By Gayle Carline
Author, Columnist, and Horse-a-holic
In addition to my Snoopy book (From the Horse's Mouth), I've written three Peri Minneopa Mysteries. I like writing this series, although it is a challenge to find an interesting crime for Peri to solve and keep each book from becoming formulaic.
More than one person has asked me, "Why don't you put horses in your books?"
Here's the problem: My stories are set in Placentia, California, which is in north Orange County and part of that big urban megalopolis that includes Los Angeles.
Not really Horse Country, USA.
A few months ago, I was trying to come up with a story for my next Peri book and banging my head on whatever wall was available, when a funny thing happened. I was at a horse show, walking down the barn aisle and I saw the tractor scooping up the used shavings we dump at the end. My murderous mind thought, hmm, what if there were boots under that pile... with feet in them?
Alas, I couldn't figure out a logical way to get a corpse under a large pile of horse show manure without attracting too much attention, but I did write a mystery set at the L.A. Equestrian Center in Burbank. I'm on the second round of edits now (there will probably be five or six rounds), but I'm sure of three things:
1. I really like it,
2. It's going to be a standalone story, and
3. I can get people to shut up about putting horses in my books.
Okay, that last one is a maybe.
Since I wanted the characters and the setting to be as far from my Peri books as possible, I decided to make this one a romantic suspense.
So far the suspense has been whether there will be any romance.
I know I need to spice things up. The question is, how hot should I make it? I don't write erotica. When I write about Peri's sex life, I let the reader know what's going to happen, then I close the door. The gal deserves her privacy. But I'm thinking that romance readers will want a lot more than what I'm offering so far.
Does anyone here read romance? Do you like it mild, medium, or on fire?
Thanks for any help you can give me.
P.S. Here's a pic of Snoopy with his cowboy hat.
I read and write romances. Every reader will have a different level of comfort on heat level. I would recommend going with your own comfort level. When you read romances what is your favorite heat level? Two of my favorite romance writers are Jayne Ann Krentz and Linda Howard so when I decided to write sex scenes I studied there scenes, what they showed, didn't show, etc. Though even though I was comfortable reading at that heat level when I first starting writing at that level, I was uncomfortable with it, but that was just me. I got more comfortable with practice. ;-)
I don't read or write romance novels, so my advice won't be very helpful. But Angelia/Angie's advice rings true to me. I write just the kind of romantic scenes in my mysteries that you do in yours (more or less), but even the little bit of sex that creeps in...well, I just don't enjoy writing those scenes (nothing is going to throb in my novels, thank you very much). I think if I wrote that kind of stuff all the time, I would get used to it and it would be no problem, and I believe writing erotica is a more sure-fire way to make money than writing mysteries, but it just isn't my thing. So I hear you on the comfort level factor.
I read romance novels (I read everything bar true crime and celebrity autobiographies) and will read romances all over the map, so as to speak.
What I find to be key to a good romance (regardless of where it is located in the genre and whether it works for me personally) is where the scenes are integral to the story; and logically consistent with the style and pacing. Readers are quite possibly going to feel you copped out if you write in a deep pov and detailed style and make consummation a big deal... and then close the proverbial door on them at the climax of the story. I would caution just as strongly against adding detail to sex scenes purely because you feel it is a requirement and not because the details are necessary - I can often tell because I end up skipping bits to get back to the story.
I think it really is going to depend upon your comfort level and also upon the particular characters - can't remember who I am paraphrasing, but the comment was that regarding a book which was raunchier than previous books: 'normally, I don't write sex scenes in such detail and was in fact not very comfortable doing so, but this particular couple communicated that way so I had to suck it up and deal with writing them that way.'
Probably the best piece of advice I could give re romantic suspense is: do not let the characters do the 'we're running from bad guys, but we're going to stop and make out now (in defiance of all common sense) thing. It might seem like it would be good shorthand for how attracted/falling in love the characters are, "See us defy danger! Even at gunpoint I can't keep my mind off you!" but it comes off tstl nine times out of ten and I think it was on the Smart Bitches top ten tropes to avoid list.
Not incidentally, it's my considered opinion that romantic suspense is pretty much the hardest genre to do justice to. I think it's at least partially a page count problem.
I'm in total agreement with all of you. My story revolves around a young widow who knows in her head that it is okay for her to start dating, but just can't take any steps toward actually doing it. Two very strong male characters come into her life. She's drawn to each for different reasons, yet is unable to choose because it would feel like closing the door on her late husband. As you can see, there's just not a lot of bed-hopping to be done here.
And no, FD, I'm not going to stop the action just for some hot sex. I'm a mystery writer above all else. LOL
Hi Gayle--love the photo of Snoopy! My advice is the same as the others--write what feels romantic to you--then you can't go wrong. I love great banter and tease between characters and flirtation galore.
Good luck with your six and seven edits!
I guess each to their own when it comes to sex scenes. However, back when I ran a barn, I did occasionally find used condoms in the hay. And supposedly clean saddle blankets that needed hay brushing off them. So maybe a bit of opportunism between barn staff and guests might make for an authentic vignette?
As for the corpse in the muck. Well maybe not at a show. But if a body was thrown in a trailer and muck dropped on top to hide it, the people adding more muck wouldn't know any better. Then, when the trailer is taken out to be emptied, there's a nasty surprise for the tractor driver. It could work.
White Horse Pilgrim... I like the way you think!
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