Skip to main content

A bronzed, shirtless Adonis with chiselled abs and his willowy, full-bosomed lover are locked in a passionate embrace: It's a book cover image that's classic Harlequin, and various incarnations of this coupling blanket the main wall of the Toronto-based publishing company's ninth-floor lobby.

But one stands out: On a book called Her Son's Hero, the hero in question is wearing a black belt and karate uniform.

In an unlikely combination merging mixed-martial arts (MMA) and romance, Her Son's Hero tells the story of Dominic Payette, an MMA fighter who falls in love with single mother Fiona MacAvery. But Fiona has an aversion to violence that stems from her desire to protect her son, a victim of schoolyard bullying, and she initially resists Dominic's advances.

Story continues below advertisement

Written by Toronto writer Vicki So under the pseudonym Vicki Essex ("You can't spell my name without sex," she says), Her Son's Hero is a classic tale of opposites attracting – but wrapped in an unorthodox package.

As the world's largest publisher of romance fiction, Harlequin releases 110 titles a month in 111 countries around the world, and the company is constantly looking for a fresh take on the boy-meets-girl love story.

"We really do take the cue from the authors. If they can deliver a story that is authentic and emotional and grips the reader – whether it involves an alien or someone who has been very wounded in terms of having gone to war and lost a leg because of an amputation because of an injury – it's just such a huge range of things," says Dianne Moggy, vice-president of Harlequin's series and subsidiary rights. "There's nothing that's really taboo in terms of what type of hero you can have – or heroine – or what are the conflicts and the things that they're dealing with."

So, a full-time proofreader at Harlequin, came up with the concept for Her Son's Hero while watching an Ultimate Fighting Championship (a mixed-martial-arts league) match with her sister and friend, who convinced her to write about MMA. At first, So was reluctant, but soon warmed to the idea after discovering that the popular sport had a growing female fan base.

Harlequin has sought inspiration from other less obvious sources as well: there are NASCAR-driven plotlines, for example, and a paranormal series featuring vampires, werewolves and demons.

Other publishing houses have ventured into non-traditional romances too – and have seen the payoff.

"Pop culture drives demand not just in novels, but in everything," says Bahram Olfati, vice-president of adult trade books at Indigo Books and Music. "I can tell you that those books are always in our top sellers."

Story continues below advertisement

Terri Badiuk, 45, is certainly a fan. She says reads Harlequin's paranormal romance stories on her e-reader every day.

"It isn't your traditional girl meets boy; girl falls in love with boy; end of story," she explains. "It's action, power, struggle, love, pleasure, fighting, passion and so much more."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter