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Suspense Or Mystery 101

When I began to write romantic suspense, I tossed out several reams of paper. Why?  Because no matter how I tried I couldn’t keep my villain hidden. He kept voicing his POV and writing his own chapters. I nearly ripped my hair out by the roots fighting with him to stay silent. Then I read a wonderful book, How To Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat.  Ms.Wheat set me straight and confirmed what my villain was telling me all along.

Is there a Who-dun-it in suspense? Of course there is. When the villain is revealed, among a few other elements, that makes suspense different from mystery. In a mystery, an act of violence begins the story, but most times the action is set off stage. The reader is invited into the dilemma and introduced to an already seasoned hero who solves the crime logically and through scientific methods. There is a small circle of suspects, clues and red herrings. Information is withheld from the reader and the said reader is kept in the dark two steps behind. The hero grows very little during the story. The story is all about who killed X? The villain is not exposed until the last scene and the end result for the reader is an intellectual satisfaction.

A suspense novel starts on even keel, showing the everyday life our hero or heroine. Then BAM, a nightmare occurs.

 

Excerpt from His Witness To Evil:

Stephanie masked her sigh of exertion while lifting the Coleman cooler she’d borrowed for their trip. She lugged the container to her old SUV. She knew how her son felt. She wished she had the money to take them away on exciting excursions like their friends had this summer. To places like Disney World, but she couldn’t even afford a day trip to Hershey Park, America’s chocolate capital. Em’s special diet, because of her allergies, took up a third of her take-home pay. After paying the mortgage, utilities, car insurance and miscellaneous expenses, she was lucky to save a few dollars a week.

She chewed on her bottom lip. Hopefully, next week Bobby and his friends would be off on new adventures, their summer vacations a distant memory.

The howl of a diesel engine jerked Stephanie from her musing. The squeal of brakes, crushing metal and shattering glass made her spin around.

Other basics of a suspense: All action is on stage. The protagonists’ world expansions. There are surprises. The villain can be revealed to the reader immediately and can have a POV.

Yeah! This made my villain happy. Information is given to the reader but withheld from the heroes. In other words, we know what could happen if the wrong path is taken by our hero.  The reader sits on the edge of her seat, screaming at the heroine and hero not to go there.

 

Excerpt from His Witness To Evil:

“I don’t want to kill no kids, Victor.” Mac danced in place ready to dodge Victor’s wrath.

“You will do as I say,” Victor snapped.

She looked at the dead driver. His lifeless stare pleaded to her for justice.

“Don’t trust her,” Sheriff Morse ordered, turning his gun on her.

Stephanie refused to flinch under Morse’s scrutiny.

Gene moved in front of her. “Frank, what the hell are you doing? You’ve known Stephanie all her life.”

“There is too much at stake, Gene. She saw me kill that guy. I’m not going to jail.” Morse’s tongue skimmed his lips. “Why the hell are you trying to protect her anyway? You two have been fightin’ like junkyard dogs for years. You complain every day she’s milking you dry. This is your chance to be rid of your mistakes.”

“Steph was never a mistake to me,” Gene’s voice rose in response. Then it softened. “I was hers.”

Tears threatened to blur her vision and she blinked them away. She squeezed Gene’s arm and glanced at her ex-husband’s profile. He remained focused.

“Touching,” Victor said. “But, sorry, no. They must die here.”

 

The suspense story is all about the hero or heroine prevailing. Emotional satisfaction is what the reader gets from a suspense novel. And since I write romantic suspense, love also must be found.

 

Excerpt from His Witness to Evil:

After a week, her touch was familiar. His heart melted. He grabbed her hand, holding her in place as he turned and smiled down on her. Her nipples pushed against her white T-shirt. He gently brushed a knuckle across one peak. “No. It was hell without you.”

“Mmmm. Same here.” She pulled back and lifted his arm around her, curling into him.  Looking out over the lake, she sighed. “I could stay here forever, if you’d let me.”

“I wish we could.” He gathered her closer and kissed the top of her head. “But eventually Bobby and Em would have to go to school.”

“I could home school.” Her chuckle was strained.

He felt her pain. He smiled while his heart wrenched. He would like nothing more than to forget about the world and stay here with her and the kids. But they couldn’t. “Sooner or later Ben will call. We’ll have to go back.”

“I know.”

Steph moved away. A cold void took her place.

She drifted to the other porch column. Leaning against it, she folded her arms across her chest. Her lips pressed together as if she was forming the right words behind them. “I know I said that our time together here was going to be enough to last me a lifetime, but—” Tears brimmed her lids. “I was wrong.  A lifetime won’t be enough.”

 

John stepped toward her. “I don’t know what—”

“I know, you don’t know how we can be together. So, Ben will call. We’ll go back, and I’ll identify Victor. You’ll toss him in jail and throw away the key. You’ll drive off in pursuit of the next bad guy and me…Well, I’ll go home and wonder where you are. Wonder if what I felt was love.”

The woman knew how to make a guy feel like a heel.

John pulled her into his arms. She buried her head in his chest and cried softly against him. He kissed her head and smoothed her hair. “Steph, I didn’t think I’d ever love again,” he whispered softly, cupping her chin and tilting her face up until she looked at him. “Like a bomb, you dropped into my life. Every defense I’d put up to protect myself from ever being hurt again came tumbling down. You opened up my heart. As much as you don’t want to live without me, I don’t want to live without you. I love you.”

He kissed her gently. Her arms wrapped around him and held on.  “Somehow, we’ll figure this out. I promise.”

Evil’s Witness, now titled His Witness To Evil, was my 2009 Golden Heart Entry and Golden Leaf Winner.  To learn about my more recent releases please visit my website www.autumnjordon.com  Don’t forget to join my newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

No part of this post may be copied or reproduced without the expressed permission of the author, Autumn Jordon.

 

Touring with a book in mind

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love to travel, particularly to visit historic sites. Like every other writer, I’ll walk into a building or garden or field and the story will start to grow. I thought I’d share some of the sites I used to write The Counterfeit Lady, which came out August 5th.

First off, if you’re going to have a murder, it has to occur somewhere. When I decided Lady Phyllida’s cousin was going to be murdered and her husband blamed, I knew they had to have a period home. It needed to be just south of upper crust. And then I toured the Linley Sambourne house.

The terraced house, townhouse to Americans, at 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, London, was built in 1872 and moved into by the newlyweds Linley and Marion Sambourne in 1874. They lived there the rest of their lives. Linley died in 1910 at the end of the Edwardian era and Marion in 1914 just before the outbreak of WWI. Due to some lucky events, nothing in the house was altered until well after the end of WWII. Then the family decided to hand the house over to the city to be a museum of Victorian life and furnishings.

The four story and basement house was perfect as the layout of the home of Kenneth and Clara Gattenger. I admit I redid the furnishings in my mind to suit a naval architect who grew up poor and his aristocratic bride. But the doors, the windows, the stairs, everything was exactly as I wanted it for my murder.

Even without a murder, the house is a fascinating window into Victorian life. I highly recommend a visit if you happen to find yourself in London between September and June. www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/museums/18staffordterrace1.aspx

Another source of Victorian details that I found useful came from the London Transport Museum. Train engines and cars, trolleys, buses, both horse drawn and motorized take up the three level building. Visitors get information on how heavily used mass transit was and what it looked like, down to the seat coverings. Open all year. www.ltmuseum.co.uk

One source I couldn’t take advantage of on my last trip to London was the British Library’s newspaper collection. It was being copied onto microfilm, all fifty billion newspapers, with the copies to go to London and the originals to a protected site in Yorkshire. Now, almost all of the newspapers have been copied and they are available in the newspaper reading room in the British Library. Access is by reading pass only, and they recommend anyone overseas apply before coming to London. I certainly plan to try before my next trip. The building is new and huge, near Kings Cross and St. Pancras rail stations. www.bl.uk

And then there’s the place I want to visit, not because it will aid in writing late Victorian mysteries, but because there’s just something so intriguing about Bletchley Park. Now open to the public year round as a museum, this was where code breaking reached its zenith in WWII and where the ladies of the Bletchley Circle on PBS worked. When it comes to secrets and mystery and danger, this place is at the top of everybody’s list. It’s a 45 minute train ride from London. www.bletchleypark.org.uk

Along the same lines, the Cabinet War Rooms, where Churchill spent much of the war and where the cabinet met, is a treat for any history hound. Unfortunately for those working there, it was just one not well-protected story beneath ground level in the center of heavily bombed London. And Churchill would often go up to the roof of the government building above the bunker to watch the aerial battles at night. I imagine his security people didn’t sleep for the entire war. At the end of the war, the government just closed it up and walked away, opening it decades later as a museum. www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms

One of the best things about any of these sites (except the British Library) is the scores of books sold in their gift shops. Research gems you can take home with you as a souvenir of a fascinating tour.    

You can guess my favorite city to tour, which explains why The Counterfeit Lady is set in London in the late Victorian period. What is your favorite place to tour for ideas and settings for your stories?

 

The second in the Victorian Bookshop Mystery series, following The Vanishing Thief, is in book stores now. The Counterfeit Lady features the continuing adventures of bookshop owner Georgia Fenchurch and the Duke of Blackford as they solve a case of murder and treason.

 

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