Andrea here, continuing the joint interview with Pat about our new books, Sapphire Nights and Murder at Half Moon Gate which both released yesterday! At first blush, they may seem very different—Pat’s is a contemporary with paranormal elements, while mine is Regency-set historical. But in reading each other’s manuscripts (Wenchly Beta reading is such fun!) we realized there were some really interesting core themes that tied the stories together. In the previous blog, we talked about our heroines. And today, we’re asking ourselves this question: We're both romance writers who have chosen to use mystery plots as a core element of our new books—why?
Andrea: In writing romance, the journey, no matter what twists and turn it takes, is always meant to arrive at the same destination—an HEA for the hero and heroine. That chemistry of how one falls in love lies at the heart of the story. It’s an endlessly interesting trope, and there’s lots of room to explore each person’s fears and conflicts as they work to overcome what’s keeping them apart. But the tensions focus on romantic relationship (and yes, these days that means focusing on sexual as well as cerebral attraction.) So the focus of the story is very personal—two people building a bond that makes them stronger than they would be on their own.
I’ve come to love writing mystery as I feel it gives me the opportunity to develop my characters with greater breadth and depth. Romance is always part of my mystery stories, but it’s not the driving force. In a mystery, the protagonists have to unravel a conundrum—usually a crime—and uncover whatever truth is hidden inside it—no matter how uncomfortable. That challenge allows me to ask my characters even more elemental questions concerning how they see their place in the world—questions about good and evil, right and wrong, the nuances of morality and where one decides to draw the line in the sand.
For me those added elements of introspection add texture and richness to a story. Now don’t get me wrong, I love romance novels, however, the nature of love is only part of our psyche, and I’m find it very exciting to explore outside the conventional tropes of love story, which usually ends in one book. Another allure of the mystery genre is that it’s typical to develop characters over a series. The opportunity to have Lord Wrexford and Charlotte Sloane, the hero and heroine in my new mystery series (you can read about it here) grow organically as they face different cerebral challenges and the accompanying tests of friendship is something I find very engaging. (And I’m delighted that I’ll have a chance to continue the journey, as I’ve just signed to do two more.)
Romance requires that the protagonists have outer goals and inner motivations in conflict with each other to drive the story, which works reasonably well in historical romance. It’s far easier to pull off the virgin and rake scenario, or the aristocrat and the spinster/teacher/bluestocking in the Regency than in a modern story. Because of historical limitations, sexual tension is easier to build in historical romance. We can create entire plots out of nothing more than manipulating two people into bed. In modern times? Not so much.
In today’s society, the virgin and rake can fall in bed on first meeting without consequence. Any ploy used to keep them apart can feel forced and artificial—the virgin’s much more likely to be eager to fall into bed with a guy who knows what he’s doing, right? And if she decides she’s not interested, who cares? What are the consequences? We need a driving force to keep pages turning, and the only one I see here is the “he loves me/he loves me not” plot—not one of my favorites. So I need to create an outside force to maintain interest and develop tension as the protagonists discover each other.
As in my Malcolm/Ives historical romances, the psychic element helps with that personal conflict—if one person believes in the paranormal and the other thinks it’s a hoax, we have immediate conflict. In standard mysteries, it’s more likely to be one character believing the other committed murder. I get to work both sides!
I’m fully aware that I’m not writing traditional mystery plots, and I’m definitely not writing romantic suspense, but bookstores don’t recognize any other categories for what I do. Could we call these problem-solving romances? Yes, we have a dead body and a villain, but the story is about the couple and how they work together to find a solution. Red herrings and bullets don’t happen much!
Are you a fan of mysteries? Do you you enjoy a mystery element woven into the plot of other genres? And lastly, do you have a favorite heroine in a romantic mystery? (I'm thinking of the Mary Stewart heroines in The Moonspinners and This Rough Magic, who I think helped shape my love for plucky women who were braver and more resourceful than they thought.) We're giving away one copy of Sapphire Nights and one copy of Murder at Half Moon Gate to two lucky readers chosen at random from those who leave a comment here between now and Friday!