Wendy Clarke : The Balancing Act of Suspense and Romantic Suspense

So, helping me celebrate the Romantic Novelists’ Association‘s 60th anniversary this week is suspense writer Wendy Clarke who explains how the romantic suspense tips into the suspense of her writing.

Romantic suspense comes in many forms, how would you describe the sort you write?

Depending on how you look at it, my debut novel, What She Saw, could either be described as a psychological thriller or a romantic suspense. I think this would depend on whether it’s the relationship between the characters that’s important to you as a reader or the plot. I would say that the novel is primarily a suspense but has romance woven through it in the sub-plot.

Is it as straightforward as calling it a romance?

I would say romantic suspense is definitely not as straightforward as calling it a romance. In a romance, you would usually look for two things, a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. There is a lot more leeway for shades of grey (forgive the comparison) in a romantic suspense novel. The romance may or may not be the central theme (in my novel it isn’t) and there might not be a happy ending for your lovers. Because romance isn’t the main theme, it can be difficult to tell the point when a thriller tips into a romantic suspense.

What is it about romantic suspense that draws you to write it?

Although my intention had never been to write a straightforward romance as my first novel, when I wrote my debut thriller, it was impossible not to be influenced by the hundreds of romantic short stories I’d had published in magazines in the years before. For me, this merging of elements was a perfect way to start my novel-writing journey.

What sort of balance between the romance element and the suspense element do you have.

Although romance in What She Saw is integral to my story, the novel is weighted more heavily towards the thriller element. I would say 70-30 in favour of the suspense. I am moving away from the romance element though and my second suspense, We Were Sisters, contains very little.

Do you come up against any regular misconceptions about the genre and how do you dispel these?

I haven’t come across any misconceptions, as What She Saw is marketed as a psychological thriller rather than a romantic suspense. Luckily, readers of my novel seem to have embraced the slightly slower build-up and higher emotion stakes that the hidden romantic suspense genre gives to my writing. I hope it’s because I’ve managed to deliver the right amount of relationship development while filling the plot with danger and intrigue. What ever it is, I loved writing What She saw.

Blurb

We Were Sisters and is about an over-protective young mother, Kelly, who is struggling after the birth of her third child. One day, she finds a locket in her baby’s pushchair. It was the one her foster-sister Freya had been wearing when she died. The find brings back haunting memories of Kelly’s lonely childhood and she fears someone from her past wants to harm her family. Slowly but surely, her well-ordered life begins to unravel.

Georgia Hill : Darker Elements of Romance

The Romantic Novelists’ Association are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year and I’m delighted to welcome Georgia Hill onto the blog to talk about her latest novel and how this tie in with romantic suspense.

Romance and romantic suspense comes in many forms, not just the hearts and flowers relationships but the toxic and damaging ones too, how would you describe the romance included within your novels?

I’m primarily a romance writer rather than a romantic suspense novelist but I’ve written about all sorts of relationships, including one in The Little Book Caféwhich was abusive. It was inspired by a storyline in, of all things, The Archers. Like many I was drawn in by the compulsive saga of Helen and Rob. It aired about the time coercive control was recognised as an offence and I became fascinated. When people do terrible things in the name of love it’s truly horrifying. If you asked Adrian in The Little Book Café  why he was being so abusive to Tash, he’d be astonished. He truly believed he loved her.  I’ve been in a relationship which, looking back, had a certain amount of coercive control and extrapolated from that. My editor was shocked when she read it, claiming it was a little darker than my usual stuff. Don’t write off romance novels as being light and fluffy! I loved writing Adrian because he was so vile but I refuse to say who he was based on. Readers said I got it right which was a relief. It’s a responsibility when writing about issues like that. Most of the romantic relationships I write about are far healthier. A common theme is people finding that, as a couple, they are stronger together than as an individual. I’m a firm believer that, with the right person, you can go on to be the better version of yourself, that they complete you.

Is it as straightforward as calling it romance?

I’m not sure there’s anything straightforward about romance – or about romance novels. Messy, frustrating, accompanied by a whole airport carousel of emotional baggage. I always write a happy ending though. However much I make my characters suffer (poor Charity in my latest book On a Falling Tidesuffered terribly!) I will give them their happy ending, or at least hint that there will be one. The world is too miserable and uncertain at the moment to cope with a devastating ending to a book as well. My novels are aimed at those who want to escape.

What is it about romantic suspense that draws you to write it or include it in your books?

I didn’t think I wrote romantic suspense but the first part of The Little Book Café certainly had elements and On a Falling Tidehas lots. In The Little Book CaféTash attempts to escape Adrian. While writing it, I had the Mary Stewart classic novel, Madam, Will You Talk?in my head. She was a master in the art of romantic suspense and wrote a fabulous, exhausting-to-read chase sequence in that book. Edge of the seat stuff. I think the draw, whether reading or writing romantic suspense, are the questions, ‘What’s going to happen next? How will the characters get out of the peril they find themselves in?’ In order to make your reader read on, you have to create characters they really care about and they believe in.

What sort of balance between the romance element and the suspense element do you have?

I’m a romance writer first but I like to play with the genre. I can’t resist putting in some suspense or a little spookiness. The beauty and fun of the romance genre is that it’s all-encompassing.

Do you come up against any regular misconceptions about the genre and how do you dispel these?

The usual, ‘It’s all Mills and Boon.’ I only wish I could write a Mills and Boon, I’d love to write for them! Then there’s, ‘Oh you write Fifty Shades stuff?’ I’ve also been on the receiving end of, ‘When are you going to write a proper book?’ The implication being a romance novel isn’t. Nowadays that makes me laugh. You develop a thick skin by being a romance writer. I just tell them, even though my books aren’t real, the royalties pay the bills nicely thank you and change the subject!

Blurb

Two women. Connected by heartbreak, separated in time. Can Charity save the man she loves, or will Lydia’s vengeful spirit prove too strong?

Two haunting love stories and a hundred and fifty-year-old curse…

When the beloved grandfather who brought her up dies, Charity is left struggling to cope. Alone and rootless, she’s drawn to the sleepy fishing village of Beaumouth near Lyme Regis and begins to research her family tree.

A chance encounter with attractive boat-builder Matt sparks a chain of mysterious and unsettling events and leads Charity to uncover the story of a young girl who lived in the village over a hundred years before.

In 1863 all Lydia Pavey wants to do is follow in Mary Anning’s footsteps and become a ‘fossilist.’ Instead, she is being forced into marriage to a man she barely knows.

Charity’s obsession with Lydia becomes all-consuming and she risks losing everything. With a longed-for family tantalisingly in reach, will Charity find the happy ever after she’s yearned for and, most importantly, can she save the man she loves?

Patricia Dixon : The Gritty Side of Romance and Relationships

It’s week three of the Romantic Novelists’ Association‘s February celebrations for their 60th year and today I have Patricia Dixon talking about her writing …

Romantic suspense comes in many forms, how would you describe the sort you write?

I would describe it as more gritty subjects that either interest or mean something to me. Situations and subjects that are perhaps at the route of troubled relationships or have a sinister and secret side. 

Is it as straightforward as calling it romance?

I don’t think so, probably for the reasons above. Maybe love is a more apt word because it comes in many forms, it’s not all hearts and flowers which romance suggests. 

What is it about romantic suspense that draws you to write it or include it in your books?

Most people have been in love or I hope they have and it’s something that a reader can connect with, plus a sprinkling of suspense for added interest to the story. 

What sort of balance between the romance element and the suspense element do you have?

I try to focus on the relationship more and have suspense as a by-product. 

Do you come up against any regular misconceptions about the genre and how do you dispel these?

Just that word romance, I think it’s an instant turn-off for anyone who considers themselves a hardened crime, mystery, thriller suspense reader. Maybe they don’t want to admit to enjoying the genre or even give it a go. It’s a shame because some of my best reviews have come from readers of my books in the psychological genre who I coerced into giving my women’s fiction a try. Now I know they’d take a chance on romantic suspense because they enjoyed a bit of a change. 

Blurb

When Freya falls for the manipulative Kane, her life changes beyond her wildest imagination. When the luxurious life she craves gradually becomes intolerable she realises escape is out of reach. Her life has changed and so has she.

She knows that when she least expects it, he will return and make good his promise to exact revenge and ensure she pays the price he felt he is owed.

Can Freya ever be free?

Whoever knew love could be so dangerous?

Following Freya from her carefree twenties up to the present day, Over My Shoulder is an intricate tale of blinkered love and obsession.

Helena Fairfax : Conflicts Within Romantic Suspense

It’s week three of the Romantic Novelists’ Association‘s February celebrations for their 60th year and today I have romantic suspense writer Helena Fairfax with me talking about her views on romantic suspense.

Romance and romantic suspense comes in many forms, not just the hearts and flowers relationships but the toxic and damaging ones too, how would you describe the romance included within your novels?

Most of my novels are contemporary romances and are on the ‘heartwarming’ side. For In the Mouth of the Wolf, I had to take a different approach to building the relationship. In order to do this, I created a lot of mystery around the character of the hero, Léon. This mystery tests the heroine’s trust in him. The relationship itself isn’t toxic – it’s the people around Léon who introduce doubt.

Is it as straightforward as calling it romance?

In a romance novel, the conflict lies within the characters themselves – that is, what is it that is keeping the hero and heroine apart, even though they are made for one another? In a romantic suspense, there is an extra layer of conflict in the mystery or thriller element. The hero and heroine are doing battle, not just with themselves, but with outside forces. This makes it not as straightforward as calling it romance.

What is it about romantic suspense that draws you to write it or include it in your books?

I had enormous fun writing In the Mouth of the Wolf. The rest of my novels are ‘straightforward’ contemporary romances. In some ways contemporary romance is a lot more difficult to write. As I mentioned above, the tension has to come from within the characters, and the narrative is character-driven. Finding a credible reason to keep two people who are attracted to one another apart in the 21st century is extremely difficult to do, as is keeping up a page-turning quality. Readers know how a romance will end. Keeping them guessing on howit will end requires a lot of skill.

In a romantic suspense, the tension comes not just from within the characters but also through outside forces, which means the story is more plot-driven. In some ways this is easier to write – and in other ways, much harder. You have to make sure you are giving equal balance to the developing love story and the battle against ‘dark forces’.

I enjoy writing contemporary romance and romantic suspense equally. They both have their attractions.

What sort of balance between the romance element and the suspense element do you have?

Because I write mainly contemporary romance, In the Mouth of the Wolfis probably weighted more towards the romance element than the suspense. The ending feels more like that of a romance than of a thriller. This may be because the hero, Léon, became my favourite of all my heroes as I was writing the book. After all the suspense, I wanted to give both hero and heroine the ending they deserved!

Do you come up against any regular misconceptions about the genre and how do you dispel these?

I come up against misconceptions about the romance genre as a whole. When it comes to romantic suspense, some people seem to think the genre can’t be taken as seriously as ‘proper’ crime novels. I don’t understand why this is. There are some highly romantic heroes in crime novels – e.g. Adam Dalgliesh, in the P.D. James books, whose romantic relationship with Cordelia Gray is strongly hinted at.

To dispel misconceptions, I’d recommend people read some of the great romantic suspense writers. There are many, but two of my favourites are Mary Stewart and Janet Evanovich.

Blurb

When actress Lizzie Smith is asked to stand in for a real Mediterranean princess, she’s thrust into a world of intrigue and danger. Alone in a palace by the sea, isolated from her friends, Lizzie is forced to rely on her quiet bodyguard, Léon, to guide her. But who is Léon really protecting? Lizzie … or the princess?
On her return to Scotland, Lizzie begins rehearsals for Macbeth … and finds danger is stalking her through the streets of Edinburgh. Lizzie is once again forced to turn to Léon, for help – and discovers a secret he’d do anything not to reveal.
From the heat of the Mediterranean to the atmospheric, winding streets of Edinburgh, In the Mouth of the Wolf will take you on a journey of mystery and romance. Perfect for fans of Mary Stewart.

Tanya Jean Russell : Intrigue, Drama and Tension in Romance

This year sees the 60th anniversary for the Romantic Novelists’ Association and I’m running a series of blog posts about the romantic suspense genre. Today, I have Tanya Jean Russell  with me to talk about the genre.

Romance and romantic suspense comes in many forms, not just the hearts and flowers relationships but the toxic and damaging ones too, how would you describe the romance included within your novels?

I am passionate about love being based on respect, trust and partnership. To me, the most powerful love comes from valuing each other. The romance I write tends to focus on couples bringing out the best in each other, even if it takes a little while for them to see, or accept, that that’s what’s happening!

Is it as straightforward as calling it romance?

In some ways it is that simple, love and romance are at the heart of my novels, calling it romance is the promise writers make to readers that their hopes and expectations will be fulfilled when they invest their precious time, and money, in reading something we have written.

In other ways the very best romance novels are much richer than calling them by a single genre name suggests. They draw readers into the lives of the main characters, their families and friendships, making us, as readers, feel as though we are a part of their world.

What is it about romantic suspense that draws you to write it or include it in your books?

I love reading about human interaction and relationships. The way romance novels place the relationship at the heart of the fictional journey is really powerful. I am drawn to the romantic suspense genre as a way of experiencing the drama, tension and intrigue of events and lives I will never live (and probably wouldn’t want to if it came down to it!). The unique settings and challenges my hero’s and heroines face always feel as exciting to write as their developing relationship does, and hopefully they are exciting to read!

What sort of balance between the romance element and the suspense element do you have?

I’m not much of a planner when I write, so the balance between the romance and suspense elements tends to be dictated by my characters. I find my hero and heroines tend to be pretty noisy, and determined to tell their own stories, I just get to come along for the ride!

Do you come up against any regular misconceptions about the genre and how do you dispel these?

I have been really lucky that people have been overwhelmingly positive about my writing, and the genre. I feel like it’s a reality that any genre comes with certain expectations, and as a writer, its up to me whether I meet those expectations or not.

Blurb

Jake Williams has been undercover as a captain at Great Britain Air for months and he’s beyond frustrated. Tasked with finding the airline insiders who are smuggling chemical weapons into the country, he’s getting nowhere fast.

Bree Phillips has spent her whole life wanting to travel and experience life outside of the small village she grew up in, but her family needed her. Now, years later than planned, she is finally joining her best friend to work for Great Britain Air, and her adventure is beginning.

Jake knows he is better off alone, it keeps him sharp and focused, but despite his efforts to keep Bree at a distance, she is drawn further and further into his world. Both have to ask themselves whether some risks are worth taking.

Morton S. Gray : The Mysteries Tied Up in Romantic Suspense

The second week of the Romantic Novelists’ Association‘s 60th celebrations is upon us and today I have romantic suspense writer, Morton S. Gray with me.

Romance and romantic suspense comes in many forms, not just the hearts and flowers relationships but the toxic and damaging ones too, how would you describe the romance included within your novels?

The heroes and heroines in my books tend to take their time falling in love. I think this is because I usually have them in situations at the beginning of my novels where they would be unlikely to see each other as life partners, or even in some cases friends …

Is it as straightforward as calling it romance?

My stories tend to focus on the solving of a mystery and the hero and heroine both have a part to play in this, so, no, my books are not solely focussed on the romantic element.

What is it about romantic suspense that draws you to write it or include it in your books?

Generally, it is the mystery or suspense element of the book which starts me along the path of writing the manuscript – I often only have a vague scenario and context to place my characters in when I begin to write. I don’t plan my novels in advance, so I enjoy discovering what is happening in the situation and world I have created as I go along, hopefully as much as my readers do when they read the books.

What sort of balance between the romance element and the suspense element do you have?

I would say that my books are mainly focussed on the mystery or suspense by as much as seventy percent. In fact, the couple have to be able to solve the conundrum they have been set and weather the storms along the way to give them any chance of a successful relationship.

Do you come up against any regular misconceptions about the genre and how do you dispel these?

Readers, unless they are regular romance readers of course, tend to be turned off by the romance description I find. Unfortunately, it tends to be associated with fluffy images and lack of substance – so untrue.

All I do if I come across this reluctance to try a romantic suspense novel, is to describe the puzzle my characters are trying to solve and hope that this tempts readers in. To give you examples of what I might say – for The Girl on the Beach, the story is about a woman trying to work out if the new headmaster of her son’s school is a man she knew before in very different circumstances, for The Truth Lies Buried, it is a couple drawn together to try to discover why their fathers both disappeared around the same time when they were children and Christmas at Borteen Bay is centred around the finding of a body on the beach at the beginning of December and the identity of the deceased. I hope that these descriptions enable potential readers to realise my books have more substance than they first imagined.


Blurb

Two children in a police waiting room, two distressed mothers, a memory only half remembered…

When Jenny Simpson returns to the seaside town of Borteen, her childhood home, it’s for a less than happy reason. But it’s also a chance for her to start again.
A new job leads to her working for Carver Rodgers, a man who lives alone in a house that looks like it comes from the pages of a fairy tale – until you see the disaster zone inside …
As Jenny gets to know Carver she begins to unravel the sadness that has led to his chaotic existence. Gradually they realise they have something in common that is impossible to ignore – and it all links back to a meeting at a police station many years before.
Could the truth lie just beneath their feet?


Lynda Stacey : A Happy Union for Suspense and Romance

As part of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s 60th anniversary celebrations, I thought I’d invite some suspense and romantic suspense writers onto the blog over the next few weeks to talk about how they incorporate the two genres.

First up is Lynda Stacey

 

Romantic suspense comes in many forms, how would you describe the sort you write?

I’d say that all of my novels are very character driven. I write in deep third person, which gives the reader all the happiness, but also all the fear of the heroine. I always try to get empathy for my heroine, before escalating the suspense.

Is it as straightforward as calling it romance?

Not at all. Romance is exactly that, it’s the meeting of two people, the chemistry between them and the joining of their lives. Suspense comes in many different forms, the only two things you can be sure of in a suspense book is that the heroine isn’t going to get a smooth ride during the story and that once she does get love, she really deserves it.

What is it about romantic suspense that draws you to write it or include it in your books?

Because I honestly don’t believe that everyone’s life is full of roses, mine certainly wasn’t. Yes, of course people meet and fall in love, but in this day and age, there are always family members, ex-partners and other ‘nasty’ people who want to spoil things. I am however quite sure that most people’s lives don’t include serial killers or murder. But in my novels, my poor heroines are given quite a battle, they normally get quite a lot thrown at them, but being kick-ass type women they do grow within the book, gain confidence and ultimately, … they always win the battle in both life and love.!!

What sort of balance between the romance element and the suspense element do you have?

I try to ensure that both parts of the book would stand alone, that without the romance the crime would be there, and it would work. But equally, that there is always enough chemistry between my two main characters that the romance part of the story could still have happened, even if the suspense/crime hadn’t.

Do you come up against any regular misconceptions about the genre and how do you dispel these?

A lot of people seem to think that if you write any genre that has the word romance in it, then you must write books similar to Fifty Shades of Grey. That they obviously must be graphic or that they’re only for women to read.

None of the above is true. My books are nothing like Fifty Shades of Grey, they’re not graphic although they do contain one or two sexual scenes within each book (which I’d like to think are tastefully done) Also, I know quite a few men who’ve read my books. I openly encourage men to give them a go. !!

Blurb

Should some secrets stay buried?
For as long as Cassie Hunt can remember her Aunt Aggie has spoken about the forgotten world that exists just below their feet, in the tunnels and catacombs of the Sand House. The story is what inspired Cassie to become an archaeologist.
But Aggie has a secret that she’s buried as deep as the tunnels and when excavation work begins on the site, Cassie is the only one who can help her keep it. With the assistance of her old university friend, Noah Flanagan, she puts into action a plan to honour Aggie’s wishes.
It seems the deeper Noah and Cassie dig, the more shocking the secrets uncovered – and danger is never far away, both above and below the ground …

What’s To Love About Romantic Suspense?

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Romantic Novelists’ Association which is being celebrated throughout 2020 with a number of fab events, details of which you can find on their website. As next month is supposed to be one of the most romantic months with Valentine’s Day and this year it’s also a Leap Year, I thought I’d mark the occasion with a series of blog posts featuring romantic suspense writers.

As many of you know, I enjoy writing both romance and suspense, with my favourite genre romantic suspense where I get to bring the two together. Some of my books are in this latter category, although not necessarily marketed as such. My last book, The Dead Wife, definitely features both traits. Romance can very often be translated to ‘relationships’ and even in some of the most hardened crime stories, there is some sort of relationship going on, either as part of the main plot or subplot. Some of the most popular tv shows centre around and at least use love, romance and relationships in their storylines – off the top of my head there’s Doctor Foster, Big Little Lies, Line of Duty, Keeping Faith, You.

It’s the same for books too …

Karen Rose, Nora Roberts, Evonne Wareham have all written suspense books, with varying degrees of grittiness, which also feature romance. If you haven’t tried romantic suspense before, then I’d very much recommend any of the following.

Any of the Karen Rose series

I’m currently reading the  Baltimore series. Not for the faint-hearted.

 

Nora Roberts, Shelter In Place

Evonne Wareham, Never Coming Home

Louise Rose Innes writes military romantic suspense, with both the male and female leading in the alpha stakes.

Barbara Freethy writes a lot of romantic suspense, with probably more or equal emphasis on the romance.

Hope you enjoy the up-coming guest posts who all write in this genre and that you discover a new author as well.