Welcome Bonnie Vanak!
by Our Guest on March 31st, 2009

We’re thrilled to have Bonnie Vanak blogging with us today! A prolific author, Bonnie has penned seven Egyptian historicals for Dorchester and now also writes paranormals for Silhouette’s Nocturne line. She began writing as a child, when she penned adventure stories and poems. After receiving a journalism degree from the University of Florida, Bonnie worked for several years as a journalist. She left newspaper reporting behind when she took a job writing for a large international charity. A few years ago, she discovered she needed a diversion from the emotional strains of traveling to poor countries and encountering horrific suffering. So she began writing romance novels. THE FALCON & THE DOVE was her first book. It won the historical category of the 2001 RWA Melody of Love contest.
Visit Bonnie’s website at www.Bonnievanak.com

Bonnie will be giving away a copy of MIDNIGHT CRAVINGS to a lucky winner so be sure to leave a comment!

Book of the heart or book of high concept? Why not both?
By Bonnie Vanak

High concept. Agents and editors want it. Writers strive for it. High concept is typically described as a fascinating idea that can easily be explained in a short sentence. It’s different, has a terrific hook, and takes something everyone knows and puts a new twist on it.

For example, Dracula meets teenage angst. Twilight, of course.

Great high concept, but how did the idea evolve? In a dream. Stephenie Meyer dreamed of a couple conversing and one person was a vampire. She didn’t sit down at the computer and say, “Let’s see. How can I arrive at a high concept idea, and get published with a book that will become a worldwide best-seller and a major motion picture?”

Sometimes the best ideas can come when you’re thinking of something other than a best idea! High concept is wonderful, and if you can conceive of such an idea off the top of your head, more power to you.

I start out with a character or plot premise that engages my emotional interest. I get an idea, run with it, and then adjust it according to market needs.

Face it, the book of your heart may be wonderful and fascinating, but if it doesn’t have the elements an editor or agent need to sell it, most likely it will get a pass. This doesn’t mean you should toss that book into a bottom drawer. If you start with an idea that sparks your interest, or emotionally engages you, you can shape that idea into a high concept novel.

It happened for me when I read an article in National Geographic magazine about the Egyptian pharaoh Akhetaten. He had a secondary wife named Kiya. Kiya mysteriously vanished around year 12 of the pharaoh’s reign. No one knows why or why her name was erased from the ruins of the ancient city. Her tomb has never been found.

I became intrigued with the mystery of Kiya. Who was she? Why did she vanish? I began playing the writer’s game of “what if?” I created a tribe of great warriors dedicated to Kiya for more than three thousand years. They were brave, fierce fighters like the windstorm they were named after…The Khamsin warriors of the wind.

The idea became a book called The Falcon and the Dove, my first romance novel. The sheikh of the tribe, Jabari, abducts Elizabeth, the American who is after Kiya’s sacred shield. Eventually, the two come to realize they are reincarnated lovers from the past.


The Falcon and the Dove is The Mummy meets The Sheikh. That’s high concept. Yet the idea stemmed from an article I read out of sheer interest.

The seeds of the original idea resulted in a harvest of subsequent books. The latest, The Lady and the Libertine, is my seventh Egyptian historical. In this book, a handsome English earl desires to seduce a virginal beauty so he can steal the vast treasure she guards in Egypt.


Nigel is a very naughty earl who strives to steal from Karida her virginity and a rare ruby that unlocks a pharaoh’s treasure. Yet in the process, he finds she may steal something he guards more than any priceless treasure – his heart.

Nigel is badly in need of redemption. He keeps trying and wanting to change, and then reverting back to the bad boy. Karida longs for love, and yet she holds fast to the moral compass that guides her, for she fears diverting from anything but the straight and narrow. Together they make for a fascinating pair as they experience adventure and danger in both London and Egypt.

Nigel was a character written from the heart. I had a vague idea of the plot when I set out to write his story. I only knew his story should be told. It presented a huge challenge. How can I make what appears to be a very unlikable character, perceived as a villain in my last book, into a hero? One way of overcoming this was to create sympathy by giving Nigel a goal that involved an innocent party he’s trying to rescue. He does the wrong things for the right reasons. Nigel also has a tortured past he can’t seem to overcome.

The result was The Lady and the Libertine. If I pitched that book today it would be Heathcliff in Egypt.

Of course Heathcliff is a different time period, (my book is Edwardian), but you get the picture. Nigel is dark, brooding, has a tormented past, and is quite ruthless when it comes to getting what he wants.

Ideas can stem from anything. One day you might be talking with friends, or see something that intrigues you. Or you can even experience heartbreak that leads to a book, and a new direction in your writing.

That was the case for my Silhouette Nocturnes. In 2006, our beloved Shih Tzu was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. Tia was more than a pet. She was a family member, a friend, a lively, sweet dog who was an important part of our lives.

I was devastated to know that I was losing my beloved dog to the same disease that claimed my mother. To cope, I began writing a story about a woman trying desperately to find a cure for her dog.

The woman became Maggie, the veterinarian, and then the hero became Nicolas, a werewolf belonging to a race called the Draicon. They were powerful shifters with deadly enemies, Morphs, who could shapeshift into any animal or insect form. Maggie had untapped powers to heal anyone or anything, including her dog. It became Nicolas’ job to bring her back to the pack, and teach her to accept her powers in order to heal Damian, the pack leader. The underlying theme through the story is loyalty unto death and Maggie’s acceptance of both her powers and her real “family.”

That book eventually became The Empath, my first Nocturne. The pitch would be The Godfather meets The Big, Bad Wolf.


I liked the world I built so much that I kept writing about the Draicon. In The Empath, there was a secondary character named Baylor, adversary to Nicolas. Yet Baylor, and his clear affection for another character named Katia, proved intriguing to me because they both lost their destined mates.

My Draicon werewolves seek their destined mates. Long ago, they were one entity, who split into two beings to lessen their magick so they could live on earth and learn from it. When destined mates reach a level of emotional commitment during sex, they bond during the “mating lock” and become one, exchanging memories, emotions, and the missing half of their magick powers.

Destined mates are common in paranormal romance. Yet I’ve always wondered what happens to those whose destined mates are dead? Are they doomed to live without love?

Undestined mates. That’s taking a common theme and putting a new, creative twist on it. High concept. The result was Baylor and Katia’s story, Broken Souls, in the Midnight Cravings anthology.


Katia deeply cares for Baylor, yet refuses to make any commitments to him until she finds her father. But when Katia’s spell summoned a Morph claiming to be her father, nothing Baylor said could convince her of the danger. Baylor knew too well the cost of trusting a loved one who’d turned and desperately wanted to save Katia the pain he’d lived with for so long. He also knew that if he spared the Morph, it would destroy Katia, but if he killed this evil being, he risked losing her love forever.

Katia fears that making love with Baylor will mean turning her back for good on her past, as is evidenced in this scene from Broken Souls.

“Katia, why do you keep putting me off? I know you want me,” he burst out.
Silence greeted him. Katia turned and saw the stark anguish in his deep gray eyes.
“You’re like quicksand, Baylor. Every time I draw near you, I sink deeper and it’s more of a struggle to release myself. And yet I can’t help but be close to you. You make me feel alive and happy, but it’s frightening. If we make love, I’m afraid I’ll sink down for good. It means too much to me.”
She heard his intake of breath across the room. “I’d never hurt you. No matter how far you sank or deep you went. I’m with you all the way.”
“I feel so adrift, so broken.” Her voice dropped as she rubbed a knuckle against the glass.
“I’ll be your anchor, sweetheart. Let me.”

It is Baylor’s tender assurance and his deep feelings for her that enable Katia to finally forge a new beginning. Together they face danger, but in the end, as is the case with all my books, love always wins.

High concept or a book of your heart? I firmly believe it’s possible to have both. With a little imagination, and a lot of work, you can do it. Go for it!

37 comments to “Welcome Bonnie Vanak!”

  1. 1

    Great article, Bonnie. Thanks for visiting Silk & Shadows. Your explanation about high concept is intriguing. I admit I will be applying it to books I read from now on, to see if I can come up with a short sentence pitch for them. I find the process behind what agents and publishers choose to back fascinating, and I think you have just gotten me a step closer to learning how they think. Thank you!

  2. 2

    Welcome, Bonnie!

    Thanks for sharing those terrific stories behind some of your books. It’s nice to know the book of your heart can also be a high concept seller, if you just look at it the right way.

    I love the way you took your sorrow over the loss of your beloved dog and used the emotion in your novel. It’s hard to find that kind of perspective during tough times but the depth it adds to the story can be wonderful.

  3. 3

    Hi Bonnie! :eek:
    You know I am a fan since the Falcon & Dove because I just love that you set your books in Egypt. The movie The Mummy with Boris Karloff is one of my favortie horror movies along with Anne Rice’s book. I am also looking forward to more Nocture books.
    Bonnie, I just finished the Lady & Libertine and it was great. Thanks for all the great reads. :wink:

  4. 4

    Bonnie, this was an amazing post. I am always entranced by your novels and am soo glad that Lady and Libertine is coming out! I really like your bad boy character, I think that when a bad boy is bad for the right reasons it does make him more loveable and allows us to be more sympathetic to it. I am really sorry to hear about your dog, I know how hard it can be to lose a pet. They are member of the family and you never really stop missing them.

  5. 5

    Thanks Bonnie!

    I’m fascinated by Egypt, but haven’t read your books, so now I must, I must!

  6. 6

    Hi, Bonnie. It’s great to have you here today! Thanks for blowing out of the water the threat that only Regency England makes a viable historical. Take THAT, you so-called rules!

    The Morphs are creepy bad guys. The scene in Empath where they rush house in insect form will give the shivers to anybody who deals with annual ant invasions. Like me. Maybe a werewolf wouldn’t solve my problem, but an aardvark would be a good first step :grin:

  7. 7

    What a great post. I enjoyed the way you described how you came to write your books. :grin:

    The first time I attended RWA National I had no idea what a high concept was. It was mentioned at most of the workshops I went to, so I was quickly introduced to the concept. It’s a great thing to have when you’re sitting in front of an agent or editor at a pitching session. :)

    Great post. :)

  8. 8

    Thanks so much for sharing with us, Bonnie! Puts a whole new dimension on how to focus writing a novel. Keep writing, I’ll keep reading!

  9. 9

    Great article. I love hearing where the ideas came from and I cant wait to get the chance to read Midnight Cravings, it sounds great.

  10. 10

    Well I am not sure I have the right place to talk, but am looking forward to reading everyone else’s comments.

  11. 11

    Great post!

  12. 12

    “Love alwaysd wins”, I am so glad someone still adhears to this. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten to the end of a book and stare at it with shock and say, “That ending sucks”. We have enough disappointments in this world with out putting it in our recreational reading. Don’t get me wrong, there a times when a twist is important, so it carries to the next encounter in the next book. But when it suddenly just ends, and ends badly, I feel like I just walked into a brick wall.

  13. 13

    As far as a story getting axed because it doen’t meet the editors “selling points”, well then how do some of those god awful books out there get published. I mean I have read some real stinkers. The cover pulls you in or the title pulls you in and then you keep reading, thinking, “Okay it has to get better”, then before you know it your at the end, rubbing your temples from the headache trying to figure out what the heck the author was trying to say. I mean some times some of these books make me think the author has just sat down and written ambling thoughts.

  14. 14

    Well I got started late because “I slept in” by accident, and have to get some work done. I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed reading your take on things. Best wishes and best reviews in the future.
    Paula :lol:

  15. 15

    Fascinating blog, Bonnie. I’m going to have to get The Lady and the Libertine. It sounds great!

  16. 16

    Great post, Bonnie. I love your books and it’s fun to see where the ideas come from. And I’m sorry about your beloved dog. I lost my sweet Midge, our Jack Russell terrier a year ago, and we still mourn. Keep writing great books and sharing your wisdom.
    Cynthia Thomason

  17. 17

    This sounds like a wonderful book, thank you

  18. 18

    Hey Bonnie!

    Really enjoyed your post.

    Besides researching what’s hot in the marketplace, how can you come up with your own effective high concept idea?

  19. 19

    Bonnie, great explanation about high concept! And you know how much I love Shih Tzu’s and think what you did with the Nocturne is amazing!

  20. 20

    Wonderful blog, Bonnie. Very informative. However, when I think of vampire and teenage angst, I think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sorry, Stephanie was not the first to think of this storyline. But I love her stories anyway.
    All the best

  21. 21

    Bonnie, your post really puts the idea of High Concept into perspective. For me, your unique settings and themes make your books high concept, and the powerful emotions you infuse into each story makes them books of the heart.

    Thank you for sharing!

  22. 22


    Loved the way you made things seem so simple. I suck at high concept but will save and read this several times! I enjoyed the look inside your writer’s soul.

    Another author of werewolf stories is visiting at http://www.pinkfuzzyslipperwriters.blogspot.com.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of Rebecca York! :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

  23. 23

    I’ve read your Nocturnes, Bonnie, and loved them. After reading this, I think I need to read your Egyptian historicals too! Thank you for the post. :smile:

  24. 24

    Off the topic (a bit) of high concept, I love how you keep taking adversaries/villains & turning them into heroes! Your post is wonderful & I love the insight into another writer’s mind and process.

  25. 25

    Hi Bonnie and Allison,

    What an interesting blog. I’ve often heard people liken high concept books to a combination of films or classic novels. Your examples all sound fascinating. Love the sound of your novels. You have created wonderful rich worlds.


  26. 26

    When I ordered Bonnie’s first book I ordered it from Love/Spell. You know get two free books and join the club. I picked it out because it was listed as a TTR, time travel romance, my favorite genre. Anyways it wasn’t a time travel, it had a reincarnation
    premise. You know I never realized it wasn’t a time travel. All I know is I was hooked. And when I am hooked I love the author, and try to read every one of their books.
    With Bonnie there are lot’s of reasons to love her.
    I am so sorry about your doggie, I have lost several dogs too.

  27. 27

    Thank you, Bonnie, for being here today! It was an honor to have you. And thanks to everyone who dropped by and joined the conversation. We’ll let you know soon who won the copy of MIDNIGHT CRAVINGS!

  28. 28

    It sounds like I’ve got a number of books to buy and read! Woo hoo!

    Loved your interview, Bonnie!

  29. 29

    A great explanation of high concept. Thanks for joining us!

  30. 30

    That’s one high concept I like! I’ve always worried about the destined mates problem. I like authors who get playful with it, like Kresley Cole.

  31. 31

    Isn’t it cool the things that make a story idea click? Thos moments are amazing. Thanks for sharing, Bonnie.

  32. 32

    Hi everyone, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    Kerri, I honestly think that a high concept idea can be found just by mulling over something you really enjoy reading or even watching on television or the movies.

    For example, let’s say your favorite movie is The Terminator, the one in which the machine is trying to protect the kid, not kill his mother. You’re fascinated by the idea of a machine that gradually learns emotions, friendship, etc.

    You also like writing books about demons, good demons. So you start thinking, hey, what about a book about a demon who loses his body and has no choice but to take on the body of a human-like robot/machine in order to fulfill a certain task?

    That’s a really quick example off the top of my head, but see what I mean?

    Good luck, and happy reading, everyone!

  33. 33

    Very interesting info about high concept. I’d never heard this term before.

    Two April releases. That’s great! I couldn’t figure out how I missed two of your books as I was reading this blog. That would be these two!

  34. 34

    :mrgreen: a

  35. 35

    where rest of my comment went?

  36. 36

    Hey, Bonnie!!
    I am a HUGE fan of your historical Egyptian novels series!! I own all of them and they have been read and re-read so much that I’ve had to replace a couple of them :oops: !
    I look foward to reading Midnight Cravings!! Thank you for sharing your wonderful stories with us and thanks for the post!!
    Best wishes!!

  37. 37

    check this out…

    this is mine…

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