Sometimes people ask about my writing. I am a writer. Most writer stuff is really boring. Plot points, character arcs, black moments. Line edits, page proofs, house style. Even I find writer talk tedious and I’m a writer. I’d rather talk about chickens and chocolate lava cakes. But last week, I was involuntarily engaged in one of the more entertaining-slash-frustrating aspects of my job, so here’s a glimpse into one of the things you do if you’re a writer for Harlequin, the mega giant in women’s fiction. At some point down the road after you have turned your book in (read: when you have completely forgotten what it was about and what the characters’ names were), your editor will gently nudge you that it’s time to fill out the Art Fact Sheet. The art and marketing departments use the AFS to prepare cover art and to promote your book for foreign distribution. Don’t be fooled by the word “sheet” as it is multiple pages, accessed through an online system, each screen filled with a dizzying array of drop-down menus designed to simulate water torture.
First, you have to pick a “theme group” for your story. Abduction, aboriginal hero, amnesia, betrayal, baby/children, bachelor auction, bad boy? Billionaire boss, espionage, forbidden love, forced marriage? How about forced proximity? Hero as boss, hero as guardian, hero as lord, hero as prince, hero to the rescue? Italian count or Italian hero? Kidnapped bride, makeover, manhunting, matchmaker, miracle baby, plain jane? There are more. (I just pick suspense…..)
Where does the story take place? The world is your oyster! China? How about Colombia? The Biscayne Bay, Borneo, a fictional desert kingdom? A fictional European principality or a fictional island? Monte Carlo, Nepal, or Papua New Guinea? Burkina Faso? Where is Burkina Faso? (My story is set in West Virginia.)
Does the story take place over any holidays? Father’s Day? Easter? Independence Day, a town’s centennial, or a royal coronation? How about during the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts? (I don’t make this stuff up! That’s a choice!)
Any landmarks in the story? Like, the Acropolis? Or the Auckland Sky Tower? The Bay of Naples, the Loire Valley, Machu Picchu, the Parthenon? Stonehenge, the Taj Majal, Mount Vesuvius? (Does I-79 count? Wait, I can’t find I-79 in the drop-down menu. How odd….)
What type of places are in the book? Any archaeological sites? A chateau? An exotic beach? How about a grand reception room, an oasis, or an olive grove? A sea loch, a Spanish castillo, a waterfall, a Turkish bath? (Much of my book is set in a cabin in the woods…..)
Now you get to tell them about your characters. What is their theme? (Yes, they have to have a theme!) Are they ambitious? Accident-prone? An alpha male prince? A crusader, a Cinderella? Brooding, bubbly? A dashing adventurer or a missing person? Are they scatty? (What is scatty?) A virgin or vivacious? Rugged or a runaway bride?
What do they do for a living? Are they an artist or an angel? (Yes, angel is an occupation. Harlequin says so. Do not question a publishing superpower.) They could be a breakfast TV producer, a cowboy, or a courtier. A sheep baron or a sultan! And yet they cannot be a U.S. Marshal. Which my hero just happens to be. No U.S. Marshal choice in the drop-down menu. He could be a vampire, but not a U.S. Marshal. So I picked vampire. (I’m just kidding. I think. I don’t actually remember what I picked.)
What about their hair? Is it brown with copper highlights or brown with honey strands? Sable or sandy? Is it rumpled or sleek? Elfin or glossy? The choices are endless! And baffling…
And their eyes! They can be forget-me-not blue, blue-gray, blue-violet, cornflower blue, cobalt blue, electric blue, dark blue, dark blue-violet, greeny-blue, gray blue, ice blue, inky blue, one blue and one green, peridot blue, light blue, robin’s egg blue, sapphire blue, silver blue, sky blue, slate blue, or smoky blue! (Let’s not talk about the browns…..)
Is it their first love? What’s their nationality/ethnicity? Do they have any disabilities? Are they astute or authoritative? Guarded or guilt-ridden? There are more drop-down menus! More and more!
Then there is a little text box at the bottom that invites you to type in further character description. I don’t think so.
There are more pages for you to make up scene ideas for the cover and type in a synopsis. I’ll spare you the details. You’re welcome. Then my editor asked me to come up with a list of titles. And another list of titles. And another list of titles and another list of titles. And when I was completely beaten down and mumbling nonsensical combinations of words, they picked one.
And so my next book (coming out in December 2008) is titled Protected in His Arms. My bad boy hero is a vampire. He has rumpled sable hair and peridot blue eyes. He’s guarded AND guilt-ridden. The story’s set at a Spanish castillo in Burkina Faso during the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. Anything else you want to know?
P.S. Art Fact Sheet aside, I actually have no final control over the cover art. I will not see it until it’s completed and it often bears no resemblance to anything I put down in the AFS.
P.P.S. Protected in His Arms isn’t really set in a Spanish Castillo in Burkina Faso.
P.P.P.S. The book I’m working on now is about an accident-prone sheep baron in an olive grove in Papua New Guinea. His hair is brown with honey strands. His eyes are greeny-blue and he is very rugged. I got the deadline extended due to all the moving and chickens and chocolate lava cakes. It’ll be published sometime in 2009. (That’s not really true, either. Except the part about it being published sometime in 2009.)
P.P.P.P.S. A few people have mentioned looking for my books. I write what is known as “series” or “category” romance. My books are published in the Romantic Suspense line (or series) by Silhouette Books, which is a division of Harlequin. The books are published monthly and are available in bookstores and supermarkets everywhere the month of their release. After that, their shelf space is given over to the next month’s releases and the best place to find books published in previous months is online booksellers such as Amazon, who carry monthly romance releases for longer periods of time.
P.P.P.P.P.S. How many P’s are you allowed to have?