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Behind the Scenes of a Connected Series at Harlequin: The Making...

I emailed Sarah Morgan and asked if she would take us into the world of connected series books. Mills & Boon published a terrific, eight book connected series called the Notorious Wolfes (US) or Bad Blood (UK). Heroically, she came through with insight from the Harlequin Presents editor and all of the eight authors. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes.  Part one posts today and is about the backstory. Part two posts tomorrow and is about the individual stories.

The Notorious Wolfes

 

Behind the Scenes of The Notorious Wolfes

Lucy Gilmour, Editor Harlequin Presents

I think it’s a truth, unanimously acknowledged here in Harlequin’s London office that we LOVE brainstorming continuities – and if you were twisting my arm I’d have to say that The Notorious Wolfes series has been my absolute favourite so far.

Commissioning continuities for a series allows authors the scope to deliver a bigger read whilst sticking to their series word count – not only does the reader get a hero, a heroine and a happy ending, but also, in this case, the opportunity to get to know the whole family – the good, the bad…and even the ugly.

So how did we put the idea together? I’m glad you asked…

First of all, we decide on the setting – has Harlequin Presents recently been flooded with Sheikhs / Greeks / Italians? What would add strong variety to the line-up, but also deliver the glamour and intensity readers expect? And we also like to try something just a little bit different – in the case of the Wolfe family we made them British, and conceived a dangerously dark and rather more murky past than usual.

Next step – research! We’d never be able to come up with half the sensational exploits without the scandals of celebs through the ages. So we trawled through magazines and websites looking for suitably scandalous inspiration. Up to date with the essential pop culture, we armed ourselves with a LOT of coffee, sufficient amounts of biscuits (sugar really helps!) and off we went…

The Notorious Wolfes was brainstormed by eight editors, locked in a meeting room for around an hour a day. It was massively intense, but so very rewarding. There’s definitely a real creative buzz in the office when there’s a continuity brainstorm on the go.

Creating the Wolfe family came first. We had SO much fun coming up with the sordid and brutal past of patriarch William Wolfe and definitely get carried away (hence the 81 pages of the final continuity ‘bible’ – 15 pages of which were devoted solely to William, who is dead before the continuity even opens!!) Get that many creative and romance–loving brains in a room together though, it’s a wonder that we pulled together a document that made any sense at all!

Then it’s on to the individual stories… We know in advance which authors will be writing which book, and we kept that in mind when creating their characters. We try really hard to stick to just set up the hero and heroine, their conflicts and pasts…it’s no secret that we can get really carried away. However, what’s so important to us is that the authors feel able to connect with their characters so we try very hard not to be too prescriptive.

As mentioned, we draw a LOT of inspiration from real-life notorious families and Hollywood A-listers – so as we’re brainstorming, most of the characters are known by their ‘celebrity’ namesake. It’s only right at the end that they get give a proper name! For example, can you guess which one the tortured and tormented Wolfes, was 100% Christian Bale… in fact, he’s still referred to by editors aplenty as Christian!

By the end of the process (usually about 2 months of daily meetings) the bible is ready to be sent out. Not only did we felt like we knew the Wolfe family better than our own but were all not-so-secretly in love with at least one of the heroes –  I have to admit to being torn between two…which is no hardship!

The books are edited by the author’s individual editors, and are then given a ‘continuity edit’ by one editor – hopefully to eliminate any major timing gaffs etc. However, from the moment the first Notorious Wolfe manuscript was in house they were being frantically e-mailed around the editorial team – we just couldn’t wait to see these stories come alive.

The next Harlequin Presents continuity, The Santina Crown is coming in April 2012 – we hope you enjoy….it’s over to you to guess the celebrity inspiration behind each of the characters! Coincidentally, we’ve literally just started to brainstorm the continuity for 2013 – so if there’s anything you’d like to see, now’s the time to let us know…

The Wolfes

THE BIBLE

Written by Caitlin Crews.

The “story bible” is the foundation of any continuity series.  The purpose of the bible is to lay out the world as well as the background details and shared history of all the characters in the series, so that the individual authors will be able to use it to tell separate yet connected stories set in the same universe.  The bible also lays out the basic plotlines of each of the proposed books, and notes certain details each story must contain in order to advance the larger continuity plot.  But this isn’t the same as being handed a detailed plot synopsis or outline, by any means.  The bible creates a foundation and suggests some architecture for the series and the separate books, but it’s up to each author to build a rich story of her own.

The Wolfe bible was 81 pages long.  It reads like its own book!  It starts with a newspaper article describing Nathaniel Wolfe’s precipitous departure from a London stage (which opens the first book in the series, Sarah Morgan’s A Night of Scandal) to give us a taste of the story but also show us what kind of people the Wolfes are.  Then it tells the long, scandalous, and often heartbreaking tale of William Wolfe and the women who bore his eight children.  It’s very detailed.  The bible also gives us the real story of Jacob Wolfe, whose reappearance is such a major event in his siblings’ lives.  Then the bible breaks down each of the eight different books.  In the Wolfe series, they gave a lot of backstory for each character, and then sketched out the basic plot they wanted us to write.  If the author finds that some of the details don’t work on the page as she writes, though, the editors are usually quite open to hearing suggested changes—they do very much want the authors to make the books their own.  At the end of each plot sketch, there are some bullet points of continuity items—for example, characters who need to talk to each other, or certain relationships that have to be shown building in, say, book two so the author of book five can really hammer them home.  The bible contains a selection of pictures (of Wolfe Manor, for example, so everyone was describing the same place) and a detailed time line of everything that happens in all eight books, as well as a historical timeline of all the history mentioned throughout.  There’s a family tree and, finally, a detailed character chart noting all the characters’ looks, heights, ages, significant others, and so on.  It’s quite extensive!

In addition to the bible, the authors usually set up an email loop where they can all discuss the continuity together.  They also tend to email back and forth when using each other’s characters in their books, to make sure the characterizations stays consistent throughout.

The editors suggest that all the authors read through the bible and refer to it, but then let it sit in the back of their minds as they write their own stories set in this world they’ve built. I hope readers feel we all pulled this off!

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

27 Comments

  1. CK
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 10:47:39

    That’s really cool to read how series come together. Thanks for posting. I can’t wait to read more. I confess I’m a cover snob. Whereas I totally passed the US covers, the UK covers always got my attention and I ended up buying A Night of Scandal because of it.

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  2. library addict
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 11:05:14

    Interesting that the editors are the ones who actually come up with the characters.

    I usually enjoy the various Harlequin connected series, but prefer when they stay small. The Fortunes grew totally out of control, so at a certain point I will only buy/read the entries by my favorite authors. But in the beginning it was a nice way to discover new authors.

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  3. library addict
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 11:12:06

    Favorite authors. Eek, where is the edit function?

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  4. Janine
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 11:53:51

    @library addict: I edited the word for you.

    @Jane, Lucy Gilmour and Caitlin Crews: This post was fascinating. Thanks so much for putting it together and sharing a behind-the-scenes look for how this series came about. The description of the brainstorming sessions at the Harlequin offices sounds a bit similar to the way I’ve heard TV show episodes are brainstormed by the writers of TV series.

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  5. Brian
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 12:04:27

    Very cool article. I’ve read the first four of these and found that I enjoyed them. I’ve got the rest waiting to be read someday.

    Thanks to Sarah Morgan and Jane (and the authors & editors who contributed). Insider looks like these are something I always enjoy.

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  6. Dawn
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 12:25:50

    Thanks – this was a very interesting article. I read and enjoyed the entire series.

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  7. Sarah Morgan
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 12:33:09

    We all had a lot of fun writing this series. If anyone has any questions feel free to post them in the comments and we’ll be happy to answer them!

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  8. Lynn Raye Harris
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 12:39:14

    Seconding Sarah’s statement. Ask away! Also, I want Lucy to tell us which hero was Christian Bale. Because I totally used a picture of him as my inspiration for Jack! (I’m guessing it wasn’t Jack, but that’s how I saw him.) I used a brunette Rachel McAdams for Cara. It’s kind of fun to hear they had celebrity inspiration — and now I want to know them all. ;)

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  9. Loosheesh
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 12:58:05

    Great article! I recently finished the series and, except for one book, enjoyed it very much, and I’ve been wondering how continuity series are put together. Fascinating and very interesting behind-the-scenes look; looking forward to part two!

    It’s also nice to learn the lingo; I normally call them ‘dynastic’ series, and the Notorious Wolfes is only my 2nd such series, the first being The Elliotts, from the Silhouette Desire line.

    @Lynn Raye Harris: I’d also like to know which hero was inspired by Christian Bale, to see if it matches with my guess. Christian Bale is my favorite actor – to me, he just can’t be beat for the intensity he brings to every role he plays.

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  10. Dani Alexander
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 13:23:34

    Wow, I’m impressed. I don’t think I could connect to a character I didn’t create. Kudos for authors that can grab the reins like that. I love the continuity bible though. I’m so stealing that idea!

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  11. Kate Hewitt
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 13:34:42

    Was Nathaniel based on Christian Bale, since they’re both actors? I’m not sure either! I absolutely loved being part of this series and I always find the continuity bible and back story so fascinating.

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  12. Lucy Gilmour
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 14:10:01

    Good guess Kate….but it was actually your hero – Jacob! As his character appears in all eight books, we felt like we really needed to understand who he was…and how he’d overcome such a dark & tormented past. Christian just seemed the natural (and easy on the eye) inspiration!

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  13. Debbie Haupt
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 14:41:54

    I loved the whole series, how different the family was how they did and did not share the same past and by the time The Lone Wolf came out I knew all I ever wanted to know about the Notorious Wolfs, my favorite was The Girl that Love Forgot, but I loved them all.
    Deb

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  14. Darlynne
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 15:27:18

    I’m sure my non-existent Harlequin street cred will take a serious hit when I admit: I had no idea about continuity, connected series, none of this. And now I am completely fascinated, Thank you, Jane and all participants, I can’t wait to start reading.

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  15. Ros
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 15:29:07

    I thought it might be Nathaniel, too.

    I did love this series a lot. In fact, I think I might need a re-read…

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  16. Kate Hewitt
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 15:32:19

    Oh wow, Lucy, I wouldn’t have guessed that! I’m thinking Christian Bale in Batman? This is funny because I used to be semi-obsessed with Christian Bale a long time ago… wonder if I should have admitted that…? I did love writing Jacob :)

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  17. Debbie Haupt
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 15:50:12

    Thank you for the behind the scenes look at one of my favorite series, I know that by the time I finished The Lone Wolf I knew as much about the Wolfs as they did. My favorite was The Girl the Love Forgot, how could you not love the damaged protagonist, but they all held very special places in my heart.
    Great to know there’s another one around the courner

    Deb

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  18. Loosheesh
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 15:54:24

    @Lucy Gilmour: Cool, my guess was for Jacob! Lucas and Jacob are still competing for my designation of favorite hero of the series; a re-read in the not-too-far future may be in order so I can decide ;-)

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  19. Lynn Raye Harris
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 16:08:12

    I suspected it was Jacob. I pictured Christian Bale as Batman, when he was off learning how to fight in Tibet (or wherever it was; can’t quite remember), and I remembered that Jacob had gone on a journey sort of like that. But I still used a pic of him for Jack. ;)

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  20. jayhjay
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 16:59:26

    Wow, really interesting how they put it all together. I guess it is similar to creating a TV series with different script writers. Great article!

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  21. Ros
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 18:01:02

    @Loosheesh: Lucas is my favourite. I love the reformed rake trope.

    ReplyReply

  22. Bookish News and Publishing Tidbits 21 February 2012 | Read in a Single Sitting - Book reviews and new books
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 18:25:09

    [...] Behind the scenes of a Harlequin connected series: [...]

  23. SonomaLass
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 01:48:13

    What an interesting post! Can’t wait to read more. I enjoyed the first book when we read it for the SBTB book chat, and I bought the second book then let it languish in my TBR. I have now started it and I’m committed to finishing the series. Some of the authors are new to me, so it’s a fun voyage of discovery.

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  24. valor
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 03:52:12

    I wish Harlequin would sell them in an ebook bundle like they did occasionally for the “dynasties” connected miniseries. Not only did it guarantee that I got all the books, but they were automatically in order and together on my ereader.
    Still, I love big ol’ families, and will probably buy these.

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  25. Artemis
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 05:59:14

    When I saw the blurb for this series, I just knew it had to go on the TBR and that’s exactly where it is. Now I know it has to be moved up. And quickly!

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  26. DHM
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 10:39:31

    Thank you for the insight on doing a continuity series. I’d love just being able to read the 81 page Bible you came up with. DHM

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  27. Harlequin Presents…a Bunch of Links :) | I (Heart) Presents
    Jan 09, 2013 @ 11:27:52

    [...] did not one but two features on the creation of The Notorious Wolfes/Bad Blood miniseries. In Part One, editor Lucy Gilmour blogs about how the Harlequin Presents editorial team brainstorms a continuity [...]

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