Tuesday, January 18, 2011


STOP PRESS - Winner of Kimberly Lang's book is Sunnymay!


I hope you have been - giving into the temptation of these fabulous books, that is - whether ordering online, picking them up at your favourite store (there's a special Pop-Up store in Selfridges for those of you lucky enough to be within striking distance of Oxford Street) or, those of you who found an eReader under your tree, downloading them for instant satisfaction.

My final guest for this launch party, and one of my own favourite authors, is the wonderful
Jessica Hart, who had a huge hit with her bestselling book OH-SO-SENSIBLE SECRETARY last year which brought this praise from Wendy, the Super Librarian reviewing on The Good, The Bad and the Unread...

"I loved this story. I loved it so much I want to marry it, have babies with it, and toss all my other books out the window so I can reread again without feeling TBR Guilt. I firmly believe that category romance, done right, is one of the most joyous reading experiences a romance reader can have. That’s what I felt when I finished this story. Pure, unadulterated joy. It’s simply, breathtakingly wonderful."

Those of you who read OSSS, will remember Phin's work-obsessed older brother, Lex.  For her launch book for Riva, Jessica has brought him back, taking him way out of his comfort zone with JUGGLING BRIEFCASE AND BABY.  But I'll leave her to tell you all about it.

Welcome, Jessica -

January is all about fresh new starts: new year, new resolutions (or in my case, old ones that I never got round to keeping last year, mostly involving getting fitter, dropping two dress sizes and being more disciplined on all fronts) - and now a new imprint from Mills & Boon, too.

Thanks to Liz, you’ve already heard from Kelly, Nicola and Kim, and seen the new covers – and here’s mine, the last in the launch month. I’m not mad about the pink, I must confess, and my hero, Lex, would never wear a pink tie (he’s much too buttoned up for that) but otherwise, this cover does what it’s supposed to do: it tells you what kind of romance you’re going to get.

The RIVA covers shout contemporary stories, with contemporary settings. In the case of Juggling Briefcase & Baby, there’s a hint, too, of the story’s hooks, the elements of a story that readers either love or loathe: the shoes and the glimpse of a teddy bear tell you there’s going to be a baby, while the briefcase in the title and the tie (maybe) point to the office setting. Actually, Juggling Briefcase & Baby is also a reunion story, and it has a ‘marriage of convenience’ hook. Excessive? Moi????

When I start writing a book, I usually begin with the hooks, but in the case of Juggling Briefcase & Baby I already knew my hero. I love reading (and writing!) stories with linked characters, and Lex first appeared as Phin’s stern, workaholic brother in Oh-So-Sensible Secretary. He was supposed to have an off-stage role, but somehow he became a character, and all the time I was writing Phin and Summer’s story, I was thinking about how much Lex, too, deserved a happy ending, and wondering what had made him the kind of man he was.

Juggling Briefcase & Baby is Lex’s story at last. Lex is a man who has learnt to keep his emotions well-hidden. Only once has he let his guard down, for one passionate week with free-spirited Romy, and he has vowed never to leave himself that vulnerable again. Now Romy is back, and she’s not alone: she has a baby daughter, Freya, and between them they’re going to turn Lex’s carefully ordered world upside down ...

What makes you pick up a story? Do you love sheikhs but pass over any story that features a baby or an older heroine? Hate royals and offices romances but pick up anything with an exotic setting? What about cowboys, reunions, friends into lovers, secret babies, city girls, Christmas or, my own personal favourite, the ‘marriage of convenience’ hook?

You can read an extract of Juggling Briefcase & Baby below, and if you’d like to win a copy of the whole book, why not leave a comment telling me about your favourite hooks?

‘HELLO,’ said Lex, dropping the credit card statement he’d been studying onto the worktop. There was no mistaking the coolness in Romy’s voice, and he eyed her warily. ‘How did you get on today?’
‘Well, I spent most of it accepting commiserations about having to spend three whole days with you,’ said Romy. She moved past him to start clearing up the debris from Freya’s supper. ‘Having seen the way you barely recognised me in that meeting, they all think you ignored me the whole time. If you want word to get round that we’re a couple, you’re going to have to try harder than that!’
Lex wrenched at his tie to loosen it. ‘I thought we’d decided not to make an announcement?’
‘Yes, because we want people to guess and start gossiping. They’re never going to guess if you look through me and have trouble remembering my name! You had the perfect opportunity to hint that you think I’m special, but no! She was very helpful,’ Romy mimicked his austere tones as she scraped the last few pieces of pasta from Freya’s bowl and let the bin close with a rattle. ‘Was that really the best you could do?’
‘What did you want me to do? Throw you across the table and ravish you in front of all your colleagues?’
‘A smile would have done it.’ Romy began closing packets and putting everything away. ‘That would have been so unusual they’d all have twigged straight away that there was something going on. As it was, none of them have a clue!’
‘Well, I’m sorry,’ said Lex stiffly, ‘but it felt awkward.’
‘You can say that again. I’m now the person who can spend three days with her boss without him realising that I even exist!’
Lex rolled his shoulders uncomfortably. ‘I suppose I was thrown,’ he admitted. ‘I knew you’d be there, of course, but it was … odd … seeing you in a work context.’
A little mollified, Romy wrung out a cloth and wiped down the counter. ‘I’d say you’d have to try harder next time, but we’re not likely to have another meeting together, are we? We managed to work in the same office for six months without even seeing each other. I wonder if we should go in together for a few days? Someone is bound to notice that.’
Lex was usually at the office by seven o’clock, but the next morning found him walking into the gleaming reception area with Romy almost two hours later. Normally, he would stride straight to the lifts, with a brief nod of acknowledgement to whoever was on reception. There weren’t many other people around at that time and that was the way Lex liked it.
Now he felt extraordinarily self-conscious. Although no one actually stopped and pointed, he could tell that his arrival with Romy – and a pushchair! – had indeed been noted and would provide food for much comment and speculation by the coffee machines that morning.
‘Well,’ said Romy awkwardly. ‘I’d … er, … I’d better take Freya to the crèche.’ Burningly aware of the covert stares in her direction – why on earth had she suggested this? – she mustered a smile. ‘See you later.’
‘Do you think I should kiss you?’ Lex muttered and her heart promptly performed a back flip that threw out her breathing completely.
‘Kiss me?’
‘We’re making an exhibition of ourselves just by standing here,’ he said, still talking out of the corner of his mouth. ‘We might as well really give them all something to talk about. You were the one keen to get the message across that I know you exist. I mean, that’s what couples do, isn’t it?’ he added when she hesitated. ‘Kiss each other goodbye?’
Romy swallowed. ‘Usually just a peck on the lips.’
‘I wasn’t thinking of sweeping you into my arms!’
Her colour deepened at the sardonic note in his voice. ‘Of course not.’ She cleared her throat. ‘OK, then.’
Lex put a hand at the small of her back to draw her closer and she lifted her face. It was ridiculous. They had kissed before. This would just be a brief brush of the lips.

But still her pulse was booming so loudly that the hubbub in reception faded to nothing in comparison, and when he pressed his mouth to hers, her hand rose instinctively to clutched at his sleeve of his jacket. The polished marble floor still seemed to drop away beneath her feet, and she was still intensely aware of the firmness and warmth of his lips, of the steely strength of his arm.
And when Lex lifted his head, she still felt hot and dizzy.
Lex’s expression was impenetrable as he let her go. ‘See you tonight,’ he said coolly and walked off to the lifts, leaving Romy to make her way to the crèche with burning cheeks.


Fabulous, Jessica.  I can't wait to read it.  So, have you actually seen one of the new covers?  They have an interesting new gloss/matt finish as I discovered when my copies arrived this week (after a long wait due to the snow!).  You'll find them all on the Mills & Boon website where you'll also find a longer excerpt from JB&BC by clicking on the "browse" link below.  Don't forget to come back and tell Jessica what you think for your chance to win a copy of her book.  (And don't forget to come back and check if you've won!)

From the book: Juggling Briefcase & Baby
By: Jessica Hart
Imprint and series: Harlequin Romance™
Copyright © 2010
By: Jessica Hart
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.c


Nell Dixon said...

Drat, I was trying so hard with my book budget now I've got a kindle, and you know I have to go buy this.

Jessica Hart said...

But Nell, here's your chance to win a copy instead and save on that book budget ...! Do you use hooks yourself, or love/hate them as a reader?

Nas Dean said...

Hi Jessica, Hello Liz,

This book has the perfect hook as far as I'm concerned. Unexpected baby and uninvited ex!

All the best for the release.

Jessica Hart said...

Thank you, Nas. And I'm glad you said 'unexpected baby' and not 'secret baby' as Freya is definitely not a secret! She's just a very unexpected intrusion in Lex's ordered life.

The reunion hook is always a powerful one, I think - certainly one that resonates with me personally!

Liz Fielding said...

Welcome, Jessica - a delight to have you with us.

The reunion thread certainly seems to have been a strong one in this month's RIVA releases. Maybe there's something in us that wants to go back and try to fix something that didn't work first time around.

Probably does better in fiction than reality. :)

Jessica Hart said...

Yes, the reunion theme came up a lot when Kelly, Nicola, Kim and I were doing a joint piece about our books before Christmas! At least three of us had used a reunion hook, but it's a good example of how the same element of a story can be used in a unique way, as the books are all very different from each other.

chey said...

I'm hooked. I have to read this book!

Jessica Hart said...

Thanks, Chey ... I hope you'll enjoy it!

Nell Dixon said...

I love hooks as a reader and as an author - reunion romances are lovely as you know there is that history there and I love Boss and secretary ones and fake engagements - happy sigh.

Kaelee said...

I love all kinds of romances but ones with babies usually get my attention. I also like older kids in a book. I love reunion stories as long as there aren't too many flashbacks. I really hate it when one chapter is the present and the next is the past. It takes a great author to pull that off and make it work for me. My heroes and heroines can be from any profession. I do love it when one of them is in a non traditional role though.

Michele L. said...

Oooo...Jessica your book sounds fantabulous! The cover is really dreamy too! Congrats on the rave reviews you received on your other book too! How exciting!

Ok, this book is going to end up on my keeper shelf for sure!

Happy New Year!

Jessica Hart said...

That's an interesting point about the flashbacks, Kaelee. I try to avoid them as much as possible, and make the characters talk to each other about their memories, but sometimes a flashback just can't be avoided ...

Nell, I'm with you on all those hooks!

And Michelle, thank you! Glad you like the cover. I'm meeting my editor today, as it happens, so I'll report the feedback!

Many thanks to you all, and especially to you, Liz!

Tamsyn said...

That was a great hook! Now I really need to know what happened next! I think hooks are important as it can really pull a reader into the story.

Janet said...

For me, the biggest hook is the author's voice/writing style. I go straight for the authors I've enjoyed in the past and if the first page hooks me in I buy the book.

After that, the hooks that could intrigue me are:
a)Babies/older children/parent searching for missing child. I'm not keen on unexpected pregnancies or sperm banks
b)Reunion of past lovers.
c)Doctor heroes.
d)A writing style with a touch of humour
e)Very intelligent ambitious heroines in very ordinary jobs (the type of heroines who would have been be in high flying careers if something hadn't happened to interrupt their education.)
e)Heroine has makeover or some kind of change of image
f)Hero and heroine are opposite in personality (I too loved Oh-so Sensible Secretary)
g)Quirky heroine involved in a deception. (She's pretending to be something she isn't.)I suppose that's a romantic comedy type of hook.
I'm not attracted to Cowboy heroes, strongly alpha males, royalty, Mediterranean heroes,

Janet said...

Jessica, do you think it's possible to write an intriguing romance novel without using one of the popular hooks?

Liz Fielding said...

Lots of great hooks there, Janet. Jessica won't be around today so until she gets back I'll have a go at your question.

I've written books without big hooks. (I'm particularly thinking of the one where two strangers are trapped underground in the dark and spend most of the book without being able to see one another).

Writers don't have a problem with doing without a basic hook, but it's tough for marketing.

It's a "tough sell".

While most of our readers undoubtedly choose favourite authors first, spend time considering their purchases, a lot of sales are made in supermarkets to frantic women grabbing the shopping in their lunchbreak, or with screaming toddlers in tow and who has seconds to grab her "time out" book.

They don't have time to browse the shelves and the title hook is a kind of shorthand.

Greek/Italian/Tycoon/Baby(probably not baby!)/Royal/Secretary/Sheikh...

She can choose her fantasy at a glance.

PS They didn't call my book Strangers in the Dark. :) or even Dark Encounter - which I would have liked. (Wrong series for "Dark" in the title!)

Janet said...

Thank you Liz. I hadn't thought about the problem of marketing a story that didn't have a popular hook/theme. I remember ages ago reading a discussion on hooks and Anne Weale said she didn't use any of the popular hooks in her stories. I aways wondered if this was a good thing or not :)

I've been catching up with my TBR pile and just finished reading Reunited Marriage In a Million. I loved it, definitely a keeper. Liz, if it were published this year --Do you think it would be a Riva or a Cherish?

Liz Fielding said...

Anne used to have wonderful titles to her books - Thai Silk for example? She was a dear friend and I miss her insight and wit. She could be a bit scary online - to authors especially! - but in person she was absolutely charming.

Liz Fielding said...

Riva or Cherish? Well, I've moved into Riva and I'm pretty sure Reunited would have been in that series.

Jessica Hart said...

I'm back! Very interesting post, Janet - you're clearly a thoughtful reader. Liz has answered better than I could, I think - I found myself nodding along as I read her reply.

I too think you can have a book without hooks and it can absolutely work. Last-Minute Proposal had no hooks ... but we had such a hard time finding a title (and the result was very nothingy for a fun book, I felt) that I vowed never to do it again!

Liz Fielding said...

Janet, I should have mentioned that the underground book was a follow-up to Reunited - Miranda's story. It's called Wedded in a Whirlwind - the worst title and a completely duh cover. But definitely Riva!

Liz Fielding said...

And do check out Jessica's blog on her "day out" yesterday in London and her encounter with RIVA in Selfridges, one of London's finest department stores.


Janet said...

Thanks Liz and Jessica. I'm learning lots from this comment thread :)

If a hook is a marketable element does that mean its a good idea for a writer to throw in more than one hook? (To attract lots of potential readers who each have their favourite hook. So that someone who doesn't care for cowboy heroes, but loves secret baby stories and Billionaire heroes might be tempted to buy a story called 'The Billionaire Cowboy's secret baby')

And how do you take the popular well-used hooks and turn them into an original, intriguing story? Should writers aim for a bit of a twist as well?

Janet said...

Oh, I've read Wedded in a Whirlwind.
I couldn't help thinking how difficult it must be to write a story that takes place in just one setting (a setting that's mostly in the dark!) But the story was gripping --- with loads of conflict and tension on every single page.

I shall have to read it again now I know it's Miranda's story. I do like linked stories :)

Liz Fielding said...

Well, Janet, I kick around an idea, solicit suggestions from the dh and when I've stopped saying "I've done that..."

The truth is, it's like reinventing the wheel everytime you start a new book and it doesn't get any easier. You just have to hang onto the fact that it's not the destination that matters, it's the journey. And there are a thousand ways to get from A to B (even if B is next door).

Jessica Hart said...

'The Billionaire Cowboy's secret baby' ... hhmmnn, it might work, Janet! Already I'm thinking, a billionaire cowboy, that's a contradiction in terms isn't it? Why would a billionaire pretend he was a cowboy? That's how stories start!

But the key to hooks is to give them the twist you mention. A hook is only a place to start. Your question about taking a popular hook and turning it into an original and intriguing story could be rephrased: how do you write category romance? Because that's exactly what romances are about: the same, but different.

Which is easy to say, but trickier to explain how to do it! I use hooks to set up a situation, but it's the characters who will make the story original. Who are they? How are they reacting to each other and the situation they find themselves in? Why do they react like that?

It's a big topic - too big to discuss properly here, I fear. I'm about to start teaching a writing course and will be putting up some craft posts on my blog as I go along. This is definitely something we'll be discussing there, so do try and stop by.

Janet said...

Thanks Liz and Jessica.

I love it when authors put craft posts on their blogs so I'll definitely stop by.