We're happy to welcome back multi-published author Linda O. Johnston to Writers in the Storm today. For those of you who won't be able to see her at conference, she's bringing conference to you in this post.
by Linda O. Johnston
Like many of you, I’ll be attending the RWA National Conference next week. I’ll mostly be wearing my romance writer’s (invisible) hat while I’m there, although I also write cozy mysteries. In fact, I’ll be talking about both genres on my panel at 2:00 PM on Friday afternoon about how to Sell a Series You're Passionate About.
One thing I love about both genres is that they both contain... romance. Or at least cozies can contain love interests, though in a different manner from romance novels. As a lover of both mystery and romance in a story, I make sure that all of my mysteries contain romance, and all of my romances contain suspense or mystery.
How do the romance aspects of those two genres differ?
Well, in romances, the relationship between the hero and heroine is paramount to the story. Even if they get embroiled in difficult plot situations--murder, fleeing for their lives, whatever--the story must lead to a happily-ever-after (HEA) with respect to the romance. Of course the suspense or mystery aspects, if any, also need to be wrapped up satisfactorily by the end. But a lot of the story focuses on the standard, important elements of romances: a hero and heroine, their internal and external conflicts, how they overcome those conflicts no matter what else is going on around them, and then that vital HEA.
In mysteries, cozy or not, the most important thing is for the protagonist to jump into solving the murder or other crime and reach a satisfying resolution to it by the end of the book. Cozies often revolve around themes or small towns or both. They are very character-driven, and what happens to all the people in them--particularly the protagonist-- is vital to each story. The protagonist often stars in a number of stories within the series, and in each one she (the protagonist is usually female in cozies) stumbles into murder situations that she must leap in and solve. Give the protagonist a love interest? Why not! As I said, the stories are very character driven, and the protagonist’s friends, including her guy friends, help keep readers interested and waiting for the next in the series. But unlike in romances, what happens with the love interest does not need to be resolved in the first story in the series, the second, or any of them. The course of true love in cozies doesn’t always run smooth!
So how do I incorporate those differences in my own writing?
My first Harlequin Romantic Suspense UNDERCOVER SOLDIER is a July release. In it, the heroine, devastated to hear that a man she’d loved and lost had been killed in Afghanistan , started researching what happened to him... and is confronted in her apartment by him when he appears and demands that she stop investigating him online. His identity has purposely been switched with someone else’s so he can go undercover to investigate a company that might have been involved in his “death.” The romance is, of course, that couple getting back together again. The suspense involves the danger to both of them because of the heroine’s snooping and the investigation the hero is conducting. It won’t give anything away here to reveal that I wrap both of them up by the end and, yes, there’s an HEA with the hero and heroine. It is a Harlequin romance, after all!
My current cozy mystery series, the Pet Rescue Mysteries, center around--what else?--a protagonist who lives to rescue pets. She runs a no-kill pet shelter, and she and her friends always seem to get involved in murders relating to saving animals. She was married twice and has two college-age kids. Her first husband died and she married again to give her kids a dad--but that second marriage was a mistake, so she’s not interested in another relationship. But I do introduce her to a very special animal control officer in the first book in the series... and, yes, they start a relationship but it’s slow growing. Not even I know for sure how it’ll work out.
Then there are my Harlequin Nocturnes--another romance series. Nocturnes are paranormal romances, and I write a mini-series under the Nocturne line about a covert military unit of shapeshifters. Yes, it’s a series, but because it’s a series under the romance genre each story must stand alone with respect to the romance--and have a HEA for the hero and heroine. Mine always contain suspense or mystery and they must be wrapped up, too, since the next book in the mini-series may refer to what happened in this novel but can’t be an evolving new chapter in the same story.
Whatever you’re writing, if it contains a romance you need to determine what its status will be at the end of your story--and make sure that, whatever it is, it works for the genre or subgenre you’re writing in.
And, hey, if you are at RWA National next week, I hope to see you there!
Linda O. Johnston is the author of 31 published novels, with more to come. She currently writes the Pet Rescue Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, a spinoff series from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries, also for Berkley . The first Pet Rescue Mystery, BEAGLEMANIA, is part of the Penguin Group’s Read Humane Program promoting animal rescue and the Humane Society of the U.S. , and its spokesperson is Nora Roberts. The second Pet Rescue Mystery THE MORE THE TERRIER, was an October 2011 release, and the third, HOUNDS ABOUND, was an April 2012 release. Linda additionally writes paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne--the Alpha Force miniseries about a covert military unit of shapeshifters, and her first Harlequin Romantic Suspense, UNDERCOVER SOLDIER, is a July 2012 release.
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Oh, Linda, Undercover Soldier sounds wonderful! Writing for 3 lines? You make me feel like a slacker! Hope to see you at National - at least to wave in passing in the halls.
I write in several genres, too. I like the variety and I love having a love interest in the mysteries that plays out over several books. It's so much fun.
I always love a good romance or love interest in my books no matter the genre, be it thrill, murder mystery, horror or fantasy! It just adds another dimension to the book! Great post! Must check out Undercover Soldier 🙂
Enjoyed your post Linda. Will definitely see you at Nationals.
Very nice post. I hope to see you in Anaheim.
Great post, Linda. Not going to conference this year. I have read The More the Terrier, a delightful book. Glad to have such a clear explanation regarding cozies.
You're hardly a slacker, Laura! Yep, looking forward to seeing you at National.
It is fun to have a romance take some time, Shelley. That's part of the fun of cozies. But it's also fun to know some lovers will have a fast, happy ending!
You and I seem to share a love of romance, mlatimerridley!
Definitely hope we get together for coffee or a drink, Jann!
Thanks, ellaquinnauthor. Hope to see you in Anaheim, too!
Sorry I won't see you at RWA National, marsharwest. Glad you enjoyed The More the Terrier and my blog post!
Great Blog post! Must check out the animal rescue series. That's something I know I would enjoy and was not aware of. Have a great weekend and RWA Conference!
Delighted to introduce you to the Pet Rescue Mysteries, Mary. And thanks! Hope you have a great weekend and week ahead, too.
Thanks for the post Linda. It introduced me to your Alpha Force series – I look forward to reading these.
I'm a newbie author, writing book two in a soft-mystery series about child sexual abuse – book one titled Vagilantes. Something your posted here raised a red flag for me.
Your statement about one book following another: "...can’t be an evolving new chapter in the same story."
In Vagilantes, everything important about the main character is resolved, although the last line indicates that there is always more to do to protect and rescue children. (Two unnamed/non-characters are talking.)
Do you mean, Linda, that the opening line of the next book can not tag onto this ending and expand these characters in addition to picking up the stories of other minor characters in book one? (Begin book two with an actual reference to the last sentence in book one.) It seems to me that the treatment I intended to use is like a, "...new chapter in the same story."
I am clear that book two will stand alone, and it will not overburden the reader by making so many references that they feel they are reading book one all over again.
There are so many 'rules' in writing. Am I breaking one? If so, I want to do it by choice, not by ignorance.
Linda, got on here late today. So glad I read your post. Like so many others I love to experiment with genre and decided to use two names like Shelley. It makes a clear separation between the mysteries (or romantic suspense) and the women's fiction (with "elements"). I loved your breakdown of the genres and completely understand the HQ rules. They make sense since the readership of HQ books regardless of the imprint know what they want. It seems you deliver what lots of readers want 🙂
I won't be attending Nationals, but I will be visiting your book list and soon !!
I was talking about my Harlequin Nocturnes when I said "...the next book in the mini-series may refer to what happened in this novel but can’t be an evolving new chapter in the same story," Julie. Nocturnes are Harlequin romances, and each one has to tell a complete story with a Happily Ever After for the couple involved and provide a satisfactory ending for any suspense or mystery that's introduced. What holds that series together is that each story involves members of Alpha Force, a covert military unit of shapeshifters! That's different from a mystery series with one protagonist, whose persona and love life can keep evolving in sequels, or another kind of series that keeps evolving in other ways, such as the one you've described. Hope that helps!
I've considered taking pseudonyms, ramblingsfromthe left, but so far have kept my own without seeming to confuse anyone. And if you're right and I deliver what a lot of readers want, all the better! Thanks!
Good post, Linda. I think it's awesome that you write for several genres. I'll see you at Conference. I want to know which genre is your favorite.
I enjoy writing all of them, Barb. I guess my favorite is the one I'm writing at any time--although I admit that writing cozies about animals is especially fun. See you soon!
I love that you've kept your own name through all this since YOU are the brand. I think it's an important thing to be able to take your audience with you, no matter what you write. Good for you! I'll be floating around National because I have house guests who are speakers and they might need help. Great luck on your panel. 🙂
Hi, Linda, the plot premise for Undercover Soldier sounds amazing. Congratulations. May I ask: did it just "come to you" out of the blue, or was it inspired by some actual incident?
Thanks, Jenny. I hope my brand keeps working this way but you never know. See you at National!
Interesting that you should ask that, Richard. The idea for the plot is the result of a mystery in my own life that I don't talk about and may never get resolved, so I've taken care of it fictionally!