing boinkable about the Cap'n. He's not even than old--53 according to the history--but he's got a bit of paunch on him unbecoming of a naval officer of his rank. His roof-of-mouth-destroying bounty doesn't make for great foreplay snacking, either. Best to leave the cereal out of it altogether.
That mega sale on my books that I mentioned? You can get all my books for $1.99 in all kinds of formats, including epub, kindle, and kobo.
You: But I want to own a hard copy!
Me: Sorry, but they don't do print runs after their on-sale month. However, you can preorder my November title, MATINEES WITH MIRIAM, and have that on your shelf!
You: But I don't have space on my shelves!
Me: See above re: ebooks
You: But I don't have time to read!
Me: Frankly, I don't care if you read it. This is about my ability to pay for daycare and you supporting working writers like me.
You: But I can't afford it!
Me: If you can afford a $6 latte that takes 3 minutes to make and 10 minutes to drink, you can afford to buy 3 of my books which each take 8 months to write and several hours to read. The cost amortization and return on investment is well worth the investment, I promise. Of course, if you're really hard up for cash, do me a solid and borrow it at your local library. Those hits count.
You: But I don't read romance.
Me: Because the patriarchy has drilled into your head that fiction by women and for women is somehow worth less than work written by a dead white man? Or because you're prejudiced against a genre you've never tried?
You: Is there some other way I can help you that doesn't require me spending money?
Me: Absolutely! First off, rate it and review all my books on Amazon, Goodreads, Kobo or wherever you do your book buying! Even the shortest "Great read!" and a five star rating helps bump my visibility up in rankings. It only takes a few seconds, so please, rate and review everywhere you can!
You: I can't read a romance book something something Fifty Shades something something bodice rippers something blah blah blah shirtless men blah blah formula blah....
Me: Look, I can't make you like anything. I'm just asking for a chance. I never liked olives before, either. Now I love them. Most of them. When I'm craving them. For $2 you can say at least you own this book, and maybe, one day, if you're trapped in a cabin with your kobo and have nothing else to read, you can read it and then tell me how much you hated it.
You: But I hate you.
Me: Then why are you still here?
Telemarketer: Hello, I'm Rob calling from home air duct cleaning services.
Me: Good day to you Rob. Just so you know, this call is being recorded for quality assurance.
Rob: Um...okay. I'm calling today to offer you a special deal--
Me: Listen, Rob, that's great, but I have a great offer for you. Do you like stories?
Rob: ...I guess.
Me: Well, I've got a fantastic story for you, and I'm offering a special deal right now. My book, MATINEES WITH MIRIAM, is coming out November 1, but I'm offering it to callers today for the low price of $5 plus shipping and handling fees.
Rob: I think you've misunderstood the nature of my call--
Me: MATINEES WITH MIRIAM is about a young woman desperately trying to hang on to her late grandfather's defunct theater. When a condo developer tries to take it from her by sweeping her off her feet, they have to decide what's more important.
Rob: That sounds nice, but--
Me: Order now and the author, Vicki Essex, will sign and personalize the book for you! You'll also get a free limited edition postcard designed by the author.
Rob: I'm not really a reader. My job today--
Me: Of course you're a reader! You're reading a script right now, aren't you? Let me tell you something, Rob, reading is the most important thing you can do for your brain. As you get older, your brain slows down production of new neural connection. Reading keeps building those neurons, keeps them firing...just like cleaning your air ducts!
Rob: Oh, I'm glad you mentioned that because--
Me: The latest studies show that reading fiction is especially important for developing emotional intelligence and empathy. You don't want to be viewed as a sociopath, do you?
Rob: Well, I am a telemarketer.
Me: That's fine, Rob. Listen, I have a really special deal just for you, because I like you. I'm going to read the first three chapters of MATINEES WITH MIRIAM to you, alternating between my Julia Child impression and my John Wayne impression. You get all that for free today, no obligation. All you have to do is provide me with an address, phone number, valid credit card number, your mother's maiden name, your social security number, and your date of birth. If you agree to this, remain silent.
Me: Fantastic! Let me take down your information and I'll get to reading. Hello? Hello? Rob, are you there?
So, if you haven't figured it out yet from my posts, or lack thereof, having a baby is hard.
But I have managed to put my last Harlequin Superromance to bed, so yay! MATINEES WITH MIRIAM will be out in November!
Meanwhile, I'd love you all to check out my newest project and penname, V. S. McGrath.
I'm proud to announce I have signed a 4-book contract with Brain Mill Press for my YA fantasy Western (weird West) series, THE DEVIL'S REVOLVER.
THE DEVIL'S REVOLVER takes place in the sunset days of the magical Wild West, a time in history that was much like our own, only with magic. Seventeen-year-old Hettie Alabama goes on a desperado quest to save her kidnapped sister from bandits . She is aided by a magic revolver that takes a year of her life for every man she kills, and nothing, not even hell itself, can stop her.
Nothing quite as humbling as trying to sing a lullaby to the baby and realizing you don't know the words to ANY songs or that the ones you learned as a child are now kinda inappropriate.
Case in point...
Hush little darling, don't say a word,
Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird,
And if that mockingbird won't sing,
Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring,
And if that diamond ring don't shine,
Mama's gonna wonder why she bought that ring,
And if you still need me to buy you crap,
Mama's gonna have to go into debt...
*hums the Star Wars theme*
*sings Bohemian Rhapsody, plays the guitar solo on baby's belly*
Rock your BUUUUUUUNNNNY,
Rock your BUNNY right!
BUN-NY'S BACK, A'IGHT!!!
Old McDonald had a farm,
And on that farm he had a sloth,
All around the mulberry bush,
The monkey chased the weasel,
The monkey thought that this was such fun!
STOP HARASSING ME, NO MEANS NO, I'M CALLING THE COPS goes the weasel.
If I've neglected this blog, it's with good reason. Did I mention I had a baby?
Little Mara was born Oct. 22, 2015 at 12:43 pm, 8 lbs., 9 oz. She's almost 3 months old now and is a squishy little bundle of cute.
To answer the usual questions:
Yes, labor was hard, despite having an epidural, being induced after 2 days walking around with a ruptured water, less than 3 hours of real contractions or pain, and only 1.25 hours of pushing. Relatively short and easy and uncomplicated, but definitely the most difficult thing I've ever had to do in my entire life. No, I have not forgotten the pain—to all the people who say you'll forget everything once the baby is in your arms, I say LIARS, ALL OF YOU.
Yes, the baby does actually sleep quite well now at 12+ weeks. She's been doing a solid 5-8 hours at night before stirring. Most of the time, I'm the one who wakes her up to eat because, despite my tiredness, boob pain demands baby eats or I explode. Overall, Mara's a pretty chill baby, for which I am eternally thankful.
I'm on mat leave until November. Hubby got 2 weeks off right after the birth. But I've got lots of family support.
I think I called my mom and apologized for being alive and told her I love her after the first week home from the hospital. Jeebus, momming is hard. I mean, Mara's adorable and easygoing for the most part. Aside from the usual first-time hiccups with breastfeeding and such, I've had a relative easy go of it. But MAN, dealing with the inner fears, guilt, need to do better, do more, on top of still trying to get basic chores, personal hygiene and writing done is really difficult. I'm lucky I have so much family and help nearby. I can't imagine being completely on my own.
The thing about writing is that I need a lot of mental leg space to trot out ideas, test dialog, and just generally BE. With a baby, or frankly anything that requires me to utilize my right brain (or is it my left brain? I've no idea anymore, it's all baby brain...), that space shrinks down A LOT. This post took me two days to write over several hours split up while baby was napping. And if you're a SYWTBAW follower, you know it takes at least 20 minutes to really get in the writing groove.
Baby brain is expected, and so are many other post-partum symptoms. I just didn't expect to have to deal with so many of them at once. No one ever tells you about the cramps, nausea, deep-seated hunger and nipple pain that comes with breastfeeding, or about all the other wonders that go along with breastfeeding, like jets of milk hitting the baby in the eye, or that agonizing pain that feels like Iron Man has grabbed your boob and electrified it, and not in the sexy way. No one mentioned severe carpal tunnel turning into De Quervain's. No one said I'd get plantar fasciitis after delivery, either. Or that I'd need to go to the eye doctor again because being with baby narrows your field of vision because you're watching her all the time, straining your eyes and making your head all wonky.
Of course, I don't regret having her. I just wish my body weren't so broken.
In other news:
Basement renos are FINALLY finished. Contractors started a full dig out, underpinning and finishing back when I was about 6 months pregnant, with hopes of finishing just after the delivery. It went over that, of course, but I didn't mind. For one, there were always workmen around. My regular reminders that I could pop at any minute and that I might need a drive to the hospital probably sped things along. They completed work just before Christmas. As a contractor's granddaughter, Mara slept through everything like a champ. Literally, she slept through a jackhammer. The end product is fantastic, and now Mara has an extra place to play. PLUS there's now a second bathroom in the house. No more emergency evacuations while hubby is showering!
My fifth book is out! RED CARPET ARRANGEMENT is available as an ebook at all your favorite online retailers, and in print from Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, and Harlequin.com. Check out my Books page for more details. It's my first pregnancy book, and I turned it in when I was 6 months along, so it'll be interesting to see what I got wrong in comparison to my own experience.
I've got one more Harlequin SUPERROMANCE coming, but after that, I'm hoping to work on other projects. Maybe I'll even get to do more blogging...but that'll be up to Mara.
Funny how much time can go by when you're pregnant and have all the best intentions for keeping up your blog...
So, yeah, I'm 8.75 months into my pregnancy, with a due date of Oct. 25. Most of my time over the past few months has been focused on completing my contracted books with Harlequin Superromance. My fifth book, Red Carpet Arrangement, will be out January 2016, and I've completed a first draft of my sixth Superromance, another foray into the small town of Everville, which will either be out late 2016 or early 2017.
Pregnancy has not been easy. I mean, compared to some women's experiences, I've had it easy. The baby's healthy, and while I've experienced about 80% of the symptoms that go along with pregnancy, I haven't suffered any serious issues. Mostly I'm fatigued and sore, with the numerous bodily complaints common with pregnancy and many of those no one ever talks about. (Carpal tunnel syndrome and nose bleeds? Really, body? You don't think I've suffered enough?)
On top of the pregnancy, my husband and I decided to finish our murder basement and turn it into a more usable space. We've hired a contractor to dig, underpin, install a new bathroom and finish the space into a multipurpose room. When it's done, we'll have a second bathroom, a laundry room and a big space to do with as we please...which probably means scattering toys everywhere for the coming baby. It's a huge job, and we've already had several delays, but I knew that was likely. Considering that the baby is currently head down and wearing my cervix like a yarmulke, I'll probably give birth before the job is complete, meaning those poor construction workers will probably see me waddling their way, declaring, "Guys...hate to bug you, but could one of you drive me to the hospital?"
I'll be off work in less than three weeks, taking two weeks before the due date to relax and nest. While I know I'll probably disappear into the internet ether once more when the baby comes, I hope to get a few blog posts in, and maybe even manage a weekly update post where I just post random stuff I find cool. (Shill: you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter for a lot of that, too. I'm also on Pinterest and a bunch of other social media platforms.) Having a baby is a whole new adventure I'm both dreading and looking forward to--exactly the kind of experience I like to share.
Some other things going on in my life:
Had my legs waxed for the first time in my life. I've always wanted to have that experience, and now that I can barely bend over to shave, it seemed like the time to try. It was not as painful as I thought it would be...which I hope means something good come labor time.
Had to get a new netbook laptop. It's the Acer 2 in 1 Switch tablet. Budget friendly, compact and versatile, but it has flaws, the main one being that sometimes while working on Word, the cursor jumps around randomly, or typing stalls and doesn't appear. Not a terrible piece of machinery, but not perfect, either.
The Blue Jays are doing well! After 15 years together, I only recently learned my husband enjoyed watching baseball, and he got an MLB.com membership and has been watching steadily since August. We are watching them play the Yankees as I write this.
I'll be signing books at Toronto Word on the Street this coming Sunday. Check out the Events page for more details!
Well, that's it for now. Apologies for not being consistent with content here. Making a human is difficult work, and while I have so much to say about it, I will save you from the gritty details...for now.