For my blog-spot this month I interviewed my brilliant and talented Carina Press editor, Deborah Nemeth. Any mistakes are mine :)
1. What are you not seeing enough of in Romantic Suspense/Mystery? What are you seeking to acquire?
A: I’d really like to see more mysteries overall, including cozies and private detective novels such as Shirley Wells’s Presumed Dead. I’m also actively seeking steampunk mystery romances similar to Bonnie Dee’s Like Clockwork and Robert Appleton’s The Mysterious Lady Law, and romantic suspense with strong mystery elements like your own Sea of Suspicion and Storm Warning.
I don’t get a lot of thriller submissions, and I’d welcome more of them. I’d also love to edit more lighthearted capers, along the lines of Amy Atwell’s Lying Eyes.
Interesting settings appeal to me, and so do other eras and characters from other cultures, so I’d love to acquire some interracial/multicultural projects as well as mysteries/romantic suspense in unusual locales/time periods. This could be anything from a remote lighthouse setting to a dystopian, space opera, futuristic or historical mystery. I enjoy all periods from ancient to twentieth century, and I’m excited about an upcoming World War II-set m/m mystery by Josh Lanyon, Snowball in Hell. I also enjoy Gothic mysteries such as Shelley Munro’s Georgian-set historical mystery romance, The Spurned Viscountess.
I should clarify that this is just what I’m looking for. Carina Press has 13 other editors and our tastes cover the gamut, so there’s an editor for any subgenre you can think of.
2. What are you seeing too much of right now in RS/M?
A: I wouldn’t say too much, but I do see a lot of romantic suspense submissions with conspiracy plots and serial killer/arsonist/stalker/rapist villains in various contemporary American urban settings. And mysteries/suspense that open with a prologue in the villain’s point of view. Of course, any of these can work, given a fresh twist and strong writing.
3. Roughly what percentage of submissions do you receive per month that are romantic suspense or mysteries?
A: About 12-15% of the submissions I receive are either romantic suspense or mysteries. And my projects reflect that, since 15% of them are the same genres. This might not be reflective of Carina Press overall, since the various freelance editors have different genre preferences.
4. On average, how many pages do you read before you know (as in getting that tingle) whether or not you have found something you want to acquire?
A: I often get a tingle on the first page, but even though I may love an author’s voice, I won’t know until I’ve read the entire manuscript to make sure the conflict, plot and character arcs hold up.
5. Have you ever fought for an acquisition and lost?
A: I’ve recommended a few mystery/suspense projects that weren’t acquired. A member of the Carina Press acquisition team must vet and recommend each acquisition. I once liked a British cozy mystery with an oddball middle-aged hero whose character and profession/hook just didn’t appeal to the others, and another romantic suspense project that would have required a lot of work. Sometimes the team will suggest we do a revision letter, inviting the author to resubmit with changes.
6. Obviously RS & M can be very different beasts. Can you tell me what the most important aspect of a RS is? And a Mystery? And can the two be blended successfully?
In a mystery, the focus is typically reflective, the appeal cerebral, to discover whodunit and whydunit. We don’t always have action or danger in a mystery, although we usually get both at the climax.
In suspense, the protagonists are in danger of their lives, and we usually expect some action. The focus is on surviving, and stopping a villain. Its success depends on creating emotion in the reader. We need more pulse-pounding moments in a suspense novel than in a mystery. The odds against the protagonist’s survival need to grow as we reach the story’s climax.
In romance, the focus is on the development of the romantic relationship between the hero and heroine. The existence of a romantic suspense subgenre is evidence of how successfully these two can be blended. Mystery and romance don’t always mesh together as well, but some authors can pull it off. Josh Lanyon has brilliantly combined the two in his upcoming release, Snowball in Hell, about a police lieutenant and a crime reporter in LA during WWII.
Generally the story is either primarily a mystery with strong romantic elements, or primarily a romance. Your novel Sea of Suspicion succeeds as both, but the romance focus slightly outweighs the mystery, while in Clare London’s Blinded by His Eyes, the mystery takes center stage, with the romance playing a strong supporting role.
7. I’ve heard tell that the success of romance stories hinges on the hero—any thoughts?
A: I agree that most female romance readers prefer a hero they can fall in love with, like I did with your Nick Archer in Sea of Suspicion. A romantic hero needs to be flawed but larger-than-life and have appealing aspects. He needs to care passionately about his goals, whatever they are. Ultimately, we need to see that he’s exactly who the heroine needs to be happy.
8. What draws you into a suspense story?
A: The same types of things draw me into a suspense story that draw me into any submission—a great voice, fully developed and strongly motivated characters, an intriguing premise/hook. Beyond that, a suspense author must be skilled at creating and sustaining tension. Pacing and emotion are very important elements in suspense.
9. Favorite romantic suspense and mystery authors (not including your own authors)?
A: This is really tough but I’d probably go with Ngaio Marsh. I also love Mary Stewart, Elizabeth George, Martha Grimes, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Jacqueline Winspear, Ellis Peters, P.D. James, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham and of course Dame Agatha.
10. Sexuality in RS and Mystery. Are you seeing any changes in reader trends do you know?
A: Romances overall contain more heat than in years past, and erotic romance remains popular—but I think it’s easier to pull off an erotic contemporary, historical, SF or paranormal than an erotic romantic suspense. In RS, the romantic relationship develops in the crucible of danger and perhaps also suspicion. In an erotic romance, the relationship develops through sex, and if you’re combining the two, it’s difficult to balance the focus. You need to take your time with lovemaking scenes for them to be truly erotic, and this can cause problems of pacing and timing in a suspense novel.
I have no expectation for the sexual content of a submission, unless it’s an erotic romance submission. The level of heat must be dictated by what the story needs and how the author wishes to tell it.
11. And onto the negative…What elements are grounds for immediate rejection? Pet peeves?
A: One of my pet peeves is a lot of exposition in the first scene. I don’t necessarily immediately reject, but it’s a huge strike against, and unless there’s a strong reason for me to keep reading (maybe I’ve enjoyed books by this author before, or it’s a highly recommended referral, or the author has a great voice and a terrific premise), I will probably reject. Another pet peeve is an author who behaves badly online. I’m unlikely to be interested in a submission from an author who rants or is inconsiderate to readers, reviewers and other authors.
I have some personal dislikes, but I’d never reject an otherwise promising submission based on my own taste without first passing it on to another editor. For instance, I can be very squeamish about violence to children, depending on how it’s handled, so if a story involves molestation, killing or torture of a child in a way I can’t stomach, I might pass it along to a CP editor who’s more receptive to that subject matter.
In most cases, when I’m reading a submission, it simply comes down to whether the story holds my attention. If it’s hard for me to put down, and I find myself thinking about it when I’m cooking or driving, that’s a good sign.
12. What do you like best about your job? Least?
My least favorite part of the job is rejecting a submission—especially a manuscript from one of my authors, or from a referred author, or a revised-and-resubmitted one. But the upsides of editing make up for this.
I love discovering new voices and working with authors, who constantly amaze me with their creative imaginations. If I spot a problem in a story, such as with the conflict or motivation, or the clues not quite adding up the right way, I’m always impressed by the clever solutions writers dream up. It’s so rewarding to see a ms go from its raw state to the polished product, and see my authors garner well-earned reviews and awards. It’s also a great feeling when I receive a submission in my inbox from someone who was referred by one of my authors.