Good morning, everyone. Belle here. I’ve brought along some pumpkin donuts and a mug filled with eggnog. It’s never too early in the morning to have a little eggnog, especially at this time of the year. Cheers!
In the competitive world of publishing, every author or aspiring author needs to write a book that shines. In my humble opinion, one of the most effective ways of creating a compelling read is to take an ordinary premise and make it something extraordinary.
Back in 2012 when I stumbled upon a Speed dating pitch on the Harlequin forums, I discovered an opportunity to become a published author with Harlequin Love Inspired. When I began writing my book, which was titled “The Return of the Preacher’s Daughter,” (A title I still love) I knew two things. One—I wanted it to be a reunion romance. Two—I wanted the heroine to have really endured something profound that separated her from her hometown and the people she loved, including the hero.
Think about it. When you read a book about a hero or heroine who hasn’t been back home in a long time, as an author you must create a compelling reason for this long-term absence.
Let’s rewind to my childhood when I lived across the street from a public library and devoured Harlequin romances like nobody’s business. Although I loved these novels it always bugged me to see the heroine doing a lot of hand-wringing over a situation that seemed fairly minor. Even at the age of twelve, I knew it wasn’t that serious. It made the heroine appear weak and it lessened the overall impact of the character arc.
I had a lightbulb moment while brainstorming my plot for the book I hoped would earn me a contract with Love Inspired. My reunion romance story needed a shot of adrenaline. It needed to be elevated. After a lot of brainstorming, I came up with this: Eight years earlier the heroine Cassidy had fled her hometown after being the driver in an accident that left her best friend a paraplegic. Before she left town, Cassidy ditched her fiancé, who was the older brother of her best friend. There’s also a plot twist about the accident. BAM! I had a reunion romance-heroine coming home story with tension, conflict, secrets and twists.
When I received “the call” from my editor, Emily Rodmell, she told me my book had a lot of hooks and Harlequin Love Inspired wanted to buy it. Lots and lots of hooks, if I remember it correctly. It was clear to me how important my hooks were to the sale of the book which ended up being titled, Reunited with the Sheriff.
When you add hooks to your work, try to create something compelling and unique. Put your own twist on it! Sell that book! I took the simple idea of a reunion romance and turned it on its head. There were many layers to the story, including a character who was a paraplegic. One of the most challenging things I’ve ever done as an author is to create a story featuring this paraplegic character, Holly. Heart of a Soldier was a tough book to write because it delved into areas that weren’t always comfortable. Romance between a rugged, able-bodied man and a paraplegic woman confined to a wheelchair is a tricky road to navigate.
However, it was a completely fresh approach and full of hooks. The heroine Holly had met the soldier hero Dylan due to a pen pal and email correspondence so he had never seen her in person. Again. Turning a story on its head. Readers loved this particular book, which showed me the rewards of digging deep and taking a romantic story and turning it upside down. I was by no means an expert on paraplegia, but I did my research and created an accurate portrayal of a paraplegic.
If you take your story concept and twist the screws a little bit, you’ll have a book that stands out from the rest. Readers will love you for it. Publishers and editors also. If you’re trying to get a publisher to notice your work, I think it’s a great way to go about it.
As a means to this end, brainstorming is a great tool for authors. I highly recommend getting a huge storyboard and then start fooling around with a romance trope. Think of ways to make it unique. Out of the box. Flip it upside down and twist it around. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. It’s difficult and sometimes uncomfortable to challenge the status quo, but in the end, you’ll reap the rewards. And so will your readers.
Author Jolene Navarro shares some of her insights on this very subject. “With The Soldier’s Surprise Family I started with the popular secret baby plot and thought about ways to make it different. What if he didn’t know about his son? His wife wouldn’t let go of her past so he left the drama behind and cut all contact with her. Five years later she is killed by her boyfriend in a murder-suicide situation. CPS shows up at his door. Not only is his son traumatized, but he refuses to speak and needs a home. There’s a baby girl too.”
Jolene elevated her secret baby story to include a traumatized child and an additional baby—a sibling of the hero’s own son. Complex, huh? She flipped the secret baby-child story on its head and created something highly original and poignant.
My December release for Love Inspired is entitled Reunited at Christmas. I have a confession to make about this particular story. I wrote it in part because I don’t particularly like amnesia stories. I wanted to challenge myself to do the very thing I didn’t necessarily want to do.
My heroine Ruby Prescott wasn’t just any amnesia victim. She was a search and rescue worker who had been presumed dead after an avalanche in Colorado. Her family in Love, Alaska has been grieving her loss for two years. Add in the fact that Ruby and Liam are an interracial couple with a five-year-old son she can’t remember. Oh, and her return is a few weeks before Christmas, the most blessed time of the year. Plus, her husband is hiding a secret about their marriage.
In celebration of my new release, I’m giving away ten copies of Reunited at Christmas. Winners will be announced in the Weekend Edition.
Happy Holidays everyone! And remember—don’t be afraid to take your novel and make it a gem. It’s like polishing a diamond. Make it shine!
So, my friends. How are you challenging yourself in your writing?
A Season to Remember
Two years after the avalanche everyone thought had claimed her life, Ruby Prescott returns to the remote Alaskan town of Love. And no one is more ecstatic than her husband, Liam, and their young son. Even if amnesia has robbed Ruby of her memories, she's soon woven back into the fabric of their lives. As they celebrate the holiday season, Ruby is falling head over heels for the man she's told was the love of her life. But she can't escape the feeling that there's something Liam is keeping a secret. Will the return of her memories tear them apart for good—or will this be a Christmas she'll never forget?
Belle Calhoune grew up in a small town in Massachusetts as one of five children. Growing up across the street from a public library was a huge influence on her life and fueled her love of romance novels. Belle is the author of seven Harlequin Love Inspired novels with two more contracted. She has Indie published the popular and best-selling inspirational romance series, Seven Brides, Seven Brothers. Her new indie series, the Secrets of Savannah is a spin-off of her debut series. Belle loves writing romance and crafting happily ever afters. When she’s not wrangling her two high maintenance dogs or spending time with her husband and two daughters, Belle enjoys travel and exploring new places.