Harlequin Blazes into New Territory

Do you search the shelves of your local bookstore for sizzling sexy reads? Long for more than those sweet romances where little more than a kiss is risqué? Never fear, come August there will be a new line of spicy reads on the shelf each month when Harlequin launches its new Blaze line. This new line should not be confused with the old Harlequin Temptation Blaze books (now called Temptation Heat) although the line originated because of the success of those hotter Temptations. Nor should it be confused with Harlequin's other upcoming line, Red Dress, which will produce ‘slice of life’ books a la Bridget Jones’ Diary. Both attempt to attract the younger market with books that have a younger, more ‘with it’ feel, but the two lines will be drastically different. In fact, the Red Dress line will not be printed under the Harlequin imprint. Although the Blaze line is aimed at a younger market - the working girls and ‘Cosmo girls’ of the world - editor Brenda Chin says “Everyone will enjoy Blaze.”

The new Blaze line will be longer and will feature characters who are comfortable with their sexuality and open to new experiences. The longer format will allow authors to explore more possibilities story wise, have deeper characters, and of course loads of burning hot love scenes. Launch author Vicki Lewis Thompson says Temptation and Blaze are both hot reads, but Blaze has an edge, takes risks, is a little naughtier. So I challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone a bit when I write a Blaze.” Many of Harlequin's hottest authors will be writing for the new line, with authors Julie Elizabeth Leto, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Jo Leigh, and Stephanie Bond getting the line off to a sizzling start. The stories run the gamut from erotic to sensual, and push the boundaries of traditional romance. These are definitely not your mother's romance novels anymore! Expect to be surprised; as in the first few books alone we encounter some exhibition and bondage as well as some very inventive sex. Launch author Julie Elizabeth Leto says that in future books we can expect stories about sex slaves, bondage, super clubs (hotels that cater to the sexual needs of their clients), exhibitionism, voyeurism, sex therapy, and crimes based on erotic literature. And expect those boundaries to be pushed farther and farther - editor Brenda Chin says that this is only the beginning.

Although the new line will not hit the stands until August, to whet readers’ interest MIDNIGHT FANTASIES, an anthology of three stories, will be released in July. In MIDNIGHT FANTASIES, three women have the chance to experience their wildest fantasies - ranging from a tomboy cowgirl who accidentally meets her childhood friend in a dark cave and turns into a wild seductress, to the owner of a costume shop who enjoys dressing up, to some naughty lingerie and the bad boy that one good girl always wanted. This book gives a tiny taste of what the Blaze line is all about, with the stories ranging from sensuous teasing to some very naughty escapades. These three stories, by Stephanie Bond, Vicki Lewis Thompson, and Kimberly Raye, are all hooked into the authors’ debut books with the Blaze series, all of which will be out in either August or September. Come August, the new line will hit the stands with books by authors Julie Elizabeth Leto, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Jo Leigh, and Stephanie Bond. These books are longer and sexier than Temptations, featuring characters who are comfortable with their sexuality.

Julie Elizabeth Leto will launch the four book Sexy City Nights series, which will also feature authors Janelle Denison, Julie Kenner, and Carly Phillips. The Sexy City Nights series, Julie says “is based on the premise of a woman (or a man) exploring his or her sexuality with the city as a ‘prop.’” In Julie's EXPOSED, workaholic Ariana Karas has a week off while her restaurant is renovated, and finding a magazine in a cable car gives her some definite ideas about how to spend her time off! Add in a classic comedy of errors where she hooks up with a man who she doesn't know is to be married in the morning, and they are caught on film. Vicki Lewis Thompson gives us NOTORIOUS, a fun filled book rife with sexual tension and teasing. Bad girl Keely Branson meets up with her teenage crush who sees her walking into a strip club, jumps to a few conclusions, and decides that he has to save her from herself. Jo Leigh's offering, GOING FOR IT, is about a sex therapist with a radio show, who is dared on the air by a vicious reporter to prove that she can not be seduced by playboy race driver Chase Newman. Stephanie Bond rounds out the month with TWO SEXY, in which a mousy school teacher who’s been longing to break out of her shell agrees to pose as a celebrity sex kitten for one night and falls for her bodyguard.

These four books run the gamut of moods, going from slightly more serious to light and playful, from erotic to teasing to sensual. Expect the unexpected when you pick up a Blaze book.

So How Hot Are These Books???

Do these books cross the line into erotic romance? That's for each reader to decide, but it brings to light an interesting issue. Just what is erotica, and what is erotic romance? And what is everything else? What is it that makes a book erotic?

The first point that should be made, clearly and emphatically, is that erotica is not romance. Do not pick up a Black Lace book expecting to be guaranteed a happy ending and a monogamous couple - these are often the exception rather than the norm in erotica. Blaze author Janelle Denison says that erotica “deals with the physical, sexual aspect of a relationship between a couple... The sex scenes are graphic and explicit, written mostly to stimulate and arouse the reader rather than to further the emotional relationship between the characters.” Popular Black Lace author Emma Holly, whose first book for Berkley, BEYOND INNOCENCE, is on stands now, defines erotica as “covering a huge range of material, from down and dirty stories whose primary intent is to arouse - and which may or may not have what a romance fan would call deep characterization or plot - to incredibly lyrical and literary material whose primary intent may be more to provoke thought than to turn its readers on.” SECRETS author Angela Knight defines erotica as “a work of art, photography, fiction, or non fiction designed to sexually arouse the audience, which is usually male. The objective is not a permanent relationship, so there is usually no real emotional involvement between the characters. Logic, plot, and characterization take a back seat to the mechanics of sex. The story often explores sexual fetishes, and may even incorporate violence.”

Erotic romance is often something altogether different from erotica. Angela Knight defines erotic romance as something designed to arouse the female reader, revolving around the female fantasy to find that perfect mate and build a relationship with him. Blaze author Julie Elizabeth Leto says that erotic romance “employs some of the trademarks of erotica -- the rawer, more explicit description of sexuality -- and melds with it the conventions of romance. The intimacy. The emotions. The happily ever after.” Perhaps the simplest definition comes from Blaze author Janelle Denison, who describes it as “sexual love.”

Erotic romance involves a number of elements that are absent in erotica, the foremost being an emotional commitment between the two main characters. Erotic romance involves trust and emotional ties. It is more than a series of raw sex acts designed to titillate and arouse. Which is not to say that the sex scenes wont be burning hot - often they will. But within the sexual tension the reader can see the characters develop and grow with each other, to form a committed relationship.

So where then is the line? When does something cross over from erotica to erotic romance, or vice versa? One rule that crops up often is that it should be one woman with one man, exclusively. However, author Emma Holly has written a number of stories for Black Lace that involve a committed relationship between two people and include other people in the sex scenes, as well as the recently reprinted MENAGE, which explores a relationship between three people. Emma says that this is the “close to unbreakable rule of romance, but not unassailable. For me, when I read a romance of any kind, I want a good, hot, tender love story with a happy, committed ending. If it's not entirely monogamous, I'm not bothered.” Angela Knight says that “The sex must be something both characters enjoy, and the characters must be adult humans. Too, you've got to have that happily ever after ending.” Blaze author Jeanie LeGendre says that erotic romance crosses into erotica when the emotional commitment disappears. So it seems that the boundaries between erotica and erotic romance are fluid, as long as there is a committed relationship between the hero and heroine.

Erotic romance implies a certain explicitness, and certainly can't be applied to all romance novels. To split hairs just a little bit more, some romance is classified as sensual romance. Sensual romance involves the senses. Almost all category romance published by Harlequin and Silhouette would fit this category, even the super hot Temptation Heat books. Upon examining the scenes that some readers talk about, they can actually contain as little as a kiss. However, that kiss could last for pages and be described in such sensual detail that to the reader it feels like much more. There is less explicitness and more feeling. Janelle Denison defines sensual romance as “imagery aimed at the senses, and the slow, gradual build up of sexual tension between the hero and the heroine. It's about physical and emotional attraction, and the bond that is created between your characters when they make love. Sensual writing not only affects the senses, but one's emotions, and pulls the reader into the story, makes them part of the character's lives, and keeps them turning the pages.”

So where exactly will the new Blaze books fall in this great spectrum? For a moment, let's imagine a straight line. To the far right we have our conventional, sensual romance, starting with those sweet Harlequin Romances and Silhouette Romances. To the far left we have erotica, which would encompass most books published by publishers like Black Lace and Nexus. Right about halfway we have our sensual/erotic books that are a lot more explicit than those sweet romances, but still don't push over into erotic romance. A good example would be the Harlequin Temptation line. And about halfway between that and the end of the spectrum labeled erotica, we have erotic romance. Edgy, raw lines that actively push any and all boundaries, like Red Sage and Kensington’s new Brava line would probably be just past that line, almost pushing over into erotica. The new Blaze line would fall between that middle mark and the erotic romance mark.

The Blaze books will range from sensual to erotic. Not all of them will be erotic romance, but many of them will be. Blaze launch author Stephanie Bond says that readers will find “Both sensual romances (with more mood than explicit detail) and erotic romances (with mood AND explicit detail, and adventurous sexual experiences.)” And if a book is erotic because of its subject matter and situations - as often seems to be the case - then the Blaze books will score high on the scale. While the Blaze line is not quite to the point of Red Sage (in their writing guidelines they state that any sexual position goes) the editors and authors at Harlequin are certainly ready to push some boundaries and shock some readers.

Turning Up the Heat

So just what does this trend towards heat say about the romance industry? In recent years, readers have had a plethora of spicy options placed before them. Since 1995 we've seen the rise of Black Lace, Red Sage, Temptation Blaze, and more recently Kensington’s new Brava line. It seems like romance just keeps getting hotter and hotter. However, as Harlequin editor Brenda Chin points out, hot romances aren't anything new. Popular sexy authors like Beatrice Small and Rosemary Rodgers have been around for quite some time.

This brings to mind an interesting question. Are those sweet romances on the other end of the spectrum getting hotter as well? Interestingly enough, Janelle Denison, one of Harlequin's hottest authors, writes for Harlequin Romance as well as for Temptation and Blaze. The difference in the lines, she says, is the level sexual tension. She describes the love scenes in Harlequin Romances as sensual rather than overtly sexy, leaving most of the encounter to the reader's imagination. She feels that those sweet romances have evolved over the past 10-15 years and have become more sensual. But, she says, “I think these books will always be traditional stories at heart.”

So if we think about our line again, with all those little marks on it, it seems that it is getting longer with the introduction of new more intense, more sexually driven lines like Blaze. The books at the other end of the spectrum are not getting hotter in proportion to the rise in heat seen in the preponderance of ‘erotic romance’ books that have flooded the market in the last five years. And the spectrum may expand even further if there is a backlash against this trend towards erotic romance and readers’ request more of that sweet romance - as editor Brenda Chin says, Harlequin offers something for everybody and if there is a demand for sweet romance then they will publish more of that.

Harlequin is not the only publisher to offer a greater variety hot steamy romances to the public in recent years. In fact, the success of such risqué lines as Red Sage's SECRETS anthologies and Kensington’s anthologies CAPTIVATED and FASCINATED, featuring four of romance's hottest authors, Thea Devine, Susan Johnson, Beatrice Small, and Robin Schone, it seems that another line of hot spicy books will be more than welcome on the shelf. However, how will the Blaze books stand out from these other lines? Why pick up a Blaze? First, Blaze books will be more readily available than some of these other lines. There will be four books each month, delivered right to the shelf of your local bookstore. Unfortunately many of the wonderful erotic books out there, like Red Sage and Black Lace, are found in very few stores and have to be ordered via the internet. At the moment, Black Lace doesn't even have a US distributor. Many of these books are also trade size, and hence more expensive. Kensington’s new Brava line is trade size, as are the Secrets books. This means that one book can cost 10-15 dollars, whereas each Blaze is five dollars, and readily available at the bookstore.

Blaze will also differ from some of these other more risqué lines in some ways. Editor Brenda Chin says, “Blaze will be very different from the other sensual romances out there. I was recently at a conference and talked with Thea Devine, who writes for Brava. She described the Brava books as being "raw". That is not a word that will ever refer to Blaze. Many of these other series feature heroines who have multiple lovers. You won't see this either in Blaze. Basically, when a reader picks up a Blaze, they can expect 1) One hero, one heroine, 2) A committed relationship at the end and 3) That these two will have a lot more fun than the rest of us. The reader will feel the safety in knowing right up front that the heroine will be safe with the hero/and vice versa and that they will receive Harlequin's famous "happy ending."

Authors and readers alike are excited about the new Blaze line. Launch author Jo Leigh says “I have great respect for women, and it's my sincere hope that every woman who reads these books is inspired to take matters into her own hands (so to speak) and explore her own sexuality and sensuality. A woman in control of her body is a wonder to behold.” Blaze author Carly Phillips says, “I'm absolutely elated that Harlequin has chosen to explore sensual and sexual boundaries in longer length romances.” Red Sage and Harlequin Blaze author Jeanie LeGendre says that “the new Blaze line will explore the spicier side of sexuality with the same high quality of storytelling that Harlequin is known for.” Launch author Vicki Lewis Thompson says “Many readers can hardly wait for those Blaze books to hit the shelves. But there may be a few readers who are hesitant and wonder if the books will be too daring for them. I urge those readers to kick over the traces and take a chance. Remember that the Harlequin promise -- two committed people who will end up together -- will not be broken. It's a totally safe, yet wild, roller coaster ride. Climb aboard!” So if you're looking for a naughty, risqué book that promises to tease and taunt, pick up a Blaze next month! Also, be sure to visit the Blaze website at http://www.blazeauthors.com to check out upcoming books and the other authors involved in the new line!

Previous articles: 

Hosted by

Monthly Newsletter