On the surface, the definition seems pretty straightforward. It’s a romance that is set in a world of suspense, surely. Isn’t it?
So what’s that? I thought I knew until I won the Romantic Suspense EPPIE for my book “Harley Street.” Because that book is part of my Richard and Rose series. Richard and Rose meet in “Yorkshire,” court in “Devonshire,” honeymoon in “Venice,” and begin to settle in to married life together in “Harley Street.” That’s until Rose finds a dead parlor maid in her aunt’s house and when Richard sees the maid, he recognizes her.
So there’s a murder, and that escalates to a lot more, in fact to the problems that feature in the last few books of the series. But there’s a murder in the first book, too. So is that romantic suspense?
To be honest, damned if I know.
I just write. I don’t sit down to write a “romantic suspense” or a “historical romance” or anything else. The only thing I sit down to write is a romance. I love the way a relationship moves towards its happy ending. Things just happen along the way, that’s all. And what happens always enhances or helps to develop the romance. I don’t write books about couples who set out to solve a mystery and find love along the way. The romance is the most important part of the story. So if there’s a murder, it’s part of the hero’s story, or the heroine’s. It could be that the hero is a policeman, or, as in Richard’s case, someone interested in developing a civilian police force. Or the heroine could be a government agent, or have a dicey past.
But the hero and heroine are stuck, somehow. They need to move on with their lives and enter a new phase. They might realize it, or they might not, but they are ready for their romance of a lifetime. The external events of the story help them to move on, push them into a realization and help them to overcome something in their character that might prevent them from moving on.
All my writing career I’ve been trying to write the perfect Harlequin Presents story. Why? Because they can be a great read and the requirements for writing them are so stringent that it’s really hard to write a living, breathing romance. Sadly for me, there’s no formula. If there were, it would be easy. But there isn’t and it isn’t.
That’s how “Learning to Trust” came about. I planned it carefully and started it as a Harlequin Presents. But I wanted a bit of edge, and I made the heroine an ex drug addict, trying to restart her life in a small suburb in Naples. The hero was the requisite billionaire, who had history with the heroine. He would discover her, fall in love and take her back to New York, where she tries to restart her life.
That was okay until the hero, Jon, made a comment. He didn’t want to tell the people in the café where the heroine worked that he was a rich businessman, so he glanced at his Nikes and said he was a knockoff merchant. After all, they were all over the Bay of Naples in streets and stalls, and not all the Armani watches were real.
Then I needed motivation for the heroine to leave Naples, so I had the Mob threaten her.
When the first firebomb arrived, I realized I’d left the Presents line behind. And the hero and heroine were burning up the sheets, which meant hotter scenes than you usually find in a Presents.
I stopped and rewound. What had happened here? I did some research. Ah. I discovered that these days, the Naples “families” run the place. That’s why there are mounds of garbage in the streets, and why every business pays a premium. Why the no-go areas in Naples are deeper and more frightening than anything you can find anywhere else. In one of those fortunate occurrences, there was a major documentary on TV about the Naples families. I didn’t call them “mafia” on purpose, because that brings forward images of the Godfather, Omerta and so on. While there are a few similarities between that and today’s organization, there are also significant differences. Honor, if it ever existed, has disappeared. And the Naples families have extensive connections with the East, where they make knockoff items, “designer” bags and t-shirts, and jewelry. But not just that. The items are lucrative in themselves, but they’re also used to smuggle drugs. The major grower of the opium poppy these days is Afghanistan. The more I researched, the more a story formed. Naples is ideally situated as a base to bring these items into Europe and ship them to America. How could I ignore all that?
So I replanned and rewrote.
The result is “Learning to Trust.” It’s still a story about two damaged people finding each other, and in the process, themselves, still most importantly a romance, but now the background is packed with action and danger. It’s what I hope will be the first in a trilogy, because a background like that is too good to use in just one book. But each story has a different couple and is complete in itself. They just have that background.
I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it. It started me on a whole new area to write about and explore, and to a writer, that’s always exciting.
The Richard and Rose series is out with Samhain Publishing
"Learning to Trust" is out from Carina press in November, 2012