When I won an award for romantic suspense with a historical, it really made me think. Almost every book has an element of suspense, because we need to introduce conflict—without conflict, and it doesn’t have to be antagonistic—there is no story.
Two of the series I write have a great deal of suspense. It’s built-in. The Department 57 series, where paranormal beings fight against a hidden enemy, all without the public knowing, and the STORM series, where shape-shifters, vampires and other paranormal beings are “out,” a world I want to develop as it goes on. The STORM world is set “tomorrow,” when paranormal beings have come out of the closet and are trying to live in harmony with other humans. I take the view that we are all humans, but different kinds of human. Just as cheetahs, lions, tabbies and Persians are all types of cat, vampires, shape-shifters and others are all kinds of human. We share a DNA.
That makes it difficult because whenever something unknown emerges, the response in some quarters is fear and anger. Although I’m busy writing a non-suspense series for the publisher of the STORM books, there is another one in the pipeline, and I want to plan more. But set in the world of politics.
I’ve already sent one Talent (that’s what my vampires etc call themselves) to Washington, DC, but little has been heard of him for a while. I want to develop that side. Because isn’t it going to be really complicated to legislate for people who are different to you? Who might have superpowers but also vulnerabilities that need to be catered for? But I don’t want to concentrate on the debate and discussion side. Rather, the people who oppose Talents being given full human status. Who want shape-shifters to be legally animals. That would give them the power to control them.
See where I’m going? Conflict.
I absolutely adore that kind of thing, and mirroring it in the private lives of the characters in the books. Because, above everything else, I’m a romance writer. I believe in the power of love, and how it can bring people together, as well, sadly, as driving them apart. But the redeeming power of love is awesome, and something people often overlook these days, except for romance writers. I like to blend the love story in with the suspense and get the people involved, counterpointing everything so that just when their love life is working, something comes up to threaten everything they’ve just discovered.
I also like vulnerable characters, something some reviewers dislike. I had a book in the STORM universe about a character who until recently was in a wheelchair. His conversion “cured” him, but his mind was slow to catch up, so although he was now powerful and healthy, he still thought of himself as handicapped. It’s when he’s forced to go undercover as his old self that he begins to realise what he’s won—and what he’s lost.
That was called “Shifting Heat,” and it was really interesting to see the reviews. Some reviewers absolutely loved it, and some hated it. Because the hero wasn’t an alpha, he was a loner, the type I love best, because they tend to be more complex, and he was deeply vulnerable. Some readers prefer a straightforward hot romance between an alpha and his woman. I do write those, too, but I found it really interesting to see that the people who loved it, really loved it. The dichotomy was different, interesting and it taught me a lot about how people read romance books. Some read them purely for escapist pleasure, and some want to see more complex relationships. I suspect that very often the two “kinds” of readers are just the same person with different moods, because that’s the way I read. A multi-layered Nalini Singh or Lynn Viehl novel is a treat and invariably ends on my keeper shelf, but there’s times I want a less nuanced, more straightforward read.
It just goes to show, it takes all sorts to make a romantic suspense community!