Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Writer's Wednesday: Lessons from a Harlequin Writer

This Writer's Wednesday, Molly O'Keefe shares the lessons she's learned while writing for the world's largest publisher of romantic fiction!

I’ve been writing for Harlequin for ten years. And I have wanted to write for Harlequin most of my life. And while the realities of a writer’s life - cold coffee, microwave popcorn and days upon days of questionable personal hygiene - are not particularly glamorous, they are highly fulfilling. Reading is easily one of my top five joys. It was one of my top three, but I’m a mom of young kids so sleep has been climbing the charts. And being able to provide another person with the same comforting thrill that I have always appreciated lying back in my bed and opening a new book is truly a humbling experience. But, not always an easy one. Writing is not easy and writing for the best selling genre is akin to walking a tight rope during an earthquake.

These are the four lessons I've learned writing for Harlequin:

1. You must have one eye on the news, a thumb near the pulse of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century, the ever bleeding soul of an optimistic poet and the skin of a Komodo Dragon.

While Harlequin provides an outlet for readers of any kind of romantic fantasy, the readers of the novels I write are looking not just for that pure Calgon Take Me Away experience, but they want a story and characters truly grounded in modern times, dealing with and finding joy and suffering from all the things that we experience. War, death, parenthood, addiction, education, crime, friendships, family, love, loss and sex.

Those critics that scoff at the genre don’t understand what reading these books provide - it’s a way to suffer and commiserate and ache along with a character, but as there all too often isn’t in real life, you’re guaranteed a happy ending.

Now, the skin of a dragon comes in handy in surviving those places where entertainment and commerce mix. Namely in dealing with print runs, editors, agents and critics. Getting published once is not a golden ticket, it’s an invitation to try harder, to work faster, deal with rejection better and think outside the box.

2. Friends and family particularly your husband must have a sense of humor because they will at some point be in a book. Change the names to protect yourself at family dinners, but when Aunt Gladys talks about when she got her breast caught in the mammogram machine and the fire department had to come and get her out - take notes.

Everyone always asks me where do I get my ideas. And frankly, here’s the truth. I steal them. I steal them from the people I overhear on the streetcar, from the news, from my friends, family, fans, from real life and from my imagination. The world is a really fertile place if you’re looking for seeds.

3. Sex may sell - but it's not easy to write on deadline. I've got two kids. I've had about six hours of sleep and 30 cups of coffee - so my stomach hurts. I'm not sure when I showered last much less actually touched my husband and today? I've got to write a sex scene. So - you may ask - how do I actually write the sex scene? I wait until my husband comes home and pour myself a big glass of wine and remember what life was like when I was nineteen.

4. The High’s are High, the Low’s are low and the Ruts are DEEP -

If they made a zoo of professions - this would be the writer’s natural habitat: hair a mess, sweat pants, four coffee cups and plates on top of stacks of books and papers on top of a desk that hasn’t seen daylight since it was set up. But getting out of that mindset is truly rewarding. Hemingway? Wrote in the morning and in the afternoon he went out to fill his well.

And perhaps drinking to excess and big game hunting isn’t your idea of well filling - but writer’s can’t work in a vacuum. If we’re writing about life - we’d better do a bit of living it.

Molly O'Keefe's new series THE NOTROIOUS O'NEILL'S starts this month with THE TEMPTATION OF SAVANNAH O'NEILL. She will give away three books - all you need to do is post in the comments!


  1. Hi!
    I just read the back cover blurb. Wow! What more could I ask for than a straitlaced librarian and a hero who is "good with his hands"? The possibilities are endless, LOL!
    Many thanks!

  2. I have the greatest admiration for writers. I know they sacrifice a lot for their craft. I can't wait to start your new series, I love series books.

  3. Interesting post, sounds like those lessons are well learned. These sweat pants are comfy though, should one really get out of the house occaisionally?
    The blurb sounds great and I'm looking forward to reading The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill.

  4. If you don't win a copy go out and get this book won't regret it! It's wonderful!!!

    A great posting, Molly and I agree with every word!! Writing is the hardest job I've ever had (okay, second to parenthood) and the one I love the most! (again, second to parenthood...and at times it a tie!)

  5. Soooooooooooooo relate to your post. Little kids, next to no sleep, trying to recall what my husband looks like nevermind the last time I touched him :) The only bit I can't relate to is the actually being published. But I'm working on fixing that!
    Can't wait to read the O'Neills!

  6. Great post Molly! I don't suppose you remember where you ordered your Komodo Dragon skin? Ha ha! I just love that comparison!

  7. Fab post, Molly - I'm coming up to 9 years with HQ myself and you could've been writing about my daily life, there *g*

    Thanks for making me smile this morning (in my office, with a desk covered in books and papers and coffee cups, haven't looked in a mirror but know the hair is bad, and I have to tidy today because the revisions went off yesterday and I need a clear desk and a clear head!)

  8. I look forward to this series which I've just learnt about. Thanks for sharing about writing for Harlequin.

  9. Wow - look at this! Thanks for such a warm welcome!

    Laney4 - you're right - the possibilities were endless and very fun write!

    Linda! I see you everywhere - thanks for stopping byu!

  10. Bec - I feel like the popularity of yago pants allows me the comfort of sweatpants and the ability to go out without embarrassment! Thanks for stopping by!

    Christyne! Hello you!It was great to see you in Orlando - I hope the rest of your summer has gone great. There are days - with writing when I can't believe I actually get paid for this amazing job and there are the other days when I'm pretty sure I don't get paid enough.

  11. Rachel! As I type this my son is climbing on my neck... good luck with the writing! Thank you for stopping by!

    Lacey - oh, I earned that skin but I wish I could tell you were to get it. It's the only way to survive in this business. Learning to not be so in love with my work that every comment hurt was a lesson well learned!

  12. oh Kate - the clear head clear desk connection....I wish I could remember what that was like. I work on a laptop these days so I don't have to look at my desk!!!

    Robyn - thank you for stopping by!

  13. Molly - when I loaded the blog I thought what a great piece - I laughed so much because it was both funny AND true!

    I especially laughed at this: "I wait until my husband comes home and pour myself a big glass of wine and remember what life was like when I was nineteen."


  14. Molly - Absolutely spot on depiction of a writer's life. Loved it!

  15. Ah Donna - to be nineteen again! Thanks for having me!

    Hi Leigh - it's not glamorous, but it is kind of fun!!

  16. So much I can relate to here, especially the "getting published is really just an invitation to work harder" bit. You're not kidding!

    I loved The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill. And as soon as Juliette showed up I thought, "Please, please let her be the heroine in an upcoming book." So I'm really looking forward to her and Tyler's story!

  17. I sympathise with the lack of sleep! - my daughter still wakes up howling even though she's three!

  18. Woot, Molly! I do love a librarian heroine! (I'd probably love a librarian hero, too, but I do love me some book-loving characters!)

    This new series sounds terrific--I'm a big fan of connected stories!

  19. WINNERS! Bec, Rachael Johns and Allison - please email me at molly AT molly - O'Keefe dot com

    thanks everyone!