Hunting for Don Mills: Sarah Tours Harlequin

Tuesday 7 April, I flew up to Toronto to hunt for the sheikh billionaire tycoon surgeon duke cowboy, who I’m told is named Don. Don Mills. Alas, even though I searched through several different floors of Harlequin Headquarters, Don hid from me, and I didn’t capture him on film.

I did, however, have a ripping good time wandering all over the offices of HQN HQ.

Yup, I’ve arrived at the right place.

Free books! As part of the 60th Anniversary, Harlequin is giving away a whole suite of romances. All the more reason to stop by HQN HQ – you can grab yourself a specially-bound copy. Or, download them all.

The Oracle of eBook, Malle Vallik, better known as Director of Digital Content and Interactivity. 

Deputy eBook Oracle Jayne, who is so incredibly wise she has to wear a knee brace from carrying around all the awesome inside her head.

The entire HQN office suite is decorated with vintage cover art celebrating the 60th anniversary. It’s like working inside a museum of visual history. Not nearly enough people appreciate the social and anthropological history present in the romance genre, and Harlequin alone is worth in-depth (hur) investigation.

There’s a big display of any and all press that HQN has received that mentions the 60th Anniversary. Right there? Bitches, man, Bitches!

And right there, above the sultry eyebrows? Dear Author. Woo hoo!

A LOT of thought and examination goes into the cover art and layout of the Harlequin books, particularly the visual themes within a specific line. I had a good old time checking out the “Book Title” “Author Name” mockups. There was a whole rack of them, and they cracked me up.

Bitchery fan Natasha had some of the best desk decor, including Ms. Harley Quinn. How has there not been a romance heroine named Harley Quinn?!? Natasha also has a cool job. She is part of the team that makes sure the artist’s rendering on the computer matches the actual product from the printer, including foil, gloss, and ink color. Even with the digital advances at Harlequin, how the product looks on paper, literally ON the PAPER, is crucial.

I’m told these are the backs of Don Mills’ business cards proclaiming him the Sheikh Surgeon Tycoon Billionaire Cowboy Duke. Note the art that celebrates the 60th Anniversary. Reason #466 to work at HQN HQ, after Don Mills, socialized medicine, the unstoppable opportunity to recycle something every 5 feet within the city of Toronto, and now on my list: really fine business cards. I’m partial to the lighthouse myself.

Found him! Look! It’s Don Mills! And lucky me, I visited HQN HQ on Wear Your Best Cravat Day. How fortunate I was wearing the perfect dress!

In all seriousness, I was probably dork of the year touring the offices. All these nice people came to work, and I showed up and squeed all over the place. I visited the digital headquarters, where they are carefully tracking how many downloads of the Free Harlequins – with a goal, I believe, of reaching 1 million. Want some? Head on over and download them all!

I also visited the art department, where I saw mockups of future covers and stills from a photo shoot to create the cover for Jillian Hart’s Gingham Bride, coming in November 2009. The models, the costuming, the poses, and the lighting were all part of the decision process, along with the massive amount of detailed input from the author – which helps a lot. If they use one of the images I saw, Ms. Hart is going to get a beautiful cover.

I also learned that sometimes Harlequin has trouble finding male models for the cover photo shoots, because the standard of attractiveness and sensual beauty in the modeling industry is very different from the goals and images preferred within romance. Consider the difference between the very young, almost asexual looking models in a lot of fashion spreads and the virile, shapely, and muscular – sometimes, yes, too muscular – models you see on many romances. So Harlequin, frustrated with local agencies sending models that they couldn’t use – or with having to spend hours altering the images to achieve the look they wanted – put out an open casting call for ordinary guys to become cover models. They now have a huge list of attractive everyday dudes, some of whom are firefighters, EMTs, police officers or physical fitness buffs, who model for Harlequin covers. I saw one photo shoot of a model posing in Roman gladiator costume, and thought that he was a perfect balance of “very attractive” and “very real looking.” Turns out he was one of the models chosen from their last casting call, and he’s really quite good at the modeling thing. Totally at ease in his own skin, it seemed from the pictures. Putting aside the varied opinion on the male standard of beauty within romance cover models, I find it fascinating that local dudes from the surrounding area are working as cover models because the modeling-models didn’t quite fit. But regular guys from down the road, they totally fit.

Thanks again to Malle Vallik, Oracle of eBooks, and the Harlequin Digital team, including Jayne and Aideen for being such wonderful hosts and being so very welcoming.



The Link-O-Lator

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  1. 1
    Cat Marsters says:

    Hot damn, I wish I lived in the Toronto area.  Imagine, all those hot cover models wandering around everywhere!  I wonder if the London office has a similar policy, and how one might hack into their list…

  2. 2
    Chris says:

    I’m planning to visit friends in Toronto in September. I wonder how dorky they’ll think I am if I want to go gawk at Harlequin?

  3. 3
    katiebabs says:

    Nice pictures! Lovely ball gown you’re wearing.

  4. 4
    ev says:

    shit, I might actually have to get a passport.

    Loved the vintage covers, especially the one from the 50’s. Enough boobage??

    How has there not been a romance heroine named Harley Quinn?!?

    Guiding Light had Harley Davidson Cooper, she was always one fo my favorites when I watched the show.

    I think it is great that local guys are willing to become cover models. Nice to see a little reality instead of the regular version of a model (who is usually just not manly looking enough for me).

  5. 5

    Sounds like a great time, but I had to go back and look at that vintage ‘50s cover art three times. WTF is going on there?

    It looks like he’s attacking her in a barn, tearing off her clothes—and she looks like she’s fighting him off.

    Maybe in the ‘70s, but in the ‘50s??

  6. 6

    This was a fantastic report!  Thanks for sharing it with us.  I especially enjoyed learning that many of the HQ cover models are ordinary guys who do this as a sideline.  They ought to release a calendar of HQ models!

  7. 7
    Jessica G. says:

    Wow, I’m so jealous!! If I’m ever in the Toronto area I’m going to have to check it out.

    It looks like such a fun place to work :)

  8. 8
    Gwen says:

    Thanks for the report, Sarah!  Looks like it was a fab time.  Did you happen to notice an odd looking machine with “word wheels” on it, and a lever they pull to make the wheels spin like a slot machine, until it lands on something like “The Duke’s Pregnant Maid’s Mistress”?  I’m convinced that’s how they select titles.

  9. 9
    darlynne says:

    What a fabulous trip and report. They must have been thrilled to meet you, Sarah.

    I’m with Colleen Gleason about the ‘50s cover, although I can’t tell that the woman is fighting the guy off. In fact, this could be the source of “bodice-ripper,” hmmm?

  10. 10
    Sarah Frantz says:

    I totally want a copy of that 50s cover for my wall! Awesome!

    And totally cool about the cover models—I love that.  Thanks for the summary!

  11. 11
    JulieLeto says:

    I loved my Harlequin tour, but it’s been 10 years since I’ve been up and it’s time for another visit.  Everyone is so great.  The art department is always fun.  Did you happen to meet the art director for Blaze?  I’m looking forward to meeting him…he’s really done some spectacular work lately and I love his vision!

  12. 12
    Leslie Kelly says:

    I’m with you Julie—definitely time for a trip back. I loved touring Harlequin!

    And I am so thrilled that they’re using more “ordinary” guys on the covers. Having had my share of really skinnny, hairless, baby-faced cover models, I absolutely squealed with excitement when I first saw my cover for Slow Hands, which featured a guy who actually looked in his 30’s…with chest hair! Whoop!!

  13. 13
    Lori says:

    It sounds like it was well worth the trip to the “mother ship”. Thanks for including the info about the cover models—-I’ve often wondered about that.

  14. 14
    Dee Tenorio says:

    There really are few things as fun as touring HQN HQ. The sheer number of books in there is mind boggling. Did they show you the submission stacks?

    I still have all my pictures from my visits. My favorite is me hanging from the giant Harlequin sign on the street, lol.

    Sounds like a great visit!

  15. 15
    Carrie Lofty says:

    Doesn’t that anecdote about the cover models just go toward what we’ve been saying about the romance industry as a bastion of female power? Harlequin looked at the available crop of nubile Milanese man-youths and said, um, no. Then they found their own! And any added mystique from knowing that the models might actually be local heroes in real life—firefighters, EMTs, etc.—probably doesn’t hurt the fantasy factor one bit.

  16. 16

    I am sooo jealous!

    Thanks for sharing all those great pictures!

  17. 17

    Aw, I want to go!!!

    Also, is the male model on that 60’s cover actually Ronald Reagan? I’m serious. And traumatized.

  18. 18
    Suze says:

    So, when the is the RWA convention going to be held in TO?  That would be a cool thing.  The RWA summit, held near the headquarters of the mothership, with tours.  (And I wouldn’t need a passport to get there.  Golly, I’m having a hard time getting my shit together to apply for a passport.  And do my taxes.  And make a dentist appointment.  Lazy, lazy Suze.)

  19. 19
    Abby says:

    Sarah was in Toronto? You know Toronto has a big RWA chapter, right? You should have let us know. You can hang at one of our meetings anytime!

    Suze – RWA National coming to Canada ain’t happening. Never has, never will. Those are the breaks, unfortunately…

  20. 20
    Sabrina says:

    Coolest tour ever! Thanks so much for the awesome pics. It’s so fun to see where the “action” happens. LOL


  21. 21
    library addict says:

    Thanks for the pics and tour description, Sarah.

  22. 22

    Am I the only one who IMMEDIATELY wanted to read the book about the hunky-but-shy Canadian EMT who meets a smart, bespectacled editorial assistant after his friends talk him into auditioning for a romance novel cover?


    Victoria Dahl, I think this has your name all over it.

  23. 23
    JoanneL says:

    In 1930Agatha Christie had a character called The Mysterious Mr Harley Quin. There was an omnibus of mysteries that came out not too many years ago with Christie’s stories that featured him——and a harlequin on the cover.

    I would very much like to live at Harlequin Headquarters.
    Is that possible or are all the rooms filled with retired tycoons?

  24. 24
    rebyj says:

    Oh man!! I’m aboard the envy train too. I would LOVE to tour Harlequin! I’m glad you had a good time and thanks for sharing the pics. FUN!

  25. 25

    Glad to hear you got to meet Don Mills, Sarah. I heard an interesting rumour about him & the socialite Bay Bloor.

    Julia, I don’t know if our minds are great, but we definitely think alike, because that’s where I was headed…

  26. 26
    Sayuri says:

    Man, I am so jelus right now.

    What a great trip. I drool for de books. They’re just so pretty.

  27. 27
    wendy says:

    I read a Mills & Boon where the hero was named Harley Quinn. Don’t recall the name; could have been from the fifties or sixties. I don’t think the heoine was Columbine.

  28. 28
    ev says:

    I TOLD you there was lots of boobage in the 50’s cover and I agree- Bodice Ripper!!! It’s the picture you see in the dictionary for it!

  29. 29
    SonomaLass says:

    Sign me up for the second copy of the Harlequin real guy cover model calendar.  (I won’t fight Darlene for the first copy.)  And I agree with Julia about the plot idea—are you listening, Victoria Dahl?

    What a great place that must be to work.  I can only imagine how my officemates would react if I redecorated our office in romance cover art!

  30. 30
    Victoria Dahl says:

    Thanks to Julia and SonomaLass!!! Hee. Good idea. How about this? He is shy guy who works WITH HER! He is VP of Info Techology. But underneath the glasses and slightly wrinkled oxford shirts his slim phsyique is defined muscles/slim hips/tight ass. He is the Harlequin model she’s been fantasizing about since his debut cover last year. Unrecognizable with glasses on, of course. Even Harlequin art dept doesn’t recognize him. He is Clark Kent of sexual fantasies.

    But at nearby bar he overhears her (drunken) bragging to coworker abt what she’d do if she got her hands on him… *g*

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