“Oh, dear God, if you see fit to get me out of this alive, I promise I’ll never, ever sleep with a guy before marrying him!”
This improbable prayer shot from my lips the first (and only) time I ever rode the Matterhorn roller coaster at Disneyland. I was a teenager, and my older cousin and sister talked me into it. They loved every swing and jerk of the car we were trapped in, as well as each downhill swoop of the track. With all the clanking of the rickety wheels and the sliding of the tension cable, they’d squeal and raise their arms in the air. In contrast, my fingers turned white as I clutched the “safety” bar with my eyes scrunched shut, hoping I didn’t toss up the cotton candy I’d eaten a half hour earlier.
I escaped that ride with my dignity, but just barely so. And I learned something important about myself that day. I don’t like suspense. I don’t like not knowing which way the road is going to turn. I don’t like someone else (like a pimple-faced college student at the ride controls) in charge of my destiny. I definitely don’t like rocketing down a track in the dark, either. I want to be the captain of my ship, omniscient to everything going on around me.
That being said, as a romance writer, I love (absolutely love) inflicting suspense on my readers. I enjoy creating plots that keep them guessing, or introducing characters that just don’t quite fit the romance novel mold. While I used to be the type of reader who checked the ending of the book to see who the murderer was, or whether it had a happy ending or not, as an author, I like to keep my fans guessing.
The suspense in my books can be as simple as whether the heroine will actually fall in love with the hero, or walk away from him at the end, or it can be more complex. For example, will the characters get out of their predicament alive, or will one, or both, perish?
In my debut romantic suspense novel, Prisoner of Love, the book comes out of the gate with action and suspense, and, as most reviewers have said, the reader is taken on a thrilling Matterhorn ride all the way to the last page. That’s high praise for a person who thinks Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is scary.
Besides wanting to inflict unexpected suspense on my readers, I also like to create psychological tension, the same kind I don’t care to watch in movies. The most suspenseful movie I’ve seen was also when I was a teenager. I went to a showing of “When a Stranger Calls,” and for six months after I couldn’t get out of bed in the middle of the night without turning on a light! Yet I love making my readers squirm while they read.
I imagine situations that absolutely scare me, and I place my heroine in them. What if she is parked on the side of the road, and a stranger carjacks her? Or, how about, she darts into an empty restroom, only to find someone sinister has followed her inside? These are circumstances that could happen in the real world, and are made even scarier because I’ve thought of them.
Chances are, if they frighten me, they might frighten other people, and that’s what I want to do: take an event that hasn’t been used in every other romance novel and immerse the reader in the moment. What would she do in the same predicament? If she can relate, then the story becomes real to her.
Besides the physical and mental suspense in my writing, I like to add an element of surprise in romance between my hero and heroine. Will the heroine accept the hero’s help, or will she tell him to take a hike? When will they kiss? Sleep together? Or, get back together after a falling out? All these types of romantic what-ifs propel the reader deeper into the book, seeking that Happily Ever After most romance readers demand. If I do it right, they leave the world I’ve created happy and fulfilled. And if I don’t, I hear about it in reviews, opening up a fourth type of suspense: author anxiety. That type of suspense I’d like to avoid.
Writing romantic suspense satisfies the adventurer hidden deep within me, the person who bravely confronts her fears and comes out the victor in that confrontation. I may not be able to ride the Matterhorn, or scream down the sloping track of the GhostRider roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm, but I can create that nail-biting, pulse-pounding anxiety within the pages of every romantic suspense novel I write. The kind of response that ensures the reader a sleepless night as she reads “just one more chapter” to see how the book turns out.
And as for my prayer at the beginning of this piece? That’s a topic for another day.
About the book:
Risking his own life is one thing. Risking hers is another…
It was supposed to be a girls-only weekend in the California mountains. But when Lucy Parker is carjacked by a rugged stranger, her fun weekend takes a nighmarish turn. Now she’s caught up in a dangerous world of stolen money, vicious drug dealers, and murder, and the only thing keeping her alive is her oh-so-hot captor.
Imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, undercover cop Jake Dalton wants answers-now. Worse, he’s dragged Lucy into the mix, and she’s now guilty by association. With their lives on the line, the race is on to get to Las Vegas before they’re killed…and they’re running out of time.
Find it online:
About the Author:
Cathy has always loved writing, but that pesky thing called Real Life cast writing into the backseat for years. Now she has reunited with her first love, and still can’t find enough time for all the plots and characters milling about in her imagination. She admits she never has less than four new story plotlines floating in her subconscious.
When she’s not writing contemporary romantic suspense or historical romances, Cathy likes to travel read, bake, and take long walks with her husband (the inspiration for her happily-ever-afters). Cathy looks forward to many, many years of writing for readers’ enjoyment.