When Chad first proposed the idea of writing a Harlequin novel to me I was a bit hesitant for approximately three seconds. Within that three seconds a number of thoughts went through my head. Would it be a valuable way to spend time? Would the entire world think we were gay? (By the way, Chad is actively interested in dating human females, so if you’re a friendly and intelligent lady and you’re likewise interested just let him know. No stalking please. I, on the other hand, am interested in playing more Mass Effect 2 and fleeing from any possibility of any romance with anyone as if it were a rabid dog trying to rip my neck out.) Most importantly, would I actually be able to do it? After that three seconds passed I said yes, because right now I’m spending too much of my time not writing anything at all, I’m never going to date anyone anyway so it really doesn’t matter what people think, and whether or not I could do it I figured it would be fun to try regardless. So far, it has indeed been fun, and we’ve actually come up with most of the plot already (which will be revealed soon). However, before we jumped the gun completely the two of us needed to slow down and create the author we would soon, to use the most pretentious word possible, inhabit.
You see, Chad and I never had any intention of publishing this work under our own names. We’re saving for more personal works, things we really care about. This is just a fun experiment, and as such we don’t want it to be tied to us and viewed against any future works we might create. Therefore, we decided to create a fake author whose name we could slap on the cover. However, we both agreed that this author should be more than just a name. Although we have very similar tastes in art and write about some of the same themes from time to time, Chad and I have noticeably different writing styles, both in terms of the kind of content we write about and the way we write about said content. For this to work, we would need to unify our styles under one banner, one unwavering approach. We reasoned that creating a fictional author whose point of view we could write from was a great way to do that.
Honestly, when this process began I thought that creating the author would be very entertaining. I would scour the web for statistics about Harlequin novel authors and use them to create a Frankenstein’s monster-esque figurehead for us to stand behind. However, when I began my research I discovered something disappointing: there are no statistics about Harlequin novel authors, or the novels themselves for that matter. There are statistics about romance novels, sure, but it would be a mistake to equate the two. Harlequin novels have a distinct style and formula, and their audience is markedly different. Reading stats about the latest Diana Gabaldon book wasn’t really going to help us. So, I did the only thing I could: I went on Harlequin’s site and went through their catalog, scouring page after page of results, looking for trends.
At first, I was a bit let down. I had always believed, for whatever reason, that Harlequin authors often used semi-ridiculous aliases. With that expectation in mind, I found that just about all of the authors I came across on the publisher’s site had perfectly reasonable names. The funniest one we came across was a woman by the name of Cat Schield, which I thought was brilliant. However, try though we might we simply could not think of a name as simultaneously ridiculous and plausible as hers. However, the longer I stared at these names the more clear one trend became: all of these women were definitely white. I mean, I can’t prove it, as I haven’t seen pictures of them and have no biographical data at all to go on. However, I can tell you that I looked through that list of authors several times, and the most ethnic-sounding name I found was Sophie. My belief in the whiteness of these authors was confirmed by looking at the covers of their books. Every single person I saw was white. Not a black, Asian, Hispanic, Arabic, Native American or Indian face among them. The other major trend I found was that all of these books were written by women. That was more expected based on what I knew about the series. Still, considering the popularity of some male romance writers I expected a male name to pop up occasionally. I read hundreds of results, and I saw perhaps one or two. So, after all of my “extensive research” I’d learned three things about our imaginary author: she was white, she was female and she had a normal-sounding name. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.
From there we began to fill her identity in a bit. She was middle aged, we imagined, perhaps in her early 40s. Despite writing about whirlwind affairs for a living her romantic past had been somewhat limited. She had been married to the same man for a couple of decades, and as it naturally does the flame had gone down a bit over time, the passion not necessarily gone but certainly diminished. Writing these books was her escape into a more exotic, adventurous and lustful world. She uses her stories as wish fulfillment just as her readers do, just as I do when I write a story about a person who leads a life which is more complex and entertaining than my own. She’s very conscious of the fact that she’s getting older, that her youthful appearance is fading. Perhaps she had a baby a few years ago and hasn’t managed to lose all of the pregnancy weight. Like me, like many people, she’s perhaps a bit uncomfortable in her own skin, self-conscious about her shifting appearance and the state of her body. Perhaps she wants to get outside of herself and enter an avatar, a creature of her own design which she can control and live vicariously through, a beautiful, capable, strong and romantic female protagonist who can do all of the things she cannot, or at least believes she cannot. All of this being said, she’s happy, or at least content. She loves her child and her husband, and she’s thankful to her readers, thankful for the opportunity to write for a living and, perhaps, to make someone else happy, if only for a moment.
As a writer she is direct. She has a strong vocabulary, but she doesn’t rely too heavily on “big words,” trusting that her readers will appreciate her candor. She uses more poetic language, however, when discussing the emotion of love. Love, for her, is harder to pin down than a plot point or the description of an action, and as such she simply cannot write about it in the same way. She likes to use metaphors when describing the love her protagonists feel for the recipients of their affection and desire because she feels that this brings her words closer to the truth, to the heart of their feelings. That being said, she keeps her books fairly short and lean, being careful not to overstay her welcome. She also tries to include something for everyone: plenty of romance, sure, but also a little action and excitement, and perhaps a little tragedy as well. She’s a fan of these books as well, so she takes what she’s looking for as a reader and applies that to her own work. She is, in short, an intelligent and intuitive woman in her early to mid 40s who knows how to write but also knows when to compromise to better tailor a story to the wishes of her audience. And her name is Suzanne Johnston.
Until next time, thank you for reading. And thank you for following this strange process with us. We’ll update you soon. -Max Castleman
Max Castleman is a thing from Ohio which is trying to make movies. It writes far too many lists and not enough poems and keeps attempting to write a novel. It likes the average dog more than the average person. Some people think it’s a bit strange, but it thinks they’re strange too. It thinks that’s a good thing. It is currently writing about itself in the third-person.]