Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Historical romance and romantic suspense

Why do I write romantic suspense and historical romance? I love both genres because I like writing adventure and action and characters under extreme stress. I suppose all my novels are romantic suspense novels as well as some being historical romance novels. In my Bronze Lightning there is a mysterious villain threatening the female lead whom she has to battle against and finally unmask - like a romantic suspense. My second 'big' ancient Egyptian novel Blue Gold has at its core a religious mystery: the protagonists have to discover the true nature of the god Set, a search which leads to many adventures in strange and exotic locations - romantic suspense element again. In my Flavia's Secret there is the mystery of the death of Flavia's beloved mistress and an enemy working against Flavia and Marcus. In A Knight's Vow, Alyson must battle with Fulk, who works against her both in secret and finally overtly. In A Knight's Captive, the hero and heroine are in conflict because the hero is Breton and the heroine is English - and this is 1066, when England was invaded by Normans.

I suppose all my novels are romantic because they all have this quest/search/adventure motifs. I think all romance genres have similar elements to each other. My first published novel, Voices in the Dark, has a saga element because there are families involved and trouble goes down the generations (this is also true of The English Daughter). The second novel, Night of the Storm , has two romances and is more a romantic suspense than a romantic suspense, as is my novella A Secret Treasure. In romantic suspense you must have the menace and suspense there as a continuous strand, alongside the equally important relationships in the novel. These relationships, particularly the romance between hero and heroine can be brought under stress, threatened and changed by the thriller elements of the novel. The thriller elements can give you wonderful reasons for characters to be brought into sharp conflict as they each suspect the other or maybe want to protect each other but can’t. This conflict is very entertaining for the reader and writer because it’s always life and death stuff and usually two characters at odds because they’re both right. You haven’t got them arguing for the sake of it. Their choices through the story at key points are also very pointed, very stark, with big consequences, and I like that, too. I guess I’m not subtle!

Romantic suspense writing and historical romance writing are both very active genres and I like to have both my female and male leads rescuing each other at key points through the story, whether in active terms or psychological terms. The search and rescue strands in my books are always very strong.

In my novels I also have a strong whodunit element. The whodunit is also a whydunit, as with novels of psychological suspense (which I suppose are more intense, more character-driven versions of romantic suspense, where the threats arise from internal kinks in the characters rather than any external forces, as there can be in romantic thrillers. In my Night of the Storm, the storm is a vital element, adding something unplanned and chaotic and a further test for my people. To get the whodunit part right I always spend a long time at the start of plotting any novel working out who the villain is and why. I work out motivations and give my people backstories which I know, even if they don’t appear directly in the novel. It can add depth and richness to characters and make them intriguingly ambiguous. The ambiguous Byronic-style anti-hero who turns out to be a good guy is a staple in these novels and great fun to write and read about.

You can do romantic suspense another way, too, as I did with Night of the Storm, where the heroine, Melissa, knew that the villain, Katherine, was engaged in illegal wildlife trafficking, but had to search for the evidence to prove it. I also added a very personal element for Melissa, in that she’s also searching for whoever murdered her partner Andrew. I find in romantic suspense that the big issue brought into focus by making it personal works very well. So in Voices in the Dark I had my hero searching for a war criminal who tortured members of her own family. Personal helps readers to identify, I think.

The other bonus I find with writing romantic thrillers is that you usually can have an exotic location, or moderately so. This isn’t just because the setting is appealing to readers, giving them a bit of escapism. Sometimes it’s useful for the plot, too. Italy is popular as a holiday destination and it also has regular corruption scandals, which meant my heroine in Voices in the Dark had a very good reason not to go rushing to the police at the start of her search. That question: why doesn’t the female lead go to the police? I find must always be answered in a modern romantic suspense. Again, I’d no problems in my second novel, because the climax of the novel takes place on a small Greek island, cut off from the authorities by a massive storm.

So to summarise: the recurring elements in my romantic suspense amd historical romance are:

1. Strong, active female lead and male lead. Both might have added internal psychological kinks to their natures, just to increase the mixture.

2. A problem that needs a quest or search to be resolved.

3. Exotic locations where the police cannot easily be present, so your people have to search and find out and also save themselves. (In historical settings the police may not exist.)

4. Whodunit element which has to be worked out, otherwise the leads may perish. That threat I find very engaging and a pleasure to write, as you can have a building series of climaxes and a really juicy ending.

5. Backstories that have a direct bearing on the present novel.

6. Characters that are grey, not black and white. Sometimes the male lead can seem a villain, sometimes the female lead can do seemingly bizarre things, which are later accounted for in the novel.

7. Lots of action and violence. Woman against nature, woman against woman, woman against man. I like writing both and was told to cut down on the torture sequences in Voices in the Dark.

8. Relationships that change, are built up or destroyed through the novel, often as a direct result of the thriller elements and threats of the story.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to Keep Writing When Life Gets in the Way

This was a topic I was going to tackle in my blog later this year. However, if you’re a follower of the blog, you know I didn’t post anything in July because my mother passed away. I’m no stranger to putting aside my writing while I deal with a family illness. I quit writing when my father was battling pancreatic cancer. After he died, I thought I’d just get straight back to it but I couldn’t. It was almost a decade until I got back on track.
So when my mother was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, my first thought was, does this mean my writing has to go on hiatus again. My mother’s battle lasted a lot longer than my dad’s so it gave me time to prepare, time to think about how I would handle my writing commitments when her journey came to an end.

None of us are immune to life getting in the way of our writing. Whether it’s a family crisis, our own illness, or even happy events like marriages and births. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way and I hope they help you when life gets in the way of your writing.

Write Every Day
One thing I did wrong when my dad was ill was not doing any writing at all. Sticking with a schedule is crucial and it’s even more important when something else is happening in your life. It might not be your usual output, but get something down on paper. Even if it’s just your feelings about what’s happening in your life. Capture it and who knows you might be able to use it some day.

Don’t Get Angry
After my dad died and I sat down to write and nothing happened, I used to turn my frustration inwards. What’s wrong with me? I used to ask myself. Nothing was wrong, I just needed more time. If I’d allowed myself to take some time away instead of rushing back to it, I don’t think my writer’s block would have lasted quite so long.

Use The Time Wisely
Another thing I learned the first time around was when you’re not writing on your usual schedule, it’s the perfect time to think ahead. What manuscripts are you going to work on next month, next year? Jot down ideas for plots, profiles of characters you’re going to create. Write a ‘business plan’ for your writing career. What are your goals, how are you going to achieve them?

Writing Can Be Healing
So what’s different this time around? I did take some time off, but was able to get back on track within a week of mom’s passing. I didn’t rush back because of my fear about what happened last time, but now I’m finding it’s actually healing. These are early days and I know some are going to be better than others, but creating characters and writing about them and their lives gives me something to think about other than myself and my loss.

Susan Palmquist is a freelance writer and author of three published novels and the upcoming paranormal romance, Sleeping With Fairies to be published later this year by Lyrical Press. Visit her Web site at

Monday, August 17, 2009

sex v romance

It's my pet peeve. I read a romance and it feels like porn. Instead of the heroine being courted, some horny, overzealous stud is talking to her like she's the class tramp and he's a hormonal high schooler.

It's all personal opinion, of course, but I would like to be romanced not propositioned like a street walker. Maybe its why I like historicals. The manners, the more elegant way of speaking, and the societal restraints make the tension more delicious and the hero far more charming than a contemporary. Add to the fact I would like for the love scene to make sense. If I have been kidnapped, beaten and shoved in a box I will be thinking escape not "my you have a nice ass."

In an attempt to up the sensuality levels, some writers forget the wooing, the actual romantic part of the story. The part that makes me sigh and fall in love with the hero.

First is the once over. The first meeting, the first glimpse of the potential lover, or at least the first time the character might think of the person as a potential lover. The face, the physique, the voice all affect the character.

"His deep voice enveloped her in warmth like a mink stole. Had she ever noticed the forest green of his eyes or how a simple thing like a gesture could make her melt."
Again personal preference, but there is sublte then there is:
"Who was the hot girl walking into the bar? his contact? All Jake wanted to do was reach beyond the tightness of her skirt and sink himself into her depths, while she screamed his name"
Too much too soon.

I don't mind a little screaming, but can we get a name first? My heroine deserves to be won. Her love would spring from a respect for the hero, sure he's handsome, but so was Ted Bundy. More than just appearance, his heart should be beautiful and give her something to fall in love with.

The touch of his hand, his nearness, and the first kiss should be memorable. A gentle kiss to her fingers, a cheek brushing the palm of her hand. Tenderness promising more, stoking a fire a step at a time.

Finally, sex is beautiful, there is longing, passion and a loss of control, but above it all there is nurturing, respect, and a platform for love to grow. Women are emotional. Please give me a hero who will like me, really like me, because of who I am not because I have a nice rack. Two people who are strong together and love each other despite who they are. Acceptance. Commitment. It's old fashioned, but its my idea of romance.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Release

Hi all,
I just wanted to let you know "Kindertransport" is available at The Wild Rose Press now. Paste this link to the address bar to find it.

I included an excerpt, enjoy:

I filled a syringe with morphine. Could innocent blood ever be washed away?
Would my hands ever be clean again if I continued on this course? The gas would make them choke, gasping for breath as life was strangled to nothingness. Morphine would make them euphoric, and an overdose would put them to sleep, peacefully, with no pain.

A sleep from which they would not awake, but they would be safe from the evil that awaited them otherwise. I filled the second syringe. I thought of each child as I punctured the rubber stopper, the needle sucking up the lethal fluid filling the tube.
Little Wilhelm. My treasured leader of the pack. The braces on his legs never stopped his imagination from soaring.

Lara. An artist’s soul expressed with the one good hand she had. Art reflective of the beauty living in her heart.

The twins. Isn’t intelligence measured with creativity? I would sorely miss their energy.
My hand slipped., and the needle grazed the knuckle of my thumb. I swore and bit my lip. Perfect. I’ll kill myself before I get a chance to euthanize my children. Then, after I enter Heaven’s gate, if He lets me inside them, God can tell me I am an idiot and a murderer.

I rubbed my shoulders. They hunched with an invisible weight that made my back ache.

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