Why I Love Romantic Suspense

by Allison Brennan

I’m on the road in Michigan, part of the Levy Home Entertainment Read This! Bus Tour. We’ve visited six Meijer stores in the last two days, and we have three more today (Sunday.) There’s a fantastic mix of 27 authors from memoir/true crime (Chip St. Clair) to humorous mysteries (Leslie Langley) to sexy paranormal (Gena Showalter) to historical romance (Kathryn Caskie) to romantic thrillers (Jordan Dane) to thrillers (Tom Grace.) There’s many more, you can go here to see the schedule and author list. So, please forgive me if I neglect responding to posts until I’m dumped at the airport later this evening.

I had considered writing about my experience with United losing my luggage, but decided everyone has a lost luggage story and I did get it, about thirty hours after my plane landed. So I’m going on with my previously scheduled topic: why I write romantic suspense.

Like most writers, I am an avid reader. I started light – Encyclopedia Brown, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew – but by the time I was eleven, I’d discovered my mom’s vast Agatha Christie and Ed McBain collections.

But two things happened on my way to becoming a mystery writer.

First, I discovered Stephen King. I was thirteen, the book was THE STAND. Two days later, I felt like I’d discovered the world. This was a book that had everything: suspense, mystery, great characters and the highest stakes of all: saving the world.

I devoured every King book I could find, but to this day, THE STAND remains my favorite. The second time I read it while in college (which is a feat for me because I rarely re-read books) I realized that it was more than the suspense and stakes that kept me enthralled, it was the relationships between the characters. Flawed and so real they walked off the page, I discovered that it wasn’t just saving the world that mattered; it was saving the ones your love. The relationship between Stu and Frannie was as important as any other plot point in the book, and without it, the story would have lost that personal connection with readers that takes a good book and makes it great.

It was after dropping out of college that I started reading romance. I came home to visit my mom and pulled a few books off her shelf. Who I discovered was Nora Roberts through her Bantam romantic suspense titles. HOT ICE, CARNAL INNOCENCE, and DIVINE EVIL, among others. I was hooked. These were the books I had been waiting for: romantic suspense. Character driven stories with a crime or suspense component. Books where bad things happened and you turned the pages as fast as you could, but in the end, the good guys always won, and the girl always gets the guy.

I read every romantic suspense or romance novel with even a hint of mystery that I could get my hands on. I also discovered lighter, humorous romances with quirky characters and found them so much fun to read: Jennifer Crusie and Susan Elizabeth Phillips come to mind.

I had fallen in love with romance . . . in danger. To me, romantic thrillers were the best of both worlds. Two people who both come together because of evil, and are almost torn apart by that evil.

I love romance because I want a happy ending. True love should win over adversity if the hero and heroine are worthy. They need to earn it, because nothing easily achieved is truly appreciated. But I also love thrillers because they are physical–fear causes pounding hearts and shaking hands.

Together romance plus suspense is a natural. It gives the satisfaction of seeing two worthy people triumph over a very real evil in order to live happily ever after, with themselves and with each other. In a romantic suspense there will be a happily ever after-that is the story promise-but the danger must be real. There should be doubt. There should be the belief that maybe-just maybe-evil will win. Until the very end, the reader should fear that the hero or heroine may fail. That they could die and the villain will succeed.

Romantic suspense is a vast genre. There’s something for everyone–heavy romance-driven RS to heavy suspense-driven RS and everything in between. You have light and fun mysteries all the way to dark and edgy thrillers; the romance may be a major plot point or a smaller plot point, but the relationship between the hero and heroine is always integral to the story.

If you don’t doubt, cringe, worry, fear, it’s not suspense. Suspense is personal. It could happen to you. When you’re in love, everything matters more. When the life of your loved one is in jeopardy, you will do things you never thought yourself capable of. Because the stakes are higher, the happily-ever-after is all the more sweet.

When I committed myself to pursue a writing career (in March 2002) and actually finish one of the over 100 novels I’d begun, I didn’t even question what I would write. Though I was told by more than one person that the romantic suspense market was "dead" or "difficult," it was all I wanted to write. It took me a couple books to find my voice, which was a lot darker and scarier than I thought. Hmm, perhaps influenced a bit by Stephen King and Dean Koontz . . . but fortunately, the villain gets what’s coming to him, the hero and heroine survive–and are together–at the end of the book, and while bad things happen, justice is always served. Because real life isn’t always so happy.

Okay, now for my news . . . the PLAYING DEAD book trailer is done and on my website–which has a new title page– and it’s also on YouTube. I figured out how to embed it in a blog. Isn’t that cool? Who’da thunk I was that proficient. (Boy, I hope this works . . . . )

12 thoughts on “Why I Love Romantic Suspense

  1. pari

    Allison,I love learning why people write what they write and your explanation — all the way back to childhood — was really fun.

    Also enjoyed the trailer . . . WATCH OUT, CLAIR!!!!!!!!!

  2. Allison Brennan

    Well, I’m sitting on the bus now! Gotta love wireless 🙂 . . . Thanks Kathleen. I can break a leg as long as I don’t break a hand. 🙂

    Thanks Pari, I had fun making the trailer. Well, I didn’t, I paid someone to do it because I’m not that talented. I’m just thrilled that I figured out how to embed it. 🙂

  3. Allison Brennan

    So now I’m sitting at the airport charging my laptop and having a margarita 🙂 . . . I have about an hour before boarding.

    Louise, I love my trailer 🙂 . . . My designer did a great job.

    Hi Mary-Frances!!! Always good to see you in cyberspace or in person. The tour turned out really great, especially the last signing. What really tickles me is when people come to the signing with my backlist titles for me to sign. It definitely gives me the warm fuzzies 🙂

  4. Jake Nantz

    Ms. Brennan,Love the trailer. I’m not normally one for Romantic Suspense, but I love finding out why people are drawn to the works they read and write. And I also loved THE STAND. Heck, a friend of mine got so attached that he cried when Nick died. What a great book.

    Hope the tour goes well!

  5. Allison Brennan

    Back home to a house that is in a TOTAL mess and my house cleaner comes at noon. My family tells me they love me, but sometimes actions speak louder than words . . . I’ll be cleaning all day!

    Thanks for checking out the trailer. 🙂

    Jake, I think you might be surprised at what’s out there in romantic suspense nowadays. Lisa Gardner’s A PERFECT HUSBAND is one of my all-time favorite books and really broke her out (though I believe THE THIRD VICTIM, another of my all-time favorite books, was her first on the NYT list.) And Tess Gerritsen’s THE SURGEON, again on my all-time fave list, won best Romantic Suspense in the RWA’s Rita awards. There is a wide range, and some are more romantic than suspense and some more suspenseful than romantic, but I think what draws me most to RS is that there is the satisfaction that evil will be conquered and love will be found. 🙂

  6. j.t. ellison

    Allison, great trailer!

    I’m limited in my romantic suspense reading simply because I’ve been limited in ALL my reading this year. I think what you said to Jake is right on the money though. Try it, you might like it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *