4 Things I’ve Learned about Putting Romance in Your Mystery

Through evil daysGuest blog by Julia Spencer-Fleming, author of Through the Evil Days

When I was an aspiring author, the down still fluffy on my wings, I set about to write a story that blended mystery with romance. Romance, because it’s one of my favorite genres to read, and mystery because when I tried writing straight romance or science fiction or – God help me – literary, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from murdering people. It’s always best to go with your natural talents, don’t you think?

The resulting book, In the Bleak Midwinter, went on to win a bunch of awards and launched the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series. Fast forward through the years, and here we are, with the eighth novel, Through the Evil Days, set to come out this November 5th. Why am I telling you this? So you’ll rush right out and preorder the book, of course. So I can share some of what I’ve learned in a decade of combining mystery with romance.

Readers will assume you’re writing from experience when you write sex scenes. In the first five novels,  the sexual tension is thick in the air, but – as befits a hero who is still married and a heroine who’s an Episcopal priest – the physical contact is limited to brief touches on the arm and (in a moment of great danger) a single kiss. On the other hand, those same five books also contained shootings, bludgeonings, kidnappings and death by defenestration. Nobody ever said, “Julia! I had no idea you bashed someone’s head in with a rock.” Then came the sixth book, and things got a bit more physical between Russ and Clare. (Insert bow-chicka-wow-wow noise here.) Suddenly all my friends were coming up to me winking and leering. Since Through the Evil Days continues with the, um, action, I’m already bracing myself for Thanksgiving dinner.

Your hero doesn’t have to be a Greek shipping magnate as long as he’s a stand-up guy. Mystery has a tradition of not-conventionally-appealing sleuths – fat guys, old guys, cynical guys – while romance has a tradition of too-good-to-be-true heros – athletic and a business tycoon and under forty. (In real life, of course, business tycoons look like Warren Buffet and Donald Trump. Sex-ay, right?) Writing a blend of genres means splitting the difference: Russ Van Alstyne is in his early fifties and ruggedly handsome. He’s hard-bitten when it comes to bad guys but passionately protective of Clare. As the chief of a small-town police force, he’s never going to have much money, but he’s a whiz at home repair. (There may, in fact, be some wish fulfillment in that part of his character.)

Don’t kill the cat. Each genre has it’s do-not-cross lines. Mystery lovers will happily read page after page of bodies dropping like flies, but if the author menaces a pet, the flensing knives come out.  Romance readers are fine with a hero who’s a drunken man-ho with anger management issues at the beginning of the story, but it’s whoa Nelly if he’s a married man. I stumbled right into the latter issue in the early books of the series, but still managed to get an enthusiastic following of Russ/Clare shippers. In the interest of being an equal-opportunity offender, I’m threatening a dog in Through the Evil Days.

It’s better to be smart than pretty. Which is the opposite of what my grandmother told me. Both mystery readers and romance lovers like heroines who aren’t too far removed from real life. Nice, but not supernaturally so, attractive without being Cindy Crawford. (That reference dates me, doesn’t it. Who should it be now? Lily Collins? Scarlett Johansson?) They both like heroines who are strong and clever and determined. Partners in crime and partners in love need to have each others’ backs, which is why the one quote that describes my entire series doesn’t come from Shakespeare or Chandler, but from Pretty Woman:

“What happens after he climbs up and rescues her?”

“She rescues him right back.”

Julia Author PhotoJulia Spencer-Fleming‘s New York Times bestselling books have won multiple awards, including the Anthony and Agatha, and have been Edgar and RT Reader’s Choice nominees.  The next Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne novel, Through the Evil Days, comes out on November 5th. You can find Julia at her website, her readerSpace, on Facebook and on Twitter as @jspencerfleming. She also blogs with the Jungle Red Writers.

Buy: Through the Evil Days: A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery (Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries)

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3 thoughts on “4 Things I’ve Learned about Putting Romance in Your Mystery”

  1. Julia your books are so well written… complex, believable characters, great dialogue, atmospheric setting. I can not wait for your next book.

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