Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thursday Talk-Time:: The Anatomy Of A Continuity

This Thursday at The Pink Heart Society Romance author Melissa McClone is here to talk to us about the Anatomy of a Continuity Idea...

Shirley Jump recently wrote a Thursday Talk-Time post about mixing business with pleasure when six friends proposed a six book continuity series for Harlequin Romance. I was one of the six and thought it might be fun to take an insider peek of just how this happened since normally continuity series are thought up the editorial staff, not authors.

On Thursday, June 22, 2006, Shirley emailed the following to a yahoogroup list made up of former Silhouette Romance authors who were invited to submit to the new Harlequin Romance line:
Here's an idea for us here... What if WE proposed a linked series of friends books? We pick a home base city (but one of the characters could go to Australia, for instance, for a vacation or something, so we can write a city we're comfortable with :-), come up with a group of friends for continuity, and then each write a friend's story. I'd like to see us as a group reap the benefits and I think we've all gotten closer here over the past year or so.
I think if WE came to the table with an idea, editorial would be tickled and hopefully go for it :-)

We all agreed it was a fantastic idea, but Judy Christenberry bowed out because she already had too many books to write! The six who were interested decided we wanted to put this together fast and get it out due to other deadlines and projects we all had. Shirley uploaded a first scene she'd written and the brainstorming began. On Tuesday, June 27, 2006, Susan Meier posted this:

So...What if we had a group of women, all of whom go to the same spa, who decide to do something good for one of the spa's employees, who has hit upon hard times.

Say for instance find her a new apartment, build her a house, help with her house or her other kids when one of her kids is in the hospital for an extended period of time, throw her a wedding --

Frankly, throw her a wedding is something that would work because it would take a long time to plan and everybody could have a different part and each person's part could be her book. […]

But when each does her good deed toward the wedding that they are throwing for this wonderful spa employee who can't afford a wedding, they also find their man...

Sort of like no good deed goes unrewarded...That could be our tagline. So we could call it Wedding Belles...making them southern belles...

We all loved the concept. Shirley offered to rework the scene she'd uploaded with the day spa/wedding angle. On Wednesday, June 26th at 4:37 am, Shirley sent this to the loop:

I reworked the first chapter and couldn't seem to make a Day Spa fit into this. Instead, I made them all the Wedding Belles, a wedding planning company, which I think makes it easier. […]

Anyway, give me your take on this. And someone please grab these other women and tell me what you want to do with them :-)

The Wedding Belles were born! It was time to pick which heroine we wanted to write about. There were four in the original scene and we'd need to add two more to make the continuity work for six books. Shirley claimed Callie from the get-go since she'd written the first scene from that character's point of view and this would be book #1 of the series, Sweetheart Lost and Found. Now it was up to the rest of us.

At 5:30 am, Susan Meier wrote: Now...If we're picking, I'd like Diane, the financial gal...except I have a sister named Diane so I'd have to change her name.

This character became Audra and is the heroine of Book #5, Millionaire Dad, Nanny Needed

At 6:57 am, Myrna Mackenzie wrote: Anyway, if no one objects, I'd like Regina. She sounds like a tough one (a married couple? Yikes) and I'm working things up right now, Shirley. I'll try to get that to you today or tomorrow if no one else has a problem with me voting for Regina.

Myrna, author of Book #2, The Heir's Convenient Wife, wrote this when I mentioned what I was going to blog about: That's funny about choosing the characters, so here's an addition, one I don't think I ever mentioned here. When we were choosing characters, I remember thinking "no one is going to want to take the married couple," so I raised my hand and said "I'll write Regina and Delll" or words to that effect (as if they were some poor, ugly puppies at the shelter that I felt sorry for--what kind of a reason is that for choosing characters, anyway LOL). Later, though, when I was struggling to figure out why a couple who had been married for a year couldn't be together but still ended up together I was cursing them myself for awhile.

At 7:36 am, I wrote: Can I have Serena? I already did a wedding planner who didn't believe in happily ever afters (she kept a divorce scrapbook of her clients!) so I'd rather have a character who thought it was possible, but then gets the rug pulled out from under her again. I like the idea of showing her having this boyfriend and then as others get lucky in love, her luck changes throughout all the books until she's the one without anyone.

At 12:50 pm, Linda Goodnight wrote: I could see myself doing the cakes (a heroine with a little extra hip who likes the chocolate ganache a bit too much. No, wait that's me. LOL!) My gal would ALWAYS bring the baked goodies to the Friday night poker game and the others don't know whether to hate her or love her for it. I like tossing babies or single dads in mine, too, so those may be my hooks.

Her heroine ended up becoming Natalie, widowed mom of two mischievous twins in Book #4, Winning the Single Mom's Heart.

At 2:09 pm, Melissa James wrote: I'll re-read the chapter and see what I like - but you know, if nobody else wants it, I could have the original wedding? She could be going through all these doubts and fears (maybe she's Aussie as well - transplanting nations permanently is scary) but they're giving her the wedding of the year and everyone's kinda depending on her...

This heroine became Julie, the beloved assistant of The Wedding Belles. Her story, Book #6 The Bridegroom's Secret, wraps up the series.

In just a few hours, we each had our characters. Not bad for all the different time zones and continents involved. Now it was time to figure out our books. I sent to this loop that same day at 12:08 pm:

Serena James dreams of marrying her Mr. Right. Even though she'd had her heart broken in the past, she hasn't given up on a happily ever after. In fact,she believes she's found her "one". Her boyfriend, Geoffery Oliver, is everything she wanted in a man. She's so certain he is her future husband that she begins designing her dream wedding gown. When her birthday rolls around she's positive she'll be receiving an engagement ring from him. Unfortunately, Geoffrey breaks up with her instead. Now she's alone on her birthday with only a box of tissue and a half completed wedding gown for company. What's a girl to do? All her friends and coworker are finding their Mr. Rights and coupling up and she's the single one. Serena resolves concentrate on her design business and forget about men (especially finding Mr. Right). But when her increasingly popular wedding gowns take her to a photo shoot for a magazine (or something else dress related), Serena meets DANGEROUS BADBOY. He's so-not-the-marrying-kind and her ultimate Mr. Wrong. Or is he?

By 7:43 pm that evening, the story had changed a little:
Still working on my characters' GMC, but here's what I'm coming up with so far plotwise. It's very rough, but I wanted some input before going on and with the time difference I may have it by the time I wake up! Do you think a plane crash is too far-fetched? I just need these two to spend time together somehow and [spoiler deleted], but I wanted to make sure it wasn't too much:)

My story: Belle, realizing the business is in trouble, asks Serena James to take her wedding gowns to a big regional bridal show to publicize Wedding Belles. Serena doesn't really want to go, but she seeks approval and avoids failure at any cost, so agrees. Belle arranges for a pilot (our dangerous bad boy, Kane Wiley) to fly Serena there and back. At the show, the two do not get along for a number of reasons, but the gowns are a big hit so Serena's pleased. On their way home, the plane experiences mechanical difficulties and has to make an emergency landing in the wilderness (where exactly will depend on our setting). The two are banged up and bruised, but otherwise okay. Somehow the plane ends up in a lake, swamp, on fire, in pieces, something...

Anyway, is the plane crash, middle chapters LOST scenario okay with you guys? I think (hope) once I know what makes these characters tick it won't sound so hookie.

Everyone else was doing the same with their stories. We spent the next few days putting together a proposal. The emails flew back and forth at light speed. We had it finished by July 3rd. A few things needed to be fixed, but it was pretty much good to go. On July 4th at 3:20 am, Melissa James posted this about the proposal:

So Kim wants to see it tonight and promised to read within two weeks...are Thunderbirds good to go???

They were, and the rest as they say, is history.

Melissa's contribution to The Wedding Planners is Book #3 SOS MARRY ME!, a June release and on the shelves now. Be sure to visit The Wedding Planners blog where you can enter a monthly giveaway by posting a comment. The pictures of Linda, Melissa, Shirley and Susan are from the 2007 RWA conference in Dallas.


  1. I love seeing the anatomy of ideas taking hold and becoming a viable property. Ladies, you've done a great job in putting this series together. I applaud you.

  2. Wow, that was a fun stroll down memory lane - I'd forgotten all the fun of putting it together, and how incredibly nervous I was when I pitched to Kim. I don't know if I'd ever been so shaky! But the amazing thing was she just said, "Love it! Can I have a bible for the continuity please?"

    I was left gobbling...

    The continuity was a ball to think up, even if Julie's book ended up a bit of a pineapple to write with all the moving overseas and stuff (though it gave me great insight into Julie and her homesickness - not to mention my daughter's wedding at the same time!).

    We did have fun, didn't we? And no fights. It was an awesome experience.

    Melissa J

  3. Thanks, Dru! It's much appreciated.

    And Melissa J, it was fun to look back! LOL on the no fights. As Shirley said at one point, we hung our egos on the door!

    Melissa M

  4. I have always been amazed and awed at how a group of authors who live on different sides of the world can sit down and write a continuity that is intertwined and believable.

  5. All I know, Ellen, is that Internet makes a lot of things so much easier. With email and file sharing, etc. No way could we have done this (or even come up with the idea in the first place) without using the web!

    Especially since that's how we all met...on a yahoogroups list!

    Melissa M

  6. Lol, my name is Natalie and I do have mischievious twins (boy/girl) Linda is soo onto something there.
    Great to hear how you combined together to write the series. And great to have such good friends/crit partners who keep you motivated.

  7. Too funny on having twins, too, Natalie! I hope they aren't as big of trouble-makers and Linda's pair.

    It is nice to have found such good friends! And we're hoping someday all six of us can be together in person. I think this year in San Francisco we'll still be missing one!

    Thanks for commenting!

    Melissa M

  8. I am in awe of all that y'all pulled together and fit together. Just, WOW!

  9. Thanks, Brandy.

    Sometimes I just look at the book covers on the blog and think, oh, wow, I can't believe we really did it!

    Melissa M

  10. Thanks for the memories, Melissa. The end product was so different from our very early brainstorms that I'd forgotten some of the original ideas. It was fun to revisit.

    Brandy and Ellen, I have to admit when we started, I kept wondering how it would ever work. But I was amazed at how fast and smoothly we put it all together.

  11. Thanks for bringing all that back, Melissa! Boy, I'd forgotten all those details. It's amazing how close to the original ideas we all stayed. My heroine was pretty much what I had in my first chapter (Callie, the burned-by-love-too-many-times and not-going-there-again florist, who meets up with a love from her past). And then we all brainstormed Belle, the owner of the business. It was SO much fun to develop this idea!