Sunday, January 29, 2012

Guest Blog Featuring Terry Odell

ROMANTIC SUSPENSE OR ROMANTIC MYSTERY?



Congratulations to TrishJ, the winner of Terry Odell's giveaway. Thank you to everyone who participated.

Since this is a blog about romantic suspense, I thought I'd start with a quick "vent" about the genre. According to the publishing industry, romantic suspense includes all romance-themed mystery sub-genres, from cozy to thriller. There's the added hero/heroine story arc, with its requisite Happily Ever After. However, by tacking that 'suspense' term onto the genre, readers might be expecting an actual suspense, not a mystery, and be disappointed.

Mystery isn't the same as suspense. I happen to think I write romantic mysteries, or, as I prefer to call them, "Mysteries with Relationships."

According to the dictionary, suspense is a state of uncertainty, enjoyable tension, or anxiety. A mystery is something you cannot explain, or don't know anything about. It's easy to see how the two overlap.

Often the major difference in writing a mystery as opposed to a suspense will boil down to POV. If there's a villain's POV, then the reader knows what's happened. Suspense. Think Alfred Hitchcock. Do you know the bad guys are waiting in the heroine's apartment. That's suspense.

If there's only the detective's POV (and I'm being simplistic, because often there are multiple POV characters in a mystery, but they're not the villain), then the reader doesn't know what happened. Mystery. Think Sherlock Holmes. Does the heroine show up at her apartment and think something is "off?" That's mystery.

When I started writing my first book, FINDING SARAH, I thought I was writing a mystery. Heck, I'd never even read a romance. But when my daughters, who were reading the manuscript said it was a romance, I figured I ought to read a few. Hundred.

And as I read, I fell in love with the "romantic suspense" genre, although I still think there's room in there for Mysteries With Relationships.

FINDING SARAH starts off as a mystery. Sarah's shop has been robbed and she calls the police. The detective, Randy, tries to solve it. However, later in the book, Randy and Sarah are separated, and Sarah is in danger. Now, the reader will see things through Sarah's eyes that Randy doesn't know, and things through Randy's eyes that Sarah doesn't know. This creates suspense, even though the book wasn't intended as a strictly suspense novel.

In HIDDEN FIRE, the same two characters are part of a more classic mystery. There's been a murder, and Randy must figure out who did it. The reader never sees the killer, so it wouldn't be classified as a suspense, although there's plenty of danger for the reader to worry about.

In DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, because the villain was obvious, I included his POV, and that added elements of suspense to the story. But, in my mind, it's still more of a mystery. If I'd been responsible for labeling romance books that include mystery sub-genres, I'd probably have included a "mystery romance" moniker. But nobody asked me (they never do), so we've got romantic suspense novels that might not have any classic suspense in them. Are they still good books? Of course.

What's your take? Do you like seeing what the bad guys are up to (suspense?) Or do you prefer to follow the protagonists and solve the puzzle with them (mystery)?

Leave a comment, and you'll have a chance to win a download of FINDING SARAH, the romance I thought was a mystery when I started writing it.

Giveaway ends 9pm EST Jan. 30th. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, use the email under the CONTACT page to enter with a subject title of JRS GIVEAWAY. 

27 comments:

  1. This is a timely post for me, as my top choice e-publisher just had to pass because the book wasn't enough romance, and adding it wouldn't work. She loved the book, though, but it didn't work for their line. I was disappointed, but it helped me accept that I write suspense driven stories that have romantic elements, meaning the romance is less than 50%. And I don't want to add in more:)

    Great topic!

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  2. Thanks for sharing, Stacy. I tend to write genre-straddling stories. I wrote one book that is classified mystery, not romantic suspense, although there are still relationship potentials in there. However, it's not central to the plot, so it's definitely not a romance, although there are mystery readers who say there's too much "relationship stuff." You'll never please everyone.

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  3. Informational post. I tend to stay away from mysteries because it didn't occur to me there was a romance with a happily ever after and that's what I like to read....whether it be suspense or simply a love story. Your post has convinced me I might be wrong. Going to read yours next. Thanks

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  4. Great topic Terry! And you explained the difference so well. I tend to prefer suspense because I like to get into the villain's mind too and try to piece together his motive. That being said, there are times when I want to figure it all out myself and only want a mystery. I guess it's a bit of a mixed bag for me.

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  5. Laurie - in true mystery, the romance often develops over the course of many books in a series. Unlike romantic suspense (or Mysteries with Relationships!) from the romance section of the bookstore, you might not get the HEA at the end of a book--it might come in book 4, and the relationship might not last through book 8. Thanks for checking mine out.

    Ronlyn Thanks. The beauty of having so many different genres is that there's something for everyone, and you can switch horses any time you want.

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  6. Interesting topic Terry!
    I do like like suspense.... how a villain views himself & his crime is fascinating. I just finished "Finding Sarah" and I think you did a wonderful job of interweaving romance & suspense here.

    I look forward to reading the next book "Finding Fire" as well. Because I enjoyed the relationship in the first book & look forward to the next as a classic mystery.

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  7. That's an awesome way to explain it, Terry! I now know I write romantic mysteries rather than romantic suspense :) I like reading both and I've actually trunked one story where I include the villain's pov too.

    Don't include me in the draw as I already have Finding Sarah (& the other 2 actually!). Good luck to the others - you'll love the book! :)

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  8. I liked the post, Terry. But let me say that I hate labels. I just want a good story regardless of genre/sub-genre. I don't require a HEA or HFN as long as the ending fits the story. Regardless of what you call your stories, Terry, I like them! Please don't enter me in the drawing for Finding Sarah as I already have it.

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  9. Janet - I'd suggest Hidden Fire before Finding Fire, as the latter is a collection of short stories/vignettes related to Randy and Sarah.

    Jemi - see, if the publishing industry would simply listen to me! Glad you've found your niche.

    Karen - thanks so much. I'm not much on labels when they start getting too specific, but some of the broader ones can help readers zero in on the sorts of books they like (or would rather avoid)

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  10. I like a bit of both but I find the suspense genre more engaging especialy when I can see what the bad guys are up to. It makes for a thrilling read.

    Cambonified(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  11. i love suspense/mystery with the added attraction of romance. i guess i need a little bit of "teeth" with my romance. your books sound like something i would like, so i'll give them a try. thanks! Love to win a copy.

    gator_trish at msn dot com

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  12. Na - that's the definition of suspense, all right. Thanks for dropping by.

    TrishJ - Thanks for your comment, and good luck. Hope you'll check mine out.

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  13. Terry - excellent topic and one that I've thought about alot. I agree with everything you've said about the diff between mystery and suspense...my question is, how do you market mysteries with relationships or romantic mysteries? They don't really fit in category romance nor do they fit in romantic suspense...How have you marketed your excellent stories?

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  14. Ann - great question. First, I went with a small publisher rather than try to fit my work inside the box of the larger ones. Whether that was better than waiting until I had something the larger publishers wanted is something I'll never know. But I'm happy writing what I want to write. The books ARE called romantic suspense, because that's the only label the romance industry gives them. I consider them "single title romantic suspense" which is the category I'll select when I enter them in contests. As for marketing, I just keep plugging away, hoping that people who visit my blog and my guest posts (like this one) will notice my books, read them, and then ... the biggest factor...will tell others about them.

    Thanks for your comment.

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  15. My novels have been labeled romantic mystery and romantic suspense. The Kim Reynolds mysteries, The Inferno Collection, The Drowning Pool and The Truth Sleuth are all romantic mysteries. The mystery is somewhat more important than the romance. In my next novel, Death Legacy, the romance is even stronger than the mystery and it moves like a thriller. So I guess romantic suspense is appropriate to the description. Like you, Terry, I don't write formula fiction so the books are difficult to categorize.

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  16. I love your definitions of the genres, Terry, as I've said elsewhere. And I definitely feel your work is both mysterious and suspenseful.

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  17. Jacqueline - that's the advantage of a smaller publisher.

    Jenny - Thanks! There doesn't have to be an 'either-or' because elements of both will often fit the story.

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  18. I really enjoyed your post and I like your definitions, Terry, since they provide a basic framework that the writer is free to stretch as required. The way I see it, to create suspense the writer must include an element of mystery, since the outcome of the conflict is unknown (even if the villain is in plain sight). To write a compelling mystery the author must create suspenseful situations that drive the plot forward and hint at the identity of the villain. In The Last Matryoshka, I gave the antagonist an intermittent voice, but his identity is hidden until the end. Should it be categorized as a mystery or as a novel of suspense? Maybe we'll never know!

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    1. Ideally, when the villain is revealed in a mystery, the reader should be able to go back and say, "Aha! How did I miss that clue."

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    2. Totally, Terry - that's the whole reason for doing it in the first place :)

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  19. Great post, Terry! I often struggle with the 'definitions', and when you throw thrillers into the mix, where you know who and why and when, etc, it all gets a little confusing. I look at the romantic suspense sub-genre like most other romance fiction genres - a broad brush that includes mysteries, suspense, thrillers, action and adventure, etc... but I do like the mysteries with relationships tag! You're making me look at my own work a little closely in order to better define it!

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    1. With the rise in indie publishing, I think we're finally finding books that don't quite meet the rigid definitions of the past.

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  20. I never thought about it that way! Very interesting. I think as a rule there are more "romantic suspense" than actual mystery-type novels under the "romantic suspense" header. It's great that you write mysteries with relationships! Also like that label a lot. ;)

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    1. Thanks, Asia. I often wonder if there are more 'suspense' books in romantic suspense because that's the way someone decided to label the sub-genre. What if they'd called it 'romantic mystery?" Would we see fewer suspense and more mysteries?

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  21. I am a debut mystery author with a three-book deal. I've written the first two books. In between those books, I wrote a romantic suspense, which I loved writing. It's now being considered at the same publisher. But here's the thing: I'm in the middle of my third book, which is a traditional mystery, and it's, um, getting pretty romantic and suspenseful. Heh. But I've decided to go with it, instead of trying to thwart it because it may be out of my genre. And I'm crossing my fingers that my editor will go for it. I just think that we need to allow the story be what it is. Fabulous post, Terry.

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    1. First, congrats on your sales. I think you can have romance in mysteries. I certainly included that relationship angle in my own mystery, Deadly Secrets.

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  22. I love this post--and your tagline! I've always been a fan of romantic mysteries. I don't want to know who the killer is, although I've read and enjoyed many books where I do know who it is. But mystery is my favorite!

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