Like a pitch, or a synopsis, writing a blurb for the back cover of a book is one of those incredibly-challenging “extras” that go with the job. And it’s not just the words you write, it’s how they look on the page.
My co-author, Susan Brown, and I drive ourselves crazy trying to get it right.
And are we ever glad we do because…. Making Up is Hard to Do, our third romance writing as Stephanie Browning, is a finalist in GSRWA’s first-ever “Open the Book” Back Blurb Contest — all one hundred and eighty-six words worth!.
Here’s how we broke it down:
From the author of
OUTBID BY THE BOSS and UNDONE BY THE STAR
Thirteen words above the title to let our readers know we have two other books “on the shelves.” We used upper case, “block” lettering to echo the font which appears on their cover pages.
Making Up is Hard to Do
Six words for the title, the same font as the front cover and centred to match the text above.
One hundred and forty-nine words of text. Three paragraphs in which to grab a reader’s interest with the set-up, character, setting, background and end with a flourish, because who wouldn’t want to know what happens next!
If she’d known Jack Rutherford would walk back into her life, more ruggedly handsome than the day he left, Nicki Hamilton would never have agreed to run the small-town accounting firm of Gammage & Associates for the summer. She would have stayed in Toronto and left the past where it belonged.
A committed loner at thirty-four, Jack is finding everything about the lakeside community of Bedford County tantalizingly familiar. Including the pithy Miss Hamilton…but the timing isn’t right. The Bedford Inn, once owned by his grandfather, is now Jack’s, and what he really needs is an accountant.
Resisting the urge to throw Jack out of her office when he doesn’t immediately recognize her, Nicki hides her fury and takes the job. Jack’s plan to refurbish the Inn intrigues her. Besides, he owes her. Big time. For fifteen years of silence, a dozen unanswered letters, and one broken teenaged heart.
And finally, right-justified so that it sits just above the barcode, a lovely eighteen-word quote from reader and reviewer, Alice Best Jackson.
“The rest of the world can wait when you’re reading a Stephanie Browning romance!”
Alice Best Jackson
Susan and I will be at the Emerald City Writers Conference in Seattle from the 26th to 28th of October. The winners of the “Open the Book” Back Blurb Contest will be announced on the 28th.
And we will also be at ECWC’s Passport2Romance on the 27th sharing the excitement with our fellow finalists, members of the general public, local and regional librarians, book club members and other authors.
Eighteen months earlier…
This was the morning I was planning to print out a partial first draft of my romantic thriller. I’m 25,000 words in, and feeling good even though I know I need to cut at least 5,000 words before moving on. Some scenes start too late, others ramble, and I have one secondary character who is so strong, she needs to be cut down to size. The good news is…my main characters are riffing off each other well, the emotional tension is building, and my convoluted plotline is, at long last, beginning to make sense.
So then why am I writing this piece?
Because there’s another manuscript out there sitting on an editor’s desk waiting to be read, and it’s driving me crazy. And while I know I should be plowing ahead on my work-in-progress, I’m starting to get antsy. Checking my inbox, messing about on the internet, doing the laundry….
It’s a pattern I’ve never outgrown.
And probably never will, so, here’s the plan. I’m going to take little miss bossy from my WIP and give her a book of her own because, when it comes to romance, three’s a crowd. And if the aforementioned editor, the one who’s going to call any minute now, is interested in one book, she may be interested in three.
Okay, now I’m thinking series. And, unlike mystery and detective stories, in the world of romance, the main characters only get one book. They may play a secondary role in another, but a new hero and heroine will take centre stage, and then they, too, will move on.
The rules apply whether it’s a contemporary romance set in a small town like Cedar Cove (see Debbie Macomber’s award-winning series), or a Regency-era quartet like Sarah Maclean’s “Rule of Scandals.” Because, when it comes to relationships, the possibilities are endless!
As for me…I think my new plan has potential, the laundry is done, and those 5,000 words I need to lose from my WIP may just find their way into another book…with little miss bossy in the starring role.
And with a little luck, my phone will ring tomorrow.
That was two books ago, and while the phone didn’t ring for that particular manuscript, Making Up is Hard to Do, our latest Stephanie Browning romance, is a finalist in GSRWA’s inaugural “Open the Book” contest for the best back-page blurb!
Winners will be announced next month at the Emerald City Writers Conference 2018!
Call it what you will, “the necessary” is the perfect setting!
It’s true; everything Susan and I have written together invariably features a bathroom scene. It is the most versatile of locations, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether our heroine is twelve or twenty-nine, sooner or later, she’ll have to go. Not that she actually ever “goes,” although in Outbid by the Boss, we had to give Samantha Redfern a break because…
“She really was bursting for a pee. And a little privacy because this, she fumed as she locked the cubicle door behind her, was probably her last chance for either.”
And it was. Sam never did get another chance to relieve herself in the entire book, at least not on the page. But she did get time for a frantic call to her friend Mia while her boss waited impatiently to whisk her away to his ancestral home where they, of course, fell in love.
Not all bathroom scenes end that way. From films to novels and series television, characters surreptitiously hook up with one another in public toilets, hide from villains in the one room in the house with the smallest window, and often meet their end in the most gruesome ways.
Nonetheless, taking refuge in the rest room is a time-honoured tactic.
It’s also useful if you don’t have an office in downtown Toronto. Back in the day, we used to collate our scripts in a seldom-used ladies’ room at the Delta Chelsea before we began writing romance novels as Stephanie Browning. Worked a treat!
In Undone by the Star, the second in our London trilogy, head concierge Alexis Kirkwood takes a ribbing in the staff lounge at the exclusive Sadler Hotel (we do like posh hotels) after a close encounter with a new guest…who just happens to be a drop-dead gorgeous movie star.
Alex uncapped her lipstick. “What exactly did you hear…not that I’m interested.” She touched up her lips, her face reflecting studied nonchalance.
“Well…” said Kate, “…according to my sources…first, Marc Daniels tricks you into personally escorting him to his suite, and then, mere moments later, the plumber wanders out of the loo to find Mister Daniels undressing you, with his teeth, ripping the teeny tiny buttons off your shirt while you pretend to fight him off…”
“Which you, of course, totally believe!”
“Are you kidding me! What woman in her right mind would fight him off?”
“Actually, I was swooning with ecstasy!” drawled Alex.
“Really?” Kate’s eyes threatened to pop out of her head.
“Nooo… If anyone got caught in the act, it was Bert. You should have seen him. Just as I was telling Marc there was a problem with the toilet, it flushes, and out comes Bert hoisting up the back of his pants!”
“And you’re blushing because….”
She’s falling in love. Alex might not know it yet, but we had it all arranged. Marc and Alec were destined to be together and, as far as we know, still live happily ever after.
Ironically, our first co-authored “toilet scene” was in The Mad Hacker, a juvenile mystery we wrote for Scholastic featuring 12-year-old super sleuths Amber Mitchell and Liz Elliot. Liz is hiding out in the girls’ washroom waiting for Amber when in walks Jane Dobbs, Amber’s arch enemy.
Liz leapt up on the toilet seat and crouched down, praying for balance and Amber’s speedy return.
“If you ask me,” Jane was saying to another girl in her unmistakable whine, “Amber’s hot for Jonathan. Why else would she stick up for him?”
“Amber always sticks up for people,” came the reply. “She’s been doing it since kindergarten.”
That has to be Karen Lee, thought Liz.
“Well I want to know where they are,” insisted Jane. “The police wouldn’t have sent for Jonathan if Liz and Amber had been at lunch. They’re up to something.”
“Probably,” replied Karen. ‘They usually are. But I bet they won’t tell you.”
“Come on,” said Jane. “Let’s go.”
“Just a minute. I have to go to the washroom.”
Liz lost her balance and almost fell into the toilet. Then the door swung open, and there she was, perched on the facilities like a vulture with cramps.
The colour drained from Karen’s face.
Liz grabbed some toilet paper and shoved it at her.
Karen stared back. “I think I’ll go later,” she called to Jane, then she grinned at Liz and shut the door.
We had a lot of fun with that scene, especially when we adapted The Mad Hacker for television — at which point “location” took on a whole new meaning!
The first time I saw Susan was at Camp Etobicokee. We would have been about eleven that summer, gawky in shorts and t-shirts and sticking fast to the kids we already knew. The morning activities were over and Susan was at a picnic table on the far side of the clearing eating lunch with her gang while I, and my group of hormone-ridden preteens, sat opposite eating ours.
The lines had been drawn. Nostrils flared, and for some inexplicable reason, Susan’s eyes locked on mine, and war was declared. And every day at noon from then on, we took up our positions and glared at each other with great hostility as we sipped on our chocolate milk.
I blame Hayley Mills.
The Parent Trap, the movie that had every girl desperately wanting to be an identical twin, had opened in Toronto two weeks earlier. With British actor Hayley Mills playing both parts, the “sisters” show up at Miss Inch’s Camp for Girls totally unaware of each other’s existence. Naturally, they become arch enemies, then best friends and one big happy family by the end of the film.
It took us a lot longer.
My family had moved to London; Susan’s had stayed in Toronto and then, all of a sudden, eight years had passed and it was time to go to university. I packed my bags and headed for Ottawa, picked up the keys to my dorm room and, with great excitement, opened the door and came face-to-face with my new roommate!
I honestly can’t remember what happened next. I suppose Susan and I were simply too stunned to do anything but declare a truce and divvy up the closet space. By the end of the day, we were fast friends, both studying journalism and sharing our “camp story” with anyone who would listen.
A dozen years later we started writing mysteries together, like the ones we read as kids. And even though we haven’t lived in the same city, or even the same country since university, and still don’t, we co-authored two highly-successful children’s mysteries — The Mad Hacker and Something’s Fishy at Ash Lake — and went on to adapt them for television.
Ironically, while checking the release date for the original version of The Parent Trap, I discovered that it, too, is an adaptation. The original book, Lottie and Lisa by German author Erich Kästner, was published in 1949. Kästner, who is known the world over for Emil and the Detectives, died in 1974, but his beloved tale of the resourceful Emil, lives on.
As does The Parent Trap, which was remade in 1998 staring Lindsay Lohan, allowing us to retell our “camp story” over and over again!
The Mad Hacker will be re-issued this fall.