Harlequin

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Harlequin proofreader.

Harlequin author.

And now...Harlequin model...????

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.

The setup

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."

FYI: Tristan is 6 foot 4 inches.

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.

FYI: Kyle is 6 feet 8 inches.

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...

HOLY CRAP THEY WERE TELLING THE TRUTH

 

 

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!

 

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?

Sale ends Oct. 25!

On my birthdayFunny 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.

ARFR 9780373609024 416x663My shiny new cover for my March 2015 release, A RECIPE FOR REUNION, just arrived! Whaddya think?

Check it out:

Nothing about working with his former high school crush, Stephanie Stephens, is ideal. Still, if Aaron Caruthers intends to save his grandmother’s bakery, he must. Good thing he has a lot of ideas he can’t wait to implement. He never imagines Stephanie would have her own ideas for the business. Or that they would clash with his!

It doesn’t take working with her long for Aaron to realize his impression of Stephanie as a helpless ex-cheerleader is way off. And the more of her kindness and strength he sees, the more attracted he is! Now to convince her…

Dear Reporters covering the Romance Writers of America's National Conference,

The Romance Writers of America is hosting its annual conference this week, from July 23-26 in San Antonio, Texas. We know you enjoy covering this event. And those of us in the romance publishing industry love having the spotlight on us. It's a fun story for the summer, and with all the horrible things going on in the world right now, I know this piece of eye candy is much-needed mind sorbet for your readers, listeners and viewers.

That said, I am asking for a moratorium on certain words and phrases too frequently used in reference to romance books and romance writers. While I appreciate not everyone has the same tastes and that your story may only be a fluff piece, romance writers and readers are sick of hearing particular words which have historically been used to denigrate and marginalize our chosen genre.

Not only are these words and phrases overused, they're cliches, and will make you, the reporter, look lazy in your own writing. So eliminate them!

1. "Bodice ripper": this is a term developed in the 70's and 80's when historicals were popular. Today's romances include so much more than Regency-era stories—paranormal, contemporary, romantic suspense, inspirational, erotic romance...please, do your research and take this term out of your romance vocab right away.

2. "Not your mother's romance books": this phrase has no relevance or meaning. Mothers who read romances likely passed down their favorite books to the younger romance readers in their families, inspiring a whole new generation of readers. If you mean to say that levels of sensuality are different from decades previous, then you might want to look a little more closely. Sensuality levels still vary widely book to book, subgenre to subgenre. I guarantee that Fanny Hill (1748) is still much raunchier than any inspirational Christian romance I've ever read.

3. References to Fifty Shade of Grey in either the pejorative or as the superlative example: yes, the movie is coming out soon. And while writers appreciate the success of Fifty Shades, erotica and erotic romance has been around for a long time. Why not look up Sylvia Day, Tiffany Reisz, or Megan Hart? (Note: yes, there is a difference between erotica and erotic romance. Learn it.)

4. "Formula": I've written about the F word before. Romance has often been labelled "formulaic", and yet all fiction is built upon an established guideline for storytelling. If you have to use a word, use framework.

5. Any suggestion that only single, desperate women read romances or lonely housewives or have impossibly standards for their men: No. Just no. Readers get enough flack in public when people on the bus look over their shoulder and say "Oh, you're into THAT, are you?" Yes. We are. Just as I'm sure those judgey types are into murdering young women and burying their bodies in the forest, like in that thriller they've got tucked into their pocket. Romance readers are educated, earn incomes, have families, and strive like anyone else for balance in life. Don't be a douche and paint us with that wide stereotyped brush. Otherwise you'll make us think all reporters are...well, we can leave that. Because you know what people think of your kind, right?

6. "Heaving bosoms": yes, we know the conference is largely attended by women. We have breasts. They heave sometimes because we love what we read, or we're out of breath because we're trying to up the counts on our Fitbits. Your mother has breasts, too. So does your dad for that matter. You probably spent the early years of your life smushed up against them, or possibly feeding from them. Keep that in mind and please, don't use this cliche to describe conference attendees.

7. Purple prose: romance writers actually try to avoid this as much as possible. And so should you. Failure to avoid purple prose only makes us believe you actually yearn to join us in writing romance...and we'd welcome you with open arms and heaving bosoms if that's what you want to do. If not, then please, for Elmore Leonard's sake, drop the frills.

 8. "Harlequin" used as a generic term: my personal pet peeve since, full disclosure, I work there full-time in addition to writing for them—Harlequin Enterprises is a company, and is probably best known for their romances. But not all romances are from Harlequin, obviously.

9. Fabio: don't get me wrong. Everyone loves Fabio. He has a special place in romance book lore, but like Fifty Shades, he is not the be all and end all of hero archetypes. We're all different women. We all like different kinds of men and women.

Hey, I get it. With this wealth of colorful material surrounding you, how can you resist the glistening muscles of male cover models attending as guests? How can you not comment on the pageantry of romance writer prom?

Well, do. But do so respectfully. If you find yourself snarking more than smiling, looking down your nose because you think these women can't find real jobs or can't find a man because you think they have impossibly high standards, you picked the wrong story assignment. And we'll know it. Don't be that guy.

By refraining from using any of these phrases while reporting on the conference, you'll help dissolve a long-held bias against readers and writers of genre fiction for women. And you'll also earn the respect of millions of smart, social-media savvy women.

Thanks, reporters.

Respectfully yours,
Vicki Essex

Back to the Good Fortune Diner
Back to the Good Fortune Diner

It's always nice to hear good things about your book a year after it's been published. I love Sarah for talking about BTTGFD so much, and selling it to New York Times bestselling author and X-Men and Marvel universe writer Marjorie M. Liu, an author I've admired for a long time.

Marjorie and Sarah talk about some awesome stuff, including what it's like to be a woman of color writer. I fully agree with what she has to say. You can read the transcript here. You can also listen to the podcast here.

An excerpt:

Marjorie: You’re killing me. The description of it, like, the way you describe this book sounds amazing.

Sarah: I thought it was so great.

Marjorie: That is a total must-read.

ENDORSEMENT FROM MARJORIE M. LIU, YOU GUYS. And she hasn't even read it!

And further:

Sarah: ....The thing about Superromance is that often I think they, the writers are encouraged to pack as much as humanly possible into these little tiny books, and so sometimes there’s so many big issues that they can’t reconcile all of them, but the fact that they brought them up in the first place, I’m just like, this is great! Please feel free to rip my heart out and hand it to me –

Marjorie: See, I –

Sarah: - it’s totally fine!

Marjorie: I have to tell you, like, just your base description of this book sounds like it would be, like, if, if it was published outside Harlequin, like in some quote-unquote, like, highbrow, literary press –

Sarah: I know!

Marjorie: - people would be talking about it, like, across the nation.

Just in case...If there are any "highbrow literary presses" out there interested in a new adult fantasy set in the final days of the Wild West, you should contact my agent. 8 )

In Her Corner CoverIt's my book birthday! IN HER CORNER should be in stores today and should remain on shelves till the end of the month! Pick up your copy before they're all sold out -OR- order online from your favorite bookseller!

Discussion questions for your book club will be up soon! Keep and eye on the Books page!

Harlequin.com | Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Chapters.Indigo.ca | BarnesandNoble.com | Kobobooks.com

One quick happy note: an endorsement from the inspiration and my hoped-to-be model, Tahmoh Penikett, in Tweet form:

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 2.00.05 PM

 

Also check out my blog at SuperAuthors today for a chance to win a copy!

3 Comments

Re: Double Meh. Anti-Valentine's Day Anti-Party.

Blech! Yeesh! Tired of making a fuss over Valentine's Day?   Seek refuge from the mushiness at one of the Anti-Valentine's Day Anti-Parties.

Join us for a party where hearts, Cupid, the colour red and public displays of affection are banned and black clothing is encouraged.  Join us to vandalize romance novel covers, test your knowledge of former celebrity couples and write the worst break-up letter.

Win prizes, eat un-festive snacks and listen to our playlist of the best break-up songs!

Two Anti-Valentines Events:

  • Thursday, February 13th, 5:00-6:00pm
  • Sanderson Branch (327 Bathurst, Bathurst at Dundas W)
  • Black clothing encouraged. Bring your sarcasm.

and

  • Monday, February 10th, 4:30-6:00pm
  • North York Central Library, Room 1

Dear Toronto Public Library,

As a Toronto romance author, employee of Toronto-based Harlequin Enterprises and a former Toronto Public Library employee, I am sorely disappointed by the TPL’s decision to hold an event that actively encourages vandalizing romance book covers.

While I understand the anti-Valentine’s day sentiment, holding this public event does not help foster positive attitudes toward healthy romantic relationships in young people. I can understand the program’s effort to be edgy and tongue-in-cheek and draw more patrons, however, I cannot condone the destruction of reading materials in this fashion with the explicit intention to mock, marginalize, abuse and denigrate the romance genre.

Historically, romance novels have faced much criticism and disrespect, much of it due to the fact that the main audience is women and the writers are predominantly women. By adding to the chorus of voices decrying the non-value of romance through this event, the Toronto Public Library fosters an environment in which it is considered acceptable to judge people for the things they like.

As a romance author who has done events with the TPL and as someone who works on the production side of the publishing business, I can tell you that hundreds of people work tirelessly to produce these covers and the books. While I recognize the sometimes salacious or hilarious end products and have enough of a sense of humor to poke fun at the industry, these hardworking folks take pride in their work, and it would break my heart to see people who have little to no concept of the work or genre treat these covers with such disrespect.

Romance writing is a $1.7 billion industry worldwide. Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., the world’s leading publisher of romance novels, is headquartered in Toronto and owned by TorStar. The former CEO of Harlequin, Donna Hayes, is the Chair of the Toronto Public Library’s Corporate Committee. And Harlequin is one of the major sponsors of the annual Book Lover’s Ball.

Is this how you want to get new readers and patrons into the library? By alienating them from a reading genre and encouraging them to hate on something they haven’t even tried?

Please, for the love of books, cancel this event and replace it with something more positive. Valentine’s Day can certainly be difficult for young people, but they don’t need to turn it into a hate-fest.

NOTE: The opinions expressed above are my own and in no way reflect Harlequin Enterprises or any other entities mentioned.

EDIT Feb. 5/14 12:12 PM: Looks like the TPL has edited the site and (hopefully) changed the program. The site now reads: "Join us to create your own anti-romance book cover, test your knowledge of former celebrity couples and write the worst break-up letter. "

 

EDIT Feb. 5/14 1:58 PM:  The Toronto Public Library posted these Tweets:

TPL responds

 

EDIT Feb. 5/14 5:31 PM: So I got a mention on Jezebel.com. Suffice to say, I think the issue has played itself out, but I'm glad to have started a discussion on this. I love the Toronto Public Library and I support its programs and everything they do. It's important that everyone from all walks of life have a safe space to express themselves without prejudice or judgment, and I hope the library will continue to be this space.

 

First: The title and release date of my third Superromance has been announced!

In Her Corner, about a female MMA fighter Bella Fiore training with Her Son's Hero alum Kyle Peters, will be released March 2014 from Harlequin Superromance. Watch for more updates on the Books page. The campaign to get actor Tahmoh Penikett on my cover continues, too, so please, tell your friends to sign the petition!

Second: I've signed with an agent! The fabulous Courtney Miller-Callihan of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates will be shopping around my Western-set fantasy and handling my romance writing career, too. I love telling people I'm with the same agency that represents Dan Brown. 8 )

It's been an exciting week!