Monday, June 17, 2013

Cell Phones and Suspense Novels

Congratulations to "Maureen C", the winner in Alison's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated!

How many of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s remember the classic plot device of the dead phone line?The freaked out heroine staring in disbelief at the useless twenty-pound receiver in her hand? And I often wondered, does clicking the “hook thingy” actually ever restore the dial tone? (Just wondering.)

 One of the first scary movies I saw was the original Halloween movie with Jamie Lee Curtis. I watched the movie on HBO a few years after it came out.Turns out, the family I babysat for had HBO. My family didn’t. The irony that I watched a horror movie about a stalker relentlessly pursuing a babysitter while I was babysitting was not lost on me. (Of course, I watched the movie after I put the little ones to bed and then remained in a constant state of fear until the parents arrived home.) 

On Wikepedia, I found this plot synopsis:
“Feeling unsettled, Laurie puts the kids to bed and heads over to the Wallace house, only to find Annie's body with Judith Myers' missing headstone and Lynda and Bob dead nearby. Suddenly, Laurie is attacked by Michael and falls backwards down the staircase. Fleeing the house, she screams for help, but to no avail. Running back to the Doyle house, she realizes she lost the keys and the door is locked, as she sees Michael approaching in the distance. Laurie panics and screams for Tommy to wake up and open the door quickly. Luckily, Tommy opens the door in time and lets Laurie inside. Laurie instructs the children to hide and then realizes the phone line is dead and that Michael has gotten into the house through a window. As she sits down in horror next to the couch, Michael appears and tries to stab her, but she counterattacks his move, stabbing him in the side of his neck with a lingering knitting needle.”

What if Laurie had had a cell phone? First of all, Miss Curtis and her friend would have been texting each other all night. I’m sure Annie would have sent out a quick: OMG, dude with mask. So not cool. Oh no, he slashed BF. HELP! (Since I am an adult and not a teenager, I’m sure my text only remotely resembles that of a current teen.)Then Laurie could have called the police. The police would have arrived in time to save the day. End of story. 

But having Laurie run back to the house, realize she forgot her keys, wake Tommy, discover the phone is dead…and eventually stab Michael Myers with a knitting needle was way more suspenseful.

In my earlier attempts at fiction, I found I had to adjust my scenes to account for the obvious use of cell phones. I remember having my heroine trapped in a basement and my critique partner asked, “Why not use her cell phone?”  Oh yeah, I forget she had it on her. Bummer. There are ways to work around this, as long as a writer sets it up beforehand. 

For example, a character can be out of cell phone range. (I imagine as we move swiftly into the future, this will get harder and harder to do.) Or a writer can set it up so the heroine left her cell phone behind. Wow, today of all days when the creepy guy with a mask is after me! Bummer!
When I read older books from say, the 80s and 90s, it’s obvious how different things were before cell phones. Consider how many times the hero had to search for a pay phone. Or perhaps the heroine was traveling a dark stretch of road alone, at night, with someone following her. The scene would be written differently depending on if she was completely isolated or if she had an opportunity to call someone for help.

In my latest release, Plain Pursuit, my heroine is staying at the home of an Amish family. I conveniently located the farm out of cell phone range. Only the neighbors have a phone in case of emergency. Without giving too much away, the cell phone can also play another interesting part in suspense novels: individuals can be tracked using a phone’s GPS.

The use of technology is shaping our world which in turn, shapes our fiction. Can you recall other ways the use of cell phones or other new technology has changed the suspense genre? I’d love to hear from you. One random person who comments will receive a digital copy of Plain Pursuit from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble. 

BIO:  Alison Stone left snowy Buffalo, New York and headed a thousand miles south to earn an industrial engineering degree at Georgia Tech in Hotlanta. Go Yellow Jackets! She loved the South, but true love brought her back North.

After the birth of her second child, Alison left Corporate America for full-time motherhood. She credits an advertisement for writing children's books for sparking her interest in writing. She never did complete a children's book, but she did have success writing articles for local publications before finding her true calling, writing romantic suspense.

Alison lives in Western New York with her husband of twenty years and their four children where the summers are absolutely gorgeous and the winters are perfect for curling up with a good book--or writing one.

Random Acts and Too Close to Home were released by Samhain Publishing in 2012. Plain Pursuit, a Harlequin Love inspired Suspense, is available now.

Besides writing, Alison keeps busy volunteering at her children's schools, driving her girls to dance, and watching her boys race motocross.

She’s always at the following locations:

BLURB for Plain Pursuit:

Danger in Amish Country

When her brother is killed in a small Amish town, Anna Quinn discovers she's an unwelcome outsider. But the FBI agent investigating the case is right at home—because Eli Miller was born and raised in Apple Creek's Plain community. Eli left his Amish faith behind long ago, but his heart is rooted in a local cold case he can't forget—a mystery with strange connections to Anna's loss. Desperate to uncover the truth, Anna and Eli are faced with stony silences and secrets…secrets that someone wants to keep buried in the past.

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited 

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST June 18th. 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, please email with a subject title of JRS GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing with us today Alison. I am liking the sound of your book Plain Pursuit. I am amazed by how much technology is in our lives... I went on vacation a few years ago and felt lost without my computer... all you see around you are people with cell phones in hand, kids with handheld game systems, laptops in food places, even TVs placed in a good number of fast food restaurants... we would go into culture shock living the Amish way.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Colleen. I agree with you. When I'm out, I also notice how everyone is engaged with their smartphones instead of each other. I make a conscious effort to put mine away and chat with those in front of me. Wouldn't it be nice, thought, to be unplugged for a few days?

  3. I remember books that had the bad guy cutting the phone wire. Nowadays it seems that in suspense the cell phones might not have service or the battery could die. I think this is all pretty believable since it happens to everyone at some point.
    mce1011 AT aol DOT com

    1. Hate when my cell phone doesn't have any bars! :)

  4. more ways to connect with people

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  5. I don't own a mobile phone, so right there, I could not call for help. Note to self - get a mobile phone. Not really, I just don't need one. The age of the characters would play a big part.


  6. I remember those days. My parents have never kept up with technologies. I felt that my sisters and I were late comers in keeping up with our friends and technologies. I do remember when the phone is dead, I would click just to get the dial tone back (unless the phone is truly dead from not paying the phone bill)

    Now when I look back, I find that I'm more dependent on technologies than before.

    Thanks for the giveaway.


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Kai. Growing up, we didn't keep up with technology either. I swear my parents still had a rotating antenna on the roof when cable was all the rage. We had to turn the dial and listen as the antenna rotated with this loud clicking noise. If the weather cooperated, we could pick up channels in nearby Canada. :)

      When I finally had my own home (and cable TV), my dad would come over and be in awe of how "clear my stations came in."

  7. This was fascinating to think about, but so true. I do think if you keep clicking the hook button an operator does come on? I haven't had a land line for 5 or so years now as we all have cell phones. Of course mine is not as "new" as some peoples. I would love to win...

    1. Oh yes, I forgot about that. I think you're right ~ an operator would come on. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Cell phone with camera features have contributed to change in the genre. Witnesses and victims could take stills or video of crimes in progress. Also, a character's forgetting to silence a cell phone could mean the difference between remaining hidden and being discovered. Thanks for offering this giveaway! kateivan (at) aol (dot) com

    1. Excellent ideas. Love the idea of someone hiding from the bad guy and their cell phone goes off.

  9. Hi Alison. Got me thinking how anything can be overcome with the right amount of foreshadowing (is that the right term?). Was thinking about What Lies Beneath and how they set it up a head of time that the cell phone didn't get service until you reached a certain point on the bridge--it added to the suspense as they were busy watching those bars and... bam. Hmmm. I really need to watch that again! Great post, Thanks!

    1. Foreshadowing is the perfect term. And it adds to the suspense. Great example. Thanks for popping by.


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