The first day of spring is almost upon us, marking the start of a season that celebrates the world around us blossoming to life. Both the old and the burst forth with new buds as the sun stimulates growth. So it’s fitting that March has been month of new blooms for the Wenches. At the beginning of the month, Mary Jo announced her exciting entry in the Young Adult genre with Dark Mirror, a magical historical paranormal that sweeps readers from the Regency to World War II.
And today I’m delighted to announce my debut into the world of historical mystery with Sweet Revenge, which takes place in London during the spring of 1813. The book hits the shelves on April 5, and along with a new genre, I have a new name—Andrea Penrose (Oh, don’t ask! Publishing is very complicated these days, and I apologize if it’s confusing. But be assured that I will continue to write romance as Cara Elliott—I’m simply putting another hat on my head . . . and hoping my brain can carry the load!)
Here’s a small taste of the story (chocolate plays a big role in the story, but more on that next month!):
Lady Arianna Hadley’s desire to discover her disgraced father’s murderer has brought her back to London from exile in the Caribbean. Masquerading as a male chef, she is working in one of London’s aristocratic households in order to get close to her main suspect. But when the Prince Regent is taken ill after consuming Arianna’s special chocolate dessert, she unexpectedly finds herself at the center of a dangerous scandal.
Because of his expertise in chocolate, the eccentric Earl of Saybrook, a former military intelligence officer, is asked by the top brass at Horse Guards to investigate the suspected poisoning. But during his first interrogation of Arianna, someone tries to assassinate both of them, and it quickly becomes clear that something very sinister is afoot within the highest circles of government. They each have very different reasons for wanting to uncover the truth, yet to have any chance of doing so they must become allies.
Trust. Treachery. Arianna must assume yet another identity as their search takes them from the glittering ballrooms of Mayfair to the slums of St. Giles. And their reluctant alliance is tested in more ways that one as it becomes clear that someone is looking to plunge England into chaos . . .
Like Mary Jo, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about moving into a new genre. One of the first things my friends asked was what’s the difference between writing a mystery and writing a romance. It’s something that I thought about a lot as I started on the project. Pamela Regis, author of the A Natural History of the Romance Novel, describes a romance as a story of courtship ending in betrothal. So, by its nature, the primary focus is the relationship between two people—traditionally the hero and the heroine—and the story revolves around how, and why, they come to fall in love. Their characters are developed and defined mainly by their interaction with each other. And these days, that interaction often includes explicit sexual scenes. (Please remember my earlier comment about publishing being complicated . . .)
A mystery, as the name implies, revolves more around the actual plot. A conundrum is presented to the reader, and the story is all about solving it. While romance tropes call for a HEA (Happily Ever After) mystery tropes revolve around the notion of justice—that in the end, the villain gets his just desserts. Put more simplistically, it’s about good stopping evil from running amuck—though sometimes the ending can be more ambiguous than it is in romance.
So I explained to my friends that in a mystery, characters tend to grow and change through their interaction with the problem they are trying to solve, rather than solely through their dealings with each other. Tension and conflict often come from the moral choices that confront them. That said, there are often intense relationships between characters in a mystery, and they definitely help shape one another. It’s more a question of nuance and degree. Yes, things get very personal, but the problem—ie, the mystery—is always that third presence, however shadowy, in the scene. The characters cannot react to each other’s actions and thoughts without seeing them through the prism of the problem. As for sex, unless it is an integral part of the plot, the bedroom door tends to stay shut.
When I sat down to start work on < em>Sweet Revenge, I thought a lot about how I wanted to develop my hero and heroine within these new parameters. For me, the chance to explore the nuances of character and motivation is one of the core reasons why I write. I find it infinitely challenging to try to create textured, layered people who have the same conflicts and contradictions as real life individuals do, and then put them in situation where they have to conquer her own weaknesses and doubts to triumph.
As a romance writer, I love drawing two disparate people together. But I’ve also tended to have mystery/adventure elements in my plots because I’ve always loved the the layers of tension and twists in a well-crafted plot. So I wondered if somehow I could strike a happy balance between the two. We'll see what the critics think! It’s always a little frightening—and at the same time exhilarating—to try sometime new. But as spring unfurls in all its glorious colors, the season reminds us that it’s good to spread new roots and lift fresh branches toward the sun. Growth keeps us vital!
What about you—do you enjoy reading across genres? Have you a favorite one? Have you tried any new categories lately? I make my first foray into steampunk recently and really enjoyed it. And while we’re on the subject of styles, what do you think about explicit sex in books?
I'll be giving away a copy of Sweet Revenge to one reader who leaves a comment here between now and Sunday, so be sure to chime in!