Monday, 14 February 2011

Guest Blogger: Melissa McClone

I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome author Melissa McClone to Heart of Fiction where she'll talk about her current Harlequin release, Expecting Royal Twins. She's our first guest blogger, and what a better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than talking about ROMANCE!

Take it away, Melissa!!

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If you think the romance genre takes some hard hits from the media, try writing category romance.

Some people call them formulaic or cookie-cutter. Others deem them "little" books. Many think they are so easy to write anyone can crank out ten of them without much effort. A few romance writers have said their novels aren't like Harlequins, as if those who do write category romance should be wearing a big red H on their chest.
Well, just stick one on me.

I write for Harlequin Romance. Back in high school, I read my first category romance, a Harlequin Romance set in the Canary Islands. That book got me hooked as a romance reader and led me try writing romance novels several years later.

What is category romance?

Since I write for Harlequin, I'll use their books to define the term. Category romances are novels released monthly by a specific Harlequin line, such as Romance, Medical, Historical, Presents, Desire, Intrigue, American Romance, Special Edition, Blaze, Nocturne, Romantic Suspense, Love Inspired and Superromance. Each line represents a specific category of romance: sweet, sensual, inspirational, suspense, paranormal, etc.

Sometimes the term "series romance" is used due to a line's sequential numbering of book on the covers and spine. This number is based on a book's publication order.

Each line has its own distinctive packaging. The books published within a specific line have similar word counts, flavor, tone and sensuality level.

Category reader expectation is high. Readers know what kind of story they'll get with each line, but the books aren't all the same. If you look at this month's line up from Harlequin Romance, the six releases are part of the Babies and Brides miniseries. A quick glance at the back cover copy at eHarlequin.com will show you how each story, including the heroes and heroines, are all very different.

My contribution to the month's line up is Expecting Royal Twins! When I first came up with the idea, I wanted to put a fresh twist on two traditional romance plotlines—a long lost royal and a marriage of convenience (more like a marriage of duty, in this instance.) Instead of setting the tale in an idyllic land, I choose a fictional Balkan country that had been torn apart by a civil war.

With a 50,000 word count, there isn't a lot of room for subplots and extra characters in shorter lines like Harlequin Romance. The focus must be on the romance, but you can't leave the other stuff out, either. It's like trying to fit a seven-course meal on a salad plate. Not all category lines are as short as the ones I write. Harlequin Superromance's word count ranges from 70K to 75K words. They get to use a full-sized plate.

Category romances used to have a very short shelf life. Readers had to rely on libraries and used bookstores to find a category author's backlist. On-line bookstores enabled readers to buy new releases past the month of publication. Now with the influx of eBooks, more category backlists are becoming available which is a great thing for both readers and authors.

Why do I write category romance?

Because I love reading them.

I read across the romance genre, as well as outside of it. But as a wife with a traveling spouse, mother of three active kids and a romance writer, I don't always have the time or energy for longer books these days. Category romances are the perfect length and escape for me. I can finish a story in one setting. That's my favorite way of reading any book. And I know when I reach "The End" I'll have a smile on my face and a feeling of ah in my heart.

That was how I wanted to make readers feel when I started writing so many years ago, and it's still the end goal today.

Do you read category romance? If so, what is your favorite line?

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Suddenly a Princess...

It's not every day that a tall, dark, handsome prince strides into your workshop and announces he's your husband! Mechanic Izzy nearly drops her wrench. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that she'd become a princess!

Independent Izzy struggles with exchanging her oil-stained overalls for silken gowns, let alone becoming responsible for an entire country! Yet her attraction to Prince Niko tempts her further into the fairy tale. And then two small surprises change all the rules of the game...

EXCERPT

Inside Bay #2 at Rowdy's One Stop Garage in Charlotte, North Carolina, a Brad Paisley song blared from a nearby boom box. Oil, gasoline and grease scented the air. Isabel Poussard bent over a Chevy 350 small block engine. The bolt she needed to remove wouldn't budge, but she wasn't giving up or asking for help. She wanted the guys to see her as an equal, not a woman who couldn't make it on her own.

She adjusted the wrench. "Come on now. Turn for Izzy."

A swatch of light brown hair fell across her eyes so she couldn't see.

Darn ponytail. It never stayed put. If she had any extra money, she would get a short hairstyle so she wouldn't be bothered any more. She didn't dare cut it herself. For years her Uncle Frank had chopped her hair with whatever was handy, scissors or razor blades. She'd grown up looking more like a boy than a girl. Not that any dresses hung in her closest today.

Izzy tucked the stray strands behind her ear. She struggled to turn the wrench. Her palm sweated. The wrench slipped.

Frustrated, she blew out a puff of air. "No one is going to let you work over the wall in the pits during a race if you can't loosen a little bolt."

She imagined the start of the Daytona 500. The roar of the crowd. The heat from the pavement. The smell of burning of rubber. The rev of engines.

Excitement surged through her.

Being on a professional pit crew had been Uncle Frank's dream for as long as Izzy remembered. An aneurysm had cut his life short. Now it was up to her to turn his dream into a reality. He'd spent his life caring for her and sharing his skill and love of cars. More than once he'd had the opportunity to be on a pit crew, but he hadn't wanted to leave her. This was the least she could do for him.

As soon as she saved enough money, she would enroll in pit crew school. She wanted to put her days at dirt tracks and stock car circuits behind her and take a shot at the big leagues. For Uncle Frank and herself. She had bigger goals than just being on the pit crew. She wanted to be the crew chief. Izzy would show those kids who laughed at her grease stained hands they were wrong. She would do something with her life. Something big.

She adjusted her grip on the wrench and tried again. The bolt turned. "Yes."

"Hey, Izzy," the garage owner's son and her closest friend Boyd shouted to her over the Lady Antebellum song now playing on the radio. "Some folks here to see you."

Word of mouth about her skills kept spreading. She could not only fix old engines, but the new hybrids, too. Her understanding of the computer and electronics side of things coupled with a gift for diagnostics drew in new clients daily. Her boss Rowdy was so happy he'd given Izzy a raise. If this kept up, she could enroll in school in a few months.

With a smile, she placed her wrench and the bolt on the top of her toolbox.

Izzy stepped outside. Fresh air filled her lungs. Sunshine warmed her face. She loved spring days better than the humid ones summer brought with it.

In front of her, a black limousine gleamed beneath the midday sun. The engine idled perfectly. Darkened windows hid the identity of the car's passengers, but uniformed police officers stood nearby.

Not simply "some folks" wanting to see her. Must be a VIP inside the limo if police escorts were needed.

Izzy couldn't imagine what they wanted with her since the car sounded like it was running fine.

She wiped her dirty hands on the thighs of her cotton coveralls. Not exactly clean, especially with grease caked under her fingernails, but cleaner.

One of the police officers gave her the once over, as if sizing up her danger potential. A good thing she'd left the wrench in the garage.

A chauffeur walked around the car and opened the back door. A blond man exited. He wore a designer suit and nicely polished black dress shoes. With a classically handsome face and short clipped hair, he was easy on the eyes. But his good looks seemed a little bland like a bowl of vanilla ice cream without any hot fudge, whipped cream and candy sprinkles. She preferred men who weren't quite so pretty, men with a little more…character.

"Isabel Poussard?" the man asked.

She stiffened. The last time anyone used her real name had been during her high school graduation ceremony when she received her diploma. She'd always been Izzy, ever since she was a little girl. Uncle Frank had taught her to be careful and cautious around strangers. He'd worried about her and been very protective. She knew he'd be that way now if he were here.

Izzy raised her chin and stared down her nose. The gesture had sent more than one guy running in the opposite direction. "Who wants to know?"

Warm, brown eyes met hers. The guy wasn't intimidated at all. He looked almost amused for some strange reason. "I am Jovan Novak, aide to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Nikola Tomislav Kresimir."

Jovan's accent sounded European. Interesting since this was NASCAR country, not Formula 1 territory. "Never heard of him."

"He's from Vernonia."

"Vernonia." The name sounded vaguely familiar. Izzy rolled the word over in her mind. Suddenly, she remembered. "That's one of those Balkan countries. Fairytale castles and snowcapped mountains. There was a civil war there."

"Yes."

"Hey, Izzy," Boyd shouted from behind her. "You need any help?"

She glanced back at the bear of a man who stood with a mallet in his hands and curiosity in his eyes. A grin tugged at her lips. She appreciated how Boyd treated her like a little sister, especially since she had no family. Of course that made things interesting the few times she had a date pick her up after work. "Not yet, Boyd, but I'll let you know if I do."

Jovan looked like he might be in shape, but she could probably take him without Boyd's help thanks to Uncle Frank. When she was younger, he used to barter his mechanic skills for her martial arts class tuition. Now she worked out every day to get in shape for the work necessary by a pit crew member during a race.

"Isabel. Izzy." Jovan's smile reached all the way to his eyes. He bowed. "It is such a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Your—"

"Is this about a car repair?" He acted so happy to meet her. That bothered Izzy. Most customers limited their interactions to questions about their cars. Some simply ignored her. The men who went out of their way to talk to her usually ended up propositioning her. "Or do you want something else? I'm in the middle of a job?"

Not exactly the most friendly customer service, but something felt off. No customer would know her real name. And the guy smiled too much to be having car trouble.

"One moment please." Jovan ducked into the limousine.

Time ticked by. Seconds or minutes Izzy couldn't tell since she wasn't wearing a watch. She used the clock hanging in the garage or her cellphone to keep track of time while she worked.

Izzy tapped her foot. She had to get the Chevy finished so she could work on the Dodge Grand Caravan. Somewhere a frazzled mom with four kids was waiting to get her minivan back. It was up to Izzy to get the job done.

Jovan stepped out of the limo finally.

About time, she thought.

Another man in a dark suit followed. Izzy took a closer look.

Smokin'.

The thought shot from her brain to the tips of her steel-toed boots and ricocheted back to the top of her head.

The guy was at least six feet tall with thick, shoulder length brown hair and piercing blue-green eyes framed by dark lashes.

She straightened as if an extra inch could bring her closer to his height. Even then the top of her head would barely come to his chin.

But what a chin.

Izzy swallowed a sigh.

A strong nose, chiseled cheekbones, dark brows. Rugged features that made for an interesting—a handsome—combination in spite of a jagged scar on his right cheek.

Talk about character. He had it in spades.

Not that she was interested.

Spending her entire life surrounded by men, car mechanics, gave her an understanding of how the opposite sex thought and operated. The one standing in front of her wearing a nice suit and shiny shoes was trouble. Dangerous, too.

The limo, expensive clothing, personal aide and police escort meant he lived in a completely different world than her, a world where she was seen as nothing more than a servant or wallpaper or worse, a one night stand. Having to deal with mysterious rich people intimated her. She wanted nothing to do with him.

But she didn't mind looking. The man belonged on the cover of a glossy men's magazine. He moved with the grace and agility of an athlete. The fit of his suit made her wonder what was underneath the fancy fabric.

Everyone else around her seemed to fade into the background with him around. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had this kind of reaction to a guy. No doubt the result of working too much overtime. Time to take a night off and have some fun. That would keep her from mooning over the next gorgeous guy who crossed her path.

"You are Isabel Poussard." His accent, a mix of British and something else, could melt a frozen stick of butter.

She nodded, not trusting her voice.

His assessing gaze traveled the length of her. Nothing in his eyes or on his face hinted if he liked what he saw.

Not that she cared. Not much anyway.

A hottie like him would never be interested in a grease monkey like her. Still he was a yummy piece of eye candy. One she could appreciate.

Izzy raised her chin again, but didn't stare down her nose the way she'd done with Jovan. She wasn't ready to send this one on his way just yet. "You know my name, but I don't know yours."

"I am Prince Nikola of Vernonia."

"A prince?"

"Yes."

She supposed a prince would have a police escort as well as an aide, but this was just the kind of prank Boyd would pull and kid Izzy about for the rest of her life. She glanced around looking for a camera. "Am I being punk'd?"

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Thank you for joining us Melissa!


Join Melissa on her next stop on her virtual book tour at Grace Elliot's blog.

Click here for more information on Melissa's Virtual Book Tour.


15 comments:

  1. Thanks for having me, Kemberlee! I hope you're having a Happy Valentine's Day!

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  2. Hey Melissa,
    Happy Valentine's Day to you, too! I hope you're doing something special to celebrate . . . over and above a new book that is!!

    Congrats on the new release. I'm sure it'll be a hit. The heroine is very close to my heart, as I was raised by grease monkeys and have been into cars for as long as I can remember. :-)

    ~Kemberlee

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  3. I'm actually spending the day in bed. That would be really romantic except I'm sick. LOL! The dog and cats seem pretty happy about it so far today!

    Melissa

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  4. What a cute premise. I'm so glad my agent recommended I read your blog. I like that she thought she was being punked. You've peeked my interest I'll be looking for this book in my local stores.

    Nan

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  5. Thanks for stopping by Nan! I had fun writing the book and especially the characters. They are very different. That's where that "punk'd" like came in.

    Melissa

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  6. This is a fun read! I'm a fan. Hope you feel better soon.

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  7. Hi, Melissa. Being a twin myself, I'm always interested in twin stories. I'll make sure I get this one.

    Barb

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  8. Terri - I thought I replied to you, but it seems to have disappeared. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the book. I'm hanging in bed with my mac, my dog and my cats. Not a bad way to spend V-day!

    Barb - Thanks! I do want to let you know that the twins don't appear until the end of the story. Hope you're enjoying Valentine's Day!

    Melissa

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  9. Hi Melissa,

    Hope you get feeling better fast! You know I loved the book.

    Amy

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  10. Thanks for stopping by, Amy! Today was a very relaxing and restful day! I should be good as new very soon.

    Melissa

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  11. Sorry to hear you were sick, Melissa. I hope you're feeling much better today!

    Thanks for taking the time to visit us here at Hearticles. I hope you stop by again soon. We've really enjoyed it.

    Kemberlee

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  12. Thanks Kemberlee! It was fun! I set it up so I receive notices if anyone comments! For all those stopping by on my virtual book tour, remember your comment enters you in the book tour giveaway. At the end of the tour at the beginning of March, I'll be giving one commenter a $20 amazon gift certificate!

    Melissa

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  13. Congratulations to Nancy O'Berry. You've won a copy of Expecting Royal Twins. Melissa will contact you soon.

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  14. Hi Melissa--This does sound like a lovely story.
    Thanks for the chance to win a book.

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  15. I've sent Nancy her book! I really hope she enjoys it. Everyone will be entered in the $20 Amazon gc giveaway at the end of the virtual book tour. Thanks!

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