Romantic suspense is all the rage in the Christian fiction market. In fact, it’s difficult to find any mystery in Christian fiction that doesn’t have romance in it, much to my annoyance.
But if you want to write in this subgenre of romance, take a look at this post by Fay Lamb on the basic components of romantic suspense. A lot of her advice can be applied to any genre, such as making your main character likable.
If you’re a fan of romantic suspense, which ones would you recommend to me as someone who loves mysteries but gets tired of the romance eclipsing it? And I hate stalker stories. If there’s a romantic suspense without a stalker playing cat-and-mouse with the heroine, I might make it to the end.
I am excited to welcome Jen Turano as guest blogger today. Along with giving advice on writing historical romance, Jen is providing a signed copy of her latest book Flight of Fancy. To enter the drawing for the book, you must be a U.S. resident and leave a comment below. You can comment from now until March 3 at 5 p.m. EST. I will notify the winner that day.
I met Jen at the American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference in 2017. I overheard a conversation about Appalachia and said my YA novel was set in West Virginia, but I was from eastern Ohio. Jen said so was she, and we discovered we were both from the same hometown and our dads taught at the high school together. We hadn’t attended high school at the same time, so I didn’t know Jen when we lived there. Jen brings a sense of humor to everything from her plots to her dedications and emails. So happy to have you here to day, Jen!
What inspires you to write historical romances set during the Gilded Age?
I first became interested in the Gilded Age after reading “The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York.” It was a riveting read, which then led me to read “Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt,” and after that “’King Lehr’ and The Gilded Age,” by Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, a memoir that lent a clear flavor for the times even if it was less than factual in certain chapters. At the time, in my humble opinion, I felt the Gilded Age was a somewhat overlooked period of history, so I thought it might be fun to rectify that. Because it was a time when men were making fortunes practically overnight, and society, especially in New York City, was becoming more powerful than ever, I knew I’d have enough fodder for stories for years.
Are there other time periods you would like to write about?
When I first started writing, not that those efforts will ever see the light of day, I wrote Regencies. I still adore that time period, but if I was going to write something other than Gilded Age, I’d write contemporary now.
When creating a story, which comes first? Character, setting or plot?
I always start with character because, here’s the thing – readers don’t really connect with plots or settings, but they form attachments and develop feelings for characters. They don’t care about a missing locket, but they’ll care about the lady who needs to find that locket because it’s her only memory of her parents. If you can get a feel for your characters, know their desires and their weaknesses, a plot and setting should develop quickly after that.
What’s the most unusual source of inspiration you’ve used in a story?
A goat – long story, but I was stuck, couldn’t figure out how to move the story forward, but then this goat sprang to mind and I was back in business.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write historical romance?
Get to be an expert on the time period you want to write. Historical readers expect certain things in the stories they read, and if you’re unfamiliar with, say, the fact that Mrs. Astor was the queen of New York high society, a reader will know you’ve not done your proper research and there’s little likelihood that reader will pick up another one of your stories or tell her friends about you. You should also know the market – different time periods go in and out of fashion. A few years ago, you were hard pressed to sell a Civil War story, which made it very frustrating for those writers who’d written Civil War books but simply couldn’t find anyone to publish them – nor did they do well as self-published books because readers weren’t interested in that time period. Occasionally, certain periods come back in fashion, but it can take quite a few years for that to happen. Go to your local bookstore and library often to see what they’re displaying in their historical section, and then read as many of those books as you can because that’s a wonderful way to learn what is expected in your time period and what is not.
Named One of the Funniest Voices in Inspirational Romance by Booklist, Jen Turano is a USA Today Best-Selling Author, known for penning quirky historical romances set in the Gilded Age. Her books have earned Publisher Weekly and Booklist starred reviews, top picks from Romantic Times, and praise from Library Journal. She’s been a finalist twice for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards and had two of her books listed in the top 100 romances of the past decade from Booklist. When she’s not writing, she spends her time outside of Denver, CO. Readers may find her at www.jenturano.com or https://www.facebook.com/jenturanoauthor/or on Twitter at JenTurano@JenTurano.
Today’s my last prompt on friendship for February. What could the friendship be between the woman and the owl? I chose this photo because it works for both a realistic story or one of speculative fiction. I wouldn’t have believed there could be a friendship between a person and an owl in the real world until I saw a man from the Ohio School of Falconry do a program at our local library. He brought a Eurasian Eagle Owl. So I can write a realistic story about this woman working with an owl.
Or what ideas for speculative fiction does this photo prompt? Of course Harry Potter had Hedwig to deliver messages. Could the owl be a relative under a spell that the woman hopes to lift? Maybe the owl is a companion who understands humans speech or speaks it.
Now it’s your turn. Why are these characters friends?
I am very excited to announce that my second shorty story will be published by Mt. Zion Ridge Press in Christmas Off the Beaten Path Anthology that will come out in November or December 2019. “A Rose from the Ashes” is YA Christmas mystery, set in contemporary rural Ohio, and I had the best time writing it. Nothing like writing a Christmas story during the Christmas season to put a writer in a merry mood. But I didn’t think I would enjoy the process when I first learned I had only two weeks to come up with a 5,000 word story before the deadline for submissions.
I am not a fast writer. And with all the preparations for the holiday, I didn’t see how I could do it. But I told my husband I wanted to go for it. And I wrote a 10,000 word story. Thanks to Tamera Lynn Kraft and Michelle Lavigne for giving my story the chance to see the light of print!
So happy to have Rebecca Waters as guest blogger today. I met Becky through my local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is an author of many talents, writing both women’s fiction with a touch of romance to nonfiction books about writing. Her novella, “Courtesy Turn”, a romance centered around square dancing, appears with my short story in From the Lake to the River. Welcome, Becky!
People look at me curiously when I snatch up those free calendars offered by the humane society or Boy’s Town, USA. Most people I know toss them aside, relying more on their digital calendars or their internet “secretary” for appointments and special events. Artists sometimes grab the large paper calendars for the inspiring photos. But me? I use calendars to plot my story.
For instance, my newest book, Libby’s Cuppa Joe takes place in Door County, Wisconsin. The Door County peninsula juts out into Lake Michigan making it an ideal location for city-weary vacationers.
If I wanted to craft a believable story in Fish Creek (and yes, that is a real town in Door County) I needed to plot a story consistent with the weather and events in that area. It does no good to insert an apple picking scene in a story when the narrative surrounding that scene takes place in March. Even if the scene is great, the season is wrong. I don’t have an apple picking scene in this particular story, but you get the idea.
Also, by looking at Door County websites I was able to see activities common to the area and events celebrated each year. I was able to build on the “Pumpkin Festival” and pace the story to meet that event on the calendar.
I could plan the terrible problems my main character faced and literally put them on the calendar. This helps a writer write from scene to scene and helps keep the pace of the story moving forward. So collect those calendars and write, write, write.
Excited to leave her stale life in the big city behind, Sonja takes the money her grandmother left her and purchases Libby’s Cuppa Joe, a thriving coffee shop in a small community in Wisconsin’s Door County. Sonja may have business sense, but is she ready to face the world on her own?
Sonja soon discovers owning a business requires more than offering a good cup of coffee. She must make major repairs to the building as well as major repairs to her heart. Do the former owners, Libby and Joe hold the answer? As Sonja seeks to make Libby’s Cuppa Joe a viable business, can she also find herself and the God she has abandoned?
Libby’s Cuppa Joeis a riveting tale of second chances, forgiveness, and not living on borrowed faith.
The Sherlock Holmes stories have been analyzed in so many ways, but the key to their longevity and popularity is the friendship between the Great Detective and the Good Doctor. That relationship provides a model for literary friendships even now.
Friends should contrast
The friendship of Holmes and Watson works because they are so different. Holmes is the genius, who doesn’t run his household on anything like the conventions expected during Victorian times. He’s the cold, unemotional brain, the loner. Watson, on the other hand, has a variety of friends, marries, has compassion and interest in people as a doctor, did his duty in the army. He’s a very typical middle-class Englishman. Readers get two very distinct characters.
As I create characters, I check to make sure all of them, not just the major ones, are somehow different from each other. If I sense two are doing the same job in the story because they have similar personalities, I examine them to see if I need to get rid of one or give one a personality transplant.
A few months ago, I was working on the plots for the next novels after The Truth and Other Strangers. I realized a major character I’d planned to introduce in the second novel just didn’t work any more. I had developed several new characters who did his job for him. As fond as I was of this old character, I ejected him from my story. He wasn’t needed any more.
Friends should be compatible
Literary friends should be distinct but not so different that you can’t believe these characters are friends. Watson gives Holmes some normalcy, a support, and a sounding board for his theories. Holmes gives Watson adventure. The very proper Victorian doctor revels in the excitement of his friend’s escapades. This is clearly illustrated in the short story “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”. Holmes proposes to break into a professional blackmailer’s house and destroy the items he’s holding over a client. Watson insists on joining Holmes and while standing guard, writes “I thrilled now with a keener zest than I had ever enjoyed when we were defenders of the law instead of its defiers.”
Each character gains something from the other that he doesn’t possess himself. This is true for romantic characters, too. A serious man is drawn to a woman’s humor. Or an outgoing woman is attracted to a thoughtful, introverted man. I’ve seen this work in my own marriage. I’m artistic and my husband is logical, a nuclear engineer. When I run into trouble with a plot, I give him my parameters, and he will come up with a logical progression for the story.
Friends should have flaws
If two characters live in perfect harmony, they will annoy readers, who have yet to find such perfect friends in reality. Watson writes about Holmes’s stranger habits, like firing a gun indoors to make a design of bullet holes in a wall and keeping his unanswered mail stabbed to the mantel. Watson irritates Holmes with concern for his health.
Sometimes, when I create a character I enjoy, I have to make sure I throw in some kind of flaw. Often I just need one character to be irritated by what I like in the first character. So if I have a very outgoing, talkative man, some characters might find him colorful, while others find him a blowhard. Same quality, different perceptions.
What are some literary friendships that served as a model for you?
As distressed as the people are in this photo, they provide a wealth of inspiration for a story. Who are these women? Sisters? Mother and daughter? Friends? Are they sad? Worried? Scared? I think the woman on the left has confessed something, and the one on the right is very moved, either to sadness or anxiety.