Friday, March 31, 2017

The Softer Side of Romantic Suspense

I enjoy reading romances of all sub genres.  Those of you who've read a number of my interviews know that, before I started writing, I'd read very few romance novels at all, but my shelves are now lined with them, and I enjoy reading as many books as I can get my hands on.  Often times I receive books as gifts and I refuse not to finish a book that I've begun, even if the writing makes my head spin.  I tend to wind up with more historical romance than anything else--perhaps because so many authors enjoy writing in this genre, perhaps because the covers just pull you right in.  But I like to mix things up when I read, so when I've finished a historic romance novel I'll look for something different to read the next time around, namely paranormal, contemporary or suspense.  Funny thing about romantic suspense.  Though I am the author of seven romantic suspense novels, I tend to grit my teeth when I read these stories, as I'll often get a feeling right off the bat that the villain is going to be one hell of an evil seed.  Someone is trapped, being held captive and I'm biting my nails, swallowing the same bile that is described as being choked back in the victim's throat, a victim I know doesn't have long to live.  The "romance" might be only a few pages away.  But by that time, I'm so terrified it's a bit hard for me to get into a romantic mood at all...and even the sexiest of heroes would probably have a difficult time getting me there.

When I started writing, I considered where my own books might be classified.  I love writing suspenseful stories, but not exactly the kind I was finding that many other authors did.  Fights, kidnapping and the occasional murder fueled my creative fire but villains with very obscene thoughts and totally depraved fetishes never had.  Was I breaking the unsaid rules?  Or had I discovered that suspense has a softer side?

In articles and at workshops and conferences, we as writers are constantly told that we must find our voice, learn what makes us similar to other writers but also what makes us stand out, why we're different from the rest of the pack.  This can be a difficult thing to do with only a few stories under your belt, but when I'd gotten several down on paper I began to see several patterns in my own brand, one being that I love reforming former villains in subsequent stories.  Many ingredients are needed to make such a recipe possible but one thing that is key is that the villain cannot be such a degenerate that a reader could never see him as anything more than the scum of the earth.  Rather, in order to reform and even become the hero in a future story I personally feel that villains must be some version of a troubled soul, plagued by demons yet to be uncovered, demons that will humanize his character when brought to light and make the reader sympathetic towards his circumstances.  The result may be a slightly softer villain than some.  His story also makes for a softer version of romantic suspense.

Villains-to-reform are hardly the only potential element that might differentiate such a story from the grittier version of romantic suspense so many of us are used to.  Each writer brings her own unique flare to the table in this respect but I tend to appreciate more and strive to write stories in which the suspense makes the heart race, but rarely produces a queasy stomach.  A villain who likes to cut up his victims with an x-acto knife makes my skin break out in goosebumps but a cleverly plotted scheme orchestrated by a villain who keeps up a steady chase, perhaps abducts the heroine in a critical moment in which only the hero can save her is right up my alley.  Such danger fuels the romance between the hero and heroine as their fear for the other's life comes with it, and in the turn, the deepest secrets of their hearts are brought to light.

I have the greatest respect for authors who can write the scariest of the scary--your writing takes talent, guts and tremendous creativity to pull off!  But to those of you who dislike the sight of blood as much as I do, (or the description of it!) suspense has a softer side, too.  It just might take you on your most exciting adventure yet!