WOMEN OF BLAZE: What Turns Them On

(A speech given at the RWA Conference in New Orleans, July 2001)
Presented with Brenda Chin, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Carly Phillips
Copyright © 2001 Julie Elizabeth Leto

When Brenda first called me about Blaze, her timing couldn’t have been better. I’d written only four books for Temptation at that point, but I was already starting to feel a little restless. Restlessness usually isn’t in my nature, but the symptoms were there. As much as I love Temptation…and I do and will continue to write them as long as they’ll have me, I wanted to do something different. I NEEDED to do something different. Not to spread my wings, necessarily, just to soar in another direction, to see some different scenery.

Now, most people don’t think there is a difference between Temptation and Blaze—and they couldn’t be more wrong. I won’t begrudge them being wrong because they haven’t read the Blazes yet. But since my first Blaze was, like Carly’s, conceived as a Temptation (and to make it even tougher to distinguish—a Temptation Blaze), I think I can speak to this aspect of writing for Blaze.

What is the difference between a Temptation and a Blaze?

Like Vicki, my heroine drives my story. I agree with everything she’s said about creating a heroine who is strong enough to embrace all of the wild, sexual things that she’s about to experience…with my wild, sexual hero. That isn’t to say a Blaze can’t be hero-driven, just that the Blaze heroine, since she is the character with whom the reader will likely most identify with, deserves special consideration for all the reasons Vicki pointed out.

But this wasn’t new for me. I was already writing strong, sexually daring women for my Temptation Blazes. Heck, I think that’s how I finally broke through and SOLD to Temptation in the first place back in 1997. (Besides the fact that these truly are the only type of heroine I like or would write about even if I wrote for some other line.) Give me a brassy, sassy, sexy heroine any day, thank you very much.

Like Carly, I realized the sexy premise was important…and like her, I was already doing that, too. I was already writing stories designed to make me and my reader squirm (she is so right about the seat squirming part, I thought it deserved repeating.)

So what would be the difference?

Enter, again, our editor, Brenda Chin. She gave me a word.


I like that word…and apparently, it likes me. With that one word, I came up with the idea for my first Blaze (which, like Carly’s, will actually be my second Blaze…and I will explain later.)

EDGY to me meant sexual, but with a strong dose of the forbidden. EDGY means taking that forbidden sexual concept and making it work within the context of a romance. None of my Temptation Blazes had crossed that line. So when I put together my first idea for the new Blaze, I dove into the world of fetishes and true sexual fantasies…the kind of stuff you’d NEVER read about in a category romance.

My first idea was Voyeurism. I wanted to explore that particular sexual fantasy, but I wanted to do it within the safe context of a romance novel, which the Blazes are. (They are published by HARLEQUIN and you’ll be very wise not to forget that if you are trying to sell to Blaze.)

So for JUST WATCH ME… my Blaze that will be out in March of 2002, my heroine is a private investigator whose firm doesn’t always adhere to the laws regarding legal surveillance (which is also a little edgy since category heroines and heroes are usually required to act unequivocally heroic. Her uncle, the owner of the firm, orders his Tech Team to install mini-cameras and microphones in the house of a man they suspect of insurance fraud. Jillian Hennessy, my heroine, is on her first field assignment. Her job—to watch the suspect. Only her uncle has trouble with numbers, so the wrong house is wired. Jillian ends up watching the neighbor next door, Cade Lawrence. And Jillian, who admittedly likes sex and hasn’t had any in a long time, can’t tear her eyes away. She watches him work out. She watches him shower. She watches him sleep. By the time they finally meet, she’s completely enthralled with him.

What she doesn’t learn until later is that he’s also on an undercover mission to watch the next door neighbor—only he’s a cop. Meaning he adheres to the LAW.

The watching—the voyeurism, doesn’t stop there. Eventually, Jillian has to come clean about her snooping and she uses the cameras and videotapes to turn up the heat between them. Later, I used the thrill of watching erotic movies with a lover to push farther beyond anything I’d done before.

The EDGE. I’m all over it.

That word also helped me when I learned that my Sexy City Nights story was not only going to be moved into Blaze, but that it had a chance at being in the series launch. Talk about pressure! I called my critique partner, Susan Kearney (an Intrigue author who also now writes for Blaze) and said HELP! (She, of course, told me to calm down and we worked out a solution.)

Carly had a synopsis for her story. I not only had a synopsis, but I was more than 50 pages into the book! How could I change it now? What could I do to this story of seduction in San Francisco to make it bigger? To make it a BLAZE?

The EDGE comes to the rescue yet again.

This time, I turned to another fetish—EXHIBITIONISM. I’d already written the first love scene, which takes place on a balcony outside my hero’s condo overlooking San Francisco bay. (This book, EXPOSED, kicks off the Sexy City Nights series.)

I asked myself this question: What if the hero and heroine enjoy making love outside so much the first time, they end up doing it over and over? All over the city? And what if they didn’t know someone was watching them? And not only watching them, but taking pictures…pictures that are ultimately published in the newspaper? And what if by the time the first picture is printed, they’ve made love outside so many times, it’s only a matter of time before their affair is completely EXPOSED—in more ways than one?

Knowing the book would be a Blaze also allowed me to delve into a side of the big city that most category romances would keep away from—the rave/drug scene. Through my villains (and like Carly, my first Blaze also has scenes in the point of view of the villains—I have two), I was able to explore several different worlds within San Francisco, and I didn’t have to back out of the gritty realities of either. Talk about fun!

So what is the difference between a Temptation and a Blaze? To me, it’s that EDGE. My Temptations have a more playful tone…my Blazes are somewhat dangerous. Are they dark? Not really…but they could be. Some of the Blaze authors are writing dark, some aren’t. Some are writing humor. The line is open to lots of variety, which is great not only for the authors, but for the readers, too. But for me, Blaze “turns me on” because I get to skirt that edge, write about the forbidden, and still reach the vast Harlequin readership.

My section was the last in a three-part presentation. To access Carly’s part, click the link below!

Carly’s section can be found at www.carlyphillips.com.