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Game of Hearts

Game of Hearts -- one of my mail-order bride stories -- was re-released this week in electronic format from Samhain Publishing, so I thought I'd share a fun fact about it. I wrote that book in response to a call from Kensington for a certain type of historical romance series where the books were connected by a common theme.  However, the idea had been lurking in my brain for a while, thanks to a call from a different publisher, Berkley, where the editors were asking for stories where the heroine's best female friend played a strong supporting role.

I really liked that idea/challenge. Think about most romance stories, where the heroine is isolated -- virtually no support group. An orphan, a sole survivor, etc. And if she does have a best friend, it's usually a male. A strong, female best friend is usually counterproductive to the plot, because we need our heroine to become magnetically attracted/anchored to the hero despite the fact that he seems dangerous, or unreliable, or criminal, or burnt out, or whatever.  And as we all know, if you've got a real best friend, she is not going to let you fall for that guy without a thorough vetting. Plus, you can rely on her to help you find your way out of a jam without any male help in many cases. And finally, when the hero is playing with the heroine's head, either intentionally or because of his demons, the best friend will bring ice cream and stage a full on intervention.

The best phenomenan ever in real life. In romance? It's a plot killer.

But the irony is, these smart, entertaining heroines are perfect candidates for having a best friend. The percentages of heroines-with-best-friends should be very high, but instead it's super low. Worse, if we let her make a friend during the book, it's usually the hero's sister or ex-wife or something. So once again, the deck is stacked in his favor, not hers.

Fine with me, actually -- it makes the story better. But I liked the Berkley idea enough to play around with it for a bit before filing it away, never actually putting pen to paper.  The idea I had was about two best friends who run away from their small town together and allow a matchmaker to turn them into mail order brides, provided that they end up in the same locale.  (Actually the original story was a little wilder, but I don't want to digress too much...)

So when my editor mentioned the interconnected-stories idea to me, I remembered the matchmaker/mail-order-bride company in my best-friends story, and thought it might make an intriguing link among several books -- same matchmaker, completely different couples each time. So I proposed it, and they bought three books, followed by two more.

I loved writing the story of Suzannah and Aengus, but also loved the story of the two friends, Suzannah and Megan.  And after that, I always asked myself at the beginning of a new book -- why doesn't this heroine have any friends? It's bad enough you've killed off her whole family! But does she have to be all alone?

Usually the answer is: yep.  But every once in a while, a heroine catches a break. Of my 20 published/contracted stories, 5 have allowed the heroine to have a female best friend (7 if you count sisters as best friends, which I absolutely do). On the other hand, there are 13 where she didn't have one, and of those 13, there were 6 books where a best friend would have been such a blessing for the poor, isolated heroine. Of course, that friend would also have ruined the plot, so....

There are a couple of lessons here. First, go and hug your best friend! And second, if you're in the market to get published, and you hear about one of these "calls" for a particular kind of story, you should play around with it even if you don't seriously intend to write something in response. At the very least, it's a great exercise and lots of fun. And who knows? It might get stuck in the back of your brain, percolating and evolving, and turn into a book without your even knowing it! 

Kate



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