Did you know that when Harlequin Presents launched, it was intended to simply be a verb, that is Harlequin was "presenting" the author to the readers? Well, here I am to present Mary-Theresa Hussey, Executive Editor of the Silhouette imprint.
What does she do? She is responsible for overseeing the overall direction for all Silhouette lines: Desire, Special Edition and Romantic Suspense at the moment, as well as working with her own individual author base.
She is a remarkable reader with an amazing memory and is the unofficial "go to" person for all queries received that start: "I read a book about a guy with a girl and an escaped bear and a car race, but I can't remember..." But let me let her speak in her own words! Tell us, how did it all begin?
"I began as an Editorial Assistant for Silhouette Romance, working for Tara Gavin in '89. She said she knew she wanted to hire me when I sat down, saw Diana Palmer and Ann Major covers on her wall and knew the characters names!
From that point on I moved from Silhouette Romance, Special Edition and Intimate Moments, back to Silhouette Romance to be Senior Editor and then Executive Editor for Silhouette. I was also lucky enough to be in on the start of LUNA Books, and still work with many of those authors."
My list is fairly eclectic. I’d love some Romantic Suspense or Desire writers, and currently work with Red Dress Ink and MIRA authors as well as a lot of paranormal/fantasy writers for Romantic Suspense and Nocturne as well as LUNA. While I’m not as active in acquiring as some other editors--I have a lot of management responsibilities as well--I do keep an eye out for strong projects to bring forward for the company.
"I first started reading series romance when I was 11. We were in Ireland and I ran out of my Nancy Drew titles and my aunt (also Mary Theresa), gave me a batch of Mills & Boon titles. The first one was a Janet Dailey title called THE MASTER FIDDLER and I was hooked by Cholla (yes, that was the hero’s name!). After that, I discovered the stash in the library and used book stores and I’ve never looked back!
"Even in college I used a friend’s local address to get access to the library so I could feed my addiction throughout the year. (I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on that crime. :-) ) I still love the books we publish, and my only frustration is that I’ll never get to read them all!
"I read a lot of Presents, Desire, Romantic Suspense, Special Edition, Intrigue and Blaze and a smattering from the other lines. I’ll also read a bunch of the MIRA and HQN titles as well. And of course all the LUNA titles I didn’t work on! So when I graduated and discovered I could actually get a job working for this company and get these books for free…Well, my fate was sealed!
"I was a series addict from a young age! Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Rick Brant, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr, Trixie Belden, The Happy Hollisters , The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Tom Corbett and more were followed by Tolkien, Heinlein, Norton and others. Characterization, dialogue and fast-paced plotting are and were key. Along with romance, I still love fantasy, romantic suspense, mystery, thriller and larger than life stories.
"The best part of this job is access to the wonderful people—authors and colleagues and readers. Even when I’m reading a manuscript that won’t be publishable, I feel that there’s a sense of hope and positivism in romance that I don’t always find when reading other genres.
"For me, the most difficult part of the job is rejecting manuscripts and dashing hopes. It’s especially hard when it comes to projects that aren’t really very bad, but there’s nothing special about them. As we say, we can often work with a storyteller who needs structure, but someone who has structure but no voice, well, that just isn’t something that an editor can easily fix.
"On the positive side, one of my most recent and exciting purchases has been for debut author Rachel Vincent’s werecat series. STRAY came out in '07 and ROGUE is out right now--April, 2008. [Isabel interjects that she's just learned Rachel will make her debut on the April 13th New York Times Bestseller list at #32, whoo hoo!]. I’ve already read PRIDE and the proposal for PREY. She’s got a wonderful voice and energy and enthusiasm and I really look forward to everyone else reading these projects.
"I have always felt that series novels have a 'formula' in the same way that other genre fiction or certain types of poetry does. There’s a structure, a rhyme scheme, an expected conclusion and a theme, but the writer’s voice and subject matter make it sing...or falter.
"And at the heart of genre fiction is the characters. The reason readers can return to a familiar story idea is the characters are believable, relatable and filled with emotion. The ability to have a reader live vicariously through the character is what makes a real storyteller.
"It’s not an easy thing to do either—I’ve tried maybe twice to write something and never got beyond two pages. The commitment needed to finish a book is intense, and the work is hard! I have total respect and admiration for those who make it look easy and who can face the screen or empty page day after day.
"As for what it takes to make a good editor, most editors I know are intensely curious about a lot of things, but always about people. They watch movies, read magazines, obsess about TV and pop culture. They respond to the zeitgeist, but what interests them is the individual in the situation. They also have to have great memories and incredible patience, as they read a manuscript multiple times!
"They must be willing to invest themselves by striving to help the author say what she wants to say as clearly and cleanly as possible, walking a delicate balance between being a “first reader,” a representative of the publisher and an advocate for the author. Communication is key, and making sure that the end goal—of a “good story, well told”—is achieved.
"If I wasn't going to be an editor—and money, skill and talent were no object!—I’d probably like to be a photographer for children, landscape or even weddings. But it makes a nice hobby at least!"
Their loss is our gain—though Matrice is also our unofficial photographer and in between the numerous piles of books, her office has many beautiful photographs of children and landscapes and family events. Truly, a renaissance woman.