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Friday, September 22, 2017

Turning Book Research into a Slide Show by Sarah Wisseman

Recently I was asked to speak at a local Pecha Kucha, a Japanese-inspired public forum for artists and writers. Each speaker talks about her passion for exactly 6 minutes, 40 seconds, with slides advancing every 20 seconds. You have to plan carefully; once the slides start, there’s no pausing or going back.

My topic is “Toxic Brews in 1920s Illinois,” or a seriously condensed version of the research I did several years ago for my local mystery, The Bootlegger’s Nephew. In this mystery, my physician protagonist can’t figure out whether his friend was poisoned deliberately or just consumed a mixture of bad booze, prescription medicine, and homemade tonics.



His flapper daughter, Anna, helps him investigate, and together they trap a murderer and shut down a local gang of bootleggers. This story was supposed to be about 1920s archaeology, when it was a still a just a gentleman’s hobby. But the fascinating story of Prohibition took over.

The novel has several themes: the dangers of consuming liquor made from toxic substances (industrial-grade alcohol, kerosene, or embalming fluid) or heating corn mash in lead-lined radiators; the difficulties of practicing medicine before the advent of antibiotics; and the enhanced freedoms of young women during Prohibition.

The research was fascinating. Not only were there multiple ways to make and transport illegal booze, there were all kinds of “concealed carry.” Women fashioned deep pockets in their slinky dresses and long coats for flasks of illicit booze.



Our local newspaper, then called the Champaign Daily, reported on a raid in my hometown: “There were bottles of liquor hidden inside boxing gloves and stuffed inside a phonograph. There was wood alcohol, Jamaican ginger, liquor made from kerosene and furniture polish, booze that would make a rabbit expectorate in a bulldog’s face, squirrel whiskey that would make a man climb a tree.”

I stole another tidbit from a true account of Prohibition in Cincinnati: There was an enterprising family who ran a speak-easy in their home. Their under-age son dispensed liquor through tubes from the second floor. When there was a raid, he just threw a rug over the floor tubes and spread out his homework.

Revisiting this fascinating research led me to publish a short story that features the flapper daughter, Anna Junker, and her boyfriend Ben:



The result of all this activity made me appreciate east central Illinois in a whole new way. Now, when I travel around downtown, I notice the older buildings that erected before my stories took place. And I remember that one local establishment, once the store where I purchased my son’s soccer shoes, had a speakeasy on the second floor in the 1920s. It boasted a hidden stairway down to the street so patrons could escape quickly when federal agents showed up. On the same block, there was an underground steam tunnel used to exit a bootlegger’s distillery during raids. I asked around town if I could visit this tunnel—alas, it was closed down years ago.





Friday, September 15, 2017

Falling down the Rabbit hole?

As an author do you sometimes feel like Alice in Wonderland? 

Have you fallen down the Rabbit hole of your story? 

Is your manuscript taking you on a ride that makes no sense with characters that confuse you? 






If so, welcome to the club. Many authors work from an outline and use it to guide the story. I am not one of them. Story ideas come to me, characters appear and I just follow them along for awhile to see what happens next. The story doesn't always follow the path I thought it would and that is not always a bad thing.

If you truly allow the main characters in your story to guide you, the story can evolve in surprising and unusal ways. I'm not saying we should all try writing truly fantastic characters in a wonderland world, but you can if you're compelled to do so.

I've found with all of my books that once I truly knew my character inside and out, they showed me what happens next. I've been pleasantly surprised, shocked, and even happy to see a scene develop in my minds eye. What a magical experience it can be.

What I'd like to share with all you authors out there is this:
  • It's okay to write nonsense - sometimes that's what it takes to get to the heart of the scene.  
  • It's okay to write weird characters - humans are all unique in their own strange way. 
  • It's okay to let the story grow organically - sometimes the best things happen when you allow it to just tumble down the direction it wants to go.
  • It's okay to be surprised where the story leads - it is usually a wonderful gift.
You can always edit out the parts that don't fit, but keep them in a "rambling thoughts & ideas" folder - you might need them for the next story.

Enjoy the writing journey, it can be quite a ride.

http://bdtharp.com
Author of the "feisty family series" and a nove of romantic suspense: "Your Every Move."



Friday, September 8, 2017

What Happens to Creativity as We Age? By Jacqueline Seewald

Alison Gopnik and Tom Griffiths are professors of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley who wrote an interesting opinion piece for The New York Times. In the article they discuss how “young children’s creativity seems to outstrip that of even the most imaginative adults.” The authors explain their experiments to better understand this.

So why does creativity tend to decline as we age? The authors observe as we grow older, we know more. This is both good and bad. Bad because it may lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts what we already think. In other words, we may become too set in our ways to change.
The authors observe that there is “a tension between two kinds of thinking: what computer scientists call exploration and exploitation.” When we face a new problem, adults tend to exploit acquired knowledge. Exploration — trying something new — may lead to something different, a less obvious solution, a new piece of knowledge. But it can also mean wasting time considering absurd possibilities, something both preschoolers and teenagers do on occasion.
Not long ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of spending time with two of our grandchildren, taking them to one of the swimming pools in our complex. Leah, who is nine, energetically swam around like a fish. I told her that I would nickname her Ariel for the Disney mermaid since she too has long red hair. Leah was also protective of her younger brother and worked tirelessly with him on throwing a basketball in the hoop in the pool until he succeeded. Her energy and high spirits are all the more remarkable because she suffers from serious allergy problems yet manages to take them in stride. I myself felt energized by spending time with her.
It occurs to me that we adults can learn as much from children as they can from us. Time spent with children encourages our creativity. A child’s outlook on the world is filled with possibilities. Perhaps we adults should cultivate that in ourselves, the marriage of experience, knowledge and childlike wonder.
For writers, I think it means we should never throw out our past writing, even those pieces of works that failed to gain recognition. Possibly we can reread and improve upon them or try a new venue. Why not develop a short story into a play or poem? Why not take characters from a novel and develop a short story or play for them?
My soon to be published novella THE BURNING is based on an award-winning play I wrote some years ago. I took a play and adapted it into a novella--but more about that at another time.
Do children ever inspire you to write original work? Can you cultivate your inner child to think in a unique way? Your thoughts and opinions valued here.






Friday, September 1, 2017

Narrative Hook by Susan Oleksiw

Every writer learns the importance of the “narrative hook” as soon as she begins writing. “You can’t begin a story without a strong first line,” is the standard advice. I’ve heard writers say that until they have the opening line, they can’t write the story or essay. The narrative hook is what opens the door to whatever is supposed to come next, and nothing flows without it. I feel that way sometimes too.

A 1940s guide to creative writing described the narrative hook as “anything that would, on a public highway, cause a crowd to gather.” The sentence had been underlined in pencil, and the pages forgotten, until recently unearthed in an abandoned box of papers. I haven’t heard the opening line described in such terms, and I wouldn’t use that sentence today. Nor am I convinced that starting with a bang, as crime novels often do today, is the only way to write the opening. Lately I’ve read a number of excellent opening lines on First Line Monday, a FB page where readers post the first lines of the books or stories they’re reading. You’re guaranteed to find variety here.

The best first lines, in my view, are those that pull us into the character and his or her world. This can be simple, quiet, but nevertheless compelling. I collected a number of first lines from different genres to illustrate what I think is the key to a solid opening line, a dip into another person’s life that holds us.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle opens A Study in Scarlet (1887) with this famous line: “In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the Army.” The narrator has a tone of confidence but also lack of pretention, and the reader trusts him.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman opens “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) with this: “It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.” The narrator’s contrast with herself as ordinary and their summer residence as an ancestral hall hints at the conflict to come and the risk to herself.

The short story “Araby” by James Joyce (1914) begins with “North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free.” At once we hear the quiet shattered by dozens of boys running and screaming into the street, free of constrictions of the Catholic school.

Edith Wharton gives us a classic opening in “Roman Fever” (1936). “From the table at which they had been lunching two American ladies of ripe but well-cared-for middle age moved across the lofty terrace of the Roman restaurant and, leaning on its parapet, looked first at each other, and then down on the outspread glories of the Palatine and the Forum, with the same expression of vague but benevolent approval.” The vanity of class is captured perfectly as the two American women acknowledge their complicity in their attitudes as they look down on the scene below.

“Did You Ever Dream Lucky” by Ralph Ellison (1954) opens with a vivid scene: “After the hurried good-bys the door had closed and they sat at the table with the tragic wreck of the Thanksgiving turkey before them, their heads turned regretfully toward the young folks’ laughter in the hall.” Ellison’s scene isn’t merely the aftermath of a traditional holiday dinner; we are in the midst of a tragic wreck and the folks remaining are regretful. Now we have to know what has happened, and what comes after.

Joyce Carol Oates captures the vulnerable teenager in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” (1970). “Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right.” Oates takes the normal teenage vanity and turns it into deep insecurity and foreboding.

In my most recent Mellingham mystery, Come About for Murder (2016), I open with this. “In his last will and testament, Commodore Charles Jeremiah Winslow, one of the greatest yachting enthusiasts in the history of Mellingham Yacht Club, asked to be wrapped in a mainsail and cremated, with his ashes left to sink into Mellingham Bay.” With this opening, the reader finds herself inside the rarefied world of people who can obsess about sailing and other sports, and the high cost of that life.

Each opening works because the lines are spare entrances into the life of another person. There is no bombast, no crash, no physical violence, only the promise of knowing intimately another world and its residents.

To read some of my opening lines, go here:

https://www.amazon.com/Susan-Oleksiw/e/B001JS3P7C

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SusanOleksiw

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/susan+oleksiw?_requestid=1017995

Friday, August 25, 2017

Self-editing a short story by Sarah Wisseman

Self-editing is hard, no two ways about it. I remember a workshop led by Nancy Pickard years ago that I found especially useful. She called her method CASTS (Conflict, Action, Senses, Turn, and Surprise) and encouraged all of us to evaluate each scene or chapter using these five criteria. The trickiest for us to understand was the difference between "turn" and "surprise." If memory serves me, a "turn" could be a shift in mood for the protagonist/narrator, e.g. start the scene excited and end up hopeless. "Surprise" could be an "aha" moment for either the protagonist or the reader, as in, "I never thought of that!"

I recently sent in a short story for an anthology contest that required intense self-editing. As I accepted feedback from friends and colleagues, I had to sort out what to incorporate and what to discard (my rule is: if two or more critics say something needs fixing, pay attention).

Here are some of the guidelines I developed. All of these apply to novels too, but were especially helpful to me as I refined my short story and tried to make every word count.

What is the story logic? Does it work for readers? Review major plot points and how they unfold.
I made an outline and read it out loud to myself. Sometimes the logic is obvious to me, but not to my readers because I have left out some portion of my reasoning.

Where are the red herrings? Are they inserted in the best possible way?
I want some misdirection, but not too much. There’s less space in a short story, and you have to balance misdirection with keeping up the pace of the story.

Follow each character: How do you reveal character? Is each character distinct, and do they interact with others consistently?
 One of my characters was a bit wooden, so I fixed that by adding phrases or action words as dialogue tags.

Do you have the right balance between dialogue and description?
This was especially difficult for me since I discovered halfway through that I was writing my first police procedural, with crucial dialogue between two detectives!  I added a little more description.

Is there tension on each page? How is it revealed?
I made my characters argue with each other, disagreeing on how to proceed. I increased their physical discomfort as well.

Is there a twist at the end?
This is crucial, since most short stories want an “aha!” moment at the end.

I find critique groups immensely valuable; the members are readers as much as they are fellow writers. Although I attend one group that has 15-20 participants, I prefer a much smaller group so we can each read longer sections and receive more detailed feedback.

Finally, here's a great quote:

“A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns."  (P.L. Travers, creator of the "Mary Poppins" series) 


Friday, August 18, 2017

Rituals & Creativity

We creative types often have little rituals we do in order to prepare ourselves for the muse. Early in my writing journey I would always light a candle and play soft instrumental music to get me into the writing "zone." Over time the rituals changed.

I went through several years of latte and bookstore noise. Then came the sunshine and noise of the wind in the trees. Lately, I've been in the "quiet" period with no candles or music, just me and my muse having a conversation about the story.

What are your favorite writing rituals? 



The latte is probably my personal favorite. Writing (or reading) and latte's just go together. 



But creativity can be fickle. And watch out for the inner critic. It'll stifle your creativity if it can. If possible do the rituals that allow your creative juices to flow and ignore the inner critic.  (They are only good for editing, in my personal opinion.)



When I was writing articles under deadline I sometimes I had to force the words to come. By the time I got through that first draft I was in a better place and able to mine the jewels from the garbage. Creativity doesn't always come on like a faucet. Sometimes we have to prime it, but don't wait for the muse to strike. It's more important to write badly than to not write at all.


If I'm really stuck and can't make the words appear on the page I'll take out my favorite pen and write in a notebook. When I transcribe it later onto the computer it blossoms and grows. Don't you love it when that happens? 

I used to paint pictures and I'd sketch for days until I got the layout I wanted. Now I paint with words. First drafts are our sketches. Whether on paper or canvas or computer we want the vision we see in our minds to be shared with others. How we get there is our own special journey. Never let anyone tell you "how to write." You will figure that out over time. Light insense or wear your favorite socks if that will help.

Just keep writing.


http://bdtharp.com
Amazon Author Page

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sex in Fiction: The Controversy Continues by Jacqueline Seewald

A recent New York Times opinion article was on a topic of interest to those of us who write novels, especially i YA.  The topic: “Want Teenage Boys to Read? Easy. Give Them Books About Sex”. The article was written by Daniel Handler. The author has a forthcoming novel “All the Dirty Parts.” He has written many children’s books under the pen name Lemony Snicket.

Handler states that his new novel has been classified as an adult book rather than a YA. He wrote it for teens and believes it should be classified this way. He has run into a common problem of censorship in YA fiction in regard to sex scenes. He asks why it is acceptable to allow books about teenagers slaughtering one another in a post-apocalyptic landscape” but not allow realism in regard to sex. He has a definite point.

Writing for teens has never been easy. Writers want to be honest. Yet sexual descriptions are frowned upon as unacceptable. It is often a questionable matter in adult novels as well. A lot depends on the classification of the book. That remains a matter of significance.

My own YA novels are “clean reads.” This is not to appease censors. It’s merely my personal preference. THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER and STACY’S SONG are classified as romances. However, they are also coming-of-age novels. They can be read by teenagers and their mothers alike without embarrassment. Adults can also enjoy these novels because they have depth. But they don’t require explicit sex scenes.


As to getting boys to read, I think many enjoy a good mystery or adventure story. Sex scenes are not a requirement. When my sons were teenagers, we wrote a mystery novel for teenage boys entitled WHERE IS ROBERT? It was based on a true story that happened to my older son, Andrew. The novel was well-received by teenage readers.

A few years ago, Andrew and I wrote a mystery entitled THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY published by Five Star/Cengage. It’s a crossover novel suited to both teen and adult readers. Again, no sex scenes, just a good story with realistic characters.


Black Opal will soon be publishing another of my YA novels—you guessed it--no explicit sex scenes, just a quality book for teen readers.

However, are sex scenes needed and appropriate in certain novels? Shouldn’t the author be allowed to express his or her artistic vision free from censorship?

Your thoughts and comments welcome here.

 

 



Friday, August 4, 2017

Waiting . . . by Susan Oleksiw

In January 2016 I wrote about the end of the Five Star Mystery Line from Gale, Cengage. I talked about the other experiences in my writing life that were keeping my morale up and my attitude positive. My fourth Anita Ray mystery, For the Love of Krishna, appeared as scheduled in August 2016, but without any support from Five Star. I’ve submitted the book to Harlequin for its mass market line, since they’ve already published the first three in the series. I’ve sold more short fiction, and rewritten the first book in a new series, which my agent is shopping around. And now I wait.

What do you do while waiting to hear from an editor? My instinct is to write something else, perhaps a sketch outline for the next book in the proposed series. When I told my agent I had a nearly complete draft of the second in the series, she expressed concern that I was spending too much time on a series that hadn’t sold yet. In response, I wrote another short story set in the same area as the new (hoped-for) series.

Telling a writer to not work on a current project while waiting is as bad as telling her not to breathe while walking past lilacs in bloom or a freshly mowed lawn. Once an idea gets into my head, I begin to imagine more stories linked to the original idea. And this new idea seems to be especially fertile. I have rough outlines for two more books. Good grief. I have four books already.

 But the break in working on this project has given me time to work on my garden, which is usually pathetic by this time of year, delve into boxes of old photographs that I cannot keep storing, polish another Anita Ray mystery and send it out to a Beta reader, and read more.

Have you figured out that waiting is hard? Every writer knows this, and we also know that once you finish one project, you begin another. None of this hanging around until you hear about the first ms before you go back to writing. So, I’m waiting, and using my bottled-up energy to read, write, complete odd tasks neglected for too long, and enjoy the summer. And I’m relearning patience, a skill I always thought I had but seemed to have neglected. Patience. Meditation. Letting go. And fingers crossed.

One of the odd tasks completed was a new website, which you can find here, with a list of books available. www.susanoleksiw.com

Or, go here:

https://www.amazon.com/Susan-Oleksiw/e/B001JS3P7C

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SusanOleksiw

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/susan+oleksiw?_requestid=1017995

Friday, July 28, 2017

How I Mined My Day Job to Write Mysteries by Sarah Wisseman

By day, I’m an archaeologist at the University of Illinois. At night and on weekends, I morph into a mystery writer. My series is the Lisa Donahue Archaeological Mysteries, and my protagonist is a lot like me. She’s a museum curator trained in Classical and Near Eastern archaeology, she spent a junior year in Israel, and she has a daughter, a cat, and a medical husband (not necessarily in that order!).

So how does one go from archaeology to murder? I grew up in a household full of moldering old paperback mysteries (mostly Golden Age British novels), and my parents liked to read aloud to us from Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles and the like. Then I got a job in a dusty old attic museum where broken windows allowed pigeons to fly in and out. While working on an interdisciplinary mummy project, I realized that my workplace was the perfect setting for murder.

Thus my first novel, “Bound for Eternity,” was born. In this story, Lisa discovers that an Egyptian mummy holds the secrets to two murders in her Boston Museum. (My old museum was moved from Illinois to Boston to protect the innocent). 


The prequel, “The Dead Sea Codex,” allowed Lisa to revisit Israel, hook up with an old boyfriend, and crisscross the desert looking for an ancient manuscript before Christian fanatics destroy it. Book 3 in the series, “The Fall of Augustus,” takes Lisa back to her museum at a time when the staff is supposed to move enormous plaster statues of Roman emperors and Greek gods down through an old elevator shaft. Sounds dangerous, right? Some of my colleagues actually did this at Illinois without misadventure, but naturally I changed the facts in my mystery so I could have the vicarious thrill of killing off two museum directors.

Book 4, “The House of the Sphinx,” takes a new direction. Lisa and her radiologist husband, James, take a delayed honeymoon in Egypt, where they stumble upon a plot to infect Western tourists with smallpox. I like to say that this plot (instead of another archaeological caper) is my husband’s fault, and that he’s a ghoul. Actually, Charlie’s a retired pathologist, and a great source of information on all things medical. He used to work for the Centers for Disease Control, and pointed me to their website. There I found a public, fully detailed plan for dealing with a modern smallpox epidemic. Scary stuff. While I Googled bioweapons and tried to figure out how to weaponize smallpox virus, the thought did cross my mind that someone out there might be watching my Internet use…fortunately, no one showed up on my doorstep.


I see many similarities between mystery writing and my “day job.”  Archaeology is like a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing; constructing a mystery is like solving a jigsaw puzzle, but all the pieces should be there and should fit at the end. Archaeologists deal with layers (stratigraphy), with the stuff on top being the most recent and the stuff deep down being the oldest. Similarly, the visible story in a mystery is the top layer (what the writer wants you to see), and the deeper layers hold the motives, the clues, and the detailed plot that is gradually revealed.


Many of us mine our day jobs to write stories. How do you connect your day job with mystery writing or reading?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Reviews Please!

Do you ever feel like a beggar when you're asking readers to write a review? 

Yes. People are busy and forget, so it doesn't hurt to remind them, right? It still feels a little like begging to me. But without reviews how will new readers find our stories?

A good review is priceless!

Therefore, I will continue to ask everyone to write them. Reviews create a buzz. It's called marketing, and it takes time. But Buzz sells books. Personally, I love when a friend tells me about a new book they enjoyed. It goes on my "to read" list, or in my Kindle, or they sometimes even share the book. That's always fun. Many of my books have been through the hands of family and friends before I donate them to the library.

What about a bad review?

That's an excellent question, right? The fact is our stories will not appeal to everyone. I cried when I got my first bad review, but I noticed something resulting from it. A bad review can promote discussion, and that is the best way to learn about new books - Word of Mouth!

Do you write reviews?

OMG, yes. I try to review every book I read. I, too, occasionally forget though, then I feel terrible for a moment until I write it. Stories that stick with me are easy to go back and write reviews for, and I don't mind doing it a bit. If it has been too long, I pop over to Amazon and reread the synopsis and that generally brings it back to me. If I just can't remember I will reread it before I write a review.

Where do you write or read book reviews? 

Amazon.com is always good, but my favorite is Goodreads.com. Anywhere that you purchase a book, you can usually write a review - BN.combn.com, Smashwords.com, iBooks.com, Kobo, GooglePlay, etc. You can also post reviews on social media - Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and many more that I don't currently subscribe to or haven't used yet.

Do you always write a good review? 

No. But I share my likes first and stay professional and concise with my dislikes. Again, not every book will resonate with every person. And sometimes as authors, we are asked to review a book that needs additional work/editing/, etc. When that happens, I write the author directly and explain what I am thinking - not for the world to see. We all deserve an opportunity to improve upon the story before it is in front of the masses.

Enjoying the journey, talking to authors.

Don't forget to help authors by writing book reviews.

http://bdtharp.com
Amazon Author Page

Friday, July 14, 2017

TOP 10 TIPS FOR WRITING LIKE MARY STEWART by Sheri Cobb South

Sheri Cobb South is our special guest blogger for Author Expressions. Be sure to check out her wonderful mystery novels on Amazon, B&N Online, and many other booksellers.  And now, here’s Sheri.


First of all, the title of this article is false advertising: No one else can write like Mary Stewart, any more than they can write like any other author. Still, her books do have certain elements in common, and these can be adopted in order to evoke the tone of that heyday of romantic suspense. So, without further ado, here are my Top 10:
#1. Be British. (Well, rats. Moving right along . . .)
#2. Give your book an exotic location, and describe it vividly. Mary Stewart took her readers on literary jaunts not only to her native Britain, but also to France, Austria, Greece, and Damascus. I credit her books with giving me a lifelong craving for travel, so it’s only fitting that my own book follows the itinerary of a Mediterranean cruise I took with my husband a couple of years ago, including stops in Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
#3. Set your book in the late 1950s or early to mid-1960s. This was when Mary Stewart and the romantic suspense novel were at the height of their popularity, so setting a book there is, in essence, returning to the genre’s roots.
#4. Give your book a young but intelligent heroine, who narrates the tale in the first person as it unfolds. I realize there are readers for whom the first-person point of view is a deal-breaker, but in a suspense novel, the almost claustrophobic constraints of this point of view give a greater sense of immediacy and danger, as it eliminates the “middle man” of a third-person narrator who stands between the heroine and the reader. And while young/ingenue heroines have fallen out of fashion in recent years, the heroine’s youth means we can forgive her for errors in judgment that would be eyeroll-inducing in a more mature woman.
#5 Plunge your heroine into danger through accidental, even random, circumstance: she sees something she’s not supposed to see, she’s inadvertently given something that belongs to someone else, etc., and at first she may not recognize the significance of the event. (It’s interesting that romantic suspense heroines seem to share this element with many of Alfred Hitchcock’s heroes—a plot device Hitchcock dubbed the “MacGuffin”; perhaps it’s no coincidence that there is a significant overlap in Stewart and Hitchcock’s peak years.)
#6 Give your book a hero with something to hide, preferably something that ties into the mystery. Perhaps the heroine isn’t sure if he’s a good guy or bad guy, but even if she never mistakes him for the villain (or, if she does, soon realizes her error), he may still be a bit of an enigma that she must “solve” along with the mystery.
#7 The developing relationship between the hero and heroine relies on sexual tension rather than sex. Granted, part of this is because of the time Stewart was writing, but I think it makes sense in this genre in a couple of other ways, as well. For one thing, there’s the matter of trust: If she things he might be the villain, or otherwise fears she can’t trust him, she would be stupid to go to bed with him. Later in the book, any trust issues may have been resolved, but by this time the sense of danger is heightened. If her life, and perhaps his too, is in danger, and they stop everything for five to ten pages of hot sex, they probably deserve whatever the villain has planned for them! (But at least they’ll die happy? Hmm…)
#8. Let glimpses of humor show through. Besides helping maintain sexual tension (especially in the absence of actual sex), humorous moments allow readers to catch their breath between dangerous/suspenseful incidents.
#9. Sprinkle literary references throughout your book. I think it is this, more than any other element, that lifts Stewart’s work over the other romantic suspense authors of her day. It’s also the one I found the most daunting. Fortunately, the fact that my heroine was an English teacher meant she would have a knowledge of literature at her command. Furthermore, my own background as a writer of Regencies meant I was familiar with the Elgin Marbles and Lord Byron’s vociferously stated opinion of Lord Elgin’s removing them from Greece, both of which made their way into my book.
#10. Begin each chapter with an apropos quotation. Three words: Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. This can be time-consuming, but I’ve found readers respond to it very well. It gives them a little “mystery” at the beginning of each chapter, as they form their own theories as to how the quotation will relate to the action, and then read on to see if they were right.
 And there you have it. Even if my tips won’t turn you into Mary Stewart overnight, I hope they will enhance your reading of romantic suspense novels, or assist you in writing your own.

Note: Sheri's latest novel is in the Mary Stewart tradition:

Comments for Sheri welcome here!