|Mary-Theresa Hussey: Luna Rising|
When the first whisper of a hint of a new women's fantasy line to be published by Harlequin Books shook the writers' grapevine late last year, writers and fans of both romance and fantasy, to put it mildly, went nuts. Books that combine strong female characters, fantasy elements and, often, a healthy dose of romance don't get much respect from critics, but writers like Anne McCaffrey and Laurell K. Hamilton routinely ride the bestseller lists. While even lesser known writers such as Patricia Briggs command amazing prices on the electronic auction and resale market. The introduction of a "woman's fantasy line" by the giant of romance publishing goes a long way to recognizing the importance of this thread in modern fantasy, not to mention giving readers a bigger serving of the kind of books they obviously enjoy.
For published and not yet published writers, Luna Books represents a chance to write the kind of stories they've been itching to read. A longtime fantasy fan who believes that vivid characterization, world-building, imagination and compelling writing cross all genre lines, Luna Books Executive Editor Mary-Theresa Hussey welcomes this opportunity to move into the "real" fantasy market. In her first in-depth interview on Luna Books, Hussey tells Crescent Blues her hopes for the new line…and its writers.
What inspired Harlequin to name their new fantasy line Luna?
We were searching for a word that was elemental, powerful, mystical, female and yet accessible. Luna seemed the perfect combination of all of that!
What are the guidelines?
They are available through the Learn to Write channel on our www.eharlequin.com website. We are in the process of setting up a website, but it won't be ready for a little while.
What do you mean by "female-focused fantasy?" Could you give us any examples of writers and novels who you'd suggest as models?
Mercedes Lackey, Catherine Asaro, Barbara Hambly, Sarah Zettel, Jacqueline Carey, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Hayden and Cecilia Dart-Thornton are a few examples of the type of authors we'd love to publish. We're honored to have the first four under contract for various projects. All those writers create strong, admirable, courageous, powerful female characters who are able to achieve their goals on their own. But each female lead also has a vulnerable side, and a varying degree of romance appears in their stories.
Are you looking for specific settings -- quasi-medieval, futuristic, steam punk, etc? Alternately, are there any settings you'd like potential writers to avoid?
We're open to any kind of fantasy setting. Although in the first year Luna will probably focus on alternate historical or traditional fantasy instead of contemporary or futuristic novels, we are considering those stories for down the road. We're looking for imagination, creativity and fully developed worlds. We are not looking for settings that aren't original or have inconsistent rules. A believable, consistent, fantasical world with a compelling female lead coming to terms with her powers and society is the key to a Luna title.Are you looking for a specific type of heroine -- butt kicking chicks, younger heroines in the Sleeping Beauty mould, average Janes, etc.?
The heroine needs to start out in a strong way. We don't want her to be a pawn or weak or a complete victim as the story opens -- there needs to be strength and the potential for greatness or tragedy. "Butt-kicking" is an excellent word, as is "powerful", "physical", "cerebral", "capable", "creative", "determined", "magical" or "charismatic." We aren't looking for very young heroines that might seem more suited to the young adult market. We're looking for growing, adult women who have power and build upon it.
Will you consider stories with multiple points-of-view, or should writers strive for limited third-person or first-person narratives?
We're open to multiple points of view -- however, the majority of the story should be told from the heroine's perspective in order to enhance her role.
Are you exclusively interested in stand-alone titles?
We're open to stand-alone titles, but also duos or trilogies that are based upon setting, location or characters. We'd love to see a strong trilogy idea, with the character arc growing over the course of the story. Sarah Zettel is planning to write another Arthurian story for us, and Michelle Hauf is also writing a sequel to her first novel. And we're hoping to continue that tradition with the other authors.
Under what conditions would you consider a series?
We'd consider series under any conditions! Each novel should probably have a sense of completion of one aspect of the story arc, but the final arc could still be open.
What provision will be made for rights to series characters?
That is a contract negotiation point, and will be discussed at that time.
How long do you expect individual titles to remain on the shelves, and what provisions will be made for reprints?
Like other fantasy titles our books will remain on the shelves as long as they are being sold. Luna books will be part of our very active backlist program. Most titles will be originally issued as trade paperbacks, and we hope to reissue the title as a mass-market paperback with the advent of a new title from the author, or as needed.
Does Harlequin plan to offer book club editions?
We hope to offer titles to our direct market readership at some point.
What level of eroticism are you looking for?
As appropriate to the story. The level of sensuality will vary as per author or story. There should be a romantic element to the story, but we are not specifying consummated relationships between the hero and heroine. There might even be other relationships going on over the course of the story or series.
How many titles will the line publish each month/year? Is there a chance that number will grow?
We will be starting with one title a month for the first 12-18 months, and certainly plan to grow and expand the market as we become more established and receive the right submissions.
Does Harlequin's move into this arena signal their interest in broadening their genre base? Do you foresee the company developing "straight" sf/fantasy or mystery imprints?
Luna is aimed at the "straight" sf/fantasy market. They are not aimed at the romance market, though we believe some romance readers will appreciate them. Our primary aim is to reach a new audience with satisfactory fantasy novels that contain romantic elements. And yes, Harlequin Enterprise is going to continue to grow beyond the traditional romance markets into all aspects of women's fiction.
How will the books be distinguished from Harlequin's more traditional romance lines? Will they be a different size or will the covers have a special style?
Again, these are not traditional romances, not paranormal romances. These are fantasy novels that have a romantic element. The relationship between the hero and heroine is secondary to the story. The relationship should not be the main goal of the story or the resolution of the conflicts. Luna books will be marketed as fantasy novels, appear in the fantasy section of bookstores and will be approached as fantasy novels in the design elements. The initial plan is to offer trade size novels, with covers that are individual to the title. The logo (a crescent moon with a face) will be the only consistent element.
Might this be a new market for SF/Fantasy artists?
Yes, we will be looking for new artists as well, and our art department has been looking at competitive covers and artists.
Are you currently accepting manuscripts?
Yes, we are looking at manuscripts from published and unpublished authors -- there have been many coming in, and we're striving to catch up.
Are you commissioning stories from published authors or are you relying on agented submissions and slush pile?
I approached some authors and agents whose novels I've enjoyed for our launch titles, a Harlequin Historical author submitted a fantasy proposal, and another published historical/paranormal romance author sent in a wonderful manuscript. I'm reading a number of projects from talented authors. I will say, however, that the five main reasons I've turned down projects are:
Will you accept partials from published authors?
Yes, we will look at partials from published authors.
Will Luna will be work for hire?
No, Luna is not a work for hire publisher. We have competitive single title contracts.
As an FYI, the vast majority of published books from any of the Harlequin/ Silhouette/ Mira/ Steeple Hill/ Red Dress Ink/etc. divisions are not work for hire in any form. We do have some editorial driven "continuities." In those titles, the editors come up with the overall linkings between the series, the characters and conflicts and the themes of individual stories, write a treatment, and invite selected authors to participate. We do retain the copyright for those titles, but the author receives full royalties for her work. Most mini and connected series have the authors developing their own ideas, and in that case, the author retains the copyright as well as the royalties.
In some cases for our eHarlequin Web site, we may buy out the rights to selected works. And I believe that our men's action adventure stories may have different rules. However, the books that are published through all our main channels are not considered work for hire.
In general, what will be the royalty structure (e.g., will it follow the model of a category romance or a single title)?
These are single title novels.
Will you consider electronic queries or submissions?
We prefer hard copy, but for overseas authors, I have accepted some electronic copies.
What led you to accept the post as editor of this new line? Did you have a prior interest in fantasy?
I've been a long-time fan of science fiction and fantasy and have always talked about the possibility of Harlequin doing more with these themes. I worked on some of the Shadows titles, and as senior editor for Silhouette Romance worked on the "Soulmates" thematic stories that had paranormal elements. So I was delighted by this opportunity to move into the "real" fantasy market with authors I have always enjoyed. I'm a fan of a broad range of sf/fantasy -- along with the authors mentioned above, I never miss the next [Lois McMasters] Bujold, [David] Eddings,[Steve] Lee/ [Sharon] Miller, [Robin] McKinley, [Tanya] Huff, [Elizabeth] Moon, [Anne] Bishop, Foster, Charles deLint, Bunch/Cole, [David] Weber, [David] Duncan, [Julie] Czernada, David, [Terry] Goodkind, [Doranne] Durgin, [Patricia A.] McKillip, [Laurell K.] Hamilton, and so many others! Vivid characterization, world-building, imagination and compelling writing can cross all boundaries.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Just that in a time where much of publishing is contracting, Harlequin Enterprises has a growing outlook. By mid 2004, we should be publishing around 100 original titles a month in a variety of single title and series publications. We have a commitment to delivering quality fiction to our readers and a willingness to develop beyond our traditional romance focus to the broader range of women's fiction. Our publisher and CEO, Donna Hayes, has also been a long-time fantasy fan whose support of this program has been instrumental. We're confident that we can do this right and continue to expand, and I'm looking forward to seeing new projects for Luna.
Jean Marie Ward